Stephens, David: Armenian Genocide: President Biden recognises what Armenians knew more than a century ago

David Stephens*

‘Armenian Genocide: President Biden recognises what Armenians knew more than a century ago’, Honest History, 3 May 2021

President Biden said this on 24 April:

Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination …

The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.

Biden became the first US president to recognise the Genocide. ABC News background story.

The Biden recognition led to a number of analytical articles in the world press. Here are some:

  • Daniel Fried in Politico: ‘The U.S. will no longer have to engage in elaborate linguistic contortions to remain honest with history and truth while maintaining its immediate interests with Turkey and the region’.
  • Charlie Mahtesian in Politico: ‘Biden’s declaration represents an important step toward fulfilling America’s commitment to human rights across the world. At home, it begins to close the open wound at the center of the Armenian American experience.’
  • Tony Wright in NewsHub (NZ): ‘No New Zealand Government has ever officially recognised the genocide, over fears Turkey, which committed the atrocities, will ban Kiwis from visiting the Gallipoli battlefields’.

Australia has not recognised the Genocide, either. Here, Alison Broinowski wrote in Pearls and Irritations:

This year’s ceremonies at ANZAC cove (Ari Burnu)  were modest compared to those which drew thousands of Australian visitors to Turkey before the pandemic struck and before terrorism scared them off. But whether many or few are present, the Armenian Genocide anniversary which occurs the next day is never front of mind for the visitors. Instead, they hear the usual mantra about Gallipoli (Gelibolu) being the birthplace of our nation, and they thank their Turkish hosts for letting Australia have its secular shrine there …

If Australia acknowledges the Armenian genocide, then what becomes of ANZAC cove, our national site for ‘ritual acts of war commemoration’ (as ANU historian Adam Hughes Henry calls it in his Reflections on War, Diplomacy, Human Rights and Liberalism, 2020)? Turkey is unlikely to welcome Australians any longer.

Australia follows the Americans’ lead in most things apart from action on climate change and to some extent, gun control. What shall we do now?

Morgenthau336

Armenian victims, c. 1915 (Wikimedia Commons/Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story)

The Honest History Book (2017) included a chapter from Vicken Babkenian and Judith Crispin on Australian-Armenian relations from 1915 till today. ‘On that first Anzac Day, too’, the authors wrote, ‘the train rattling eastwards from Constantinople marked the beginning of the extermination of at least one million of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian subjects’. Babkenian and Peter Stanley wrote a book on the same subject.

There is a mass of material on the Honest History website about the Genocide. Use our Search engine with the terms ‘Armenia’ and ‘Genocide’. See particularly, this collection and the links there.

Coda

Another Honest History ‘special subject’ has been the history of the famous ‘You, the mothers who sent their sons …’ words wrongly attributed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic. (As usual, they featured in this year’s Anzac commemorations.)

There is no strong evidence that Atatürk ever said or wrote these words, but there is very strong evidence that the words were made up (for Turkish domestic political reasons) in 1953, 15 years after Atatürk’s death, by his former ally and Interior Minister, Şükrü Kaya. The words are, of course, moving. Kaya was something of a literary man. (Although the words, in one of the two English translations, about there being no difference between Johnnies and Mehmets were a later embellishment by an old Anzac in Brisbane.)

Here’s the connection with the Armenian Genocide … Among other episodes in his long career, Kaya was imprisoned by the British after the Great War for alleged involvement in the Genocide. He escaped. Lots more on the Atatürk words – and Kaya (search for ‘Kaya’).

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website.

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