World leaders and ordinary citizens paused over the weekend to commemorate three tragic events that marked the 20th century. While they now seem remote in time, and have little direct connection with the insurance industry, they form a part of our mutual past and should be remembered.
Armenians gathered in Yerevan, the country’s capital, to honor the estimated 1.5 million of their countrymen who died during mass deportations launched by the Ottoman Empire in April 1915. They were joined by the many thousands of Armenian descent around the world in observing the anniversary, which is still surrounded by controversy. Despite strong evidence and the demands of Armenian leaders, the Turkish government has never acknowledged the extent of the genocide, nor the role played by the Turkish army in carrying it out.
Aged survivors of the Nazi death camps joined local communities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen, in April 1945. The ceremonies and news reports across Europe were particularly poignant, as newsreel footage of the haunted and skeletal survivors evoked the terrible ferocity of the Holocaust that swept through Europe during the Second World War, killing over 12 million innocent civilians – over half of them Jewish.
At Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, south of Istanbul, Turkey, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, his New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark and Britain’s Prince Charles attended ceremonies marking the beginning of the battle that began there 90 years ago. They were joined by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The BBC reported that he underscored how the nations that fought each other at Gallipoli had since developed “friendship and co-operation”.
In the battle, which raged for more than 18 months, over 9000 men from the then newly formed nations of Australia and new Zealand lost their lives, in what has since been recognized as a costly, bloody and ultimately useless debacle.
Nearly 9,000 French, 21,000 British and Irish and 86,000 Turkish troops died died attacking and defending a small portion of the Turkish Coastline. The battle, however, has a special meaning for Australians and New Zealanders, who have always considered it a turning point in their establishment of national identities separate from their mutual status as former British Colonies.
While the commemoration of these tragic events may have no direct impact on the insurance industry, they serve to remind all of us that, as the industry becomes increasing globalized, it is particularly vulnerable to wars and other social upheavals. Policies can’t be written, claims can’t be paid and business can’t be done while people are killing one another. The industry requires a stable – and above all a peaceful – environment in order to thrive and survive.
It is only recently, as we enter the 21st century, that the globalized business model, destroyed by the war that began in 1914 and the events that came after – the depression, World War II, the Cold War, decolonization – has been somewhat reestablished.
However, as the commemoration of these not so long ago events shows, the world is a fragile and volatile place. There’s no guarantee that similar tragedies won’t happen again. Therefore it’s incumbent upon all of us to try and see that they don’t. It’s not enough to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the past. One has to try and secure the well-being of future generations as well. As Edmund Burke, the 18th Century Irish conservative philosopher, is said to have observed: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
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