The denial of a genocide
By Alex Krikorian
Every year, Australians commemorate Anzac Day and the anniversary of the Australian troops' landing at the Dardanelles Straits on April 25, 1915. Yet, only a few hundred kilometers away on the same day, a major atrocity was beginning to unfold.
This is how it all started. It was a Sunday, April 24, 1915, when Enver Pasha who led the Ottoman Empire (now known as Turkey) authorised the arrest and deportation of approximately 270 Armenian intellectuals to Ankara. There was a great concern that the Christian Armenian population was conspiring with Russia (an enemy of the Ottoman Turks). Consequently, officials of the Ottoman Empire led the systematic massacre of approximately 1.5 million Armenians. Some victims were killed in massacre, others were forced to march through the Syrian desert that left them starved to death. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies has shown that, whilst there was over two million Armenians in the empire in 1914, by 1922 there were just under four hundred thousand survivors.
The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War, yet minimal justice has been achieved for the 1.5 million lives lost and the events have been continuously ignored. The Turkish government has vehemently denied that a genocide took place, justifying the atrocity as ‘necessary measures to counter Armenian separatism’.
As an Armenian myself, it is disheartening that despite political pressure and the continuing efforts of the Armenian government (and other governments around the world), there is still constant denial of the genocide; particularly in Turkey where the government has used Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code to criminalise speaking out against the Turkish Government for their denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Other governments including the United States and Israel have also played a significant role in validating the belief that the event was not a genocide. This is perhaps due to the fact that both the US and Israel have close diplomatic relationships that prevent them from recognising the Armenian genocide. Israel, for instance, has a close trading relationship to Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority state currently in conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Israel imports 40% of its oil from Azerbaijan and exports military supply and defence systems to Baku, Earlier this year, the Israeli Knesset (the country’s legislative body) rejected a bill that would have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide.
Similarly, the United States are allies with Turkey and have often avoided addressing the genocide. This is best illustrated by the radical change seen in the stance of former President Barack Obama, before and after his Presidential Election. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama referred to the previous events in Armenia as a genocide; yet during his administration, he instead opted to use the Armenian phrase ‘Meds Yeghern,’ meaning ‘great calamity.’ Additionally, under the administration of President George Bush, in 2007 the House of Representatives avoided voting on proposals to recognise the World War I events in Armenia as a genocide amid pressure from the Turkish government.
Political and religious leaders have often spoken out against the denial of the Armenian Genocide. On April 26, Representative Adam Schiff for California's 28th congressional district spoke on the House Floor demanding the United States recognize the Armenian Genocide. In 2015, Pope Francis remarked that the Armenian Genocide is ‘the first genocide of the 20th Century’. As of April 2017, 29 states had officially recognized the historical events as genocide, and there are an increasing number of countries actively working against the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Some countries including France and Greece have gone as far as to criminalise the act of denying the Armenian Genocide. The French Senate approved a law on January 2012 that criminalised the denial of the Armenian Genocide with a maximum penalty of a €45,000 fine and a one-year imprisonment. Similarly, the Parliament of Greece adopted a Bill in September 2014 that criminalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide and other crimes against humanity, with a penalty of a fine of 30,000 euros, and imprisoned for up to 3 years.
Yet, the pain of the genocide will continue to be felt for as long as the denial exists. Genocide is a major human rights violation (outlined under Article 4 of the Rome Statute) and a sense of justice can only be afforded to those affected when there is recognition and public awareness of the suffering that occured. Those who have been affected by the genocide deserve to be listened to.
The pain felt by most Armenians and those whose affected by genocide is best encapsulated by the words of Armenian-American novelist William Saroyan:
I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.
Adam Schiff, 2018. Rep. Schiff: United States Must Recognize the Armenian Genocide. [Online video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzycE6h6TWc [Accessed May 19 2018]
Armeniagogo staff, ‘Countries That Recognize The Armenian Genocide: Facts About The Memorial’, in Armeniagogo. Updated April 2018, viewed May 19, 2018 at: https://armeniagogo.com/countries-that-recognize-the-armenian-genocide/
Asbarez Staff, ‘Israeli Knesset Again Rejects Armenian Genocide Recognition Bill’, in Asbarez. Updated February 2018, viewed on May 6, 2018, asbarez.com/170441/israeli-knesset-again-rejects-armenian-genocide-recognition-bill/
CBS, ‘Pope opens Armenian genocide controversy with comment’, in CBS News. Updated April 2015, viewed on May 19, 2018 at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-francis-calls-armenian-slaughter-the-first-genocide-of-the-20th-century/
Clementine de Montjoye, ‘France’s Armenian genocide law’, in Free Speech Debate. Updated June 2012, viewed May 19, 2018 at: http://freespeechdebate.com/case/frances-armenian-genocide-law/
H. A. Goodman, ‘The United States Must Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide’, in The Huffington Post. December 2017, viewed on May 6, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/the-united-states-must-of_b_9763732.html
Harut Sassounian, ‘Greece: Third Country to Criminalize Denial of Armenian Genocide’, in The Armenian Weekly. Updated September 2014, viewed on May 20, 2018, https://armenianweekly.com/2014/09/17/greece-third-country-criminalize-denial-armenian-genocide/
Ishaan Tharoor, ‘Why Israel does not recognize the Armenian ‘genocide’’, in The Washington Post. April 2015, viewed on May 5, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/24/why-israel-does-not-recognize-the-armenian-genocide/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7ab319a750dd
Glenn Kates, ‘Armenian Mass Killings: Who Says 'Genocide' And Who Doesn't’, in RadioFreeEurope/ Radio Liberty. Updated April 2015, viewed on May 5, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-genocide-recognition/26974215.html
Philip Chrysopoulos, ‘Armenian Genocide Remembered on April 24’, in the Greek Reporter. Updated April 2018, viewed on May 19, 2018 at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2018/04/24/armenian-genocide-remembered-on-april-24-video/
‘Q&A: Armenian genocide dispute’, in BBC News. July 2008, viewed on May 6, 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-16352745
T. Aragno (2016) ‘A century after the Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s denial only deepens,’ The New York Times, viewed on May 17, 2018 at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/17/world/europe/turkeys-century-of-denial-about-an-armenian-genocide.html>
Disclaimer: The views presented in this article represent only the views of the author.
Alex Krikorian is a first-year commerce student who avoids climbing to upper campus at all costs. He can always be found in the law building despite not studying law.