When Hitler was planning his swift and brutal takeover of Poland and the murder of Jews, for just being Jews, to his critics he said, "Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Sunday, April 11, 2010, was Remembrance Day for Jews. Of the 12 million who were exterminated under Hitler's Nazi regime, the lives of about 6 million innocent Jews were extinguished in gas chambers. The cries of the Holocaust survivors for "Never Again" seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and crimes against humanity continue unabated. From Darfur to Iraq and around the globe, innocent people continue to suffer at the hands of dictators, warmongers and ideologues. When will it end? When will again and again become never again?
Today, Armenians around the world reflect on the events of the early part of the last century when about a million and a half innocent Armenians were massacred. The genocide represents the largest number of Christians in history targeted and massacred because of their religion and ethnicity.
When the Young Turks assumed power, their policy to rid Turkey of its Christian population intensified, and in 1915 the carnage escalated. Armenian men of all ages were murdered, young and old women were raped, priests and their parishioners were herded into churches and burned alive, hundreds were drowned, and hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes and march through the forbidding Syrian Desert with no food or water. In the words of Talaat Pasha, the Turkish minister of interior at the time, "We are ensuring their eternal rest."
In the face of overwhelming evidence, Turkey refuses to validate a historical fact that took place under the Young Turk regime. Yet, on July 5, 1919, a Turkish Military Tribunal, with a unanimous vote, found Talaat Pasha, Minister of War Enver Effendi, Minister of the Navy Djemal Effendi and Minister of Education Dr. Nazim, guilty of the massacres of the Armenian population in Turkey. Why then the denial?
Newspapers of the era, including the New York Times, as well as Western diplomats were reporting on the massacres that were being committed by the Young Turk regime. The renowned British historian Arnold J. Toynbee wrote about the massacres in a book titled: The Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation. Why then the denial?
During Woodrow Wilson's presidency, the Department of State instructed Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to Turkey, to deliver a message warning the Young Turk regime that it would be held liable for crimes against humanity for its treatment of the Armenians. Theodore Roosevelt, in a letter to Cleveland H. Dodge, Wilson's adviser, dated May 11, 1918, stated, "The Armenian massacre was the greatest crime of the war and failure to act against Turkey is to condone it." Why then the denial?
Toward the end of World War I, Talaat Pasha fled Turkey and sought asylum in Germany. An Armenian survivor, Soghomon Tehlirian, caught up with Talaat, and on a street in Berlin he shot him dead. Soghomon was apprehended, tried and found guilty of murder. Soon thereafter, a Jewish law student in Poland, Raphael Lemkin, saw the headlines about Soghomon and asked his professor: "Is it a crime to kill a man, but it is not a crime for his oppressor to kill more than a million?" His professor answered: "There is no law against mass murder."
Thus began Raphael Lemkin's relentless journey to create the word "genocide," and help establish the United Nations' Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention in part states: "genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such: (a) Killing members of the group, (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. …"
On March 4, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution that calls on President Barack Obama to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government reacted immediately by recalling its ambassador in protest and warned that if the resolution is adopted, U.S.-Turkish relations would be adversely affected. Once again, as with presidents before him, Obama has decided that political expediency trumps human decency. Even worse, it is mind-boggling that, of all nations in the world, the government of Israel, for economic and other reasons, does not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Today, scores of nations — and 43 U.S. states — recognize the Armenian massacres and call it by its rightful name, genocide. It is time for the government of Turkey to stop the denial, join the world community to fight crimes against humanity, and promote peaceful coexistence for all the peoples of the globe.
Manoug Manougian is co-author and associate producer of the documentary The Genocide Factor, shown on PBS, the History Channel and the BBC. He teaches a course on the history of genocide in the Honors College at the University of South Florida. He is also a professor of mathematics at USF.