Visitors lay flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia on April 21,2015. (AFP)
A hundred years ago this week, as British and French troops were bogged down facing Germany on the western front of World War I, the Kaiser's ally in the east, the Turkish Ottoman Caliphate, was preparing for a new kind of war.
A war of extermination.
The target of the Turks was their large Armenian Christian population living within the Caliphate, whom the Turks feared was loyal to Russia.
On April 19, 1915, Cevdet Bey, the Turkish governor of the city of Van, (today on Turkey's eastern border with Armenia) ordered the city's residents to furnish him with 4,000 soldiers under the pretext of conscription.
The Armenians, fearing for their lives, refused.
Bey accused the Armenians of "rebellion", and laid siege to the city, asserting his determination to "crush" it at any cost. "If the rebels fire a single shot", he declared, "I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and (pointing to his knee) every child, up to here."
The next day, April 20, the siege of Van began until a Russian military force intervened and rescued the Armenians.
The Russian intervention in Van provided the Turks with the pretext to label the minority Armenians as traitors.
On April 24, the Turkish government rounded up and imprisoned an estimated 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul, sending them to holding centers near Ankara, where they were shot in cold blood. By the time 1915 came to an end, nearly 1.5 million Armenians were dead.
Many historians and scholars, as well as the governments of many countries, including Canada, have labeled the ethnic cleansing by Turks as the Armenian Genocide, commemorated annually on April 24.
Some Islamic groups in the United States have come together to echo Turkish denialism.
Turkey, however is adamant. It refuses to acknowledge the crimes committed by the Ottoman Caliphate against its Christian Armenian citizens. In fact, when Pope Francis earlier this month referred to the Armenian Genocide as one of the "three massive and unprecedented tragedies" of the last century, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rebuked the Pontiff, warning him not to "repeat this mistake."
Turkey is not alone. Some Islamic groups in the United States have come together to echo the Turkish line, claiming the Armenian Genocide was just one event in "the painful history of over 30 nations fighting for over four years and the loss of over 37 million lives in World War I, including those of the Armenians."
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) said in a press release they "share the pain suffered by Armenians during this period" but oppose referring to it as genocide. Another reason USCMO gave for opposing the United States acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, was that Turkey was "the only Muslim-majority member of NATO."
In Toronto, where thousands of people gathered at Queen's Park on Sunday to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, a small group of Islamist men and women held a counter protest promoting the Turkish position.
Keyvan Soltany, a Kurdish Canadian from Iran who attended the commemoration told me, "I was disgusted to see Islamist women in burkas and hijab trying to insult the memories of the Armenians who the Turks killed."
Time and again, too many Islamic leaders have demonstrated that they represent the interests of global Islamism in the United States and Canada, not the values of universal human rights, individual liberty and freedom that make us who we are.
On the issue of the Armenian Genocide, too many Muslim leaders have failed their community, again.
Tarek Fatah is a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a columnist at the Toronto Sun, and a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of two award-winning books: Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism.