April 24th, 1915.
The Young Turks, ruling party of the Ottoman Empire, rounded up hundreds of notable Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.
What happened next allowed this to be said some 24 years later:
‘I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?’
Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?
The prominent Armenians, all gathered in Constantinople by the hundreds on April 24th, 1915, are slaughtered.
Thus started the forgotten holocaust:
‘In 1915, the Turkish government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor…the clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be … There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons…[the Turks were] massacring uncounted thousands of helpless Armenians-men, women and children together; whole districts blotted out in administrative holocaust-these were beyond human redress’
~Winston Churchill, The Story of the Great War, Volume 4
Before we had The Holocaust, we had the holocaust. The first genocide of the 20th century.
From 1915 to 1923 over 1 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks, a genocide aimed largely at Christianity. Churchill noted, ‘the opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race’. Armenia was after all the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion.
The event had all the trappings and fixings of The Holocaust; death marches, concentration camps, mass burnings, mass drownings, medical murder, toxic gassing, heinous imagery.
Why not the ‘prestige’ that The Holocaust receives? A lack of acknowledgement that is tantamount to a tacit denial.
It’s a literal denial by the Turkish government who claim there was no genocide because there was no willful extermination. In fact, under of the Turkish penal code, Article 301 to be exact, it’s illegal to insult Turkey, thus it’s illegal to say Turkey was involved in the genocide of the Armenian people.
Though the overwhelming majority of historians and the International Association of Genocide Scholars agree that the senseless murder of over a million Armenians (as well as many Assyrians, Greeks and other Christians) constitutes an act of genocide, only 21 countries have actually agreed to recognize that fact.
The United States didn’t recognize the genocide officially until 2010. Even so, then Senator Obama, did acknowledge and has a long record of correctly acknowledging what happened. He went on to rebuke Condolezza Rice for dismissing the ambassador to Armenia for accurately using the term ‘genocide’. That said, President Obama has not called it that (though the text of the resolution requires him to, it’s a non-binding resolution so he doesn’t have to) and every year on the commemoration day, he avoids the word, speaking euphemistically to the ire of the Armenian people.
That’s nothing new though, all Presidents have done that because Turkey happens to represent a diplomatic and strategic interest to the US and also because Turkey happens to threaten anyone who calls them on their past atrocities (they pulled their ambassador to the US out the day after that vote in 2010, who has since returned).
Given that, the happenstance of strategic/diplomatic interest never stopped the US or the world from recognizing the genocide perpetrated by Germany as such.
And note that the country with arguably the largest duty to be vocal, Israel, still doesn’t officially recognize what happened in Turkey during World War I, mainly because Israel is already on shaky ground with Turkey and really can’t afford more enemies.
But therein lies the rub, any Israeli, American or individual of any country can and does accurately label what was perpetrated by the Turks as genocide. Governments that expect to be trusted have a responsibility to be historically honest. But in the face of a mountain of evidence of the death rained on innocence, most have chosen to neglect instead of observe.
What’s the world going to say, centuries from now, when they see an ocean of evidence yet no official censure? They’ll see the Turkish denial, a handful of countries who disagreed with that denial and the rest of the world whose silence spoke volumes.
Imagine if The Holocaust wasn’t recognized as genocide by the overwhelming majority of the world.
Bearing witness is of dire importance.