September 24, 2023

Who now remembers the Armenian genocide?

The 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide came and went with hardly a mention. Some PBS stations carried several programs on the Jewish Holocaust with a slight mention of the Armenian Genocide in one program, but that was all.

If there hadn’t been an Armenian Genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century, there might not have been a Jewish Holocaust. It is said that when Hitler was hatching his plan against the Jews, he was known to have said, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”

Who indeed?

Armenians around the world gather in their churches each year to remember and commemorate the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish Ottoman government. To this day, Turkey refuses to acknowledge that it happened, but many of us are children of those who were survivors, so we have first-person accounts that it happened.

In 1915, specifically on April 24, the Turks rounded up all the Armenian men living in Turkey on the pretense that they were needed to fight in World War I. They were never heard from or seen again. Instead, they were hanged or shot.

The Armenian women and children were then rounded up and sent on a march. The Turkish government told them that they were attempting to send them out of harm’s way of the war. It turned out to be a death march into the Syrian desert.

Along the way, the marchers had no food or water. They scrounged for whatever they could find to eat, including grass. Turkish soldiers, who accompanied the marchers to ensure the plan succeeded, committed unspeakable atrocities against the women. The marchers died from exhaustion, lack of food and water or were killed by the soldiers.

My mother’s whole family perished in the genocide. I never knew my grandparents. Some young children were able to survive and ended up in the Syrian desert, where Christian missionaries found them and put them in orphanages.

Many of the survivors were eventually able to emigrate to the United States, where they lived out their lives in peace and freedom. They married and raised families. My mother, who was a survivor, raised six children. We consider ourselves lucky to be living in this country.

World governments, including the United States, knew that the Armenian Genocide was happening but did nothing, as in the case of subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda. The world never learns.

Ninety-five years later, the U.S. government refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Turkey has a NATO base, and that seems more important to the powers in Washington.

Many of the survivors have now passed away. But many books have been written to document their experiences and are available in local libraries.

The Jews have a motto: “Never forget.” The Armenians will never forget either and hope for the day they will receive recognition for this crime.

Jeannie Fusdigian lives in Fairview Heights.

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