The Armenian Genocide was a one of the first genocides of the twentieth century. The Armenian Genocide took place in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 – 1923 and cost the lives of more than 1.5 million Armenians. Many of the perpetrators who engineered and carried out the atrocities during the Armenian Genocide, were never punished for their crimes, so much so that Adolf Hitler was inspired by these events and modeled the Holocaust around it; “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” (Bardakjian, 1985.) The Armenian Genocide ethnically cleansed the Armenians from their native homeland in Anatolia or Asia Minor, where they had lived for millennia, even before the Turkic tribes invaded the region from Central Asia. The Armenians who are living today have all been affected by the Armenian Genocide in one way or another. The Armenian diaspora is a direct result of the Armenian Genocide, since Armenians were forced to flee to other countries for refuge, where they began to establish communities.
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The international community has been forced to question their moral integrity and upholding justice and peace. The true underlying determinant of involvement lies not in the virtue of the cause, but in the degree of self-interests at hand. The importance of attaining recognition lies not in vengeance, but in assuring the prevention of further recurrence. As a response to worldwide apathy towards the Armenian cause, the trauma of the past remains present in Armenian life today. To express restrained emotions and beliefs of the past, the Armenian people feel internationally abandoned and isolated as a community. The consequences of genocide as well as the denial of its happening, remain present through Armenian generations in the form of a trans-generational effect.
It was not until Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1944, which he defined as "the destruction of a nation or ethnic group," did the word genocide exist (UN.) It was the emanation of this word that started the proposal for the United Nations Genocide Convention, which was ratified four years later in December 1948 (Porter, J. N, 2001.) The Armenian Genocide differs from murder in that it was a collective and systematic annihilation of not only the people, but the evidence of their culture and existence as well (Adalian 1). The Armenian Genocide also contains all eight stages of genocide; classification, symbolization dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination and denial (Stanton, 1998.) The eight stages of genocide occurred in the following manner, classification, or rather labeling a group of people as something in order to create divide, symbolization, where Armenian homes were marked to be raided and burned. Dehumanization, where Armenians were treated as sub-species or vermin. Organization, where the Ottoman government created quick protocols for the Ottoman army and gave them specific orders to complete tasks of extermination, death marches, the round up Armenians at checkpoints and execute them, so that they won't have a fighting chance as well as orders to seize property. Polarization, where Armenians weren't allowed to travel and were required to turn in their firearms, preparation, where Ottoman troops took specific steps in order to make sure their plans would run smoothly. Execution, where Turks either murdered Armenians directly, or forced them to march to their deaths. Last but certainly not least, the Ottoman empire, as well as the current Turkish government, along with many other countries allied with the Turkey, including the United States, are in denial of the Armenian Genocide.
The only means by which to achieve such an intricate plan, would require centralized planning and protocols. This concept makes genocide a paragon of state crime, as only a government has the resources to carry out such destruction. The Armenian Genocide was centrally planned and administered by the Turkish Ottoman government against the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. The genocide was executed during W.W.I between the years of 1915 and 1923 (Hovannisian 13). During this time, the Armenian people endured deportation, massacre, rape and starvation. Armenians were forcibly removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where the vast majority (comprised of women, children, elderly and afflicted people) was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger.
