Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Dinner Conversation: Israel and Armenia, Oppression and Genocides, Reality and Denials

Below you will find two perspectives from a recent dinner conversation:
  1. Candid and Confrontational

  2. Compassionate and Personal

I. Candid and Confrontational

I recently attended a small family gathering, not my immediate family but my partners, so by extension people that I care for. I am Armenian and my partner is Jewish, and at the table were us and the elders, including a holocaust survivor.

During dinner the conversation drifted between various topics and at some point turned to politics, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Those who have followed my blog know that I am quite outspoken regarding my political views and rarely do I mince words, and this night was not an exception. I believe that dialogue, discussion, honesty, and candidness are needed to come to terms with what is actually taking place in the heart of the Middle-East because what transpires in that region, what the final outcome will be between Israel and Palestine, will decide the fate of humanity.

I will skip over the pleasantries and go directly to the essence of the conversation, which was; how would you describe the Israeli Palestinian relationship? Are they adversaries? Family involved in a feud? Oppressor versus the oppressed? Protectors versus the aggressors? Or are they two States at war?

As I stated, I do not mince words, and in my opinion we are witnessing a slow genocide unfolding in real time. Unfortunately, this description of the bond that exists between these two peoples is not a well-accepted point of view in my corner of the world, understandably of course, because the word ‘Genocide’ implies so much (archive.org link).
“The crime of genocide is defined in article II, the provision that sits at the heart of the Convention. Genocide is a crime of intentional destruction of a national, ethnic, racial and religious group, in whole or in part. Article II lists five punishable acts of genocide (Resolution 260 III).
    1. Killing members of the group;
    2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
“Nevertheless, alongside the legal definition of genocide, rooted in the 1948 Convention and confirmed in subsequent case law, there is a more popular or colloquial conception. In practice, this lay understanding of genocide is more akin to crimes against humanity, in that it comprises a broad range of mass atrocities.”
The Armenian Genocide
Even though my perspective of what is transpiring between Israel and Palestine was not well received, what was agreed upon was the absolute distaste that the state of Israel continues to deny the Armenian Genocide, the major opponents for which are the UK, US, Israel, and of course Turkey. A genocide which even President Obama, when Senator, recognized:
“Senator Biden and I, I think both acknowledge that, for those of you who aren’t aware, there was a genocide that did take place against the Armenian people. It is one of the situations where we have seen a constant denial on part of the Turkish government and others that this occurred. It has become a sore spot diplomatically.

“I have to check with my staff to find out what has gone on in our office that has resulted in us not signing onto it yet and I will be happy to get back to you on it.”

Indoctrination and Denial
The reasons that Israel continues to deny the Armenian genocide are political as well as psychological:
“Two forces have led to the attitude of the state of Israel and its leading institutions toward teaching and remembering other acts of genocide than the Holocaust: a) the pressure of the Turkish government regarding remembering and teaching the Armenian Genocide, and b) the opposition of several high-powered Jewish-Israeli groups who are afraid that dealing with other genocides could damage the concept of the uniqueness of the Shoah.

“The terrible tragedies that befell the Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany became, historically, an important element of Jewish and Zionist education. The educational institutions of the secular Jewish community in Israel, both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel, undertook the mission of constructing ‘the new Jew’ as a moral, conceptual and political entity... After the end of World War II, Zionist historiography used knowledge about the Holocaust as part of building a Zionist moral education…

“Under these circumstances it is not surprising to discover how little knowledge Israeli students have about other peoples' genocides. A survey which was conducted in 1996 about attitudes toward genocide (the first study that was conducted in Israel on this subject). 800 B.A. students from seven universities and colleges in Israel were asked about their knowledge, feelings and attitudes. Among other questions, they were asked to assess their knowledge about the Armenian Genocide. 42% answered that they did not have any knowledge, 44% that they had little knowledge, 13% that they had some knowledge, and 1% that they are well informed about it. Their answers about their degree of knowledge concerning the genocide of the Roma (Gypsies) were almost the same (36% no knowledge, 49% very little knowledge, 14% some knowledge, and 1% quite a bit of knowledge).”
The hypocrisy of the denial of the Armenian Genocide is of course not lost for many Israeli academics, and there are those who are working towards a reeducation program:
“Nonetheless, as noted, there are also encouraging private initiatives of teachers and directors of schools, who have decided to deal with other genocides in their schools. On the one hand, their influence is limited, yet on the other hand they exert long-term influence.”
As for the final outcome of the dinner conversation, we all learned something and its effects continue to unfold. Below you will find an essay regarding what transpired written by my partner for a school project. She is much wiser than I.

II. Compassionate and Personal

Oppression in a World of Different Perspectives
Relational Practice

Oppression in a World of Differing Perspectives

This paper is a deeply personal exploration into my history, into understanding where I have come from and what constitutes my identity. It is an exploration into my personal situatedness and current constitutedness – two integral supporting relational practice within nursing care. In this paper I will explore my identity in relation to being born from a survivor of the holocaust and how this past history relates to my current personal life. This paper includes a broad exploration of the notion and experience of oppression with an overall foundation of compassion ebbing through out my views. I will explore how oppression and breaking the cycles of oppression are currently a topic of self-enquiry in my personal life. Other vital aspects of oppression including cultural safety and ethics will also be incorporated, including how they will influence my future nursing practice.

