I wrote this a year ago as a project for my human rights class. I interviewed two survivors of the Armenian Genocide about their experiences. On April 26, people will gather in Times Square to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this tragic event. You can view their event site on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/756981021040455/
On August 22, 1939, shortly before the invasion of Poland, Adolph Hitler handed a document in German to Louis P. Lochner, explaining his rationale for the invasion. The last paragraph reads, “I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness—for the present only in the east—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Hitler’s cynical view of the world’s blindness or otherwise ignorance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 speaks volumes on how mass slaughter of specific (or even non-specific) groups of people can easily be duplicated so long as citizens of the world remain silent. This remains as true then as it does now.
The Armenian Genocide was conducted by the majority and predominantly Muslim Turks against the minority, mostly Christian, Armenians after the outbreak of World War I in the Ottoman Empire. An estimated one and a half million Armenians died between 1915 and 1923. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered while many others died of starvation and disease.
The Armenians had long been discriminated against and were victims of massacres before 1915. However, they were allowed a certain level of autonomy to practice their religion, although they paid higher taxes, had no legal protections, and were otherwise treated as second-class citizens in what would now perhaps be seen as an Apartheid or Jim Crow type state. When Armenians began demanding reforms, the government responded by massacring them in order to frighten their political organizations from pursuing aspirations of governmental representation and fair treatment. In addition, the decline of the Ottoman Empire during this time created political and economic turmoil, which would eventually be placed directly on the shoulders of the Armenian people. As a result, in 1909, the Young Turks seized power, paving the way for an eventual coup d’etat by the ultra-nationalistic Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in 1913. The CUP wanted a Turkish state for Turks only.
After the outbreak of World War I, the CUP aligned itself with Germany and Austria-Hungary and suffered a string of defeats at the hands of Russia which was blamed on an elaborate conspiracy between the Armenians and the Russians. Using this as a pretext, many Armenians were killed by the Turks in battleground areas.
I visited the New York Armenian Home to speak with two survivors of the genocide Perouze Kalousdian, 105, and Azniv Guiragossian, 102. “The Armenian people are very good people. Very kind people,” Guiragossian said. “God made me because I help everybody.” I talked with her through a translator, but was very young back then and had a difficult time remembering details. However, when I brought up the deportations she was visibly upset and soon after told me she had told me everything she could remember. I found out later that she was kidnapped at one years old and lived with a Turkish family until she was 4. Later on, her father died and her mother gave birth to a child in the Syrian Desert. The child died, and then her mother two months later.
Kalousdian, however, remembered quite a bit. She was six years old at the time of the genocide.
“They came, they took them out, and they didn’t come back,” Kalousdian told me, referring to the deportations.
According to her testimony, her Grandparents had explained to her that the Turks hated the Armenians and wanted to kill them all.
“Wherever we could stay we stayed, and there were times when we didn’t have a place to stay. We were living in the street.
“They [the Turks] said it’s a war. That’s what they said to me. I was a young kid. I didn’t know much.”
Kalousdian and her mother hid in a barn until someone came and told them they could leave. I couldn’t get her to talk about it when I interviewed her, but I found out that she witnessed Armenian men being tied up and thrown into the Euphrates River.
“Why did they have to do that. Why? What have we done to them to do that to us?” She asked me angrily. “They took everything from us so we were very poor. We started begging. That’s all I know.. I hate them. They had no right to do that to us. I always think about [the genocide] but I don’t like to talk about it. The people are working for their living. Do you know why?”
After the war, the only people left were her uncle, her father, and her mother. She lost the rest of her family. “They took everything we had. No one said anything.”
Genocide survivor testimonies are particularly powerful, and now I know why. Speaking to both of them was like having their anger, frustration, and utter sadness poured into me. Their eyes alone provided me with a visual window into the cruelty and injustice they had experienced first-hand.
The Turkish—almost without warning—had told the Armenians that they were to be deported and re-settled. This was a lie. They marched toward certain death for hundreds of miles in the Syrian desert. The convoys were attacked by government sponsored bandits, who murdered and raped the Armenians. They were denied food and water and many starved to death. As was the case of Guiragossian—some young girls and infants were abducted and sold to Turkish households. As a result of the deportations, the entire population of Armenian in Anatolia was completely destroyed.
