Armenian Martyrs Day remembered by millions

The Illinois Leader, IL
May 4 2004

Armenian Martyrs Day remembered by millions

– by Lee Enokian, guest columnist from Times Newspapers of Northwest

The Malkasian Family, 1911 – Dikranaket (Diarbekir)
Only the children in the front & the young woman standing at the left

All of the others were killed in 1915.

Photo courtesy of Antranig Tarzian

OPINION — Amid the chaos and bloodshed of World War I, the Islamic
“Young Turk” government of Turkey organized and executed the first
large-scale genocide of the 20th Century. Approximately 1.5 million
Armenians and thousands of Greeks and Assyrian Christians died as a
result of the systematic violence.

For several years, Illinois has recognized the wanton destruction of
the Armenian people through executive proclamation. Governor Rod
Blagojevich continued this responsible tradition on Saturday, April
24, 2004.

Part of this year’s proclamation reads, “The Armenian community, as
well as the global community, remembers the Armenian genocide, which
occurred 89 years ago; and during this tragic historical period
between the years of 1915 and 1923, Armenians were forced to witness
the genocide of their loved ones, and the loss of their ancestral
homelands; and this extermination and forced relocation of over 1.5
million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks is recognized every year.”

Massacres and deportations affected the Ottoman Turkish empire for
many years. The situation in Anatolia became truly bleak after the
Young Turk movement took power. Their ethnocentric and nationalistic
philosophy grew more extreme as World War I progressed and a scheme
to expand a greater Turkish empire developed. Ethnic minorities were
viewed as a stumbling block to this ambition.

Prior to 1915, ethnic Armenians constituted the largest minority in
Anatolia. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that they were
Christian and their culture, dating back 3,000 years, was
significantly different from that of the Ottoman Turks who originated
in Central Asia.

Having been converted by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301 A.D.,
Armenia holds the distinction of being the first Christian nation. As
such, it steadfastly resisted conversion to Islam. It remains the
only Christian nation in the Middle East.

The Ottoman government sought to solve this “Armenian Question” by
simply removing the Christian minority from their ancestral homeland.
As a result of the Genocide, more Christians died for their faith
during the 20th Century than in any other.

Wealthy and educated Armenian cultural leaders were among the first
to face execution. Easily identifiable as Christians within an
obsessively nationalistic Muslim nation, their names appeared on
organized hit lists. The ability to organize a cohesive resistance
was removed by these initial surgical strikes. Subsequent
deportations and massacres within the greater genocide were generally
poorly coordinated and quite messy. It has been a commonly held
belief that Hitler used the “final solution of the Armenian question”
as a basis for his extermination of the Jews, Poles, Roman Catholics,
Gypsies and other “undesirables” within the Nazi sphere of influence.

On May 24, 1915, the allied nations of France, Great Britain and
Russia issued a joint declaration in opposition to the genocide
through the United States Department of State. The American embassy
in Constantinople delivered the short telegram because it had not
become involved in World War I and was still a neutral nation.

“For about a month the Kurd and Turkish populations of Armenia have
been massacring Armenians with the connivance and often assistance of
Ottoman authorities,” the telegram read. “Such massacres took place
in middle April (new style) at Erzerum, Dertchun, Eguine, Akn,
Bitlis, Mush, Sassun, Zeitun, and throughout Cilicia. Inhabitants of
about one hundred villages near Van were all murdered. In that city
Armenian quarter is besieged by Kurds. At the same time in
Constantinople Ottoman Government ill-treats inoffensive Armenian
population. In view of those new crimes of Turkey against humanity
and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly to the
Sublime-Porte that they will hold personally responsible (for) these
crimes all members of the Ottoman government and those of their
agents who are implicated in such massacres.”

Thousands of Armenian refugees found shelter in the United States,
many settled in Illinois. They quickly learned the language, became
responsible members of the community and prospered through the
freedoms offered by the American way of life. Approximately 8,000
ethnic Armenians live in Illinois today.

The genocidal murder and deportation of over 1.5 million men, women
and children of Armenian ethnicity will not be forgotten in Illinois,
the United States or overseas. No matter where they reside, ethnic
Armenians live with resolve in their hearts; ‘Never Again’. Thank you
Gov. Blagojevich for acknowledging our loss.

Used by permission.

[Lee Enokian is a regular columnist for the Illinois edition of the
Times Newspapers of Northwest Indiana. He welcomes comments by email
at [email protected]]