Demanding Recognition Of The Armenian Genocide


by Lucy DerTavitian


The author’s great-grandparents, who perished in the Armenian genocide.

If you can …

Imagine a monument dedicated to Hitler in the heart of Berlin. Picture
yourself passing a statue of the brutal dictator as you stroll down
Nowy Swiat in Warsaw. See yourself dropping off your 6-year-old at
Hitler Elementary School. Envision people running into the Hitler
Missionary Community Church on the doorsteps of Brandenburg Gate to
light a candle for the all the Nazis who died during World War II.

Imagine our history books omitting the Holocaust.

Replace Hitler with Talat Pasha, and that is my reality.

Talat Pasha, the main architect of the Armenian genocide — the man
responsible for the systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians,
is revered in Turkey today as a national hero. Monuments stand in
his memory, streets carry his name, mosques uphold his legacy, and
public schools turn a villain into a hero.

Talat Pasha’s extermination order reached my grandfather’s home in
Malatya, Turkey, in April 1915. His mother, with her newborn in hand,
was taken away from their home, never to be seen again. Her image
never left him. His father was murdered because he refused to convert
to Islam. An apprentice of my great-grandfather’s had tricked the
oldest of the siblings into handing over the massive family wealth.

When she realized that she had been deceived, she suffered a stroke and
died. She was 15 years old. In order to save themselves, the remaining
four children, ages 3 to 12, converted to Islam. My grandfather Kevork
became Bakeer. Knowing that conversion meant only temporary relief
from death, they escaped to Aleppo, Syria, and spent the remaining
years of their childhood in an orphanage.

The weight of the Holocaust is shared by all of mankind — as it
should be. The ultimate crime against humanity is not simply Jewish
history; it is the history of any ethical citizen of our planet. And
like the Holocaust, the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides are
crimes against man as well, and must be borne by us all.

Unfortunately, the State of Israel, a nation comprising daughters
and sons of Holocaust survivors, refuses to acknowledge the Armenian
genocide. Yet the contributions of Jewish scholars and intellectuals
to the Armenian cause have been significant. In fact, it was this
brutal chapter of Armenian history that propelled Polish-Jewish legal
scholar Raphael Lemkin to coin the term genocide. Veteran journalist
Robert Fisk has reported that the German officers, who trained the
Ottoman soldiers during World War I, were later transferred to Soviet
Russia in 1942 to kill Jews. And according to historian Edna S.

Friedberg, Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel on the Armenian genocide, “The
Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” inspired resistance among Jews in Warsaw.

When former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outrageously
questioned the validity of the Holocaust, his remarks were,
rightfully, met with swift and sharp condemnation from European and
American leaders. Anything less would have been seen as a despicable
acquiescence to his hateful speech. Yet, year after year, Israeli and
American leaders refuse to recognize the Armenian genocide. According
to Article 3 of the Genocide Convention, complicity in genocide
is a punishable crime. The U.S. and Israel are signatories of that

Politicians and scholars alike have widely acknowledged the historical
facts of the Armenian genocide. The events have been studied thoroughly
and the outcome is unequivocal. It was genocide. Even those who shy
away from using the word in fear of Turkish reprisal do not question
the validity of the term.

Today, it is a denial by name alone.

In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama declared, “America deserves a leader
who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds
forcefully to all genocides.” A year later, President Obama told the
Turkish Parliament that he had not changed his views on the events
of 1915; however, he failed to use the word “genocide” for fear of
repercussions to U.S. military bases in that country.

As a professor, Samantha Power dedicated a significant portion of
the proceeds from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem From
Hell,” to the Armenian genocide. As U.S. ambassador to the U.N.,
Power is prohibited from using the word genocide when speaking about
the atrocities of 1915.

An article published by Roger W. Smith, Eric Markusen and Robert J.

Lifton in the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies demonstrated how
the Turkish government is aware that the events of 1915 constituted

There is a reason why Lemkin dedicated his life to coining and defining
the word. Genocide, unlike its synonyms — massacre, atrocity, mass
murder — holds a distinct legal definition, one that was created
not merely to punish but to prevent future genocide.

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” —
Adolf Hitler

This is not recognition for the sake of recognition; it is recognition
for the sake of accountability. Accountability lies at the root of
justice. Without it, justice is built upon pillars of sand.

Today, this bloody past is a crucial part of my Armenian identity. I
wish it were not, but Turkey’s systematic denial of the Armenian
genocide has placed the duty of accountability directly on my

I often wish I could rid myself of the anger that the injustice of
denial arouses in me, but then I remember all the other injustices
in the world and how badly I need my anger.

I am not talking about a hateful, misguided and collective anger. That
kind of anger would deprive me of the same humanity that the likes
of Hitlers and Talats tried to rob from mankind. I am talking about
a guided and just anger that keeps us accountable to the pursuit
of justice and keeps away that subtle, yet persistent sense of
compunction that results from inaction. In this downward-dog-bending,
constant-bliss-flowing, positive-energy kind of society that I live
in, anger has gotten a very bad reputation.

At the end, governments may lack the moral scruples to use the word
genocide, but their citizens do not. Today, a growing number of Turks
place themselves in danger in order to help their Armenian brothers
and sisters carry the burden of genocide. Instead of rewriting Ottoman
history, they are righting history, and in doing so, they establish
the foundation for a truly strong, just and democratic Turkey.

It is time to crumble the monuments to evil.

Lucy DerTavitian writes for Lebanese television. She is the former
host of KPFK 90.7 FM’s SWANA Radio.