Remembrance and the Demand for Justice Are Inseparable


This year marks both the Centennial observance of the Armenian Genocide and the beginning of the post-2015 period. It is to be expected that our Centennial year observances will elicit frenetic efforts by the Turkish leadership to intensify and expand their policy of outright fabrication of facts, and revisionist propaganda to hide, blur, and ignore such a horrific crime carried out by their forebears. Unfortunately no one is prescient enough to know when 2015 comes to a close if the truth of the genocide that devastated our nation will have prevailed over the deception of the Turkish leadership in the court of world opinion.

However, it would be a disservice to our martyrs if the year-long observance failed to incorporate our demand for justice. The Centennial year provides a platform with greater media coverage, with events world-wide that have been planned on a grander scale, and with the participation of easily recognizable luminaries. Our demand for justice need not overshadow the commemoration of our martyrs, but it should have equal importance and recall in detail the planning, execution, and the political and economic objectives of the genocide that sought to destroy our nation—a nation that had prospered for millennia on lands that the Ottoman-Turkish government coveted.

It is necessary for our audience—including Armenians as well as odars—to fully understand—or to be reminded again, if necessary—the agony that our martyrs were forced to endure before death ended their ordeal. And, lest it be forgotten, the life of torment our children and young women faced who were taken in servitude. And our survivors who faced their own hell as they sought to rebuild their tortured lives and to, under the most trying conditions imaginable, create what has become the dynamic Armenian Diaspora that we enjoy today. Our story of the genocide needs to be told and retold as often as the opportunity arises. Remembrance without the demand for justice is a sterile observance. They are inseparable.

Granted, much has been done to effectively counter Turkish denialist efforts and to present our cause to the world audience with gratifying results as the unfolding schedule of events now taking place attests. However, 100 years is a very long time. Memories fade and those who had little or no knowledge of the Armenian Genocide easily fall prey to the propaganda of Turkish officials, government agencies, and their hired mercenaries. The Centennial year should be a year of introspection by our people. It should be a year to reflect on our role as members of the Armenian nation. We are facing a determined adversary who continues its attack on our people and our nation in one form or another. What began in 1915 may have ebbed or flowed during the past 100 years, but it has never ceased.

Success in achieving our demand for justice is predicated on knowing the horrendous details and the devastating effects of the genocide. We have been inundated by examples of cruelty by mankind upon mankind, so much so that people have become emotionally immune when visuals or terms such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, or even Holocaust are used. This is why the Jewish nation continues to present the Holocaust in graphic detail at every opportunity. They will not allow the world to forget what the Jewish people suffered. This is something that we fail to do on a consistent basis.

This Centennial year was the opportunity to have made available a formal document—a white paper—presenting our demand for justice to the world community as well as a reminder to many of our own people that the struggle still continues. We had years to prepare such a document that would serve to inform in great detail—greater than possible in this article—those who never knew about the Armenian Genocide as well as to stoke faded memories of those who might have known. For a century, the facts of the Armenian Genocide have been purposely corrupted by the denialist policy of every Turkish leader from Ataturk to Erdogan. This document freely available and appropriately distributed would have provided a readable and factual presentation of the methodology, scope, and reason for the Armenian Genocide to support our demand for justice during the year-long remembrance of our martyrs.

Methodology of the Armenian Genocide

Beginning in the autumn of 1914, Armenian men in the service of the Ottoman-Turkish Army were relieved of their weapons and placed in labor battalions. This effectively separated men from weapons and neutralized their ability to respond to the events that would take place on and after April 24, 1915.

On that date, the meticulous plan of the Ottoman-Turkish leaders was put into effect. Selected leaders within the Armenian community—clergy, writers, educators, doctors, lawyers, other professionals, and businessmen—were rounded up without cause. Supposedly these “arrests” were for questioning only, but within days these men were summarily executed.

In the villages able-bodied men were rounded up, some executed within sight of the village and others taken some distance away to be killed. Women and children were ordered to leave their homes with no more than what they could carry. They were told that they would be able to return. According to a detailed government plan, these hapless victims were forced to walk great distances to nearby collection points where they were joined by women and children from other villages and cities. From there they were required to walk to further collection points where streams of thousands upon thousands of women and children formed the notorious death caravans that stretched for miles to the deserts of northeastern Syria.

