An important day is upon us and we should all take the time to reflect on what occurred in 1915 – the Armenian Genocide. April 24th is Armenian Genocide Memorial Day – a day commemorating the deportation of Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey). This is a day that flies under the radar for many Americans, which is one reason why the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the United Nations Association has determined that shedding light on this event is extremely important. The State of New Jersey has a large Armenian diaspora community. Moreover, New Jersey was a key player in assisting the survivors of the Armenian genocide. The victims of this horrific event should receive the honor and recognition that they deserve.
As World War I was about to commence, the total number of Christian Armenians residing in the Ottoman Empire was two million. In 1922, the number was less than 400,000 thousand. The remaining 1.5 million had been killed in what was determined to be genocide – the systematic extermination of a certain group of people based on race or ethnicity. The author David Fromkin in his book titled, “A Peace to End All Peace,” wrote that: “Rape and beating were commonplace. Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians succumbed or were killed.”
For the Turks, the events of 1915 are dismissed. They assert that genocide did not occur as historians have concluded. Today, in Turkey, it is a crime to mention what happened to Armenians. In fact, one of the last stages of genocide is denial. Denying the occurrence of the tragic events perpetuates its existence and continues to do harm to the survivors and their families.
The Government of Turkey justifies their denial of the events of 1915 by blaming the victims, according to Dr. Gregory Stanton, the former President, International Association of Genocide Scholars and presently the Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, Arlington, Virginia. The Turks indicate that the “killings were in self-defense,” and profess that the Muslim Turks also had numerous deaths during this time; however, these deaths came from battling European troops. Further, he stated, the Turks claimed that the deaths occurred because of a lack of essentials such as food and water. But such assertions have been disproved, Dr. Stanton said, through eyewitness accounts from Armenian survivors, “American consular offices, missionaries… [and the] archives of Ottoman allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary.”
Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, was impassioned by the suffering and the plight of the Armenians that he decided he would explore the atrocities perpetrated by the Turks upon the Armenians. The significance is Lemkin was the individual who coined the term genocide; however, this did not happen until 1943 during the Holocaust. But it is important to note that genocide has its origins in the Armenian genocide, as scholars point to it as being the first genocide to have occurred during the modern era.
The United Nations followed Lemkin’s direction in 1948 adopting U.N. General Assembly Resolution 260 on December 9 of that year establishing the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention subsequently entered into force on January 12, 1951.
As of 2017, 29 nations recognize the genocide as well as 48 of 50 U.S. states. Alabama and Mississippi are the only two states that do not recognize the genocide. This month Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleague, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), introduced a resolution affirming and recognizing the Armenian genocide. Senator Menendez has been a champion of U.S.-Armenian relations. It is time for the U.S. to stand firm, despite pushback from the Executive branch and pressure from the Turkish government and recognize the events of 1915-1923.
Editor’s note: The writer wishes to express his sincere and heartfelt thanks to Valeria Moumdjian, our website designer, for her recommendation and suggestion that I write a blog regarding the April 24th commemoration of the Armenian genocide. On a personal note, I can say that writing this piece was both a moving and educating experience. It is our hope that people will take the time to pause and read the piece and understand what occurred to the Armenian people in 1915.