Black History Month Has Me Thinking

February focuses attention on Black history, since it is designated for that celebration. As a result, the soaring rhetoric of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. gets heard. And that set my thoughts in motion this year.

The similarities between the Armenian experience under Ottoman rule and that of Africans in the U.S. is surprisingly similar, analogous.

‘February focuses attention on Black history, since it is designated for that celebration. As a result, the soaring rhetoric of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. gets heard. And that set my thoughts in motion this year.’ (Photo: Library of Congress)

The biggest similarity to my mind is the indignity heaped upon both groups. Long-term second-class citizenship is one of the degrading conditions borne. Armenians, as Christians in an empire rule by Islamic precepts effectively had no rights, outside of s very small segment that constituted a financial elite in the capital or who were traders. Our word was not equal to that of a Muslim in the courts. Our women, children, and property could be stolen on some the whim of a local Kurdish or Turkish tribal leader or potentate, and we might even be murdered, with no effective recourse in law. Effectively, we were no more than serfs. Periodically, we were forced to convert or die. Our tongues were cut off if we spoke Armenian. We were slowly being decimated in our own homeland.

Blacks in America lived through Jim Crow segregation. Schools were black or white, and supposedly “separate but equal,” even though in reality they were not. Blacks were lynched for perceived offenses against whites, often having often been blamed unjustly. The song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday is a haunting presentation of this grotesque phenomenon. And this is all after emancipation. Naturally, Africans were deprived of their native languages and religions.

After things “got better” for both groups, the degradation and humiliation continued in different ways.

In our case, we have the ongoing denial. How debasing is that? Not only do we got murdered, robbed, and thrown out of our home, but the culprit sneeringly denies doing anything except maybe, just maybe, having caused a tiny bit of discomfort. Turkey’s wealth, industry, is built on looted Armenian (Assyrian, Greek, plus Jewish) wealth. Our centuries-old architectural heritage is systematically decimated. Even Ani, which nominally enjoys some protection, is an ongoing target of desecration. Human mistreatment also continues. Not only were survivors forced to live as wives of rapists, or children of parents’ murderers, but some Armenians who had “become” Alevis were subsequently massacred when Turkey’s murderous government set its sights on that group, the hidden, or crypto, Armenians are still subjected to discrimination and hatred if they “come out” with their true identity. Turkish society as a whole still resists coming to terms with its sordid past.

And with the black community, a similar process of denial and debasement is evident. One glaring example is the CIA-crack-cocaine-black-Americans connection, designed to destabilize those communities. This was revealed in the “San Jose Mercury News” two decades ago by reporter Gary Webb (who was driven to suicide by the harassment he subsequently received). There is the ongoing killing of blacks by law enforcement, frequently, if not overwhelmingly, inappropriately. The DWB (driving while black/brown) phenomenon has been documented wherein blacks are pulled over disproportionately. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the American population refuses to recognize that a huge chunk of U.S. wealth stems from the stolen labor of black slaves. There is no sense that somehow, this must be repaid.

You see the parallels. It would be good to have a discussion with your black neighbors, coworkers, or clients. Exchange perspectives on our experiences of oppression. That interaction might even generate modes of cooperation or insights that serve both groups in their struggle for justice.


Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.

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  1. Not denigrating what the african americans went through in this country, because it has been terrrible and unjust. But what the young turk government did to us was carry out State Sponsored Race Extermination. Did US government carry out the same Race Extermination Program against African Americans? No, it did not. That’s a very key difference. Our experience is more akin to what the Jews went through and to a large extent the Native Americans.

  2. @Vartan

    The US carried out many state sponsored genocidal events against the black population. What was slavery? Lynching (the murder/hanging) of black people was widespread and LEGAL. The daily indignities, which of which was overlooked, or covered up by the US, led to the deaths of thousands of black people. The atrocities might not have have “direct” as the Armenian genocide, but nonetheless, atrocious. See also: Native Americans

  3. Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, were certainly the two biggest figures of the 1960’s African-American civil rights/human rights movement. But yet, these two heroic men who both fought and died in their pursuit of justice for their African-American people, were nevertheless quite different from one another. Dr. King, who represented the middle-class Black communities of the rural South, preached non-violence and showing love to the racist, oppressive White folks as the necessary tools in obtaining equality and civil rights in America. On the other hand, Malcolm, who represented the inhabitants of the blighted, drug-infested, poverty-stricken Black ghettos of urban America, preached using any possible means (whether peaceful or violent) to obtain justice, equality, and human rights which the Black people had been completely deprived of ever since they were abducted from their villages in Africa, thrown aboard ships, and then transported to America by the Anglo-White man to be used as slaves.

