Shadows of a Forgotten Genocide - Ignored... Denied... Repeated
- contribution to CRAG by Eric Sirakian, a 13-year old eighth grader student from Massachussets, USA
Cambodia. El Salvador. Sudan. Rwanda. Iraq. Germany. Poland. These places all have something in common. All of these countries have been witness to what is possibly the worst type of human behavior: genocide. What's a genocide? According to the encyclopedia of genocide, it is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. The 20 th century is not lacking examples, the Jewish Holocaust being the most famous. Unfortunately, it is ignorance, apathy, and denial that have allowed genocides to continue to happen, even to our most recent times.
I'd like to address another important genocide, one that few people in the world today even know existed. It was, in fact, the first genocide of the 20 th century: Armenia. Armenia is a small country in western Asia bordered by Turkey and Georgia. Between 1915 and 1923, 3/4 of the 2 million Armenians were either shot to death or starved in the desert. The Turkish government, under the command of Talaat Pasha, murdered 1.5 million members of this ethnic group in the little-known, little spoken about Armenian Genocide.
Khanum Palootzian was one of the few lucky survivors who witnessed the horrors of the Armenian genocide. In 1972, she recorded some of her memories. My stepfather, when they were going to kill him, pleaded that they let him pray before dying. As he knelt and prayed, they took a sword and cut off his head... Pregnant women were eviscerated, their stomachs cut open with swords and their babies ripped out, thrown against the rocks... We were led through the mountains for two months. On the way, many women couldn't take it, and, holding their babies in their arms, simply threw themselves from cliffs into the Tigris river.
Well, why bring up something that happened over 90 years ago? The Armenian genocide is significant to me because I'm Armenian. I've been taught all my life by my Armenian family how important it is to live each day to its fullest extent, to enjoy every moment, and to appreciate all that you have. The most horrific thing about any Genocide is that it happened to ordinary, innocent men, women, and children, like you and I, just trying to live their lives! These people weren't criminals. They were simply targeted because their financial success was seen as a threat to the Turkish economy. The government didn't want this enterprising people to become too powerful. Most victims died. A very small number survived, but they were separated from their families.
Kristine Hagopian was another unfortunate witness to the massacre: Twelve Turkish soldiers and an official came very early in the morning. We were still asleep. They dragged us out in our nightgowns and lined us up against the living room wall. Then the official ordered my father to lie down on the ground... they are dirty, the Turks, very dirty. They raped him! Just like that. Right in front of us. And that official made us watch. Afterwards, we couldn't find our father. My mother looked for him frantically. He was in the attic, trying to hang himself. Fortunately, my mother found him before it was too late. My father did kill himself- later, after we escaped.
Situations like this, and worse, happened on a daily basis to the Armenian people. Most died before their stories could be told. And yes, some of my relatives were victims of this genocide. These people, my ancestors, suffered in every way possible.
The sad thing is, few people in the world today are even aware that the Armenian genocide ever occurred. Worse, the Turkish government actually denies that it ever happened, and they've convinced millions to deny it. Even the U.S. government hasn't officially recognized this genocide because it is fearful of losing its military connections with Turkey, where it has many air bases. How can you ignore and deny these stories. I'm sure everyone here knows of the Jewish Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, in his speech to his generals upon invading Poland, claimed "After all, who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" When history is ignored and denied, it is repeated!
Selfishness impelled the Turkish government to try to wipe my people off the map. But they didn't win. We rose from the ashes. Armenia isn't off the map, and 91 years later, there are still people who care about what happened in 1915. After you leave this room, educate at least three people who haven't heard of this tragic event in history. Tell them all that I've told you. Then- watch the news or read the paper. Be aware of what's happening in the world. Genocides aren't the only type of suffering in the world today. People across our planet suffer every day because of various reasons, whether it's war or natural disasters. I realize that we can't save the entire world. No one can. But by knowing what's happening and educating others, we can make a difference. Perhaps if the outside world had known what was happening in Armenia, they might have put an end to it. Instead, many people turned their heads, thinking it didn't affect them in any direct way. But what if it were you who they raped? You who they starved? You who they whipped? You who they shot? What if your innocent blood was spilt for no reason at all? What if you were the one who cried yourself to sleep every single night for 91 years?! We must avoid ignorance and apathy, for they can cause the worst suffering of all. If the Armenian genocide hadn't happened or had been recognized, the futures of Cambodia, El Salvador, Sudan, Rwanda, Iraq, Germany, and Poland might have been a little bit different.