BLOG 348 May 1, 2017
Some years ago, I was researching my genealogical background and spent time in the Armenian Sector of the old city of Jerusalem where I became acquainted with a number of friends. April 24, (this past week) commemorated the day the Turks started rounding-up Armenian high ranking citizens living in Istanbul. The horror story grows from there.
This experience from the past is now on the big screen. THE PROMISE tells the story of the Ottoman Turks attempt to wipe out the Armenians, living in the easternmost part of present day Turkey. The movie is powerful, factual, and will touch your heart. The account is based on a true story.
I recommend the film because so few contemporaries understand what happened to 1.5 million Armenians who were systematically murdered by the collapsing Ottoman Turkish Empire as World War I began. The Turks claim they feared the Armenians would join the Russians and were traitors to Turkey. Though not true, the idea is still promoted in the Turkish school system. The Turkish government has denied their official role in murdering the Armenians and to this day refuse to admit what they did. Even two years ago, when Pope Frances called the killings genocide, the Turkish government screamed and said there was no such proof.
A Turkish historian at Clark University, Taner Akcam has recently found “the smoking gun.” Taner’s academic interest has been in genocide and how it was used in World War I. By rummaging through boxes of documents stored in the Armenian Library in Jerusalem, he found a 1915 telegram from an official in the Turkish city of Erzurum sent in a secret code asking for details on the killings of Armenians. The deciphered telegram helped convict an official. Akcam believes what he has found the path that will allow many other documents to be uncovered, further verifying the past. As Turkey prepared to size their country, in 1922, Armenian leadership shipped 24 boxes of court records to England to keep them from being confiscated. In turn, those documents were sent to the Armenian Library in Jerusalem where Akcam did research. History professor at the City College of New York and an expert on the Armenian genocide, Eric Weitz called Taner Akcam the “Sherlock Holmes of Armenian genocide.”
Many countries such as France, Germany, and Greece have acknowledged what Turkey did. Of course, the Turks scream each time their role in the killings is proclaimed. The United States has not officially recognized Turkey’s brutal acts. President Obama used the term genocide when he was a candidate, but not while in office. Dozens of congressional leaders signed a letter asking President Trump to publically recognize the systematic murders. They doubt if he will do so.
Akcam recognizes that the past is never pasted in the Middle East. Reports of diplomats, missionaries, and journalist who witnessed these events have long existed, but are ignored by Turkish officials. Will the government officials now change their minds? Akcam doesn’t expect that to happen, but he believes that human rights can only be established by acknowledging the path.
Let’s hope that just re-elected Turkish leader Erdogan will wake up. If not, the rest of the world is certainly coming out of the shadows and remembering the past for what it was.