Attention: This is a serious post. Up until this point, Eye of the Armenian has been largely humorous and playful, however, this is a topic for which I have a deep passion. You may skip if you wish, but I encourage you to read, as the subject is just as valuable.
If you’re still reading, I’m honoured to have you on board. As the title probably suggests, this post deals with “The Forgotten Genocide,” its destructions on many generations, and the importance of recognition.
I’m not even seven years old, and here I am, face to face across my dinner table when my Dad slowly begins to tell me the story that will forever stick with me…
The Armenian Genocide took place in the early hours of April 24, 1915. That’s when the Ottoman government rounded up roughly 250 Armenian politicians and intellectuals living in Constantinople, now modern-day Istanbul, Turkey. They executed them. This massacre, known by Armenians as Garmir Giragi (Red Sunday), sadly was only the tipping point on what eventually became one of the largest ethnic attacks witnessed in history. For the next three years, Ottoman officials systematically drowned, starved, crucified, raped, and burned men, women, and children – all in a radical attempt to cleanse the earth of Armenian “infidels.” Their most notorious method for murder saw Armenians forcibly marched into the Syrian Desert where they were left with no food or water.
The Death March (Image: Project Save, New York Times, April 1915)
These unjustified and unprecedented killings make up what historians today label as the first Genocide of the 20th century. It’s also the event in which Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin first coined the term “genocide” as such a word hadn’t existed before.
Before 1915, just under 2 million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire.
By 1918, only 300,000 remained.
1.5 million people did not deserve to die.
Regardless of ethnicity, these were human beings. They were infants, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, wiped out of existence solely based on their religious faith and the beliefs of an immoral and depraved political party.
How the Genocide Affects Armenia
You don’t have to search hard to see the damaging impacts such an event had on subsequent generations. Today, over 40% of Armenian nationals live in poverty. Before the Genocide, all of Eastern Turkey – the land, resources, and historical symbols – belonged to Armenia. Iconic symbols like Mount Ararat, which the Bible references as the place where Noah’s Ark landed, was stripped away from the people who loved it most.
How the Genocide Affects Armenians
While I don’t live in Armenia or poverty, the Genocide still affects me like it does every other Armenian. Nearly all Armenians you meet can tell you their family’s story of Genocide. My great grandfather was one of the lucky few who escaped the massacre, where he settled in Beirut, Lebanon. Even though everything transpired 100 years ago and I never witnessed such atrocities first hand, I still feel intense emotion whenever the subject comes up – a damaging yet equally uniting feeling.
Armenians and non-Armenians unite together and lay flowers at Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Park to commemorate the millions who were lost (Image: Armenian Genocide Centennial)
What We Need to Do
With this particular post, I want to teach those unfamiliar about the details surrounding the Forgotten Genocide. The reason I and many historians refer to it as forgotten likely stems from a mid-20th-century quote…
Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? – Adolf Hitler, 1939
When atrocities such as these go unacknowledged, they will just continue to happen in the future.
Only if we all open our eyes and collectively spread awareness will formal recognition occur. You see, to this day, Turkey has yet to acknowledge any of their government’s previous wrongdoings.
Every April 24th, more and more nations join the list of Armenian Genocide recognizers. But some nations have yet to do so out of political fears – the U.S. still won’t formally recognize the Genocide as it would damage their military alliance with Turkey.
Politics should NOT transcend moral justice.
As a result, Armenians demand that Turkey faces their horrible past and acknowledge the victims of it as the German government did for the Holocaust. Armenians will not forgive or forget as our wounds are still open, and it’s the moral obligation of the Turkish people to end their century-long denial. The Turkish government can try to sweep this topic under the rug, but they can’t hide the millions of skeleton remains that lie just below the desert surfaces in Syria.
Image: Toronto Star, originally from Armenian Genocide Museum Institute (1938)
What I’ve Learned From the Genocide
Suppose you asked me what it means to be Armenian?
I’d say I’m part of a group of people who never give up. Despite facing a much larger Ottoman population, we were able to survive and keep our language and our culture alive. Even today, we may be small in number, but we make it up in a collective sense of unity and unbreakable respect for each other Armenian. It’s unfortunate that these feelings stem from a horrible Genocide, but we defy the odds, we overcome adversity, and as my Dad tells me, we are fighters.