The United States Must Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide

04/23/2016 01:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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The United States recently declared ISIS guilty of genocide against the Yazidis and other ethnic groups within its conquered territory. No doubt, the rape and enslavement of Yazidi women, in addition to the slaughter of Yazidi men and the horrors inflicted upon other minority groups, constitute genocide. To ignore the ISIS rampage in Syria and Iraq as anything but genocide, would be to erase the untold suffering and death of its victims.

Thus, the meaning of a word, especially when it defines the inhumanity of mass slaughter and immeasurable human suffering, is important. In this case, the word "genocide" was invented by Yale Professor Dr. Raphael Lemkin while trying to find a way to describe the mass slaughter of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, Dr. Lemkin is seen in this CBS News clip clearly stating "it happened to the Armenians." The word, and Dr. Lemkin's role in creating this word, is described in a New York Times piece titled Questions and Answers About the Armenian Genocide:

Q. What does genocide mean and what is its origin?

A. Genocide is generally defined as the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political or cultural group, with the intent to destroy the existence of that group. The term did not exist until 1944, when a Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, combined the Greek word for race or tribe, "geno," with "-cide," from the Latin word for killing. According to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mr. Lemkin created the term genocide to describe systematic killings conducted by the Nazis. But Mr. Lemkin said he also had the killings of Armenians in mind. In a 1949 CBS interview, Mr. Lemkin told a commentator, Quincy Howe: "I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, and after the Armenians, Hitler took action." The term was incorporated into the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide.

Therefore, any notion of a debate regarding the murder of 1.5 million Armenians is simply a political smokescreen. The genocide happened; it happened to the Armenians, and the man who invented the word acknowledged this fact. If anything, the word was invented because of the slaughter of the Armenians. If anyone needs to hear from the Yale professor who created the word, he's on this CBS video from 1949.

Furthermore, the genocide of the Armenian people that began on April 24, 1915 fits the exact definition of genocide. I remember as a university student, studying in Washington D.C. and interning at the U.S. Department of State, visiting the D.C. Holocaust Museum. On the wall near the entrance of the museum were the words of Adolf Hitler remarking that since nobody speaks of the slaughter of the Armenians, future slaughter of Jews would be erased by history.

Also, the backdrop of war, like the Holocaust, became the fuel igniting the barbarism that served as the foundation for future genocides. A New York Times piece titled Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview explains how the genocide unfolded:

On the eve of World War I, there were two million Armenians in the declining Ottoman Empire. By 1922, there were fewer than 400,000. The others -- some 1.5 million -- were killed in what historians consider a genocide.

As David Fromkin put it in his widely praised history of World War I and its aftermath, "A Peace to End All Peace": "Rape and beating were commonplace. Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians eventually succumbed or were killed ."

The man who invented the word "genocide"-- Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish origin -- was moved to investigate the attempt to eliminate an entire people by accounts of the massacres of Armenians. He did not, however, coin the word until 1943, applying it to Nazi Germany and the Jews in a book published a year later, "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe."

...The University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies has compiled figures by province and district that show there were 2,133,190 Armenians in the empire in 1914 and only about 387,800 by 1922.

The murder of one human being takes planning; imagine the organization involved in killing hundreds of thousands. While geopolitics has prevented the United States from using the word, there's no doubt that the Armenian Genocide is a historical fact.

While it has no problem publicizing modern genocides, as it should, the world is still waiting for the U.S. to use the word "genocide" when describing the Armenian Genocide. Sadly, the most powerful nation on the planet doesn't yet have the moral fortitude to acknowledge fully what the Armenians experienced. Most importantly, President Obama promised to use the word, as stated in an article by Olivier Knox titled Obama will break Armenian genocide promise (again):

For the eighth and final time, President Obama this year will break his unambiguous 2008 campaign promise to declare that the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915 and 1916 amounted to "genocide," a leading Armenian-American activist told Yahoo News on Thursday...

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told Yahoo News shortly after a briefing from Obama aides at the White House that the president would once again stop short of using the term "genocide" in his annual statement about the tragedy.

"We took from today's meeting at the White House that the president will end his tenure in office as he began it, caving in to Turkish pressure and betraying his own promise to properly recognize the Armenian genocide," Hamparian said by telephone.

As a senator, Obama supported but did not co-sponsor a 2007 resolution calling for the use of the term "genocide" when discussing the Armenian tragedy.

And when he was running for the presidency in 2008, Obama could hardly have been clearer.
"My firmly held conviction [is] that the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence," he said in a statement. "As president I will recognize the Armenian genocide."
Once in office, however, Obama's grip on that conviction apparently loosened, and he joined other presidents like George W. Bush in saying one thing during the campaign andanother from the Oval Office.

In 2015, the 100th anniversary of the tragic events, Obama's statement referred to "Meds Yeghern," Armenian for "the great calamity." He also included a reference to Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the term "genocide" during World War II.

The refusal to use the word "genocide" to describe the fate of Armenians over one century ago is bad enough; to refuse to do so after promising the Armenian community while campaigning for the presidency is another story.

One can only hope that the next president of the United States will honor the victims of a genocide that 20 nations (including France, Sweden, Russia, the Vatican, and Canada) have already acknowledged. Other nations, like the U.S., have passed resolutions, but have yet to formally use the word "genocide." The time for politics, and specifically the kowtowing to pressures exhibited by the Turkish government, should be over. Yes, America must label ISIS atrocities as genocide, but to ignore using the word with the Armenian genocide is an affront to history.

We owe future generations, and the victims of past atrocities, the courage to act today, regardless of political pressure. The United States must official recognize the Armenian Genocide. Our next president must utilize the word that Raphael Lemkin created, after studying and researching the plight of the Armenian people during the Ottoman empire.

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