April 20, 2015
Source: The Star
After 100 years, it is now widely accepted as the first genocide of the modern era. The killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey that began in April, 1915, was a stain on the conscience of humanity, the first such horror in a century that would sadly see many more.
Here in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government recognizes the genocide, and Parliament passed resolutions more than a decade ago condemning it as a crime against humanity.
As Armenians the world over mark the 100th anniversary on Friday of the beginning of the “great catastrophe,” they know that the mass slaughter and expulsion that their community suffered as the First World War raged has gained iconic status as a crime of monstrous proportions. Nazi leader Adolph Hitler may have believed that few would remember the Armenian tragedy, but history has proved him wrong.
Just this past week Pope Francis used his powerful pulpit to urge world leaders to recognize the genocide, saying that “concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” The Pope alluded, as well, to the current persecution of Christians by Islamic State jihadists and other radicals in places such as Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. Even so, his remarks predictably infuriated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. It recalled its envoy to the Vatican and accused the Pope of fanning hatred with baseless claims.
As the Star’s Olivia Ward wrote on Saturday, the Turkish government has always maintained the claim that the Armenian “tragedy,” while terrible, has been exaggerated, and was a byproduct of an ugly civil war as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. But diplomats at the time were shocked by the sheer scale of the suffering of two million Christian Armenians in what is now eastern Turkey. They faced mass deportation, death marches, starvation, executions, torture and rape. To one American diplomat it looked like a systematic bid to crush the Armenian race.
The Armenian tragedy proved to be just the first of several in a 20th century drenched in the blood of two world wars and state-sanctioned mass slaughter.
The singular evil of the Shoah, the Holocaust, towers above the rest. Hitler’s Nazi killing machine murdered 6 million Jews seeking to annihilate an entire people. But millions of Ukrainians died in Joseph Stalin’s man-made famines. In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge killed millions. And nearly a million perished in Rwanda and Bosnia.
Modern Turkey is a democratic, advanced state and a valued ally of Canada and the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance. The Ottoman Empire is long gone and Turkish people today have no such blood on their hands. With the hindsight of a century, they should be able to come to terms with past events, however painful.
Yet, discouragingly, the Turkish government continues to attack any and all who dare utter the word genocide. In Erdogan’s mind, “it is out of the question for there to be a stain or a shadow called genocide on Turkey.” That perversely casts Turkey in the role of victim. That simply doesn’t stand serious scrutiny. Modern scholarship has documented a campaign by Mehmed Talat Pasha and his regime against the Armenians, who were regarded as pro-Russian enemies from within, at a time when Turkey was allied with Germany against Russia.
Turkey’s current leadership, innocent of century-old crimes, should recognize that their country’s international standing is suffering by their corrosive refusal to come to grips with the past. The European Parliament has just made that very case, urging Turkey “to come to terms with its past, to recognize the Armenian genocide and thus to pave the way for a genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples.” That reconciliation is long overdue. It’s time to look history squarely in the face, or be haunted by a terrible wrong.