The Indian Writer … and the Armenians

Pankaj Mishra, an Indian writer published his book „From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia“ in 2012.

Since then the lines of his book are applauded. They were shortlisted for the Canadian Lionel Gelber prize, á literary award for the world’s best non-fiction book in English on foreign affairs that seeks to deepen public debate on significant international issues. The Orwell Prize in the U.K, the Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award in the United States followed the same as Crossword Award for Best Nonfiction in 2013.

Finally a few days ago, on March 12, 2014, the publication became the first book by a non-Western writer to win Germany’s prestigious Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding. According to the statut, those bookformats, have made an outstanding contribution to mutual understanding and harmony in Europe – especially with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are acknowledged.

A noble aim. I take the liberty to say, that it is doubtful, if this honouring was reached this time.

The author aims to introduce and explain the oriental, asian way of thinking about “the imperialist west” and hence us, the Europeans.

Judging by the glowing reviews his work commended itself to all. Well, in the German media you can find at least one critical reflection of this work. Necla Kelek, a German social scientist and publicist, pointed out that this decision might me wrong.

Is she alone? She deplores the introduced: biased, low leveled, less secular, or even theoratic? I pricked up my ears, when I read that Pankaj Mishra was also busied with the Armenian Genocide:

However, harassed by Armenian nationalists of eastern Anatolia, the Turks ruthlessly deported hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915, an act that later invited accusations of genocide.”(Pankaj Mishra: From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, 2012, S.191)

Necla Kelek correctly discerns that, according to Pankaj Mishra, the Armenians must have provoked their deportation and the Turks where not to able to do otherwise. At the same time he denies to qualify this crime against humanity as what a it was: genocide.

The celebrated one tells us, that this Turkish lack of alternatives “invited accusations”. Is Mishra really trying to tell us, that the accusers are seduced (“invited”) to false statements?

He´s also using the term of “accusation”. To accuse only means to charge someone with a crime. An accusation comes about when someone thinks another person has done something wrong or committed a crime. It doesn’t mean, that the person is guilty. There is a need to be proofed, and still a loss of conviction of the accused’s guilt.

With these words he denies, grossly minimises, approves and justifies acts constituting genocide or crimes against humanity, as defined by international law and recognised as such by final and binding decisions of the International Community.

Historians and genocide researchers, experts of international law and international criminal law recognise and condemn the mass murder of 1,5 millions (and not only hundreds of thousands as Mishra claims) of Armenians as genocide. In this respect it is important to underline that the even the European Union qualifies this crime as genocide.

So, why is this work and its author celebrated internationally? Is the rest of the book of better quality than this one sentence? I guess, Necla Kelek would negate. Does the readership treat his theses too uncritically? The answer is propably „yes“ and it makes me wonder why.

Even if the Armenian Genocide is not the main focus of the donee and his celebrated book, from an European point of view the question arises, why there is such a misappreciation and underestimation, an endorsement of rassism which ended up in a genocide. In any event the un-European view of the celebrated writer shares a lot with the genocide denier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is a call to show understanding for hatred.

Far from the remaining pages, the quoted statement above is able to influence the complete work. A single fly in the ointment spoils the appetite – completely!

I would not only expect a bit more sensitiveness, but also some kind of political judgement from a jury which goals to promote tolerance, understanding and friendship between nations.

From Dr. Alina Bremer, for example, a literary scholar, novelist and translater, whose most succesful story is a familiar novel during the wars of the last century on Yugoslav territory. Or from the former Swiss publisher Egon Ammann, whose career began with the sale of books in Istanbul.

Although not only the literary-minded lack wit when they clap those degrading lines virginally instead of opposing bravely. The same applies to Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, Department of Culture, Michael Faber.

Policy and Literature is merged in his person as cultural politician. And Michael Faber, as the representative of cultural affairs of the city of Leipzig should be drawn to the following:

The state Saxony-Anhalt is representing all german federal states in the cultural secture, therefore it plays a significant role in German-Armenian relations for 15 years. In addition, Leipzig has been an important cultural centre for Armenian students ever since the late 19th century, when they founded the Armenian Academic Association. And in the special context to Literature: The 1st Armenian book in Germany was printed in 1680 in Armenian and Latin.

And now, this Leipzig is exactly where this writer gets honoured with his book as a contribution to mutual understanding and harmony in Europe. In other words, a book which negates racism, and even if only the Armenian Genocide and only on a single page, is celebrated as promoting tolerance, understanding and friendship between nations – with a sum of € 15.000.

Not only the Imperialism of historic Europe or the Holocaust is disgraceful. These days we are allowed to mourn over the inability to detect racism the same as the pusillanimousness, not to call things by their names.



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