Over four hundred CUP members were accused of atrocities. Many, including the man who was primarily responsible, Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, escaped justice and went into hiding abroad. However, Talaat Pasha was assassinated by an Armenian, who told his captors that he was not the real murderer. The assassin was later acquitted in a German court. The genocide ended in 1923 when a new government came to power in Turkey.
To this day, Turkey denies that genocide ever took place. It is portrayed in their media that the Armenians are lying or exaggerating and excuse it by saying that it was war time. According to Gregory H. Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, there are 8 stages of genocide: classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination and, finally, denial. If we take these steps to be literal, then a genocide is still being perpetrated by the Turkish government in its refusal to own up to its past. Even though Turkish intellectuals are attempting to change this, the government is still persecuting and censoring journalists and historians for trying to say what happened to the Armenians as genocide. Recently, a Turkish-Armenian journalist was murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Turkey for saying that it was genocide. President Obama, who previously came out and called it genocide, backed off because of Turkey’s importance as a strategic ally.
The purpose of this paper is to clearly demonstrate that genocide indeed did take place against the Armenians. This is because it is my opinion that the Turkish government’s denial is, in a sense, paving the way toward future genocides. As I mentioned in the opening of this paper, Adolph Hitler believed that nobody would pay attention to his genocidal intentions based on Turkey’s handling of the Armenian genocide. This was proven—obviously—to be incorrect through history and what we know now but, in the case of Turkey, their active denial has not allowed the survivors and descendants of those who died in the Syrian desert and everywhere else that those murders and atrocities took place, to heal from what had happened. This was clear through my interviews with the two survivors. There is still anger present in the voices of these survivors and—as the common activist mantra goes—without justice there can be no peace. In order for justice to be given, the Turkish people—who are an otherwise intelligent and good people—must delve into their painful past and admit to the wrong doing perpetrated by the evil their government committed, which was so radical that it is almost beyond human comprehension.
Genocide is taking place at this very moment. There is still not enough being done to prevent current and future genocides. While it is important to look toward the past to try as best we can to understand what has happened, we must not forget that there is still a lot more we can do. Although I cannot offer a specific platform for which to stop future genocides, I know that ignoring the problem does not make it go away—and history is a great ally of mine in making this point. This goes beyond government. In the end, if the world would like to know why genocide takes place or why nothing gets done, human beings only need look into a mirror. Genocide cannot happen without popular support or at least passive approval.
It is up to us—not a third party government or non-governmental organizational—to prevent genocides. Perhaps, in learning about past genocides, we will be able to have to the fortitude and knowledge to prevent the next one before it even starts.
1. Kevork B. Bardakjian, Hitler and the Armenian Genocide (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Zoryan Institute, 1985)
2. Rouben Paul Adalian, http://www.armenian-genocide.org/genocide.html
3. Gregory H. Stanton, The 8 Stages of Genocide, (http://www.genocidewatch.org/genocide/8stagesofgenocide.html)
NEW YORK CITY–April 2nd, 2015–A people’s tribunal was held at the National Black Theater on 5th avenue and 125th street.The speaker’s there gave testimony to violence inflicted on them by police in their neighborhoods.
Kenneth Chamberlain JR. spoke about his father’s, Kenneth Chamberlain SR, death in White Plains, NY on November 19th, 2011. Police responding to a medical alert necklace forcibly entered his home. When they said that they did not need help, the officer replied, “I don’t care nigger. Open the door.” They then shot him bean bag rounds, and finally live rounds. He described seeing his father’s corpse and asking why this happened, in which the police officer replied, “We don’t have to tell you anything.” The police later said that the use of the word ‘nigger’ was a tactic. No criminal charges were ever filled. Chamberlain SR was a 68 year old marine corp veteran.
Later on, members of the audience recounted their own tales of police brutality.
