Category Archives: armenian genocide

No Justice, No Peace: The Armenian Genocide and Black Lives Matter

Does anybody hear us pray?
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray
Peace is more than the absence of war …
If there ain’t no justice
Then there ain’t no peace.

Over 100 years ago now began what has been called the “first modern genocide”. It was the genocide for which the term was coined. It was the genocide that inspired Hitler.

And we whose ancestors suffered that genocide still wait for justice. We still wait for acknowledgment that it was a genocide.

When a people are denied justice, they are denied peace. They are denied humanity. They come to understand implicitly that their lives don’t matter to the world. They can’t move on. They are stuck in the trauma.

On April 24, 1915 began the deportation of Armenian intellectuals in Ottoman Turkey that would begin the Armenian Genocide. Over the course of the next few years, more than one million Armenian men, women, and children would die.

The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.
from wikipedia

The official Turkish stance was that it was “civil war”.

“A lot of women, variously estimated from 60 to 160 in number, were shut up in a church, and the soldiers were ‘let loose’ among them. Many were outraged [raped] to death, and the remainder dispatched with sword and bayonet. Children were placed in a row, one behind another, and a bullet fired down the line, apparently to see how many could be dispatched with one bullet. Infants and small children were piled one on the other and their heads struck off… Aurora… told Apfel… how her pregnant aunt, who was trying to protect her two-year-old son, was killed. ‘The Turks, they took a knife and cut open her abdomen. They said, this is how we are going to end all you people. They pulled out a fetus from her. Put it on a stone. They took the end of the gun that they had, which was heavy, and started to pound and pound and pound her baby.'”
from Peter Balakian’s “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response”

That is not civil war. That is slaughter.

Not all of the deaths were so violent, granted. Likely most of the deaths from the Armenian Genocide occurred during the forced marches, where entire Armenian communities were exiled from their villages and forced to walk to their “new homes” in Syria. They were provided no food, no water. When they fell from exhaustion or starvation, they were killed or left to die.

And now, in the USA, in the country I’ve lived in my whole life, in the country who worships freedom:

  • One black man died one week later from injuries sustained during a half-hour ride in a police van.
  • One black man died after being strangled to death on a sidewalk in NYC.
  • One 12 year old black boy was shot while holding a BB gun, only seconds after the officer saw him.
  • One 7 year old black girl was shot while sleeping during a botched raid.

This is not a complete list. (More names can be found on this website.)

The families of these victims still wait for justice (though some trials are still pending).

As an American with white privilege, I have a choice. I can ignore the pain, suffering, and fear of black Americans. I can assume that these deaths were justified, that the police never kill black men, women, or children “unnecessarily” or “without due cause”. I can assume that black Americans are exaggerating their fear of the police, that it’s without cause. I can choose to believe that everyone in the US is treated equally, despite the evidence I discussed a few months ago.

But as an Armenian, I cannot. I cannot ignore their suffering, because I know what the lack of justice does to a community.

So, to black Americans, I say loud and clear: your lives matter. YOUR LIVES MATTER. Full stop. And I will keep saying that until there is justice. And I will open my eyes to your suffering until true peace exists in our country.

And to the Turkish government, and to governments which allow Turkey to continue denying the genocide by refusing to acknowledge it for fear of alienating a strategic ally—I’m looking at you, American government, and you, President Obama—we will not stay silent. We will not forget. We will not call it a “massacre” or a “civil war”. We will not pretend our ancestors deserved to be butchered.

Because without justice, there is no peace.

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Compassion for Enemies

The acronym SPICE was brought up in today’s Meeting for Worship, with each letter explained: S for Simplicity, P for Peace, I for Integrity, C for Community, and E for Equality. I wondered, why couldn’t the C stand for Compassion instead? And my thoughts swam backwards towards a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while: the Armenian Genocide and the role of Ottomon Turkey in the genocide (and modern-day Turkey in its denial).

