A presentation tonight will serve as a reminder of what some consider the greatest unpunished crime in human history.
The Armenian Student Association will host an event tonight at 7 at Embarcadero Hall to commemorate the Armenian genocide, which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians before and during World War I. April 24 marks the day hundreds of Armenian leaders and intellectuals were summoned to Constantinople and killed by the Turkish government.
The event will consist of a speech from ASA president Ani Demirchian, a short documentary film, a violin performance and a film the ASA made by asking students around campus their feelings about the genocide. Demirchian said she expects about 200 people to attend.
“We do something every year, at least show a documentary,” Demirchian, a junior political science major, said. “This year is going to be a little more though, in terms of the music and speakers.”
Many of the crimes against Armenians were perpetrated by the Young Turk government that took power in 1908. The original animosities between the Armenians, a Christian minority living in the eastern portion of Turkey, and the Muslim Turkish government arose from increasing Turkish nationalism and an Armenian desire for self-government. The Armenians were also the only ethnic group between Turkey and the Muslim regions of central Asia.
When World War I began, the Turkish government ordered the deportation of all Armenians, ostensibly to protect them by removing them from the war zone. Armenians believe most men were placed in labor battalions where they were either worked to death or murdered outright. Women, children and elderly persons were led on marches across the Anatolia region of Turkey, during which they were subject to rape, abuse and murder by their guides. Those who survived the march were placed in concentration camps in Syria.
To date, the Turkish government has not officially acknowledged the Armenian genocide, saying instead that at most 500,000 Armenians died during the period as a result of disease and civil war.
Though the triumvirate leadership of the Young Turk government, Mehmed Talat, Ismail Enver and Ahmed Djemal, were eventually tried by the Turkish government and executed, no one else in the government faced punishment.
“Numerous acts of mass murder that could be classified as genocide have occurred since, not the least of which being the Jewish Holocaust,” Demirchian said. “The first genocide of the 20th century was unpunished, and that set an example of impunity for other leader’s campaigns.”
As World War II began, Adolf Hitler is said to have tried to persuade his generals that the extermination of the Jews would be tolerated by the West by saying, “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” History Professor Kenneth Mouré said Hitler considered the Armenian genocide an example of “what you could get away with.”
The tragedy may be largely forgotten at UCSB as well. Demirchian said she knows of courses at UCLA that cover the genocide, but none exist at UCSB.
Mouré said he mentions the Armenian genocide “briefly” in his History 4C course, but knows of no other history courses that cover it.
Demirchian said the U.S. government has been hesitant to fully recognize the event because it would compromise relations between the United States and Turkey. When the French government decided in 2001 to officially acknowledge the genocide, Turkey cut its contracts with several French companies.