David Marottolo ’22
In the final month of the fall semester, a petition was created by the Armenian Club and was circulated around campus. The intent of this petition was to garner support for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, and to push for formal recognition of the Genocide by Trinity College as an academic institution.
Now, the Armenian Club has sought to provide more information on the purpose of this petition, and to place it in the context of the ongoing debate over the Armenian Genocide.
Any discussion of the Armenian Genocide, or Medz Yeghern (“The Great Tragedy”) must be prefaced with some historical context. At the beginning of WWI there were approximately two million Armenians living in Armenia and the Ottoman Empire. However, there was significant tension between the Armenian and Turkish governments, stemming in part from a history of religious and political conflict. During the First World War, the decision to carry out a genocide against the Armenian people was made by the political party in power in the Ottoman Empire, the Committee of Union and Progress or Young Turks. The Armenian people were subjected to deportation, abduction, torture, massacre, and starvation. The entire wealth of the Armenian people was expropriated. Among the Armenians living along the periphery of the Ottoman Empire, many at first escaped the fate of their countrymen in the central provinces of Turkey. Tens of thousands in the east fled to lead a precarious existence as refugees. In 1918, however, the Young Turk regime took the war into the Caucasus, where approximately 1.8 million Armenians lived under Russian dominion. After a little more than a year of calm at the end of WWI, the atrocities were renewed between 1920 and 1923, and the remaining Armenians were subjected to further massacres and expulsions. It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923, 75% of the entire Armenian population in that region.
The international community condemned the Armenian Genocide. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia advised the Young Turk leaders that they would be held personally responsible for this crime against humanity. At the end of the war, the Allied victors demanded that the Ottoman government prosecute the Young Turks accused of wartime crimes. Relief efforts were also mounted to save “the starving Armenians.” Despite the moral outrage of the international community, no strong actions were taken against the Ottoman Empire either to sanction its brutal policies or to protect the Armenian people from the ensuing exterminations. Moreover, no steps were taken to require the postwar Turkish government (or any subsequent government) to make restitution to the Armenian people for their immense material and human losses.
Based on the context given above, awareness and recognition of the Armenian Genocide would seem incontrovertible. However, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which describes genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” was established far later in 1948 as a response to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during WWII. Since the U.N. Convention was adopted thirty years after the Armenian Genocide, Armenians worldwide have retroactively sought from their respective governments formal acknowledgment of the crimes committed during WWI. Countries like France, Argentina, Greece, and Russia, where the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their descendants live, have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. However, as a matter of policy, the present-day Republic of Turkey adamantly denies that a genocide was committed against the Armenians during WWI. Turkey claims that the number of deaths was inflated, and that those who perished were political traitors or casualties of WWI; as such, Turkey maintains that the term “genocide” does not apply. This policy is upheld by many of Turkey’s geopolitical allies, including the United States of America. In fact, no elected President since Ronald Reagan has used the term “genocide” in connection with the slaughter of the Armenians. Although many American leading personalities, associations, and forty-eight of the fifty U.S. States have done so, the U.S. Congress has not legislated on the matter.
Aside from these political obstructions, the Republic of Turkey has actively attempted to suppress academic discussion of the Armenian Genocide, banning any discussion of it in their own school system and funding chairs in U.S. college history departments to promote denial of the Genocide. However, the consensus among scholars is that even what little evidence remains is sufficient to provide proof of genocide.
This history is relevant to the Armenian Club’s petition as their goal this year is to achieve acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide by Trinity College as an academic institution and to increase awareness of this pressing issue among the student body. The Armenian Club believes such a statement from Trinity would no doubt pave the way for more schools to follow; furthermore, it would demonstrate that Trinity formally acknowledges the nature of the Armenian Genocide on scholarly grounds, and takes a stand against Turkey’s attempts to expunge the Genocide from academia.
The Armenian Club asks that students take some time to research these complicated issues for themselves, in order to become better informed about the significance of this discussion. In addition, the club advises that students keep their ears open for further information in the coming semester, as the Armenian Club continues to discuss this sensitive topic with the administration and the student body.