By Ardy Kassakhian
Special to the News-Press
This April 24, Armenians around the world marked another somber anniversary by remembering the Armenian Genocide, a tragedy that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. The genocide was planned and carried out by the Young Turk regime in 1915 and has continued through 1923. Through mass killings, forced deportations, and systematic abuse and torture, the over 3 millennia old Armenian presence in Asia Minor came to an abrupt end.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of this tragic event, it remains largely unrecognized by the international community. There are people who wonder why it is so important for Armenians to remember something that took place more than 108 years ago. This is a valid question. After all, there aren’t many people left who witnessed what happened. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why remembering matters.
First and probably foremost is that remembering the Armenian genocide is essential for justice and accountability. To this day, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge the genocide and has actively worked to suppress any discussion of it. By remembering and acknowledging the genocide, we can hold those responsible accountable for their actions and ensure that justice is served. The Turkish government has built its nation’s wealth on property and lands that were confiscated from the Armenians and other Christian minorities who were persecuted and massacred.
Furthermore, remembering the Armenian genocide is important for preventing future genocides. Genocides are often fueled by the dehumanization and scapegoating of a particular group of people, and by remembering past genocides, we can recognize warning signs and take action for prevention. Because the global community was largely silent during and especially in the aftermath of the genocide of the Armenians, numerous other genocides have taken place since. It is well documented that the leaders of the German Nazi party were emboldened by this silence and Adolf Hitler referenced the destruction of the Armenians to set the stage for the Holocaust.
By educating ourselves and others about the Armenian genocide, we can raise awareness about the dangers of hate speech and discrimination and work toward creating a more inclusive and tolerant society. Recently, our own city was witness to such defamation and hate when light poles in our downtown area were plastered with flyers filled with hate speech calling for a completion of the genocide. We can’t remain silent in the face of rising acts of hate.
In addition, remembering the Armenian genocide is important for the preservation of cultural heritage. The Armenian genocide was not just an attack on human life, but also an attack on Armenian culture and history. Thousands of Armenian churches, monasteries and artifacts were destroyed or confiscated during the genocide, and the Armenian names for towns, villages and landmarks were changed to erase any trace of their existence. Remembrance ensures that Armenia’s rich history and traditions are not lost to future generations.
Denial of genocide is a form of erasure that perpetuates the cycle of violence and hate. It allows for the normalization of dehumanizing hate speech and creates an environment where future genocides can occur. By denying the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government is actively contributing to the global culture of denial and undermining the efforts of those working toward justice and peace.
Currently, Armenians are witnessing a continuation of the genocide as the government of Azerbaijan is actively trying to ethnically cleanse Armenian lands of their people with an ongoing blockade of the Artsakh region. In 2020, Azerbaijan used the cover of a global pandemic to launch a brutal attack on villages and towns inhabited by Armenians in order to “reclaim” lands that they believed should belong to them under borders that had been drafted by Joseph Stalin during the Soviet empire.
More than 4,000 Armenians were killed. Many Glendale residents had relatives who were affected by the war or lost loved ones. Today, Azerbaijan – aided by Turkey – continues to terrorize the people living in Artsakh. Beheadings, bodily mutilations and torture are videotaped and shared on social media reopening the century old wounds. And as this horror unfolds thousands of miles away, the global community is deafeningly silent.
Why remember? Because if we don’t, then who will? Because remembering the Armenian genocide is essential for justice, accountability, prevention, cultural preservation, and even for healing and reconciliation. Because it is our moral duty as Americans who are not afraid to speak out against injustices no matter where they occur. The Armenian genocide may be history but the suffering continues to this very day. The absolute least any of us can do is to continue to honor the memory of the victims and work toward justice and recognition for their suffering. By doing so, maybe we will be able to work toward a more peaceful and just future.
Kassakhian is a City Councilman and former mayor of Glendale.
First published in the April 29 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.