Since some of you don’t know me personally and don’t read my livejournal, you may not know that my dad’s family is ethnically Armenian. They lived in Lebanon for a number of years before relocating to America in 1965. We are proud to be Armenian. I’m proud to be Armenian. But part of being Armenian is knowing about what’s been called the “first modern genocide”, that of the Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, where over a million Armenians, including pregnant mothers, elderly men and women, infants, children… everyone, were killed by various horrific ways. But it didn’t start then, not really. The first massacres started in 1896, when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed.

Turkey has denied that the slaughter of Armenians in 1915 was a genocide, calling it “civil unrest”, etc. No one except Turks and those paid off by Turkey believes this. But because modern-day Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide, there’s a lot of anger between modern-day Armenians and modern-day Turks. It’s part of being Armenian today, knowing that you’ve lost relatives in the Genocide and knowing that there’s a possibility Turkey will never accept it as genocide, much less apologize.

I’m reading a book now that gives me hope. It’s called “A Shameful Act”, and it’s written by a Turk (who is now barred from Turkey, of course). Most books about the Armenian Genocide focus on the slaughter, the brutality, the sadness, and the official decisions that led to them. This book focuses on the history that made the Genocide possible, what was actually going on in the Ottoman Empire such that the conditions were there for a genocide to happen.

And reading about how scared the Ottoman Turkish government was of losing everything: country, identity, religion, I’ve come to understand that it was fear, not hate, that led to the genocide. And as I was sitting in Meeting for Worship this morning, a wave of compassion swept over me and I found myself thinking, “I forgive you. I forgive you for what you did to my ancestors and what you are still doing by denial. I forgive you.”

Even more than that, I found myself imagining how soul-destroying it must be to be so consumed by fear that one thinks genocide is the only way. Can any of you imagine what that must feel like? To be so afraid of something, of your identity being swallowed by Others, that killing those Others is the only solution?

I can’t imagine that kind of fear.

And then, an uncomfortable thought rose in me, spurned by a message in Meeting: what if we Armenians hadn’t been so Other? I’m not in any way blaming the Armenian Genocide on Armenians. The Ottomon Turks were responsible for how they reacted to their fear, not the Armenians. But I do wonder: if we hadn’t been so intent on maintaining our ethnic and cultural integrity, if we had intermingled more with the Muslims and the Turks, maybe we wouldn’t have been so Other.

There’s no way to know, of course. And intermingling would have required the cooperation of the Muslims and Turks of the time as well: it’s a two-way street, not a one-way.

But what about those of us today? Not just Armenians, but all of us in our cultural or ethnic groups, who worry about losing our integrity by intermingling with the dominant culture? What about Quakers, who worry about losing our cultural integrity if we stop numbering the days of the week instead of using their normal names? What about LGBTQ folks who stick together in one big group where anyone S is made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome? What about ethnic groups in the US who refuse to learn English to any degree past “Thank you”, etc., and instead go on speaking their native language? (And I’m not talking here about people in ethnic groups who speak their native language when they’re gathered together at family functions, but those who speak their native language all the time.)

Let’s go back to Quakers. What about our Quakerese? What about our sacred peculiarities?

There’s value in cultural integrity. I love being with my Armenian family at parties, hearing four languages (French, Arabic, Armenian, English), the music, the food, the dancing! I’m not in any way saying those things should be less valued or diminished.

What I am saying is that we need to reach out to each other. We need to reach out to people who consider us Other and invite them in, not by forcing them to learn our language, but by showing them our own culture in ways they can understand: why these things are important to us, what we love about our language and our customs.

Most of all, we need compassion for those who consider us Other and whose lives are ruled by fear. We need a great deal of compassion for those who persecute us because they are afraid. And we need to recognize that we have a responsibility to those people, that it is just as much our job to make them unafraid of us as it is theirs. And, of course, we need to be aware of those Others we are afraid of, and reach out to them as well.

“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

He wasn’t kidding.

(x-posted to Friends of Color and Quaker Queeries.)

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