Many welcomed President Joe Biden's recognition of the Armenian genocide on April 24, 2021. In a rare move, the president stood up to Turkish lobbyists and the Turkish government in recognizing what was a bloody period in human history. "We honor the victims so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history," the president said. The Ottomans not only targeted ethnic Armenians during the genocide, but also ethnic Assyrians (like me) and Greeks, among others. But recognizing a genocide is simply not enough. It's a great first step, but more must be done to stop genocide from ever happening again.
Historic events must be taught to students today, regardless of who is the oppressor or the victim. Growing up, I never learned about the Ottoman massacres in the U.S. public education system. As a student, I took initiative to learn about the horrors perpetrated by Ottoman Turks, Persians, and Kurds in the early 1900s. There is power in knowing what happened in the past. It is often said that history repeats itself. By learning about the Armenian-Assyrian-Greek genocide, we can all hope that such history is never repeated again, anywhere.
Related: The Assyrian Genocide
Reverend John Eshoo, an Assyrian survivor, recalled what he witnessed during the genocide in Khoi, modern day Iran, in 1918: "Assyrians were assembled into one caravansary, and all shot to death by guns and revolvers. Blood literally flowed in little streams, and the entire open space within the caravansary became a pool of crimson liquid. They were brought in groups, and each new group compelled to stand up over the heap of the still bleeding bodies and was shot to death in the same manner."
Eyewitness accounts, like the reverend's, provide necessary details. Why were these specific populations targeted by the government? What was the main objective of the Ottoman Empire? Christians and Indigenous peoples were targeted in an attempt to Turkify all those who lived in modern day Turkey to strip them of their identities.
Support for the bipartisan Armenian Genocide Education Act (H.R.7555) is a necessary, yet overdue, start to "encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States' role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity." Such legislation would greenlight the teaching of the genocide in classrooms across the country, allowing students to openly learn about a period of time that is so heavily censured in Turkey.
Those who deny the genocide today are quick to come up with excuses to legitimize crimes against humanity. By teaching this genocide in schools across the country, students will have a better understanding about the events that led to it, and why the Turkish government--successor to the Ottomans--today spends millions of dollars to deny what the Ottomans did. From publishing false books vilifying Armenians and others, to jailing and killing advocates for speaking the truth, the Turkish government knows it has a lot to lose when it comes to recognizing its bloody past. The modern Turkish state was built upon the blood of its Indigenous Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek populations.
If Germany can reconcile with its horrific past, why can't Turkey? What makes Turkey so special that it can sidestep its cruel past? And why has the international community allowed Turkey to continue its outright denial for so long? The French Senate recently adopted a resolution recognizing the Assyrian genocide of 1915-1918. "Türkiye does not need to take history lessons from anyone. The French Senate should look to its own history, rather than lecturing others," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said in a statement. Denial is the last stage of genocide.
As Turkish ally Azerbaijan continues its blockade of the Lachin corridor, begun Dec. 12, depriving 100,000 ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh of food and medicine, it's now more important than ever to make sure events such as the Armenian-Assyrian-Greek genocide are taught in schools across the country. Although the U.S. recognized the Ottoman-era genocide over 100 years after the fact, Turkey still adamantly denies reality, and Assyrians, Armenians, and Greeks continue to be subjugated under oppressive, rich regimes, with no international support or acknowledgement. They stand largely on their own.
As a Holocaust teacher I interviewed once said, "'Never again' happens all of the time." It's up to all of us to stand up for what is right.
Ramsen Shamon is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.
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