A day of remembrance

April 24, 2012, 12:12 a.m.

“For those of you who are not aware, there was a genocide that did take place against the Armenian people… We have seen a constant denial on the part of the Turkish government. It has become a sore spot diplomatically.

“America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president. – Senator Barack Obama in his presidential campaign, 2008

On this day, April 24, 2012, 10 million Armenians around the world commemorate the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the premeditated annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians living in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. This first genocide of the modern period nearly erased the presence of the Armenians from Eastern Anatolia, expunging an ancient civilization from its ancestral homeland of more than 3,000 years.

On April 24, 1915, the Young Turk government began the systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens, an unarmed Christian minority population. They arrested and executed the Armenian intellectual elite and community heads in Constantinople (Istanbul), which successfully deprived the community of its leadership. Armenian men were either forced into military labor battalions and then murdered at their worksites or summarily executed outside of their towns and villages. Under orders from Constantinople, the Ottoman military uprooted the Armenian women, children, and elderly from their homes. They were forced to march and then were brutally killed on the roadsides or starved to death. Those few who arrived in the Syrian desert died of starvation, disease or in primitive gas chamber caves.

The present Turkish government continues to officially deny these facts and promotes a revisionist history.

So why is recognition of these events relevant today?

It is important for societies and governments to take responsibility for crimes that occurred in their past in order to be partners in a civilized world as well as to earn reconciliation with victims and their descendants. In a 2005 letter to Prime Minister Erdoğan, the International Association of Genocide Scholars wrote: “We believe that it is clearly in the interest of the Turkish people and their future as proud and equal participants in international, democratic discourse to acknowledge the responsibility of a previous government for the genocide of the Armenian people, just as the German government and people have done in the case of the Holocaust.”

We, the Stanford Armenian Students Association, would like to inform the Stanford community of this history because we Armenians still feel the pain of this genocide and the associated official denial. Many Turkish citizens and scholars recognize the Armenian genocide, notably scholar Taner Akçam. He is among the larger international contingent of genocide and Holocaust scholars who openly discuss the truth of the Armenian genocide and speak out against the Turkish government. The legal scholar Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word “genocide” in 1943, did so precisely because of the Armenians. As he told one interviewer: “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. First to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.”

To date, 21 countries including Canada, France, and Russia have officially recognized the events of 1915 as genocide. The U.S. government, despite its many promises, has yet to officially use the word “genocide” to describe the events of 1915, not because it is not the truth, but because the use of such a statement could jeopardize Turkish-American relations. Unfortunately, President Obama’s campaign commitments have not been fulfilled.

Our Stanford community must bear witness to this injustice. A civilized society can only be built on the pillars of truth and not on denial and revision.

On this day, please take a moment to remember the victims of the Armenian genocide and all other victims of crimes against humanity.

Nairi Strauch ’14

Narek Tovmasyan ’13

The Stanford Armenian Students Association

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