Remembering the Armenian Genocide

A statue in Detroit, Michigan, erected in memory of Gomidas Vartabas and the victims of the Armenian Genocide, via Wikipedia.

This blog, sometimes, is about elections. Candidates in elections behave differently than men and women serving as representatives or senators or governors or presidents. They say different things. They emphasize different things. It's a very real part of the political process, whether those differences are good or bad, whether those differences are right or wrong.

It is one thing when presidential candidates have promised, or currently promise, to recognize the Armenian Genocide. And not with recognition of a "tragedy," or of "terrible events." But of using that word, "genocide."

The word "genocide" obviously evokes serious reactions. The Holocaust is probably the first that comes to mind. Poll most Americans about another genocide, and you might find a few scattered responses about Rwanda, Bosnia, or Cambodia.

But few Americans would call to mind the Armenian genocide. It began in 1915, one hundred years ago, in the middle of the Great War. More than a million Armenians were killed. Indeed, the word "genocide" was coined in 1944 in the midst of World War II, but it arose upon reflection of the history of such killings, for Adolf Hitler was not the first--the Armenians had been sought out before that. It was striking when I first read of it at some point in college--I had been completely unaware of it. (I've have a deep interest in the history of World War I ever since.) The Armenian Genocide is not widely taught. In many places, it is essentially forgotten.

But politicians behave differently as candidates than they do as elected officials. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama promised as candidates to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and both refused to do so when they took office. The office changes behavior--there is fear of offending American allies with the word "genocide," and politicians behave differently. But it is perhaps that very power of the office that should be used to call Americans, and the world, to recognize and acknowledge and reflect upon that genocide, that historical fact, that truth that some would deny in the hope that all would forget.

April 24, 2015 marks the one hundred year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Pepperdine Law has an active and engaging Armenian Law Students Association, which commemorated the event this month through some moving tributes. Many others around the world will also remember that genocide. I close, then, with the right words from President Ronald Reagan's proclamation, April 22, 1981:

"Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it -- and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples -- the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten."