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Never Forget the Armenian Genocide
by Michael Chapman
20 May 2003Armenian Flag

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."  Why doesn't President Bush recognize what happened in Turkey as genocide?

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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