Acknowledging the Armenian genocide

April 23, 2015
Source: Montreal Gazette (Montreal)

By Montreal Gazette Editorial Board

One hundred years ago, on April 24, 1915, an organized campaign of persecution, torture, deportation, slaughter and annihilation was unleashed against Armenian Christians living in what was then the Ottoman Empire.

Over a period of more than two years, 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children were killed in what has widely been recognized by historians, many governments and the community itself as a genocide.

Displaced survivors were forced to begin new lives in countries around the globe, including Canada. But though they have long since picked up the pieces and built thriving communities, Armenians still bear the scars of these century-old atrocities.

In Montreal, where the Armenian community is about 45,000 strong and boasts three vibrant schools, the genocide remains a source of affliction. Many witnessed the trauma of parents or grandparents. For younger generations, the stories of their ancestors have been passed down in such heartbreaking detail, it’s almost as if they exist in living memory.

The crimes against humanity perpetrated against Armenians are felt on a very personal scale: by individuals; within families; among the community as a whole. But it is also some of history’s most urgent unfinished business as Armenians have struggled over the last century to have the cruelty that began in 1915 recognized as a genocide.

Turkey, the modern-day incarnation of the Ottoman Empire, has steadfastly refused to acknowledge it as such — and has managed to pressure many of its allies to refrain from doing so, as well.

Only in recent decades has the tide has begun to turn. Uruguay was the first country to call the slaughter of the Armenians a genocide, in 1965. Quebec, with its large Armenian diaspora, first did so in 1980 and a memorial to the tragic events was dedicated in a Montreal park in 1998. Canada acknowledged the genocide in 2004. Pope Francis recently labelled the campaign against Armenians “the century’s first genocide.” Austrian parliamentarians this week joined in characterizing the persecution as a genocide, and Germany is expected to do likewise on Friday. But U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to stop short of using that term.

Turkey now admits the historic suffering of the Armenians during the waves of violence unleashed as the empire crumbled. But it attributes the brutality to civil strife in a time of war and categorically rejects it was part of a state-sponsored policy.

This is most unfortunate and disappointing. Not only does Turkey’s abject refusal deny Armenians the truth and justice they crave to help them heal, it aggravates their suffering by forcing them to constantly fight to have the historical record set straight. Denying genocide also signifies a failure to come to terms with events that trigger mass bloodshed, atone for it and prevent such barbarism from happening again.

If there is a silver lining in this situation, it is that many ordinary Turks are parting ways with their government to acknowledge past wrongs and make amends. These individual efforts are encouraging in that they show a century of misinformation and minimization of the genocide within Turkey have not succeeded in burying the past.

The grief and loss of Armenians, both personal and collective, cannot and must not be silenced, nor should painful historical truths be avoided. Rather, they must be acknowledged by all humanity.

An earlier version of this editorial inadvertently stated that the genocide began in 2015.