Who Remembers the Armenians?

By Christine Thomassian and Shabtai Gold

Published April 29, 2005, issue of April 29, 2005.

Adolf Hitler was confident that the world would remain indifferent to the plight of the Jewish people he was planning to exterminate. After all, he reportedly told Nazi commanders before the outbreak of World War II, who remembers the Armenians?

The answer to Hitler’s rhetorical question remained much the same as the 90th anniversary of the Turkish genocide of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians was commemorated last weekend.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and the world’s central address for commemorating the horrors of genocide, recently opened a new wing to its museum, with much international fanfare. There is not a single mention in the new museum of the Armenian genocide, which paved the ideological way for the Jewish genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.

For its part, the Turkish government — much like today’s Holocaust deniers — continues to disclaim its involvement in the genocide and the very occurrence of such a horror, expending large sums of money in this campaign. Some in Turkey admit that a few “individuals” committed massacres against the Armenians, but they are quick to assert that these acts were provoked by the Armenians themselves in order to receive aid and sympathy.

Not satisfied with this accusation, this week the Turkish State Archives announced that more than a half million Turks were killed by Armenians. True, many Armenians collaborated with the Russians as irregular fighters against Turkey in World War I, and they may have killed as many as 75,000 Turks. But given the anti-Armenian pogroms initiated by Turkey during the 1890s that set the stage for the full-scale genocide in 1915, Armenians’ partaking in the fighting is easily understood — no one should be expected to go like sheep to the slaughter.

Sadly, the Turkish government is not alone in its campaign. Indeed, it is receiving support from some very odd sources, including a number of prominent Jewish organizations in Washington and the Jewish state itself. Noble Peace laureate Shimon Peres, while serving as Israeli foreign minister in 2001, called the Armenian genocide nothing more than a “tragedy,” saying “nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred.”

Much energy, effort and money is justifiably spent on attempting to ensure that the world will never forget the Holocaust. Wouldn’t it meet our standards of morality to include all such horrors?

What about the Assyrian Christians murdered along with Armenians by Turkey? What about the Roma, homosexuals and other “undesirables” massacred by the Nazis? And what of the more recent killing fields in Cambodia, Rwanda and now Darfur?

Shouldn’t “never again” be applied to all men, women and children who are starved, beaten, obligated to undergo torturous medical experiments, marched through forests or deserts, forced to dig their own mass graves or herded into gas chambers? Is “never again” an admonition over which the Jewish people can maintain a monopoly?

Shouldn’t the American Jewish community be doing more to help gain recognition for the Armenian genocide, 90 years after the fact? After all, the first American human rights movement to focus on issues overseas was founded to stop the travesties being committed against Armenians. And it was Henry Morgenthau, America’s Jewish ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who led the campaign to alert the world to the horrors being perpetrated by Turkey.

Denial is, without a doubt, the final stage of genocide. It murders the memory of the horrors, and of the dead. We must always guard against denial becoming accepted as legitimate discourse, let alone as fact. Will we allow Turkey to successfully continue its campaign of denial?

If we do, we will be condemning our children to repeat these horrors and to have these horrors repeated unto them, as American philosopher George Santayana famously warned a century ago. But if we act now, if we insure that our children and our children’s children are properly educated about the Armenian genocide, then just maybe we can prevent “never again” from becoming an empty saying.

Christine Thomassian and Shabtai Gold are university students who lost members of their family in, respectively, the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.



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