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Never again, never forget: Remembering the Armenian genocide

Flickr/Shakeeb Al-Jabri

Flickr/Shakeeb Al-Jabri

William Saroyan, an Armenian-American writer, wrote in his short story “The Armenian and the Armenian,” “I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are not more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it.”

The timeline of the 20th century bears the scars of some of the ugliest and most brutal events in human history. World War I, the “war to end all wars,” proved anything but, as brilliant minds devised brilliant means of murder and discrimination-fueled crimes against humanity were committed indiscriminately, beginning with the Armenian genocide.

On April 24, 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals were arrested and killed in Istanbul by Ottoman officials, marking the beginning of the first genocide of the 20th century. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottomans, if not straight away, then during mass deportations.

Hostility toward Armenians began to mount increasingly toward the end of the Ottoman Empire. In the late 19th century, Sultan Abdul Hamid II grew increasingly wary of Armenians’ demands for civil rights and instituted pogroms to quell their protests. In 1908, a group called Young Turks overthrew Hamid and re-instituted a constitution, instilling hope in the Armenians for reform.

However, the Young Turks had a vision to “Turkify” the empire. In 1914, they sided with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I. Perceiving Armenians as a threat to the empire, the Young Turks were already skeptical of them. These suspicions were confirmed after Russian forces with Armenian soldiers defeated the Young Turks during a confrontation in the Caucasus.

As a result, the Young Turks launched a campaign against Armenians, thereby initiating the 1915-1923 Armenian genocide. In 1914, about 2 million Armenians lived in the empire. By 1922, less than 400,000 remained.

After the murders of Armenian intellectuals, the Ottomans next targeted Armenian men who were rounded up and forced to join the Ottoman army. Soon after, their arms were seized and those who had not already died from brutal labor were slaughtered.

Without any Armenian intellectuals and leaders to plant seeds of revolt in the minds of Armenians, and without the men to try and fight back, they were left weak and helpless. Accordingly, the Ottomans then turned to their last target: women and children. Women and girls were raped, beaten and some were forced into slavery to work in harems. Armenian children were kidnapped, forced into converting to Islam, and then given to Turkish families with new, Turkish names.

In an article from The Independent, Robert Frisk describes the methods Turks undertook to “Islamize” Christian Armenian children, writing that, “some of the small, starving inmates stayed alive only by grinding up and eating the bones of other children who had died.”

The largest number of deaths resulted from the mass deportations of Armenians out of Western Armenia (Eastern Anatolia). Ottoman officials ordered Armenians out of their homes under the guise that they were being resettled in non-military zones for their safety. In reality, they were sent on death marches across the Syrian Desert to concentration camps. Once food supplies finished, the Ottomans refused to provide more. They were not permitted to stop for a rest, and those too weak to continue were shot on the spot. Ottoman officials oftentimes forced Armenians into caravans to strip, then walk naked under the blistering sun, thereby hastening their deaths.

About 75 percent of Armenians on these marches died, and countless unburied bodies scattered the Syrian Desert. In fact, there were so many bodies that even today, in the Syrian town Deir ez Zor, the bones of Armenians can still be found by merely scratching at the surface of the desert sands.

The Armenians were also gassed. Crude gas chambers were created by herding them into caves and asphyxiating them by lighting bonfires at the entrances. Other atrocities that took place include burning Armenians alive, crucifying them, drowning them and throwing them off cliffs.

Every year, on April 24, the Armenian Diaspora and Armenians living in Armenia commemorate the genocide. They gather together and rally for international recognition of the events as a genocide because, shamefully, some countries have yet to identify the massacres as genocide, despite overwhelming evidence.

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government has denied these events as genocide, attributing the deaths to byproduct casualties of WWI. They argue that genocide involves the systemic and premeditated massacre of a group of people and that the deaths of Armenians during the early 1900s were not premeditated but a consequence of war. However, more and more Turkish historians and scholars are beginning to accept the reality of the events of 1915.

Though American leaders have used the word “genocide” in speeches, the United States has yet to officially pass a bill recognizing the massacres as genocide. However, earlier this month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution that called to classify the events in 1915 as genocide. The resolution currently awaits a 100-member floor vote.

