On this day 103 years ago, 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the government of the Ottoman Empire, known today as Turkey. This genocide was carried out both during and after World War and it lasted three years, involving mass murder, forced labor and a death march through the Syrian Desert women, children and the elderly were sent on. Other ethnic groups such as Greeks and Assyrians were also murdered during this time. Turkey has famously denied the term “genocide” for this murder and claimed that it was not the accurate term for this crime. As of 2018, 29 countries officially recognize and commemorate the genocide and push Turkey to do the same. The Turkish government and most Turkish people famously dismiss this genocide and claim that it is just lies told by Armenians. Here is a story by Mariana Mateossian as she talks about her grandfather’s tragic survival: “I remember when I was growing up in Argentina, it was difficult to be Armenian because we had to go Armenian church and Armenian school was far away and there were always extra lessons where we had to learn Armenian. I think I must have been about nine or 10, I remember being in a room with my granddad and I said: ‘I don’t want to be Armenian.’ He burst into tears. I have this image of him in front of me crying and saying ‘no, don’t ever say that’.”
“It hurt to hear that because all that he suffered was because he was Armenian and then suddenly to hear his granddaughter saying, ‘I’m not that bothered to be Armenian’. It was like a slap in the face for him.”
Krikor Mateossian was only a small child when the genocide took place. Mariana says that her grandfather’s father and his three sons from his first marriage were taken away. Krikor lived with his step-mother and his half-sister along with his 3 brothers and his sister. His father and his three kids were taken away as they were told that they had to serve the army for the war and sometime later all Armenians moved out but first they were gathered in the main square as they were told by an Imam that whoever converts to Islam can stay and those that refuse are forced to march out. During their march, Krikor’s step-mother realized that they were going to die so she knocked on a Kurdish family’s door and left the baby there. Krikor luckily or unluckily was kidnapped by bandits whom he was forced to serve as a servant and many years later he retells to his wife what he overheard in a coffee house, the man was talking about how he killed Krikor’s father after he saw his three sons die in front of him. Krikor was put in an orphanage by missionaries, which he later ran away from and was found again by her long lost aunt and he ran away from her as well until he ended up in another orphanage in Greece. He met his wife in Greece and together they lived a happy life in Argentina. Kriko passed away in 1980.
Why does Turkey deny the genocide despite many proofs?
Turkey does not deny the fact that there was killing, however they deny that it was a genocide and they believe that the number is much lower than 1.5 million. They defend themselves by claiming that the Armenians turned against their government and allied forces with Russia to plot against Turkey and they also claim that the number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire was lower than 1.5 million. Author Geoffrey Robertson points out that the Armenian Church estimates this number is actually around 2.1 million. In 2015, The European Court of Human Rights ruled that it is not a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide, a ruling which was not received well by the Armenians—rightfully so.
So… did it actually happen?
Unfortunately, unlike many other genocides, the Armenian Genocide turned out to be more of an opinionated case than factual. People nowadays tend to have their own view of the genocide as the topic itself is not taught in school, unlike the Jewish Holocaust. Both the Turkish and Armenian government have to come together and finalize this issue for once and all. The Turkish government will have to swallow their pride and accept the truth and focus on how to improve their relations with their neighbor, Armenia. As a Turk, it took me many years to accept the truth and hopefully in coming days more and more people will be aware of the truth.
Here is an interview with the Armenian singer Serj Tankian and his views on the genocide