Eighty Years in Pursuit of Justice

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Armenians -- Eighty Years in Pursuit of Justice

At the Nuremberg Trials, noted jurist, Raphael Lemkin's coining of the term genocide, describing the attempted extermination of a people, was formally recognized. In his letters, Lemkin looked back in history one generation earlier to an event that was characterized as the attempted extermination of a people -- the Turkish genocide of the Armenians.

Every year on April 24th, Armenians throughout the world commemorate the nearly complete destruction of their people beginning eighty years ago. Through somber ceremonies, the memory of one and a half million Armenian victims of the genocidal policy of the WWI Turkish government are remembered. We are gathered here today for such a commemoration.

Even though the United Nations recognized this genocide in 1986, the government of Turkey has not, and further, Turkish State policy regarding this genocide is one of systematic denial, the falsification and revision of history. When the crime of genocide is not acknowledged, the wounds of its survivors and their progeny will not heal.

The 1915 crime of genocide against Armenians wasn't addressed; in its aftermath the guilty were never brought to justice. The world simply forgot about the genocide of the Armenians. The ominous manifestation was felt on August 22, 1939, when Adolf Hitler was able to proclaim in a speech on the eve of his invasion of Poland, "Who today, remembers the extermination of the Armenians." Within six years, six million Jews, and millions of others were systematically exterminated by the Nazis. A crime ignored was a crime encouraged.

Genocide has become a tool of states bent on social and political transformation. Helen Fein in Accounting for Genocide wrote, "The victims of twentieth-century genocide -- the Jews, the Gypsies, the Armenians -- were murdered in order to fulfill the state's design for a new order... War was used in both cases (an opportunity anticipated and planned for by Germany but simply seized by Turkey after World War I began)." The transformation of Ottoman Turkey into the modern Turkish republic was predicated on exclusive Turkish control of all aspects of social and economic life in Turkey. The lack of Turkish social and economic predominance over Turkey was blamed on Armenians, as were all the Turkey's misfortunes. This paved the way for the de-humanizing extermination of the Armenians and scraping clean their 3,000 year old culture in its wake. The Turkish republic was built on the bones of a million and a half Armenian men, women, and children. Today's Turkey is enjoying the fruits of this genocide.

International bodies should be able to recognize the warning signs of genocide. Little was done in 1915 when the Armenians were being drowned in the Black Sea or were starving on the death marches in the Syrian Desert; little was done when the extermination of Jews in Europe was taking place; little was done in 1993 when we saw hundreds of thousands of Tutsis exterminated in Rwanda on national television.

In 1995, eighty years after the world's first state-sponsored genocide against its citizens, we ask the world community not to reduce the destruction of peoples to academic studies after the fact, but provide active, preemptive mechanisms to prevent such monumental crimes against humanity from being repeated. This process can begin with the Republic of Turkey recognizing the crime of genocide against the Armenians.

-David Davidian dbd@urartu.sdpa.org