Achieving the acknowledgement and declaration of a historically agreed-upon fact is a deceptively simple challenge. It is one that the Armenian community intimately understands, specifically in the form of denial of a genocide. For the past 106 years, every year on April 24, the international Armenian community experiences a plethora of emotions and is then told to be quiet about them. We feel a righteousness course through us, with the need to march for our history. We unite under our common history and survival, feeling blessed to be alive together. Most prominently, we experience a collective grief so large that it’s crazy to think that this is a grief originating from a crime that occurred so long ago.
But the idea of this crime being one that began and ended in the early 20th century is false and a large reason for our ongoing suffering. By denying the existence of this genocide that, by the admission of the main organizer Talat Pasha, eliminated three quarters of the worldwide Armenian population, the violence continues to this day. We see it in the displacement of the tens of thousands of Armenians in the aftermath of the Artsakh War, which I reported on in October of this past year. We see it in the threat of Pan-Turkism, as Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared in a statement released on April 24, “Armenophobia is in the essence of Pan-Turkism, and today we can see its most disgusting manifestations in Azerbaijan as fostered by the authorities of that country.”
This is why the recognition of this mass atrocity as a “genocide” is so important. Through recognition there is healing, and through recognition there is prevention of future genocides. Don’t believe me? Look to the 1939 speech by Adolf Hitler, who stated on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland that began World War II, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” This quote is not merely cited here for shock value, instead to establish the historical precedent for the Armenian Genocide in particular to influence the execution of subsequent genocides and holocausts. As Lawrence Douglas writes in an article about historian Stefan Ihrig’s book on the connection between the two genocides says, “Turkey had introduced extermination as a way in which a modern nation state could ‘solve’ problems posed by an unwelcome minority.” If recognition leads to prevention, silence and impunity lead to genocide.
Thus, why has it been historically a challenge to get the American government to acknowledge the Genocide? This is largely due to America’s diplomatic relationship with strategically-located Turkey. Turkey to this day refuses to recognize the Genocide as a genocide and claims the 1.5 million deaths to be a side effect of the first World War, not the extermination attempts of the Turkish government. If America made a move towards Genocide recognition, Turkey firmly condemned it. This is why President Joe Biden’s campaign promise of genocide recognition was not taken seriously by many Armenian-Americans, since presidents have been making the same promise for decades, with each one walking back on that promise when in office. This is why this year’s acknowledgment is so unprecedented and important.
On April 24, Biden became the first American president to formally recognize the mass killings, starvation marches, relocations, rapes, forced conversions, tortures and murders of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a “genocide.” This announcement shocked, amazed, encouraged and relieved the American-Armenian community.
“I was so happy when Biden officially recognized it,” said junior Armenian student Daniel Donabedian. “The whole world practically knew what occurred in 1915, the U.S. knew what occurred too, but they just didn’t want to disrupt their relations with Turkey by formally recognizing it. I’m very glad our government finally did what was right despite Turkey’s wishes… hopefully it can provide Armenian Americans with pride knowing that their country is no longer denying the Armenian Genocide.”
This sentiment was echoed by another Armenian junior, Isabel Hagobian.
“My reaction was shock and excitement because although U.S. recognition is long overdue it is a good step in the right direction and what we have been working towards,” she said.
The feeling that the statement was “long overdue” is one that many Armenian-Americans share.
“Despite the pride I feel from the U.S. acknowledging this atrocity against Armenia, it astounds me that it took this long to do it,” Donabedian said. “The Armenian Genocide, like most genocides, was not discreet at all, so it’s just kind of shocking to me that the U.S. took so long to recognize an obvious truth. I hope that one day Turkey can formally apologize for what their former government did, but I’m not holding my breath.”
He brings up the fact that this recognition is one step on a ladder Armenians have been climbing for more than a century. I hope this statement inspires us to climb even higher.
Every year, the Armenian people excavate devastating personal trauma to educate the rest of the world about a silenced genocide. Biden’s statement of recognition is the result of decades of that work and we should not be thankful –– we should be proud.
“I think Biden’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide will mean more awareness towards the genocide and more conversation in other media sources that may have been hesitant to use to word genocide before,” Hagobian said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment for the Armenian Diaspora and something for us to celebrate.”
To my fellow Armenians, I hope you find pride and peace in this monumental event.