Making Meaning Out of Course Concepts

Through the process of self-exploration and the active enquiry into history, awareness of self-identity and human experience is supported. In this active personal process, cycles of suffering may be liberated into a positive experience of existence. Suffering and oppression are intrinsically connected (Tinsley & France, 2004). Through a historic exploration of oppression, both within cultures and within personal experience, the ability to act as an empowered and empowering person in community and society is possible (Bishop, 2002).

Individual and group suffering experience and oppression are part of the microcosm and the macrocosm and thus can be found within the human experience through out history. The phenomenon of suffering occurs within the scope of oppressive actions towards others. In relation to oppression, Cassell explains suffering as “the state of severe distress associated with events that threaten the intactness of a person” (as cited in Tinsley & France, 2004, p. 9). Oppression may be directly connected to a hierarchal institutional structuring (Tinsley & France, 2004). Oppression and the sense of power over another may occur within the structure of the hospital, between ethnic groups and may also encompass a larger arena, such as between countries. Control over another, whether it be a nurse asserting control over a patient, the dynamics between a nursing manager and a newly graduated nurse, or a political regime attempting to control neighbouring populations, oppression continues to exist in today’s world (Tinsley & France, 2004).

In order to support a shift from oppression to empowerment, a collective effort to seek and act for positive change is important. As a means to understand oppression and learn from suffering, it is possible to view humans as connected beings sharing a lived experience (Bishop, 2002; Watson, 2007; Watson, 2003). Bishop (2002) includes a list of characteristics integral for acting as an ally for ending cycles of oppression including, but not limited to: understanding personal heritage and history, accepting a universal connection to all peoples and understanding current political affairs and social structure. Bishop (2002) also notes how it is normal for persons who are oppressed or have been oppressed to take on the role of the oppressors. By acknowledging the personal experience of being oppressed in this lifetime or ancestrally, it is feasible to shift cycles of oppression and be an advocate for liberation (Bishop, 2002).

Exploring oppression within my personal life. With a focus on the concepts presented in N360, in conjunction with the active violence in the middle east, I have initiated an exploration into a part of myself that challenges me on a fundamental level – the part of me who was born from a man who survived the holocaust. In this enquiry, I have found I have fears around looking at and sharing this part of myself. I am afraid of anti-Semitism and being associated with the growing negative attitudes towards Israel’s current political practices and my familial relationship to it. I was first struck by the importance to reflect on my history and related sense of identity during the presentation with the Aboriginal leader, Roger John (September 24, 2012). He spoke about the importance of knowing and understanding personal history and how this relates to our acceptance and understanding of our personal identity.

Considering my family history as a timeline of events and experiences that have influenced who I am today, I am able to broaden my perspectives and release oppressive fears passed on to me. In agreement with this, Bishop (2002) articulates “ . . . [t]he oppressive history of the group you belong to is the burden you carry” (p. 118). By facing my burdens – the fears I hold on to – I let go of this repressive energy and gain personal power towards liberation over oppression for myself and those I connect with relationally.

While researching the oppression of my family through the holocaust experience, I found a published newsletter with reference to a story my father had shared with me as a child. To my surprise, the text about my father coincides with a recent piece of personal reflective writing. Following is an excerpt from this writing:
When I was a child, I remember looking in the sad light blue's of my father's eyes in one of those rare moments when he shared parts of his story about being in a concentration camp, behind a tall wall, where it was his job to carry the dead to large side graves. He told me about how he secretly dug a small hole under that wall, just wide enough for his skeletal body to pass under, where farmers on the other side would give him potatoes to share with a small few. Looking into those sad, beautiful blue eyes, he told me he still felt that suffering, never able to forget and never able to get away from the suffering that continues in the world. I take his story with me and it disturbs me, frightens me and still, it gives me hope. It is through the relationship I had with my father, I am able to believe in the beauty that can come out of tragedy - that a seemingly hopeless situation can turn into something unconditionally caring, healing and utterly full of love. (November 20, 2012)
Through coming to understand the realities of past oppression and suffering, there is a path towards liberating these stories and experiences towards compassion for all people (Bishop, 2002; Watson, 2003). Watson (2003), the creator of the nursing theory of caring further explains:
. . . it is our humanity that both wounds us and heals us, and those whom we serve; and in the end, it is only love that matters. It is in the entering of the sacred circle of life and death that we engage in healing (p. 199).
Communicating about oppression with cultural safety. Understanding the social economic and overall history of a culture is foundational for practicing with cultural safety (Doane & Varcoe, 2005). Doane and Varcoe (2005) offer “ . . . actions that recognize, respect, and nurture the unique cultural identity of people/families, safely meet their needs, expectations, and rights” (p.311). Cultural safety incorporates a respectful practice while working with diverse cultures. Approaching the topic of oppression must be articulated with cultural safety. Working though both sides of oppression – as oppressor and as someone being oppressed – is an integral part of the process towards creating political and social change (Bishop, 2002; Brown et al., 2009). Cultural safety guides dialogue through difficult conversations, but conversations as such continue to be challenging.

