Setting the Record Straight: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Setting the Record Straight: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

– By Henry Pelifian –

There has been an unreal and even false assumption regarding Turkey among many Americans and even the U.S. government as it strides across the globe spending billions tinkering with this or that alliance with foreign aid and military bases. In this pragmatic view Turkey is a staunch ally with a history of Islamic tolerance. For many decades Turkey has received hundreds of millions of dollars annually for allowing U.S. bases on its soil. The Bush-43 administration forgave Turkey’s $5-billion-dollar debt to the United States.

In fact, Turkey negotiated the $5-billion-dollar debt forgiveness in exchange for the right of American aircraft based in Turkey to attack Iraq. Foreign aid is not considered bribery; it is just government-to-government assistance. But the number of Swiss bank accounts that have been created from American foreign-aid money litters the globe from Asia to Africa. According to theOxford Atlas of World History the United States government since World War II has been “supporting manifestly corrupt and oppressive right-wing regimes considered friendly to the USA.”   It is missing the point on Turkey to believe this is about foreign aid; rather it is missing the point on genocide.

There are Americans today, even Christian religious leaders, who are extolling Turkey claiming one may freely choose Islam, but the history of Turkey clashes with this notion of tolerance. Early in the Twentieth Century the Turkish government embarked upon the first genocide of that century. Adolf Hitler remarked to his aids in the 1930s to support his own pogrom against the Jews: “Who now remembers the Armenians?” Who does remember the Armenians?   Politics of the moment are often more important than historical truth and its important impact on the future of the world.

Nearly two million Christian Armenians in Turkey were killed in a genocide that hinged on the Armenians converting to Islam. A devoutly Christian people for centuries, the Armenians were determined to face the Turkish onslaught rather than deny their faith. The Armenians were a successful people, active in commerce, owning businesses and property in Turkey, as well as being artisans and talented craftsmen. That was all swept away by the Turkish government’s brutal attempt to exterminate all Armenians.

Although the Armenian genocide is fully documented, the Turkish government to this day refuses to acknowledge its treachery. The Turkish government at the outset of the genocide began by drafting unknowing Armenian males into the army and murdering them. Once the Armenian towns and villages were devoid of the young men, the Turks committed atrocities on the largest scale by uprooting Armenian women, children, and elderly from their ancestral homes in Turkey and marching them into the desert.

The memory of the genocide of Armenians in Turkey is alive today among Armenians whose relatives survived and fled Turkey. My father as a boy was taken with the elderly, women, and children to a barren and deserted area to makeshift prison camps. Along the way the Armenians were raped and mutilated. Those who were dying of thirst and malnutrition were left to die in the desert. The Turks were slowly starving the Armenians to death in the concentration camps.

My father’s job when he was a boy was to bury the dead in a ditch near the encampment, which he did for several years. His grandmother told him one day that when she died he was to bury her in the ditch and be strong and escape. He did just that. He roamed Turkey as a boy disguising himself as a Turk. At the end of World War I the British occupied Turkey, permitting the Red Cross to enter the country. With the help of the Red Cross my father made it to the greatest nation in the world, as he often told me.

Armenians throughout America have similar memories of their families dying at the hands of the Turks. All this talk of a secular Turkey attempting to become part of the larger world rings very hollow and untrue. How can a country move forward with the first genocide of the Twentieth Century as part of its history? It cannot and all those who sing the song of a modern Turkey sing a song laced with the most barbaric form of human depravity by ignoring the genocide of an entire people — the ultimate human crime.

Until Turkey recognizes the Armenian genocide it will always be a rogue nation for all people who know that truth and honesty is humanity’s surest guide to a better future. Would Germany be a rogue nation today if it had not admitted to the holocaust?   Dismissing the slaughter and carnage of nearly two million Armenians by the Turkish government is a legacy that cannot be forgotten.

Any government or people who promote modern Turkey without recognizing and admitting the genocide of Armenians are embarking upon a historic lie, a lie that encompasses Turkey every day and every year. It is time for the U.S. government to probe its relationship with Turkey not for temporary advantage, but for lasting impact for all people who desire that genocide be condemned and wherever possible arrest those responsible for committing atrocities. There is no statute of limitations for the crime of genocide.

Armenians ask only that the truth be told, revealed, and acknowledged.   Without truth humanity never quite makes a full step forward, but hovers in the shadow of lies hidden in endless denials.




Henry Pelifian has written many columns and articles on government and current events. He has published a play THOREAU based on the life, works and words of Henry David Thoreau, a war novella and short stories based on his years overseas called Stellar Energies To America and Land of the Tuk-Tuk set in Thailand and Iran. 

He served in the U.S. Army in South Vietnam for one year, 67-68 and in the Peace Corps in Thailand 75-77. He has an B.A. in English/Drama/Education and an MBA in International Management. He has lived in Thailand, Malaysia and Iran with experience in both public and private sectors.

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