In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, the leaders of the Ottoman Empire set into motion one of the darkest pages in human history – the genocide of its Greek, Armenian, and Christian minorities.
The Genocide is a Historical Fact
Beginning in 1914, the Young Turks leading the Ottoman Empire decided to implement a policy of “Turkification.” In a prelude to the heinous acts committed by the Nazi regime in Germany, the Turks began systematically targeting their Christian minorities.
At the outbreak of WWI, Ottoman Turkish authorities began rounding up young men and sending them to “labor battalions,” where forced labor, hunger, and exposure to severe weather conditions killed most. After eliminating a significant portion of the male population, they turned to the women, children, and the elderly. Entire villages were systematically deported into Turkey’s interior on death marches. In some cases they simply summarily shot their victims outside their villages.
By 1923, more than 700,000 out of approximately 2 million Greeks living in Asia Minor at the beginning of World War I perished as a result of Turkey’s policy of “Turkification.” Overall, more than 2.5 million Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians were killed as a result of centrally planned and systematically executed deportations and murder. As a result of these and other actions, Christians account for less than .1% of Turkey’s population today.
Recognizing the Genocide
Until the word genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, this cataclysmic event in Hellenic history was simply referred to by Greeks as “The Massacre”, “The Great Catastrophe”, or “The Great Tragedy”.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Turkey continues to deny its responsibility. It attempts to rewrite history and lay the blame on its victims while threatening countries that decide to recognize the genocide of Turkey’s Christian minorities. For decades, it has employed a host of lobbyists to prevent the US from recognizing the first great crime of the 20th century.
Recognizing the genocide in the US House and Senate
Toward the end of 2019, the US House of Representatives finally passed H. Res. 296 in a sweeping vote – 405-11 -recognizing the Armenian genocide. The Senate echoed the House resolution, passing S. Res. 150 by unanimous consent. Language of both texts recognizes “the campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.”
On April 24th 2021, the Biden Administration followed the House and Senate by formally recognizing the genocide, becoming the first US administration to do so. Biden’s words strengthened Armenian American relations but if the US remains committed to engaging the Western Balkans in its quest to stabilize the Eastern Mediterranean and deter Russian influence, it must take action beyond its words.
Section 709 of the US Freedom Support Acts currently prohibits the US government from providing aid to the Azerbaijani government given it does not make demonstrable steps towards resolving its ongoing conflict with Armenia. However, since its inception, this section has been waived by administrations in efforts to keep Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran. Doing so has allowed Azerbaijanis to eradicate Christain sites and important artifacts of Armenian cultural heritage with little to no consequences. With the recent military attacks against Armenia initiated by a belligerent Azerbaijan, it is time that US foreign policy leaders revoke the waiver and stop supporting the Azerbaijani government and show its support for Armenia.
It is time the world stood up for the truth
“Will the outrageous terrorizing, the cruel torturing, the driving of women into the harems, the debauchery of innocent girls, the sale of many of them at eighty cents each, the murdering of hundreds of thousands and the deportation to, and starvation in, the deserts of other hundreds of thousands, the destruction of hundreds of villages and cities, will the willful execution of this whole devilish scheme to annihilate the Armenian, Greek and Syrian Christians of Turkey — will all this go unpunished?” – Henry Morgenthau, US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, 1918
Recognizing the Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian genocide is not just about historical truth. Turkey’s policy of “Turkification” did not end in 1923. Since then Turkey has engaged in a number of acts aimed at its Christian minorities: the September 1955 Istanbul Pogrom that targeted the Greek Orthodox population of the city, the seizure of Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Assyrian church properties, the destruction of Christian sites in occupied Cyprus, the closure of the Halki Theological Seminary, and Turkey’s latest military operations in Syria targeting Syrian Kurds.
Recognizing the genocide is much more than simple acknowledgement of the past. Doing so has serious implications for the wellbeing of future generations and for the protection of fundamental human rights.
- The Greek Genocide: Forgotten no longer, Endy Zemenides, Kathimerini English, June 3, 2019
- The history that happened: Setting the record straight on the Armenian Genocide, December 4, 2019
- House Passes Resolution Recognizing Armenian Genocide, The New York Times, October 30, 2019
- U.S. Senate passes resolution recognizing Armenian genocide, angering Turkey, Reuters, December 12, 2019