Many of the tortures imposed on the Armenian people at the hands of the Turks lead one to question the true motives of the domestic goal. In succeeding to reduce a people to five percent of the previous population, the need to inflict such pain and suffering on a people arose not from a mission, but from underlying sadist tendencies (Marcom 149). A perverse gratification in seeing such masses slowly wither to death through the terminal agony of defeat plaguing their spirits can only be defined as sadistic. Pregnant women had their stomachs slashed open and were forced to continue marching; leaving behind their fetuses sprawled out on the road to rot in the baking sun. Men's toenails and genitals were removed with the precision of workshop tools was another choice torture of the Turk's. The Turk's considered these disciplinary actions carried out to preserve order. Such operations assumed by Turkish officers, or Gendarme as the Armenians called them, are amongst the recorded atrocities directed towards Armenians (Adalian 9). Through Micheline Marcom's novel Three Apples Fell from Heaven, a collaboration of stories is seen relating the different experiences of Armenians during the genocide. Rows of abandoned babies tainted the earth with their blood. Other infants that survived amongst the carcasses were usually taken by Turkish families and put into slavery. One story relates a Turkish soldier recalling his wife yearning for a child as he picked up a child his horse almost stepped on. With passing time, little Dickran who grew to be a good Muslim boy also grew ignorant to his born culture and name (64). Another account relates the grief of an Armenian woman; initially Anguil, a poor Armenian girl providing her family with all the support she can muster, recalls her visits to the Hamam (or bathhouse) as "a great steam room of gossip." The murmurs of grandmothers and mothers can be heard as they observe the bodies of the young Armenian girls. With eyes like those of vultures, the women select the potential or at least fit women to serve as their grandsons or sons wife. Ironically, as time progresses these women, find themselves being examined by Turkish doctors to be approved for slavery or worse, to serve the Turks and Kurds of the Ottoman Empire (Marcom 27, 81).
The Armenian Genocide of 1915 was a supremely violent historical event. The genocide eradicated a people from their homeland and wiped away almost all tangible evidence of the Armenian’s three thousand years of material and spiritual culture. As unbelievable as the conception that the people and traces of the first Christian nation in the world were almost successfully erased may be, the truth withstands (Varjabedian 77). Uniquely, the Armenian Genocide was the first large scale crime against humanity occurring at the beginning of the twentieth century (Hovannisian 13-17). More than eight decades after the fact, the Armenian Genocide has yet to achieve worldwide recognition. The Armenian people however, retained recognition by proof of their existence. As a result, Armenia attained independence on September 21, 1991. As stated by anthropological studies major Hrag Varjabedian, “It is not within the best interests to support dead weight such as the Armenians.” He continues on to say that, “Moral satisfaction does not pay for the bills, invoke power, or measure the value of lives…numbers do.”
Turkey has maintained the position that the Armenian Genocide never happened. Turkey holds that the Armenian government’s allegations of genocide are an exaggeration of domestic precautions that were taken in the past as a part of national security. Turkey claims that the Armenian people are trying to seek fame and fortune through a fabrication of the past. Germany, Turkeys’ leading ally in the war testifies to aiding in the execution of Turkeys’ plans of social cleansing. Turkish documents found provide proof of the distribution of funds and the allocation of weaponry directed towards the genocide. Still more Turkish documents found relate the deportations and describe plans of national genocide (Armenian-Genocide/ sampledocs).
In order to understand the indifference towards the Armenian people today, the events and figures that revolved around the events of that time need to be recognized. At the time of WWI, most Americans remained ambivalent towards the war. President Woodrow Wilson reflected the attitude of his people by declaring neutrality to all aspects of the war. Woodrow Wilson however knew that if he had exposed the genocide, Americans would demand involvement. “Because the Turks had not violated the rights of Americans, Wilson did not formally protest,” (Power 3). The president however, did appoint Henry Morgenthau as ambassador to the United States to remain in the Ottoman Empire. In this way, Woodrow Wilson could remain neutral while being informed of the events surrounding the war. Upon his arrival, Morgenthau observed many of the brutalities against the Armenian peoples in which he appealed to his superiors for U.S. intervention in the Armenian Massacres. He wired several messages from Constantinople to President Woodrow Wilson pleading in vain for help to the Armenian cause. To quote the Turkish President, Mehmet Talaat, in response to the U.S. ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s eyewitness reports of slaughter, Talaat replied, ‘Why are you so interested in the Armenians anyway? You are a Jew; these people are Christian’s…why can’t you let us do with these Christians as we please?’ Morgenthau replied, ‘…I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion but merely as a human being,’” (Power 7)
If there was to be opposition to the Turks plan for the Armenians, it would have had to come from the U.S. The countries such as England and France that were able to confront the Ottoman Empire were consumed by the events of the war. The countries that remained were either to weak to do anything or too isolated from the problem.
