Andrew Garinther

Diamondback Online est-column-the-g-word-1.1348291
April 19 2010

The term "genocide" was coined in 1944 by a Jewish lawyer named Raphael
Lemkin. Lemkin lived during the Holocaust, but for much of his life,
he studied the death of what some scholars believe to be 75 percent of
the Armenian population in the early 20th century. He specifically had
those events in mind when he created the word. Nearly 70 years later,
the United States and Turkey do not recognize these events as genocide,
even though 20 countries and 42 states do.

Much of the U.S. population has never heard of the Armenian genocide.

During World War I and its aftermath, the Turkish Ottoman Empire
attempted a systematic extermination of its ethnic minority, which
was mainly Armenians but also included Greeks and Bulgarians. Turkish
soldiers brutally murdered, raped and displaced as many Armenian
citizens as they could. Oftentimes, men were simply murdered while
women and children were sent on "death marches" through the desert
without food or water. An estimated total of 1.5 million Armenians
were murdered, leaving, by some accounts, fewer than 500,000 alive.

Today, there are 3 million Armenians living in Armenia, about 1.4
million in the United States and millions more living throughout
the world. While much controversy surrounds labeling these events
as genocide, any Armenian you ask could provide you with an account
of a gross human rights violation suffered by one of his or her
family members at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Although the United
States recognizes these events as tragic, presidents have always been
reluctant to hurt relations with Turkey by referring to the actions
as genocide. The United States uses Turkey as a strategic location
for military bases, most recently during the Iraq war. In addition,
Turkey has a history of diplomatic retaliation against countries
that recognize the Armenian genocide, such as when it recalled its
ambassador to Sweden, which officially recognized the events as
genocide earlier this year. Unwilling to jeopardize relations with
this valuable ally in the Middle East, the United States has held
its tongue.

Countries have recognized the Armenian genocide because they realized
the effect ignoring genocide could have on humanity. The Armenian
genocide is known as the first genocide of the 20th century, but it
was certainly not the last. At least 7 million died under Joseph
Stalin in Soviet Russia; about 6 million Jews were killed by the
Nazis in World War II; Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed more than
2 million in Cambodia; about 800,000 Tutsis were killed in Rwanda;
an estimated 300,000 have died in Darfur and about 200,000 have
died in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first and most important step in
stopping future genocides is having knowledge of past events, and it
is impossible to know about past genocides when they are incorrectly
labeled as civil wars, irrelevant footnotes or are even denied.

Denying genocide has long been a tactic of those who perpetrate
genocide, as exemplified by Adolf Hitler when he said to the Nazis:
"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

Everyone has heard of the Holocaust, but how many people know why
2 million Cambodian citizens were murdered by their own government,
or why a European country attempted an ethnic cleansing? A Holocaust
denier is deemed bigoted or crazy, yet the greatest democracy in the
world remains silent on the Armenian genocide. If the United States
recognizes the Armenian genocide, as proposed in a resolution passed
by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, critics
fear relations with Turkey will be harmed unnecessarily. However,
history has shown that relationships between countries are mended
over time, and if we continue to deny the events of the past, we are
doomed to repeat them.

If anyone wishes to learn more about the Armenian genocide, the
Armenian Student Union will be sponsoring a commemoration of and
seminar on the genocide tonight at 6 p.m. in Terrapin Rooms B and C
in Stamp Student Union's Student Involvement Suite.

Andrew Garinther is the vice president of the Armenian Student Union.

He can be reached at agarinther at gmail dot com.