April 24, 2017 marks the 102th anniversary of the commencement of the Armenian Genocide, a brutal effort by the Ottoman Empire to exterminate an entire ethnic population.
Genocide scholars agree that more than one and one half Armenians-men, women and children- died in what is considered the first genocide of the 20th century. Documentation of the atrocities is voluminous, with eyewitness accounts by American diplomats, European missionaries and even the perpetrators themselves. The New York Times carried countless contemporaneous stories on the Genocide and it was widely reported around the world. It is acknowledged by a host of countries and. last year, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the killings as Genocide.
And yet, to this day, the government of Turkey, successor to the Ottoman Empire, refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide, even in the face of the overwhelming agreement by other governments and scholars and a mountain of evidence. Even in spite of the fact that Rafael Lemkin, the lawyer who coined the word genocide referred to the Armenian massacres as a model .
Particularly hurtful to Americans of Armenian origin is the fact that the Unites States of America , while acknowledging the magnitude of the atrocities, fails to deem it as genocide in the face of threats and challenges from Turkey. Our government thus enables the denials to continue.
Some ask why it makes any difference what word is attached to the crimes and even why it is relevant some 102 years after the fact. The answer is clear: genocide denied is genocide perpetuated. The history following the Armenian Genocide demonstrates that its denial or non recognition only encourages other barbaric acts: Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia quickly come to mind. Hitler is said to have asked who remembered the Armenians.
The keynote speaker at the April 22 Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at the State Capitol, John M. Evans, is a man who realized the importance of acknowledging what really happened in 1915 and who has posited a way forward. Mr. Evans is the former US Ambassador to Armenia. Appointed in 2004, Mr. Evans, a Yale and Columbia educated career diplomat, soon found it difficult as matter of conscience to embrace the US position of non recognition of the Genocide. Guided by his principles, he uttered the “G” word and for that paid a heavy price as he was recalled by the Bush administration and relived of his post, ending a thirty year distinguished career.
Mr. Evans has penned a remarkable book entitled “Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide: What Then? What Now?” In it, he presents a thorough background on the Genocide as well as what he refers to as “Ten Modest Proposals” for moving forward as he realistically examines the depth of the rancor and a spectrum of possible outcomes.
The reader quickly realizes throughout the Ambassador’s perceptive analysis that no good can come from a failure to recognize what is clearly an historical fact and that non recognition will only continue the heartache and agony which has gone on far too long.
It is often said that those who don’t study and acknowledge history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. That is why it is so essential that pubic school curricula include materials on atrocities of our recent past.
The moral authority and leadership of this country is great. To look the other way and fail to recognize past atrocities, such as the Armenian Genocide, for what they were fails to exercise that moral authority. Recognizing and urging the truth is less likely to lose an ally than it is to encourage future brutalities.
Truth cannot be left hostage.
Harry N. Mazadoorian of Kensington is a lawyer, arbitrator and mediator. He is the distinguished senior fellow in dispute resolution at the Quinnipiac University Law School’s Center on Dispute Resolution. He is the son of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, in which three of his grandparents perished.