When I first arrived in Armenia just over three years ago, I wasn’t familiar with the Armenian genocide. To be honest, I’m not sure I had ever even heard those words together. I was enamored with my Western Civilization class in high school but we got so far behind that we probably covered all of the 20th century in about a week. I am fairly certain we never learned about the Ottoman Turks attempting to exterminate the entire Armenian population that lived within lands that are today part of Turkey, but historically were part of the Armenian homeland.
I will fully admit that my views are biased by the fact that I first learned about the genocide while I was volunteering in Armenia for five weeks. I met members of the Armenian diaspora who were descendants of genocide survivors and I toured the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. And later, I visited the abandoned city of Ani in western Turkey, which was once the capital of ancient Armenia, but now stands empty and silent. It wasn’t until I visited Turkey that I realized how controversial the issue of the Armenian genocide can be. Indeed, as I broached the topic with a new Turkish friend, I was immediately met with angry denials. And the driver who took me to Ani spoke only of Armenians who killed Turks, not the other way around.
I am writing about this now because April 24 is recognized annually by Armenians as Genocide Remembrance Day. And this year marks 100 years since the beginning of the genocide, which is considered to be the day when the Ottoman government rounded up about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. By December 1915, a New York Times article reported than one million Armenians had been deported or executed, referring to it as a “policy of extermination.” Unfortunately, 100 years later, only 23 countries (and, most recently, the Pope) have recognized what happened as genocide – and my home country of the United States is not among them.
It is a common saying that if we do not remember and learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. So I think it’s important for us, as travelers, to learn from the places we visit and to share that knowledge with others. I am not an expert on Armenia or the genocide by any means, but I can at least raise awareness and encourage people to learn more about it on their own.
On a final note, I realize that any Turkish readers may disagree with what I am writing here. I also recognize that you likely have been raised to believe that the killing of Armenians was not a genocide and I can’t blame you for that. And when your government staunchly denies it, I can understand why you would accept that as truth. At the same time, I encourage you to open your mind and investigate for yourself – read the conclusions of foreign scholars (almost all of whom recognize the genocide), read the newspaper articles that were written contemporaneously in World War I and read the stories of the survivors as told by their descendants. Germany has acknowledged the Holocaust, so why shouldn’t Turkey acknowledge the Armenian genocide as well?