Saturday, December 12, 2020

Why is History so Important? Hint: If You Are Ignorant of the Past, it Will be Used Against You


Yes, this title has echoes of an old man rant.  But don’t worry, I’m not going to be sitting on my front porch yelling at the kids to get off my lawn anytime soon. As I have stated in previous articles, I have a bachelor’s degree in history and spent some time in graduate school.  The study of history I believe is critically important to a society for it tells the story of how that world in which it lives in came to be.  It is also an incredible predictor of future events, because as a species we humans have the tendency to attempt the same schemes and ideas time and time again.  And, often to our disappointment, with the same unwanted results.

The closest I will get to a political statement in this blog about the U.S. is that the legacy media and political institutions of this country, on either side of the political aisle, have their own version of history that they profess to further their political/economic goals.  Wow, that was a mouthful.  But just remember, everyone has a reason as to why they want you to remember their version of events.

Whoever said the victors write the history books was not entirely correct.  In today’s world, we constantly see news stories or political movements that try to put a new spin or interpretation on current events and what the root cause of a particular crisis might be.  This is called historical revisionism.  However, I am not going to wander directly into the minefield of current social /political issues.    There are plenty of others who are undertaking that task already.

Historical revisionism is nothing new in the modern world.  During the closing days of World War Two in Europe, the crimes of the Nazi Regime came to light as the Allied Powers liberated Nazi death camps.  War is hell, U.S. General William “Tecumseh” Sherman once wrote.  However, as American, British, and Soviet forces liberated one death camp after another, the men who liberated these camps and saw them first hand were shocked and horrified at the levels of cruelty and depravity the Nazis were capable of.  Millions of people were tortured, killed en masse in gas chambers, or worked to death in camps with names such as Dachau, Auschwitz, and Treblinka.  World War Two was a particularly brutal affair, but the level of barbarity allied soldiers discovered in these camps was beyond comprehension.  The evidence that was uncovered was so appalling that future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Supreme Commander of the western Allies, ordered each liberated camp to be meticulously filmed, photographed, and documented and have as many soldiers and civilians brought to the camps to see the carnage with their own eyes.  Eisenhower was a man with a gift of foresight, and wanted the crimes of the Nazi regime so thoroughly documented that “no bastard in 100 years could claim that this never happened.”  Sadly, today, there are some very vocal Holocaust deniers that dispute or discount the mountains of evidence that unequivocally prove one of the darkest chapters in American history.

 Story telling has a power or magic within it.  Since humans have had the ability to communicate with one another, we have told stories.  In prehistoric times, our ancestors told stories around camp fires or painted vivid images on cave walls.  The telling of stories and our history is something that is very human.  As I have written in previous articles even fantastic stories are a way of passing down certain truths or events in human memory.  I borrow from history repeatedly throughout my books.  I play with events and names and take full creative license to create a fully imaginative and fictitious world.  My fantasy books are in no way meant to be taken literally or as an authoritative take on events that occurred.  When I publish a non-fiction book, I will make it very clear that a work is nonfiction. 

As a writer of fantasy/science fiction, I am in a market full of talented and successful competition.  If I wish to be noticed in an ever-increasing ocean of books, there must be something uniquely different about the books I publish. Sure, the tropes of the genre have not changed, but the spin I put to them must capture the imagination of my audience.  That is one reason why I have created a world which relies heavily on names that I borrowed from the Armenian language.  I wanted words, places, and names that sounded unique when spoken in the English language but also were based in reality and were not just complete gobbledygook that I made up.  Tolkien’s works have withstood the test of time in part because many of languages that he invented for Middle-Earth were based on old European languages such as Welsh and Finnish and he drew inspiration from the mythologies of those cultures.  I am no linguist like Tolkien, but I do feel a connection to the languages that my ancestors spoke for countless generations.  (Like most Americans, I am not 100% of any one ethnic group, but can trace my ancestry back across several ancient European countries.)

For the current series I am working on, there is a distinct Armenian influence on character and place names.  I do this not only to give a distinct feel and sound to my books, but to also bring awareness to the plight of the Armenian people.  The Armenians are an ancient people whose country occupies only 1/10th of its historical lands.  A victim of circumstance, history, and genocide only 100 years ago, over the last thousand years Armenia has often found itself under the domination of either the Persians (modern Iranians), Turks (Seljuks and Ottomans) and Russians.  Though the Armenians were given at times varying degrees of autonomy and freedom, neither of these empires went out of their way to ensure that the indigenous Armenians were able to survive and thrive on their ancestral lands.  My maternal grandfather was Armenian and his family was directly impacted by the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. 

 Modern Armenia gained its independence with the breakup of the USSR, and was immediately put into protracted conflict with its neighbor Azerbaijan, another former Soviet Republic in the south Caucuses.  The Caucuses is a crossroads between Europe and Asia and it is one of the most diverse places on earth when ethnicity and language are taken into effect.  Though historical Armenia covers much of the Caucuses, they are not the only people who now call that region home.  While Armenia has a population of around 3 million, its neighbor Azerbaijan to the east has a population of 10 million.  So demographically, Armenia does not even have the ability to put a claim on much of its historical homeland.

 Late September – early November 2020 Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a vicious 6-week war over a disputed region called Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh in Armenian.  To the disbelief of the Armenian people and the Armenia diaspora, Azerbaijan was victorious in this 6-week war and gained control of several formally Armenian controlled territories.  The great fear by many is that the Armenian identity from these areas will be erased by Azerbaijani authorities. This fear is well founded because of documented cases such as in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (a region part of Azerbaijan) in which Azerbaijani forces systematically replaced and destroyed all traces of Armenian heritage and habitation.  With certain areas of Artsakh under Azerbaijan control, the regime of that country has continued to put forth their own version of history and downplay if not outright reject the Armenian heritage of the region.  In the age of “fake news” accusations, it is the state policy of Azerbaijan to erase Armenian history from the region and delegitimize the actual existence of the Armenian nation.  Additionally, there was documentation during this war of the Azeris targeting Armenian civilians and Armenian cultural landmarks such as churches and graveyards.  On several news sites you can watch footage of an Armenian church being bombed repeatedly within the same day.

I am just one person giving my opinions to the internet.  But I cannot stand by, even if it just means that 5 people read this, while a people not indigenous to the Caucuses (that’s a whole other article) attempts to ethnically cleanse lands that my ancestors and their descendants have inhabited for thousands of years.  History has literally been weaponized by one group of people, the Azeris, to be used against the Armenians.  Its scary that someone can ignore or laugh at thousands of years of documents, buildings, graveyards, churches, place names, and every other hallmark of a civilization and claim that there is no proof of your existence!  People are entitled to have different opinions, but I draw the line when convenient facts are invented to further a political end.  That’s one reason why I try to stay out of current American politics in this blog. 

As a writer, part of my mission is to always search for the truth, in whatever shades of grey it sometimes will come in.   My writing is my way of exploring the human experience and all that it entails.  And if my use of Armenian words and names helps even in a small way the world to remember this ancient people in dire need of help, I consider it a cause worth undertaking.




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