Turkey should own up to responsibility for Armenian genocide
By Seepan Parseghian
Friday, April 23, 2004
By SEEPAN PARSEGHIAN
Adolf Hitler said it all those years ago. The National Socialist Party
was planning one of the most horrific events of the 20th century, and
Hitler only looked back once. That moment came when one of Hitler’s
generals asked if he was afraid they would be punished for what they
were about to execute. He casually shrugged off the concern, asking in
return: `Who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?’ The
Jewish Holocaust ensued.
On Monday, Holocaust survivor Gloria Lyon spoke on campus as part of
Holocaust Memorial Day. Listening to Lyon share her painful experiences,
I realized that she was not only a symbol of enduring strength and
survival, but was also a product of a grossly overlooked historical
event: the Armenian genocide of 1915.
Eighty-nine years ago, the Young Turk party that was ruling the Ottoman
Empire orchestrated the first genocide of the 20th century. The Allied
powers were preoccupied with the supposed `war to end all wars.’ The
Young Turk party had ousted the last royal sovereign of the Ottoman
Empire, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, from leadership and had risen to power on
a democratic platform. After their victory, the Young Turks decided to
adopt nationalistic ideals, presenting the idea of pan-Turkism to the
The Armenians, already segregated from the Turkish population in millets
(religious communities), were an obstacle to the formation of a
pan-Turkish nation. They became the victims of severe oppression and
bigotry, according to American officials who were present in Turkey at
the time. Without a democracy protecting them, the Armenians were left
defenseless under the dictatorial swords of leaders who wanted to rid
the empire of them. Behind the smokescreen of World War I, the Young
Turk leaders Talaat, Enver and Cemal Pasha saw an opportunity to do so,
and so carried out the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians under the
cloak of deportation.
There to witness the Armenian genocide unfolding were U.S. Ambassador to
the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau and U.S. Consul in Harput, Turkey,
Leslie Davis. Both Morgenthau, a graduate of Columbia Law School, and
Leslie Davis, a famous American humanitarian, observed firsthand the
systematic murder of the Armenian race in 1915.
In his memoirs that were later published as `Ambassador Morgenthau’s
Story,’ Morgenthau noted, `When the Turkish authorities gave the orders
for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a
whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with
me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.’ In `The
Slaughterhouse Province,’ Davis reported the disappearance of the
prominent figures of the Armenian community in Harput on June 23, 1915.
After prodding Turkish soldiers with inquiries of the whereabouts of
these Armenian leaders, Davis was told that they had been rounded up and
taken to a desolate location to be `done away with.’ Left without
leadership and manpower, the Armenian elders, women and children of
Harput were deported three days later to the Syrian Desert, where they
were tortured. Davis’ description of these tortures is too graphic to be
included in this op-ed.
The Turkish government denies that the Armenian genocide ever occurred.
Not only does it deny the historical facts surrounding this systematic
massacre, but it has also taken extensive steps to manipulate those
facts into historical fallacies. Discrediting the personal memoirs of
educated American foreign servicemen like Morgenthau and Davis has been
a financially and politically strenuous task for the Turkish government
to accomplish. It has provided millions of dollars to American scholars
like Princeton Prof. Bernard Lewis, University of Louisville Prof.
Justin McCarthy and UCLA Prof. Heath Lowry, who discredit scholarship of
the Armenian genocide.
Further, Turkey has extensively lobbied in Washington to suppress
American recognition of the genocide. As The Washington Post reported in
Oct. 2000, for example, when House Resolution 596 – a bill seeking
American recognition of the Armenian genocide – was on the Congressional
floor, the Turkish government immediately threatened to pull out of a
$4.5 billion deal in which it would purchase 145 advanced Bell-Textron
attack helicopters from the United States. House Res. 596 failed.
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told The Washington Post that the
resolution `would have enjoyed support among the majority of the house.’
The U.S. government has yet to officially recognize the Armenian
genocide. The gunsmoke of World War I hid the genocide of the Armenians
from the world, and today a thick cloud of political and social
malpractice by the Turkish regime has reached the same effect.
The government of Turkey must take responsibility for its 1915 crimes
against humanity, not only for humanity’s sake, but for its own future
as well. As Turkish historian Taner Akcam, now at the University of
Minnesota, states, `If and when the government of Turkey acknowledges
its past wrongs and recognizes the Armenian genocide, it well then be
able to ensure a democratic future.’
Had the Turkish regime done so in 1915 and paid the according price in
reparations and compensation, Hitler would have taken the annihilation
of the Armenians into account, and would have been forced to at least
reconsider carrying out his Final Solution. Lyon could possibly have
spoken not of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen on Monday, but of the
prosperity of the European Jews during the World War II era.
Tomorrow, on the 89th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, it is time
for Turkey to recognize the wrongs of carrying out the Armenian
genocide, in order to restore the progression of its own societal
development. This will convincingly allow Turkey to encourage the
advancement of human culture and morality.
Seepan Parseghian is a freshman. You can send him your questions and
comments to [email protected]