The Murder of Memory

By Samantha Testa

April 30, 2014

This time next year will mark the 100 year anniversary of the death of 1.5 million Armenians during the genocide that began in 1915. To this day, however, Turkey has gone to great lengths to deny that genocide occurred and that denial is coming at a high cost.  This denial has created ongoing tension not only between Turkey and Armenia, but between Turkey and other nations as well.

The Armenians cannot move on from their past until they feel they have been given the recognition they deserve. “‘History’ declared Turkish writer Sechuk Tezgul, ‘is waiting for that honest Turkish leader… who will apologize to the Armenian people…’”[i] An apology for genocide may be hard to make, but it is necessary. It enables Turkish society to question why this happened and to avoid doing it again in the future.

Turkey has gone to great lengths to cover up evidence that they intentionally killed the Armenians. Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, was charged by law enforcement for referring to what happened to the Armenians as genocide. Pamuk was charged under the Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which states that anyone who denigrates Turkishness is a criminal. This law, which helps cover up the genocide, is a violation of human rights in the eyes of the European Union (EU). Essentially, Article 301 and the Turkish government’s use of it to stifle discussion of the Armenian Genocide is costing Turkey a place in the EU.

Genocide denial is costing Turkey a lot more than just the EU, it is keeping alive hostile feelings between Armenians and Turks. In 2007, a Turkish citizen of Armenian ancestry who worked as the editor-in-chief of a Turkish-Armenian magazine, Hrant Dink, was murdered. Just two years prior to his death, Dink was arrested and charged under Article 301 for openly discussing the Armenian genocide. When he turned up dead shortly thereafter, it was not hard for people to deduce that his death was related to his statements about the genocide.[ii] The government may not have physically executed his death, but they did inspire the act that killed him. The law promotes Turkish nationalism, so it is no surprise that a patriotic Turk came forward and murdered an Armenian for speaking out against Turkey.

Turkey has not only internal problems, but international ones as well. In 2007, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill that would formally recognize the events from 1914-1918 as genocide. Turkey’s immediate response was to withdraw their ambassador and to threaten to deny the U.S. access to the NATO airbase in Turkey. At the time the U.S. was heavily involved in that area of the world, so efforts to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote were suspended due to pressure put on the U.S. by Turkey.[iii]

Genocide denial is also dangerous because it puts Turkey in the position to commit genocide again.Studies … prove that the single best predictor of future genocide is denial of a past genocide coupled with impunity for its perpetrators… Genocide deniers are three times more likely to commit genocide again.”[iv] Who is to say they will not go after the Armenians or the Kurds, like they have in the past?

Turkey claims that what happened to Armenians occurred in the context of war. For a mass killing to be defined genocide the intent to exterminate the race or group in one way or another must be there and Turkey claims that this was not their intent. They were simply acting in self-defense. However, numerous scholars and other historians have found overwhelming evidence that what the Turkish government did was premeditated and not out of defense, but out of desire to exterminate the Armenian people. Is the nature of war so different that it becomes acceptable to intentionally murder over one million innocent men, women and children? Today, many Turks believe that this is the case and that is why they did not commit genocide.

According to Jay Winter, war and genocide very much go hand in hand. Thus, Turkey’s “cover of war” argument cannot stand. “… A substantial part of a long-established and prosperous civilian community with identifiable religious and cultural beliefs had been wiped out; these people were sentenced to death because of who they were.”[v] That is the nature of genocide, the extermination of an entire race. The Turkish government nearly wiped the Armenians and their culture completely off the planet, and that was no accident. That is not necessary to win a war, not ever.

After all this time, Armenia still wants to mend its relationship with Turkey. They will never be able to form a real relationship with Turkey, however, until Turkey gives them the recognition they deserve. The Armenian people need closure, they need peace, and most importantly they need to know that this will never happen again.

As mentioned before, a leader can come to power in Turkey who will admit what his ancestors did and attempt to create a healthy relationship with Armenia. Another possible solution is that other world powers could put pressure on Turkey to admit to the genocide, because it is the right thing to do. When U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau was in Turkey during the genocide he spoke with leader Talaat Pasha. Talaat asked him, “Why are you so interested in the Armenians anyway? You are a Jew, these people are Christians..” to which Morgenthau replied: “You don’t seem to realize that I am not here as a Jew but as the American Ambassador.….I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion, but merely as a human being..”[vi] This life should not be about politics, it should be about the shared human experience. Air space and naval bases should not be more important than human rights. Once the world believes this, the Armenians will get the justice they deserve.

Samantha Testa is a Sophomore at Villanova University School of Business in Villanova, Pennsylvania. This article is summarized from an academic paper that was submitted for the course “The Nature of Genocide.”


[i] Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. London: Routledge, 2006. 115. Print.

[ii] “Turkish-Armenian Writer Shot Dead.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Jan. 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

[iii] “Turkey Recalls Ambassador to U.S. Over Armenian Genocide Bill.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 11 Oct. 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

[iv] Stanton, Gregory. “The Cost of Denial.” Genocide Watch. Genocide Watch, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

[v] Winter, Jay. “Under Cover of War." The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. By Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. 189-213. Print.

[vi] Morgenthau, Henry. Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, 1918. 333-34. Print.

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
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