Genocide Denial: Recognition and Reconciliation

April 24, 1915 marked the commencement of the Armenian Genocide, a ghastly occurrence of collective punishment that left over 1.5 million Armenians dead in the name of “Turkification”, a severely racist attempt to dismantle the Young Turk government’s once pluralistic society.

The methodical massacre also left a black mark on the already-tainted reputation of the dying Ottoman Empire: Indigenous Assyrian and Greek communities were also violently exterminated. Thus, the Republic of Turkey was born by way of ethnic discrimination and serial genocide.

Public executions photographed by Armin T. Wegner
Public executions photographed by Armin T. Wegner

On Friday, my surrounding community recognized the Armenian Genocide’s 100th anniversary. On campus, student groups hosted an awareness week featuring a silent protest and a commemorative display. Efforts of showcasing solidarity transcended campus borders, as over 100,000 people gathered in the streets of nearby Los Angeles on Friday to demand recognition for the martyred.

But this recognition of the mass killings was not carried out in unison with communities elsewhere. Until this day, 100 years after the fact, the world remains divided: Select countries still refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, with the Turkish government participating in genocide denial, a wicked response to a concrete event in our history – one that does not deserve to be debated.

Genocide denial is malevolent and destructive to aggrieved societies everywhere. It is a cruel assault on the memory and culture of a group of wounded people. To deny the victim group recognition is to undermine the legacy of its ancestors and its culture in an attempt to obfuscate history.

Unfortunately, the glare of international attention does not prevent denial, but the cries of the victims do resonate for centuries, allowing future generation to right previous wrongs.

Armenian orphans photographed by Armin T. Wegner
Armenian orphans photographed by Armin T. Wegner

In all cases — from the European Holocaust to Ethiopia’s Red Scare, from Rwanda to the depths of the Ottoman Empire and beyond — genocide deserves recognition. Stolen lives and shattered heritages deserve recognition. After all, recognition is the first step toward reconciliation.

We must first interpret this unfortunate event in world history as a genocide and an ethnic cleansing. Until the entire world reverberates a similar message of unity, we will continually lose our ability to learn from our world’s painful past and prevent history from repeating itself.

Future genocide is suggested by the denial of past genocides. It is ultimately the impunity for such perpetrators of evil that will fuel genocides to come.

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