Growing up in a single and adamant perspective, it can be disturbing and upsetting to hear voices that tell you you’re wrong. This is true for the politics of our country, where our perspectives are solidified by the common narrative of our family, friends, teachers, news sources, and so on. I can’t imagine, however, growing up in an environment where it is forbidden to discuss the Other perspective, in a way where an individual faces legal repercussions for doing so. Seeing the documents presented on the Armenian genocide, it is devastating to know that survivors, their descendants, and their community at large, have never received the appropriate acknowledgement and reparations for their suffering. Moreover, it is frightening to think of how devoted a state can be to justifying a false point of view, where the twisting of evidence — such as photos, multiple witness accounts, and census data — exists so prevalently.
What is real, to me, is that the Armenian people faced restrictions on their people, placed intentionally by the government, that reduced their quality of life, and that they were treated with excessive brutality, exorbitant for even casualties of wartime, again, permitted, if not orchestrated, by the state.
The first part of this, though it may not be indicative of genocide in and of itself, I think is crucial evidence in establishing that there was intent to oppress the Armenian people, to rob them of their human right to live, fully and naturally. Examples of these were brought up by St John Barned-Smith, in his letter to the Turkish Embassy, as he asked, “Why didn't you let them have pets? Why were the intellectuals rounded up? Why were they not allowed to send mail?” These restrictions, as he points out too, are behaviors common of genocide. He also asked the Embassy, “What of the children who were taken from their parents and then ‘Turkishicized’?” The fact that the Embassy had not addressed these questions in their letter of response, to me, shows that they cannot prove it didn’t happen, and that the evidence that it did stands. The point too that children were stripped of their culture, forced to assimilate into that of their oppressors (as we did to Indigenous peoples, as China does now to the Uighurs), also speaks to me that genocide did happen, that the state was deliberate in their attempts to destroy a group’s culture, and subsequently their people.
The second part I want to address concerning what is real about the genocide is that the Turkish state used force against the Armenians that was excessive for “unfortunate” casualties of war — there was the intent to exterminate their race. The evidence for this is overwhelming. There had been, for one, mass killings of people — unarmed, everyday civilians — on record, such as the information that 24,000 Armenians were killed in 3 days in April of 1915. There was another instance I read, in the book by Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide, linked in the “Armenian Genocide Survivor and Eyewitness Accounts” webpage, where about 800 men were arrested, tied together in groups, shot up by gendarmes until “they had nearly killed all of them,” and those who “had not been killed by bullets were then disposed of with knives and bayonets.” What is striking about this last example, to me, is that this event and its procedures, written by Consul Leslie A. Davis to Ambassador Morgenthau, included the date — July 7, 1915 — as well as the day of the week and the time of day during which it happened. It was also established in Survivors that there were multiple eyewitness accounts. These numbers, these stories, adding up together in devastating quantity, are true to me.
In addition to mass killings, we see cruelty in the “death marches” put upon the Armenians as they were deported. In the documentary we watched on the Armenian genocide, it was described how these death marches were made to exhaust them, sometimes deliberately going the longer path or over mountains or even in circles, unable to eat or drink. In Survivors, too, there was an excerpt from the witness account of Rev. Haroutioun Essayan, the Vicar of the Apostolic Church at Aleppo, describing how the Kurds had arrived at another village in their march, taking their clothes and forcing them to walk naked under the sun, how, “For another five days they did not have a morsel of bread, neither a drop of water. They were scorched to death by thirst. Hundreds over hundreds fell dead on the way, their tongues were turned to charcoal…” There is intent here, I think, to kill these people, to deprive them of the necessities of life. What is more damning, and what I will never forget, are what followed in Essayan’s account, how they finally reached a fountain, and “policemen stood in front of them and forbade them to take even a drop of water, for they wanted to sell the water… and sometimes not giving the water, after getting the money,” how women threw themselves into the well where there were no pails, being so thirsty; how their dead bodies would come up to the surface when they drowned. These are not accidental effects of war. This type of cruelty, of withholding water, of even suggesting the notion that they must pay for the natural resource right of front of them as hundreds were dying of thirst, was a deliberate action, in every way, of killing them. This, to me, is “real” history.
Something, too, must be said about the evidence presented aside from witness testimony. In the gallery of the Armenian National Archive, photos such as “Kharbert (Kharpout) 1915” show the way in which innocent children were not spared from the treatment of the Turks — they are not protecting themselves from rebels here, they are annihilating a group of people by brutalizing their children. In “Mousheghik,” titled for the child in the image, the boy is displaying his hands after having been crucified. Seeing physical evidence of the mistreatment of Armenian children, I believe in their stories. The maps we looked at too show evidence of the persecution of Armenians, as they lost their homes, as Armenians all over the country were driven to deportation centers. We see so much data, documenting the scale of deportations and massacres at locations, as well as Armenian resistance; we even see deportation and deaths out at the Black Sea which is consistent with the documentary we watched, as it was said to be where men, women, and children were taken out in boats and left to drown. Seeing a lot of these witness records match up with photographs and data to me are compelling, and they show that it was untrue that the Armenians were “exaggerating” their suffering, as the Turkish government claims. I truly do not know how to respond to Turkey’s denial. I agree with @Noodles, in their point that we need to recognize history, that Turkey must acknowledge their past acts of suppression and current ones of censorship, otherwise genocides would be repeated — as we’re seeing today. However, I think that the lies told about the Armenian genocide — that they deserved the oppression, that their extermination was accidental — have been ones told in their country for decades, throughout many generations of government and students; how would we have government officials acknowledge the genocide if they do not believe in it themselves? Now, with the mandate that the Armenian genocide be taught in schools not as a genocide, that belief may be completely solidified in the minds of future world leaders. I think this is the first issue to be addressed. I think it is extremely important for books, movies, and teachings of alternative perspectives to be allowed in Turkey, so that people can make these decisions for themselves. I think the United State government, and other world governments, should encourage the Turkish government to be more open in their spreading of information, instead of jailing individuals who dare to speak the truth. By allowing and discussing perspectives which show evidence of what the Armenians have suffered, I think the Turkish government may get closer to accepting their history and wanting to make reparations, instead of resolutely living in the easy denial they are now. In addition, I think the United States government should resolve to treat human rights issues more seriously, to stand up for people around the world against the censorship, persecutions, and mistreatment imposed on them by our own allies. The executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, Aram Suren Hamparian, brought up an important point when he said that “‘the time for anyone to get this issue right is when they're in office’” — we must push our leaders to hold themselves accountable, to use their position to speak for the voices of those who have suffered.