The Armenian Genocide: Never Forget

The Armenian Genocide: Never Forget April 25, 2015

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Today is the 100th anniversary of one of the ugliest pages in history, the genocide of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman regime. It is a duty of us to recognize this genocide as the genocide that it was, and never forget it, because recognizing the crimes of the past is the first step of building a brighter future, and acknowledging the wound is the first stage of healing.

If you want to learn what happened, this NPR report gives a good summary. Wikipedia’s article is very useful too.

We learn that up to 1.5 million Armenian people perished when Ottomans, allied with Germany in World War I, displaced Armenians and many were directly killed and many starved to death due to this policy of displacement. Reading the accounts of these displaced people is simply harrowing, and if you look at the Wikipedia article you see pictures of corpses of adults and and children heaped on each other and people eating the corpses of horses out of desperation.

A consensus of historians consider this event a genocide, however for political reasons not everyone is on board with this:

Modern Turkey, which emerged following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, still reacts sharply to countries that say a genocide took place. It recalled its envoy from the Vatican after Pope Francis used the term last Sunday and did the same in Austria after lawmakers spoke the word.

The U.S. government does not call the events a genocide and neither does Israel. In both countries, this position appears based in part, if not mostly, on a desire not to offend Turkey.

The Turkish government run by Islamists or secularists alike has not only tried to silence those who speak of genocide outside but it has repressed the honest intellectuals who have talked about it inside the country. An example is Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize winning author:

It began with an off-the-cuff remark in an interview with a Swiss newspaper. While discussing curbs on freedom of expression in Turkey, Pamuk said that ‘a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I’m the only one who dares to talk about it’.

He was soon to be reminded why. Although most of the world acknowledges the genocide as historical fact, the official Turkish line has been that ‘only’ a few hundred thousand died during the internecine conflicts of the First World War. To suggest otherwise – or even to use the word genocide – is to insult the nation’s founding myth and therefore Turkey’s honour.

So the day after his interview appeared, the Turkish press launched a fierce attack on Pamuk, branding him a traitor, accusing him of having used the virtually illegal word genocide (although he had not) and inviting ‘civil society’ to ‘silence’ him. Following several death threats, he went into hiding abroad. He returned to Turkey late last spring, hoping it had all blown over. It had not. Last August, an Istanbul public prosecutor charged him with the ‘public denigration of Turkish identity’. The trial is set for 16 December. If convicted, Pamuk faces three years in prison.

This is shameful. The Turkish government should learn that it will not benefit from hiding and denying the atrocities of the Ottoman regime by giving them another name, and the best solution for healing this is to acknowledge the atrocity, apologize, and try to make amends.

Censoring history will not make it go away, and pouring salt on the wounds of Armenians will not make things better. This shameful episode of Turkey’s history will never be “past” as long as it is a living trauma Turkey tries to deny.

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And USA and Israel should be shameful too, and they should follow the lead of many European countries and recognize the Armenian genocide. This is a great moral failure. And they should put moral pressure on Turkey. Putin took part in the ceremony held by Armenia to honor the event, and it is shameful if Putin shows more moral integrity than US government.

If you still doubt why the past should be remembered and acknowledged, look no further than this:

In recent history, Turkey has pulled every lever of influence at their disposal to prevent formal acknowledgement by the United States that Ottoman Turkey slaughtered 1.5 million Christian-minority Armenians under the cover of a world war and its aftermath. America’s concession to this morally bankrupt stipulation for good relations not only sets a gut-wrenching precedent but ignores the lessons history has taught us about turning a blind eye genocide.

Consider the words of Adolf Hitler to Nazi officers in August 1939, a week before the invasion of Poland: “Go, kill without mercy … who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Evil doesn’t happen in a vacuum but rather incubates amid the silence of bystanders. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The Armenian Genocide was Hitler’s proof-of-concept for his belief that the world has a short memory and would be largely indifferent to unspeakable horrors.

Once examined thoroughly the connections between the Nazis and the Young Turks are troubling. Hitler’s confidants learned from Turkey’s genocidal playbook. As Hitler strategized his rise to power in the early 1920s, his lead political advisor was Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, a young German Consular office in Erzurum during WWI, a region of Ottoman Turkey densely populated with Armenians.

Today many Armenians came into streets to ask the world to recognize the genocide. It happened in Tehran too, and you can look at the pictures here. It also happened in Los Angeles, Beirut, and many other parts of the world. This Facebook page is good for being updated on that.

Image credits:
By Hossein Esmaili, Mehr News Agency (states on website that using pictures while acknowledging the source is allowed)
University of Minnesota

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