Porterville Recorder, CA
March 18 2015

Michael Carley / A Different Drum Recorderonline.com

When one thinks of the word genocide, what often comes to mind is the
Nazi holocaust of World War II during which Germany killed millions.

Communists, gays and minorities of all stripes were among the targets,
but Jews in particular suffered with an estimated six million of
their number killed, a substantial portion of the European Jewish
population of the time.

But, the word genocide was actually coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish
attorney from Poland, with regard to a different historical event,
one not discussed as widely, the Armenian genocide.

The Armenian genocide wasn't simply one event. Persecution began long
before the main attacks in 1915. As Armenians began to organize for
improvement of their lot in the late 19th century, they fell victim
to persecution by authorities of the Ottoman empire. Massacres of
Armenians took place as early as 1894, taking the lives of thousands.

Further persecution took place, including more massacres, over the
next twenty years. In what would become a prelude to Nazi propaganda,
the Ottomans began a campaign in 1914 arguing that Armenians were a
threat to their society. But the genocide began in full in April 1915,
a century ago next month.

Among other events, the Ottomans arrested about 250 intellectuals
and began the mass deportation of thousands. Others were sent on what
would later be called a "death march" through the desert toward Syria
where many perished. Property was confiscated, extermination camps
were established, some temporary, others contained mass graves. Many
were drowned.

Again presaging the Nazis, many were killed through medical
experimentation, including overdoses of various drugs, including

Estimates of those killed vary substantially, but the numbers are
likely between one and one and a half million Armenians.

Some Americans did speak out against the genocide, including former
president Theodore Roosevelt, populist Williams Jennings Bryan,
Rabbi Steven Wise and feminist Alice Stone Blackwell.

The Republic of Turkey is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and
it staunchly opposes using the term genocide. Nonetheless, the Armenian
Diaspora has consistently pushed for recognition of it, as they should.

To date, 22 countries have adopted resolutions acknowledging the
Armenian genocide as have 42 of the 50 US states.

Numerous congressional resolutions have been put forward to formally
recognize the Armenian genocide, only to fail due to lobbying by
the Turkish government. Relationships with a key ally have taken
precedence over historical accuracy.

President George W. Bush and his state department opposed recognition
during his tenure in office. While campaigning for president,
candidate Obama promised to recognize the genocide if elected,
but reversed course once in office, adhering to the same policy of
his predecessors, his administration opposing several congressional
attempts. The same goes for potential candidate Hillary Clinton who
lobbied against recognition during her tenure as Secretary of State.

As the century date approaches next month, it would be a good time
to do the right thing and simply acknowledge history as it happened.

If we're looking for silver linings, one only has to turn to our
neighbors to see the positive impact Armenian immigrants have had on
American society.

Armenian immigration began well before the 1915 events, with a wave
coming through the early massacres and the genocide period and another
wave coming from the 1960s onward, largely Soviet Armenians who had
not fully integrated into Soviet society.

The most recent American Community Survey (formerly the Census long
form) estimates that there are nearly half a million Armenian-Americans
in the US, though some estimates place the number far higher. The
highest concentration has been in the Los Angeles area, comprising
more than 40 percent of the national total.

Going back even further, some of the earliest Armenian immigrants
came here to the Central Valley, many of them settling in the Fresno
area as early as 1874. A number of them became Valley farmers and in
the early years, discrimination against Armenians was common.

Best known of these was William Saroyan. Born in Fresno in 1908,
Saroyan was the celebrated writer of short stories such as The Daring
Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and many others. Saroyan won the
Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1940 and an Academy Award in 1943 for
the film adaptation of his novel The Human Comedy.

You can see cultural events at the Saroyan Theatre, near the Fresno
Convention Center. One you might consider would be tonight's town hall
event, From the Ottoman Empire To Today: The Time for Reconciliation.

Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville.