Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 108261 times)

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #180 on: October 16, 2006, 10:26:37 AM »
I agree that religious imagery is always lurking in the shadows of political rhetoric.  Look at the resurgence in fundamentalism that has gripped the world in the last few decades and the direction politics has taken in the U.S.  Candidates for pollitical office must now declare that they are persons of faith, a really frightening swing of the pendulum for American politics.

Did you happen to see Andrew Sullivan on Booknotes last night? He was discussing his new book about recovering the soul of American conservatism from the religious fundamentalists. It was really interesting. But I admit I'm a big fan of Andrew Sullivan. Even when I don't agree with him I find his ideas worthy of further thought.

Tsarfan makes a very good point - the U.S. spent decades labeling the USSR as godless commies intent upon taking over the world and making us slaves to the government.  There was a concerted effort made by our government to convince of that communism was evil and the work of the devil.    "We will bury you" was seen as a very real threat by many Americans.

At the same time I should point out that Soviet Communism was demonstrably evil and that Khrushchev's threat "we will bury you," especially in the light of the Cuban missile crisis, had to be taken seriously by Americans in the early 1960s. They didn't have the benefit of our hindsight - they didn't know that the entire Soviet economy was already in negative growth and the arms race would turn out to be a very costly red herring.

One reason why nazis became the personification of evil in popular culture, is because they're so easy to caricature - no subtlety, no nuance, no thinking  - just in your face evil.

That's true, if you think of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator or even that execrable old TV series, Hogan's Heroes. I can't think of any comedies about Stalin. As far as I know the closest he comes to parody in Western pop culture or the arts is in the film Europa, Europa when in a dream sequence he dances arm in arm with Hitler.
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #181 on: October 16, 2006, 10:30:23 AM »

Well, that's the same era when we were sheltering wanted Nazi war criminals because our intelligence services thought they would be useful in our fight against Soviet communism. There wasn't a lot of awareness of either Nazi or Soviet genocides in the U.S. at the time. Most of those teachers lecturing you about the evils of Communism probably had very little idea if any of the Gulag or its murderous nature. But I have to tell you, Tsarfan, that IMHO they were right to teach you and your schoolmates that the Soviet Union was intent on "snuffing out freedom" in the world. After all, the Berlin Wall was still standing!


What amazes me about American political culture is how quickly we can switch views of where evil lies in the world and how exclusive those views are at any one time.  In the early 1940's, Japan and Germany were viewed as evil incarnate, and we were allied with the Soviet Union.  In the 1950's and early 1960's, it was the Soviet Union that monopolized our view of evil, while we helped rebuild Japan and Germany and ignored abhorrent regimes in Latin America.  In the 1970's it was Red China and its satellites.  Now it is fundamentalist Islam, the hatred and fear of which dilutes our focus on budding threats in Korea and to virtually ignore Darfur.

When it comes to enemies, we Americans just do not multi-task very well.  And we have very short memories.  Nothing like the centuries-long antipathy between France and England that pre-dates the Hundred Years War.  And certainly nothing to hold a candle to the Islamic world's ability to set current policy as if the Crusaders had just pulled up stakes in Palestine last year.

However, I can assure you I agree that my teachers were right about the Soviet Union.  In fact, I lived in West Berlin in the 1970's and was a frequent visitor to East Berlin, where I got a snoot full of the Orwellian world on that side of the wall. 

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #182 on: October 16, 2006, 10:51:16 AM »
What amazes me about American political culture is how quickly we can switch views of where evil lies in the world and how exclusive those views are at any one time.  In the early 1940's, Japan and Germany were viewed as evil incarnate, and we were allied with the Soviet Union.  In the 1950's and early 1960's, it was the Soviet Union that monopolized our view of evil, while we helped rebuild Japan and Germany and ignored abhorrent regimes in Latin America.  In the 1970's it was Red China and its satellites.  Now it is fundamentalist Islam, the hatred and fear of which dilutes our focus on budding threats in Korea and to virtually ignore Darfur.

