Friday, May 4, 2018

Statements on the Armenian Genocide by US, French and Turkish Presidents

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian
The presidents of the United States, France, and Turkey issued statements on April 24, the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Of the three, only the French President Emmanuel Macron had the honesty and courage to call the tragic events by their proper name — Genocide. President Trump avoided using the term genocide, while President Erdogan, not surprisingly, issued a denialist statement!
President Macron stated in his April 24 letter to Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian: “With you, we remember April 24, 1915 and the murder of 600 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople that marked the start of the first genocide of the 20th century. We will never forget those murdered men, women and children who perished on the road to exile, from hunger, cold and emaciation…. Together with Great Britain and Russia, France, as early as May 25, 1915, described those massacres as a crime against humanity and civilization. In September 1915, the French fleet, under fire, managed to save over 4,000 refugees from Musa Dagh.” In his compassionate letter, the French President accurately defined the mass killings of Armenians as Genocide — several times.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, repeated his last year’s statement avoiding the term genocide and using the Armenian words ‘Meds Yeghern’ which is meaningless to most Americans. ‘Meds Yeghern’ (Great Crime), among other terms, was used by Armenians, before the word genocide was coined by Jewish-Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin in the 1940’s. While ‘Meds Yeghern’ is simply a description of the Turkish atrocities against Armenians, genocide is a terminology of international law, according to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations on December 9, 1948. President Trump used the words ‘Meds Yeghern’ simply to avoid the term genocide in order to appease the Turkish government. It is shameful that President Trump, a non-traditional leader who prides himself on taking unorthodox stands on many national and international issues, would follow the evasive tradition of his predecessors and go along with the denialists in Ankara!
On April 24, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, in response to a journalist’s question, confirmed that President Trump had simply copied the language of his predecessors. Sanders stated: “The resolution that the President signed was consistent with past administrations as well.”
Using verbal gymnastics, President Trump referred to the Armenian Genocide as “one of the worst mass atrocities,” “the horrific events of 1915,” and “painful elements of the past.” President Trump’s advisers are providing a poor service by urging him to replace the term genocide with ‘Meds Yeghern.’ Rather than winning over Armenian-American citizens, this terminology is antagonizing them. If President Trump does not have the courage to use the right word, he should not issue any statement at all on April 24. Previously, President Ronald Reagan had issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981 acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. In addition, the US House of Representatives had adopted two resolutions in 1975 and 1984 recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and the US government had filed a report with the World Court in 1951 mentioning the Armenian Genocide. Consequently, the Armenian Genocide has been repeatedly recognized by the United States government. All President Trump has to do is to reaffirm the U.S. historical record on the Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian National Committee of America denounced President Trump’s “failure to lead an honest remembrance of the Armenian Genocide…. President Trump’s ‘Turkey First’ approach tightens Erdogan’s grip over U.S. policy on the genocide of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other Christians.” Furthermore, the Armenian Assembly of America described President Trump’s April 24 statement as “a missed opportunity to unequivocally reaffirm the Armenian Genocide.”
Not surprisingly, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a press release on April 25, 2018 to counter President Trump’s April 24 statement: “We reject the inaccurate expressions and the subjective interpretation of history in the written statement by Mr. Donald Trump, President of the USA, released on 24 April 2018 regarding the events of 1915. Our expectation from the US Administration is a fair assessment of a period during which all the peoples of the Ottoman Empire suffered tremendously.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement, as expected, contains several major factual errors:
1. It equates the deaths of “500,000 Muslims” during World War I to the murder of 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children. Genocide victims and war casualties are not the same thing.
2. It repeats the same lie that the Turkish government has opened its archives to researchers and offered to establish a ‘Joint Historical Commission.’ In fact, Turkish authorities have cleansed the Ottoman archives of incriminating documents, and the Joint Historical Commission is simply a ruse to delay the Turkish admission of guilt.
3. It boasts about Turkish President Erdogan’s statement sent to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul on April 24, 2018 to commemorate the “Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in the conditions of World War I.” We need to remember that the Armenian Genocide is unrelated to World War I, just like the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust were not casualties of World War II.
We hope that presidents Erdogan and Trump will have the courage to call the Armenian mass killings by their proper name — Genocide. French President Macron has done it, so should Erdogan and Trump!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

System of a Down’s Malakian’s New Song is Dedicated to Armenian Genocide

System of  a Down's Daron Malakian (Photo by Greg Watermann for Rolling Stone)
System of a Down’s Daron Malakian (Photo by Greg Watermann for Rolling Stone)
System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian is preparing to release a new album, Dictator, on July 20, with a new single called “Lives,” which is meant to commemorate the Armenian Genocide and celebrate its survivors.
“All of our lives we’ve put up a fight, all heroes have died,” he sings in his trademark, almost operatic way. “All of our lives we’ve known wrong from right, our people survived.”
“I’m Armenian, so I wanted to do something for Armenian people – especially since April 24th is the day we remember the genocide,” Malakian told the Rolling Stone.
“It’s about being proud that people did survive the genocide, and it’s not just for Armenian people. It could be for anybody whose people have suffered that type of thing, such as Native Americans.”
He’s also using the song to effect positive change to survivors of the genocide. Half of the proceeds from purchases of the song on iTunes will go to sending first-aid kits to Artsakh Republic.
“There was supposed to be a ceasefire, but the Azeri government does not follow that all the time, so there’s a lot of women and children that get caught in the middle of all this, and I really wanted to send some first aid kits out to Armenians that are living there,” he says, referring to the conflict between the country and Azerbaijan. “It’s very possible that another genocide can happen, so I really want to bring attention to what’s happening there and keep that from happening.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Whitehorn: A Brief Global History of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, and Human Rights

