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The Armenian Genocide

Guest Column
Armen M. Vartanian

How would you react if I claimed that Serbia’s ethnic cleansing is a figment of the media’s imagination? Would you be outraged if I told you that I could prove the Holocaust never happened? You would probably point to all the evidence, and say that my statements are utter nonsense.

But it is certainly not impossible to attempt to deny large-scale atrocities. Most people associate “genocide” with Nazi extermination during World War II, but many might also use the word to describe crimes against humanity in Rwanda, Cambodia, Russia, and most recently, Serbia. But how much do you really know about the planned executions that have occurred in all of these countries? Are there others that you have heard about but that have not been given public attention?

You see, I am Armenian. Armenia is a small country located north of Iran, and to the west of the Black Sea. And if you ask any Armenian what “genocide” means to him or her, you will get the same description: the systematic execution, planned and ordered by the Ottoman Turkish government and carried out by the Turkish army, of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1924. The Turks stated and nearly achieved goal was to wipe out the entire Armenian population within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, which included the Turkey of today as well as parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East

These murders are the Armenian Genocide, which Armenians and others commemorate on April 24 every year. Next, ask Armenians about the impact of the Armenian Genocide on their lives, and you will get another consensus: households still deeply affected by loss of family, and, in some cases, animosity toward Turks, who are not guilty of the crimes committed by their forefathers’ government, but who are guilty of refusing to accept that the Genocide ever happened and for publicly declaring their disdain for those who do accept the Genocide.

For example, last year at the University of California at Berkeley, a professor of Near Eastern studies approached the Armenian students’ table, where they were commemorating the Genocide, and told the assembled group that the Genocide never happened, and went on to say that the Armenians deserved to be massacred. After an investigation, the professor, initially supported by the school, was criticized by a joint effort of the administration, students, and humanitarian organizations.

This occurrence is not isolated. Despite the many facts supporting Armenians’ claims, the veracity of a genocide of the Armenians is questioned due to the age of the crimes and the vehement denial of its existence by the current Turkish government. In Turkish classrooms, and still in many American and European history classes, the Armenian Genocide is not mentioned due to a campaign by Turkey to rewrite history by leveraging its relationship with Western nations and by influencing decision-makers in academia and government.

Upon examination, however, the claims made against the Armenians are purely anecdotal, the strongest of which are stories of equally horrible Turkish massacres. These claims are false. There was no Armenian governing body at the time to orchestrate these organized killings, and for that matter, Christians were not allowed to carry arms in the Ottoman Empire. In 1916, U.S. ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau tried to call attention to what he called in his dispatches to America the “race extermination” of which the Turks were guilty. Recently, Morgenthau recalled a chilling remark about the Armenians by Adolf Hitler, whose generals asked him what the world would think if they carried out his orders to kill every man, woman and child in Poland who stood in the way of a 1939 blitzkrieg. “Who remembers the Armenians?” Hitler said.

The fact that the Ottoman Turkish government devised and implemented an official policy to kill the Armenians cannot and should not be disputed. Several members of academia, among them Richard Hovannisian, author of the recently published account “Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide,” have conducted extensive research for concrete evidence to affirm the Genocide. The Armenians’ was the first set of war-time, government-run extermination covered by the global media, whose efforts today provide undeniable written and photographic evidence of the atrocities. One of the most sympathetic supporters of the Armenians was the United States. The Armenian Atrocities Committee was formed in 1915 to send necessities to Armenia, and later became the Near East Relief Committee, whose membership included former and future Presidents. During this time, the phrase “starving Armenians” was coined and entered the vernacular of Americans.

Today, in a reversal of opinion, there is only limited global cognizance and recognition of the Armenian Genocide, due to political concerns (e.g. NATO needs a strategic ally in the Middle East and near the former Soviet Republics), as well as a lack of interest. Many key political bodies, including the United States, fail to recognize the Armenian Genocide for what it is; they only attempt to do so by passing often weak resolutions that recognize atrocities, or by taking up the genocide cause only to let it die in process. In March, the French Parliament unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the Genocide, but shortly afterward the effort failed when an arms deal with Turkey was jeopardized by their consideration of the bill. Also, the Clinton Administration continues to back the Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, recalling the events of 1915 as “atrocities” and “massacres.”

So what am I writing for? Serbia will forever live in your mind as a battleground to stop ethnic hatred. And if you are outraged by the killing and violations of human rights, I want you to be outraged that crimes against the Armenians have remained unrecognized for over eighty years. The Armenians of today seek affirmation of their Genocide, of the truth. I ask you to simply speak up when you hear that truth denied.

Armen M. Vartanian is a member of the class of 1996.