    Fiery Malcolm, expressed the woes and aspirations of the persecuted African-American people in a manner that it was unable to do for itself. He articulated the anger, misery, hopelessness, and emotional devastation of the young Black male inhabitants of America’s urban ghettos like nobody else had done before or after him. He preached the necessity of empowering America’s Black communities, economically, politically, and defensively (self-defense). He elevated “being Black” into a symbol of pride and beauty. And furthermore, he inspired his followers to believe that no matter how far down in the gutter they may have fallen, they could still find a way to rise up above that hell and surmount their difficulties. As a matter of fact, Malcolm would use himself as an example of all this, by eloquently depicting the revolting lifestyle that he had lived (once upon a time, he had been a hustler, a dope peddler, a cocaine addict, as well as a burglar) prior to his dramatic transformation into a noble, well-educated, and magnificent orator, who would go on to lead the African-American human rights struggle.

    Today, February 21st, marks the 52nd anniversary of Malcolm’s brutal death. And after 52 years gone by, the Black people of America have still not obtained the justice, equality, and full human rights that they deserve and are entitled to. Police brutality, discrimination, and White American racism against African-Americans is as prevalent today in America as it was during Malcolm’s era. You certainly can’t blame Malcolm for not smiling; how can he possibly smile when his beleaguered African-American people are continuously being persecuted against. But anyway, I have a song that I’d like to dedicate to Malcolm, which might put a smile on his face, perhaps for a few moments. It’s the song, “Smile,” by Tupac and Scarface:

    Rest in peace, Brother Malcolm

  4. Very importantly, the first group to ever attempt to use the 1948 UN Genocide Convention before was Black civil-rights leaders, who in 1951 filed a petition before the United Nations charging the United States with genocide against its Black citizens. The petition meticulously applies the Convention to the facts in the United States and is a fascinating example of international law analysis. It makes many comparisons to the Jewish Holocaust, but none to the Armenian Genocide. This is a testament to how far we have come in raising awareness about 1915 since then.

  5. I’ve given the comparison much thought. Although both groups have been through much, I’ve concluded it would be foolish to compare the two. Armenians were exterminated or deported from their own homeland within 30 years, and that fact is denied. As far as slavery, Africans sold other Africans(prisoners of war,criminals from other tribes), Arabs sold Africans, then you have colonization. One was a rapid destruction of a small, unique ethnic group. The other was a centuries-long destabilization of a whole continent, containing various ethnic groups. Both horrible, but two fundamentally different scenarios.

    We know about Ralph Lemkin mentioning Armenians, we know the truth about the genocide, and what the Turks, Azeris, and many zionists have to say about it, etc. Yet today the denial continues. College professors openly deny the Armenian Genocide with impunity. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. There is no retribution for the denial. If a professor were to deny the holocaust or that slavery happened, they would lose their job. Civil rights has been discussed at length for a long time, and much progress has been made. Armenians have gotten crocodile tears the past few years on April 24 and very little actual change.

    Slavery is over, Jim Crow is over. Although those were horrible and things aren’t perfect today for blacks, thankfully you have to admit it is much, much, much better. The U.S.A. although very troubled is still the most stable country. If U.S.A was truly terrible for blacks they would be leaving en masse by any means necessary. Blacks aren’t emigrating from U.S.A the way Armenians are from Armenia. Affirmative Action for blacks is so powerful that it is discrimination in itself, and even pushes out opportunities for other minorities (see: Vijay Chokal-Ingam’s story). Welfare has been pushed so much that it has actually hurt U.S. families by incentivizing the breakdown of the family. The “war on poverty” was supposed to help mostly blacks by knocking on their doors and offering mothers without a father in the home aid. But after 50+ years, black kids have gone from 25% to 75% born out of wedlock. Think about that. The govt. made such a strong move to help poor/black families that it actually destabilized them through dependency. Yet America is still “racist”?

    What is done to help Armenians from the U.S. govt? Politics takes precedence on our history. Do we have affirmative action when it comes to Turkey or Azerbaijan? No. Instead we are openly accused of genocide by Turks/Azeris. Khojaly. This new denial movement every April 24 by Turks and their supporters is disgusting as well. Still comparing?