The Armenian Genocide memorial complex, Armenia’s official memorial dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, built in 1967 on the hill of Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan (Photo: z@doune)

Special to the Armenian Weekly
There are millions of refugees from the Syrian civilian war in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands have fled across the sea to Europe, including countless numbers of orphans. Far too many have died in the attempted crossings, including very young children. I recall in particular in 2015 the heartbreaking image of a three-year-old Kurdish boy, Alan Kurdi, lying dead, face down, on the Turkish shoreline. He and his family had failed to escape on a flimsy rubber raft.
As a grandfather, I have a grandson who, in that year, was the same age as that Kurdish refugee. Every time I looked at the photo of Alan, I thought how much he looked like my young grandson. It was heart wrenching. My agony was magnified for another important reason.
In terms of different generations, I am not only a grandfather, but also a grandson who recalls that my grandmother—my metzmama—100 years ago was a refugee on those same shores. She was an orphan of a genocide in the Ottoman Empire. Her entire family was killed by a tyrannical nationalist regime that was intent of destroying an ethnic and religious minority—the Armenian Christians.
So I have a special task to tell her story, but also that of the history of other orphans of genocide. I will select a few examples from history, but there are many, many more. Far too many. Too few genocides are known sufficiently.

The Deeds Predate the Words
How does one “think about the unthinkable?” How does one “describe the indescribable?” These are among the analytical and moral challenges in trying to understand genocide. As Raphael Lemkin, the originator of the concept of genocide, noted: Genocide occurred in history before the word ‘genocide’ was created. The history of humans is marked by episodes of great cruelty and mass killings, where groups that were different were targeted for persecution and slaughter.
In earliest times, humans lived in small clans or tribal communities. Technology was low and living conditions were often a great challenge. When confronted by nature, which appeared vast, unknown and powerful, it was natural for apprehension and fear to arise. Similarly when coming into contact with other peoples who were different, our instinct for survival often was to be cautious, perhaps apprehensive, or even outright fearful. When not speaking the language of others, it is far too easy for miscommunication. Fear and distrust of strangers are rooted in a lack of shared history and symbols. The perception of the ‘other’ was that of being outside of our community.

The Emergence of the Concepts of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, and War Crimes
While initially formulated at different times in history, the three legal terms—war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide—are interrelated and overlap. They constitute key foundational pillars in international law relating to mass atrocity crimes. War was the common feature in the emergence of all three concepts.
The concept of war crimes arose from the Hague conferences in Europe in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies. These sessions sought to regulate the conduct of war in modern times. The 1907 Hague convention recognized the principle of the “laws of humanity” and the “laws and customs of war” that had been “established among civilized peoples.” Amongst the acts prohibited were: the deliberate harming of unarmed civilians, inhumane treatment, torture, compulsory slave labor, and willful killing of civilians.
The concept of crimes against humanity emerged in 1915 during WWI, when the Russian, French and British governments issued a formal joint international declaration that warned the Young Turk government about the mass deportations and massacres of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire. Earlier massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, despite repeated protests from European foreign governments.
During WWI, the Ottoman persecution and targeting of the Armenian Christian ethnic minority continued as hundreds of thousands were deported, starved, tortured and killed. In May 1915, Britain, France and Tsarist Russia issued a formal joint declaration about the ongoing “massacring” of Armenians and suggested these constituted “new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization’.
The concept of genocide emerged in a book by Raphael Lemkin during WWII, but it roots go back earlier. Following WWI, Lemkin, a Jewish university student in Poland wondered: Why were there domestic laws for the punishment of the murder of one person, but not international laws against mass murder by political leaders, such as the wartime Turkish military dictators?
A decade later in the 1930s, Lemkin proposed the precursor twin concepts of “barbarism” and “vandalism.” Amidst WWII, Lemkin formulated a synthesis of the two concepts with the creation of the new term ‘genocide’. This term first appeared in 1944 in a key book on the Nazi deportations and mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
Main Features of Genocide
In 1948, the United Nations passed the “International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” which included the following features: 1) Killing members of a group; 2) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group; 3) Deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 4) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group; 5) Forcibly transferring children of one group to another.
A group focus was central to the definition and four groups were specifically listed for protection: national, ethnic, religious and racial. We can note the following observations: Random killing of individuals is not genocide. Genocide requires targeting of at least one of four types of groups. Not all possible groups are listed. In this regard, Crimes against Humanity is a more effective law to cover horrific crimes of mass killing.
In recent prosecutions at international tribunals and the International Criminal Court, the three terms—War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and Genocide—have tended to cluster together. They are important tools for punishing those guilty of past deeds and potentially deterring future genocides. It may be useful at this point to draw some examples from global history spanning several millennia to show how widespread genocide has been.
Ancient Greece and Melos
In the 5th century BCE, the island of Melos was caught up in a war between Sparta vs. Athens. Athens issued an ultimatum to the people of the island of Melos. They must be part of an Athenian military alliance or suffer consequences. Melos refused. Athenian troops then killed all the men of Melos of military age, while women and children were sold into slavery. The now empty island was replaced with Athenian colonists. It was an annihilation of an entire ethnic community by another. An entire community was targeted and punished, including children. What survives of the Melosian culture, language, and history? Why do we remember Athens in a positive way? Why do we not usually recall or speak of the mass killings at Melos? Who writes history? What genocides do we remember and write about? What genocides are forgotten or ignored?

