Honoring “Turkish Schindlers” — Forgotten Heroes Of The Armenian Genocide

Unlike the 'Righteous Among The Nations' of the Nazi Holocaust, individual Turks who opposed the Armenian genocide are lost to history. Again, Turkey's government is largely to blame.

Armenian refugee children near Athens in 1923 after expulsion from Turkey.
Armenian refugee children near Athens in 1923 after expulsion from Turkey.
Laurence D’Hondt

SOLOGNE — Whenever Jean-Pierre Fleury's mother talked to her son about the fate of the Armenian people, she would always end her story with a reminder: "Never forget it was Turks who saved us..."

Fleury, growing up in France, had only discovered his mother's Armenian origins when she started talking with a stranger in a language he did not understand, and suddenly burst into tears. Shaken by this revelation, the young man never stopped questioning his mother about the tragic events that led to the death of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, between 1915 and 1923.

But like tens of thousands of Armenian refugees in France, Jean-Pierre's mother, Joséphine Mouradian, preferred not to talk about the events that would 60 years later be qualified as the first genocide of the 20th century.

"When she died, I didn't know much," he explains today, speaking from the hunting lodge he runs in the central French town of Sologne. "Since then, I have visited Syria and Turkey, I spoke with those who still had memories of what happened, and I learned that my great-grandfather had his head put on a spike. But what I still had no idea about was who these Turkish people who saved us were."

Jean-Pierre is not the only one unaware of the names and identities of those his family owes their lives to. In Erevan, the capital city of Armenia, Maryam recounts the story of a good Samaritan whose name has been lost.

He told them: "I can't let people as beautiful as you die, it would be a sin against God."

"My family lived in Izmir. They were jewelers. One evening, their neighbor, a Turkish soldier, came to tell them that massacres would be happening the next morning. He told them: "I can't let people as beautiful as you die, it would be a sin against God"". The Turkish soldier then proceeded to put the children on donkeys and brought the family to Izmir harbor, where a boat was departing to Greece.

Maryam remembers : "My great-aunt, who was little, would always tell us about this sordid detail: what she had first thought was algae in the harbor at night turned out to be the hair of decapitated women."

But the testimony she wants to share now is not about the violence endured by her people, but her gratitude for the Turkish soldier: "We later learned that when he came home, he and his whole family were executed because he had helped Armenians flee. Every night, my grandmother would pray for the soul of this soldier and his family."

Soldiers or shepherds, but also government employees and VIPs, there were a heroic handful of Turks who opposed the deportation orders from the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), who then ruled the Ottoman Empire. But unlike the Righteous Among the Nations of the Nazi Holocaust — named by the state of Israel for non-Jews who took action to save Jewish would-be victims —the heroes of the Armenian massacres have never seen their names printed in history books, nor honored by any commemorative plaque. To a large degree, this is a side-effect of Turkey's continued refusal to acknowledge the existence of the Armenian genocide. Denial has become the Turkish State's policy, and it is dangerous to challenge it.

Armenian woman and child receiving food relief - Photo: Wikimedia

How could we imagine a commemorative effort for those who, among the Turks, directly opposed government directives in the future Turkish State? "There often is a Turk or a Kurd in the memories of survivors," according to Lusine Kharatyan, coordinator of DVV International, a German NGO working on reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian people. "Without their intervention, there would never have been survivors."

Breaking the silence

Turkish historian Tanner Akçam, an exiled political refugee, recounts in his 2008 book A Shameful Act the story of several regional governors who, refusing to obey Istanbul, saved millions of lives.

Celal Bey, governor of Aleppo, opposed orders of deportation that would have led Armenians to their deaths. Dismissed from office, Bey was transferred to the Anatolian city of Konya, where he again refused to obey orders, while trying to warn foreign diplomats about the events about to unfold. In his Memoirs, published by the newspaper Vakit in 1918, the official wrote: " My situation in Konya is one of a man, without any means, sitting along a river where the blood of thousands of children, irreproachable elderly, desperate women, flows."

