One Hundred Years of Genocide

“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact. . . I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915”.
– Henry Morgenthau
U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, 1913-1916

Before Hitler’s concentrations camps, before the Cambodian “killing fields”, before Rwanda, there was the Syrian desert. The 20th century was barely 15 years old when it jumped out of the gate to establish itself as a dystopian chapter in world history. On this date in 1915, Armenian intellectuals, clerics, journalists, doctors, and community leaders in Constantinople  received knocks on their doors. On the direct order of Ottoman Interior Minister Talat Pasha, the Armenians were taken to holding centers for detention. And later, deportation. Thus began a barbaric campaign of murder, starvation, long marches, and ethnic cleansing: the Armenian genocide which claimed the lives of 1.5 million souls.

I have, for a long time, detested the now-trite admonition about “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it”. I detest it not because it isn’t true, but because it goes – decade after decade after decade -unheeded. Of course we fail to remember history. And of course we repeat it. When the world stage is divided into malevolent thugs on one side, and craven deserters on the other side, it will inevitably be repeated.

A more apt assessment can be found in Hannah Arendt’s observation about “the banality of evil”. The deranged, defensive statements issued by the Turkish government to this very day, that the Armenians were slaughtered as some sort of “by-product” of the violence of World War I, exemplifies the lengths some will go to to rationalize, excuse, and quite literally defend atrocities – the intellectual equivalent of “shit happens” as an explanation for savagery.

Armenian genocide victims, photographed by Armin T. Wegner, a German soldier and medic who was an eyewitness to Ottoman crimes:

armenian-genocide-02-jpg

During these past few weeks leading up to today’s Centennial, we’ve seen prominent world figures show us what they’re made of. Pope Francis righteously took a stand of truth and moral courage, provoking the unhinged ire of Turkish officials. I think I can speak for all Armenians when I say it was a thing of beauty. In stark contrast Barack Obama, the purported “leader” of the free world, engaged in a sad, embarrassing spectacle of capitulation to Turkey’s gag rule on the G-word, and sits in a corner like a scolded child while his extravagant campaign promises flush down the toilet in a death spiral.

Gutless American Presidents notwithstanding, Armenians have survived and flourished in their diaspora. My grandparents, great aunts and uncles made their way onto ships bound for Ellis Island in New York City, and never looked back. We are teachers, engineers, journalists, entertainers, laborers, writers, photographers, businessmen, musicians, and even artist’s models 🙂

Say a prayer today for those 1.5 million who starved and suffered and died face down in the desert, the orphans who watched their mothers and fathers get slaughtered, and thrown into rivers to drown. Say a prayer that genocide will always be recognized for what it is.

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11 thoughts on “One Hundred Years of Genocide

  1. Ken Crocker says:

    Arshile Gorky wrote about being an Armenian and the Armenian genocide.

  2. johndrob says:

    If you haven’t seen it, former Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau (grandson of Henry) has an Op-Ed in today’s Daily News: “The courage to call genocide what it is: Recalling the Armenian slaughter, 100 years later”. The News also ran an editorial today stating, “Turkey is not responsible for the crimes of the collapsed empire that preceded it, but it is responsible for accepting historic truth.”

    • artmodel says:

      johndrob,

      Thanks for your comments and for the link to Morgenthau’s op-ed. I posted it to Twitter where it was further shared. Also, the telegrams that the Ambassador sent to the State Department, and other correspondence, can be viewed online. His eyewitness accounts are powerful and undeniable.

      Thanks again!

      Claudia

      • johndrob says:

        FYI, Eric Bogosian will be speaking about his new book, Operation Nemesis: The Assassination that Avenged the Armenian Genocide, at the CUNY Graduate Center on May 19. Although the event is sold out, it will be live streamed. According to the program description, the book is “a riveting narrative rich with historical detail, Bogosian gives the first full account of a secret plot by assassins, in 1921, to avenge the deaths of almost one million victims of genocide.”

  3. The new painting of you is a huge hit on Facebook today, so I took the opportunity to write a second post noting today’s anniversary and linking your post.

    • artmodel says:

      Thank you Daniel!

      I really appreciate you sharing my blog post about the Armenian Genocide. And sharing your painting of me, well that’s pretty cool too!

      See you soon, friend.

      Claudia

  4. scultore says:

    Its time that people all over the world own up to the fact that no group is ‘pure’ and good. Governments tend to do evil to justify their existence. The Chinese demand we write out the bad parts of their history, the Japanese are trying to rewrite the history of their horrors in China and Korea and the wars in the Mid-east now seem have a goal of eliminating history other then their own altogether.
    We need to remember we are humans, and we need to try to be better than in the past.

    • artmodel says:

      Bruce,

      Everything you said, so true. What’s bizarre to me is that everyone knows that it was not modern Turkey which carried out the genocide. It’s current government would only be acknowledging crimes committed by the Ottomans 100 years ago, who are all dead now anyway. Recognizing the horrors of the past, and doing so frankly and honestly, goes a long way toward healing and redemption. But the Turkish government is clearly violently opposed to such things.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  5. Bill says:

    I’ve also been wondering why the present Turkish government is so reluctant to acknowledge it — the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with is that perhaps certain prominent individuals had ancestors who were involved. But that seems too lame to be true.

    I think that the answer necessarily begins with education. This anniversary, as well as the statements by people like the Pope, have certainly helped to raise public awareness. But we live in a world where most people’s knowledge of Armenia still probably begins and ends with the Kardashians. The enemy is ignorance.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      One theory that’s been floated as to the Turkish government’s refusal to acknowledge (besides them just being assholes) is that they fear they may be asked to pay reparations of some sort. Now I almost never hear that demand among Armenian circles, so I don’t know how valid it is.

      Awareness of the Armenian Genocide today is far more widespread than it was when I was growing up. So that’s a positive thing. As to the Kardashians, well, Kim is still my Armenian “sister”, and while I am absolutely no fan of reality TV or some of her life choices, her recent trip to Armenia was well-intentioned and produced some good moments. Having her baby baptized in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem is one example:
      http://www.armenianow.com/news/62327/armenia_kim_kardashian_jerusalem_north_baptized

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

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