Chris Tutunjian is a sophomore student at Houston Christian High School; he is currently enrolled in Advanced Placement World History, a course taught by my department head Christine Metoyer. Chris offers an interesting analysis into the 20th century problem of Social Darwinism. I have closed the comment box on this post, but ask that many of you visit this post published at the Gray Ghost, a blog operated by Dillon Sorensen. I think you will enjoy his blog.
On April 24, 1915, one of the greatest atrocities ever committed against humanity began: the Armenian Genocide. How many of you have heard of this event? Probably not a lot. Some of you may not even care that this ever happened, but the Armenian Genocide carries great importance to me as it was my ancestors who were systemically and deliberately massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.
I am three-quarters Armenian with both my mom and dad being of Armenian ancestry, and I could not be more proud of my heritage. Armenia is a country located in the Caucasus, bordered by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey. In 301 AD, Armenia declared Christianity the official state religion, making it the first country to do so. I belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church that was founded over 17 centuries ago. Ever since I was a child, my parents have taught me about the importance of my heritage. At first, I did not really care what they were trying to teach me. As I’ve matured over the years though, I’ve grown to understand what they meant. This is why I’d like to talk about the Armenian Genocide. I believe that it is my duty to my heritage and to my ancestors who perished during the genocide to educate the public on the crimes perpetuated against the Armenians during the genocide.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Armenian Christian minority living in eastern Turkey had no civil rights since Turkey’s population was mainly Muslim. Armenians were not allowed to bear arms, serve in the military, or testify in court against a Muslim. They were heavily taxed because they were considered infidels, and they were treated as second-class citizens. When Turkey suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Russians during World War I, it quickly blamed the Armenians for aiding the Russians. The Turks were worried about the Armenians rebelling inside Turkey, and they justified the deportation and killing of Armenians by preparing propaganda material stating that the Armenians were planning to launch an uprising in Istanbul and kill the Turkish leadership. In 1915, the Turks enacted the Temporary Law of Expropriation, Confiscation, and Deportation. The law stated that all property owned by Armenians, such as land, livestock, and homes, was to be confiscated by the authorities. The Turkish government created special organizations like the SS and Einsatzgruppen, which were given the task of rounding up Armenians in their villages and deporting them to concentration camps. Most of these camps were located near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Killing squads executed Armenians through shootings, mass burnings, and poisonings. Also, many Armenians were marched into the Syrian Desert and were left to starve to death.
April 24th serves as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. On this date in 1915, the Turks, in an effort to cripple the Armenian community, seized and massacred over 200 Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Istanbul. My great-great grandfather on my mom’s side was one of the 200 arrested that day. His son tried to get him out of prison but failed. The Turks killed his father in front of him before imprisoning him. However, he escaped and made it to America. He settled in the northeast, where most of my mom’s family resides. On my dad’s side, my great-grandfather was the only one of eight brothers and sisters to survive the marches into the Syrian Desert. He fled to Lebanon, the only Middle Eastern country with a 50% Christian and 50% Muslim population, and began a new life. My father grew up in Lebanon and came to live in America after the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1976. Eventually, he made it to Texas after studying in New York and Boston. Once my mom had finished college, her parents moved to Houston as her dad had gotten a teaching job at Booker T. Washington High School through IBM. She came with them to Houston, and my parents eventually met at the St. Kevork’s Armenian Church, the same church that I attend today.
Even though there is plenty of evidence that the Turkish authorities planned and executed the genocide, Turkey continues to deny the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish Government has made it a crime to defame the state and insult “Turkishness.” Not only does this prevent any discussion by the government on the topic of the genocide, but it also makes it very difficult for Turkish individuals to voice their apologies to the Armenians. You might recall Hrant Dink from two years ago. Dink was an Armenian journalist living in Istanbul. A Turkish nationalist assassinated him for his writings on the genocide and his recognition of it. Dink had actually been acquitted of the state-defamation law a few months before his murder. Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who won the Noble Prize in literature, has also been put on trial for statements recognizing the Armenian Genocide. He was found innocent and is an advocate for more freedom of speech laws in Turkey, so the people and the government can come to terms with its history and its crimes.
The Republics of Armenia and Turkey continue to be at odds on this issue and have no diplomatic relations. Many Turkish intellectuals, however, are starting to talk about recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Recently, over 5000 Turkish intellectuals signed a petition for the recognition of the genocide and apologized for the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire. Also, the President of Turkey traveled a few months ago to Armenia to witness a soccer match between the two countries, signaling a desire to want to resolve differences between the two nations.
Whereas many countries, such as Canada, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, and Russia, have officially recognized the genocide, the United States has not done so. Armenian-Americans try every year to introduce a bill in Congress that would have the government recognize the atrocities committed against the Armenian people by the Turks. The United States’ reluctance to approve such a bill is politically motivated. Turkey is a member of NATO and our only ally in the Middle East. In addition, Turkey is not as fanatic or fundamentalist as other Muslim countries. The Turkish Government has threatened to leave NATO and break ties with the United States if a bill recognizing the genocide ever passed. The United States does not want to loose its only non-fanatic ally in the Middle East, so the government has kept a low profile when it comes to the subject of the Armenian Genocide. I would love to see the day when the United States recognizes the genocide. Recognition, although being a great gain for Armenian-Americans, would have some negative repercussions for America. As I previously mentioned, we would loose our ally in Turkey, which the military has used as a refueling station and air base during their operations in the Middle East. Recognition would help a few but would not help our country overall. Although I am proud of my heritage, I am an American first and always, and I would never want to do something that would harm my country. I long to see the day when this bill is passed. Now is just not the time, and I am willing to wait for the right time.
I hope that one day the government of Turkey will recognize the terrible crimes that were committed against the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire. Whereas the Jews can have some closure with the German apologies and recognition of the Holocaust, the Armenians are still seeking peace and remain bitter over what happened.
I’d like to leave you with a quote by Adolf Hitler. Now, I know what you may be thinking, but just listen. When Hitler proposed his Final Solution, his staff and advisors asked him how he planned to get away with such a huge undertaking. Hitler simply replied, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” As much as I’d hate to admit it, Hitler was right. The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th Century, only to be followed by many more. So few knew what happened to the Armenians, and so few know today what happened to the Armenians. As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
If you would like to read more about the Armenian Genocide or sign a petition for its recognition worldwide, please visit http://www.genocide1915.info/.