Other governors lost their lives for resistance. Huseyin Nesimi Bey, the kaimakan (governor) of the province of Lice, was murdered by henchmen of the central government as he was on his way to meet with the Ottoman administration in Diyarbakir. These executions happened with the blessing of those in power, sentencing to death anyone in the Ottoman Empire who would "bring help to the Armenians," whether high officials or shepherds and soldiers.

To attempt to break the silence, a book was released in 2015 in Armenia. Greta Avetisyan collected testimonies from families. "For the 100-year anniversary of the genocide, marked in Erevan on April 25, 2015, I decided to collect memories from 100 families who were saved by Turks," the young Armenian researcher explained.

The Berberyan family lives in an old Stalin-era apartment in Erevan. A simple mention of the family's history is enough to spark debate. "We are called the Berberyan, which means "barber." It was our great-grandfather's job," says Naïra, who sits with her family around a table covered in cooked meals, dried fruit and goat cheese. "As the massacres had already started, the mayor summoned my great-grandfather, Harutyun, and drew a sign on his house so he wouldn't be killed. But the mayor only saved my great-grandfather because he wanted to keep his barber!"

It is true that back in those horrific days of 1915, many of the lives that were saved were for reasons that are not always mentionable. Some Armenian artisans and intellectuals, whose experience was useful, were occasionally spared. Hundreds of thousands of young Armenian women were forced into marriage and converted to Islam, children were adopted to make claim to the possession of their Armenian families. "The existence of modern Turkey is founded on a national idealism, Armenians were destroyed as a "race" because they were biologically dangerous for the "Turkish race" and were politically too liberal," explains French historian Vincent Duclert, an expert on the genocide.

Simply mentioning genocide risks years in prison in Turkey.

The current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is continuing the policy of genocide denial. And since the failed coup of last July, state repression and clampdowns on free speech make the mention of these hidden Turkish heroes even more improbable, and any possible reconciliation with Armenia all that much harder: simply mentioning genocide risks years in prison in Turkey.

This state-driven denial hinders the research of historians, Turks and Armenians alike. The taboo is hard to get rid of in Armenia as well, for different reasons. "It's hard for an Armenian to acknowledge the role played by Turks because he will think it exempts Turkey from its responsibility in the genocide," admits Suren Manukyan, member of the Armenian parliament and former director of the Armenian genocide memorial in Tsitsernakaberd, near Erevan.

Still, he believes that the figure of the "Righteous among the Nations' is a way for the Turkish government to identify with their righteous kin from such a horrid chapter of the country's history. "It's a reconciliatory figure that can help Turkey acknowledge the genocide," says Lusine Kharatyan, who often confronts young Armenian and Turks about their pasts.

A first step was taken in 2015 with the creation, thanks to the initiative of a trio of philanthropists from the Armenian diaspora, of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity to "honor the memory of Armenian genocide survivors by supporting projects honoring their saviors." This prize honors each year "those who take risks for the well-being of others and who embody the best of what makes us a global community," as described by Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico, who joined the Aurora prize selection committee in 2017.

In Europe, recognition of the Armenian tragedy is slowly taking root. In Germany, during the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide by the Bundestag on June 2, 2016, the member of parliament of Turkish origin Cem Özdemir addressed the existence of the forgotten "righteous' during parliamentary debate. Mixing his German nationality and Turkish roots, Özdemir has a particular legitimacy that allows him to compare the Righteous among the Nations of the Shoah with Turks who risked their own lives to oppose barbarism. "In many cases, it was Muslim faith or their conception of humanity that would not allow them to obey Istanbul's orders. We have to honor their memory and the memory of Turkish heroes who refused to obey orders. They are the Turkish Schindlers."

But the passing of generations creates a fear that these quiet heroes will be forgotten, for Turks and Armenian survivors alike. In his house in Sologne, Jean-Pierre Fleury has not given up on finding the name of the man who saved his mother's life, even if chances are getting thinner each year.

"I never had the chance to know what happened, but I believe my mother's word : if I am here today, it is thanks to these righteous people. These men and women risked their lives for us. A hundred years of silence is enough."

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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