The reason black lives matter isn’t because white lives don’t. It’s because all lives matter once black lives do. This is a concept I only really began to grasp recently. As a freelance journalist, I’ve tried to cover to the best of my ability the outrage over the killings of black men throughout the United States, but I think I’ve mostly failed. Maybe this is because I’m white, but probably not. Rather, I feel like it is more or unless the unwillingness of the general public to fully appreciate the idea that a certain section of the American population is being persecuted in a way that is so blatant and so terrible, that it is unnoticed.
There are two concepts to understand: there is racism and then there is police brutality. These two things intersect more often when it comes to blacks than any other demographic. I’ve been brutalized by the police before, but I never ever thought it was because I was inferior to the police due to my appearance or my culture. I was arrested in a white neighborhood, near white people, by white police, for trying to defend the rights of those who were protesting against puppy mills. I grew up around white people, I’ve been robbed by white people, and I’ve been hurt and hurt other white people in my past.
But when you watch the local news, all you see are ‘black on black crimes’. They are usually in areas that are poor and are mostly demographically black. More crime does happen in these areas. Socio-economic factors certainly play a roll in this. But the larger point is that white people simply cannot understand the feelings of blacks. They don’t realize that the same things that happen to blacks could easily happen to them under slightly different circumstances. They don’t consider the larger picture.
It is for this reason that I’ve decided to follow the ‘black lives matter’ protests and try to understand the activists, their feelings, and the issue at hand. I also want to attempt to grasp the reasons for why institutionalized racism is such a difficult thing to change, and what can be done to ultimately erase it.
This will be the first entry in a line of future ones about the black lives matter movement. It will be accompanied by video and photos. I would appreciate any feedback.
The trees look down on me with their heavy branches swaying. I stop myself and take a picture without thinking. I don’t know what the picture means to me until I look back at it. I just get bored of trees like this sometimes.
I stopped on the road to get cigarettes from the liquor store. It was cold so I brought my heavy jacket, but I knew it was going to be warm later. I had my backpack, my Nikon camera, my canon video camera, a sweatshirt, a spare lens, and I was going through the same streets I’ve walked since I was born. I was ready for nothing.
Beer brands and lottery tickets enter my brain as I take a picture of the sign. I haven’t learned to accept advertising as a way of life just yet, so instead I smoke.
Turning the corner, I see a man and he is asking me about Japanese cameras and if they’re any good. I have no idea and try to convey that, but he isn’t satisfied with the normal answers. He wants more, but I can’t give it to him. But still he smiles and laughs as I say goodbye, a man I probably will see again, but maybe not. I don’t know.
I pass places I used to hang out with my friend Chuck. I remember laughing a lot then–maybe smoking too much pot–but I don’t forget the pain either. Things haven’t really changed for me, even now. All I’m trying to do now is applied what I learned the previous 24 years of my life and try to make something of myself. I guess that’s why I roam the streets with a camera. I suppose that is why I’m determined to be a journalist or die trying. I’m not utilizing my school given education because my extracurricular activities taught me way more.
They taught me how cruel people are. I walk past a bar where I played irish music for money for one day, and then was shunned and never hired back. I remember drinking in there till the bartender shot water in my face. I will never forget sneaking in with Chuck and Ivan, who decided to steal shot glasses people left and then leave. We ended up being chased by the cops, but we got away.
I walk past vacant stores under the train tracks that have been abandoned for longer than I can remember. I peak inside the empty windows of a store where I got the strings on my guitar changed for a song.
A sign reminds me I’m no longer free.
And the trash reminds me of ugliness and cruelty. I wonder how ugly and cruel I am.The electrical equipment tells me that I will shocked if I get too close. I steer away from it and end up staring at a factory that has been empty for as long as I can remember. People wait for buses here for some reason.The factory used to make feathers but I don’t know anything more than that, and nobody who lives can apparently remember.
I stop by my local police station to snap a photo of a cop car. I just can’t resist.