Historic Rome and Carthage
In the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, Carthage was engaged in several wars with Rome. In the final war, Rome issued an ultimatum: Carthage must disarm, abandon its capital city, which was to be laid to ruin. This would be an economic catastrophe for the trading nation of Carthage and they refused. One Roman Senator boldly asserted: “Carthage must be destroyed.” The city endured a military siege, then destruction, with mass killings and finally dispersion of those who had survived. About 150,000 died; many starved, men of military age were killed, while surviving women and children were enslaved. The city largely disappeared from history and geographic records. Why do we remember the Romans in a positive way? What survives of the Carthaginian culture, language, and history? How many civilizations have been largely lost in this fashion?

The Spanish and European Colonial Conquest of the Americas and its Indigenous Peoples
In the 15th century, Columbus landed on the shores of the Caribbean. His arrival commenced the conquest by Europe of the Americas and its indigenous peoples. Columbus claimed the lands, the resources and wealth for the king of Spain. Spain forcibly deported the indigenous populations, families were separated, women were assaulted, adults enslaved, ill-fed, and forced to do hard labor. Vast numbers were killed or died from terrible conditions. The Spanish rulers later brought in African slaves to replace the vast numbers of dead indigenous peoples. The slave trade is thus crucially linked to genocide.
Other European imperial states also rushed in to grab indigenous peoples’ lands. The eventual overall death toll was tens of millions of the original first nations in the Americas. The process of colonial domination and exploitation occurred around the globe. These foreign imperialists claimed the lands as their overseas colonies. This was done in the name of a supposedly superior culture, religion, race, economy, technology and enforced by superior weaponry.
The Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German and Russian empires grew and subjugated hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples, leading to untold millions suffering and dying. The painful legacy continued into later generations. Even the European settler colonies of the imperial states imposed their own genocidal rule. The histories of Australia, United States and Canada have needed to be rewritten to begin to recognize at long last these brutal facts. This is one of the hardest lessons to teach most Canadian students about genocide: the fact that many of our ancestors were guilty of allowing or doing such deeds.

Imperial Germany and the Herero
In the 19th and early 20th, European imperial states carved up Africa. A German colony was created in SW Africa (in what is now Namibia). With the discovery of diamonds, Germany began to build a railroad and gave German settlers ownership and water rights to the land on either side of the strategic railroad line. As a result, the Herero—the local indigenous people—lost their land and access to water in this arid region. They rebelled against such harsh and unjust foreign imperial rule. General von Trotha and the German military, utilizing vast superiority in weapons, drove the Herero further into the desert and prevented the Herero people’s escape. Vast numbers of Herero died from lack of access to water, food and shelter. By 1911, most of the Herero people had perished.
The European attitude was that of a sense of superiority over supposedly inferior African people who were portrayed as living in a more primitive culture and less advanced economy. Does one actually have to fire weapons to be charged with genocide? Why do so few persons know of this African example?

The Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Genocide
The Armenian massacres and deportations of 1915 were much discussed during WWI and immediately after. Yet, half a century later in 1950s, it was referred by outsiders as the “Forgotten Genocide.” The year 2015 was the 100th memorial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and once again more people are aware. The Armenian Genocide involved the attempted annihilation of a nation that historically had lived for thousands of years in these lands around Mt. Ararat in the South Caucasus. Today only a minuscule fraction of Armenians are left in the historic Western lands, which now form the eastern part of Turkey.
The 1915 genocide occurred within the Ottoman Empire during WWI. There were several key causal factors. While the Ottoman Empire was one of the major multi-ethnic empires (14th to 20th), it declined dramatically in the 19th and 20th centuries and this caused increasing frustrations and tensions. Like all empires, the Ottoman regime was based on military conquest, political domination and social inequality, particularly in the form of ethnic and religious inequality and persecution. With the 1908 Young Turk coup and its violent revolutionary nationalism that sought to make Ottoman Turkey great again, the Christian religious minority Armenians were increasingly vulnerable. The declaration of war by the Young Turk triumvirate lead to increasingly ruthless dictatorial rule.
There were are number of phases to the Armenian Genocide. In Feb. 1915, Armenian conscript men in the Ottoman army were disarmed, put into labor units, and later most were killed. On April 24 in Constantinople (now Istanbul), hundreds of key Armenian leaders, clergy and intellectuals were arrested and most were later killed. By May, the mass deportations of the Armenians from their historic villages and towns occurred. Women, children and the elderly were sent out on long forced marches into inhospitable mountains and deserts (of what is now Eastern Turkey, Syria and Northern Iraq). In September, the now empty Armenian homes, farms and shops were confiscated by the Ottoman state. Several years later at the end of WWI, outside military intervention eventually stopped the genocidal slaughter. While most of the coverage has been focused on the Armenians, genocide of the Greeks and Assyrians also occurred during this period in the Ottoman Empire.
To this day, the Turkish government denies that the Ottoman Turkish state committed genocide. To even write or speak about it is punishable within Turkey. How do we confront genocide denial? Does denial created new pain and further injustice and, in the words of Elie Wiesel, constitute a form of ‘double killing’?

