To leaders in our Armenian community here at UCLA Anderson, today is an important historic anniversary as well as a deeply personal call to action. They share their thoughts and perspective below.
By Arek Santikian (’15) and Araz Khodabakhshian (Ph.D. ’18)
The United States is home to roughly 1.5 million Armenians (500,000 of whom live in the greater Los Angeles area). Russia is home to roughly 2 million Armenians. In these two countries alone, one can find more Armenians than within the Republic of Armenia.
Why? Why did they leave the beautiful mountainous heights of the Caucasus in Eurasia, and move to countries thousands of miles away? The population of Armenians living in countries outside of Armenia (11 million) is almost four times the population living inside of Armenia (3 million). This was not a natural result of emigration. The reason lies in a not-so-distant past, buried and ignored inside a very dark time in world history. The reason is genocide. The first genocide of the 20th century. The Armenian Genocide.
April 24, 1915, marks the first day of the Genocide, when Turkish soldiers gathered, arrested and executed Armenian intellectuals and community leaders, leaving their people leaderless. Then they disarmed, arrested and killed the men, leaving their people unable to fight back. Next came the death marches. Women, children and elderly were forcefully expelled from their homes, raped, murdered or sent to march into the desert without food or water. Those lucky enough to survive fled to neighboring countries. Those not so lucky died from starvation. By 1918, the casualties of the Genocide amounted to 1.5 million people, and Armenians lost more than half of their native land.
Though the death marches, rapes and killing ended in 1918, the Genocide continues to this very day, in its final stage: denial. The Republic of Turkey, a century later, still has not recognized the Genocide that murdered our ancestors and crippled our nation. Just days ago on April 15, 2015, Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had this to say about the 100,000 Armenians who currently live in Turkey: “We can deport them. Even if we haven’t yet.” This is the leader of modern-day Turkey, echoing the cruelty of a century ago.
As of today, 24 countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide, and this number continues to grow. Although the United States continues to avoid using the word Genocide federally, 43 states, and counting, have passed resolutions supporting it. Last week, the European parliament adopted a resolution commemorating the centennial of the Genocide and urging Turkey to “come to terms with its past.” President Erdogan’s response: “In one ear and out the other.”
Recently, Pope Francis held a mass in Vatican City to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, keeping his promise; a refreshing sight, considering many world leaders avoid doing so. President Erdogan’s comment was, "I condemn the Pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again." Erdogan, the leader of a democracy, also criminalizes his own citizens who are brave enough to speak freely and truthfully about this past horror.
As we recognize the centennial of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015, we seek justice for the 1.5 million Armenians who perished, and we also seek to raise awareness about the innocent people who continue to fall victim to genocide. The world’s failure to hold Turkey accountable for these atrocities paved the way for the cycle of genocide to continue throughout the 20th century. The horrors of the Holocaust, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Rwanda took millions of innocent lives, tormenting the future of millions more, and this cycle has spilled over into the 21st century in Darfur.
When will this end? When will civilization rid itself of the willingness to hate other human beings because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation?
As young leaders of our generation, we believe the daily onus falls on us to learn from the horrors of hatred in our past, and to be the catalyst behind the change that can build a better future for all human beings far beyond UCLA.