Op-ed

We will not forget the Armenian Genocide

The President of the Republic of Armenia, Dr. Armen Sarkissian

On April 24, Armenians all over the world pay tribute to the memory of 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. During World War I, they fell victim to deportations, mass murder of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire, instigated by the government of the Young Turks, as well as violence, famine and illnesses.

Over one hundred years passed since that crime against humanity and civilization was committed in 1915-1923. However, the consequences of that villainy continue to resonate and impede Armenia’s natural development.

In fact, the mass massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire started in 1894-96, during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Three hundred thousand Armenians were killed. Major powers of the time, world press and prominent individuals, among them the Prime Minister of Great Britain William Gladstone, French political figure Jean Jaurès, writer Anatole France, German missionary Johannes Lepsius and others, raised their voices in protest against that crime and demanded to carry out the promised reforms in Western Armenia, which were supposed to ensure the most basic civil rights for Armenians, inviolability of their life and property. But they were not able to stop Abdul Hamid.

Nor the countries of the Entente, Vatican and diplomats accredited to Turkey, especially the US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, were able to stop the Young Turks, which succeeded him and made the mechanisms for the extermination of Armenians even more sophisticated, developed them into a state-devised and state-implemented genocide. Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the World War I, in 1915-16, the Young Turks put to work their plan of a total annihilation of the Armenians; they instigated deportations of an inconceivable scale and unimaginable brutality, accompanied by ferocities and carnage. (On May 24, 1915,in a joint declaration, France, Russia and Great Britain defined it as a “crime against humanity and civilization.” Later, in 1944, Rafael Lemkin coined the term “genocide”, having in mind the extermination of the Armenians in 1915).

After the end of WWI, the new leader of Turkey Mustafa Kemal carried on with the task of his predecessors: he killed the Armenians still remaining in Cilicia and Western Armenia and unleashed a war against the young Republic of Armenia.

The eyewitnesses, among them diplomats, military men and doctors, missionaries, political figures, international press, and others, left irrefutable testimonies about the act of genocide and mechanisms through which it had been carried out. Later, based on the archive documents, academic circles, historians, and genocide scholars described and proved the fact of the genocide in detail. The world is well-aware of it.

I would like to focus on the causes and consequences of the Genocide.

I will single out some of the causes:

The first was political. The Armenian Question, raised at the San Stefano and Berlin conferences in 1878, was supposed to come to its logical end by the establishment of the Armenian autonomy on the historical Armenian lands, meaning a prospective independence for Armenia, which in case of other nations, subjects of the Ottoman Empire, happened after the Balkan War and WWI in the European and Middle East parts of the Empire.

This is what the Ottoman Empire and later the Republic of Turkey were opposed to, because in case of Armenia’s independence, the Empire would lose a piece of strategic significance, thus closing for Turks the access towards the Caucasus and the countries of Central Asia.

Incidentally, the superpowers of the time were not interested in such an independent state in the mentioned territory. Otherwise, in Lausanne, in 1923, they would not have given up the paragraph related to Armenia in the Treaty of Sèvres of August 10, 1920, which envisaged Armenian authority over the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, with access to the Black Sea.

The interests of Armenia and the Armenian people were also neglected by the Moscow and Kars Treaties of 1921 which allocated only a negligible territory to the Armenians.

Armenia was shredded to pieces: Kars and Ardahan provinces were conceded to the Kemalists, while Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhijevan were deliberately placed under the administrative rule of the Soviet Azerbaijan. The idea was to create an enduring breeding ground for squabble and conflict in the region, as we witness it today.

The second cause of the Genocide was ideological.

The newborn Turkish nationalism was striving to turn a huge multinational and multicultural empire into a uniform and homogeneous Turkish state, keeping in mind its political advancement toward the vast and rich territories of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

And again, the Armenians were the main obstacle on that road; they like a wedge were forced between the two expanses, as well as the Greeks and other Christians living in Asia Minor.

Thus, ethnic cleansing of the two robust elements of the Empire – Greeks and Armenians - for the Turkish chauvinists had no alternative.

These two nations were the creators and legatees of the Byzantine civilization; they dedicated their talent and vigour to the development and prosperity of the Ottoman Empire.

Some would say that the past is past, and we shall look toward the future.

We do look toward the future, we dream of the future, we plan it and work every day for the future. But we are always mindful that future is the extension of the past and present.

We speak a lot of our huge human and material losses. And it is true. The loss of 1.5 million people significantly influenced the future reproductive abilities of the Armenian nation. Under normal conditions, today we would have been not 10-12 million but twice as many.

