Trying to create smoke without fire:
The opposition to Mahatma Gandhi’s Statue in Yerevan.
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” – Albert Einstein.
Upon the proposal of the Embassy of India in Armenia and based on the recommendation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Armenia, the Yerevan City Council of Elders, in a sitting held on the 28th of April 2020 approved the installation of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Yerevan. While the news was welcomed by society at large, certain disruptive groups, although insignificant, saw this as yet another opportunity to create social unrest to pursue their malicious agenda. An attempt is being made by them to misrepresent Mahatma Gandhi's biography, to tarnish his image and to create a false opposition to the idea of having his statue installed in Armenia. In their desperate attempts to achieve this, these groups have used manipulative language, half-truths and outright lies to misrepresent Mahatma Gandhi's legacy, desperately trying to portray him as a supporter and promoter of the Armenian Genocide. This idea is not only outrageous to anyone even slightly informed about Mahatma Gandhi's principles, but it also comes across as ridiculous and laughable.
Who in their right state of mind can even hope to successfully peddle the idea, that the person who is globally held as the apostle of peace and ahimsa (non-violence) could enjoy something as vile as a Genocide, much less support it.? These people would perhaps do themselves a big favour if they learned more about the life of Mahatma Gandhi as well as educate themselves on Indo-Armenian friendly ties that go way back in time. In doing so they would realise, that not only is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi needed in Yerevan, but it is warranted, especially when the proposal comes from the Government of India, a country that has time and again proven to be one of Armenia's most reliable friends. Mahatma Gandhi's statue in Yerevan will not represent Gandhiji himself, but it comes to represent an idea, the idea of peace and non-violence, the idea of brotherhood and satyagraha (adherence of truth). Above all, Mahatma Gandhi's statue in Yerevan will represent the centuries-old friendly ties shared by the people of India and Armenia, about which these groups seem to know very little.
Although born in India in 1869 in Porbandar, Gujarat and popularly known to Indians as Bapu or the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi belongs to the whole of humanity. His message and teaching have attained universal followers and his non-violent methods of agitation and protest have spread way beyond the borders of India. Mahatma Gandhi has influenced and inspired many world leaders like Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Su Kyi, Lech Walesa, Cesar E. Chavez, Barack Obama and countless others who shaped their careers based on Gandhiji's philosophy of nonviolence. As a clear representation of Mahatma Gandhi's fame as a symbol of peace, the United Nations General Assembly, in 2007, designated Oct. 2nd, Gandhi's birthday, as International Day of Nonviolence. Over 190 member nations observe this occasion.
It takes a lot of courage and character to fight for independence against a foreign rule without advocating violence or resorting to the use of force along the way. Yet, Mahatma Gandhi, throughout his career as the leader of the Indian National struggle, urged all his followers to refrain from using violent means, even when met with violence themselves. When on 5 February 1922, a large group of protesters, participating in Gandhiji's Non-cooperation movement at Chauri Chaura in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh attacked and set fire to a police station, killing 22 policemen, Mahatma Gandhi, who was strictly against violence, halted the non-co-operation movement on the national level as a sign of protest against his own followers, although the police had opened fire against the peaceful protestors first. By this time his Non-Cooperation Movement had gained momentum, but for Mahatma Gandhi, the principle of non-violence was of utmost importance. It is unthinkable, that a person who did not support violence against his enemies, would support the massacre of the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, such as it is being represented today.
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding Mahatma Gandhi's actions is related to the much misunderstood Khilafat Movement, initiated by the brothers Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali Jauhar to protest the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, which was seen as the seat of the Caliph or the religious leader of Sunni Islam. Faced with the urgent need to unite Hindus and Muslims against the British rule in India, Mahatma Gandhi saw in the Khilafat Movement the opportunity to bring both these communities under a common umbrella. What one needs to keep in mind, while dealing with this part of Indian History, is that India was fighting for her independence from the British rule, which could only be achieved by uniting Hindus and Muslims. While the attention of the Muslims had shifted to the Pan-Islamic Movement to save the Caliphate, Gandhiji used the opportunity of such an unprecedented Muslim mobilisation to bring them back within the fold of the Non-Cooperation Movement by lending his support to the cause and urging his Hindu followers to do the same. This support to the Khilafat movement (which derives from the Urdu term "Khilaf"- to oppose) was not aimed at endorsing the Armenian Genocide whatsoever. Mahatma Gandhi had little interest in supporting the Ottoman Empire in any way other than bringing about a Hindu-Muslim Unity to challenge the British occupation of India.
Asked by Charles Freer Andrews to define his position on the events in the Ottoman Empire, Mahatma Gandhi, wrote in Young India journal on 21st July 1920 under the heading "Mr Andrew's difficulty" where he made his stance very clear. Dealing with Mr Muhammad Ali's letter to the Ottoman Sultan promising the support of the Indian Muslims in regards to the Khilafat movement, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, " Mr Andrews considers, that Mr Muhammad Ali's language goes to show, that he would resist Armenian Independence against the Armenians and Arbain independence against the Arabs. I attach no such meaning to it. What the whole of Musulmans and therefore I think, also the Hindus resist is the shameless attempt of England and the other Powers, under the cover of self-determination to emasculate and dismember Turkey. If I understand the spirit of Islam properly, it is essentially Republican in the truest sense of the term. Therefore if Armenia or Arabia desired independence of Turkey, they should have it." In the same letter, Mahatma Gandhi continues, " Apart, therefore, from the questions of Armenia and Arabia, the dishonesty and hypocrisy that pollute the peace talks require to be instantaneously removed. It paves the way to an equitable solution of the question of Armenian and Arabian independence, which in theory no one denies and which in practice may be easily guaranteed if only the wishes of the people could with any degree be ascertained."