    What about personal responsibility? Are a decent portion of us killing each other, or creating kids and not taking care of them? Are we commonplace in the prison system? Are we making fools of ourselves in public? Do we not emphasize a strong family structure and value education? Is our victim mentality as severe as theirs? Haven’t we noticed that our most powerful Armenians in modern times were genocide survivors or their children? Kirkorian, Gulbenkian, Cafesjian, etc. Did they need handouts or have a victim mentality?

    Armenians need to think harder, and question more about our own situation and things in general. The first Christian nation, the first rapid modern genocide put out onto the world stage during WWI, and it is still denied. How does our situation fit into the constructs of “white supremacy” and “islamophobia”?

    If we don’t face the true reality of things, the diaspora will continue to weaken and fade.

    • Excellent points made pinpoint. I think we Armenians suffer from the soft bigotry of high expectations as well as our history and existence being an inconvenient truth regarding islamophobia and White supremacy.

    • Black Americans are not inferior to Armenians, as you suggest. Their experience wasn’t just a “rapid destruction”. Their oppression is still happening. American is still very racist. Black people are not any more likely to be criminals than white people, but Black Americans make up more of the prison population because their communities are policed more than white communities, and they are given heavier sentences than white people for the same crimes. The rate of white-on-white violent crime is about four times the rate of black-on-white crime. You say that Black Americans are killing each other, don’t have good values, and have a “victim mentality”. That is very offensive to me and it’s not true. “African Americans are only 13% of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated,” “The convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were 22% more likely to include misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants.” Read more about racism in the American Justice System here:

  6. It’s rather amusing how the White supremacist denialists, by any means necessary, attempt to minimize the gigantic level of racism that has continuously existed in America throughout its whole entire history. Here’s an educational article on racism in today’s America:

    “We are all made equal.”

    “Although these encouraging words are truths according to egalitarian principles, they aren’t America’s reality. It’s indisputable that there is a major inequity to be a minority than white in this country. Believing that people of all races are inherently equal and entitled to the same privileges is merely an illusion. And although diversity is at an all-time high, separatism is still prevalent, resulting in significant racial barriers.”

    “The only area that Whites are a minority in is mass incarceration. The racial disparity in the imprisonment of minorities is appalling, to say the least.”

    “Blacks constitute 13.2% of US citizenry, but represent 60% of the US prison populous.”

    “And candidly speaking, institutional racism has become simply ‘a way of life,’ in America. The economic, educational, and social disadvantages have negatively shaped the behaviors, attitudes, and assumptions of mainstream society towards minorities.”

    “The first thing we as Americans must do is accept the fact that racism exists. And because some people have been blinded to that reality for so long, they simply can’t seem to recognize it unless it’s wearing a hooded robe and torching a cross on a minority’s lawn.”

    “Racism comes in many forms. For example, racial injustice is unarmed and non-threatening Black men and women being injured or killed by police officers, and those officers not being held accountable for the crime. It is also the propaganda that the media perpetuates of Muslims by forcing Americans to believe that they are more of a threat than the Ku Klux Klan, which still hasn’t been identified as a terrorist group, despite all of the crime they’re inflicting on Americans.”

    “By publishing articles clearly highlighting the historical roots in Black contemporary issues, is shutting down White supremacist rhetoric that, “Black people destroyed their own community… Black people are lazy and just want hand-outs… Blacks don’t care about each other; that’s why they kill each other.”

    In terms of slavery in America, it’s far from being over. This explains the reason why America (who, by far, has the largest prison population of any country in the world today, consisting of mostly Blacks and Latinos) is locking up so many Black and Latino males; giving them ridiculously long prison sentences; and building more and more prisons to lock up even more of them.

    Sadly, young Armenian men from Southern California happen to be common within the prisons of California. In the early 2000’s, there were nineteen thousand Armenian male inmates within the federal, state, county, and city jails of California. However, the family structure of these young Armenian male inmates is not to be blamed for any of this; on the contrary, the vast majority of these young Armenian male inmates come from a good family structure (as opposed to the typical uncultured, foul family structure of Anglo-White Americans). It’s the racist, capitalist, and extremely materialistic American society that is to be blamed for this.

    In terms of America being such a stable country, that is certainly true. Yes, America, since day one, has indeed been very stable in its policy of institutional racism.

    In terms of America’s fake “War on poverty,” how horribly shameful it is that the wealthiest country on the planet, who has so much of everything, happens to contain a population of at least forty-three million people living in poverty.

