Friday, April 24, 2009

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

Today marks the anniversary of a genocide that began on this day in 1915, a genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. This is a very personal issue for me, and I am greatly disappointed today that President Obama went back on his committment to acknowledge the genocide, instead calling it “one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century.” I'm copying below a column I wrote on the genocide for the East Valley Tribune in 2007.

Armenian Martyr's Memorial in Phoenix

When my great-grandparents left their Ottoman Empire home for America in 1913, it was to escape a pending genocide that would claim the lives of their entire families.

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide that killed 1.5 million and forced an additional 500,000 through the desert and away from their ancestral homeland.

Lessons from the first genocide of the 20th century remain relevant today, as a modern-day genocide ravages the Darfur region of Sudan, and as the Turkish government continues to deny the crimes committed against Armenians in its Ottoman past.

A Christian minority in the Ottoman Empire, Armenians suffered massacres beginning in the mid-1890s, but the genocide is considered to have begun April 24, 1915, when more than 200 Armenian leaders were arrested in Istanbul and sent to join hundreds more in prison. The majority were executed.

Over the next eight years, the Armenians were driven from the land they called home for centuries and sent on a death march through the Syrian desert. In what the Ottoman Turks called a deportation, Armenians were forced from their homes and raped, robbed and tortured along the way. Many who were not killed starved to death. The course of the Euphrates was changed for a hundred yards because of thousands of bodies lying dead in the river.

In his memoir, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau Sr. wrote, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact. … I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”

While the Armenian genocide has been well documented, the United States government has yet to recognize the atrocities as a genocide in order to protect its diplomatic relations with Turkey. Turkey continues to deny a genocide occurred, and under Article 301, it is a crime to “denigrate Turkishness.”

When journalist Hrant Dink, a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, was assassinated in January, most Turks assumed it was because Dink condemned the mass killings of Armenians. As thousands of Turks took to the street to protest the shooting and promote freedom of expression, Armenians around the world were hopeful that attitudes in Turkey are changing.

But the Los Angeles Times reported last month that there has been a backlash against Turkey’s intellectual community following Dink’s assassination.

“Shadowy nationalist groups have issued chilling threats against authors and thinkers who, like Dink, speak out against Turkey’s official denial that the mass killings of Armenians beginning in 1915 constituted genocide, or on the power of the Turkish military, or the status of minority Kurds,” the article said.

Prominent Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk was tried in 2005 for insulting Turkishness after he told a Swiss newspaper “30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it.” The charges were dropped on a technicality, and in 2006 Pamuk became the first Turkish writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

As Turkey continues to stifle freedom of speech and expression, it only hurts itself. On one hand, it makes the nation’s efforts to join the European Union more difficult. On the other, when prominent Turks are charged, it brings international attention to the issue and, hopefully, sparks dialogue among Turkish citizens about the genocide.

Adolf Hitler, on ordering his military commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, dismissed objections by saying “(W)ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The Armenian genocide must be recognized, to honor the memory of those who died, to help stop the genocide in Darfur, and to prevent similar atrocities from being committed in the future.

The first step is to urge your senators and congressmen to sponsor Senate Resolution 106 and House Resolution 106, which asks the president “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes.”

The full text of the resolution is available online at

1 comment:

Kelli said...

You are an AMAZINGLY SKILLED writer full of compassion and vision! For anyone to not recognize this would be simply, well... an atrocity. I consider myself lucky and blessed to have you as a friend. I LOVE to read your blogs/articles/highlights/ rock! And I agree with you, the eye doctor sucks, I've only made my appointment because Kyle's insurance is changing and who knows what it's gonna be in June...