Genocide victims deserve respect

Massachusetts Daily Collegian
University Wire
May 5, 2004 Wednesday

Genocide victims deserve respect

By Dan O’Brien, Massachusetts Daily Collegian; SOURCE: U.


I grew up in the small town of Watertown, Mass. Despite being nestled
between the boarders of the large cities of Cambridge and Boston, the
town is not very well-known to those who live outside the area. But
there is something unique about my town that warrants inspection.
Many people from my town have taught me a valuable lesson: What it
means to fight for one’s beliefs. It’s a lesson from history that
should be explained more thoroughly in the history books than it is,
if it is ever explained at all.

The story comes not from my hometown, but from the people who live
there, particularly my Armenian friends and neighbors. Armenians make
up approximately 20 percent of the town’s population. This is a
considerable percentage because they represent less than 1 percent of
the American population. Watertown has the second largest community
of Armenians in the country. This community, located in Watertown’s
east end, is known to locals as “Little Armenia.” It is surrounded by
five Armenian churches and an array of Armenian specialty shops and

Last month I returned home to Watertown for a weekend visit. Without
fail, I saw the giant billboard on Mount Auburn Street that goes up
around this time every year. The billboard said, “Never Forget,” in
bold print, followed by, “The Armenian Genocide: April 24, 1915.”
This year, April 24, 2004, was the 89th anniversary of the Armenian
Genocide. Being a non-Armenian, these billboards brought me back to
my high school days when a handful of Armenian classmates would stay
home from school. I remember speaking with some of these students,
who complained that this event was never taught in their high school
history classes. A valid point, considering that the public school
system would deny the third largest ethnic group in town a chance for
their children to learn about a significant part of their personal

The genocide began in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire — present-day
republic of Turkey — with the eradication of the Christian Armenians
and lasted until 1918. The Ottoman Empire, which was ruled by Muslim
Turks, carried out the genocide due to a policy of eliminating the
Christian minority. Countless numbers of people were savagely
brutalized and women were often raped. By 1922, the Armenians had
been eradicated from their historic homeland.

The genocide only began after the massacres of 1894 to 1896 under
Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, 19 years before the actual genocide would be
committed by the Turkish government. The sultan was alarmed by
increasing activity in a number of Armenian political groups, many of
which spoke out for civil rights and autonomy. Historians guess that
the massacres killed somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people.
The sultan began the systematic brutalization as a way to undermine
Armenian nationalism.

The night of April 24, 1915, was when the Armenian Genocide truly
began to unfold: the Turkish government arrested over 200 Armenian
community leaders in Constantinople and hundreds more were
apprehended soon after. They were all sent to prison; most were
executed. These acts occurred under the cover of a news blackout; a
time when there was no communication between the Eastern nations and
the Western world because of the ongoing World War I. The news
blackout had been happening for some time before April 24, 1915, and
as a result many Armenians had died at the hands of the Turks before
foreign nations had time to react. It is estimated that between 1915
and 1923, over 1.5 million Armenians died in the genocide.

Today, several nations including Russia, Argentina, France and Greece
have formally recognized the Armenian Genocide. However, the United
States has never officially recognized the events as a genocide.
President Bush in 2001 called it, “the forced exile and annihilation
of approximately 1.5 million Armenians,” which has angered many
Armenian-American interest groups, including the lobby group the
Armenian National Committee. ANC is asking 100 members of Congress to
sign a letter to the President asking for the use of the word
“genocide.” And rightly so. I can’t imagine how a descendant of a
genocide victim would react if President Bush were to walk up to that
person and say, “You’re loved one was murdered at the hands of a
government that was systematically arresting, torturing, and
murdering people solely due to their racial background. But, it
wasn’t a genocide.”

Despite not being fully recognized by our government or in our
history textbooks, there have been several memorials built to honor
the victims of the genocide. These memorials are located around the
world, including several in the Boston area. Meanwhile, as the United
States fails to give those who suffered through one of the worst
human atrocities their proper respect, we join the ranks of countries
such as Turkey, which denies all knowledge of the genocide as a
matter of policy. The Turks blame the deaths as part of World War I
warfare. What is even worse is that Turkey dismisses the atrocities
as mere allegations. The country’s leaders have also allegedly
obstructed efforts for acknowledgment.

If you ever happen to be driving to Boston on the Mass Pike, take a
detour. Get off the highway at exit 17, be sure to drive up Mount
Auburn St. and read the billboards that say “Never Forget.” The
message isn’t asking you to donate your money or join some sort of
animal rights campaign or anything like that. The people of Watertown
and Armenians around the world are simply asking our government to,
at the very least, give their ancestors the proper respect they
deserve. It is imperative to remember atrocities such as these in
order to not repeat mistakes of the past.

Information from the Armenian Museum of America (Watertown, MA), the
Armenian National Institute () and KFWB-AM
(Los Angeles) was used in this column.

(C) 2003 Massachusetts Daily Collegian via U-WIRE