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Commemorating What Should Never Have Happened
Lim Jae Heun  |  jaehlim95@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2015.06.06  14:57:36
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 According to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the word, “genocide,” is described as “an act committed with an intention to destroy a national group.” Armenians denounce the mass killing during the World War I (WWI) as such and want the Turkish government to agree with them. However, the former Ottoman Empire is not willing to do so, leaving many ends loose.

 
Friday, April 24 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which was undertaken in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire to eradicate the Armenian race. Millions of Armenians around the world marched their local streets to commemorate the day so that any atrocity of the sort could be prevented in the future.
 
The Armenian Genocide refers to the planned extermination by the Ottoman Empire of the racial minority group in its territory which became the Turkey of today. It is estimated that between 0.8 million to 1.5 million lives were taken during the historical event, and Armenians have traditionally commemorated the event on April 24.
 
The prosecutors in the case have demanded what they want, but the defendant has not been willing to comply with their demands. In fact, Turkey has refused to even accept that the country itself is the perpetrator and has violently reacted to any claims labeling it as such. It further explains that the supposed genocide Armenians claim to have happened occurred as a result of relocation during the WWI.
 
Accusations of the Prosecutors
 
Armenians have been pretty firm in their claim of calling the historical event genocide. They strongly assert that a powerful political party during the Ottoman Empire, Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), was responsible for the crime. The CUP has also been commonly referred to as the Young Turks, and three main figures had great power over the party: Mehmet Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Jemal.

The three members of the Young Turks organized troops called the Special Organization, whose main job was to annihilate the Armenians who had been already deported. Adding the ire to the already stoked up fire, Zia Gokalp and other ideologists of the time, representing the CUP, spread the idea of Pan-Turanism, which refers to the idea of creating an empire consisting of only Turkish. Such nationalistic ideas allowed for the absorption of Armenians into the Ottoman Empire.
 
All of these efforts carried out by the Turkish jingoists resulted in a great number of casualties.
About a half million Armenians, in estimation, were killed between 1915 and 1923 out of two million Armenians living in the empire. The eradication and deportation were not the end for the Armenians, as the Young Turks in 1918 decided to invade Russia, attacking many Armenians residing in the region.
 
Armenians claim there have been many who have witnessed the atrocity. Despite the empire’s efforts to ban reports of the incident, many foreigners have been at the site of the genocide, most notably American missionaries and ambassadors, who became the first ones to inform the international community of the genocide. Contrary to Americans, Germans, who also witnessed the incident because of the location of their military assignments, acquitted the actions carried out by the empire.
 
Along with these witnesses, the ethnic group also very frequently brings up the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) to back up their claim. The association revealed that “Every book on comparative genocide studies…contains a segment on the Armenian Genocide.” In addition, two prominent scholars of the holocaust, Elie Wiesel and Yehuda Bauer, strongly argued that "incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide and urging western democracies to acknowledge it."
 
   
▲ Group of Armenians protesting against the Armenian Genocide. Provided by armeniangenocideblog.files.wordpress.com.
 
Refutations of the Defendant
 
On the other hand, the Turkish government gives a different viewpoint of the historical event. The Turkish Republic, the very one that exists to this day, was established in 1923, which was right after the massacre. The newly formed government officially showed its grief for the decimation of the Armenians.
 
The end of the 19th century was a period of great chaos, as nationalistic movements took place all over Europe. The Armenian independence movement started a bit later than the others because Armenians were greatly absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and were dispersed all over the regions of Istanbul and Anatolia. The tension between local Muslims and Armenians greatly increased when Armenians helped Russia move up to Anatolia, which caused numerous uprisings and panic in the region.
 
The Ottoman Empire, after resolving to retreat from Anatolia, gave the Armenians the first order
of relocation. The Armenians, who had been given the order, had control over certain regions which the Ottoman Empire wanted to take control of. Unfortunately for them, during their mass movement to the Syrian region of the empire, they suffered harassment from the local gangs and Muslims. Also, they faced starvation caused by the geographical nature of their immigration path.
 
Not all historians are in agreement. Albeit the violent opposition, two famous historians, Bernard Lewis and Stanford Shaw, claim that the Ottoman Empire had no official policy of genocide. They further mention that any misconduct or acts of mass killing carried out, which are mentioned in the Ottoman archives, is addressed in the context of how they should be punished and reprimanded.
 
According to a Stanford research titled, “The Armenian genocide: The Turkish side of the story,” “A state is responsible for the protection of all its citizens, it is the inability of the state to control its provinces, rather than its intended plan.” It further mentions that “The government authority in most of that area in question was limited to a network of alliances with Turkish and Kurdish warlords,” revealing an unknown side of the story.
 
   
▲ President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, giving a speech. Provided by media.salon.com.
   
▲ President of Armenia, Serzh Sarqsyan. Provided by sofiaglobe.com.
 
The Verdict and Preventions
 
It is clear that the Ottoman Empire has mistreated Armenians in the past, but it is also true that the succeeding government of the empire paid enough tribute to the genocide by recognizing the horrific event. What is not true is that the Turkish government is fully responsible for the massacre and is obliged to fully pay the fine for it. What is wise and unwise by the Turkish government is that it does not have an official thesis on the historical event. Some justifications the government gives for the explanation of the event are that the massacre were not planned or deliberate, that Armenians posed a threat to the government of the time, that the ethnic group simply suffered from starvations, and that they faced harassments from the local gangs which surrounded them.
 
The claims made by the government are not entirely wrong, according to an aforementioned research. However, no matter how historically correct they are or may seem to be, the nation is bound to be hit with already heightened emotions from the Armenians. To instill peace between the two nations is to not make any extreme remarks. Regardless, any genocide of any ethnic group should not happen in the future. Along with the Holocaust carried out by the Nazi Germany, the Armenian Genocide can be considered stains of modern history. Through mistakes, although they may be very big and disastrous, the human society improves itself. To remember the event, Armenians hold a commemoration event annually on April 24, in which the members of the ethnic group walk their local streets. This event does not just stop on the day, as it impacted numerous aspects of the international community.
 
In the film industry, Artak Sevada Grigorian, an Armenian American director, announced his plan to create a film in dedication to the 100th anniversary of the historical event. The film is to be titled, The Genex, and it was expected to be released on April 24, but due to complications, it is scheduled that the film be out in theaters next year. Reports say famous movie stars, Natalie Portman and Armand Assante, will appear in the film, but the details are to be determined.
 
Writers and singers were also deeply influenced by the annual event. A book entitled, Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Turkey: Testimonies of the Survivors was published to inform readers about the specific details of the genocide. Flora Martirosian, an Armenian singer from Los Angeles, began a concert series called, Never Again, commemorating the historical event. To add more, other Armenian artists such as System of a Down continue to make music today and convey their message to the listeners.
 
In conclusion, it is true that the predecessors of the Republic of Turkey committed acts of genocide which should be subject to harsh censure and condemnation. However, what is not true is that the currently existing nation near Anatolia is held fully accountable for the historical tragedy. As of right now, the topic of Armenian genocide is greatly loaded with emotions, many of which are not positive, and should be dealt with care so as to create peace between the two nations.
 
   
   
▲ Official emblem of the Armenian Genocide Centennial. Provided by genocidioarmenio.com.br.
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