Turkey cannot deny the Armenian Genocide - and its dark beginnings - any longer

As centennial anniversary approaches, Armenians still seek closure

On the night of April 24, 1915, hundreds of members of the Armenian ethnic minority in Constantinople – now the Turkish city of Istanbul – were arrested and shortly killed. This was only the beginning of what would become known as the Armenian Genocide. At its conclusion in 1918, roughly 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were dead. Hundreds of thousands more would be deported, abducted, raped, beaten, or forced to flee for their lives.

My great-grandparents were forced to flee to the United States as a result of the mass killing. It is a particularly dark time in my family history, which is usually left unspoken. My family members were wonderful people with a proud heritage who suffered terrible indignities at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Their anguish lives on in Armenians everywhere whose lives are still affected and who desperately seek closure.

On April 24, 2015 – a full one hundred years later – Armenians in the United States and around the world will come together to mourn, remember and try to close the wounds that continue to fester today.

The Armenian Genocide is such a controversial and important issue because numerous countries, including the United States, do not formally recognize it as genocide. The Turkish government, which took power after World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, denies anything happened at all. It simply maintains the genocide was a coincidence that comes with the cost of war.

The evidence tells a different story.

Foreign diplomats immediately noticed the atrocities being committed in the old Ottoman Empire. The United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, sent urgent messages to the State Department in Washington D.C. that detailed a “campaign of race extermination in progress.” Morgenthau described the atrocities as a “cold-blooded, calculated state policy,” according to the Armenian National Institute.

Numerous eyewitness accounts told stories of mass graves that held in excess of 60,000 people. The graves were filled with men and women, the elderly and children. The one thing they all had in common was their Armenian ethnicity. Jesse Jackson, the U.S. Consul in Syria at the time, also messaged Washington to express his concern for the massive amounts of deportees arriving in Syria and their subsequent murder.

These messages went largely ignored and no one interceded. At the end of the First World War, roughly 1.5 million Armenians lay dead.

Despite promising formal recognition in 2008, President Obama will not use the term ‘genocide’ to describe the mass killing of Armenians in the three-year span of 1915-18. He instead uses the phrase “Meds Yeghern,” which is Armenian for “great catastrophe.” Turkey has been a strategic ally in the fight against ISIS, and the administration is worried the country may pull its support if the White House uses such language.

President Obama’s refusal is an absolute disgrace. The president of the United States is the leader of the free world. He has an obligation to recognize when freedom has been trampled in the name of ethnic cleansing, and is required to condemn those responsible. Instead, he is cowering behind meaningless rhetoric and obeying orders from another country because it happens to be a strategic ally.

Forty-three states have already recognized the genocide by passing resolutions or bills that say so. It is essential to have a united front so that we may be able to move past this tragedy. Using geopolitical relationships to justify ignoring history is simply not good enough. We have a moral obligation to set the record straight.

The international community is slowly beginning to recognize the genocide. Most recently, Pope Francis referred to the killing as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” Austria announced it would recognize the killing by passing a parliamentary declaration. Germany also announced that it would become the 25th country to formally recognize the genocide. This must continue until the killing is formally recognized worldwide.

The Turkish government, however, has a history of punishing anyone who speaks out against the Armenian Genocide. Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, a prominent novelist who spoke publicly about the genocide, faced charges of “insulting Turkishness” in 2005. Turkey recalled its ambassadors from the Holy See and Austria immediately after they condemned the acts of 1915-18 as genocide. The Turkish government warned Austria that its declaration would have permanent affects on all future relations, according to Hürriyet Daily News.

It is time for Turkey and the rest of the world to own up to history.

The Armenian people simply want the truth told and to move on. We have waited one hundred years for the world to recognize the atrocities committed in 1915-1918. One hundred years is long enough. Full recognition by the international community is the only way to finally close the wounds that have plagued Armenians for an entire century. As California Representative Adam Schiff put it: “If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?”

William Krause is the political columnist and can be reached at william.krause@ubspectrum.com