There were approximately 2.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I. By the end of the war, in 1923, there were less than 400,000 Armenians. What happened during those eight years has been well-documented, confirmed, and acknowledged as a historical fact. The Turkish government massacred over 1.5 million Armenians in an effort to cleanse the country of its “undesirable” and purify the Turkish race. Genocide.
In April 1915, tens of thousands of Armenian men were rounded up and slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands of women, children, and elderly were beaten, abused and transported to Cilicia and Syria. Fearful for their lives, Armenians reached out to the German Ambassador and pleaded for protection, but were denied any protection. Subsequently, more than 50,000 Armenians were slaughtered in Van Province.
Over the next nine months, more than 600,000 Armenians were massacred by the Turks, another 400,000 perished from starvation and abuse as they were being deported, by foot, into Mesopotamia. By September 15, 1915, more than 1.5 million Armenians were dead. Another 200,000 Armenians were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam.
Despite these irrefutable facts; despite the missing bodies and mass graves; and, despite all the photos, documents and eyewitness statements to the contrary, the Turkish government adamantly denies their acts constitute genocide.
[According to the Turks], what happened in 1915 was, at most, just one more messy piece of a very messy war that spelled the end of a once-powerful empire. They reject the conclusions of historians and the term genocide, saying there was no premeditation in the deaths, no systematic attempt to destroy a people. Indeed, in Turkey today it remains a crime — “insulting Turkishness” — to even raise the issue of what happened to the Armenians.–New York Times
Genocide. Meaning & Vast Implications
The term “genocide” was created by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, who studied the Armenian Genocide and lobbied the League of Nations to ban what he called “barbarity” and “vandalism.” Lemkin later coined the term by reference to the Simele massacre, the Holocaust, and the Armenian Genocide. Lemkin went on to draft the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, adopted December 9, 1948.
Pursuant to Article 2 of the Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- (a) Killing members of the group;
- (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
- (e) Complicity in genocide.
Article 3 specifies that the following acts shall be punishable:
- (a) Genocide;
- (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
- (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
- (d) Attempt to commit genocide;
Under these terms, the widespread massacres and deportations of Armenians in 1915- which included the use of 25 major concentration camps, forced marches, mass burnings, drownings, and gassings- were in every way a genocide by the Turks against the Armenians. -Huffington Post
The Turkish government’s extermination of over 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 coupled with the universal definition of genocide leads to only one rational conclusion: The Ottoman Empire committed genocide. Instead of admitting its shameful past, as many countries with similar histories have done, Turkey throws a tantrum, threatens those that speak the truth abroad and criminalize the usage of the word at home.
The most obvious question is why. Why is Turkey so committed to denying its history and acknowledging its bloody past? Robbie Gennett of the Huffington Post sheds some light on what, exactly, is at stake:
Take a look at a map of pre-Genocide Armenia here, here and here. What you will notice is that a huge chunk of what is now Turkey was then considered Armenia. If the 1915 Turkish actions were indeed recognized as a genocide, current day Armenia could potentially petition for the return of its land. Note that this may even include the area known as Cilicia, a separate but ethnically connected entity bordering the Mediterranean Sea that dates back to the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia in the early part of the second Millenium. These historically grounded lands could rightfully be considered Armenian if they could establish that they were unlawfully taken from them via the Genocide. The evidence is there and so is the history. -Huffington Post
Turkey, Armenia & the United States
The powerful Armenian community in Los Angeles, California has been lobbying Congress to introduce a resolution that condemns Turkey for the Armenian genocide. But every time a bill comes up for a vote, the Turkish government threatens to sanction or break off its military ties with the United States. Turkey is a NATO partner vital to American regional and security issues.
Turkey, which cut military ties to France over a similar action, has reacted with angry threats. A bill to that effect nearly passed in the fall of 2007, gaining a majority of co-sponsors and passing a committee vote. But the Bush administration, noting that Turkey is a critical ally — more than 70 per cent of the military air supplies for Iraq go through the Incirlik airbase there — pressed for the bill to be withdrawn, and it was. -New York Times
On March 4, 2010, the House Foreign Affairs Committee bravely passed a nonbinding resolution that states Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians in 1915. Despite the fact that both Obama and Clinton vowed to call Turkey’s actions “genocide” while senators in Congress, they now claim that there have been significant changes that complicate matters. According to Clinton, the resolution would strain U.S.-Turkish relationship and interfere with the ongoing Armenian-Turkey reconciliation process. The latter claim seems to contradict Armenian activist who have repeatedly stated that true reconciliation can only take place if Turkey acknowledges its past.
Turkey’s response to this week’s resolution was predictable.
[T]he office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately issued a sharp rebuke. “We condemn this bill that denounces the Turkish nation of a crime that it has not committed,” the statement said. Ambassador Namik Tan, who had only weeks ago taken up his post in Washington, has been recalled to Ankara for consultations, according to the statement. – New York Times
Turkish President Abdullah Gul when a step further when he said: “I declare such a decision that was taken with political concerns in mind to be an injustice to history and to the science of history. Turkey will not be responsible for the negative results that this event may lead to.”
On March 11, Sweden narrowly passed a similar resolution, describing Turkey’s actions during World War I as genocide. True to form, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Sweden.
Turkey has done an excellent job, thus far, of using its strategic location to intimidate and punish any country that dares to acknowledge and legally memorialize its murderous past. It is an irrefutable fact that the United States needs Turkey as a military ally, but let’s not forget that Turkey needs America too. Furthermore, it is Turkey (not the U.S., Sweden, or any other country) that is hampering the Armenian reconciliation process by refusing to acknowledge its history and simply apologize. Then, and only then, can the real healing begin.
Sources & References
- Al-Jazeera (English)
- Armenia: The History Place
- Armenian National Institute
- CPPCG (Audio)
- New York Times
- Overview of 1915 Armenian Genocide
- Timeline: Armenian Genocide
- Timeline: Armenian Genocide 2
- Why the Armenian Genocide Matters