When it comes to enemies, we Americans just do not multi-task very well.  And we have very short memories.  Nothing like the centuries-long antipathy between France and England that pre-dates the Hundred Years War.  And certainly nothing to hold a candle to the Islamic world's ability to set current policy as if the Crusaders had just pulled up stakes in Palestine last year.

There are always plenty of evil regimes in the world to choose from. The real question is whether we formulate our foreign policy on an idealistic, moral basis, or if we only concern ourselves with other countries in so far as it serves our own best interests. The former approach was a success in Kosovo but arguably it has been a resounding failure in Iraq. That war has also left us with very little room in which to maneuver in our negotiations with North Korea and Iran, since we're militarily overstretched and can't realistically threaten military action against rogue nations such as these (even if we have no intention of carrying out that threat in reality, it still should be an option available to us). I hate to say it, but self-interest seems to be the most practical route. Or, to put it another way, if we're going to err on one side or the other, we should err on the side of self-interest.

For that matter I think it's actually healthy that we don't have age-old grudges against other countries. But that's undoubtedly one of the many enormous benefits of being a truly multicultural society.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2006, 10:58:26 AM by Elisabeth »
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Offline RichC

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #183 on: October 16, 2006, 11:24:11 AM »
I think it's clear by now that there was a definite attempt to associate the Russian communists with "evil" during the cold war.  Reagan's "evil empire" comments definitely had an effect. 

But the association of Nazism and evil is still much stronger and longer-lasting in the public imagination than it is with the former Soviet regime.  Note the outcry over Prince Harry's Nazi outfit for a costume party or the furor over the Hitler Cafe in India.  I doubt there would have been much furor if these had been Soviet themed.  Partially, I think the Nazi's courted this association themselves while the communists did not.  The swastika itself has its origins in mysticism.  Many top Nazi's dabbled in mysticism and the occult.  Didn't Hitler have an astrologer?

I remember a widely reported case of a German woman who died during an exorcism; she was supposedly possessed by Hitler, if I remember correctly.

What about the Indiana Jones films which depict the Nazi's as attempting to steal the ark in order to achieve world domination?

Offline Tania+

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #184 on: October 16, 2006, 11:47:51 AM »
Hi Rich,

But Rich, why to date has there been lack of a civilized group of journalists, to bring to the forefront of the many ills, the loss of life suffered in Russia, as was done in the public address on Nazism. What makes the Nazi era that more important, and in the loss of life rather than the extreme loss of life suffered in Russia. That really is something that has escaped the historians books, on a mass market value...Nazism was evil, but imho, the Soviet regime was evil incarnate and then some...

The reason I think that Nazism stays in the public mind is the amassed information used to show again what it did to a peoples, and that their homeland had yet to be put in place, permanently, which finally became an independent state in 1949. The war of words, placed on the Nazi's during and after it had fallen, was pushed in the press more than any other public story that had been played in history. It was also offered so that there would be less attacks forthcoming in the Middle East.

But I still think that the Soviet regieme was the worst that the world has seen to date. Over 30 million peoples lost their lives as to the loss of life under the Nazis. The Nazis were brought to trial thank goodness, but those under the old Soviet regieme were never brought to trial. As a distant side note; I think that it has to do with the political end of things and who thinks what is important for a peoples to focus on, or not.  For us here presently in the U.S., I certainly don't think at this time, we are centered, let alone focused. I think we need to clean house, with Mr. Rumsfield going out first. Oh boy talk about multi-tasking

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #185 on: October 16, 2006, 11:50:12 AM »
I think it's clear by now that there was a definite attempt to associate the Russian communists with "evil" during the cold war.  Reagan's "evil empire" comments definitely had an effect. 