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In the act of recognizing and taking responsibility for the Armenian Genocide, Turkey would be liable to provide reparations for the Armenian people and government. Turkey would also be responsible to provide restorations of land and property to families, leaving Turkey in exorbitant debt (Varjabedian 96). In today's society, it is no longer considered petty to reconsider actions on a financial basis. America, like many countries, fears that recognizing the Armenian Genocide would eliminate many of the countries they do business with by offending countries that agree with Turkey. The Turkish sympathizers for instance include Syria, Iran and the countries composing NATO (Preston A1). Fear, political manipulation and profit are the true determinants of the business market and of the course of lives. The fear of losing big has overcome the will to pursue good.
The survivors of the genocide, as well as their descendants, struggling with politically and morally unresolved issues, are still in the process of morning. By visiting a cemetery and morning over the grave of a loved one is usually means of overcoming a traumatic experience of separation and loss. (Ross 78). Mourning becomes a process by which grief, the feelings precipitated by the loss of a loved one, is resolved. It is a means of coming to terms with the past and restoring the individual’s ability to cope with the future. (Ross 39) The survivors of the Armenian Genocide have no cemetery. Presently Armenians are denied access to the very location of the massacres (Werfel 88). The dehumanization, the separation from people and homeland, and the traumatic experience has yet to overcome. Under such circumstances, the stories were never forgotten. The grandchildren living with their grandparents would constantly hear bits and pieces of the deportation and massacre stories from their elders. “In 1965, with the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the genocide, there was a sudden awakening of consciousness within the new generation, the grandchildren of the survivors, regarding the genocide,” recalled Mr. Varjabedian. He continued to explain how the traumatic memories of the past were passed on to the younger generation as well as the transformation in the people that resulted. “When the survivors would recount there stories they would talk about loss, and about life in their birthplaces, and the memories of childhood but never with a sense of revenge,” explained Mr. Varjabedian. With the fiftieth anniversary of the genocide came a sudden innate militancy born into the new generation, which manifested itself in many ways. From 1975-1985, Armenian terrorist groups arose with the aim to assassinate Turkish diplomats. The hope of these groups was to revive the Armenian question in the international community. Yet, this new generation, also started the invaluable documentation of the testimonies of the surviving victims from the early seventies to the late eighties. Unexpectedly by the 1980’s, there were half a dozen organizations documenting the testimonies and preserving them from perpetual loss. The succeeding generation being in their thirties and early forties, unpredictably took a completely different standpoint than that of their elders. In administering a proliferation of artistic creativity as a way of coming to grips with the unresolved trauma that has been passed down the generations not only attracted the International community in a positive way but has succeeded in reviving the Armenian question. A direct example of this artistic expression of is seen most presently in the Heavy metal band System of a Down. Mixing the sounds of traditional Armenian music with the sounds of modern age hard rock and using powerful lyrics to spread their message for the Armenian cause. The song P.L.U.C.K (Politically Low Unholy Corrupt Killers), off their first album entitled System of a Down, refers to the Armenian Genocide as, “The plan was mastered and called genocide, took all the children and then we died.”
If one could look into the eyes of the survivors and of victims in their last moments of life, the quest for the technicalities of definition and the compromise of words would cease. In regards to genocide, people have not truly opened their hearts to the enormity needed to endure the suffering of the people; their ashes lie upon the roads. The moral judge can only procure his opinion based upon the facts and the actual events. As all Armenian tales end, three apples then fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for the listener, and one for the eavesdropper.
- Adalian, R. P. (2015). Remembering and understanding the Armenian genocide. Yerevan, Armenia: Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute.
- Aram, I. (2014). The Armenian Genocide: From recognition to reparations. International Criminal Law Review, 14(2), 233. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.woodbury.edu:880/10.1163/15718123-01401001
- Kevork B. Bardakjian, Hitler and the Armenian Genocide (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Zoryan Institute, 1985).
- Porter, J. N. (2001). Studies in comparative genocide. Contemporary Sociology, 30(2), 184-185. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.woodbury.edu:880/10.2307/2655421
- Power, S. (2013). "A problem from hell": America and the age of genocide. New York: Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group.
- Stanton, G. H. (1998). The 8 Stages of Genocide. Retrieved from http://www.genocidewatch.org/genocide/8stagesofgenocide.html
- United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.shtml.
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