The Often Untold Story of the Armenian Genocide

March 6

This article was written by YJDP Tech-it Out Seminar participants and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

"To deny something that has left so many survivors silent and distraught is disgusting. Growing up, it made me feel so very uneasy. Because of the denial, a lot of people who aren't Armenians don't actually know about the genocide. That has always hurt me the most," Astghik Aprahamian said.

Aprahamian, a 20-year-old Montrealer, is the descendant of genocide survivors. Largely unknown and recognized by only 21 countries today, the Armenian Genocide was masterminded by the Young Turks, a political party that came to rule the Ottoman Empire in 1908 after the deposition of then-sultan Abdul Hamid II. The systematic, government-sponsored slaughter of the Empire’s Christian populations — including Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks — resulted in the deaths of nearly 3 million people. The international community was made aware of the genocide and decided to turn a blind eye – they had a world war to win.

The psychological aftershocks of the genocide continue to resonate in its survivors’ descendants, and the persistent denial of its occurrence has inflicted an entirely different kind of trauma.

"I learned about the genocide when I was very young, probably around the age of six or seven. I went to an Armenian school [...], so we were always made aware of it. I remember crying in class the first time our teacher told us about what had happened. And as if that wasn't bad enough, I later found out the Turks still continue to deny it. Denial is horrible. It's questioning the past of a whole nation, it's denying [that] I have lost any family members to this," Aprahamian said. Many Armenians, both in Armenia and in the diaspora, strain under the same burden.

Today, the Armenian Genocide is remembered by few and recognized by even fewer. Turkey, heir to the Ottoman Empire, remains adamant in its efforts of repression, and the U.S.  government continues to be complicit in its denial, in the name of eggshell-diplomacy and political allegiances.

In recent years, Congress has attempted to set the record straight. In 2007, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Brad Sherman (D-CA), and Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) introduced H.RES.106, which called upon the President “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide,” citing the Armenian Genocide specifically. It was never ratified. Two years later, the same resolution was introduced, this time with significantly larger sponsorship — in all, 77 representatives backed the bill. Again, the resolution failed. In 2010, when it was once more introduced on the House floor, 73 more congressmen signed their names to the resolution. And as in in 2007 and 2009, its sponsors were outvoted, thus prompting the Armenian Genocide resolution to be tabled.

Why? The Armenian Genocide is well documented and the second most extensively studied case of genocide in modern history, after the Holocaust. In most academic circles, it is considered historical fact; there is little debate even among many Turkish historians like Taner Akçam, Fuat Dündar, and Uğur Ümit Üngör. And though no Western power undertook enough measures enough to prevent or end the massacre of the Ottoman Christians, American philanthropists are responsible for saving the lives of tens of thousands, if not more. Theirs is a proud and enduring legacy, although it is one that could never fully absolve the U.S. government of its inaction.

But the U.S. is not quiet because it is ashamed. In 2007, when H.RES.106 was first introduced, it was met with loud opposition. Dan Burton, former U.S. Representative for Indiana’s 5th congressional district (and current chairman of the Azerbaijan America Alliance), ostensibly found fault not in its intentions, but in its potential consequences. “This is crazy,” he said. “We’re in the middle of two wars and we’ve got troops over there that are at risk, and we’re talking about a kicking the one ally [Turkey] that’s helping us over there in the face.”

More than two years out of Iraq and at the tail end of the war in Afghanistan, however, there are very few practical reasons to remain neutral in the issue. What was once a matter of life-determining political contention is no longer.

A new bipartisan resolution (S.RES.410) was introduced to the U.S. Senate by Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) on April 3, 2014. It passed The Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Menendez, on April 10. The resolution demands for both proper observation of the April 24 anniversary date, as well as for "the full acknowledgement ... by Turkey of the facts of the Armenian Genocide." Though the current gov.track.us prognosis for the bill sits at a 75% chance of passing, it was not prioritized on the Senate agenda in time for a floor vote. The April 11th mark was missed, and the Senate adjourned for a two-week recess, returning again only on April 28, four days after Remembrance Day. Consequently, the 99th anniversary, as all its predecessors, went unrecognized in the U.S., which is currently home to a large number of Armenian diasporas.

Washington D.C. is also home to a president who promised in 2008, as a campaigning hopeful, to recognize the Armenian Genocide as what it was — genocide. This April 24th marks the sixth consecutive year in which President Obama's platform has not been fulfilled. The word "genocide" has been tactfully skirted to make room for milder terms less likely to ruffle diplomatic feathers.

Yet it was the Armenian Genocide that inspired the coinage of the term "genocide," and it was the Armenian Genocide that inspired Adolf Hitler to send his 'Death's Head Units' to Poland in 1939 for his own mass-exterminations. The 1915 Turkey-perpetuated killings are literally definitive of the term "genocide," and any attempts to water down their severity with more placating phrases are simply inaccurate and a form of genocide denial itself.

As expected, the latest resolution was met with immediate backlash from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which publicly condemned the resolution in an online press release on April 11. "We reject this attempt at a political exploitation that distorts history and law, and we condemn those who led this prejudiced initiative, which is devoid of any legal ground," the statement reads.

On April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — who, in keeping with Turkish policy for the last nine decades, firmly denies the Armenian Genocide — made one small concession. He admitted that many Armenians had suffered from what Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoğlu called a “mistake” and an “inhumane act,” emphasizing that “the incidents of the First World War are our shared pain.” While Erdoğan’s historic statement (the first of its kind in Turkish political history) has been heralded by some as an important first step, it is just that: a first step, and it is not enough for the Armenian diaspora

“It's a case of not wanting history to repeat itself, but beyond that it's just important to give justice to those who suffered,” said Aprahamian, the 20-year-old Montrealer. “That's us, not only the survivors whose numbers are dwindling, but it's all their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren, because we all suffer from a wound that refuses to heal.”

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