But the association of Nazism and evil is still much stronger and longer-lasting in the public imagination than it is with the former Soviet regime.  Note the outcry over Prince Harry's Nazi outfit for a costume party or the furor over the Hitler Cafe in India.  I doubt there would have been much furor if these had been Soviet themed.  Partially, I think the Nazi's courted this association themselves while the communists did not.  The swastika itself has its origins in mysticism.  Many top Nazi's dabbled in mysticism and the occult.  Didn't Hitler have an astrologer?

I remember a widely reported case of a German woman who died during an exorcism; she was supposedly possessed by Hitler, if I remember correctly.

You know, you bring up several very good points, RichC. I myself must be a total hypocrite, because I display in my bathroom (well, that's the most appropriate place) a Socialist Realist colored print of Stalin at some sort of formal reception (he's being presented with flowers by a buxom peasant lass) and an old, red Soviet banner with Lenin's face on it in gold and the emblem, "To the Victory of Communism!" For that matter, for years my husband had in his study a real old Soviet flag, every inch of which was covered with those souvenir Soviet "znachki" or medals, which depict everything from Lenin as a child to various events in the Soviet Olympics of 1980. And yet I can't imagine us ever having the bad taste to display Nazi prints, flags, and emblems! Yet what truly is the moral difference between the two regimes?

Maybe it's that, contrary to what Bev said above, the Soviet regime does lend itself all too readily to parody, at least for those who grew up in the former Soviet Union, as my husband did, or who spent their formative years studying that regime, as I did. I never looked at the question this way before but I think there is actually a very healthy cult of parodying the Bolsheviks in the former Soviet Union at least, as witnessed by the art of the Conceptualists - to give the most obvious example. The Soviets seem to have embodied a very traditionally Russian form of evil - petty, grey, squalid, banal - no less murderous for all that but all the same the stuff of comedy as much as - or perhaps even much more so than the Nazis were.

I'll give another example. In Bulgaria last year we went to a peasant market where they were selling Nazi souvenirs. There was even a clock with Hitler's picture in it. (The Bulgarians have a complicated attitude to the Nazi past. Since the Nazis occupied their country, they don't feel particularly benevolent towards them, but since they also didn't kill any of their Jews, they also on some level don't see what all the fuss is about.) My husband said, don't even touch that, it's bad luck. Whereas if it had been a clock with Lenin's portrait in it he might actually have considered buying it as a souvenir.

But this is why I think the traditional Western reading of the demonic hangs more heavily over the Nazis than over the Soviets. Maybe, as you suggest RichC, this is because the Nazis in large part courted this image. I for one don't think those black SS uniforms with skulls and crossbones were just an accident. There was a willful attempt to evoke the uncanny, the pagan, the dreadful, by Hitler and his regime.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2006, 12:06:54 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #186 on: October 16, 2006, 12:17:38 PM »
I think we have to remember that the western world went to war to stop Hitler and his allies.  Most Americans of my generation have fathers and uncles who were in combat against Germany or Japan and mothers and aunts whose lives and careers were changed by the war economy.  And these experiences have worked their way into America's collective memory in a way that the Cold War -- which was mostly a war fought on the evening news -- never did.  Just watch The History Channel, which some wags dub "All World War II, All the Time".

Even though it is not an objectively balanced view of history -- either in terms of numbers of dead, of ideological assault on western liberalism, or even of potential physical threat to the U.S. -- Naziism is a more forceful presence in the personal recollections of most Americans than Bolshevism.  Consequently, it is overweighted in Americans' estimations of where evil lay in the 20th century.

Offline RichC

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #187 on: October 16, 2006, 12:36:14 PM »
Hi Rich,

But Rich, why to date has there been lack of a civilized group of journalists, to bring to the forefront of the many ills, the loss of life suffered in Russia, as was done in the public address on Nazism. What makes the Nazi era that more important, and in the loss of life rather than the extreme loss of life suffered in Russia. That really is something that has escaped the historians books, on a mass market value...Nazism was evil, but imho, the Soviet regime was evil incarnate and then some...

