An Open Letter to Turkish Commoners Regarding the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide

An Appeal to the Conscience of Civilized People to Deal with the Armenian Genocide

Dear Turkish People,

It is with the gravest heart I remember today what happened to my ancestors more than 100 years ago – the Armenian Genocide. I realize that as human beings, we do not like to be confronted with the pain we’ve caused others. I also realize that the Turks of today may not have much to do with the atrocities of World War I, chiefly those of 1915, perpetrated against the Armenians. Often times the government of a people rebel against even the conscience of its own people. Whether or not this was the case, I do not know. I do know that there is a tendency for the masses to either remain in ignorance or be incited to fear and violence against their neighbor. However, in the wake of the settled dust and ashes, amidst the mountains painted with the blood of children, when the people of any such nation awaken to the horrible crimes their ancestors have bequeathed them, they must come to terms with the history of their country, their own leaders who carefully planned and carried out hellish acts of violence concocted by the most depraved of human imaginations.

You, the people of today, are left holding the weapons of extermination that your ancestors have used. You may not be at fault. However, you now have a duty. You must exercise intellectual honesty above any form of self coercion to see reality as it truly is. After all, it should please the conscience of a people to realize a level of humanity that is most consistent with our collective understanding of what it means to be good. It should further please that conscience to realize the nature of reality as fully as possible, even at the grave conflict reality may introduce to that conscience. For ignorance is a dangerous thing, but guilt…something far worse.

You may know that in the early part of the 20th century, during the ensuing chaos of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, your ancestral leaders, seized upon the opportunity to rid of an entire people group, known as Armenians, from within your ever-extending borders. With a systematic plan, that would later be used as a boilerplate for Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, the leaders of the Ottoman Empire began unfolding one of the most horrible plots in human history. Thus ensued one of the most underreported and misrepresented crimes against humanity in history. When the blood stopped spilling, The Ottoman Empire had murdered between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians, and hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Georgians. The tyranny that actually began in the 11th century found its culmination in the Armenian Genocide. We cannot forget the massacres of Armenians in 1894, 1895, 1896, 1909, and a reprise between 1920 and 1923.

There are today millions of Armenians living outside of their own country. Many find themselves outside of Armenia because their ancestors fled their captors as they were being hunted down. There are also countless victims who recount the actions of the Ottomans – things like rape, decapitations, and every sort of inhumane violence one may have the audacity to imagine. Were these the result of simply a deportation – marching in the desert with no food or water?

Consider the eyewitness narrative of Reverend K. Balakian’s, “Hai Koghota” (The Armenian Golgotha). Consider the eyewitness accounts of Rose Lambert, the American Christian missionary who was helping orphans in the region,

“Space will not permit me to write in detail of the many who were crucified, thrown into the river, killed with swords and axes, burned by the thousands in the churches or in their homes, and of the many who were tortured and killed in such hideous and awful ways that dare not be repeated, but it is estimated that in the vilayet of Adana between 20,000 and 30,000 were slain”

Consider the escape of Aurora Mardiganian from the clutches of her captors, who traveled to numerous countries before finally making it to the United States. Her depiction of the events that she witnessed would easily run a chill down the back of any normal human being. In what would become a silent film, “Ravished Armenia: The real-life story of Aurora Mardiganian,” Aurora would play herself in a real-life depiction of the horrific details. Upon seeing the films, the details of events were verified by others who escaped and ambassadors alike. Most of the film has been lost, except for about a 20-minute segment.

It would seem that the candor of the pain and grief of these witnesses would by itself draw us a clear picture of genocide.

Consider the numerous ambassadors themselves who have testified to the atrocities in terms descriptive of a systematic ethnic cleansing. Consider people like Armin T. Wegner, Paul Wolff Metternich, Henry Morganthau Sr. and others. Morganthau was quite outspoken about what he witnessed. In his memoirs, he would recount:

“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.”