Recently I have found myself sharing dialogue with my family and partner about oppression in the world today. Communicating about oppression when differing perspectives co-exist involves a fine balance in expression. At a recent family dinner, I had the opportunity to share discourse regarding the conflicts in the Middle East. Conflict arose between my aunt - a survivor of the holocaust and a deep believer in the existence of Israel - and my partner who believes Israel is treating the Palestinian people with oppression and social injustice. The conversation at the table left me with the question: How to engage in important dialogue and conversations with cultural safety when opposing views are present? In order to practice with cultural safety it is vital to have understanding about the history and be sensitive to inherent meanings within the cultures (Kleiman, 2006).

Ethical practice in relation to oppression. Watson (2007) identifies nursing as a “ . . . human science of persons and human health-illness experiences that are mediated by professional, personal, scientific, esthetic, and ethical human care transactions” (p. 54). Ethical considerations and discussions are an integral aspect of nursing care within diverse populations and cultures. Within this context, Watson (2008) offers, “ . . . to look into the face of the other, not as a different other, but as a reflection of each of us” (p. 57). It is in the recognition that all of humanity is sharing a lived and connected experience, where caring despite difference may shape ethical practice.

Ethical nursing practice may evolve out of a place of caring and compassion for all peoples as connected aspects of self. In this way we “ . . . honor the paradox of differences and similarities that unite rather than separate our existence and experiences (Watson, 2008, p. 56). Chinn (2001) agrees with Watson’s notion of caring ethics and adds the idea of “PEACE Power,” (p. 12) where there is a collective shared agreement and harmonious focus. Here, the sharing of diverse perspectives are encouraged to further understanding and creative solutions. The ability for successful discussions incorporating different opinions may be supported with a sense of knowing our connectedness to one another (Bishop, 2002; Chinn, 2001; Eddington, 2010).

Sharing my nursing practice and living life with those I am in relation with, whether as a patient, nurse, colleague, lover, friend or family member, it is my intention to operate with a caring ethical demeanour. Watson (2003) articulates my intention clearly, “[b]y attending to, honouring, entering into, connecting with our deep humanity, we find the ethic and artistry of being, loving, and caring. We are not machines as we have been taught, but spirit made whole” (p.199). Practicing nursing and living life with a sense of respect for all perspectives and differences will be foundation for not only practicing with a caring ethic, but also to approach the inherent interconnections of oppression and social justice.


If it possible to find peace in the relationships that come into my life, whether perspectives and world views are similar or different, then there is a hope for peaceful relations between peoples, religions and between countries. Great suffering and also great rejoicing are part of my current and ancestral life experience. All peoples histories and perspectives are important, deserving of respect and opportunity to be heard and discussed. Culturally safe dialogue about oppression, issues of social justice and ethics is challenging and often a delicate matter. Dialogue between persons with difference world views and perspectives is extremely important for a future that may include peace. In this paper, I explored the idea of oppression and related it to my personal family history of oppression during the holocaust of World War II. I also discussed the connections between oppression and how to communicate within the context of cultural safety. Lastly, I considered how my resonance with Jean Watson’s theory of human caring guides my nursing practice and life endeavours with ethics grounded in compassion and a sense of connection to all beings.


  • Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people p. 109-124. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
  • Browne, A., Varcoe, C., Smye, V., Reimer-Kirkham, S., Lynam, M., & Wong, S. (2009). Cultural safety and the challenges of translating critically oriented knowledge in practice. Nursing Philosophy, 10(3), 167-179. doi:10.1111/j.1466-769X.2009.00406.x
  • Chinn, P.L. (2001). Peace and power: Building communities for the future (5th ed.), How we get together from here: power (pp. 11-16). Jones and Bartlett Publishers: Mississauga.
  • Eddington, C. (2010). Compassion tempered justice. Journal of Psycho-Social Studies, 4(1), 1-15.
  • Hartrick Doane, G. & Varcoe, C. (2005). Family nursing as relational inquiry – Developing health promoting practice. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
  • Kleiman, S. (2006). Discovering cultural aspects of nurse patient relationships. Journal of Cultural Diversity. 13(2), 83-86.
  • Tinsley, C., & France, N. (2004). The trajectory of the registered nurse's exodus from the profession: a phenomenological study of the lived experience of oppression. International Journal For Human Caring, 8(1), 8-12.
  • Watson, J. (2003). Love and caring: ethics of face and hand -- an invitation to return to the heart and soul of nursing and our deep humanity. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 27(3), 197-202.
  • Watson, J. (2007). Nursing: human science and human care. A theory of nursing. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
  • Watson, J. (2008). Social justice and human caring: a model of caring science as a hopeful paradigm for moral justice for humanity. Creative Nursing, 14(2), 54-61.