The reason I think that Nazism stays in the public mind is the amassed information used to show again what it did to a peoples, and that their homeland had yet to be put in place, permanently, which finally became an independent state in 1949. The war of words, placed on the Nazi's during and after it had fallen, was pushed in the press more than any other public story that had been played in history. It was also offered so that there would be less attacks forthcoming in the Middle East.

But I still think that the Soviet regieme was the worst that the world has seen to date. Over 30 million peoples lost their lives as to the loss of life under the Nazis. The Nazis were brought to trial thank goodness, but those under the old Soviet regieme were never brought to trial. As a distant side note; I think that it has to do with the political end of things and who thinks what is important for a peoples to focus on, or not.  For us here presently in the U.S., I certainly don't think at this time, we are centered, let alone focused. I think we need to clean house, with Mr. Rumsfield going out first. Oh boy talk about multi-tasking

Tatiana+

Well, it seems to me, Tatiana, that it's mostly up to the Russian people themselves to spearhead a national discussion about the Soviet regime; what it really was, and what it's legacy is.  If something like that took place, wouldn't journalists report it?  For God's sake, they can't even get their act together to move Lenin out of Red Square and demolish the mausouleum.  Remember Bitburg (where President Reagan visited a German cemetary which contained the graves of some SS troops)?  Well, I'm sorry to be so harsh about it, but the Russians have a Bitburg right in Red Square!  Isn't Stalin buried nearby? 

You claim that these people were responsible for the worst regime ever.  If so, why are they still buried in places of honor, 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union?

I will add, however, that some Russian journalists have worked to expose the ills of present regime in Russia -- and they wind up getting shot, don't they?

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #188 on: October 16, 2006, 12:58:41 PM »
Well, it seems to me, Tatiana, that it's mostly up to the Russian people themselves to spearhead a national discussion about the Soviet regime; what it really was, and what it's legacy is.  If something like that took place, wouldn't journalists report it?  For God's sake, they can't even get their act together to move Lenin out of Red Square and demolish the mausouleum.  Remember Bitburg (where President Reagan visited a German cemetary which contained the graves of some SS troops)?  Well, I'm sorry to be so harsh about it, but the Russians have a Bitburg right in Red Square!  Isn't Stalin buried nearby? 

You claim that these people were responsible for the worst regime ever.  If so, why are they still buried in places of honor, 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union?

I will add, however, that some Russian journalists have worked to expose the ills of present regime in Russia -- and they wind up getting shot, don't they?

Something of a national discussion about the atrocities perpetrated under the Communists did start around 1990-1991, during perestroika but before the Communist regime and the Soviet empire itself collapsed. I was in the Soviet Union during the summer of 1991 and there were almost endless documentaries about Soviet concentration camps that were shown on television. I think such media scrutiny on the crimes of the Soviet regime was actually a major factor in the collapse of the Communist party in the former Soviet Union. To this date, let us note, it has never recovered its former strength in numbers and certainly not in influence. Today the Communist party's supporters in the Soviet Union are generally old-age pensioners and very young neo-fascists or trendy followers of the writer Limonov (the so-called Red-Brown coalition, which is only natural, since the two extremes of the political spectrum are but opposite sides of the same coin).

Right now it's an entirely different story with the writing of Russian history because the current president of Russia, Putin, glorifies his KGB past and indeed even the past of the KGB's predecessors, the murderous revolutionary secret police organization called the Cheka. It's no surprise that Lenin's tomb has not yet been removed from Red Square. Putin and his cohorts celebrate every victory of the Russian past, whether it belonged to Lenin, Stalin, or Peter the Great. During the last election his party's propaganda posters showed all these historical figures side by side with such anti-Soviet writers as Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn. My husband calls it the fragmentation of the Russian national consciousness. He thinks it's a definite warning of worse yet to come. And as long as Russia's economy remains propped up by artificially high oil prices, it is indeed difficult to see how any national reawakening to the real lessons of history can take place.