The elderly, the infirmed, and pregnant women were shown no deference. They were the first to be slaughtered or left by the trail-side to die. Neither food, nor water, nor protection from the chilling night air was provided. Their ultimate destination was the death camps located in the inhospitable region of Der Zor in Syria. Here the survivors were herded into open-air camps, denied food and water; the women and children were violated and ultimately butchered if they did not die from illness or malnutrition. This is what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refers to as the Ottoman-Turkish government’s plan to relocate the Armenian people away from the dangers of Turkey’s eastern war zone.

Demographic scope of the Armenian Genocide

The genocide encompassed much more than the martyrdom of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children. It began with the execution of the nation’s existent intelligentsia, leaving the population leaderless to effectively respond to what would take place. What is often overlooked is that during the genocide, tens of thousands of Armenian children and young women were taken into servitude by Turkish and Kurdish villagers (admittedly, some for altruistic reasons) to be brought up in an alien culture. During the solitude of the evening, cut off from family, relatives, and friends, unable to really fathom the why of their misfortune—can the anguish they underwent ever be comprehended? Today, possibly a million or more of these part-Armenians live on the land that was emptied of their forebears by the genocide. Denied their heritage, many still have recollections of their Armenian past, secretly shared from generation to generation through word of mouth by many of these unfortunate victims.

The genocide had an immediate and long-term demographic impact on our nation. The Ottoman-Turkish plan not only sought to empty our historic western provinces that had been settled by Armenians for millennia, but to prevent our nation from ever recovering from the planned decimation of its population.

A disproportionate percentage of the victims of the Armenian Genocide were children and men and women in their prime child-bearing years. Dislocation and refugee status would have also taken its toll on the normal birth rate as well as increases in the death rate among the survivors. A conservative estimate of the population permanently lost to our nation since 1915—based solely on a very low anticipated birthrate attributable to these 1.5 million victims of the genocide—would have had to be from 1.5 to 2.0 million. This permanent loss will only be compounded as the years pass. This is another tragic demographic consequence of the Armenian Genocide that is often overlooked.

Political and economic objectives of the Armenian Genocide

For the Ottoman-Turkish government, the purpose of the Armenian genocide was fairly straight forward. To strengthen its claim on the western Armenian provinces in eastern Turkey and to weaken any future claim that the Armenian nation would have on their historic lands, it was necessary to empty the land of its Armenian population. The easiest and most direct way was to commit mass murder. Rather than kill them where they lived, the plan was to ostensibly relocate them to safer areas. In the process, 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children were slaughtered. Untold thousands of children and young women were taken in servitude, and several hundreds of thousands of the more fortunate escaped to Russia.

The second and equally important purpose was to appropriate the wealth of the genocide victims. Here an exhaustive categorical listing could be provided to inform our world audience of the extensive wealth that was taken. It included houses, cultivated land, pastures, vineyards, orchards, livestock, harvested grains, farm implements and tools, community property, churches, monasteries, cemeteries, schools and colleges, businesses of all types including their means of production, raw materials, and inventory of finished products, personal property, etc.

All of this appropriated or stolen wealth became the economic foundation of present-day Turkey, which was resurrected by the Treaty of Lausanne from the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Turkish Empire. The recently published “Resolution with Justice: Reparations for the Armenian Genocide” (the report of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group) represents an excellent starting point upon which our demands for reparations should be based.

The genocide left the Armenian nation devastated and without the economic resources to care for its people. Those that had survived the horrors of this blood-letting were scattered wherever good fortune or misfortune took them. For a full century, the Turkish leaders continued to deny what has been accepted by credentialed, unbiased historians and genocide scholars as genocide. Over the years, and more recently, the pressure has increased not only from some Turkish academics and civil groups, but from a growing number of foreign leaders and institutions that Turkey must acknowledge its past. It is a tremendous burden that the Turkish leadership has forced their people to carry. An effective white paper would have been a necessary and valuable component of our year-long Centennial observance. Remembering our martyrs can never be divorced from our demand for justice, and the demand for justice is buttressed by knowledge of the genocide. The synergistic value is too great to place our emphasis primarily on remembrance. Remembrance and the demand for justice are inseparable.

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.

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