Nazi Germany and the Holocaust
Since the Holocaust is often written about and discussed at length, I will only make a few comparative comments. We should note that the number of victims during this period was vastly largely than what is usually stated. Millions of Jews were targeted and killed in the Holocaust, but millions of non-Jewish Russians, Poles and other East Europeans were also deliberately killed by the German Nazi regime. Hundreds of thousands of Roma (Gypsies) were targeted for death. Large numbers of other victims also were persecuted and murdered, but they are not listed under genocide. Rather they fall under another category: Crimes Against Humanity. Political rivals were the first targeted and killed by the Nazis. The handicapped were the first social group to be targeted for killing. Homosexuals were also arrested, ruthlessly treated and killed.
To fully comprehend the magnitude of the Holocaust, the post WWII Nuremberg Tribunal used a number of categories of criminal charges: Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, War of Aggression (War Against Peace). The new term of genocide was mentioned, but was not formally part of the official charges.
The German government had been central in three major genocides of the 20th century: the Herero slaughter in the first decade, the Armenian Genocide in the second decade and the Holocaust in the third and fourth decades. Why so?

Belgian Colonialism and Rwanda
Rwanda is a small ethnically diverse country in the Great Lakes region of central Africa. Like so much of Africa, it was ruled by a European imperial power (Belgium from 1916 to 1962). The Belgian colonial regime accentuated existing class and racial divisions by imposing formal ethnic identity cards in the 1920s. The two major groups were the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. The Belgians used the Tutsi minority to help in maintain its colonial rule.
With Rwanda’s independence in the 1960s, there was a majority ethnic Hutu backlash towards the Tutsi. The inter-ethnic hostilities that emerged were mirrored in neighboring Burundi. After a civil war, Peace Accords had been signed, but on way back from a ceremony, the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down in 1994. This was a trigger for Colonel Bogosora’s Hutu ultra-nationalist coup and a swift and brutal genocide. Vitriolic hate radio agitated and targeted the Tutsi minority who were portrayed as ‘cockroaches’. Within 100 days, 800,000 were killed; mostly Tutsi, but also moderate Hutus. The Hutu nationalist militias (Interhamwe) used machetes to slaughter their former neighbors.
Amidst the reign of terror, UN peacekeepers under the leadership of Canadian general Romeo Dallaire tried to stop the mass slaughter (as described in his memoirs Shake Hands with the Devil), but the UN headquarters in New York and the major powers did not wish to get involved. The American public was more interested in the OJ Simpson celebrity murder trial. The Tutsi army (RPF) under General Paul Kagame eventually overthrew the Hutu nationalist genocidal regime to finally stop the mass killing. Subsequently, the International Tribune for Rwanda sought to convict those guilty.

It is difficult to cover all cases in detail, but it is important to understand that all genocides are important to remember. Some include Ukraine in the 1930s, Cambodia in the 1970s, the Balkans in the 1990s, Sudan and South Sudan during the first decade of this 21st century, Yazidi victims in Iraq in 2014, and the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar (Burma) in 2017.
To remember and know the history of genocide are key. We need to compare and find causal patterns, common paths and hopefully shared means of prevention. We can observe that there are a number of common reoccurring causal factors such as war, economic, social and political crises. There are also overlapping stages/phases of genocide, as I have described in the poem “Verbs of Genocide.”
Psychologists try to understand the group dynamics of genocide in terms of three major roles: perpetrators, victims and bystanders. The perpetrators are the instigators and hostile aggressors. They are not necessarily the largest group, at least not initially. The victims are the vulnerable civilians, who are often a distinct ethnic, religious or racial minority. The bystanders are a large number, perhaps the largest in a society. Their role, therefore, is crucial.
The bystanders are faced with several options: To join in the scapegoating and attacks; to stand up and try to stop the victimization; or to continue to be indifferent. The reasons often posed for not caring include: It does not affect me directly; it is not my family or people; it is too far away, too distant; or I am too busy and focused on something else. The sports celebrity OJ Simpson murder case in Los Angeles, not the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Africa, is one such example in the 1990s.
Somehow, we must resist “sin of indifference.” Just as others helped an orphan child such as my grandmother for ten long years in refugee camps and orphanages a century ago. So too, we must reach out to help others in urgent need today. It is our only hope to survive together on this precious planet.


A version of this piece was presented by Professor Alan Whitehorn at Glendon College, York University, Toronto, on April 21, 2018.

Trump’s Commemorative Statement Fails to Properly Characterize Armenian Genocide

(Graphic: ANCA)
WASHINGTON–Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian issued this response to President Donald Trump’s failure to lead an honest American remembrance of the Armenian Genocide in his commemorative statement issued earlier today:
President Trump’s ‘Turkey First’ approach tightens Erdogan’s grip over U.S. policy on the genocide of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other Christians.
In his annual April 24th statement, the President once again enforced Ankara’s gag-rule against honest American condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
In outsourcing U.S. leadership on genocide prevention to Erdogan – who openly undermines U.S. interests, attacks U.S. allies, threatens U.S. troops, imprisons American clergy, and even orders the beating of American citizens – President Trump is emboldening a foreign dictator who revels in the public spectacle of having bullied successive American presidents into silence on Turkey’s still unpunished murder of millions Christians.
Sadly, by caving in to Turkish pressure, President Trump is isolating America, which today stands alone as Ankara’s last genocide-denial lifeline. Forty-eight of our U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide, as have a dozen of our NATO allies – including France and Germany, the European Union, and, of course, Pope Francis.
We will press ahead with our work to end U.S. complicity in Ankara’s obstruction of justice, in order to put in place a U.S. policy that actively pressures Ankara to abandon its denials, reckon with its responsibilities, and engage directly with Armenian stakeholders toward a truthful, just, and comprehensive international resolution of this crime against humanity.
The President’s full statement is provided below.

