The time had come. They knew troops would arrive for them, to take them away. And so six villages congregated and settled upon a mountain. A battle in midst of a World War had begun. The forty days of Musa Dagh had begun.
Amongst the packing villagers was Mariam Soulakhian, my great-grandmother with whom I share my name. She hurriedly garnered all food and supplies that could be carried. These were to be hauled atop Musa Dagh, otherwise known as the Mountain of Moses. In total, the inhabitants gleaned about a month’s worth of food–pomegranates, meat, anything would do.
Mariam and her family experienced frequent nights of terror–their terminating fate was near certain as the men atop Musa Dagh fired with their few hundred rifles against the Ottoman army’s attempts to devastate the villagers to the point of surrender. The Ottomans had outnumbered them with men, weapons, and ammunition. Surely the end was near.
Starving families awaited, praying for help. Musa Dagh had homed them since July. It was now September. With the other villagers, Mariam treasured her faith into the chance that an Ally force along the Mediterranean coast would see the two white banners raised above the mountain. They waited.
Four French and one English ship eventually came to the Armenians’ rescue, taking approximately 4,200 villagers across the Mediterranean to Port Said in Egypt. Including Musa Dagh, four Armenian sites attempted resistance to the Turkish forces. Only one other, Van, emerged successful. Some villagers in the other two sites were deported. Others were murdered or tortured.
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“Maro,” my grandfather gently hushed using an Armenian nickname he gave to me. “The world may have forgotten our story, but you never can. It’s time to remind them.”
– – –
My ancestors were among those who resisted the Ottoman forces in the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Born in the village of Musa Ler, they grew up peacefully under control of the Ottoman Empire, present-day Republic of Turkey. Though tensions between the Turkish and Armenian populations in the Empire may have foreshadowed events nearly two decades after the Hamidian Massacres, the extent of the annihilation could not have been predicted.
The Armenian Genocide, the first and possibly the most controversial humanitarian infraction of the twentieth century, refers to the systematic decimation of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. This year, April 24, will mark the 102nd anniversary of the Genocide.
Twenty-eight countries (with Germany last May) and 45 U.S. states, including New York and California, have recognized the Genocide. Steps by the United States to nationally recognize the atrocity have included promises by President Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign to accept the crime’s occurrence. The Armenian citizens of the U.S. have still to revere the tentative fruits of his pledge.
Six years later in April 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to present S.Res. 410, which defines the Ottomans’ treatment of the Armenians during WWI as “genocide,” for consideration to the full Senate. The resolution ultimately failed to progress further through Congress.
On this very day, President Donald Trump has continued the tradition of denial by refusing to acknowledge the mass killings of Armenians a genocide.
“I think awareness will emerge once people understand the linkages between the Genocide, the Holocaust and subsequent genocides of the 20th Century,” said Ted Bogosian, producer of the first-person documentary An Armenian Journey.
The government as a whole fails to officially acknowledge the Genocide, and the defeats of Congress to take any action have stemmed primarily from denial campaigns and threats from the Turkish government. Suat Kiniklioglu, Turkey’s deputy chairman for external affairs in the Justice and Development party, claimed in 2010 that “there would be major disruption to the relationship between Turkey and the U.S.” if the full House of Representatives accepted the House foreign affairs committee’s resolution labelling the 1915 massacre as a “genocide.”
Turkey has proved a valuable ally, especially with respect to the United States’ military connections that proved invaluable to supporting our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Armenian Genocide, and the denial thereof, has and does galvanize the perils of further humanitarian infractions. Of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler allegedly proclaimed, “Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?” More than six major genocides have, too, followed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
It is important to realize, too, the misconceptions of the relationship between the Armenian and Turkish people post-genocide. Though not all Turkish people may accept the Genocide, Tom de Waal, author of The Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks under the Shadow of Genocide who spoke at Stanford University in February, recalls a much different attitude of some Turkish citizens towards the subject of the Armenians.
“If politicians in Ankara warned that the ordinary population of Eastern Anatolia was still hostile toward Armenians, this was not the impression our group received,” de Waal stated in his book. “On the contrary, many people not only remembered Armenians but seemed to think that their return was a good omen.”
Despite the people’s position on this issue, the Turkish and American governments still deny the 1915 genocide. The refusal to accept the most abhorrent histories of the past perverts two basic tenets of our government: truth and security.
Still, the solution does not reside solely in recognition. Educating students of not only the Armenian Genocide but also of others, such as the Cambodian of 1975 and the Rwandan of 1994, should hold a certain vitality in the core of our schooling. How can we, as a nation, accept a genocide if we know but little of it?
Speaking as a descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors and as student fairly recently finished with the secondary school curriculum, I can testify that little to no education is allotted to crimes against humanity. Even the Holocaust, the most widely recognized humanitarian infraction and the grandest in scale as well, does not receive proper emphasis.
Thus, the key to genocide awareness lies in education. When the government begins to incorporate more of this aspect of human rights into the schooling curriculum, the advocacy against these humanitarian crimes will be evident elsewhere in our society, in the form of recognition events or protests. Supplemental human rights education should be incorporated into secondary school history and social science classes, especially courses like World History and Government.
There would be no major alteration to the standard curriculum, but in the context of other international and political issues that the courses already cover, textbooks and instructors could incorporate at least an additional two paragraphs regarding genocide. Whether through implementation of a similar idea to this one or through perhaps assemblies and other student-body concentrated events, the government should require a basic agenda of human rights for all secondary school students.
As previously stated, human rights and genocide education would potentially translate into other renditions of awareness building in the form of public events. Awareness-raising holdings would create a positive-feedback loop: events aimed to encourage recognition would promote education through public participation, which in turn would increase the momentum for further awareness movements.
Eventually, the attention apportioned to genocide in the various facets of awareness may more efficiently translate into government legislation and a resolution to finally recognize the Armenian Genocide and other forgotten histories of this nature.
The Armenian Genocide may tell a history of my people, but it is much more than just that–it is a history of humanity, or the lack thereof. Whether or not our government decides to finally recognize the Genocide remains uncertain. But my advice? We can individually recognize the atrocity, raise awareness, and fight for the 1.5 million humans who fell as victims to inhumanity.