Our Lady of Peace school. I was there when my priest Father Larry was shot by a nut job. That’s the first thing that comes to mind, even though I went to school there for 9 years. That school taught me a lot, both intentionally and unintentionally. I never was a loner though. That’s what I just typed, but I’m lying. I guess you can say I was unintentionally lonely. But I had friends. Up until 7th grade. I had a teacher who I will never forget. She treated me like shit. I forgive her though, because she was probably more fucked up then than I am now. I’m sure in the end she repaid her torture, but its not something we’ll see or know, unless something terrible happens. I hope that never happens though.
McDonalds parking lot. Chuck tried to plant a pot seed there once. I don’t think it worked. You couldn’t pay me eat there. This elderly gentleman is staring at me like he’s never seen someone with a camera before in his life.
I start to pass a graveyard that is right in the middle of two busy roads in the Lynbrook/Rockville Centre border. I go inside and take a look around. There are a lot of lonely graves here. People who are in the earth who will never be remembered. I don’t feel sorry for them as much as I feel sorry for myself, because the struggle of living a life without purpose is more terrifying than death itself.
But I guess it depends on how you look at things. I guess we’ll find out if death ends conscious thought or not.
The people I feel bad for are those who don’t realize they are not immortal.
I come across a mass grave. The sign says that they were mostly Irish and English immigrants who died in shipwrecks of the Mexico and Bristol. 215 perished.
I walk past a farm where nothing is growing,I walk past a cable that I think could be live and I walk over the railroad tracks. I walk into Lakeview to meet my friend Keith. Before we left, I take a picture of a water bottle filled with a yellow substance.
Keith and I walk to 7/11 it takes about 15 minutes. He buys me cigarettes and I buy a drink. I sit and smoke a cigarette and talk to him about the nature of New Yorkers, English women, and London. He lived in Manchester for almost two months and is going back in June. I’m leaving for Scotland in two months, and I can’t wait to leave this place. These pictures depress me.
I take a picture of a stream. It’s pretty much , but still pretty.
We walk down the street and I’m glad that I brought my sweatshirt because it definitely got warmer. Keith and I talk about England some more. We get to Westwood train station, where I used to go with my friend Chris to play football when I was in middle school. I sometimes wonder where he is and what he’s doing.
Keith and I talk about the FBI and their terrorist plots. I feel weird typing this, but I try to keep my freedom of speech.
I get picked up after Keith goes home, and I get picked up from Malverne by John. He drives me around with his girlfriend, blasting Sublime, and singing the lyrics of ‘Wrong Way’. I snap some pictures, but its getting colder so I close the window.
LYNBROOK, NY–March 28th, 2015–Teachers and others rallied across Long Island on Merrick Road from Valley Stream to West Islip in attempt to draw attention to what they perceive as an attack on public education and teachers.
Cuomo’s plan would allow standardized test scores to account for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation while the other 50% will be based on school officials observations.
Lisa Zindman, a third grade teacher from West End, agrees. “We feel this is unfair,” she said. “Most teacher’s support common core, but it was rolled out the wrong way.”
The teacher’s also argued that a corporation called Pearson makes up the tests that they are evaluated on and that they have nothing to do with education. Many said that they believed that this was just about money. Some even suggested that this plan was made because Cuomo was not supported in his election by the teachers union, NYSUT..
Leah Brunski writes in her blog for the nation, “As a public-school teacher, I want to be evaluated. But there are much more effective ways to do it. The countries and states that consistently outperform New York on standardized assessments—Finland, Japan, Massachusetts, among others—have successful evaluation systems in place that could help shape New York’s. In these places, test-score gains play no role in a teacher’s evaluation. Instead, multiple measures are used to evaluate the efficacy of a teacher’s performance: principal and peer observations, student and family feedback, professional development. Why not borrow a page from corporate America’s playbook to provide teachers with a 360-degree view of their performance?”
Dave Aiello, a 4th grade teacher in Lynbrook, assured me that they weren’t protesting against common core but against Governor Cuomo’s policies. “This is to stop the attack on public education,” he said of the rally. He remarked that Cuomo’s plan was a ploy to implement charter schools. “That will kill democracy.”
The New York State Legislature is set to vote on these proposed changes on April 1st.