The Armenian Genocide and Race Extermination: How the World Responds to the Massacre of 1.5 Million in 1915

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The historical evidence, chiefly from eyewitness accounts and American diplomats & missionaries in Turkey in 1915, concludes that Turkish atrocities constituted genocide.

In the midst of World War One, the first modern genocide took place in Turkey. The Armenian Genocide, commemorated on April 24th, is vigorously denied by the Turkish government. Although a recent House of Representatives Resolution (H. Res. 106) was passed in committee, the U.S. government has repeatedly referred to the “genocide” as atrocities or massacres. Henri Barkey, a visiting scholar at Lehigh University, however, wrote in the Washington Post that. “…the overwhelming historical evidence demonstrates what took place in 1915 was genocide.” His commentary was reprinted in Ankara’s Hurriyet Daily News on March 3, 2010.

What was the Armenian Genocide?

In 1915 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Turks while another million were deported. [1] Turkish actions were meticulously detailed, primarily by American diplomats and missionaries working in Turkey. Professor Peter Balakian, whose 2003 book The Burning Tigris [2] documenting the genocide, refers to Turkish actions as “the first modern episode of race extermination…” [3] Balakian recounts the extensive investigations and documentation by U.S. consul Leslie A. Davis and U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr.

Morgenthau’s papers include detailed examples of the genocide and of Turkish responses that labeled the Armenians a “detested race.” Outside Ankara alone over 40,000 Armenians were slaughtered. Balakian recounts Davis’ discoveries at Lake Goeljuk where thousands had been bayoneted and beheaded. Balakian writes that Davis’ account had “an Auschwitz sense about it.” Sections 8-10 of House Resolution 106 reference the U.S. National Archives and the “extensive and thorough documentation on the Armenian Genocide.” [4]

Eyewitness accounts added to U.S. revelations. “Teenage girls were raped with crucifixes made from tree branches…” [5] The Turks used “Mobile killing squads” and depopulated Armenian towns and villages, subjecting the inhabitants to forced marches to places where they would be massacred. Like the later Einsatzgruppen of the Third Reich, they forced their victims to strip before killing them. According to Consul Davis, it was “one of the greatest tragedies in all of history.”

Propaganda and Fanaticism

In the midst of World War I propaganda, the realities of the events in Turkey became obscured. Phillip Knightley writes that several journalists published accounts of the atrocities in The Times, but that “their detailed and damning accusations were lost in the welter of false and exaggerated propaganda of the period.” [6] More recently, Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s Minister for European Affairs stated that “the Ottoman Empire was an ally of the German Reich. Nothing that happened back then happened without consultations with the Germans.” [7]

Similarly, Turkish responses focus on propaganda linked to “the Church, terrorism organizations and fanatic politicians.” “The theme of this propaganda was based on so-called Armenian genocide…” [8] and was designed to instill Turkophobia. Today in Turkey, citizens can be jailed for equating the atrocities with genocide. [9]

United States Humanitarian Efforts

American Protestant denominations sent tens of thousands of dollars for the relief of Armenians. This “Near East Relief” has been compared to the Marshall Plan, enacted by the U.S. Congress after World War II. [10] Balakian values American relief, primarily from individuals, at $1.25 billion based on conversion rates to current valuations.

The Historical Record

The events in Turkey in 1915 clearly indicate “race extermination.” The historical evidence documenting the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians is beyond dispute and has been affirmed by U.S. Congresses and Presidents since Woodrow Wilson – who actually considered committing U.S. troops to the region. H. Res. 106 as well as a recently (though narrowly) passed Swedish Resolution succinctly details what can only be classified as genocide.

Notes:

  1. [1] Peter Balakian, “How a Poet Writes History Without Going Mad,” The Chronicle Review, May 7, 2004, Vol. 50, Issue 35, p B10
  2. [2] Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (HarperCollins, 2003)
  3. [3] Balakian, Chronicle Review
  4. [4] House Resolution 106, 110th Congress, 1st Session, Government Printing Office
  5. [5] Balakian
  6. [6] Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam (Harcourt Brace Janovich, 1975) p 104-105
  7. [7] Bernhard Zand and Daniel Steinvorth, “ Turkish EU Minister on the Armenian Genocide Controversy,” Spiegel Online, March 16, 2010
  8. [8] Dr. Cengiz Kursad, The Massacre (Istanbul Research Center, 1993)
  9. [9] Henri Barkey, “The Armenian genocide resolution is a farce all around,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 3, 2010
  10. [10] Historian Page Smith credits Joseph L. Grabill on page 836, America Enters the War: A People’s History of the Progressive Era and World War I, Vol. 7 (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985)
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