The U.S. government is rightly calling for the prosecution of Iraqis who
committed human rights abuses and war crimes. Unfortunately, that same U.S.
government downplayed Genocide Awareness Day on April 24, which marked the
88th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. In that horror in 1915-17, Turkey
killed an estimated 1.4 million Armenians. It's time to stop playing politics
with mass murder.
As the Ottoman Empire fell apart, nationalist Turks staged a coup and gained
control of Turkey in 1908. This "Young Turks" government was dictatorial
and headed by three men. From their own words, letters, documents, diplomatic
correspondence from Italy, America, and Germany, news reports, eyewitness
accounts, photographs, and other documentation, it is clear that the triumvirate
followed policies to exterminate the Armenian population by one means or
another. The Young Turks used World War I as cover-to commit their atrocities
while most of the world was looking elsewhere.
Thus, starting on April 24, 1915, thousands of Armenians were arrested and
imprisoned, charged with anti-government activity. Most of these people were
then executed. Hundreds of thousands of other Armenians were killed
by starvation, dehydration, beatings, rape, and execution. Others were worked
to death or marched to death.
On May 19, 1916, government leader Enver Pasha said: "The Ottoman Empire
should be cleaned up of the Armenians and the Lebanese. We have destroyed
the former by the sword, we shall destroy the latter through starvation."
In July 1916, the German ambassador cabled to Germany, "In its attempt to
carry out its purpose to resolve the Armenian question by the destruction
of the Armenian race, the Turkish government has refused to be deterred by
our representations, nor by those of the American Embassy ...." American
Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr. said in 1919: "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."
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan said, "Like the genocide of the Armenians
before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it, ... the
lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten." In 1994, Israel's
deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin, said of the matter: "It was not war.
It was most certainly massacre and genocide, something the world must remember.
... We will always reject any attempt to erase its record."
Jemal Pasha, Turkey's minister of Interior, publicly admitted that "800,000
Armenian deportees were actually killed ...." Estimates by Prof. R.J. Rummel,
a political scientist at the University of Hawaii and respected genocide
scholar, place the number killed at around 1.4 million.
Today, the government of Turkey denies there was any "genocide" and argues
that Armenians also killed Turks during the war. The latter point is
true. However, many of those Turks were killed by Armenian irregulars fighting
with the Russians during the war. Rummel estimates that those Armenians
killed about 75,000 Turks.
For three years now the Armenian National Committee of America has tried
to get President Bush to recognize what happened in Turkey as "genocide."
More than 168 members of Congress have also urged Bush to do this. Bush,
in fact, had pledged to do so when he campaigned for president in 2000. But
he has not kept that pledge. Every April 24 he fudges the language to not
upset the Turkish government.
In this year's statement, Bush said nothing critical of Turkey and mentioned
the country only once, in a positive way. Bush referred to the killing of
the Armenians as a "tragedy" that just somehow happened.
No country wants genocide linked to its history. But facts are facts. And
putting them all on the table can help set the record straight and provide
people with information to help prevent genocide from happening again. Germany
is forever stained because of the Holocaust. But no one blames today's Germans
for what happened sixty years ago. And in Turkey's case, two post-war trials
were held and the Young Turks leaders were found guilty.
We can't pick and choose between crimes against humanity. We can't condemn Saddam Hussein
and his regime and give other regimes a pass. Of course, we can't undo the past or raise the dead.
But we can show leadership. We can recognize the Armenian genocide and talk
about it truthfully. And we can teach our children about it. I think the
Armenian children who died so many years ago would like that.
Michael Chapman is editorial director at the Cato Institute, www.cato.org.
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