Armenian Genocide: Recognized at last

By Conor Kelly

On Oct. 29, the House of Representatives made a momentous decision, passing House Resolution 296, affirming and officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks. This historical moment, while controversial in Turkey, is nothing short of praiseworthy. For far too long the U.S. has been ambivalent to the historical truth that the mass murder of more than 1.5 million Armenian people by the Ottomans was nothing short of genocide. The U.S. made this moral and historical mistake in order to protect its relationship with the Turkish government, a key ally in NATO. This strategic interest cannot be used to justify the blatant denialism we have facilitated by ignoring this issue, and it is high time that we corrected our mistake.

The Armenian genocide was a concerted effort by the Ottoman government between 1915 and 1923 in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported from their homeland and over a million were killed, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Young Turk Ottoman government, weaponized by ultranationalist zeal and a hostility toward the minority Armenian people, conducted the mass murder. Despite the fact that numerous governments, historians and other experts refer to these events as a mass murder, the Turkish government still refuses to refer to the event as a genocide, arguing that no direct order was made by the government, thus, no genocide took place on the part of the government. This is an argument in bad faith and betrays the gross denialism of the Turkish government. The term “genocide” was made quite literally and factually to refer to none other than this very event, as Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer who investigated these heinous crimes, was the one who devised the term. This denial also flies in the face of the very definition and legal idea of what a genocide is under international law. As stated in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, there is no legal requirement for a written or direct order for a genocide to be taking place. Indeed, the first definition of genocide only requires that a killing takes place and nowhere in any of the other definitions does it require that an order be present. If it was, the enforcement of international law would be nearly impossible as nearly every government would simply destroy any evidence of an order being given. The Turkish government’s argument is bunk.

America, in its own ruthless pragmatism, allowed this denialism to continue unchallenged. Indeed, American complicity in the Turkish denial of the genocide’s occurrence has been a long and disgraceful affair. Famously, then-presidential candidate, Barack Obama, promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide and criticized Bush’s Secretary of State for firing an ambassador for using the term. However, this promise was never fulfilled and in the end, Obama’s own White House statement makes no mention of the term and instead makes cheap homage to the Armenians without recognizing the full severity of what they endured. This hypocrisy is worth criticizing and it should not go without remembering that the previous administration did next to nothing to right the record. It has been, unfortunately, a long-standing trend in American foreign policy to avoid making a statement one way or the other regarding the genocide. This fence-sitting ended this year.

While the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemned the United States, he also attempted to cast aspersions on the United States for its history. While it is true the U.S. has its own dark history, this response was nothing short of a red herring by the Turkish President. We can both recognize our history in its dark and light while also condemning Turkey for refusing to do the same. Turkey’s inability to face the past and its desire to seek an escape by pointing fingers at the United States is pathetic and beyond contempt. It is not, however, the first time that Turkey has resorted to such responses to simple, historical truths. In 2015, Erdogan recalled the Vatican ambassador to Turkey when the Pope famously referred to the mass murder as a genocide, blasting the Vatican for its involvement.

Turkey may not want to see its darker past, but we, in our good conscience, should not allow this propaganda and denialism to go on unchallenged. The House of Representatives has done its part and with luck, maybe other governments will soon follow.

Sources: – House Resolution – House passes resolution –Additional info – NY Times overview of the Genocide – United Nations view on Genocide – Obama criticizes Bush Administration over refusal to recognize Genocide. -Obama not explicitly mentioning the Armenian genocide. – Erdogan condemns pope over referring to the Armenian Genocide. -Erdogan condemns America over House vote

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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. You can find his new work on The Progressive American newsletter.

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