Why were 1.5 million Armenians brutally killed?

Democracy May 10, 2021

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire along with its ruling party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) carried out a systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of over one million Armenian from the regions of Anatolia, modern-day Turkey. On 24th April, 2021, the US President, Joe Biden, acknowledged the 1915 massacre of Armenians as an “act of genocide.” This announcement on the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day could impact the US relations with its NATO ally, Turkey.

George Santayana had once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Hence, it is pertinent that we look back at the Armenian Genocide in light of our current geo-politics.

1915 Genocide

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born lawyer, coined the term ‘genocide’ in 1943. He was the first person to call the massacres of Armenians as genocide. Article II of the UN Convention on Genocide, 1948,  defines genocide as any act committed with the intent “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

In Armenian Golgotha, Grigoris Balakian gives a vivid description of the night of 24th April, 1915 when 250 intellectuals and cultural leaders were arrested and of the events that followed. The 1922 study by University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, found that on the eve of World War I, around two million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire and after four years into the war, only 387,800 Armenians remained.

Many historians believe that the Young Turks under the military leadership of Enver Pasha carried out a systematic round-up, arrest, deportation and extermination of over 1.5 million (90%) ethnic Armenians between 1914-1916 stating that the Armenians had betrayed the Ottoman empire.

Turkey’s Denial

Despite the historical evidences, the leaders of modern-day Turkey have continued to deny its role in the genocide with great vehemence. They argue that no such ‘systematic extermination’ had occurred and that it was merely a ‘civil war situation.’

Biden’s Statement

By calling out the Armenian genocide, the US President ended the past silence on the topic. The belated recognition serves not the purpose of casting blame, rather it is a step taken to prevent its recurrence.

This decision is a small yet epoch-making. It is a step towards taking cognisance of the sufferings of the 1.5 million and their descendants. Many of Turkey’s allies had shied away from taking a stand on the issue for centuries including the Trump administration who had passed resolutions in 2019 calling the slaughter a genocide but had stopped short of offcially stating so.

Turkey’s Reaction

The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced and rejected the US President’s statement and asked that the President correct his “grave mistake”. It also said that the statement does not have “ a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence” and that the statement would jeopardise US-Turkey relations.

Conclusion

Coming to terms with one’s unpleasant past is a difficult task, especially when one pretends that no wrong was done in the first place. Admission of fault would not make past wrongs right, but it would provide some consolation to the aggrieved and would pave the way for reconciliation and healing.

This article has been written by Ruchira Sarma for The Paradigm.

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