By Andrei Simpson-Satchlian | Opinion Columnist 

Armenian Genocide memorial service. (Photo courtesy of paixetdeveloppement)

Armenian Genocide memorial service. (Photo courtesy of paixetdeveloppement)

On April 24, 1915, my family’s world changed. Like many other disposable Christian subjects, my great-grandfather was a conscripted officer in the Ottoman Empire’s military. While he was stationed away in Romania, he was completely unaware of what was about to transpire back home. In his Ottoman-occupied homeland of Armenia, the Turkish military—the same military he was serving in—began an operation: the genocide of the Armenian people—his people. At last, the Young Turks began their execution of a long-awaited ethnic cleansing. The Armenian scum would at last be eradicated and the Ottoman Empire would be purified. On April 24, 1915, it began.

The Young Turks were a group of military officers who, in 1895, formed a political party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), and began resisting the rule of Sultan Abdul-Hamid. Eventually, in 1913, the Young Turks orchestrated a revolution, ousted the Sultan, and took power. The Young Turks were fueled by a reactionary, xenophobic sense of Ottoman nationalism. They believed that the Sultan had not been harsh enough on the ethnic and religious minorities subjected to Ottoman rule, and that the Ottoman Empire needed to be purified of non-Turks and non-Muslims. (The next time you’re about to share or like a video from The Young Turks, please remember the namesake in whose honor the program is titled; it’s the Turkish equivalent of the S.S.)

On April 24, 1915, the Young Turks took advantage of the moment. With all of the preparations in place (such as the confiscation of Armenians’ guns in 1911), and afforded the convenient cover of World War I, the Ottoman leaders ordered the military to execute the operation. Millions of Armenians and thousands of Assyrians and Greeks were to be “dealt with,” and they were.

Harmless, defenseless, and innocent, the Armenians were rounded up and slaughtered, raped, and/or death-marched. Males were immediately murdered. Women were raped and then rounded up with the children. Anyone who resisted was either stabbed or shot on sight. The Armenians who weren’t killed right away suffered slow deaths vis-à-vis the death march. Armenian women and children, continuously beaten and raped, were forced to march for miles upon miles through deserts and mountains with no water or food. If you stopped walking, you were killed. If you kept walking, you died. The Turks employed this means of massacre knowing that it was a sure way to kill off the remaining Armenian “rats,” while also retaining the cover of a wartime “relocation.” As for the Armenians’ homes, farms, and other pieces of property, the Turks either burned them or kept them, depending on their desirability.

By the end of the Armenian Genocide, 75 percent of the Armenian race had been wiped from the earth. Out of a population of two million, 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Thousands of other Christians, notably Assyrians and Greeks, were similarly discarded. While for many these are shocking numbers, for my family, unfortunately, these numbers are a numbing reality. My great-grandfather returned to the Caucasus to find himself the last of his bloodline. His entire family—his parents, all of his siblings, his five uncles and all of their families—was slaughtered. He would learn that the men of his family were all slain, and so were the women— but only after they were raped. His family would not have to deal with the death marches—they were killed before anyone was marched out of their village.

The Armenian Genocide is neither a conspiracy theory to me, nor a history lesson. It is my people’s reality—moreover, it is my family’s reality. Clearly, it is a very personal matter for me as a descendant of a survivor of the Genocide, the sole survivor of his family. But, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is also a moral matter for me.

As an American, I am proud to be a citizen of a country that seeks to fight for and uphold human rights. As a product of our pursuit of human rights and our power, we have a uniquely high level of moral authority. But, that authority is grossly undermined when we align ourselves with actors like Turkey. To this day, Turkey fiercely denies the Genocide, going so far as making it a crime to even so much as mention the Genocide. Despite this despicable behavior, we stand right beside them and support them, making us seem like blatant hypocrites as we call for the unabashed defense of human rights.

Turkey is a NATO ally, at least nominally. In recent months, their alleged commitment to the ideals of NATO has been gravely at odds with their actions. The continued persecution of the Kurds, abating ISIS, and, most recently, the legal solidification of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dictator are much more than red flags. The last incident is a punctuation of a gradual process headed by Erdogan in the pursuit of the transformation of Turkey from a democracy to an autocratic state and, eventually, a return to the Ottoman Empire.

With this being the case, President Trump and Congress have no excuses to not formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. The tired fallback justification of, “Well, we don’t want to hurt ties with a NATO ally and a keen asset in the fight against terror,” no longer works. If a nation like Germany—which not only has a NATO alliance with Turkey but also has one of the largest Turkish diasporas—can put aside politically expedient reasons not to recognize the Genocide and stand on the side of justice, then the US has no excuse. As mentioned before, we have a unique amount of power. When the US does or says something, the world notices. It is vital that the US formally recognize the Genocide, because then and only then will Turkey be forced to answer.

The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century, a century particularly plagued by bloodshed and ethnic cleansing. It is an empirical fact that Adolf Hitler looked to the Armenian Genocide and its lack of punishment as an inspiration for his Holocaust.

The longer the Genocide continues to go unrecognized, and the longer Turkey gets to walk scot-free, the longer the world’s most despicable actors will have a case study to look at and be reinforced by. Honor the memory of my great-grandfather’s family. Honor the memory of 1.5 million innocents. Genocide unrecognized is genocide twice over—after you erase the victims from the face of the earth, you then erase them from the annuls of history. We cannot let Turkey get away with yet another genocide.

Andrei Simpson-Satchlian is a columnist featured in the Opinion Section. He is an Economics and Politics double-major, and a member of the Honors Program. He is the Chair of the College Republicans and President of the Law Club.

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