For most people, today is just another Tuesday, but for the Armenian community, it’s the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Because most of you are completely unaware of this event, I’d like to share some information about the tragedy.
Now, even though I’m only 25% Armenian, I identify more with Armenian culture than any within my Caucasian background. Bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, it’s a small country about the size of Maryland. Conquered by everyone from the Persians and Romans to the Soviet Union, it wasn’t officially recognized as its own country until 1991.
While modern Armenia suffers from the second worst economy in the world (Forbes, 2011), its population of over 3.5 million citizens and a large diaspora centered in California (Fresno and Glendale, specifically) has created an extremely close-knit, proud community.
As generations lack the Armenian language and enter in interracial marriages, the culture will lose its prominence, but hopefully, we can continue to share our experiences and educate the world about our people.
One of the ways we can raise awareness is to discuss the single most important event in our history: The Armenian Genocide. Because Armenia is a tiny Christian nation in the Islamic Middle East (rumor has it that Noah’s ark landed on Mt. Ararat), Muslim groups have tried to exterminate their religious enemies.
From 1915-1923, about 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks–predominantly through death marches, mass burnings, drownings, and hangings. I won’t show any graphic photographs of the massacres, but if you Googled images of the Armenian Genocide, you would find plenty of evidence.
Despite this evidence, Turkey and various other countries still continue to deny the existence of this genocide, claiming that the Armenians brought violence upon themselves by initiating conflict. Because of this denial, there’s a strong animosity between Armenia and Turkey. The E.U. has also refused Turkey entry, partly because it has yet to admit its past wrongdoings.
However, even the United States has yet to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, and often refuses to use the term ‘genocide’ in media. President Obama promised during his campaign that he would finally offer recognition, but has not fulfilled that promise.
The reason behind this decision is because the U.S. shares a military base in Turkey, and Turkey has warned the U.S. that if it were to recognize the genocide, that alliance would disintegrate. Most presidents and lawmakers have been too afraid to lose that strategic location in the Middle East.
Why does this 97-year-old event still matter? Unlike the Jewish population, the Armenians did not get the Nuremberg Trials. We suffered just as traumatic of an ethnic-cleansing, but much of the world refuses to acknowledge that it even happened. In fact, Hitler allegedly declared this statement one week before invading Poland in 1939:
Now I dare you to look an Armenian in the face and tell her that she has no reason to feel frustrated, resentful, and upset. Even though my great-grandfather escaped the genocide by fleeing to America with his family (Note: legally, given that he had a job waiting for him when he arrived, as did much of the Armenian community), I have many friends who lost a relative or several. That pain still cuts deep.
We lost half of our population in just a few years, and our culture has never fully recovered. Not to mention, when we as a globe ignore genocide, we silently allow more genocide to continue. And that is an issue everybody should care about.
What do Armenians want? Besides global recognition, many Armenians would appreciate Turkey to pay reparations and include the genocide in schools, since all references have been censored from textbooks. We want to be able to coexist and respect one another’s religious beliefs, so that we can move forward diplomatically. We want the next generation to be more knowledgeable and tolerant of each other’s culture.
And, of course, we never want the Armenian Genocide to be forgotten.
I hope that you have learned a lot about Armenia and its tragedy, so please share this information with somebody today. By raising awareness, we can make the world a better, more tolerant place. And please feel free to comment or ask questions, because this is an issue near and dear to my heart.
Later today, I will also write a post about my favorite poem surrounding the Armenian Genocide. So keep a look out!
Shnorhakal em! (Thank you!)