I was once asked, when I was in my 6th grade class in Lebanon, to present about my hometown. I was stumped.
Where was my hometown? Was it in Lebanon? Sure my parents were brought up there. My grandparents had moved to Lebanon and lived there. Despite those facts, there was a missing link. Why did we speak Armenian at home? Why did we cook Armenian food, celebrate Armenian feasts, and enjoy Armenian dance shows? My heritage originated from somewhere else, across the Lebanese mountains and beyond the Syrian Desert. I had been told that my ancestors came from a part of my homeland that did not belong to it anymore. How do you define this hometown? How do you present about a place that was now a fleeting figment of history?
As I grew older, I would be confronted with an all-too familiar Lebanese question: “Men wein el asel?” or “Where are you originally from?” to which you would normally respond with your hometown. My answer to that – Kharpert – would, in today’s terms, sound as relevant as “Babylon,” a land that had been forcibly stripped of its identity and people.
The conquest of Babylon may have happened several millennia ago while civilization was still in its infancy, but the story of my people is more recent. The wounds are fresh, 100 years old exactly today to be precise. It took place in a time that was fortunate enough to be recognizing basic human rights, but unfortunate enough to have the ease of mass communication we have today.
The systematic process of extermination of Armenians by the Turks started on April 24, 1915 with the deportation and eventual killing of around 300 Armenian intellectuals. It ended with the massacre of 1.5 million out of 2 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. The means? A death march into the Syrian Desert with deprivation from food and water, mass burnings, rape, drowning, mutilations, beheadings, impalements among many other horrifying abuses witnessed by survivors and foreign missionaries.
Today, our large diaspora around the globe is a bitter testament to the genocide that led us to flee our homeland 100 years ago. We are the progeny of a minority of Western Armenians who survived and found refuge in other lands after being stripped of their own. Our mere existence could be traced back to a stroke of luck our fathers, grandparents or great-grandparents would tell of: testimonies of having survived a death march; being saved by a missionary ship; buying off the mercy of an Ottoman official; hiding in with some Arab merchant’s load…
If survivor testaments aren’t enough, photos, video footage, foreign eyewitness accounts and publications exist to back up these claims. Armenian relics, churches and monuments in Turkey tell of a land forcefully left behind by its own people. Armenians as well as foreign scholars have gathered enough evidence to prove it: A genocide had indeed been committed.
Despite substantiating evidence, policy changes, and the multitude of awareness activities, the collective efforts have not yet amounted to international acknowledgement – let alone recognition by Turkey. To date, only 21 countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide. What is sad and scary at the same time however, is not the avoidance of recognition itself but the reasons behind other countries doing so.
For the most part, the true motives for denial are political: the NATO muscle of some parliament; foreign bilateral relations with Turkey or Armenia; voting power of Armenians or Turks; political reform and compensations that Turkey must pay back in case of recognition. So far unfortunately, Armenian efforts have proved meager.
Denying the Armenian Genocide or taunting the people of its survivors with false promises of recognition just for political gain is rubbing salt in an already heavily bleeding wound. This was a crime against humanity, these were systematic state-sponsored massacres and atrocities committed against an ethnic group. The criminals must recognize, be tried, and compensate as per reform settlements, just as what was done for the survivors of the Holocaust. Humanity should take precedence over any politics, and failing to make that happen is committing another genocide by passively encouraging more of the same.
In the end, Turkish politics were the driving force behind the Armenian Genocide. This is not just an Armenian cause; this is a cause for mankind to put its own morality to the test once again in the face of political deception. Are the Armenians any less deserving of a recognition of their genocide? Have we come so far as to prioritize a political agenda over the massacre of 1.5 million humans?