While I normally write my column about sex, love and relationships, for this week’s column I’ve decided to discuss something a bit closer to my heart.
On April 24, 1915 some 200 Armenian community leaders of then eastern Turkey were taken from their homes by the Young Turks and murdered, beginning the three-year genocide that would eventually take the lives of about 1.5 million Armenians, or half of their population.
It’s been 91 years, and while the world seems to have forgotten the plight of the Armenians, I remember. I’ll always remember. How can one forget an event that shaped your history, which shaped your ancestry and most of all an event that the world chooses to forget while you remember.
Granted, I was not alive in 1915, but my great-grandfather was. At the age of 5, he watched his brothers, sisters and father murdered in front of him the day the Young Turks entered his village. It was a day that fear and good looks saved his life. It was a day when a young boy was so frightened by the bloodshed that appeared before his eyes that he simple forgot who he was. When asked by a solder, “what is your name boy? Are you Armenian?” The words “I don’t know” saved his life.
But those same words are the greatest tragedy of the Armenian genocide. For today much of the world states the same three words when asked, “What was the Armenian Genocide?” The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century and more importantly the first genocide of the 20th century to be completely denied, not only by its perpetrators but also by much of the world.
The greatest hardship of the genocide is that while its events are documented in photographs by Armn T. Wegner, a German officer stationed in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916 and other individuals like him, as well as in written documents, it is still denied not only by the Turkish government, which even in 2006 refer to this event as an “Act of War,” but also by much of the world, including but not limited to the U.S.
When the genocide took place the international community condemned the actions of the Turkish government, yet no actions were made to force the post-war Turkish government to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. As of April 2006, more than 15 countries including Switzerland, France and Russia have agreed to label the 1915-1918 killings of the Armenian people as genocide. Most recently our neighbor to the north, Canada, has officially stated their acknowledgment of the genocide.
Within the U.S., 31 states already acknowledge the Armenian genocide – including California – yet the U.S. government is still unwilling to call it genocide. As a 22-year old Armenian-American, I am blessed to live in the most powerful country in the world. The U.S. has the power to change the world order, for better or for worse. It is a country that is willing to enter Iraq and Afghanistan in order to “protect those who cannot defend themselves.” President Bush himself said acts of genocide were taking place in these countries, yet when there is clear documentation of genocide he still denies its occurrence. Mr. President, if you feel it is your duty to defend those who cannot defend themselves then I ask you on behalf of 1.5 million lives to admit to the horrific actions of the Turks and to let the world know that the Armenian Genocide took place – that these lives were lost and that the Turkish government should and must admit to its crime.