24 April is marked with black in the calendars of Armenians all around the world. On this day, Armenians living inside and outside their homeland remember those who died in the 1915 – 1923 ethnic cleansings organised by the Ottoman Empire.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people march to the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan, lay flowers at the eternal fire and revisit the Genocide Museum. One century has passed since 1915, but still only a small number of countries have officially uttered the G-word.
The Armenian Genocide is an inseparable part of the nation’s history. Although Armenians are cautious not to let this tragedy dominate their identity, it is one of the most important parts of their heritage. They want to witness the breakage of the vicious circle of denial and the triumph of historical justice.
Today’s widespread Armenian diaspora was created in the aftermath of the genocide. Hundreds of thousands of people fled their homeland to escape death and torture during and immediately after World War I. Currently, around 8 million Armenians make up the diaspora, while only 3 million people live in the Republic. Some of them were born and raised as foreigners, but often maintain strong links to their heritage.
The Armenian Genocide has only been recognised by around 30 countries including Russia, Canada, Germany, and Italy, as well as by several international organisations. Some countries, including Switzerland, Greece and France have also criminalised the denial of the Armenian Genocide. This is only a very small part of the long path that lays ahead of the Armenians on their way to justice. But, obviously, there are some countries whose voice holds more weight, perhaps enough to initiate a chain reaction of recognition, of which the US is the biggest.
On 9 April, 1975 the US House of Representatives passed a resolution designating 24 April as a National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man. Since then, the opinions of Americans has not progressed much on the events that occurred in 1915, which took the lives of 1.5 million innocent Armenians. As of 2019, Alabama has become the 49th American State to officially recognise the Armenian Genocide, making Mississippi the only one yet to do so.
Despite almost all of the US States have officially recognized the events of 1915 as ‘Genocide’, Presidents still refuse to use that word in their speeches. In 2006, the US Ambassador to Armenia was removed from his post by the Bush administration because he promoted the use of the word ‘genocide’ to describe the atrocious killings. Back then, Barack Obama was a US senator and he heavily criticised this dismissal.
Two years later, when he took the office, he also refused to say the word ‘Genocide’ during his annual commemoration day statements amid his promises made during his election campaign.
He refused to say the word eight times, for eight consecutive years, as did his predecessors and as will do his successors. Every April 24th, a whole nation holds its breath to hear the words ‘Turkey’ and ‘Genocide’ in the speeches of the American presidents, but every time they are left disappointed. The only exception from this common rule was President Reagan who, in 1981 used the term ‘Armenian Genocide’ in his speech.
The reality, however, is that Turkey is far too important an ally for America’s interests in the Middle East, and it is too risky to lose its support; even for the sake of the victory of justice and the democratic principles and values, that the American lobbyists have cherished and preached for decades.
It seems like this horrible crime against humanity has a become a subject for political game for thrones.
Another country that heavily exploits the recognition in its external politics is, surprisingly, Israel. A nation, who has itself survived Holocaust, refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide because it would be too expensive. In other words, they keep this card whenever they need a lever to influence Turkey, or whenever Erdoğan does something that angers the Jewish community.
For example, on 16 May, 2018 two members of the Israeli Knesset submitted legislation to recognise the Genocide. One of the members, Itzik Shmuli, has stated that ‘This historical injustice should have been recognized long ago.’ ‘What a compassion’, you’d think!
It was, in fact, just a political ploy. It came right after the Israeli Ambassador was called back from Ankara because Erdoğan had criticised Israel’s actions towards the protests in Gaza, and the killings of 60 people. The identical expressions of temporary compassion happened in 2017, and even before that.
But each time at a certain moment the good intentions and the determination suddenly disappear. It begs the question: how would Israel react if the recognition of the Holocaust was treated in the same way, with an equal amount of ‘respect’ by the international community?
Countries must stop using the Armenian Genocide card in favor of their external politics and have the guts to call things by their name. Definitions like ‘something terrible’ from the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, or ‘mass atrocities’ by the US Presidents, will not help to repair the historical injustice.
More importantly, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide cannot rely on quid pro quo diplomacy. The international community has to recognise the Armenian Genocide not because it is beneficial for their external relations, but because it is a fact. Hence, in order to prevent the repetition, we have to condemn the past and show everyone that such crimes cannot stay unpunished. Otherwise, the next tyrant will be able to say, ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the Armenians?’
The Armenian Genocide changed the fates and the lives of many people. It brought the Armenian nation to its knees, but it will never bend their back. As the French writer Anatole France said in 1916, ‘Armenia is dying, but it will survive. The little blood that is left is precious blood that will give birth to a heroic generation. A nation that does not want to die, does not die.’