Last week, one hundred and two U.S. Representatives–including the Chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees–called on President Donald Trump to reject Turkey’s gag-rule by honestly and accurately commemorating the Armenian Genocide this April 24.  The letter to President Trump, led by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), David Trott (R-Mich.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and David Valadao (R-Calif.) as well as Vice-Chairs Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) explained that: “The Armenian Genocide continues to stand as an important reminder that crimes against humanity must not go without recognition and condemnation. Through recognition of the Armenian Genocide we pay tribute to the perseverance and determination of those who survived, as well as to the Americans of Armenian descent who continue to strengthen our country to this day. […] By commemorating the Armenian Genocide, we renew our commitment to prevent future atrocities.” They closed by asking that the President: “appropriately mark April 24th as a day of American remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.”  A copy of the letter is available here:
The U.S. first recognized the Armenian Genocide in 1951 through a filing which was included in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Report titled: “Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” The specific reference to the Armenian Genocide appears on page 25 of the ICJ Report: “The Genocide Convention resulted from the inhuman and barbarous practices which prevailed in certain countries prior to and during World War II, when entire religious, racial and national minority groups were threatened with and subjected to deliberate extermination. The practice of genocide has occurred throughout human history. The Roman persecution of the Christians, the Turkish massacres of Armenians, the extermination of millions of Jews and Poles by the Nazis are outstanding examples of the crime of genocide.”
President Ronald Reagan reaffirmed the Armenian Genocide in 1981. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted legislation on the Armenian Genocide in 1975, 1984 and 1996.  Forty eight U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide through resolution or proclamation.
Over 25 countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide, including a dozen of our NATO allies the European Union, and, of course, Pope Francis.
Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Armenian Remembrance Day 2018
Issued on April 24, 2018
Today we commemorate the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century, when one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.  We recall the horrific events of 1915 and grieve for the lives lost and the many who suffered.
We also take this moment to recognize the courage of those individuals who sought to end the violence, and those who contributed to aiding survivors and rebuilding communities, including the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, who sought to end the violence and later raised funds through the Near East Relief to help the Armenian people. We note with deep respect the resilience of the Armenian people, so many of whom built new lives in the United States and have made countless contributions to our country.
As we honor the memory of those who suffered, we also reflect on our commitment to ensure that such atrocities are not repeated.  We underscore the importance of acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of the past as a necessary step towards creating a more tolerant future.
On this solemn day, we stand with the Armenian people throughout the world in honoring the memory of those lost and commit to work together to build a better future.

Garo Paylan Introduces Armenian Genocide Resolution in Turkish Parliament

Paylan during his address to Parliament on April 21, 2016, during which he called for an investigation into the killing of Armenian members of the Turkish Parliament during the Armenian Genocide (Photo: Garo Paylan Facebook page)
The bill which was introduced last week, also seeks to designate April 24—which marks the day in 1915 that the genocide began—as a national day of commemoration.
“Seeking to normalize the Armenian Genocide by tying it to war, making light of it and denying the events are part of the perpetuation of the official thesis… and has led to hate crimes against minorities throughout the republic’s history,” Paylan said in the draft bill, according to a copy obtained by the news outlet Eurasianet.
The proposed bill also calls for the establishment of a commission to investigate who was responsible for the genocide and to remove their names from streets, schools, and other public spaces throughout the country.
The bill also urges that Turkish citizenships be granted to the descendants of Armenian genocide survivors who were forced to leave Turkey.
“After these people were sent into exile in Ayas and Cankiri, the vast majority of them were killed. Among the ones sent into exile and killed were Dr. Nazaret Dagavaryan (Member of Ottoman Parliament), Armen Doryan (writer and journalist), Shavarsh Krisyan (editor of Marmnamarz magazine), Levon Larents (poet), Rupen Sevag (poet), Yenovk Sahen (actor), Siamanto (poet), Hagop Terziyan (writer and pharmacist), Daniel Varujan (poet), Krikor Yesayan (teacher and translator), Rupen Zartarian (writer and poet), Diran Kelekian (writer and Professor of Turkish language) and Krikor Zohrab (writer  and Member of Ottoman Parliament),” the draft states.
“For Turkey to become a peaceful society, it needs a democratic and just approach to its collective memory… Recognizing, condemning, and compensating for the crimes committed as Turkey transitioned from an empire to a republic will allow for the construction of a peace-minded memory and, therefore, a society that can live together,” Paylan said in his introduction of the bill.
Paylan is a founding member of the HDP and is a deputy representing the third district in Istanbul. Paylan is also a member of Turkey’s Armenian community and has long been an activist on human rights and Kurdish and Armenian issues.
Prior to being elected to Turkey’s parliament in 2015, Paylan served on the central committee of HDP and also served on the management of Armenian schools in Istanbul. He has long promoted bilingual education and minority rights in Turkey and has been actively engaged in raising awareness on discrimination toward minorities, the rights of the Armenian community in Turkey, Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, and especially the Hrant Dink murder case. Mr. Paylan is from a family originally from Malatya.
Three weeks after his first election into Turkey’s Parliament on the HDP list, Paylan spoke to the Armenian Weekly about his path to parliament and the challenges of being an Armenian in Turkey’s political scene.

Poem: The Verbs of Genocide

Poem: The Verbs of Genocide

The Verbs of Genocide

The post Poem: The Verbs of Genocide appeared first on The Armenian Weekly.

What Were the Main Causes of the Armenian Genocide?

