An ugly truth of history has just been acknowledged. On October 29, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (405 to 11) in favor of Resolution 296, which acknowledges the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks during WW1. (Unsurprisingly, Ilhan Omar was among the very few to abstain; her disingenuous logic will be addressed later.)
In order to become official policy, however, the resolution needs to be approved by both houses of Congress, and then signed by the president. The Senate is currently not scheduled to vote on the measure.
It is at any rate a step in the right direction. According to the book Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide,
At the beginning of 1915 there were some two million Armenians within Turkey; today there are fewer than 60,000.... Despite the vast amount of evidence that points to the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide, eyewitness accounts, official archives, photographic evidence, the reports of diplomats, and the testimony of survivors, denial of the Armenian Genocide by successive regimes in Turkey has gone on from 1915 to the present.
Indeed, Turkey is currently outraged at this resolution; its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called it "worthless" and the "biggest insult" to the Turkish people.
Such willful denial borders the surreal considering how well documented the Armenian genocide is. As the International Association of Genocide Scholars says, "the Armenian Genocide is not controversial, but rather is denied only by the Turkish government and its apologists."
Nor is this a new issue. The Honorable Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1913-16, wrote the following in his memoir:
When the Turkish authorities gave the order for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal this fact. . . I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.
In 1920, U.S. Senate Resolution 359 heard testimony on the "mutilation, violation, torture, and death" of countless Armenians, to quote American Lieutenant General James Harbord, who further referred to the genocide as the "most colossal crime of all the ages."
In her memoir, Ravished Armenia, Aurora Mardiganian described being raped and thrown into a harem (consistent with Islam's rules of war). Unlike thousands of other Armenian girls who were discarded after being defiled, she managed to escape. In the city of Malatia, she saw 16 Christian girls crucified: "Each girl had been nailed alive upon her cross," she wrote, "spikes through her feet and hands, only their hair blown by the wind, covered their bodies." Such scenes were portrayed in the 1919 film Auction of Souls, some of which is based on Mardiganian's memoirs.
Whereas the genocide is largely acknowledged in the West—long before this new resolution over 40 American states had acknowledged it—one of its primary if not fundamental causes is habitually overlooked: religion (Muslim Turks vis-à-vis Christian Armenians).
The genocide is unfortunately articulated through a singularly secular paradigm that focuses almost exclusively on nationalism, identity, territorial disputes, etc.—thereby projecting modern, secular Western sensibilities onto vastly different characters and eras.
One of the primary causes of the Armenian genocide is habitually overlooked: religion.
War, of course, is another factor that clouds the true essence of the genocide. Because these atrocities mostly occurred during World War I, so the argument goes, they are ultimately a reflection of just that—war, in all its chaos and destruction, and nothing more. But as Winston Churchill, who described the massacres as an "administrative holocaust," correctly observed, "The opportunity [WWI] presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race." Even Adolf Hitler had pointed out that "Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention."
Even the most cited factor of the Armenian Genocide, "ethnic identity conflict," while legitimate, must be understood in light of the fact that, historically, religion often accounted more for a person's identity than language or heritage. This is daily demonstrated throughout the Islamic world today, where Muslim governments and Muslim mobs persecute Christian minorities who share the same race, ethnicity, language, and culture; minorities who are indistinguishable from the majority—except, of course, for being non-Muslims, or "infidels."
As one Armenian studies professor asks, "If it [the Armenian Genocide] was a feud between Turks and Armenians, what explains the genocide carried out by Turkey against the Christian Assyrians at the same time?" The same can be said about the Greeks (some 750,000 of whom were liquidated during WWI). From a Turkish perspective, the primary thing Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks had in common was that they were all Christians—"infidels."
And the same can be said of all those Christians and other non-Muslim minorities who were targeted for what the U.S. acknowledges was a genocide by ISIS—another genocide that was also conducted during the chaos of war, and against those whose only crime was to be "infidels."
Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.