Byrd: Iowa should recognize genocide

BY MATTHEW BYRD | APRIL 23, 2014 5:00 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

In 1944, Raphael Lemkin, a balding, mild-mannered Polish lawyer born to a Jewish family at the beginning of the 20th century, had a problem. He was studying a crime that did not have a word. A crime that had extinguished the lives of millions through a systemic policy of elimination, formulated by government bureaucrats with a fanatical hatred of a minority ethnic group. Lemkin eventually combined the Greek word for family, Genos, with the Latin suffix for killing, -Cide, giving us the word which would describe acts of human barbarousness from Rwanda to Cambodia.

But the crime Lemkin was studying was not the destruction of European Jews, a destruction that took the lives of 49 members of his own family. Rather, the crime had taken place on the Eastern edge of Anatolia some 30 years before.

Ninety-nine years ago this Friday in Istanbul, the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire arrested and deported around 235 members of the Armenian intelligentsia. This event marked the beginning of the Ottoman policy of mass firing squads, death marches, gassings, mass burnings, and concentration camps directed towards the Armenian people, an ethnic group living in the South Caucuses, which eventually resulted in the murder of 1.5 million Armenians.

The motivations for this carnage were unsurprising: the creation of a homogenous Turkish Muslim state and the elimination of an ethnic group considered inferior by Ottoman officials. As Talaat Pasha, one of the main architects of the genocide, told a German official “Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate internal foes … There are no more Armenians.”

The United States, that beacon of morality, to this day does not recognize the genocide because of its political alliance with Turkey. However, in opposition to Congress, 43 states have recognized that genocide took place, according to the Armenian National Institute.

Unfortunately, Iowa is not one of them.

The Armenian genocide is considered the second most destructive genocide of the 20th century after the Holocaust. It is the second-most studied genocide, and the historical and academic community is in near consensus in defining the slaughter of the Armenians by the Ottomans as a genocide, with the International Association of Genocide Scholars, an organization comprising the word’s premier genocide scholars, unanimously concluded that the crime against the Armenian people was a genocide.

And yet, the recognition of this travesty is somehow a hotly contested geopolitical issue nearly a century later. Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire whose Muslim-majority nature was built on the extermination of its Armenian Christian population, continues to understate the number of deaths, deny that a genocide took place, and even claims that Turkish deaths at the hands of Armenians were higher than the Armenian casualties figure. Only 21 nations have recognized that what happened to the Armenians constituted genocide.

In honor of this anniversary, the Iowa Legislature should join the opposition and recognize the overwhelming empirical evidence that the Ottoman Turkish government carried out a policy of death, destruction, and misery toward its Armenian minority that can only be described as genocide. To not do so is to continue to stamp on the bones of a people whose graves have been trampled upon by murderers and demagogues.

Let’s offer some respect to the dead by acknowledging what evil put them in the ground in the first place.

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.