A Massacre That Will Not Be Forgotten

Up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed from April 24, 1915, a reality that Turkey continues to deny

April 24, 2019 (released April 24, 2019)
Source: ARAB NEWS (Dubai)

By Caline Malek

More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”

Fast Facts:

3,000 The number of years since Armenians made their home in the Caucasus, ruled at various times by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Mongols.

2m The number of Armenians living in Turkey in 1914, when the genocide began.

1.5m The highest estimate of Armenians to have died in the genocide, by massacre, starvation or exhaustion.

28 The number of countries that have recognized the Armenian Genocide.

Armenians pledge not to betray the memory of their martyrs

By: Madeleine Mezagopian

For over a century, on April 24 each year, Armenians worldwide, and advocates of truth and justice, honor the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century. Some 1.5 million Armenians were massacred and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, were deported from their lands by the merciless Ottoman occupation.

Armenians, and all those who want justice to prevail worldwide, continue to encourage all nations and states to recognize this genocide. They are determined to prevent similar appalling crimes that are still threatening humanity, especially in the Arab world, by the same ruthless perpetrators: Turkey’s rulers.

Armenian martyrs sacrificed their lives to preserve their people’s identity, culture and faith. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the opportunity has presented itself for Armenians to enjoy true independence, embrace democracy, enhance human rights, and build and consolidate bridges between the motherland and the diaspora.

But amid a world order that promotes globalization and diversity, the crucial issue arises of how Armenians can cope with this world order while remaining loyal to the memory of their martyrs, and not only preserving their identity but consolidating it. While remaining global citizens abiding by international human values and rights, Armenians must pledge not to betray the sacrifice of their martyrs, and to remain loyal to their memory.

Teaching and learning history, language and faith, while also practicing the latter two, contribute to realizing this pledge. So does building strong bridges with the Armenian diaspora, which must be given opportunities to invest in, and settle in, the motherland.

We Armenians remember not only our martyrs, but also all those nations that provided safe havens for the survivors of the genocide, starting with my homeland, Jordan, whose people and leadership exhibited immense generosity and a great sense of coexistence.

But Jordan, like many Arab states and global powers such as the US, the UK and China, have yet to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, despite the Armenian nation continuing to peacefully contribute to building civilizations worldwide.

We pledge to remain loyal to the memory of our martyrs by building a strong, democratic, peace-loving, united Armenian nation and state. We pledge to keep the memory of the genocide alive, and to remind the world that the descendants of its Ottoman perpetrators continue to occupy land, vandalize cultural heritage, massacre people, and patronize and export extremism and terrorism, thus threatening global peace, security and stability.

Madeleine Mezagopian is an academic researcher, adviser and analyst specializing in conflict resolution. She is an active member of the General Assembly of Al-Hussein Society/Jordan Center for Training and Inclusion.