This order was made knowing that the Armenians would
never make it through the desert, as they were given no food or water.
What resulted was the genocide of the Armenian race.
By Katie Ott
hen Hitler addressed
his henchmen on the topic of clearing Poland for more German lebensraum
(living space) he was speaking of the genocide of the Polish Jews. Seeing
the hesitant reaction of some of his generals, Hitler asked them “Who
remembers the Armenians?” In fact, Hitler was correct. Although
the term genocide had not yet been used, the Turks, in their systematic
killing of Armenians in 1915, initiated the practice (Alexander 1). Years
later in 1982, the United States Department of State issued this report:
“Because the historical record of events during World War I is ambiguous,
the United States Department of State does not endorse allegations that
the Turkish government committed a genocide against the Armenian people”
(Sourain ix). Accounts of the massacres are not only abundant but also
verifiable; it is the fragility of foreign relations that allows the United
States to avoid laying blame for the Armenian massacres.
Nearly three quarters of a century after the massacres the United States
Congress issued their findings on the claims of the Armenian genocide:
“The Armenian Genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman
Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000
Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed, 500,000
survivors were expelled from their homes, and which succeeded in the
elimination of the over 2,500 year presence of Armenians from their
Despite these findings, the United States government has
refused to publicly hold the Turkish government responsible for the genocide
in any form of legislature. Instead, the U.S. has decided to declare a
national remembrance day on April 24. Naturally, many Armenians feel as
if their struggle was for nothing. Not only is the Turkish government
not held accountable, they also refuse to admit that the Armenian massacre
ever happened. They claim that the Armenians were an aggressive people
and the Turks were simply acting in self -defense.
Donald and Lorna Miller recount these actions of “self-defense”
through the stories of many survivors, which they have collected in their
book, Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. The survivors
tell of the atrocities that they witnessed when the Young Turk regime
decided to empty the Ottoman Empire of the Armenian race. One survivor
from the town of Khapert explains the scenario as her father was taken
away, (the men were the first to be killed):
“My younger brother, Boghos, who was only three years old, was
yelling after him saying, “Daddy let me come with you.”
[But he did not return.] They took him [his father and other prisoners]
near the River Euphrates, made them sit down as though to eat. The person
who had seen this said that my father first bowed his head to pray,
and when he was done, the Turks attacked them. I cannot tell you what
brutalities they committed. It’s unbelievable and almost cannot
be repeated. They used whatever they could [to kill them], from bottles
on. He died there and was thrown in the river along with everyone else”
(Miller and Miller 67).
This is one story of thousands. Almost two million Armenians were killed
in this manner and through deportation. Deportation was the process in
which the Turks ordered the remaining Armenians to leave their towns and
march through the desert to Anatolia. This order was made knowing that
the Armenians would never make it through the desert, as they were given
no food or water. What resulted was the genocide of the Armenian race.
The United States argues that if they were to hold the Turkish government
responsible the implications would certainly put America in danger. In
a letter of dissent to the United States Congress, Walter Slocombe argues
this from his position in the Department of Defense.
“We continue to be concerned that passage of H.Res 398 [the document
that would implicate Turkey’s responsibility in the Armenian massacre]
would have substantial negative effects on our strategic interests in
the region, complicating our effort to build peace and stability”
He further contends that “…it is difficult to overstate Turkey’s
strategic value. The Balkans, the Persian gulf and much of the Middle
East are within reach of Turkish bases”(“Affirmation”).
Considering the volatility of the Middle East today, Slocombe’s
argument takes on a new meaning. With the escalating conflict between
Palestinians and Israelis, America has a renewed reason for maintaining
a friendship with Turkey. Our bases in the area have become ever more
valuable. Unsurprisingly, this can strain relations between the United
States government and Armenian-Americans. Many of them lost mothers, fathers,
siblings, neighbors or friends in the Armenian massacres and they have
certainly not forgotten the tragedy of these deaths. As Armenians see
the continuing support of Israel by the United States in the religious
battles of the Middle East, it is difficult to justify the United State’s
silence about the Armenian massacres. If the United States can so strongly
back another nation in their struggle to regain what they believe is rightfully
theirs, why can’t the U.S. simply ask a country to acknowledge their
history? Doing this would accomplish two things. First, Armenians around
the world would have some amount of closure for their struggle, and secondly,
Americans would be able to add some truth to their moralist façade
The Young Turks were able to carry off the Armenian genocide under the
veil of World War I. The Young Turks allied themselves with Germany on
August 2, 1914; one day after World War I began. They were hoping to defeat
Russia with German help and then “gain control of the Turkish populated
regions of the Russian Empire” (Zetlian 41). The vision of the Young
Turks was “Pan-Turkism” or the spreading of the Turkish Empire,
which had greatly suffered in the new multi-polar world. Significantly,
this was also the vision of Adolph Hitler twenty years later as he embarked
on a takeover of Europe.
Amidst stories of the genocide in Turkey, the European world was unable
to do anything, as they were caught up in the most deadly war of their
history. Years after the war, the three men leading the triumvirate of
the Young Turks were convicted in absentia of “crimes against humanity”
and were sentenced to death. All three escaped this sentence by going
into exile in Berlin, Germany where they were sure not to be turned over
to the world community. This was the extent of action taken against the
Turkish government for the death of almost two million people.
In Walter Slocombe’s phrase, “our effort to build peace and
stability,” the United States acknowledges its pragmatism but continues
to try and mask it as moralist practices. Certainly the United States
subscribes to pragmatism in world affairs, but often the American public
can be misled to believe that we are pursuing world peace rather than
American gain. Is it possible that our reluctance to demand an acknowledgement
from Turkey could simply be that we want to protect our oil resources
and our place in NATO, of which Turkey is an important member? We are
certainly guilty of this in the Middle East and many African countries.
Our involvement there is primarily for access to those countries’
natural resources, namely oil. At this same time it must be understood
that current relations with Turkey are indeed fragile, but does this constitute
us allowing the government of Turkey to ignore the genocide of a race?
(Dadrian 225). <br><br>
Victor Hugo says it best: “If a man is killed in Paris, it is a
murder; the throats of fifty thousand people are cut in the East, and
it is a problem” (Dadrian 4). The frailty of international relations
is understood but it should never be used as an excuse. The Armenian people
deserve to have their suffering acknowledged by those who inflicted it.
As the most powerful, and often persuasive, country in the world, the
United States should be a leader in this reconciliation.
Of course, this will not be easy, since relations between the United States
and Turkey are vulnerable. But future action should be inevitable; hopefully,
for Armenians, this future is on the horizon.
Alexander, Edward. A Crime of Vengeance: An Armenian Struggle for
New York: The Free Press, 1991.
Dadrian, Vahakn N. Genocide as a Problem of National
and International Law:
The World War I Armenian case and its contemporary legal ramifications.
New Haven: Yale Journal of International Law, 1989.
Miller, Donald E. and Lorna Touryan Miller. Survivors:
An Oral History of the
Armenian Genocide. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Sourain, Philip. Introduction. The Crossing Place:
A journey among the Armenians.
By Philip Marsden. New York: Kodansha International, 1993 ix.
United States. United States Congress. Affirmation
of the United States Record on the
Armenian Genocide Resolution: report together with dissenting views.
Washington: GPO, 2000.
Zetlian, Garine. The Armenian Genocide 1915-1923:
A handbook for teachers and
Students. Glendale: Armenian National Committee Western Region,
to Table of Contents