Although Holocaust Remembrance Day was reported on by KYW’s Suzanne Monaghan, I heard no such coverage of the Centennial Armenian Genocide Walk in Philly on the 18th. Calling for justice after one-hundred years of denial, a large crowd gathered at the Independence Visitor Center on Saturday. The event was hosted by 6abc Action News’s Eva Pilgrim, and, among the participants were Congressman Patrick Meehan, mayoral candidate Doug Oliver, and State Senator Daylin Leach.
Known as the first modern genocide, Hitler used it as a model for his murderous campaign against Jews, saying, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Too few, I am afraid, even now, one-hundred years after the fact and the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks during World War I.
You see, the Armenians have lived for some 3,000 years in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, an area at the border of Europe and Asia between the Black and Caspian Seas. Another little known fact is that, at the beginning of the fourth century, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion. In the early part of the 16th century, it became part of the powerful Ottoman Empire.
Fast forward now to the years 1894 to 1896 when Turks of all stripes embarked on state-sanctioned persecution of Armenians and reportedly murdered hundreds of thousands of them. It was not until 1915, however, that the Turkish government set on an official course to eliminate all Armenians from their midst.
On April 24, one-hundred years ago, hundreds of our brightest and most accomplished citizens were arrested and killed. Then the Turks went after ordinary Armenians, murdering some and forcing others on death marches through the desert with neither food nor water.
In the end, 1.5 million Armenians were dead and only 388,000 remained in the Ottoman Empire.
Nevertheless, to this day, the Turkish government denies the fact of genocide, instead calling all those deaths merely the inconvenient and unfortunate consequence of war. As for us here in America, it was not until 2004 that the New York Times became the first news outlet to actually use the phrase “Armenian genocide.”
It’s so bad that, when earlier this month, Pope Francis called the massacre the “first genocide of the 20th century,” Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican. Additionally, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted this: “The pope’s statement which is out of touch with both historical facts and legal truths is unacceptable.” That was followed up with, “Religious positions are not places where unfounded claims are made and hatred is stirred.”
Now we wait to see what President Obama will do. To date, when speaking to or about Turkey, he has never used the word genocide. Too much at stake, it seems, for the president to keep the promise he made as a candidate years ago on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, as a senator, Hillary Clinton supported Armenian genocide resolutions, but as secretary of state, she opposed them.
That makes events like Saturday’s Armenian Genocide Walk in Philadelphia and its watchword, “I remember and demand,” all the more important. If you were there, thank you. If not, perhaps you can join in the Armenian Centennial Committee’s 100-minute Silent Sit-in at noon in Love Park this Friday, the 24th.
Can’t be there? Then please, at 7:15 p.m. on that same day, April 24, bow your head and be part of the World Moment of Silence in commemoration of the genocide and the passing of one-hundred years, be you Armenian or not.