The Armenian Genocide

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Any measures or acts undertaken with the aim of destroying any culture of a country’s ethnic group are referred to as ‘cultural genocide.’ Genocide is a word that was first coined by Raphael Lemkin which might mean the physical extermination of a religious group or a nation or its cultural and national destruction.  The events that occurred in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide where the Ottoman Turky Empire executed over 1.5 million people of Armenian origin have left a painful and deep scar on the rather small but prominent culture (Simon 213). The people who lived through this genocide survived rapes, physical mutilations, drowning, deaths among many more terrible acts. Even though the survivors have so far passed, the subsequent generations continue with the fight for justice, manifesting the pain, sadness held by their ancestors and mourning for the loss of their relatives. During the period between 1915 and 1923, the Armenian population was forced to endure cultural degradation considering that most of the proof of their culture was extinguished. This social disaster that resulted into the unprecedented impact on the Armenians is today seen as being an unnecessary consequence of the continuing prosecution of the Armenian population as well as the emergence of monoculture ideology in the context of developing nationalism within the Ottoman Empire. This holocaust can be regarded as a byproduct of the clashes and tensions between the Armenians and the Turks which were driven by their religious and ethnic dissimilarities. For over three thousand years, the Armenian people’s culture flourished in Anatolia which is a place where it stood as the crossroad of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Considering the geographical advantage, their culture thrived together with the prosperous art and inventions (Adalian 145). By the 16th century, Armenia was however absorbed in the Ottoman Empire which was being led by the Muslim sultan. The differences in religious practices was the main reason why Armenia, the Christian minority were forced to live as the less deserving citizens being subjected to numerous legal limitations. These restrictions denied the Armenia population the equal treatment such as the discriminative taxation as well as restricted participation in the government process.

It is important to understand who the Armenians are as a people. The Armenians are an Indo-European speaking group whose culture dates back to over 2, 000 years BC. As an action of collective identity against the complete assimilation into the Persians, the Armenians were in AD 303, the first nation to declare Christianity as being a state religion. Their liberty hero is St Mesrob Mashtots who in AD405 developed the 36-letter Armenian alphabet (Hadjilyra170). Their culture can be termed as a multilayered heritage of extraordinary poetry, literature, dance, theatre, and music. It was a sovereign state during the medieval period but was later engrossed by the Ottoman Empire starting from the 15 century up to 1920 when Armenia was briefly professed as a republic. However, two years later much of the republic became a part of the USSR and now after the Soviet Union broke off, there is the Republic of Armenia once again. The whole population making up the diaspora Armenia communicated in western Armenian and only those who live within the independent Armenia homeland communicate in eastern Armenian with its phonological and structural variations.

Numerous facts have shown that along with the deportation and massacres; the Young Turk government was also responsible for the implementation of premeditated destruction of the Armenian culture material testimonies. The Young Turks after realizing the role that the Christian faith and the church played in the Armenian culture, intentionally massacred the clergymen, destroyed thousands of medieval manuscripts, monasteries, churches, among may more church property. According to memoirs written by Fayez el Hussein, who was an Arab witness of the Genocide, the government established commissions which were mandated with the responsibility of selling the leftover Armenian property (Adalian 145). He notes that the properties were sold to the lowest bidders and the scientific books and textbooks were used in the market to wrap cheese sunflowers and dates. The Armenian Patriarchy of Istanbul between the years 1912-1913 presented an account of the monasteries and churches in the Ottoman Empire and Western Armenia. Over 2300 of them were accounted for among them the early unique Christian IV-V centuries. Monuments (Adalian 145). However, the majority were burned, looted and destroyed during the period.

The destruction policy that was adopted by the Young Turks against the Armenian cultural and historical heritage has been maintained in Republican Turkey. The relics under this policy have been seen as the unwanted witnesses of the Armenian presence. Towards the end of the 1920s, turkey started changing the titles and names of various locations within Western Armenia. As a result, over 90% of the Armenian buildings, towns, and cities with Western Armenia have been renamed in turkey including the names of the various Armenian geographical sites. Through a systemized destruction methods, numerous architectural monuments have been damaged and all Armenian inscriptions destroyed. According to a UNESCO report in 1974, 464 out of the 9913 Armenian historical monuments which had been left in Eastern Turkey after 1723 vanished completely while 252 were in ruins and another 197 were at the time in urgent need of renovation (Carrier et al. 320). The Armenian architectural buildings are continually facing demolition with dynamite explosions and have been utilized as targets in Turkish military training with the undamaged stones being used as construction materials. Armenian churches and monasteries are used as clubs, stores, stables and even jail in some areas. On numerous occasions, the Armenian churches were turned into mosques. The Council of Europe on June 18, 1987, adopted a Degree demanding that the Turkish government pays attention and to take care of the Armenians in additional to appropriate regard to all historical monuments located in modern Turkey. The cultural genocide against the heritage of the Armenians in Turkey continues considering the numerous Armenian medieval monuments that have been destroyed during and even way after the Holocaust. 

Apart from the cultural destruction that the Armenian population faced, their music also suffered a great deal. Many renowned Armenian artists fell victims to the holocaust and as a result, the majority of the music bands that were very vibrant at the time had to be disbanded. At the end of the 19th century, between over 250, 000 Armenians had been murdered by the Ottoman Turks. It is now clear that the pogroms acted as warnings of the events that were to take place in 1915. Thousands had to flee. Protestant missionary by the name Theresa Huntington Ziegler in 1901 chronicled a huge Armenians hemorrhaging towards Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, and South America, Lebanon and to France (Dobkin 98). The majority of the population making up the diaspora Armenians today live in California. The Young Turks who had in 1915 disposed the old sultan conducted a final systematic solution through things like starvation, mass shouting, abandonment in the desert, concentration camps, and even mass deportation and gassing. All these took place, the constriction of over 250, 00 Armenians inn the Turkish army the year before notwithstanding (Hovannisian 23). All Armenians by the year 1915 had been forced to surrender all the personal firearms they held. The Armenians who were at the time serving in the Ottoman army were assembled into labor battalions where they were machine-gunned, beaten or starved. Over 300 Istanbul Armenian intellectuals were on April 24, 1915, arrested and killed in a mini Katyn including the MPs in the parliament. Following these merciless and inhumane killings, the Armenian community was left without intellectuals and able-bodied men. The lack of power and leadership was for sure going to have a massive emotional and political impact on the survivors; it is a loss that is felt to date.

The memories from the Holocaust are ones that make very grueling readings. Stories have been told of women breast being mutilated while other were systematically raped before being killed. It is also said that some were taken to harems and never appeared again. In every village, town, and province of Asian Minor and Turkish Armenia, the whole Armenian population was rounded up. The children and women were forced to walk in huge groups towards the Syrian Desert while the men were usually shot. To date, some skeletons have been sported on the road that the children and women were forced to walk through because very few survive the ordeal (Melson 61). The few who made it through made sure that the horror story was told to the subsequent generations. The genocide decision was taken at the government level while the Local gendarmes conducted the mass killings in collaboration with the convicted criminals who were offered pardons with the condition that they slaughter Armenians. The survivors of the death match in the desert were later held within Syrian Deir el-Zor open air concentration camps where the guards killed the majority.

Death during the holocaust came in many ways. For instance, local Armenia in Trebizond was pushed on to boats after which they were thrown overboard while some were hurled off the gorge edge. More than two million Armenians were living in Turkey before 1914. However, after the holocaust, only about 500, 000 remained and were destined to be refugees in what was later referred to as diaspora Armenians. The Jews were one group that bore witness to all these right from the beginning. They were sympathetic to the Armenian, but this sympathy did not in any way provoke international aid. Turkey has to date never admitted to these evils, but there are way too many independent records and witnesses for the nation to prove the denial as credible (Fisk 11). An American missionary within the Ottoman Empire by the name Reverend Henry H Riggs wrote a book which is one of the most detailed on these events. The National Archives I the US also have information regarding the deportations and slaughter on file, information which is open to the public. A former Turkish envoy, Mehmet Sherif Pasha even launched a protest to Sweden. In 1921 when writing to the New York Times, he termed the events as having surpassed the savagery of Tamburlaine and Genghis Khan

The world should know and understand what the Armenian Holocaust is – not was, but rather is. This is because, a hundred years later, the consequences of the campaigns of destruction carried out by the Young Turks are still very much alive to date. The Armenia diaspora communities scattered all over the world and the descendants of the survivors have been forced to make homes away from their home. They have no choice but to make new lives far away from Western Armenia and to seize new opportunities and as such defies immense hardship in exile as well as the genocidal logic of the perpetrators (Melson 61). The consequences of these atrocities also persist as a bittersweet form of memories of the life they lived in the old nation before the genocide, of the holocaust itself, of the stolen and destroyed properties which laid the foundation of the modern republic of Turkish. The memories live on in the obfuscation and denial of the genocide in a situation where ye victims were turned in perpetrators and where the right became wrong. A lot of people back in 1915 knew about the Armenian Holocaust. Newspaper from China to Scandinavia, from the United States and South America to America covered these events in an extensive way and in almost real-time with op-eds, analytical articles, and front-page telegrams. They newspapers covered all aspects of this destruction starting with the increasingly inhuman rhetoric during the begging of the First World War, the killing of Ottoman Armenian soldiers, the arrest of Armenian notables and the massacres and death marches that completed this genocide. Outright denial in this period, cynical rationalization by the Ottoman state as well as various sympathizers from the west accompanied all stages, yet diplomatic reports and trustworthy eyewitness testimony all documenting the Holocaust was and to date remain overwhelming.

