Monday, April 24, 2006
Tears in the sand: The Armenian Genocide
Today, April 24th, is the day the Armenian people commemorate the genocide against their people by the Turks in 1915.
This was the first modern attempt at genocide, and estimates of the death toll range from 900,000 to 1.5 million people. It was planned and ordered at the highest levels of the Turkish government and was carried out by direct executions, by forced relocations into the desert and by deliberate starvation.
The Turks commited this act of barbarism as a means of enforcing dhimmi, second class status on the largest,most progressive and most cohesive non-Muslim group in the Ottoman Empire and removing them from being obstacles in Turkey's imperialist ambitions.
Here's how it was done..and why it's important today.
In 1908, an extreme nationalist movement in Turkey known as the `Young Turks' deposed the Sultan's government in a coup. A triumvirate of extreme Turkish nationalists took complete dictatorial control, Enver Pasha, Jemal Pasha and Mehmed Talat Pasha. They and the Young Turks had a vision of a new Pan-Turkic empire spreading all the way to Turkic speaking parts of Central Asia. Armenians were the only ethnic group in between these two major pockets of Turkish speakers..and the nationalist Turks wanted them out of the way and marginalized.
When the Turks entered World War One on the side of Germany and the Central Powers, the pretext existed for the eradication of the Armenians.
The first step was to disarm the Armenians and make them completely helpless.
In 1915, Turkish leader Enver Pasha ordered that all Armenian troops in the Ottoman armies be disarmed, and assigned to labor camps. Most of the Armenians recruits were either quietly executed or assigned as laborers under conditions that ensured very few survived.
In the Armenian areas of Anatolia, the Ottomans gave orders for all weapons to be collected `for the war effort'. The Armenians complied, and were left helpless.
On April 24th 1915, hundreds of prominent Armenians were murdered in secret in Istanbul after being summoned to a `special conference'.
After that, orders went out across Anatolia and other parts of the empire for for a `temporary relocation'of the Armenians. People were told to only bring what they could carry. The Armenians complied and were "escorted" by Turkish guards in what became death marches.
The death marches led across Anatolia and into the desert, and the Armenians were raped, starved, murdered, and sold into slavery along the way. The local Turks and Arabs were encouraged to take revenge on the helpless people. Hundreds of young Armenian women and children were sold into slavery. The Turkish `guards' provided no protection, and often took the lead in committing these attrocities.
The Armenians who survived eventually ended up in gulags in the Syrian Desert, the Der Zor, where thousands more died of disease, starvation and thirst.
To this day, the Turkish government denies that any of this happened, and there has been no real punishment or reparations for the crimes against the Armenian people.
This had a direct effect on the future.
Adolf Hitler, when one of his aides questioned whether the West would allow the Holocaust he had planned against Europe's Jews responded: "Who remembers the Armenians nowadays?"
Hitler's tactics were strikingly similar, if more efficient and on a larger scale than the Turks...forced `relocations' to what in fact were death camps. The Jews too were told that that these were `temporary relocations' and to bring only what they could carry.
One could easily ask `how many people remember the Holocaust today?' There are plenty that don't remember, or even worse deny that it happened. Just as the Turks deny what happened to the Armenians.
And this denial means it can happen again.
In our modern times, in front of our eyes, genocide is being committed against the helpless people of Darfur and genocide is again threatened against the Jews of Israel. The lessons of the Armenian Genocide reverberate into our own day. They were the first.
The tears in the sand should never be forgotten.