The tragic and violent events known as genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and the Holocaust all hold their commemorations this month. For this reason, April marks the Genocide Prevention Month. The international community has continuously expressed its outrage and has pledged to work together to prevent future atrocities from taking place, but time and time again, it has been unsuccessful in halting conflicts that have led to the deaths and displacements of millions of people.
The failure to recognize and punish those responsible for past genocides has enabled others to carry out mass atrocities because the perpetrators are confident that they can get away with it. One such example is the Republic of Turkey’s denial of what happened to the Armenians. The centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide is approaching; the survivors, their descendants, and those who have perished in the genocide have waited too long for justice. The time to recognize this tragedy and to prevent future genocides from taking place is now.
April 24, 1915. This date marks the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. Of the nearly two million Armenians living within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire before 1914, only half a million survived the genocide. World War I created the perfect conditions for the Young Turk regime to rid itself of its Armenian problem once and for all.
The Ottoman Empire had been significantly weakened when it lost its Balkan territories in the late 19th century. The Armenian Christian minority, which was systematically harassed, overtaxed, and subject to pogroms, posed a serious threat to Turkish sovereignty, since it could also follow in the footsteps of the Balkan populations and demand autonomy. Thus, when Europe became engulfed in a bloody warfare, the Ottoman leaders used the opportunity to implement their genocidal plan. Armenian men were the first to be deported and killed – then followed the mass deportation of the elderly, women, and children.
Between 1915 and 1923, Armenians from all over the empire were forced to leave their homes and all of their belongings behind and march towards the Syrian Desert. They marched without food or water, frequently were attacked by Kurdish bandits, and the prettiest girls were raped or taken to the harems. Although there were some Turks and international missionaries who tried to help Armenians, nobody was able to stop the inevitable from taking place. A thriving ethnic group that called the region home for centuries was annihilated.
Ninety-eight years have passed since then, but the wounds of the genocide have not healed. The current Turkish regime refuses to acknowledge the crimes committed by its predecessors. Through a number of constitutional laws, such as Article 301 to the Penal Code, Turkey punishes those who dare to speak of this dark chapter of the Ottoman history. The Turkish government has also kept the international community, including the U.S. government, hostage by threatening to cut down diplomatic relations if the genocide is recognized.
In the case of the Holocaust, Bosnia, and Rwanda, the process has been put in place to hold perpetrators of the massacres accountable. Even Guatemala has taken steps to reconcile with its past; former de facto President Ríos Montt is currently facing trial for his role in the genocide against the Mayan Ixil population during his 17-month military rule in 1982-1983.
Unfortunately, history has a way of repeating itself, as crimes against humanity are ongoing today. Reports of inter-ethnic violence and government-led human rights violations are reported daily. Recently, Burma witnessed widespread violence between Muslims and Buddhists that sparked fears of genocide. Darfur remains volatile, as reports have indicated that more than 130,000 people have fled their homes since the beginning of the year because of fresh tribal fighting in the region.
Stronger steps should be taken to punish genocide perpetrators and confidence building measures should be taken to reconcile different groups of people that share the same national identity to ensure that fighting will not resume in the future. If those responsible for genocides are not punished and continue denying such events took place, it will not only continue the cycle of genocide but will prevent people from moving on with their lives. The international community should recognize what has happened, keep it in their memories, and ensure that such events never take place again.