Lessons not learned: The Armenian genocide

By EMILY SCHRADER
April 7, 2015 22:07

As human beings, we want to believe that we’ve evolved beyond evil.




Feb. 25, 1934

Hindenburg and Hitler during the national day of mourning, Feb. 25, 1934. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/GERMAN FEDERAL ARCHIVE)

Adolf Hitler is believed to have stated in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Likely unknowingly, Hitler demonstrated an important lesson that remains as relevant today as it was at the time: a failure to confront evil, enables evil.

Understandably, we don’t like to recognize evil, and never have. It is an uncomfortable, almost “religious” concept that cannot be explained by the rational.

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As human beings, we want to believe that we’ve evolved beyond it, that “evil” is simply a cultural misunderstanding, or a concept which exclusively belongs to a distant past. Yet evil is a part of reality – and a part of human nature that we have seen so clearly time and time again. By not recognizing it, and not standing against it, we allow it to flourish.

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This month marks 100 years since the official commencement of the Armenian Genocide – a dark chapter of human history which sadly we have yet to come to grips with. Despite overwhelming evidence, there are still those who deny that the Armenian Genocide occurred at all. 100 years later, no one has held the Ottomans – and their direct successor, Turkey – accountable for the unconscionable barbaric acts they committed. Shockingly, even countries such as Israel and the United States have yet to recognize this horrific event in human history that nearly eliminated the entire Armenian population.

Where is the “Never Again” for the Armenian people? We cry out against the horrors of the Holocaust – and we rightly demand reparations. We demand justice for the genocide in Rwanda. We still take steps to repair the appalling treatment of blacks in the United States until far too recently. We protest the mass murders in Darfur – and we prosecute those responsible. We do our best to expose and to stop the sickening acts of Islamic terror committed by Islamic State and similar groups against Muslims, Christians, Jews and other minorities. We’ve established international institutions like the United Nations (partially for the precise purpose of preventing acts genocide from ever occurring again).

We look back in history and say, “how could we not have known?” And yet, atrocities continue to occur all over the world, and these international bodies remain silent before the tyranny and human oppression in places like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, or Iran.

Why? Because we do not want to accept that evil exists – and even more so, that many human beings have an affinity for it. Evil is an unpleasant problem to address, as evidenced by the failure, for one hundred years, to recognize the evil of the Armenian Genocide.

April 24, 1915 is known as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide – yet just as in the case of the Holocaust, the persecution began before that. No one paid attention when the systematic persecution of Armenians began decades before. Nobody cared about the land seizures, the forced conversions, and the general abuse which was rampant in the Ottoman Empire in the mid 1800s.

In the 1890s there were brutal pogroms against Armenians. It is estimated that under Sultan Abdul Hamid, 100,000- 300,000 Armenians were murdered.

Still the world was silent. When 250 Armenian intellectuals were rounded up and killed on April 24, it was the beginning of one of the most horrific atrocities the world had ever seen.

Following the implementation of Tehcir Law, Armenians were deported en masse – sent on death marches into the Syrian desert, and denied food and water. Their land and all belongings were confiscated, and if they survived the death march they were sent to concentration camps, or otherwise “disposed of.” Witnesses recorded that nearly 50,000 men, women and children were tossed into the Black Sea and left to drown.

An estimated 1-1.5 million Armenians were brutally robbed, raped, starved and murdered by the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1918 for no other reason other than that they were Armenian.

Is it too much to ask, 100 years later, for recognition from the world’s major powers? Is it too much to demand that Turkey, which actually outlaws referring to the Armenian Genocide as a genocide, be held accountable for these unconscionable crimes against humanity? This refusal to own up to our mistakes only enables evil to flourish.

It enabled it in Kristallnacht, and it enables evil to thrive today. One cannot help but wonder: if we had recognized evil when the persecution of Armenians began in the 1800s, would things have been different in 1914 for the Armenians? Would things have been different when we witnessed Kristallnacht? Would things have been different when American Jews were screaming at the top of their lungs at the mass-murder of Europe’s Jewry in the 1940s? Would things have been different when more than 20 million were killed under Stalin, or when an estimated 45 million were killed by Mao Zedong’s “great leap forward” in China? When 800,000 were murdered in Rwanda, or when tens of thousands were killed in Darfur? When millions are still being murdered and tortured and starved to death in North Korea? We cannot stamp out evil for good.

But we can stand up for what is morally right; whether it concern the past or the future. Though we may not want to believe in this day and age that any person or government is capable of such egregious crimes, we must always remember that evil is a very real threat – more than we can imagine.

After all, who would have thought that enlightened German society, and pinnacle of liberal European culture, would end up murdering nearly 11 million people? As Judea Pearl – the UCLA Professor and father of the late Daniel Pearl – has emphatically stated, “We Westerners fail to understand that half of mankind today is aroused by cruelty.”

In order to stop this cruelty, in order to make it right, we must first recognize it for what it is: evil. We must recognize the Armenian Genocide and hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes against humanity.

Never Again, for Armenians too.

The author is a freelance writer and the social media director for an Israeli non-profit organization.


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