Armenians recall dark chapter, hope Turkey can too

More than 100 years later, Armenians and historians are still able to recount in detail the brutal atrocities and forced exodus that ultimately killed more than a million Armenians, even as Turkey continues to deny the genocide.  

“Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, told Arab News.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government arrested and deported dozens of  Armenian intellectuals from Istanbul to eastern Anatolia. Armenians were soon turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert, as Ottoman killing squads committed massacres.

Estimates say some 400,000 were left by 1922 when the genocide ended, down from 2 million in 1914, according to Arab News.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he told Saudi-based Arab News.

“She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother,” said Kechichian.

Turkey has long refused to describe the events of this period as a genocide, arguing that it was a brutal war and that all participants suffered great losses.

“The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world,” Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, told Arab News.  

Armenians have been living in the Caucasus region for some 3,000 years, ruled at various periods by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Mongols.

Following the genocide, Armenians were scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the United States, France, Argentina and Lebanon. On Wednesday, most of these communities will hold remembrance events, including in Turkey.  

“We pray for the souls of those lost,” Kechichian told Arab News. “We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace. Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Some 28 countries have officially recognised the Armenian genocide. In the United States, more than 100 lawmakers have committed to support legislation recognising the genocide, and a bill is pending in Egypt’s parliament.

“Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet,” said Kechichian.