« Last Edit: October 16, 2006, 01:15:20 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline RichC

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #189 on: October 16, 2006, 01:47:18 PM »
Would you agree, though, Elisabeth, that the failure to keep up the drum beat against the Soviet past is really not the fault of the journalists (in the West or the East)?  I guess I just don't think that journalists, or the "media" are to blame here.  They're too convenient a scapegoat, if you ask me.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #190 on: October 16, 2006, 01:56:48 PM »
Oh, definitely, RichC, I don't think the Russian media is to blame. It's almost entirely government-controlled at this point, anyway. Those brave Russian journalists who have dared to buck the system have had and are continuing to pay the ultimate price - death at the hands of professional hit-squads, some of whom might be linked, directly or indirectly, to the government itself.
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Offline Tania+

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #191 on: October 16, 2006, 02:06:29 PM »
Rich,

Allow me to clarify my thoughts. I did not mean that the Russian Media were at fault, I am stating that of the press in the West, not much has really been shared about the concentration camps, etc., major loss of life, etc., in the old USSR, as was shared by journalists in the West about the Nazis. I think the present press in the Russian Federation are trying to get their facts together and work towards freeing the truth, but unfortunately, those hired in the professional hit squads and death squads don't want it.

One would think by now, that there would be a national discusssion of the Russian peoples themselves spear heading a rational discussion on the old Soviet regieme, and decidingly involved into pressing their thoughts and will on the future will be. This evidently is not on the table, and neither will the allowance of journalists being able to bring the truth home to the peoples of the Russian Federation. I guess the people they have buried in Moscow's Red Square, is a reminder to all, that that particular bit of history may not be over with. It seems to me, if nothing is stated, somethings are left for the most of visual and psychological impact.

How else to bring and employ freedoms to Russia, is still waiting in the wings to evidence itself. Thanks again RichC !

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Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #192 on: October 16, 2006, 02:14:09 PM »
The way the Soviets obscured their history, few people outside of the USSR had any idea of what was going on.  The first time I remember any kind of popular awareness of the cruelty and secrecy of the USSR was when Solzhenitsyn's work made it to the west in 1973.

Another thought that occurred to me is that there is no particular group demanding justice with enough of a political constituency to be heard.

Frankly, too, I don't think that people want to know about it.  I don't know why (although I have a few ideas about that) but one reason is that it is too much to comprehend and too difficult to understand.  Think of it this way - in this age of instant communication and awareness how many people do you know that are interested in the latest genocide in Africa?  Look at how quickly the Abu Graib atrocities were buried and it gives us an inkling of what peoples' priorities are. (And I'm not making a moral judgement, most people in this world are just trying to get through today.)

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #193 on: October 17, 2006, 12:48:34 PM »
The way the Soviets obscured their history, few people outside of the USSR had any idea of what was going on.  The first time I remember any kind of popular awareness of the cruelty and secrecy of the USSR was when Solzhenitsyn's work made it to the west in 1973.

Yes, this was the major breakthrough because word of what Solzhenitsyn had published even penetrated Western popular culture, via the media. And we also have to remember that much of what Solzhenitsyn revealed about the camps in the Gulag was not even well known in the Soviet Union. I think it's true that Solzhenitsyn's monumental work The Gulag Archipelago was the second significant crack in the armor of the Soviet regime, after Khrushchev's address to the Twentieth Party Congress denouncing Stalin's crimes. From then on it was all downhill for the Soviet Union.

Another thought that occurred to me is that there is no particular group demanding justice with enough of a political constituency to be heard.

This is also true. I think part of the reason for this is that the Soviet terror swept over so many different ethnic groups, not just Russians. Therefore any collective demand for recognition and remembrance is unrealistic in so far as these different groups are not likely to come together and demand that the U.S. Congress erect a monument to the victims of Soviet communism. Also I suspect that Russian cultural attitudes to remembrance are very different than those of Jews who survived the Holocaust. The Jews have a very important historical and cultural understanding of the significance of their suffering down the ages to their sense of religious and even national identity (if we are talking about Israel). With the Russians, and other ethnic peoples persecuted by the Soviet regime, I don't think there's any such cohesive sense of national identity borne out of suffering. On the contrary, plenty of Russians believed in the Soviet dream and only woke up to the deception when they found themselves in Siberian concentration camps. Indeed, some of them even remained convinced of the ultimate rightness of Marxism-Leninism despite being incarcerated in the camps. So I think the very act of remembrance is much, much more fraught with moral ambiguity for survivors of the Soviet terror than it is for survivors of the Holocaust.

