The validity of one of the largest massacres in human history, the well documented and proven Armenian Genocide, has been disputed by Turkey ever since the atrocities occurred there almost one hundred years ago. The persecution and mass execution that started during World War I, resulted in the deaths of approximately one and a half million Armenians, or roughly double the population currently residing in San Francisco. The years of 1915-1923 saw rapes, hangings, be-headings, and forced desert marches, in which nearly everyone died. The surviving Armenian population in Turkey fled, creating a diaspora that did not exist previously. Yet despite overwhelming evidence, a general consensus in the academic community, and official recognition by twenty-two countries. The government of Turkey, which should take responsibility for the crimes that happened under its jurisdiction (as the Ottoman Empire), still rejects the fact that genocide occurred.
In response to this continued denial, the UCSB Armenian Student Association (ASA) is hosting a series of events to push for recognition of what many see as one of the forgotten tragedies of the twentieth century. The first event, a night of performances and presentations titled, â€œFacing Denial: The Armenian Genocide in its Final Stage,â€ in IV Theater at 8 pm on April 23, will address â€œthe historical and modern attempts at genocide denial.â€ The event will present as its keynote speaker Murad Topalian, Executive Director of the Armenian Cultural Foundation Trust Fund and advocate for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Also featured will be UCSBâ€™s Middle Eastern Ensemble, guest artists Lilia Dance Group, and performances of various survivor stories throughout the evening. According to ASA member Greg Mirza-Avakyan, the event will focus on the denial of the Armenian Genocide in order to ensure that genocides are recognized properly and that those responsible are tried and justly punished so as to prevent future mass murders.
The following day, April 24, marks the official day of remembrance. On this day in 1915 many Armenian intellectuals and leaders were detained and massacred, leaving the nation without leadership. ASA will be rallying on campus on the 24th in an effort to educate the general public and discredit claims that the actions of the Turkish government did not carry the characteristics of genocide.
Armenian groups in the United States, including the Armenian Students Association, have been pushing for official recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. Government. While various federal officials and 40 States have expressed recognition of the genocide, the U.S. has failed to join the list of countries that officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, a list which includes Canada, Russia, and much of Western Europe. Although the U.S. House of Representatives has been close to passing Resolution 106, which would make the recognition official, the Bush Administration recently blocked its passage in the House of Representatives, claiming that it would damage ties with Turkey. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been cited by Forbes Magazine as saying, â€œThis is a very delicate time with Turkey,â€ as the country provides regional support to the U.S. in the occupation of Iraq. According to an October 2007 article on Newsweek.com, â€œGen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraqâ€¦warn[ed] visiting House members in Baghdad that the measure would be a â€˜big mistake,â€™â€¦because it might disrupt supply lines that run through Turkey.â€
While the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. Government is a concern of ASA, the chief objectives of the events this week, according to Mirza-Avakyan, are to â€œraise awareness about the unfair denialâ€ and â€œto promote political activism in order to correct untrue historical accounts that are promoted by the Turkish government.â€ Turkeyâ€™s denial, he says, is guided by â€œpolitical motivation rather than a respect for truth and repentance for horrendous crimes against humanity.â€
Special Thanks to Greg Mirza-Avakyan and Berj Parseghian for contributions to this article.