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Looking Back At Terrorism

Looking Back At TerrorismFletcher graduate Harout H. Semerdjian talks about the history of international terrorism and urges world leaders to acknowledge and learn from terror tragedies of the past.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.16.05] While the attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, introduced many Americans to the realities of international terrorism, the West lags behind much of the world when it comes to accepting it as a fact of life. In a recent opinion piece, Fletcher graduate Harout H. Semerdjian explored the roots of terrorism and urged global leaders to learn from terror tragedies that their countries, and others, have endured in the past.

“The recent acts of international terrorism are a modern-day demonstration of the deadly magnitude of terrorist objectives, particularly as they transpire on North American and European soil,” Semerdjian, a research associate at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote in an op-ed in the Asia Times. “What we are experiencing today, however, is not a new phenomenon in world history.”

According to Semerdjian, terrorism, motivated by extreme religious ideologies, has colored world history.

“For centuries, entire indigenous populations in the Middle East and elsewhere have been exterminated in the name of religion,” he wrote. “While patterns of such events are not exactly the same as what we are witnessing today in the form of Al-Qaeda-inspired violence, the thought process behind the systematic and orchestrated murder of innocents is.”

Semerdjian pointed out a modern-era example of the devastating effects of terrorism in the name of religion: the 1915 massacre of Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, which was ruled by the Muslim Turks.

“The outcome was one of the worst quantitative measures of terror and genocide in human history, resulting in the massacre of 1.5 million people and the destruction of an astounding 4,000 Christian churches and monasteries,” Semerdjian wrote. “An entire people was systematically targeted and annihilated on the grounds of their religion and what it represented in the confines of the Islamic empire.”

Semerdjian added that, for the most part, the West ignored this act of terror, which he considers “a calculated result of Turkish nationalism and racist policies of Turkification.”

Today, in fact, Turkey is a member of NATO and an ally of the United States in the Middle East, he explained.

“It is in this very context of alliance that the United States should expose this dark chapter in world history and require Turkey to own up to its Ottoman past, and hence secure a more reliable partner in the region,” he said.

According to Semerdjian, it is incumbent upon world leaders, including President George W. Bush, to examine the history of terrorism in order to fight against it.

“The events of the last century and particularly in the last decade should embolden the West’s commitment to fighting worldwide terrorism. This, however, can not be done without careful consideration of the historical development of today’s problems,” he stated.

While Bush is on the right track in terms of combating terrorism, Semerdjian said, the president needs to “match that resolve with an equal will to understand its real causes and to remedy some of its most blatant manifestations through clear recognition.”

“We need to strengthen this effort by promoting education and knowledge about historic and current issues of vital importance. The key in countering current acts of violence lies in understanding and absorbing lessons of history and helping to set the historical record straight,” he said. “Our fortitude and capacity to acknowledge past acts of terror will assist our current efforts in countering terrorism. Our global partners in this effort deserve our assistance and support, as well as the chance to benefit from our own introspection.”












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