On a Saturday night some 98 years ago this week, more than 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders living in Constantinople, today's Istanbul, were rounded up by the government. The political party in power, the "Young Turks," did not want their kind in the country, breathing the same air, using the same resources, making lives for themselves and their families. They were imprisoned and most were later executed.
Were it not for the prominence of the victims of that April 24, 1915 event, there might have been even further delay in word spreading across the globe that a systematic elimination of Armenians was underway. Historians estimate that about 1.5 million people were either slaughtered outright or banished to a Syrian desert, where they starved to death. Women and children suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of their tormentors. The terror continued into the 1920s.
Armenians living today — as well as those who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, decrying human-rights atrocities — mark that spring date with solemn commemorations and vocal protests. Some 20 countries have heard their cries and formally recognized the events of those years as genocide. Uruguay led the way back in 1965. More recently, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Russia and several others joined the chorus. A majority of our states have also recognized the atrocities.
But the federal government of the United States has not yet been able to summon enough courage to formally speak the truth of the Armenian genocide, apparently out of fear it will jeopardize relations with the Turkish government. Our president, Barack Obama, skirted the use of the word "genocide" yet again in his annual statement on the occasion of the anniversary, despite a 2008 promise to "recognize the Armenian Genocide."
Our country must use its mighty voice to pressure Turkey to acknowledge the genocide, provide some restitution to families whose predecessors lost all of their belongings during that period, and make a formal apology to the Armenian people. Any action short of that belies all that we stand for and is nothing short of a disgrace.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun