“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana some 10 years prior to the mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Armenian and Greek Christians in Turkey.
This Friday (April 24) marks 100 years since this tragedy unfolded. The Armenian Genocide is poorly understood by much of humanity and flatly denied by the body politic in Turkey. The Pope recently used the “G” word, and the reaction was swift from Ankara with headlines such as “Mind your own business, Pope.” The head of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate followed with “I find the Pope’s statement immoral, and can’t reconcile it with basic Christian values”. The European Parliament reiterated its call for Turkey to recognize the mass murder and genocide of the Armenian people. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the Pope saying, “I condemn and warn the Esteemed Pope, hoping he probably won’t make such mistakes again,” followed by announcing his own generosity in “not deporting” the remnant of Armenians still in Turkey. The speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey furthered “… what the Pope has done is slander, defamation and discrimination. Hate speech is something we complain most about today; racism, hate speech, anti-Islamism.”
The First World War had started and the world was engulfed in violence and hate.
Harsh and contorted words for merely remembering mass murder. To understand this you have to step back 100 years and understand the world. The First World War had started and the world was engulfed in violence and hate. The Ottoman Empire was collapsing. Turkey was once dominantly Christian and, even a century ago, a more pluralistic society. However, today it has been virtually cleansed of its past. Currently, Turkey is, by official standards, between 96 and 99.8 percent Muslim with about 70 percent being Sunni and nearly 30 percent being of Shia (many Sufi — some in Turkey do not recognize them as being Muslim) denominations and approximately 0.2 percent Christian or Jewish. This was not always the case. One hundred years ago, Turkey was comprised of approximately 19 percent Greek and Armenian Christians (about 1.5 and 1.2 million, respectively, in 1914) and a smaller number of other religious and ethnic minorities. Christians and Jews lived in a repressive “dhimmi” status, a status of subjugation and what we would now call apartheid. As in Nazi Germany, this was the first step in the march to genocide. What happened — where did all the Christians go? The facts are that a large fraction were murdered and the rest exiled in the lead-up to the modern Turkish state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. This is nearly universally recognized, even if not politically correct, but it is vehemently denied by Turkey. However, the Turkish denial is somewhat schizophrenic as even Turkey sentenced the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P. — the so-called Young Turks) leaders, Enver, Djemal and Talaat Pasha, among others to death for the mass murder of Greek and Armenian Christians in 1920 trials.
It is a period Turkey would rather bury and not face. But the world is not so forgiving, and while the Orwellian view of the current Turkish leadership wants to ignore the first mass genocide of the 20th century, it would later be infamously referred to by Adolf Hitler as an example of the world’s indifference to bolster his own mass genocide of the Jews in the statement, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Why should we care today? Why should we remember and recall such an event?
On Aug. 22, 1939, Hitler made the following statements as a part of a larger speech justifying Germany’s aggression and soon-to-be mass annihilation with the impending invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939 to his senior military advisors at Obersalzberg: “Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Do not go silently into the dark night of hate, but fight against it so that, ultimately, light will prevail.
Perhaps if we remember the words of George Santayana — “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,”— we will understand that, when we forget the violence of the past, we invite the violence of the future. For anyone who tries to understand the present and bears witness to the slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other religious and ethnic minorities in lands afar will understand. Do not go silently into the dark night of hate, but fight against it so that, ultimately, light will prevail.
What you can do:
- Read history, learn the facts, talk about it, think.
- Understand what the dhimmi status means now and historically, and why the brutal murders and ethnic cleansing of today’s news use exactly the same language. Understanding the language of hate is critical to eradicating it. Why is a vast region that was once filled with Christians now largely wiped clean? Do not be afraid to ask why.
- Do not allow the stamp of a deity to hide crimes against humanity. Think!
- Understand the repression and subjugation of Christians and many other religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Sudan, among other countries. Why is there still silence? Why are people afraid of an “inconvenient truth?”
- Practice being “correct,” not just “politically correct.”
- Petition the U.S. Government to recognize the Armenian Genocide, an action we have, shamefully, not done taken, though our president promised to in 2008. Speak to the Armenian community as well as the many other religious minorities who have suffered under similar and current circumstances.
- Remember Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day — April 24 each year.
- Talk to the heroic Kurdish people who fight for a homeland.
- Understand the current tragedy befalling Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East today. Find out about the mass murder and enslavement of the Yazidis and Kurds today. Learn to forgive that which is forgivable, but do not forget. Ever.
- While it has been 100 years since the slaughter of the Armenians, it is only yesterday that horrific crimes were committed by those with the same attitudes that justified the crimes against the Armenians. Hate is alive and well because we have forgotten the past.