We applaud President Biden for being the first American president to recognize the Armenian Genocide, which took place from 1915 to 1923 during World War I. His announcement today is appropriately timed to commemorate Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which memorializes the deportation of Armenians from Constantinople in 1915 and the beginning of the 8-year genocide which left over a million Armenians dead.
The Armenian people, a majority Christian ethnic group from modern-day Turkey, were systematically murdered by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Approximately 1 million Armenians were sent on death marches and killed by means including starvation and torture. The Ottomans (now Turks) perpetrated these acts in the hopes that it would keep Armenians from advocating for their own state, and that it would rid the Empire of the “traitorous” Christians. By the mid-1920’s, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were killed.
There has been a longstanding tradition of genocide denial in Turkey, and many Turkish allies refused to officially acknowledge it until decades after the genocide took place. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that countries such as France, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands officially recognized the genocide. The U.S. Congress did in 2019, but never before has an American president stood with the Armenian people in acknowledgment of their history, until now.
A fundamental part of healing from such an atrocity is recognizing that it happened in the first place and calling it what it was: genocide. As Zionists, we know what happens when vulnerable populations are victimized and attacked for seeking sovereignty and security. As Jews, Holocaust denial is heinous, deceitful, dehumanizing and terrifying for our community and for the future of humanity. For Armenians, the genocide of their people has been callously denied by nearly the whole world for generations. This denial is an attempt to gaslight the Armenian community, ignores their truth, and has created a false debate when there is none to be had.
The great Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, once said of the Armenian genocide, “How could I, who has fought all my life for Jewish remembrance, tell the Armenians they have no right to remember?” Wiesel and 126 other Holocaust survivors argued for the recognition of the Armenian genocide with fervor, noting that there is incontestable evidence that this genocide occurred. He and his co-signers knew that “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
This step is long overdue, but we thank President Biden for taking it now. We hope that formal recognition of the genocide will bring solace to our Armenian friends and siblings, ensure that the heinous acts committed against them are not forgotten, and help them continue to heal. This acknowledgment must serve as a reminder to the world of the evils humans are capable of — and our enduring commitment to the promise of Never Again.