With nearly 100 years passed since the genocide, some ask why it matters if the genocide is recognized, and why we can’t just move on. We learn about history in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past. But what happens when a people are denied their past? When our history is denied from us, how can we move forward? How can we learn? How can we make sure these horrendous crimes never happen again?

Adolf Hitler understood the importance of wide recognition of the past when he asked, in a speech impending the invasion of Poland, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” The crimes of our past serve as warnings for our future. Well, just about a century later, we are speaking today of the genocide of Armenians. No matter how hard one tries to edit history or censor truth, the ghosts of our past will haunt us until they are resolved. The current population of the Armenian Diaspora is estimated to be around 10 million people, forming Armenian communities all around the world.

Saroyan concludes his poem, “Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

Maral Margossian is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at mmargossian@umass.edu.

Comments
6 Responses to “Never again, never forget: Remembering the Armenian genocide”
  1. Arafat says:

    Maral, Thanks for writing this.

    Right now Muslims are also trying to “Islamize” a dozen other hot-spots in Asia and Africa. (One could argue they’re also trying to :”Islamize” most of the western countries too as they create no-go zones throughout Europe and enforce Sharia law in these areas too.)

    Muslims have successfully “Islamized” Sudan just as they did in Turkey and by using the same brutal genocidal tactics.

    They are doing the same thing, now, in Southern Sudan as their relentless aggression marches on. And in the last few months they have killed over a thousand Christians in Nigeria all in the name of Allah and Islamic Jihad.

    Meanwhile in Syria hundreds of thousands have been killed as Shi’ites fight Sunnis who all fight against the desperate Christian community there.

    Of course Syria is simply an echo of what happened during the Iran/Iraq War where one million Muslims were killed at the hands of other Muslims in the name of Allah.

    Then there is the relentless Jihads against the Buddhists of southern Thailand, the Hinuds of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir, the Jews of Israel, the Russians of the Caucus region and the Chinese of NW China.

    When will our leaders man-up and begin talking honestly about this relentless, genocidal force that your people were victims of one hundred years ago?

  2. Tsoghig says:

    This is a wonderful and thoughtful article. Crimes left unpunished leave the criminal with more power and more resolve to continue committing crimes. Today Turkey is far from a model democracy the US government wants us to believe. There are more jailed journalists in Turkey than in China and Iran. Turkey is a hub for trafficking of all kinds, sex, drugs, counterfeit goods, and the Turkish government premeditated the attack on an predominantly Armenian town in Syria, Kessab, just like they premeditated the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu has made no qualms about his goals to reinstitute the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan “won” his election in late March, but there were pictures of ballots in the trash, and mass protests in Istanbul were met with strong arm tactics to squash any uprising, with the use of water cannons on their own people.

    Ms. Margossian, you have eloquently and accurately outlined why it is important to remember the Armenian Genocide and to call it was it is, because otherwise as we have already seen numerous times, history is bound to repeat itself.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Maybe you shouldn’t have neglected to mention that PM Erdogan just recently apologized for the genocide.

  4. Nathalie says:

    I am sorry but you are very very mistaken. Erdogan NEVER apologized. He stated “we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren” …This IS NOT RECOGNITION that a horrific genocide was perpetrated by the the young turks against the Armenians in 1915. There is NO MENTION of the word “GENOCIDE” which took the lives of 1.5 MILLION Armenians. ACCEPT THE TRUTH !!!!!! Armenians were butchered and raped … come to terms with the atrocities your forefathers committed and that is when we can start mending our relationship with you. NEVER AGAIN – NEVER AGAIN – NEVER AGAIN – WE WILL NEVER FORGET !!!!

  5. Rainer says:

    In Asia, we were aware of the genocide committed by the regime of Hitler but truly unaware that a large-scale genocide took place ahead of that crime.

    I do agree that such atrocities should be immortalized in history books so the next generations of Armenians could be forewarned.

  6. KOM says:

    *Robert Fisk.

    I recommend reading the chilling insights of “A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility,” by Taner Akcam.

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