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Remembering the Armenian Genocide

It used to happen only occasionally, on and about the 24th of April each year. Recently, though, having walked daily through gates that assert "veritas" and having realized at the same time that Harvard and the world outside it would rather forget certain truths than elucidate them, I am stricken with melancholy more often than in the past. A particular truth to which I refer, one that since its dark inception has been the target of active efforts to erase it from the pages of history, is the Armenian Genocide, which will be commemorated tomorrow worldwide.

On the night of April 23-24, 1915, 300 Armenian political, religious and intellectual leaders in Constantinople were rounded up, deported to Anatolia and put to death by order of Young Turk officials. These murders were not Turkey's first crimes against its largest minority population; in 1895, for example, every district of Turkish Armenia was subject to systematic pogroms that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians, demands to renounce their faith and looting and burning of their villages and businesses. The 1915 event served as a catalyst for what statesmen and humanitarians have referred to as the blackest page in modern history. Between 1915 and 1918, 1.5 million Armenians (60 percent of the population) were taken from their historical homeland and marched into the deserts of Syria, where they were beaten, raped, starved, tortured and murdered according to the systematic plans of the Young Turk government. The remainder fled mainly to Russia, the Middle East and America. Armenians, who had inhabited the Anatolian plateau for millennia, who had been the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion, who had contributed so much to the development of scholarly thought and culture even as second-class citizens within the Ottoman Empire, were thus slaughtered at the hands of their supposed protectors in the name of Turkish nationalism.

Annihilation of the memory of genocide is an atrocity even more insidious than annihilation of a people. Turkey's denials of the Armenian Genocide began 80 years ago and continue to this day. Its strategic geographical location allowed it to avoid compliance with the points of the Treaty of Sevres (1920), which was intended to punish Turkey has attempted to annihilate both a people and a memory. Turkey for humanitarian crimes and to secure the freedom and independence of Armenia. Today, the Republic of Armenia is less than one-tenth the size of historical Armenia, and Armenian churches and homes built on the Anatolian plateau have been destroyed or converted into mosques. Mention of Armenians in Turkish textbooks is almost non-existent, and books about the genocide are banned in Turkey, despite confirmation of the Armenian massacres in Ottoman court records, the testimony of survivors, eyewitness accounts of missionaries and diplomats and over 100,000 official documents in the archives of numerous countries. In recent decades, 15 countries, the United Nations and the European Parliament have officially recognized the genocide of Armenians to be a fact of history. Yet, the "Sick Man of Europe" continues actively to combat this trend as it attempts to whitewash its past by funding chairs in Turkish Studies--with strings attached--at universities of repute.

In November 1997, while other prominent universities refused similar offers, Harvard accepted a grant from Vebhi Koc, a wealthy Turk with strong ties to his government, for the establishment of a Turkish Studies chair. In 1993, the Turkish government itself had contributed money toward the funding of this chair at Harvard. Perhaps indicative of the strong influence Turkey would like to have over scholarly research into its history was the presence of the Turkish Ambassador, Nusret Kandemir, on the occasion of the chair's establishment. He was reported to have proclaimed at that time, "This professorship will help reveal the truth about Turkey!" Over a year later, not a single History Department course description includes the words "Armenian Genocide." To what truth was Mr. Kandemir referring? Perhaps it was what philosopher Michel Foucault dubbed a "regime of truth," sanctioned and paid for by a political entity; many universities have become Turkey's willing agents in this endeavor.

I myself am of Armenian descent. My great-grandparents fled to America during and after the atrocities. Many of their brothers, sisters and parents were not as fortunate as they were. The impact of historical trauma is transgenerational and grows with time if reconciliation does not occur. I am sick at heart; so are other Armenians throughout the global diaspora. Cure for this particular disease may never be possible. However, I believe the international community bears a moral obligation to identify and confront genocide, be it past or present. To this end, Turkey must first recognize the Armenian Genocide and accept responsibility for both the slaughter of a people and of a memory. David A. Boyajian '00 is a biochemical sciences concentrator in Adams House. Information about the Armenian Genocide is available online at http://www.armenian-genocide.org.

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