Lest We Forget


On Sunday, April 12, 2015, Pope Francis at a Mass in the Armenian Catholic rite at Peter’s Basilica quoted a declaration by Pope John Paul II in 2001 which resulted in the Turkish government recalling its ambassador to the Vatican just after the government of Turkey called the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey to Ankara for an explanation of the Pope Francis’ comments.

The offending comments? He called the massacre of Armenians in 1915 the “first genocide of the 20th century.” The Turkish government does not deny the deaths happened, they deny it was genocide.

Here are just four of the many reasons that the Turkish government says there were deaths, but no genocide:

1- because the killings were not deliberate or systematically orchestrated.

2- the killings were justified because the Ottoman Empire (the predecessor of the Republic of Turkey) was at war with Russia and the Armenians posed a Russian-sympathizing threat as a cultural group to the security of the country.

3-the Turkish World War I casualty figures are cited to lessen the effect of the number of Armenian dead.

4-the word “genocide” was not invented until 1943, and the Armenian deaths occurred during World War I, more than 20 years before the word was invented. So, therefore it cannot be called a genocide.

Ok first I never like the argument “We didn’t do it” (1) and “if we did we were justified” (2). Double-speak just does not get the job done. If you did not do it, then how can you be justified in doing it? Sorry guys, these two do not wash.

It is true there were many Turks, Greeks, and Armenians killed during World War I. But, the difference is the sheer numbers of women and children who were killed is what shows that what happened to the Armenian people was clearly a genocide. If the Turkish government wants to compare “apples and apples,” then let’s look at the statistics of Armenian women and children and compare that to the deaths of women and children Turks and Greeks. The numbers will not seem so even then.

The last one (number four) is one of my favorites. There are so many ways to disagree with that statement. But, I am just going to use one.

Law professor Raphael Lemkin is the man who is credited with coining the term “genocide.” What was the inspiration which brought about this one single word? What act was the impetuous that spurred its creation? According to professor Lemkin, it was the Armenian Genocide. So, according to Lemkin the killings in Turkey of the Armenian people inspired his creation of the word genocide. But, according to the Turkish government what happened to the Armenian people in Turkey was not a genocide, because the word had not been invented when the massacres happened. This looks like another contradiction to me.

I think more telling is the massive numbers of foreign diplomats, military advisors, and foreign aid workers in Turkey at the time who were sending back reports to their respective governments concerning what was happening to the Armenian people in Turkey. One of those countries was Germany.

Many of the German military advisors and diplomats who witnessed the atrocities in Turkey would later take what they learned and use that knowledge to help Hitler attempt to achieve his “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” When searching the backgrounds of Nazi war criminals many of them were in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) during World War I, men like Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath. The death marches, concentration camps, and labor camps of Nazi Germany were all copied from the Ottoman Empire and its dealings with the Armenian people. Even the Nazi SS were modeled on the Ottoman “Special Organization.” The men in the Special Organization were mostly prisoners released from prison for the express purpose of annihilating the Armenian people in Turkey. The destruction and confiscation of Jewish property in Nazi Germany was all carried out against the Armenian people during World War I by the Ottoman Empire.

The Russians, of course, were at war with Turkey during World War I, and the military was sending back reports on the large number of Armenian civilians they were finding dead in the wake of the retreating Ottoman military. The scene the Russian military saw in the city of Erzurum was so atrocious that they retaliated against the Ottoman 3rd Army by destroying it entirely. The 3rd Army was the group the Russian military held responsible for the massacre at the city of Erzurum. This is important because the Turkish government uses the connection between the Armenians and the Russians to justify the genocide they say they did not commit.

The reason for the close connection at that time between the Armenians and the Russians was religious. Both peoples are Orthodox Christians. The Armenians were being oppressed in the Ottoman Empire. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians because they were Christian instead of Islamic, were treated like second-class citizens. Armenians could not testify in court because they were not considered to have integrity like Muslims. Their rights were routinely violated and Muslims committing criminal acts against them were not arrested, but simply ignored. Crimes like murder, rape, theft, destruction of private property and etc., were routinely ignored when committed by Muslims against the Armenian peoples.

Before World War I, the Armenian people appealed to Russia for help and the Russian government attempted to get the ottoman government to recognize the rights of Armenians, but to no avail.

Though the commemoration day of the Armenian Genocide is April 24 (because of the mass execution of Armenian intellectuals, upper class, and leaders on April 24, 1915) almost any day could be used. The genocide did not happen just during World War I, but began twenty years earlier in 1894, and continued through 1923. Many of the foreigners who witnessed, first hand, the Armenian Genocide took photographs of what they saw, along with reporting back to their seniors what they were witnessing. Their photographs and reports exist today, though many (but not all) of the collaborating evidence in Turkey was destroyed by government officials. Many of these witnesses to the 20th centuries first genocide also wrote and published books about what they saw in Turkey.

Twenty-three countries and forty-three states within the United States have all adopted resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Why have 43 states within the United States passed such resolutions? Because the United States continues to deny the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. President Obama, during his first term, promised United States recognition of the genocide, but that recognition has still not happened. The president has stated that what happened was a genocide, but he has not officially recognized it as such. Each time a resolution comes before the United States Congress the Turkish government is able to stop it through its influence within the United States.

Here is the deal. History does not takes sides, history is simply what happened. We can “change our history” as the wife of an American politician wants us to do, or we can ignore history as the Turkish government wants us to do. But history is what has already happened. And you cannot change what has already happened.

The only honorable option to the Turkish government is to official recognize what its predecessors did and make amends as best as is possible.

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One response to “Lest We Forget

  1. Granddaughter of survivors

    My ancestors are smiling up in heaven. Never forget! Thank you, thank you!