2015 marked 100 years since an event that inspired the coining of the word “genocide.” This event was the systematic, legal murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks, during World War I.
Turkey was part of the Ottoman Empire during that war, and was allied with Germany. Some of the methods the Turks used in their mass murder of Armenians bear a striking resemblance to methods employed by the Nazis during the Second World War.
It appears the Germans may have learned from the Turks. For instance, one technique for killing Armenian children was to lock them into school buildings and then pipe in toxic gas. Thousands of Armenians were packed into cattle cars, and shipped to concentration camps. Those who survived the journey were starved to death in the camps.
Thousands of Armenians were burned to death. And up to 50,000 were drowned using the technique of loading boats with women and children, than capsizing those boats in the Black Sea. Men were often killed outright, while the remainder of their families were sent on death marches to the Syrian desert, where they perished from thirst and starvation.
Some Armenians made it out of the Ottoman Empire alive. And some made it to America, with many refugees settling in Detroit, Michigan.
Over a hundred years ago, an Armenian woman who had witnessed the murder of her husband and children, settled in Detroit. An Armenian man who had witnessed the murder of his wife and children, also settled in the same city. They met and married and started a new family.
One of their children was named Peter (or, Bedros), who was born 100 years ago, in 1921. In the 1980’s, Peter met my divorced mother and they married. He told me the stories of tragedy that had been passed down to him from his parents. And he reported tales of relatives who would occasionally visit his childhood home and weep over the atrocities they had witnessed. One particular tale, vague in details, stuck with me nonetheless. It involved a beloved uncle who was beheaded in front of his family by Turkish soldiers.
Turkey has steadfastly denied that this genocide took place. And the United States was long complicit in this denial, by refusing to acknowledge that the death of so many Armenians was due to systematic, legal genocide. You see, our government has valued having Turkey as an ally, and has wanted to avoid angering the Turkish government.
But finally, in April of this year, President Joe Biden officially recognized the massacre of Armenians as genocide. Turkey responded by summoning our ambassador, and then giving him a strong dressing down. They told him Biden’s acknowledgment was “unacceptable,” and that the Turkish government “totally rejects and strongly condemns it,” and blah, blah, blah.
That’s about all the Turks did. So it appears they had been bluffing all along, and that we could have acknowledged what everybody knows is true, many years ago, and gotten the scolding over with way back when.
And it is true, what President Biden acknowledged. It happened. And it occurred 106 years ago, in what is now the country of Turkey. I have no reason to doubt the stories told by my stepfather. He didn’t bullshit like the Turkish government.
It was genocide. So fuck you, Turkey.