Various newspapers around the world were covering the events taking place. In 1915 alone, the New York Times covered the Armenian Genocide in 145 articles with headlines like “Appeal to Turkey to Stop Massacres” with the descriptions of the actions using terms such as “systematic,” “authorized, and “organized by the government.” – all specific facets of what one would typically label “genocide.” I

One of the most prominent scholars on the subject, Vahakn N. Dadrian, painstakingly amassed primary source evidence from German and Austro-Hungarian officials — reluctant witnesses, leading him to the inescapable conclusion:

“The anti-Armenian measures, despite a multitude of attempts at cover-up and outright denial, were meticulously planned by the Ottoman authorities, and were designed to destroy wholesale, the victim population.” IIDadrian V., ‘The Armenian Question and the Wartime Fate of the Armenians’, p.76, with specific primary source documentation, p.84 n.109.

Not only was what the Ottoman Empire carried out a full-fledged genocide, but it was also driven in part due to the Islamic doctrine of jihad – a holy act of either bringing non-believers (everyone who’s not Muslim) into obedience to Allah (converting them to Islam) or exterminating them. The connection is so clear that Dadrian has put the matter in these terms:

“Six thousand four hundred Armenian children, young girls, and women from Yozgad, were decamped by their Turkish captors at a promontory some distance from the city. Then, To save shell and powder, the gendarmerie commander in charge of this large convoy had gathered 10,000-12,000 Turkish peasants and other villagers, and armed with ‘hatchets, meat cleavers, saddler’s knives, cudgels, axes, pickaxes, shovels’, the latter attacked and for some 4-5 hours mercilessly butchered the victims while crying ‘Oh God, Oh God’ (Allah, Allah). In a moment of rare candor, this gendarmerie commander confided to the priest-author, whom he did not expect to survive the mass murder, that after each massacre episode, he spread his little prayer rug and performed the namaz, the ritual of worship, centered on prayer, with a great sense of redemption in the service of Almighty God.” IIIDadrian, V. ‘The Quest for Scholarship in My Pathos for the Armenian Tragedy and its Victims’, in Pioneers of Genocide Studies, S. Totten and S. Jacobs, editors, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002, pp. 239—240.

There is after all a long history of such behavior of Islamic origin.IV This, along with the already badly deteriorated Ottoman regime created the perfect atmosphere for ethnic cleansing…and your ancestors took advantage of it. If this seems a bit too direct for you, I am glad. It should make you shudder. It should make you question things. It should rouse you to your feet…but only to find out for yourself whether it is true or not. The International Association of Genocide Scholars has made its position crystal clear about the Armenian Genocide. V

Though you are their descendants, you are not them. The refusal to take responsibility need not continue. You can collectively stand up and acknowledge that what happened to the Armenians was genocide and it was perpetrated by the former turkish ruling party, the Ottoman Empire. Though your government may deny it as a matter of public policy, you need not. You, the people, have power. And it is not fully appreciated. The demand of the mass of the commoners standing for something is compelling. Even when such demands by a nation’s people are damaging to that nation’s reputation, they are sufficient to serve as an acknowledgement and an apology, but for the nation itself a cleansing of the guilt of its blood stained hands. Conversely, refusing to accept as fact that which is obviously a fact and speak out against such injustice, makes those who refuse them no less than their ancestors who actually perpetrated those atrocities.

One’s conscience may be left in the dark by not knowing the full breadth of damage caused by one’s negligence of facts with respect to the actions of one’s ancestors. And similarly, one can attempt to silence one’s conscience through dreams and delusions far removed from reality that has passed by – historical facts. But the unrelenting cries of mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons, who took their last breaths under the tyranny of man’s total inhumanity, cannot, will not be silenced. Their blood is screaming…silently. If you hear the thuds inside, they are but the echoes of the tell-tale heart that has nowhere else to hide.

References   [ + ]

II. Dadrian V., ‘The Armenian Question and the Wartime Fate of the Armenians’, p.76, with specific primary source documentation, p.84 n.109.
III. Dadrian, V. ‘The Quest for Scholarship in My Pathos for the Armenian Tragedy and its Victims’, in Pioneers of Genocide Studies, S. Totten and S. Jacobs, editors, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002, pp. 239—240.