    In terms of the Armenian diaspora continuing to weaken and fade culturally, that is certainly the case in the United States where the majority of Armenians have culturally assimilated into the American mud pot (along with the mud pots of the European countries). On the other hand, Russia’s Armenian community is doing a better job of preserving its culture. As for the Armenian communities of Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Jordan, they are all doing an outstanding job of preserving their Armenian culture and Armenian language.

    • Wow to all the comments I am of African Panamanian American heritage and trust me we are not lazy in my family and are all educated. All cultures have good and bad people blacks are no different, people kill based on proximity the reason why the Turks killed Armenians as wrong as it was it was due to proximity. Blacks have suffered too much for people to keep bashing us and taking liberties they take with no other race, please stop.

  7. On the subject of genocide, it would be impossible for African-American human rights activists to establish that a genocide was physically committed against their people at any particular time in American history. How can a “physical genocide” possibly take place against a particular group of people while its population is growing? This, by itself, defeats that whole entire argument. On the other hand, African-American human rights activists can certainly establish that a “cultural genocide” was indeed committed against their people by the United States. After abducting close to one million Africans, and then transporting them over here to be used as slaves to build up this country, the Anglo-American White man attempted to fully disconnect the African-Americans from their ancestral roots and homeland. This would eventually become a major policy of the U.S. government. This explains the reason why African-Americans (today) do not know which part of Africa their roots come from; nor do they know which tribe their ancestors came from, and what their ancestral language consisted of. The Black people of America, have been completely cut off from their African ancestral roots. Therefore, it’s appropriate to say that the United States is guilty of committing a cultural genocide against its African-American inhabitants.

    “Slavery is over”? Well, in terms of the pre-1865 slavery that was taking place on the Southern plantations, yes, it’s over; however, slavery has become commonplace today in America’s prison system where many prisons (especially the private prisons) actually compel their male prisoners to do harsh and degrading work for no more than 25 cents an hour (and in many cases, zero cents an hour). This is the definition of American prison slavery. Another thing to point out is that America, who absurdly claims to be the land of freedom and democracy, happens to contain a prison population of more than 2.3 million (the majority of these prisoners are in prison for non-violent offenses), which is by far the highest of any country in the world and also represents twenty-five percent of the total world prison population. The U.S. prison population rate of 716 inmates per 100,000 is also by far the highest of any country in the world today.

    In regard to the “War on poverty,” America has horribly failed in this department. Once again, how horribly shameful it is that America who happens to be the wealthiest country on the planet and who possesses an abundance of everything, nevertheless, happens to contain a population of over forty-five million people living in poverty. On top of that, there are also tens of millions more in this country, who are one inch away from living in poverty.

    Throughout this period of time, we’ve been talking about White racism against Blacks in America; but what about White American racism against Hispanic-Americans, Arab-Americans, and Native American Indians? The amount of White racism against these three groups is enormous in this country. What about White American racism against Armenian-Americans? Hey, the amount of anti-Armenian racism that I’ve observed throughout the years in the heavily Armenian-populated Californian cities of Glendale, Hollywood, and Burbank, is absolutely outrageous. Truly speaking, the White folks (in general) of these three particular cities actually have more dislike for Armenians than they do for Blacks, Hispanics, or Arabs. So many of these White folks view young Armenian males as being gangsters, thugs, purveyors of narcotics, and burglars. As for the young Armenian females, they’re viewed as being extremely materialistic and stuck-up, whose lives are entirely devoted to materialism. And, some of the racist terms that have been used to label Armenians in these communities are: “armpit”, “butt rag”, “sand nigger”, and “welfare abuser”. Yes, it’s not only the African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Arab-Americans, and Native American Indians who are subjected to racism in White America; the Armenian-Americans, are also subjected to racism in White America!

    • I believe this is because blacks and Hispanics are far greater in number and so have more power, as well as their history being better represented in the media.
      In the tv show, “what would you do”, it deals with racism against blacks, Jews and Hispanics, but not armenians. Go figure.

    • Actually, although the Jews (here in America) are far less in number than the Blacks and Hispanics, they nevertheless possess much greater power than either of these two groups. They have enormous influence over both the American media and government, which therefore explains the reason why the United States is so intensely pro-Israel, and as a result, persistently overlooks Israel’s criminal actions.

  8. The comparison is valid. Slavery is not over, as written in the 13th US Amendment. All of this nitpicking to deny similarities is ridiculous.

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