By Dahlia Lewis —
As one of the worst obliterations to exist in global history, this past April marked the 100th year anniversary of the tragic Armenian genocide. On April 24th, millions gathered worldwide to honor the 1.2 million Armenians that were executed under the hands of the Turkish government.
In Yerevan, Armenia, thousands laid flowers on the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex to pay their respects, and was joined by President Serzh Sargsyan, as well as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Francois Hollande of France. In his speech, President Sargsyan remarked that the victims of the genocide were “displaced and annihilated under a state-devised plan” and that the killing was “unprecedented in terms of volume and ramifications.” Even in Los Angeles, California, more than 130,000 residents dressed in purple and marched to commemorate all the lives that were lost.
The Armenian genocide, also known as the Armenian Holocaust, was the Ottoman Empire methodical extinguishment of Armenian minorities within Turkey, as well as other countries that were considered their territory. The extermination officially started on April 24th, 1915 when the Turkish government arrested over 250 intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul to torture and then eventually kill them.
Against the backdrop of World War I, the Ottoman authorities continued on with their policy to purify the Turkish state of the non-Muslim population by targeting Armenians, Ottoman Greeks, Assyrians, Syriacs, and other Christian groups. They commenced the plan in two main stages. The male population was killed through massacre or forced into manual labor, and the women, children, and elderly were coerced into death marches that led to the Syrian Desert, completely deprived of food and water. Other forms of massacre included mass village burnings, thrown overboard into the sea to drown, morphine injections, and toxic gas chambers.
The widespread hysteria propelled the remaining Armenian population to flee the country. More than half a million escaped and started to establish their own communities, with the majority being in Russia, United States, France, and the Ukraine. Nowadays, there is an estimate of 8 to 10 million Armenians living in diaspora communities around the world.
Even with the high spirits within annual commemorations and dozens of books and films dedicated to horrendous ethnic extermination, there is still a denial on Turkey’s part about what had happened, even to the extent of rejecting the use of the word ‘genocide.’ From their stance, Turkey claims that violence was done from both sides of ethnic groups, and that the toll of death was inflated. Many protests have occurred to persuade the Turkish government to take responsibility for the genocide, but no official apology has been yet been given.
Much sensitivity surrounds the issue of whether or not major political or religious figures would even call it a ‘genocide’. On an April 12th Sunday Mass that honored the 100th year anniversary, Pope Francis described that event as a genocide, which the European Parliament agrees with. In fact, more than 20 countries passed bills that acknowledged the killings as a genocide, and denying it is deemed illegal in nations like Greece and Switzerland. However, the Turkish government is still turning a blind eye, and foreign minster Mevlut Cavusoglu Tweeted “religious authorities are not the places to incite resentment and hatred with baseless allegations.”
Nonetheless, the world still recognizes it as a tragic event in history. 100 years later, the memories of the lives lost have not been forgotten.