What is the most horrible crime against humanity in history? To Henry Morgenthau Sr., who served as the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1913 and 1916, it was the Armenian genocide. Morgenthau wrote in 1919: “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”
Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out in their native lands in Ottoman Turkey in a genocidal campaign organized by the Party of Union and Progress, otherwise known as the Young Turks.
102 years after this crime against humanity, the world will finally be able to see an epic Armenian genocide- era movie, The Promise, directed by Terry George and starring Christian Bale. The movie is scheduled to be released in the United States on April 21.
The movie was screened in September at the Toronto International Film Festival to rather small audiences. A special Capitol Hill viewing in Washington was also organized on March 23. Despite the small number of people who have seen the movie, as of April 9 it received 96,897 votes on IMDB and was rated 4.2.
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The historian Stefan Ihrig explained why the rating is so low in Forbes magazine: “Here this movie, for all intents and purposes not yet available to the public, has become something of an online sensation, or rather an online battlefield... We are witnessing yet another anti-Armenian denialist campaign playing out abroad, far away from Turkey, in open, democratic societies. While it is not clear who is orchestrating the campaign, it has to be assumed that, as with other campaigns, connections go back to the Turkish government and/or nationalist groups.”
Obviously, there is a reason for this anti-Armenian and anti-truth campaign.
Turkey seems determined to erase any sign of the Armenian presence in native Armenian lands.
The newspaper Agos reported on March 22 that gravestones believed to be from the Armenian cemetery in the Beybasi neighborhood of Erzincan have been removed from the graveyard. The gravestones, which have Armenian cross-stones (khachkars) and letters on them, together with human bones have been scattered around the area. Some locals told Agos there is also an Armenian church in the city but it has been largely destroyed. Only its foundation remains.
Even today, Turkey does not allow dead Armenians to rest in peace.
Armenian gravestones and crossstones have been found scattered in many places across Turkey, such as in sewers. During excavation work in the city of Tekirdag in 2015, Armenian gravestones were found in a sewer, reported the Turkish Dogan News Agency (DHA).
Armenian churches and schools are also systematically targeted.
Researcher Raffi Bedrosyan writes that Armenian church and school buildings “disappeared or were converted to other uses. If not burnt and destroyed outright in 1915 or left to deteriorate by neglect, they became converted buildings for banks, radio stations, mosques, state schools, or state monopoly warehouses for tobacco, tea, sugar, etc., or simply private houses and stables for the Turks and Kurds.”
In recent months, an Armenian Protestant church in the city of Elazig has been turned into a parking lot; the historic Surp Asdvadzadzin (Mother Mary) Armenian church in the city of Kayseri is being turned into a library and “book café.” And the historic Armenian Surp (Saint) Minas church in Erzurum is now a stable.
Turkey does not only deny the genocide, but also blames the victims for it. Prof. Taner Akcam wrote in 2015 that Turkish history textbooks used in elementary and middle schools “characterize Armenians as people ‘who are incited by foreigners, who aim to break apart the state and the country, and who murdered Turks and Muslims.’ “Meanwhile, the Armenian Genocide – referred to as the ‘Armenian matter’ in textbooks – is described as a lie perpetrated in order to meet these goals, and is defined as the biggest threat to Turkish national security.”
Historical facts are systematically hidden from Turkish school children.
Instead, they should have been provided with truthful sources such as the 2016 book The Magnitude of Genocide. In it, scholars Colin Tatz and Winton Higgins write that the Young Turks “adopted an authoritarian ethnic nationstate based on Türklük [‘Turkishness’], which included linguistic uniformity and Islamic adherence... Thereupon the non-Turkish-speaking Christian minorities in Anatolia became a ‘problem’ to be solved as part of the ethnic nation-building enterprise.” The Armenian genocide “was certainly racially based in the ethnic, religious, and linguistic senses.
“Turkish paramilitaries dealt with the three Christian minorities (Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians) through pogroms, deportations and other atrocities laced with spectacular and gratuitous sadism. The Turks deployed concentration camps and special killing units; they engaged in massacres, public butchering, drownings and poisonings; they employed elementary gas chambers, medical experiments, starvation and death marches. (A quarter of a century later the German Nazi regime would assiduously replicate all of these genocidal methods.) French-Armenian historian Raymond Kevorkian estimates the death toll included 1.5 million Armenians, between 750,000 and 900,000 Greeks, and between 275,000 and 400,000 Christian Assyrians.”
Sadly, many scholars have failed to investigate this crime against humanity and many governments still have not officially recognized it. “But one person who didn’t forget the Armenian genocide (or the amnesia surrounding it) was Adolf Hitler,” write Tatz and Higgins. “He was reported as citing it, as a worthy precedent for how to treat enemy civilians, to his high command on August 22, 1939, just days before he ordered the attack on Poland that triggered World War II: ...‘Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’” To stay alive, many survivors of the genocide had to convert to the religion of the majority in the villages or cities where they lived or to which they were taken. If the majority was Sunni, they converted to Islam. If the majority was Alevis, they became Alevis. Most of them still hide their Armenian roots due to fear of violence.
The exact number of “hidden” or “Islamized” Armenians is not known but estimates vary. Savas Ozbey, a columnist with the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, reported in 2013 that according to Haykazun Alvrtsyan, the director of the Study Center for Western Armenian Issues, there are around 1.5-2 million Islamized Armenians in Turkey today. Hidden Armenians constitute almost half of that number.
According to Yusuf Halacoglu, the former president of the Turkish Institute of History and an MP of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), “By looking at UN records, we can say that there are about 500,000 crypto-Armenians in Turkey today.”
Ozbey conducted interviews with some Islamized, hidden and not-sohidden Armenians. One of them, an Armenian called Zeki, said, “They have made life unbearable for us. The government too knows we are Armenian. That is why, when forced, they tell us ‘to pull down our pants’ to check whether we have been circumcised. It was not only in 1915. We were also victimized in the September 12, 1980 coup d’état, and during the incidents of terrorism. They tortured even my seven-year-old nephew. The severity of the tortures could only be understood from the blood on the ceilings, not just on the walls.”
Ali Gundogdu said that his grandfather, who was a survivor of the genocide, kept saying the same things until his last breath in a hospital room in 1964: “Never ever say that you are Armenian. What Armenian? Do you want to be slaughtered, too?” The Armenian genocide is not “an issue of the past.” With all the Armenian churches used for sacrilegious purposes, cemeteries still destroyed, gravestones found in sewers, and bones scattered across the ground as well as tens of thousands of Islamized Armenians not being able to come out due to fears of backlash, the Armenian genocide is still ongoing in Turkey. That is why everyone must see the magnificent movie The Promise, to tell the denialists and liars that the victims of the genocide shall never be forgotten.The author is a Turkish journalist based in Washington, DC.
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