On April 22, Associate Professor Henry Theriault of Worcester State’s Philosophy Department delivered remarks as the keynote speaker at the US Congress’s Caucus on Armenian Issues’ Armenian Genocide Observance. Theriault was invited by the Caucus’s Co-Chairs, US Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and US Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL). More than a dozen Congressional leaders, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and including Worcester’s own Congressman James McGovern (D-MA), made remarks at the program, as did Armenian Ambassador to the United States Tatoul Markarian. The Congressional Armenian Caucus has well over 100 members, including Congressman McGovern, who has been an active and prominent member as part of his broader commitment to human rights such as his effort to end today’s genocide in Sudan. The program was held in on Capitol Hill, in the Cannon House Office Building’s historic Caucus Room. More than 400 people from around the United States attended the commemoration.
The event marked the 94th Anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, on April 24, 1915. Within about a year, the Ottoman Turkish government, controlled by the Committee of Union and Progress, a radical Turkish nationalist group led by Talaat Bey, Enver Pasha, and Jemal Pasha, systematically murdered more than 1 million Armenian children, women, and men. By 1923, the death toll had reached roughly 1.5 million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Pontian Greeks. The U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, made heroic efforts to save Armenians and publicize their plight to the world. U.S. organizations raised millions of dollars for relief efforts to help the hundreds of thousands of survivors who reached refugee camps, including a large number of orphans. Many of Worcester’s thousands of Armenians trace their recent family histories to this horrific event.
The links of the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust are significant. Germany, the Ottoman Empire’s main ally in World War I, committed military personnel and diplomatic support to the genocide effort. Some of the German junior officers later rose to senior positions in the Nazi regime and participated in the Holocaust.
In his speech, Theriault emphasized the importance of recognizing that Assyrians and Pontian Greeks were victims of “the same genocidal machinery, often alongside Armenians.” He also praised “the many Turks, Kurds, and other Muslims who resisted the Genocide, who out of friendship and respect for justice and human life, and in keeping with the true principles of Islam, refused to carry out orders from the perpetrators to commit genocide or sheltered Armenians, often at great cost or risk to themselves.”
Theriault highlighted the importance of the struggle against denial of the Armenian Genocide. To this day, no government of Turkey since 1915 has acknowledged what is widely recognized as one of the major genocides of the 20th Century. Turkey’s aggressive denial campaign includes millions of dollars for lobbying and “public relations” propaganda and involves hundreds of diplomatic personnel and academics in Turkey, the United States, and beyond. As a result of attempts to install denialist professors in American universities, a number of states have passed legislation preventing state higher education institutions from accepting from foreign governments donations “with strings attached.”
Theriault also stressed that ending denial is not enough. “Denial is, after all, merely a diversion,” said Theriault, adding that it is often difficult to see this because for so long so many Armenians and non-Armenians have made such an effort just to get the Armenian Genocide recognized by the US government and others. For Theriault, it is once denial has ended that the real challenge of resolving the Armenian Genocide issue will come. This will require meaningfully addressing the “many and deep” harms inflicted through the Genocide, which have had “a devastating impact on the victim group, with consequences that are powerful today and in fact have become stronger through time.”
Theriault emphasized that his goal was not to “single out or demonize Turkey” and called on other governments and societies to recognize the genocides they have committed. This includes the United States: “Lest we recognize genocide somewhere else without, as United States citizens, facing up to our own moral challenge, so should we finally take responsibility for the US roles in the East Timor Genocide, the Guatemalan genocide of Mayans, and other cases – and most of all for our own genocidal treatment of Native Americans across the continent.”
Theriault ended his remarks with a strong plea to end current genocides and other mass violence around the world today, most notably in the Darfur region of Sudan. “If we can stop this and other genocides today, there will be no need to discuss tomorrow how we are to repair the damage genocide has done in the 21st Century as we must do for the 20th and 19th and 18th and . . .”
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