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W. E. Gutman: Another reminder of man’s inhumanity toward man

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Posted: April 21, 2009 10:32 p.m.
Updated: April 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Genocide is the "premeditated expulsion and mass-murder of a people because of its indelible identity - race, ethnicity, religion, culture and language."

I choose this definition over others for its clarity and latitude.

Begun 94 years ago this month, the Armenian Genocide - also known as the Great Calamity - refers to the deportation and slaughter of over 1.5 million Armenians in the Islamic-Turkish-ruled Ottoman Empire. Turkey has steadfastly rejected the characterization of the events as "genocide" on semantic grounds.

The event is widely acknowledged as one of the first modern genocides and many sources point to the sheer scale of the death toll as evidence of a methodical plan to thin out or eliminate an entire people.

Known to have inspired Hitler, it is the second-most studied case of genocide after the Holocaust.

In 1914, an estimated two million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire. It was nearly 18 years earlier, though, that the first massacres of Armenians began.

By the end of the 19th century, after a series of mass executions in 1894 and 1895, The New York Times noted an apparent "policy of extermination directed against the Christians of Asia Minor." In 1896, the paper quoted a Turkish embassy dispatch that deflected all blame. "It wasn't the Ottoman Court that caused the massacres in Armenia, but anti-Islam Christian propaganda."
In 1909, 30,000 Armenians perished during the Adana Massacre.

In 1915, Turkey rounded up, imprisoned and later executed 250 Armenian intellectuals. That year, the Turkish cabinet passed the Law of Expropriation and Confiscation, legalizing the deportation of Armenians.

The slaughter that ensued outraged the western world.

Armenians were marched out to the Syrian desert. Hundreds of thousands perished of hunger and thirst. The New York Times reported that "the roads and the Euphrates [River] are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian Theodore Roosevelt characterized the carnage as "the greatest crime of the war."

Describing it as a "holocaust," Winston Churchill wrote, "There is no reason to doubt that this crime was planned and executed ... to clear Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions."

Despite incontrovertible evidence, denial by successive Turkish regimes continued from 1915 to the present. Out of political expediency, other governments, including that of the U.S. and - inexplicably - Israel, aided and abetted Turkey in rewriting history.
Fast forward.

In March 2008, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed an open letter to Congress, warning that formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide "could harm American troops in the field" by "antagonizing" Turkey.

Six months later, prior to a vote by the House that officially condemned the events as genocide, Rice insisted the measure be defeated to "protect American regional interests and maintain basing rights in Turkey for American efforts in Iraq."

By rejecting the resolution, the Bush administration yet again demonstrated that it was less interested in morality than in its strategic self-interest.

The claim by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that an event 100 years old does not merit revisiting was absurd and contemptible. Kentucky "revisits" the Civil War every year, with the Confederate flag flying in greater numbers than the Stars and Stripes.

One may ask - after the Crusades, the "Holy" Inquisition, the rape of Native America, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the "Final Solution," Russia's gulags and the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan - what harm is there in a symbolic gesture commemorative of a real event, now conveniently forgotten, that has left deep scars on the Armenian people and serves as yet another reminder of man's inhumanity to man?

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist who has covered politics, the military, human rights and assorted socio-economic issues. He lives in Tehachapi. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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