The exact name to give or even make sense of these evils that left defenseless women, children and men as victims of extreme cruelties beyond imagination is something that contemporary observers, the survivors, and the victims grappled with a lot. Some of the name given to the atrocities include “The Great Crime,” “The Great Catastrophe,” massacre or annihilation. Some in Germany and Scandinavia even referred it to as “genocide” by using the variations of the word “the murder of a people,” “folkemord,”to encapsulate the occurrences. All this was before Raphael Lemkin; a Polish-German lawyer invented the term “genocide” which is regarded as the legal, historical term describing both the Armenian Genocide and the Nazi Holocaust during World War I among many more. According to Karen Jeppe, a Danish relief worker who was among the witnesses of these bloody destruction of Armenians, the events could only be termed as “The Big Death” (Auron 238). This was without a doubt The Big Death, and to some extent, it can be referred to as the end, is an end to the thousands of years of the varied and rich Armenian culture and value in the Western Armenia, which was the ancestral land of millions. Today, there is very little of that left compared to what it once was in Turkey. However, a new beginning regardless of how fragile it might be at first follows every end, and as such, current Armenia is not a mere geographical location, a memory of the past glory or a state of mind. The present date Armenia is also an attitude, a state of mind a will to thrive and survive that can be found as well as taken anywhere. It can be described as constant reinventions and deep traditions, always adopting to new conditions (Torchin 33). Therefore, the Armenian life has sprung up in communities all over the world, at the royal court in Ethiopia, in little churches in India, in Soviet Armenia, in the shops and factories of Moscow, Marseille, and Liverpool and today in the independent Armenia Republic.

One thing is certain, even though, denial and time have in some way eroded the once supple knowledge of not only the living, rich, heritage of the Armenian people but also the genocide, cultures, and events of such significance will not simply disappear.  There is, therefore, a proper cause for the world to pay respect to those who died from the start to the end of the atrocities, those who survive the ordeals and establish a foundation that would allow the Armenian population life to continue. This does not mean that there are no such obstacles like the lack of knowledge on these historical occurrences particularly in Turkey where the Armenian are presented as traitors or written off history (Rummel, 53). However, there is still hope that one day the Turks will truthfully celebrate the deep roots of the Armenians which were cut. These deep roots are still evident in some places within modern Turkey in the scattered ruins of the countryside, in the architecture of cities, in the Muslim Kurds and Turks with a forcibly assimilated Armenian ancestor who are today retrieving their Armenian heritage. There is even hope that the Turkish state will one day respect the will of the Turkish civil society and begin to celebrate the brave Ottoman Kurds, Arabs and Turks who in an active capacity resisted the atrocities.

A hundred years have passed since the start of the genocide, a century which from a historical perspective is not a long time. In fact, for those who are lucky to live long enough, it is a mere lifetime. It is for this reason that the wounds are still very flesh to many Armenians to date. The rather short time has not completely healed this population. There are several options as to whether these wounds should or could be healed and if so, how apologies, reparations, economic and civil cooperation, the opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey among others can be useful. All these are part of a continuing, much needed and legitimate debate regarding the Armenians’ future in the world. However, one thing that the Armenian population has over the years proved to the world is that wounds ought not to be obstacles to development and progress which remembrance of all which was lost can exist side by side with resilience, the hope of what some day might be, love for future generations and creativity. Lives were lost and even more devastating to the Armenian population is the continued disregards of their culture and cultural symbols, but hope for justice has never died.

Work cited

Adalian, Rouben P. "The Armenian Genocide."Centuries of Genocide. Routledge, 2012. 132-171.

Auron, Yair. The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide. Routledge, 2017. 238-376.

Carrier, Peter, Eckhardt Fuchs, and Torben Messinger. The international status of education about the Holocaust: A global mapping of textbooks and curricula. UNESCO Publishing, 2015. 316=411.

Dobkin, Marjorie Housepian. "What Genocide? What Holocaust? News from Turkey, 1915-1923: A Case Study."The Armenian genocide in perspective. Routledge, 2017. 97-110.

Fisk, Robert. "The Gallipoli centenary is a shameful attempt to hide the Armenian Holocaust."The Independent 19 (2015). 11-76.

Hadjilyra, Alexander-Michael. The Armenians of Cyprus. Alexander-Michael Hadjilyra, 2009. 166-189.

Hovannisian, Richard G. "The historical dimensions of the Armenian question, 1878–1923."The Armenian genocide in perspective. Routledge, 2017. 19-41.

Melson, Robert. "Provocation or nationalism: a critical inquiry into the Armenian Genocide of 1915."The Armenian genocide in perspective. Routledge, 2017. 61-84.

Rummel, Rudolph J. Death by government: genocide and mass murder since 1900. Routledge, 2018. 49.71.

Simon, Julian. The banality of denial: Israel and the Armenian genocide. Routledge, 2017. 213-312.

Torchin, Leshu. Creating the Witness: Documenting Genocide on Film, Video, and the Internet. University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 33-87.

November 24, 2023
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World History Genocide

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