On the Surface
The centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (the killing of more than one million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks) is fast approaching. While Armenians and most historians call for formal recognition of the genocide, Turkey denies it outright, and other countries (such as the United States) continue to find euphemisms for the holocaust perpetrated by their closest Muslim ally.
Armenia was one of the earliest adopters of Christianity (around 300 AD). As a result, when Armenia was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, most Armenians were classified as “infidels” and made second-class citizens. Additionally, Armenians were labeled a threat in the context of huge Turkish territorial losses to neighboring Christian states and increasingly fervent Turkish nationalism. When Russia invaded Turkey during WWI, many Armenians assisted the Russians. This enraged the Turkish, who executed all prominent Armenian leaders and forced the rest of the population into extermination camps. In the end, three out of four Armenians were murdered, 1.5 million in all.
In the years since the Genocide, Turkey has firmly denied that it happened to the reported extent, possibly fearing reparations or other backlash. While outrageous, this is not too surprising. What is remarkable, though, is that many western powers shy away from confronting the reality. The United States has never formally acknowledged the genocide; Israel cancelled a summit where the genocide was to be the main topic. The reasoning lies in Turkey’s military value: Turkey is one of the few Muslim nations that has remained consistently friendly to the west. It was seen as instrumental in stopping Soviet expansionism following WWII, and was integral in its position in the collective defense organization, NATO.
When asked about the implications of his Holocaust, Hitler responded with, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” However much Turkey wishes to forget, the past still echoes into the present. Denying facts only strains relationships and muddles foreign policy that could otherwise be simplified. One hundred years have passed, and it’s time for Turkey to admit the truth.