Armenian woman kneeling beside dead child in field druing the Armenian Genocide (Photo: Library of Congress)

Matthew Marasco was one of 11 students at the Wakefield, R.I.’s prestigious Prout School to graduate with an International Baccalaureate (IB) 
diploma. As a requirement of the IB diploma, students are required to write an “Extended Essay,” a research paper of up to 4,000 words. Matthew’s Extended Essay was a version of the following essay entitled “What Were the Main Causes of the Armenian Genocide?”
History, be it familial, national, or ethnic, defines who one is as a person. Throughout human history, eras have been defined by periods of peace and times of conflict. As time has passed, the manner in which conflicts are carried out has evolved; therefore, history has innumerable variations of combat and harm. One of the most devastating types of conflict and assault upon a culture is genocide. According to Merriam-Webster, a genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” According to the United Nations, a genocide is “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and]forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (framework). While each attempted human extermination has had its own unique and tragic backstory, there are some commonalities among them. Common factors seen in most genocides include racial and religious tensions, as well as desperation on the part of the “attacking” party. One of the most tragic and under-researched mass killings was the Armenian Genocide. The objective of this investigation is to explore the causes of this assault upon humanity and to examine its ramifications.
Before proceeding further, it is important to note that for the purpose of this investigation the assaults upon the Armenians will be referred to as a genocide, according to the Merriam-Webster definition. However, much of the international community, including the United States, does not recognize the “incident” as a genocide. Despite this, the term will be used throughout the remainder of this report.
To begin to fully understand the events that unfolded between 1915 and 1917, it is first important to understand the history of conflict, especially religious conflict, in the region. Violence between Christian and Islamic groups was nothing new to the Middle East by 1915;  the region had already experienced the religious wars of the Crusades, a series of seven wars beginning in 1095 and continuing periodically until 1291, as well as the conquering of Constantinople, the center of the Christian world in the east, which was overrun by Muslims in May of 1453. Even during the times of Muhammad, religious wars were taking place, as he began conquering and absorbing areas into his domain. Indeed, religious conflicts did not end with the Crusades.  Our modern world continues to suffer the consequences of the religious tension and intolerance from generations ago. One could argue that the current religious conflict between Muslims and Christians has been ongoing since 1095 and the First Crusade and continues still today during the age of terror. However, the time immediately before the events of 1915 was actually relatively peaceful, as the many groups under Ottoman rule coexisted without conflict.
This peaceful coexistence, though, met a swift end in 1915 with the beginning of a systematic slaughter and deportation of Armenians, who at the time were living throughout Turkey and parts of Russia. Armenia had been one of the most affluent and largest kingdoms in the Middle East, at one time controlling most of Turkey, the southern Russian provinces, and most of Iran (Hartunian XIV). Like many incidents of violence, the Armenian Genocide was not a spontaneous event (although it appeared to be to the international community), nor was it the result of a single action. Rather, there were many long-term and short-term factors, none of which in isolation could have sparked the mass bloodshed, but which combined to create the perfect storm.  These incredibly interconnected factors included the racial, political, economic, and religious situations, as well as the history of the region, in particular the Ottoman Empire, at the turn of the 20th century.  The Ottoman Empire was the most recent of a long line of invaders to control the Armenian kingdom in 1915; the once powerful kingdom had previously succumbed to Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Tartars, all before falling into Ottoman hands (Hartunian XIV).
The proverbial writing had been on the wall, as one Armenian recounts his conversation with a Turkish friend, “. . . One day, as I was with a Turkish official, he said to me ’My friend, there is no hope. No longer can the Armenian and the Turk live together. Whenever you find the opportunity, you will annihilate us; and whenever we find the opportunity, we will annihilate you. Now the opportunity is ours and we will do everything to harm you. The wise course for you, when the time comes, is to leave this country and never return.’ This Turk had spoken the truth.  No longer could the Turk be a friend to the Armenian, or the Armenian a friend to the Turk” (Hartunian 1).

