As I hope everyone knows, today is the anniversary of the genocide of the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. It was on this date, 102 years ago, that a group of Armenian leaders and intellectuals was rounded up by the Ottoman Empire authorities in Constantinople and Ankara, eventually to be murdered. That was the first round of a policy that led to the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians – the first instance of genocide in the 20th century.
The details of the systematic mass murders are horrendous, and encompassed concentration camps, death marches, mass burnings, drownings and even poison and forced drug overdoses. Although you cannot compare one genocide to another, the repellent truth is that the Armenian genocide employed many of the inhuman techniques seen in better known genocidal episodes of the 20th century. You cannot say that any one genocide is worse than any other, but people outside the Armenian community should know that ours laid the diabolical groundwork for what was to follow.
For Armenians all over the world, April 24th is the date on which we remember the victims of the Ottoman Turkish wholesale and systematic slaughter of our people. My family and I join in our community’s commemoration of this most tragic episode in our history every year. We must remember – so we can make sure that it never happens again.
This year, I decided to observe the anniversary of the genocide by looking to our future. I will donate our net profits for the day to the ECF, a favorite charity of many in the Armenian community, which seeks to improve the conditions in which underprivileged children in Armenia live. It provides education, food, clothing and shelter for these children, and seeks to make for a better Armenia. Horrific though our past may have been, donating to the ECF is taking a stake in our future.
Sadly, there remains a problem with the word “genocide” to describe this episode in our history. The current Turkish Republic steadfastly refuses to use the word to describe the actions of Talat Pasha and the Ottoman Turks, the Republic of Turkey’s predecessor. I find it hard to believe that, in the face of the overwhelming historical evidence, the Turkish government still denies the scope of the systematic mass-murder of our people.
Worse yet, despite the thriving Armenian community in this country, the United States has yet officially to recognize the Armenian Genocide for what it was. That there are political reasons for retaining good relations with Turkey (the easternmost outpost of NATO) in no way excuses this refusal to acknowledge one of the most horrific episodes of the 20th century. I had hoped that our new president would break with what has been American policy thus far, but, although he did acknowledge our day of commemoration, he failed to employ the word that describes what we were forced to suffer.
I am most disappointed in the president. Political expediency is not an excuse. There is no other word to describe the systematic killing of 1.5 million people simply because of their ethnicity.
Maybe what the ongoing failure to describe the genocide for what it was shows more than anything else that we, as Armenians, need still to educate the world about what we suffered. Last weekend, Aida and I had the opportunity to see the new movie The Promise, which seeks to expose more people to the story of our genocide. It’s not the kind of movie you can say you enjoyed because it was fun , but we found it tremendously affecting and moving. It will help today’s generation to acknowledge the massacre of our people in 1915.
Go see it.