NOTICE: This post contains subject matter of a sensitive nature and graphic images.
Twitter is blowing up with the hashtags #TurkeyFailed and #ArmenianGenocide. Why? April 24 is the official date of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, and 2014 marks the 99th anniversary of those atrocities.
On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government actively began plans to massacre Armenians. Over the course of a few years, they murdered 1.5 million Armenians in the first act of genocide in the 20th century. Whole villages were rounded up and executed. Men and women were raped and tortured in heinous acts. Thousands upon hundreds of thousands were sent on death marches, forced to walk without water or food until they died. Young children were sold by Turkish soldiers or kidnapped by families and taken as slaves.
Here is video testimony of Astrid, a Genocide survivor.
These events were widely accounted for, documented by, and written about by English, French, German, and American witnesses, including Henry Morgenthau, the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He formed the Committee on Armenian Atrocities to raise awareness and to supply aid. Unfortunately, nothing stopped the Turkish government from carrying out their campaign of annihilation, especially as World War I served as a cover for their crimes.
Despite Turkey’s plans to annihilate an entire ethnicity, a few Armenians survived. One was my maternal grandmother, Siranoush. She was very young at the time of the Genocide, perhaps three or four, so young that she could not remember her surname. She was a survivor of the battle of Musa Dagh (Musa Ler, Mountain of Moses) and stayed in a refugee camp in Egypt. She was sent back to Musa Dagh as an orphan after the Genocide was over. When she got married, she moved to Antioch in Syria and from there to Damascus and then Beirut, Lebanon. None of this was an easy life. She was widowed at a young age and left with five children. The youngest is my mother. Despite terrible economic hardship and having to flee yet again due to Lebanon’s civil war, my Nana didn’t just survive, she lived. She had many grandchildren and was honored by her family until her death.
Had Turkey been stopped, perhaps my grandmother and other grandparents would have had much easier, happier lives. Perhaps the millions of Armenians would have been saved. Perhaps the country of Armenia would not struggle economically-—had more men and women survived to till its soil and build its industry. Perhaps my heart and those of my fellow Armenians would not have to grieve for the horrors our ancestors faced. Perhaps my grandparents would not have been orphaned. Perhaps my parents and I would not have been products of the Diaspora. Perhaps my children would have happier stories to tell about their history. Perhaps April 24 would be a date of celebration instead of commemoration.
But the Genocide happened. Despite Turkey’s denial, despite its campaigns to revise history, despite its attempts to extricate itself from wrongdoing, Turkey murdered 1.5 million Armenians.
BUT Turkey failed in its attempt to wipe out a culture. It failed because the Armenian culture is alive and strong and well. It failed because millions of Armenians around the world recognize that they must continue despite a tragic past and the burdens of such a history. It failed because we still sing songs and listen to our music. We still recite our literature. We still pray our “Hayr Mer” (Our Father). It failed due to the bravery of those who stood against it. It failed because I, like so many others, am here today. It failed because my children and their generation know their history. It failed because the Armenian Genocide will not be forgotten.
And that is why, 99 years later, April 24 matters.
To this day, Turkey does not recognize the Genocide and actively teaches against it. Twenty-one countries and 43 states of the USA do recognize the Genocide.
Please consider signing the Change.org petition urging the US Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
If you would like to learn more:
Facing History, Facing Ourselves: The Armenian Genocide
The History Channel: The Armenian Genocide
Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian, a National Book Award finalist
The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response by Peter Balkian
The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powers, Pulitzer Prize winner and currently the US Ambassador to the United Nations
The Sandcastle Girls by New York Times bestseller, Chris Bohjalian
Zabelle by Nancy Kricorian
(While the above books are linked to Amazon for book descriptions, please consider purchasing them from a local bookstore.)