To begin, the first factor to be examined is the history of the Ottoman Empire, and how Armenians had been treated until the beginning of the genocide in 1915. In regards to this, there are two incredibly varying viewpoints. Some historians argue that the Armenians were not only treated as second class citizens, but they were treated as though they were not human.  This takes into account the lack of civil rights available to Armenians, as well as the economic and societal restraints placed upon them.  These included, but were not limited to, being forbidden to bear arms, leaving them at the mercy of the Muslim majority, as well as the inability to seek retribution in a court of law (Hartunian XIV). According to this viewpoint, as well as the fact that the the region, both formerly and later the nation of Armenia, had spent nearly 400 years under Turkish rule (this includes both the Seljuk Turks and the Ottoman Turks), it does not seem out of the realm of possibilities that this beaten down, ethnic and religious minority would eventually be faced with heinous violence and destruction. In fact, the abuses of 1915 were not an isolated incident, but rather a culmination of massacres, which had been taking place throughout the Ottoman reign in the region. During the year 1895-1896 nearly 30,000 Armenians were killed according to the orders of sultan Abdul Hamid II. The violence did not stop in 1917; the city of Smyrna, a primarily Armenian-occupied city, was burned in 1922 (Harutian XVII).
However, it is important to understand that there are some historians who paint a different picture. In fact, many argue that the treatment of Armenians under the rule of the Ottoman Turks was far from harsh. Those who support this theory site the treatment of conquered and colonized people in the territories of the western powers, which some would argue was actually harsher than the treatment of the Armenians. For example, in some ways, the Armenians had more freedom than their counterparts in India under British rule, and certainly more freedom than the former South American colonists of Spain. In fact, the Armenian minority in Turkey was actually quite economically and culturally prosperous, in spite of the aforementioned disadvantages they faced (Armenian National Institute). In addition, there had even been a period of reform prior to the Young Turks coming into power (a topic, which will be discussed in greater detail later) during which the Armenian people made great strides towards equality. There was, at this time, talk of establishing a constitutional government, which would guarantee the Armenians equal rights under the law. However, even those who adhere to this historical interpretation cannot argue that the Armenians were at any point, or on any level, considered the equal of the Turks, and that is a very dangerous thing. Dehumanization is the first step a ruling groups takes when an impending persecution is nearing, followed in quick succession by the removal of civil rights, the spread of propaganda, relocation, and eventually extermination.
Next, as already mentioned, a group known as the Young Turks, a reactionist group formed in response to the former Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s totalitarianism, had come to power in the Ottoman Empire shortly before the persecution of the Armenians, and this is certainly not a coincidence (Armenian National Institute.). The sultan, a dynastic title given to the traditional ruler of the Ottoman Empire, had given up absolute power in 1908, causing a power vacuum. The group known as the Young Turks took advantage of the situation, and seized power. Initially, the group was intending to make wide-sweeping reforms to create equality within the Empire by creating a constitutional government, which many Armenians supported. However, the party quickly split over whether liberal or conservative reform was needed to revitalize the Empire, and the radical conservative wing of the party found itself with uninhibited control thanks to a coup d’etat (Armenian National Institute). This radical wing promoted a “Turkey for the Turks” sentiment and created a “xenophobic (fear of those unlike oneself) Turkish nationalism” (Armenian National Institute). The Young Turks promoted this fear and dislike of outsiders, in particular of Armenians, through the use of their propagandist newspaper Harb Mecuasi, or “War Magazine” (Dadrian, 220). This is not uncommon; rather, seemingly all parties who attempted to create single party states used propagandist newspapers and magazines to spread their message.
One of the main goals of this group was to regain some of the honor and prestige lost during the Balkan War, and to reassert the dominance of the Ottoman Empire in the region (Armenian National Institute).  One of the most effective ways to carry out this goal was by suppressing the ethnic minorities living within their borders to ensure no further uprisings, and to send a message to the newly autocratic peoples that their recently gained freedom would not last for long. These radical Muslim leaders found the perfect group to send the message in the Armenian population within Turkey, a population accustomed to maltreatment, and an economically successful ethnic and religious minority. During the Balkan War, many Armenians in the eastern reaches of the Empire had, in fact, joined forces with the Balkan uprisers and the Russians, much to the dismay of the Turkish government (Case). After the humiliating defeat at the hands of their former subjects, the Turks decided to round up the Armenians from these provinces, and relocate them into concentration camps. One survivor recounts his first impressions at a camp, saying, “I soon reached the concentration camp, where twelve thousand Armenians had already been herded—hungry, thirsty, naked, dirty, exhausted, already near death” (Hartunian, 85).  Naturally, they were subject to innumerable and unimaginable abuses such as murder, rape, beatings, and food deprivation throughout the course of the journey, in what was the beginning of the massacre.
As previously mentioned, the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire at the time was quite wealthy, which is not a problem in and of itself, but became an issue because the Turkish population, and the government itself, were far from financially secure. Working as craftsmen and farmers, Armenians paid a lot of taxes to the Empire. This reasonably secure lifestyle contrasted greatly with that of “increasingly unruly Muslim tribes, who now constituted a vast, unemployed army” (Harutian XIV). In fact, the Ottoman Empire was referred to at the time as the “Sick Man” in Europe, due in no small part to the fact that many of the minority groups within the Empire, such as the Greeks, had begun uprisings; some had even gained independence during the first Balkan War. Watching these “inferior minority” groups succeed in a largely failing economy greatly angered and hurt the pride of many Turkish people, who became determined to put the Armenians “back in their place.”
To make matters worse, the first several years of World War I had been a complete disaster for the Ottoman Empire, and the new Young Turk government was running out of the funds needed to wage war. In light of this, it is reasonable to assume that part of the reason for the genocide was to acquire the wealth, which had been amassed by the Armenians (Armenian).
The Armenian populations in Tiflis and Baku controlled the majority of the local wealth—wealth which was desperately needed both by the Islamic civilians of the area, as well as the Young Turk government. Aside from the financial struggles in the war, the fighting itself was going poorly, and the Armenians caught the blame for this as well. As the government  continued to turn its people against the Armenians, they portrayed the minority as the reason for the militaristic defeats, claiming that they were being undermined from within. To back up this claim, and to prevent any resistance to the impending assault, the Turkish government disarmed all of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks then took advantage of the war, claiming that all Armenians, beginning with those in Anatolia, a region with a very high concentration of Armenians, and later extending to all who lived within the Empire, needed to be relocated due to “wartime emergencies.” This, however, was a simple guise to cover up the killing which would later take place (Dadrian 219).
Another cause for the persecution of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 was the religious tension created by the fact that they were a large group of Christians living under the rule of an Islamic nation. The Ottoman and Seljuk Empires had a unique geopolitical location in that they were located on the border between the Islamic Middle East and the Christian eastern Europe. The two empires had always viewed themselves as guardians of the Islamic faith, and believed it was their role to spread the Islamic faith throughout their territories. Furthermore, Armenia was not simply a Christian nation, but in the 4th century A.D., became the first nation ever to accept Christianity as the official religion of the state. While the level of religious freedom and tolerance within the Ottoman and Seljuk Empires had fluctuated over the years, the Young Turks wanted to establish Islamic dominance throughout the region more so than any of the leading groups before them.  This militant Islamic group blamed the Christian “Infidels” for the struggles faced by the Muslims living within their borders. However, it is important to note that many Islamic religious leaders protested the deportation and execution of the Armenians, and later testified on behalf of the persecuted minority during war crime trials. Despite this, it would be difficult to deny that religious animosity, of which the region has had an extensive history, played a major role in the events which were to unfold between 1915 and 1917.
With the main causes for the genocide having been examined, it is time to investigate the persecution itself. In the year 1915, there were approximately 1.5 million Armenians living within the borders of the Ottoman Empires (The Armenian). By the end of the persecution in 1917, as many as 1.2 million of them were dead (The Armenian). It is widely accepted that the first several assaults upon the Armenians were carried out by civilians;  the government authorities and troops also contributed to the destruction as the persecution blossomed. Armenians were killed in all sorts of horrific ways, but the vast majority died during the forced marches, during which the Ottoman military and civilians alike herded Armenians, sometimes entire towns at a time, and simply marched them into the desert without resources and left them there to perish. A survivor later remembered “We hear the children’s screams, the mothers’ sobs. They are hungry, they are thirsty, they are cold in the night air. They have no place to rest. They cannot freely move their bowels. They are suffering. They are visualizing the unbearable journey of the next day and its horrors, and they are going mad. The young girls and prettier women are being snatched away, and zaptiye (Turkish soldiers) satisfy their lusts on them. There are secret murders. And some, unable to bear these things, drop dead” (Harutian 87). Those who were lucky enough to survive had to simply continue walking until, and if, they reached the border and safety. Very few were this lucky. The situation only worsened with the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, in which the Russians gave many of their southern provinces to the Ottoman Empire in exchange for peace. This spelled doom for the thousands of Armenians who had fled the Ottoman Empire to the safety of Russia. The Ottoman Turks, with thousands of new Armenians within their borders, were reinvigorated in their efforts to eradicate the Armenians, especially because a large number of them had been attempting to set up an independent state in the formerly Russian land. Enraged, the Turks promptly smashed this fledgling group with more vigor and tenacity than had been seen at any other time during the genocide.