Frankly, too, I don't think that people want to know about it.  I don't know why (although I have a few ideas about that) but one reason is that it is too much to comprehend and too difficult to understand.  Think of it this way - in this age of instant communication and awareness how many people do you know that are interested in the latest genocide in Africa?  Look at how quickly the Abu Graib atrocities were buried and it gives us an inkling of what peoples' priorities are. (And I'm not making a moral judgement, most people in this world are just trying to get through today.)

It's my experience that when most people hear the word "Darfur" they throw up their hands in despair. It's much more comfortable to wax self-righteously indignant about genocides that took place in the past than about those taking place in the here and now. For one thing, it's never clear what the average citizen is supposed to do about Darfur or Rwanda or Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly when even the United Nations itself never seems to have a clear stategy formulated for fighting modern-day genocides. That's why I have to laugh - bitterly - when I hear politicians and popes piously intone the phrase "Never again" after laying a wreath at the site of one of the former Nazi concentration camps. How many genocides have there been since 1945? It would be interesting to actually count them. IMHO, with a few rare exceptions, like George Clooney and Mia Farrow, we're all hypocrites in this matter.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2006, 12:52:41 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tania+

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #194 on: October 17, 2006, 01:29:01 PM »
Elizabeth,
As i have stated earlier, I belivee Solzhenitsyn to have been the main person to have broken through the Soviet armor protecting the cruelty and secrecy of the USSR, and that of the gulags. For Russia, he allowed truth to ring loud and clear.

But I again want to bring focus to your second paragraph in that on terror of the Soviets. Before the Soviets came to power, in the mid 1800's, there abouts, Armenians had come to the Tsars and asked for protection from the Ottoman Empire, primarily the Turks who were murdering and torturing their kinsmen. As you know in 1915 came the terrible purge of the Armenian nation by the Turks, please also refer to the AP Website Thread : Imperial Russian History, and the thread 'Armenian Genocide'. The Russians knew of the Holocaust of the Armenians, but continued to murder their own as well. So when you say, The Jews have a very important historical and cultural understanding of the significance of their suffering down through the ages, to their sense of religious and even national identity, you can be sure that the Armenians, and yes even the Greeks have the same in identifical significance !

The Armenians not only went through the first Holocaust of the 20th Century, but had to endure the Russian Revolution, and the ongoing difficulties as the Jews in Russia. There was no separation when it came to suffering! There were countless numbers who suffered and died in these awful concentration camps of both Lenin and Stalin's. But to be sure the Armenians to date have had no real acknowledgement, nor compensation for their immense losses from before the 1900's. The loss of life, property, religious houses and clericks were immense. The people or of those who survived, and were not tortured, murdered savagely, were scattered to the four corners of the earth. Despair does not even begin to express the issues they continue to address till today. As you stated about the Soviet Terror, for the Armenians, from the Turks to the Soviet Terror, they remain long lasting, irresable for all historians.

How do i know, my in-laws family did not escape the Holocaust, nor Lenin's and Stalins Gulags, and prisons. So it is why we today are able to address these issues, and speak out in and on behalf of their many trials. We speak not only from historical documents, but from the lips of those themselves who were taken in their youth, their prime of life, their old age, their golden years.

You can be sure that ethnic peoples persecuted by the Soviet regime have an assured cohesive sense of identity in that Soviet suffering. I don't know whom you have reached out to, or whom you know, but as sure as you and i live they surely identify in term of suffering. There is no ambiguity in the above for anyone, believe me.

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