Valley Voices

Stanley R. Surabian: They are still Ottomans

Next Friday, the civilized world will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the torture and massacre of the Armenian citizens living in the Ottoman Empire during the period of 1915 until 1923.

These despicable acts were well documented weekly in The New York Times and other contemporary publications of the day.

There is photographic and written documentation from that time, despite a photographic ban by Turkey. The Ottoman Turkish government at that time had been taken over by the “Young Turks,” who bragged that they had done in one month what Sultan Abdul Hamid II (the Red Sultan) had failed to accomplish in 30 years, to eliminate Christian Turkish citizens from the borders of the empire, which then extended past Syria.

Remember, Lawrence of Arabia led Arab forces against the tyranny of the Ottomans during the same time period. In addition, Turkey had allied its country with Germany and Austria against the rest of Europe during World War I.

Several earlier massacres of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians had occurred within two decades before the cataclysmic events of 1915. From 1894 through 1896, the Hamidian Massacres accounted for the deaths of 200,000 to 300,000 Armenians resulting in 50,000 orphaned Armenian children.

The Adana Massacre of 1909 destroyed the Armenian quarter. Thirty thousand people died. These events led many Armenians to leave their homeland of 3,000 years, now controlled by the Turkish Muslim majority. Christians were gâvur (infidels) and despised, regardless of their contributions to the benefit of the Ottomans.

The Armenians were peace-loving; although they unsuccessfully tried to defend themselves from the atrocities. They were not a threat to the nation, but wanted rights accorded the Turkish majority.

The “Young Turks” began a program of vilification against the Armenians, their own citizens. From 1894 to 1923 the Turks killed approximately 2 million Armenian men, women and children. The tactical procedure used to eradicate the Armenians was consistent throughout the nation and not just confined to the six eastern provinces (Vilayets) where the most heavily concentrated Armenian populations were located: Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, Kharpert, Sivas and Van: first the men were conscripted into military service or labor camps.

Once isolated, they were killed in cold blood. Modern-day Turkey says the deaths were a result of the nation in war. Next, the non-warrior aged, women and children were marched without possessions, food or water south to the Syrian deserts to concentration camps.

Ironically, if you survived the hundreds of miles of death marches and reached Syria, then also part of the Ottoman Empire, your reward was to starve to death, die of disease or be systematically massacred once you believed you were safe.

As late as 1922, the Turkish military burned the Christian quarters of the city of Smyrna (Izmir), resulting in the deaths of an additional 100,000 Armenians and Greeks.

Why does modern Turkey so vehemently deny that they committed genocide against their Armenian citizens despite the proven existence from that time of written directives to kill the Armenians? One reason is that the property of the Armenians left behind was confiscated and stolen by the Turks to gain revenue for the costs of their World War I participation.

Churches were destroyed, because the Armenians were not returning. Perhaps the Turkish Republic does not want to be held liable to pay reparations to Armenian survivors, families of those killed. They are still Ottomans!

The term “genocide” was first used by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 to describe the Armenian genocide. Since then, genocide has continued to be committed: the Holocaust, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur. Had the world learned its lesson from the Turkish atrocities, perhaps genocide could have been thwarted in our time as Pope Francis recently proclaimed on April 12.

On April 24, we will commemorate the survival of the Armenian people in Fresno and around the world. We will each year thereafter commemorate April 24 despite the denials by the current Turkish government and by those in our nation who continue to embarrass themselves in the modern era. They do this despite available access by citizens and scholars to the truth in our archives, and through the Internet and the media.