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The U.S. finally condemns Turkey for the Armenian Genocide

The picture that accompanies this article shows the headlines that was in the New York Times newspaper on April 26, 1915. Read the blog to see how the massacre actually happened, but we will start first with the U.S. recognition that the massacre did actually happen.

The United States recognizes the Armenian Genocide through two congressional resolutions: one passed by the House of Representatives and the other by the Senate in the United States Congress. The House of Representatives passed a resolution with broad support on October 29, 2019. The Senate did the same by unanimous consent on December 12, 2019, recognizing the Armenian genocide as part of the United States policy. Before 2019, there were numerous proposed resolutions in Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide, all failing to receive enough support. On April 24, 2021, the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, President Joe Biden referred to the events as "genocide" in a statement released by the White House. The President formally equated the Genocide perpetrated against Armenians with atrocities on the scale of those committed in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Turkey has resisted widespread calls to recognize the 1915-16 killings as Genocide, while historians continue to argue about the events. At the time, there were numerous reports of Turkish atrocities committed against the Armenians. There is general agreement that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died when the Ottoman Turks deported them en masse from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert and elsewhere in 1915-16. They were killed or died from starvation or disease.

The total number of Armenian dead is disputed. Armenians say 1.5 million died. The Republic of Turkey estimates the total to be 300,000. So, why does Turkey have such a hard time recognizing that their political leaders committed such an atrocity? I described part of the answer in an earlier blog entitled "The Yellow Badge," published on June 4, 2021. In that blog, I reviewed the concept of Dhimma. When Muslim armies captured Jews and Christians, they offered them an alternative to death because they were monotheists. They allowed these prisoners of war to have second-class citizenship as long as they paid tribute and obeyed rules bordering on servitude. In my manuscript, Muslim Mechanics, I describe how Dhimmitude works:

captured civilians and their offspring are considered prisoners of war. They can be designated as Dhimmi only if they conform to the terms and conditions of Dhimmitude. If they breach the agreement, they revert to prisoner status. Dhimmis were free to worship in their manner but could not proselytize, build new houses of worship, make a public display of their religion, rule over Muslims, or own Muslim slaves. They could not ride horses or camels but could ride mules; the local government prohibited them from owning guns, and they had to wear distinctive clothing so Muslim citizens could recognize them and not mix with them.

All the Dhimmi had to do was obey the Dhimmi laws, pledge loyalty to the state, and pay the jizya tribute, comparable to Muslims' zakat tax. Of course, the jizya tribute would be in addition to the tithe they gave to their religion. Dhimmis were exempt from specific duties explicitly assigned to Muslims (e.g., military service, government service) and didn't enjoy particular privileges and freedoms reserved for Muslims.

The story of the Armenian Massacre starts back in Roman times. Armenia was the first Roman province to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301, even before Constantine did in 313. At the time, Armenia was just a territory in the Roman empire. For the next 1,200 years, Armenia bounced around from one realm to another several times during its history, until 1555, when the Persians lost a war to the Ottomans. The ensuing peace treaty ceded western Armenia to the Turks. For the first time in their history, the Armenians found themselves subservient to a Muslim caliphate. The Ottoman Empire's central government allowed the Armenian community to rule itself under its governance system with relatively little interference as Dhimmis. However, on a local level, their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors would regularly overtax them, subject them to kidnapping, force them to convert to Islam, and otherwise exploit them.

In the late nineteenth century, both Armenian and Bulgarian Christians rebelled, but the Ottomans engaged the Kurds to put them down. Kurds killed up to 250,000 Christians during this stage. In 1912, the Balkan Wars pushed 850,000 Muslim refugees from the Balkans into Armenian territory. While the Armenians were one step above poverty, it was better than what the refugees had, and it acted as fuel for the coming fire.

The Ottoman Empire sided with the Axis powers during World War I. In 1915, Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin pushed Ottoman Caliph Mehmed V to incite Islamic uprisings in British and French colonial holdings to get them to divert their resources from the European theater. The Caliph's initial proclamation was brief and dealt with the proposed Holy War in a general way. It was difficult to explain that a Muslim should kill Christians in a British colony but not kill Christians in a German colony. For the Germans, the "Berlin Fatwa," as it came to be known since it came from Berlin, was a failure.

Shortly after this Berlin Fatwa, a second proclamation was secretly distributed, giving specific instructions to the faithful. Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, wrote:

This paper was not read in the mosques; it was distributed stealthily in all Muhammedan countries – India, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and many others; and it was significantly printed in Arabic, the language of the Koran. It was a lengthy document – the English translation contains 10,000 words – full of quotations from the Koran, and its style was frenzied in its appeal to racial and religious hatred. It described a detailed plan of operations for the assassination and extermination of all Christians – except those of German nationality.

Morgenthau believed this second secret proclamation caused "the great massacres and persecutions of the Armenian race." The second proclamation was so inflammatory and the effects so inhuman that the State Department took the unusual step of keeping it classified until 1961.

The Armenians were assigned to work battalions to support the war effort. Putting Armenians into unarmed logistic work details was an essential precursor to the subsequent Genocide. They could be sent to locations far from home with no local support and no weapons for defense. Again, Ambassador Morgenthau wrote:

Let me relate a single episode which is contained in one of the reports of our consuls and which now forms part of the records of the American State Department. Early in July, 2,000 Armenian "amélés" – such is the Turkish word for soldiers who have been reduced to workmen – were sent from Harpoot to build roads. The Armenians in that town understood what this meant and pleaded with the Governor for mercy. But this official insisted that the men were not to be harmed, and he even called upon the German missionary, Mr. Ehemann, to quiet the panic, giving that gentleman his word of honour that the ex-soldiers would be protected. Mr. Ehemann believed the Governor and assuaged the popular fear. Yet practically every man of these 2,000 was massacred, and their bodies thrown into a cave. A few escaped, and it was from these that news of the massacre reached the world. A few days afterward, another 2,000 soldiers were sent to Diarbekir. The only purpose of sending these men out in the open country was that they might be massacred. In order that they might have no strength to resist or to escape by flight, these poor creatures were systematically starved. Government agents went ahead on the road, notifying the Kurds that the caravan was approaching and ordering them to do their congenial duty. Not only did the Kurdish tribesmen pour down from the mountains upon this starved and weakened regiment, but the Kurdish women came with butcher's knives in order that they might gain that merit in Allah's eyes that comes from killing a Christian. These massacres were not isolated happenings; I could detail many more episodes just as horrible as the one related above.

While there is absolutely no consensus regarding the number of Armenians who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918, estimates vary between 600,000 and one million. While most governments worldwide recognize the atrocities that occurred, the Turkish government passed in 2005 Article 305, making it a criminal offense to discuss the Armenian Genocide. To the Turks, the Armenians were Dhimmi who violated their covenant and thus reverted to the prisoner of war status. Under those terms, the bloodshed that followed was legal and warranted.

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