In honor of Beatrice Rohner

6 March remarks by H.E. Sargis Ghazaryan

H.E. Sargis Ghazaryan’ is the Ambassador of Armenia to Italy.

I must say it was well worth doing. In Rome we are rarely met with such warmth, from citizens and especially the younger people. Today while thanking Gariwo and Dr. Nissim, I must say that he broke out into our daily lives by universalizing the concept of Righteousness. And he did this also through a bottom-up process, reaching the consensus to approve the European Day of the Righteous over only a few months. Now we have come to the second anniversary of this decision, a tough decision, for sure. 
Today I was asked to talk about Beatrice Rohner. I confess I heard of her story only a few weeks ago. The Righteous in the Armenian Genocide are not very well known. A few days ago I also learned about Armin Wegner, who was a Righteous for both the Armenians and the Jews. During the Armenian genocides he took some of the few existing photographs proving genocidal intention -  and then, at the beginning of the Thirties he wrote a J’accuse to Hitler saying that he had already seen those events in his life – in Armenia during First World War. There is this guiding theme also in the deeds of Beatrice Rohner, a Swiss national and a pedagogue, who went work in the Ottoman Empire, and as the war broke out she made a choice based on awareness. There is a before and after also in this choice – an act of defiance, an act of freedom by which one says no to the dehumanization of the other. In every murder, be it individual or collective, first comes the dehumanization of the other. The Righteous are such in that they were able to see and rescue the human in the other. She, Beatrice Rohner, too did this before the dehumanization coming with the “revolutionary”, “progressive” murderous fury of the Young Turks in the heart of Anatolia, i.e. very far from the centres of power, the places where ambassadors or consuls could have raised their voice to bear witness to the mass murder against the Armenians. She did what she did in two ways: in her official role as envoy of the triumvirate to help the orphans and rescuing them in the underground. She saved hundreds, until they were taken away from here. Then she returned to Europe and here we find again the guiding theme as she founded a group of resistance against the Nazis. Here is the guiding theme. It is a very important theme, too, as it shows we don’t only bear a kind of responsibility, but we bear three. First, the responsibility to fight oblivion through memory. In 1939, on 23 August, Hitler summoned the Command of the Wehrmacht in Obersalzberg and whilst ordering cruelty to the soldiers who would soon invade Poland, he concluded his remarks saying: “Who remembers about the Armenians now?”. We bear the responsibility to fight negationism and to do so through information and education. Why is it important to fight negationism? Because the Twentieth century, the so called brief century, was about crimes being repeated and then covered with silence that made room for repeating them again and again! Negationism is that final act that makes a crime perfect, because it is planned, implemented and denied. Negationism is the second murder of the victims of a genocide case as it murders memory. Our third responsibility, which is not collective, but rather individual, is the day-by-day prevention through information, public and even most importantly, non public governmental acts. It is the struggle to prevent genocide. Alas, Armenia has done what it takes. Last year, at the UN Convention on Human Rights, it renewed the very concept of the 1948 Convention where Raphael Lemkin took his cues from the Armenian genocide to coin the legal term “genocide”. Armenia introduced the key instrument of education, which is really a key instrument, believe me, and the instrument of the struggle against negationism as key instruments of genocide prevention. I believe we would have betrayed the memory of the Righteous if we had not taken personally sides on the front of the struggle against genocide denial. And, now, please, father Barbareschi. Let me ensure that I was very moved when you held your speech. Today I will bring back to Rome your advice to think at the end of each day of what we have done. I will always think of what act of freedom I performed during the day. Thank you. 

H.E. Sargis Ghazaryan

Analysis by

15 April 2014

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