Thoughts on life, death and a forgotten genocide

Haig Norian

Today, telecommunication technology has given us an unprecedented awareness of the current state of the world.  From the comfort of our dorms, we can instantly access an up-to-the-minute assessment of the Dow Jones or read about the latest loss of life in Iraq and Darfur.  The efficient nature of the news industry allows the world to instantly come to terms with its current state, bettering our understanding of our successes as well as our shortcomings.  

However, what happens when the news is not reported and we are not given a chance to reflect on our actions?  If an event is not documented, does it become any less real?  This article seeks to describe an event that has failed to be reported for nearly a century – the Armenian Genocide.      

Let us look back 92 years.  At this point in time, the world was in a state of chaos.  The civilized world had fallen apart once again as the fragile political infrastructures that sought to reign in the thriving nationalist sentiment of various European nations had finally crumbled.  We are most familiar with the conflicts of Western Europe.

However, this raging nationalist sentiment was not strictly a European phenomenon, spreading far past the Balkans and into Asia Minor (controlled by the Ottoman Empire).  As we have seen countless times before, war often leads men to commit unspeakable horrors.  

In the case of World War I, a sense of virulent nationalism led the Ottoman Turkish military to engage in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Armenian population of Asia Minor.  This is the forgotten genocide; this is the news article never reported.

Prior to entering a discussion of the atrocities committed by the Turkish military against the Armenians, let us first describe the political atmosphere of the time.  In the late 1890s, mass massacres of Armenians (approximately 300,000 dead) had already begun under the reign of the Ottoman Sultan.  An end to these massacres was promised with the coup of the supposedly progressive “Young Turk” regime.  Unfortunately, promised reforms were never passed, and the political turmoil enabled three radical members of the Young Turk political party to assume complete dictatorial control over the Ottoman Empire.  

It was under this war-time dictatorship of the Young Turks that the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian race was carried out.   It is important to note that the atrocities perpetrated against the Armenian population equate to nothing less than genocide, a calculated eradication of a certain race or ethnicity.

Ultimately, the genocide resulted in 1.5 million deaths, at the very least.  

Like the genocides of the latter half of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide can be clearly divided into three distinct phases.  

The first to be slaughtered were the intellectuals, politicians, clergy, musicians and artists – the representative heart, soul and mind of the Armenian people.  This effectively eliminated the cultural and intellectual base of the Armenians.

The men were the next to go.  Able-bodied men were “drafted” to help in the wartime effort.  Because these soldiers were not given weapons (as they were to be assigned to road construction), they put up very little resistance when they were lined up and murdered en masse by Ottoman firing squads.

A year into the war, nearly all Armenian intellectuals and able-bodied men had been assembled and quickly put to death.  At this point, Armenian villages and towns, where only women, children and elderly remained, were systematically emptied.  The final stage of the genocide had begun.  These deportations took Armenians from central and western Anatolian deep into the Syrian Desert.  

What looked like the military escorting civilians out of a war-torn region turned out to be nothing more than a horrific death march.  During these deportations, Armenians were kidnaped, raped, starved, dehydrated and murdered .  By the end of the First World War, at least 1.5 million Armenians were brutally murdered.

However, the genocide was not a complete success.  There were survivors.  

In 1965, the scattered survivors of the genocide and their children around the world began commemorating this genocide on April 24th, the date when the full-scale genocide was initiated in 1915.   

You may wonder why I am writing this article.  It is clear that these words -nothing more than blots of ink on a piece of paper – are not going to bring back the 1.5 million lives lost.  This article cannot replenish the countless gallons of innocent blood that have been spilled.  Instead, all we ask for is your awareness and your understanding.  

The Turkish government spent the past nine decades denying that a genocide ever occurred.  This adds insult to deep injury.  Please understand the pain that so many innocent lives were forced to endure, and the death marches through an endless desert.  

The starving child, his ribcage tearing through his supple flesh.  The pregnant woman, her unborn infant, torn from her body. The grieving widow unable to locate her children.  The starving mother, unable to provide milk for her crying infant.  The mass graves, the mutilated corpses.  The memories.  Our memories.  These are the images from which we, as Armenians, are unable to free ourselves.  

Today however, our pain, the pain of the Armenian people, no longer merely stems from the mass murder of our family, the rape of our nation.  

What hurts even more than the genocide itself is the refusal or ignorance of so many to acknowledge the occurrence of these atrocities.

Unless the evils of the past are confronted head-on, we will be forced to endure such pain over and over again.  Hitler, before initiating the Holocaust, is known to have said, “Who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?”  Well, we remember and, if more of us were to remember, we could prevent such horror from repeating itself.

Unfortunately, governments continue to deny the genocide, world leaders mocking our claims of injustice.  

The world has turned a blind eye to the crimes committed against us, allowing the same crimes to repeat themselves.  

Living on ‘Nova’s campus, it is really difficult to focus on such morbid subject matter. But, we must let ourselves be affected.  This is not to say you should change your ways or not enjoy your life.  By all means, embrace life.  But do not do so by ignorantly turning a blind eye to the horrors of the past.  Instead, embrace the present by coming to terms with the past.  This is all we are asking.