Armenian centenary

April is the sweetest month, especially in Mediterranean lands. Yet it is a bitter memory for Armenians.

At the beginning of this year, our newspaper listed “The Top Ten Historic Moments to Mark in 2015” ( These anniversaries, rearranged by me in chronological order, were: the invasion of England by Danish King Cnut (1015), the siege of Carlisle (1215), the signing of Magna Carta (1215), the first English parliament (1265), the Battle of Agincourt (1415), the Battle of Waterloo (1815), stalemate in the First World War (1915), the Dunkirk evacuation (1940), Victory in Europe Day (1945), and the death of Winston Churchill (1965).

To be fair, the list came from the body called English Heritage. But the headline did say just “The Top Ten,” and I looked for an anniversary that was not there.

2015 could be the opportunity year for something really good to come of a centenary. An enlightened Turkey could use this moment to cease denying the Armenian genocide, and apologize for it.

Massacres of Armenians under Turkish rule began at least as far back as 1895, under the Ottoman sultans, but the climax can be said to have begun on April 24, 1915, when more than two hundred leading Armenians were arrested in Istanbul and almost all of them were killed. The genocide swelled, with extraordinary savagery, until about 1,500,000 Armenians died, especially on the death marches to death camps in the Syrian desert.

There is a short history of this in the section on the Armenians in my Turkey, A Very Brief History. Much deeper is an article by Raffi Khatchadourian, “A Century of Silence,” in the New Yorker of January 5 ( – if you can’t find this online or in a library and are interested enough I could send you the text. It is not black-and-white; it focuses, for example, on two Turkish mayors who acknowledge and try to make amends for what happened.

And still exciting to read is Franz Werfel’s novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, about an episode that ended in rescue for one group of Armenians.

Hitler, assuring his S.S. men that the world would connive at what they were doing to the Jews, said: “Who, after all, remembers the Armenians?” It is now illegal in Germany to deny the genocide committed by the Nazi regime up to 1945, but in Turkey denial of the genocide committed a century ago by the Ottoman regime is still almost absolute. 2015 should be the occasion for truth and reconciliation.

The Armenians were one of the ancient peoples of Turkey, resident there from about 600 BC, whereas the Turks invaded in 1071 AD. (Map from Turkey: A Very Brief History.


3 thoughts on “Armenian centenary”

  1. There is a large Armenian community here in California, especially in the central valley, where they have historically been fruit farmers. The family who sell citrus and stone fruit at my local farmers market are Armenian and Japanese from Dinuba, a small town east of Fresno.

    Yesterday on the campus of California State University in Fresno, a memorial to the Armenian genocide was unveiled.

    1. Thank you. There was also a commemorative ceremony in Yerevan, the capital of the modern (reduced) state of Armenia – link provided to me by Tilly:
      You’ll notice the theme in all this: other governments either use or avoid the term “genocide” (Obama for instance carefully avoids it), Turkey angrily rejects it. Turkey acknowledges now that there was mass violence, but continues to claim that it was incidental to the turmoil of wartime, that it was partly justified by the support of some Armenians for Russia, that Turks got killed too – and (implicit in the claim that it was not genocide) the massacres were not directed from above by Turkish authorities of the time.
      There was much evidence at the time (for instance in reports from German diplomats in Turkey) that the policy of massacre was indeed top-down – it was deliberate genocide – and since then massive more documentation of this has become known.
      If this was not genocide, nothing is. Turkey will cease to be shamed by the issue only after it has come clean.

      1. Agreed. Everyone who perpetrated the genocide, as well as most everyone who survived it, is dead now. The first step toward putting this tragedy to rest is to admit that it happened. Denial just keeps the wound open.

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