From the letter above, one can easily see that Mahatma Gandhi did not oppose the Treaty of Sevres because he opposed Armenian independence, but because of what he considered "dishonesty and hypocrisy that pollute the peace talks". Those accusing Mahatma Gandhi of having denied the right of Armenians to claim independence from the Ottoman Empire need to do their research well. Mahatma Gandhi’s faith in non-violence was so strong that he wrote letters to German dictator Adolf Hitler during World War II and even met Benito Mussolini in an attempt to urge them to stop the war. To Gandhi, even those committed to authoritarian rule were capable of exhibiting signs of non-violence and peace. Both these leaders were fighting against the British Empire, and although their success could potentially end British Rule in India, Gandhiji did not support their methods and chose world peace as a greater goal.
Mahatma Gandhi had high regard for the Armenian nation. When Armenian Musician Ruben Kharakhanian visited India on a tour with his wife in 1935, Mahatma Gandhi himself invited him for a meeting in Calcutta. According to the memoirs of the musician, Mahatma Gandhi is said to have remarked, "I have some acquaintances and enough information about your noble Armenian nation. You are also a tormented people ... When will the leaders of the world, the kings, and all those who have taken over the reins of government, finally find a solution for you? I hope it doesn't stay this way... Where is it said that the tree bearing fruits needs to be constantly stoned? "
Indo-Armenian ties go way back thousands of years. Connections between Indian and Armenian rulers existed even before the adoption of Christianity as State Religion in Armenia in 301 as recorded by the historian Zenob Glak, one of the first disciples of Gregory the Illuminator. According to his chronicles, two Indian princes, fleeing persecution in India, found refuge in Armenia and were given a colony in Taron with the freedom to worship their Gods. This Hindu colony existed in Armenia, uninterrupted for 450 years, until the advancement of Christianity.
One of the first Europeans to arrive in India were also the Armenians, who, having established for themselves a large network of trade and active presence, became one of the most prominent communities in the country. Through the course of Indian History, Armenians enjoyed the hospitality of the local population. Be it under the Mughal Empire, the British Rule or Independent India, cases of mistreatment of Armenians have never been recorded in India. Even to this day, traces of Armenian presence are well taken care of in India. Next year, in 2021, the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy of Kolkata will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its establishment, evidence of strong Indo-Armenian historic ties. Armenians can boast of having 7 active churches in India, spread across cities like Kolkata, Murshidabad, Chinsurah, Mumbai and Chennai, as well as smaller chapels in Agra, Delhi and Surat, all preserved and protected to this day. Some of these churches are over 300 years old. Several Indian cities have also preserved a large number of Armenian cemeteries and tombstones even without the presence of a single Armenian currently living in the said cities, some of them at expense of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). In Kolkata, other than the schools and churches, several buildings and architectural sights built by Armenians are preserved and maintained. The city boasts of having two active Armenian clubs as well. The oldest Christian tombstones in the Indian cities of Kolkata, Murshidabad, Agra, Chennai and Surat are all Armenian.
With all the rich Armenian heritage preserved and taken care of by the people in India, why should having a single Indian statue in Yerevan be a problem? Mahatma Gandhi's statue has been installed in over 70 countries globally to celebrate his advocacy of non-violence and peace. The one in Yerevan should also be looked at strictly from that angle alone.
India has always supported Armenia at the time of need and continues to be one of Armenia's strongest allies in the world. The humanitarian aid sent to Armenia during the Spitak Earthquake in 1988 cannot be forgotten. The numerous assistance programs given to various education and social institutions in the regions of Armenia by the Indian Embassy, along with the high number of long and short-term scholarships granted to Armenian students and professionals show the commitment of India to contribute in the overall development of Armenia. It is a little known fact that many Armenian soldiers that get injured on the line of duty receive implants in India and not in any European country or the USA. During the First World War, many Armenians were also saved from Turkish barbarity by the Indian soldiers who were deployed in Anatolia as part of the allied forces.
The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Yerevan will stand as a testament to the friendly ties shared by the people of Armenia and India. We welcome the decision of the Yerevan City Council of Elders and urge the public not to pay heed to the various groups attempting to advance their agenda under the garb of patriotism. Strengthened Indo-Armenian ties will benefit Armenia and the only countries that do not wish to see strong relations between India and Armenia are our enemies on the other side of the border. Why then, should we allow such fringe groups to help the cause of the enemy? We should not!
While it is the right of every citizen to express their views on such matters, we believe they should be done in a more civilized manner without hurting the sentiments of Indians or casting a shadow on the strong friendly ties shared by our countries. We also urge such people to refrain from misusing Mahatma Gandhi's name in their attempt to settle political scores with the Government.
The fact that the proposal received zero votes against it in the Yerevan City Council goes to show the unanimous support the project has across the political spectrum of Armenia. All other elements wanting to see smoke where there is no fire should best be ignored.
Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO