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Armenian Genocide: Time For The Global Community To Recognize The Biggest Massacre of 21st Century?

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Joe Biden has pledged to officially recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide if elected to the White House, a move past presidents including serving US President Donald Trump has avoided for years. 

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Successive US Presidents refrained from calling the 1915 incidents as Armenians genocide until former President Barack Obama referred to the tragedy as “Meds Yeghern”, or “Great Crime” in the Armenian language which was followed by Trump administration.

In December 2019 both chambers of Congress passed the Armenian Genocide Reaffirmation Resolution in a near-unanimous fashion labelling the 1915 events as genocide which the Trump administration distanced itself by not formally recognizing the event citing the adverse impact on relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally.

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged to make human rights a top priority and recognize the Armenian genocide if elected president in his tweet.

Former President Barack Obama during his Presidential campaign had promised to recognize the Armenian genocide if elected saying that the tragedy was a fact supported by evidence rather than an allegation, opinion or a point of view, but ultimately had failed to label the tragedy as genocide.

Turkey‘s ambassador to Washington Serdar Kılıç rejected the claims made in US President Donald Trump’s statement on the 1915 events saying that the statement was made in accordance with domestic political considerations which lacked validity and objectivity and were based on a subjective narrative which Armenians try to turn into a dogma.

He added that more than 500 thousand Muslims who were massacred by Armenian rebels in the same period found no mention. The ambassador’s response came after Trump issued an annual commemoration of the 1915 events on April 24, again using the Armenian term “Meds Yeghern” to describe the tragedy.

US President Donald Trump in a statement had said, “On this day, we bear witness to the strength and resiliency of the Armenian people in the face of tragedy.  We are fortunate that so many Armenians have brought their rich culture to our shores and contributed so much to our country, including decorated soldiers, celebrated entertainers, renowned architects, and successful business people.

We welcome efforts by the Armenians and Turks to acknowledge and reckon with their painful history. On this day of remembrance, we pay respect to those who suffered and lost their lives, while also renewing our commitment to fostering a more humane and peaceful world.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday not only decried Armenian genocide as crimes against Armenian ethnic identity and human civilization but also demanded an apology from Turkey in a message after laying flowers at a genocide memorial in the capital Yerevan.

He added that Turkey must recognize the crimes as genocide and Ankara must provide financial compensation and restore property rights of the descendants of those killed. Pashinyan said Armenians “are still facing the challenges posed to our people at the outset of the twentieth century.”

Washington has avoided holding Turkey culpable for these atrocities because, during Cold War, the US claimed that it was not in its national interest to do so and also because Turkey was a NATO ally, strategically located near the Soviet Union.

After the cold war, the US used the narrative War on Terror to once again highlight Turkey’s importance in dismantling ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalists from the region. However, the relationship has soured after Ankara called the statement issued by US President as political theatre because of Turkey invasion of Syria and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system.

Armenian Genocide 

The first state-sanctioned pogroms against Armenians called the Hamidian Massacres of 1894–1896 during the regime of Abdul Hamid II were the prelude to the Armenian genocide from 1914 to 1924. The violent Hamidian Massacres resulted in deaths of thousands of minorities who were protesting against discrimination in the Ottoman Caliphate.

The systematic mass murder and extermination of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman regime between 1914 and 1923 is commemorated on April 24 every year as the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide is believed to be a part of a larger conspiracy to wipe out Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire including Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. The Armenian genocide is also called as the forgotten genocide and the first genocide of the 21st century which had caught the Nazis attention who emulated the same against Jews in Germany in the following decades.

Armenians were an educated and wealthy community that had faced resentment, harassment and persecution in Asia Minor region during the Ottoman rule and were subjected to discriminatory treatment such as payment of higher taxes.

A strong nationalistic desire identifying Turkey for the Turks and based on homogenous “Turkishness” and Muslim faith saw Christians as an inimical and treacherous population that bore allegiance to Russia with similar religious affiliations than the Ottoman Empire that sided with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War-I.

The systematic state-sponsored obliteration of Armenians began in the Ottoman Empire in 1914 with a campaign of boycotting Armenian businesses and shops which quickly culminated into acts of violence and the murder of key Armenian politicians and persons of importance.

On April 15, 1915, 25,000 Armenians were slaughtered in Van province and while on April 24, 1915, 250 Armenian scholars and leaders arrested in Constantinople and sent to Chankri and Ayash were later murdered. The editors and staff of the leading Armenian newspaper of the time – Azadamart, were arrested and executed on June 15 in Diyarbekir.

Around 600,000 Armenians were massacred within nine months since the genocide began and another 400,000 died because of the ill-treatment, abuse, starvation and excesses and privations due to their deportation into Mesopotamia.

Additional 200,000 Armenians were forcibly converted to Islam to give Armenians a new Turkish identity and strip them of their historical past as the first Christian state in the world.

Armenian families including small children died on their journey after they were forced to walk for days without food, water and shelter with some even naked in the deserts of Syria and Arabia. Women and girls were subjected to widespread sexual violence and abuse and were also trafficked into sexual slavery.

Several historical Armenian artefacts of religious and cultural value were also destroyed and the displaced Armenians were not allowed to reacquire their property and belongings after the genocide. This came to be known to the rest of the world outside Turkey as the Armenian Genocide.

The Ottoman Empire said it was dissolving the Armenian political umbrella when petitioned by the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople and Zohrab, an Armenian deputy in the Ottoman Parliament on behalf of the Armenians.

The Smyrna disaster of August 30, 1922, witnessed thousands of Greeks and Armenians killed or drowned in the seaside town after Turkish soldiers and civilians torched their neighbourhoods forcing them to flee to the harbour.

On April 24, 1919, prominent figures of the Armenian community who had survived the atrocities held a commemoration ceremony at the St. Trinity Armenian Church in Istanbul. Following its initial commemoration in 1919, the date became the annual day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide. This year marks 105 years since the beginning of the genocide.

Turkey has maintained that the crackdown against Armenians in eastern Anatolia was the result of Armenians revolting against Ottoman Empire and siding with invading Russian troops and has objected to the word “genocide,” referring to the incident instead as Olayları, a Turkish word meaning ‘Events of 1915’ wherein both sides suffered casualties.

Ankara has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint panel of historians from Turkey and Armenia as well as international experts to tackle the issue and.  At the same time, Ankara has imprisoned and harassed anyone who has dared to write about the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey and Azerbaijan openly deny the occurrence of the genocide and in the past Ankara has threatened governments with economic and diplomatic consequences whenever they have officially extended recognition to the Armenian Genocide.

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