Genocide or No Genocide? Bulgaria's 'Third Way' on Armenian Killings

Opinions |Author: Angel Petrov | April 24, 2015, Friday // 13:05|  views

Bulgaria recognized something happened with Armenians in Ottoman times. But will any senior representative attend next year's commemorations? We're yet to see. EPA/BGNES

Bulgarian Parliament has just adopted a declaration calling deaths of Armenians caused by the Ottoman Empire in 1910s "mass extermination".

The initial plan was to decide whether or not to join a group of countries which recognize the developments as "genocide", and this had been the proposal... until Friday morning, just an hour before a vote took place.

In an environment poisoned by strong wording and mutual accusations during the plenary hall discussion of the text, the deus ex machina was, as usual, Bulgaria's Prime Minister.

PM Boyko Borisov had not initially intended (or at least had not declared intentions) on visiting Parliament just hours ahead of his scheduled visit to Romania where he is to take part in a joint cabinet meeting on key common projects.

The head of government, however, arrived, repeating various times the wording "mass extermination" instead of "genocide", saying these was the Bulgarian phrase as recorded "in the dictionaries".

An MP named Tsveta Karayancheva introduced roughly at the same a proposal that the initial bill, introduced by a nationalist party, should not contain the word "genocide" but should involve "mass extermination" instead.

Some scholars say "extermination" is just a phase of genocide, while others (along with journalists and some public figures) tend to use it as a contextual synonym.

But indeed, in most Bulgarian dictionaries the word "genocide" means "extermination of entire groups of people" on racial, religious or other motives. This suggests "mass extermination" is quite right in Bulgarian, though it is not the full phrase.

So why have Bulgarian lawmakers moved to use the word even though international terminology adheres to a strict meaning of the word "genocide"?

It is not out of linguistic purity, for sure. Otherwise this argument would have put forward by any GERB member, and PM Borisov would have not popped up in Parliament. However, he had to come for another reason: to make the word public. He also stressed several times the Republic of Turkey has nothing to do with those events; as if anyone had suggested it does.

The precise meaning of this or other word is of no matter to Bulgarian MPs.

Novinite, for its part, does not take positions on historical events, even though it does take what looks like "most convincing evidence" into consideration so that members of its team could make a judgment for themselves.

But one cannot help noticing that on Friday Bulgaria took a last-minute step to take a side and avoid taking a side at the same time. It simultaneously admitted hundreds of thousands of Armenians died a century ago (and it was the Ottoman Empire that should be held accountable) and avoided entering the list of states who did the same.

Because each time when any publication lists countries ("Argentina, Austria, Canada... France... Russia..." etc) that have recognized what they call "genocide", Bulgaria would have the full right to request that its entry be removed; and it might have or might not have grounds to do so.

In fact as I am writing these lines, Bulgaria's name is in the list of countries (along with a vast number of EU member states) that recognize a "genocide" on Wikipedia, even though the source cited below (as of April 24, 13:00 EEST) says nothing about this.

Bulgaria's vote is an example of its usual way of taking a side: let us demonstrate we are part of the European community, but no-one should be left offended.

If that is the case, we should have voted "no", at least to be clear about what we are saying to the world.

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Tags: Bulgaria, parliament, Armenians, Armenia, genocide, mass extermination, Boyko Borisov, Tsveta Karayancheva, GERB, Borisov, killing, Ottoman Empire


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