The effects of this horrific event can be seen throughout history, and are still felt today. One of the most glaring reminders of the violence shown towards the Armenians was the Holocaust in Germany during World War II. Hitler followed the Young Turks blueprint almost exactly, dehumanizing and scapegoating an economically successful racial and religious minority during a time of crisis. Germany, just like the Ottoman Turks, was reeling after having suffered a military defeat in World War I, and was attempting to regain lost prestige. Germany, too, was struggling economically, and had a new and unstable government after Kaiser Wilhelm had abdicated, similar to the situation with the Sultan in the Ottoman Empire. A wealthy ethnic and religious minority was humiliating to the ruling race in Germany, just as the Armenians were  to the Turks before the genocide. To fully illustrate just how similar these two crimes against humanity were, in a 1939 statement, Adolf Hitler himself illustrates his use of the Turkish blueprint to justify his actions in Poland, saying “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Perhaps, if people had in fact remembered the Armenian Genocide, this second tragedy may have been avoided. Had the tragedy in the Ottoman Empire been fully understood throughout the global community, then perhaps the leaders of the world in the 1940s would have seen the warning signs, and prevented such a tragedy from happening again.
In fact, even today there are a very determined group of individuals who not only “do not speak of the Armenians”, but deny the fact that a genocide occurred. Many Turks still claim that there was no crime committed against the Armenians, suggesting that the Armenians “decided their own fate” by openly fighting alongside the Triple Entente during the First World War and against the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan War (Case). This view believes that the Turks were justified in their actions against the Armenians, and argue that very few were actually killed, rather, that they were simply deported from their homeland. Others concede that the Armenians did suffer great losses, but refuse to accept the fact that the atrocities were carried out by the Ottoman Empire and its military. Instead, they suggest that the Armenians were victims of pillaging Kurds who were in the area at the time (Case). That being said, the belief that the events of 1915 through 1917 were in fact genocidal in nature is held widely throughout the international community among scholars. It is incredibly difficult to deny that the events did take place; and, the Young Turks had the motive, intent, and ability to carry out such a heinous crime against humanity.
Still, this debate raises questions about the area of knowledge of history itself, and how people gain historical knowledge. The recounting of the Armenian Genocide suggests that there is no “absolute truth” within history, and that bias, both conscious and unconscious, clouds judgement and alters the recitations of events. This forces the learner to be incredibly wary of his or her sources, and to always consider whether or not the informer may be knowingly or unknowingly harboring ulterior motives and is allowing these to influence the presentation of material.
Additionally, the forcible removal of Armenians from Armenia has had an incredible impact upon the culture. For many years, the language was in danger of dying out, and the massacres of the genocide have left Armenia as one of the most sparsely populated nations to this day. Indeed, 102 years later,  the scars left by the assaults can still be seen and felt.  That being said, one could also argue that the horrors of 1915 have unified and united the Armenian diaspora, and led to a cultural, religious, and ethnic pride as strong as any in the world. The Armenian people were forged in the fire of genocide, but have passed that test and prevailed with flying colors. There are now more than twice as many ethnic Armenians worldwide as there were when the Young Turks attempted to annihilate them, which is a testament to the Armenian spirit and resilience (Hartunian XIX).
In conclusion, the main causes of the Armenian Genocide were the economic, political, religious, and social situations of the Ottoman Empire at the time, as well as the history of conflict in the region. The events which unfolded between 1915 and 1917 constitute one of the greatest assaults upon humanity in the history of the world, yet the Armenian Genocide remains under-researched and under-taught in many schools. It is important that this trend is broken. Humanity must study the past in order to avoid repeating the atrocities committed so many years ago. People must learn to be aware of the sins of the past in order to create a better tomorrow. That, after all, is the noblest reason to pursue the study of history.

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