Another significant loss, which the successive Turkish governments were trying to cause us, was a total eradication of the Armenian element on the historical Armenian lands, of the Armenian entity as a whole, so that Armenian statehood was never re-established again. Today, there are no more clusters of Armenians living in those territories. No people means no language they speak, no traditions they have, no national environment which creates society and the nation.

Thus, because of the Genocide, Armenians, unlike other peoples, were deprived of their right to live on the land of their ancestors, to master their own life and destiny.

Keep in mind that Armenians were not an emerging ethnic group, but the ancient people who once created one of the world’s earliest statehoods and civilizations.

In the decades after the Genocide, Turkey has persistently been destroying every trace of the Armenians and Armenian civilization.

And if today, we righteously condemn the destruction by the extremists of historical monuments in different corners of the world, even more firmly we must condemn the devastation of the material and cultural testimonials of a millennia-old nation.

Now, imagine the condition of the surviving Armenians, many of whom for decades, up to the 40s-50s of the last century were stateless people – apatrides.

Today, almost three-quarters of the entire Armenian nation are living in different countries, under diverse traditions, administrative systems, and beliefs. Armenians everywhere are exercising enormous efforts to preserve their national identity and to speak about their rights which they were deprived of because of the Genocide.

What are the lessons of the Genocide, and what does the world have to do?

It hurts to realize that the world did not learn from the Armenian Genocide. It was forgotten, remained unrecognized and unpunished for a long time. Meanwhile, this could be the way to prevent other genocides that happened later in the human history. After that, the world witnessed more genocides.

I am deeply convinced that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not only and not as much for Armenians, but first of all, it is a matter of attitude toward the universal human values, the matter of preventing that evil. Guided by this very principle, Armenia has made the prevention of genocides one of its foreign policy priorities and has been taking vigorous steps at the national and international levels. At the initiative of Armenia, the UN Human Rights Council has been consecutively adopting resolutions on the prevention of genocides. In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution initiated by Armenia to declare December 9 the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and Prevention of this Crime. Thus, the issue of recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which Armenians are raising before the international community and Turkey, is very current.

The issue of recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which Armenians raise before the international community and Turkey, has a number of elements: duty to remember, prevention of such crimes in the future, and elimination of the consequences of the Genocide. After fifty years of silence, in 1960-70s the world spoke again of the Armenian Genocide. In 1965, Uruguay was the first to recognize it. Today many of the world countries and international organizations recognize the Armenian Genocide and among them France, Russia, USA, Germany, Italy, the Vatican, Switzerland, Lebanon and Syria in the Arab world. And the number is growing.

The major part of the international community does not openly question the fact of the Genocide. At the same time, it is unacceptable when the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is perceived from the viewpoint of momentary economic or political interests related to Ankara.

We cannot, on the one hand,declare that we are going to fight together against xenophobia, discrimination, intolerance, anti-Semitism, denial and other all-human vices, and on the other hand, “play diplomacy” with Turkey on that.

I am confident that the countries and organizations, which have recognized the Armenian Genocide, were mainly guided by that very notion, and we are grateful to them.

We are also grateful to the countries which after the Genocide opened their doors and gave refuge to those who survived that catastrophe.

We are grateful to the missionaries, military doctors and nurses, diplomats, organizations which cared for the orphans, to our brothers in distress – Greeks, Assyrian, Jews, Yezidis, as well as to those Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab families and individuals who, in those desperate days, often put their own life and safety in the harm’s way and lent a helping hand and saved many Armenians.

The stance of successive Turkish governments is another matter: to carry out denial on the state level to escape the recognition of the genocide.

Today, the international community, political and public figures, among them many Turk intellectuals and public figures, are raising questions about the Genocide and hope that the Turkish authorities will listen to the voices in their own society to face the tragic pages of their own history and turn them.

Statute of limitation does not apply to the crime of genocide. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey and the elimination of its consequences is a matter of security for Armenia, the Armenian nation, and the region.

We will not forget the Armenian Genocide; we will not submit to its consequences. We will not forget the sufferings of the victims and survivors and we will create a safe and dignified future for their generations.


(This text was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 24th of April)



On April 24, Armenians all over the world pay tribute to the memory of 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. During World War I, they fell victim to deportations, mass murder of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire, instigated by the government of the Young Turks, as well as violence, famine and illnesses.

Over one hundred years passed since that crime against...

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