More than 130,000 march in Hollywood to honor 100th anniversary of Armenian genocide
By Ralph Peters
I didn’t have time to write this column. But, when asked, I made time. The bitter argument over a subject at once cobwebbed and bloodstained — how to describe the massacre of at least a million Armenians a century ago — pits two ethnicities for which I have great affection, Armenians and Turks, against each other. Both are proud, both have suffered and both can be insufferable when aroused. But on this issue facts rule: What the Armenians of the dying Ottoman Empire suffered was, indeed, genocide.
We can’t split the difference. I wish we could, since this is oddly personal for me. In my home, Armenian paintings hang above Turkish rugs. I’ve been enchanted by Turkey and Armenia alike. I first saw the latter a quarter century ago when a fellow Army officer and I sneaked across the Soviet-policed internal border, and Armenians shielded us. I returned during the Nagorno-Karabagh struggle, a time of deprivation and desperation, and then went back in peacetime.
Labeling the long months of massacre inflicted on the Armenians anything but genocide misrepresents abundantly documented facts. The equivalent would be for the United States to deny that slavery existed on our soil.
I arrived in Istanbul during the 1979 economic crisis, when you could not buy a Turkish coffee in Turkey. I was captivated. And I still find Istanbul the world’s most inexhaustibly interesting city. For our honeymoon, my wife and I traveled by bus from the Bosporus to the Iranian border, where Mt. Ararat looms to the north. I also saw Ararat — sacred to the Armenians — looking south from Yerevan. The mountain appears so close to Armenia’s capital that you feel you could leap onto its slopes. But it soars behind the Turkish border, near the ruins of Ani, the lost Armenian capital of the world’s first Christian kingdom.
There is tragedy enough for all in those beautiful badlands. Only fools and demagogues revel in old hatreds with so many new ones available.
But labeling the long months of massacre inflicted on the Armenians anything but genocide misrepresents abundantly documented facts. The equivalent would be for the United States to deny that slavery existed on our soil.
The point to that comparison is that governments make mistakes. One truth on which Christians, Muslims and Jews agree is that only God is perfect. Humans err — often horribly. But just as making a clean breast of things relieves the individual, it’s cathartic for nations, too. Turkish insistence that no genocide occurred prolongs the bitterness to no one’s advantage.
The Young Turk government that sponsored those massacres 100 years ago needed someone to blame for wartime disasters. And when embattled governments need scapegoats, minorities are, inevitably, the victims. The Young Turks accused the Christian Armenians of acting as a fifth column for Russian invaders, and in a burst of butchery tens of thousands of loyal Armenians wearing Ottoman uniforms died at the hands of their comrades virtually overnight. Thus it began.
Incited by demagogues, Turks turned on Armenians, killing neighbors, pillaging homes, kidnapping children and driving survivors southeastward into the desert. Corpses clotted rivers, and the roadsides were lined with bones. Kurds — who since have made their peace with Armenians — raided the refugee columns to murder for sport and make off with female captives. Crimson hatred gripped populations that had lived side by side for centuries: Despite gruesome pogroms in the late-19th century, the Ottoman Empire had been a realm in which Armenians thrived.
This is not a myth. Nor is it anti-Turkish propaganda. We have extensive eyewitness accounts written by stunned American missionaries, shocked foreign consuls and appalled German officers sent to advise the Turks. Pleas went out for relief and intervention, but nothing happened to save the victims until it was too late (sound familiar?).
And in yet another of history’s wry twists, the assigned destination for most of the walking skeletons on those death marches was the city of Deir ez-Zor, in the Syrian wastes. Today that city is occupied by the Islamic State.
For the slaughtered Armenians, there will never be justice. But there can be truth. For today’s Turks, there is no shame in admitting that truth. The shame lies in denying it.
Every Turk or Kurd who participated in the genocide is dead. And not every Turk turned on his neighbor: Just as some Germans saved Jews, so some Turks and Kurds protected Armenians. They, too, are part of the story. The Young Turks who drove the genocide suffered defeat, ignominy, exile and early death. The chapter is closed, and Turks need to turn the page.
Today’s Turkey is as different from the Ottoman Empire of 1915 as today’s Germany is from the Nazi Reich of 1939. Just as the Germans renewed themselves by facing the facts of history, so is it time for Turks to free themselves from the burden of denials.
When Hitler first expounded the “Final Solution” to his henchmen, some of the grisliest Nazis were aghast. Hitler’s response was that “Nobody remembers the Armenians.” Hitler was wrong about that, but he certainly knew genocide when he saw it.
If you can’t believe Pope Francis, try Adolf Hitler.
Fox News Strategic Analyst Ralph Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer and former enlisted man. He is the author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction books on the Civil War and the military. His latest is the Civil War novel, “Valley of the Shadow,” which will be published by Forge Books on May 5.