April 23, 2005
Correcting a history of denial
Scarcely nine months into World War I, Turkey began the deportation of
hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens to camps that supposedly
had been prepared for them in the Syrian desert.
There were no camps.
By the time the forced march into the desert and other atrocities were
over, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were dead.
The courageous U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau shouted insistently
into Washington’s deaf ears about the ongoing slaughter. He called it
“race murder;” the term “genocide” would not be invented until the
1940s, by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew. “Persecution of Armenians
assuming unprecedented proportions,” Morgenthau cabled to
Washington. “Reports from widely scattered districts indicate
systematic attempt to uproot Armenian populations through arbitrary
arrests, terrible tortures, whole-sale expulsions and deportations
… accompanied by frequent instances of rape, pillage, and murder.”
Sunday is the 90th anniversary of the start of the Armenian
genocide–and also of one of the longest-running cases of national
amnesia in history. To this day the Turkish government insists no
genocide took place, that it was a mutual bloodbath in which many
Turks also died. As recently as April 14, the Turkish Parliament
issued a declaration denying, once again, Armenian charges of
genocide. However, some Turkish writers and academics have slowly
begun to recognize the validity of Armenian claims.
Unlike Germany’s admission of responsibility for the Holocaust, Turkey
continues a furious worldwide campaign to prevent governments from
using “Turkey” and “genocide” in the same sentence. Only a few
countries have officially condemned the genocide as such, including
Canada, France, Poland and Russia.
Ronald Reagan was the last American president to use the word genocide
in an annual statement about the events in Armenia. All other
presidents since have opted for “massacre” or “tragedy.” Now a letter
to President Bush, so far signed by 178 House members and 32 senators,
calls for the U.S. to officially recognize and condemn the Armenian
Even if Turkey finally recognizes the genocide, it’s doubtful
Armenians will receive any compensation for something that happened 90
years ago. By now most Armenians probably just want an admission from
Turkey that a terrible evil was committed in its name in 1915.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune