Last week, Ring Road played host to silent protests commemorating the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The Armenian Students’ Association of UC Irvine took several efforts last week to educate students and visitors to UC Irvine about the genocide committed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
“Our main goal is to raise awareness about genocide, and more specifically the Armenian genocide, at the UCI campus while our overall goal is to inform students,” Meher Handian, a fifth-year political science and international studies double major and Armenian Students’ Association member, said.
“For us we don’t want to convince people that this is a genocide, all we want to do is say that this is the information that is out there.”
The group conducted a silent protest on Wednesday and Thursday, holding banners condemning the Turkish government’s denial of the genocide of 1915. In addition, the Association held two events: a movie screening on Wednesday at 7 p.m. of “Sunrise over Lake Van” in Social Science Lab 248 and a commemoration night on Thursday in Moss Cove A and B at 7 p.m. The commemoration honored the memories of those who died during the genocide and featured speakers from the Armenian community. Lectures and performances telling the story of the Armenian genocide and student reflections about the genocide also took place.
The genocide was the result of long-standing hatred by the Turkish majority of the Christian Armenian minority throughout the empire. The Armenians historically were subject to discrimination and attacks from their Turkish rulers under the Ottoman Empire, however, they became the targets of repeated violence in the 19th and 20th centuries with the rise of Islamists and later nationalists within the Ottoman government. In 1915, the armies of the Ottoman Empire suffered a series of defeats from the Russians at the start of World War I and the Armenians were inadvertently blamed for the disaster.
As a result, millions of Armenians were forcefully evicted from their homes and forced to march through the desert of Der Zor in modern day Syria, where many died of thirst, starvation, exposure and disease. The official death toll stands at 1.5 million, according to the Armenian government, while the Turkish government’s official report puts the death toll at 500,000.
Despite the fact that the events of 1915 are almost a century old, they still reverberate today for Handian.
“I always keep a picture of my great-grandmother with me because originally my family was supposed to be in what is today Turkey. During the genocide, my great-great grandparents [died]. My great-grandparents on both sides wound up in orphanages and from there they wound up in Lebanon, so that’s where I was born.”
Despite the fact that many countries in the international community have acknowledged the events of 1915 as genocide, the Turkish government has continued to issue denials as to whether the killings of 1915 constitute a genocide. Threats from the Turkish government prevented the U.S. Congress from passing a formal resolution condemning the genocide. In 2007, US House Resolution 106, a resolution calling for the American government to formally recognize the events of 1915 as a genocide by the Ottoman government, was unexpectedly postponed when the Turkish government threatened to hinder American efforts in Iraq if the Resolution passed. In addition, the Turkish government spent millions in an effective lobbying campaign to end debate on the resolution. To this day, the HR 106 has not been pulled to the House floor, but a bill titled “Armenia Genocide Resolution” has passed two weeks ago in the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, though it has not been put to the Senate floor yet. In addition, the Obama administration is expected to oppose the resolution due to Turkish pressure.
However, there are signs that the Turkish government is taking steps to acknowledge what happened in 1915. Prime Minister Erdogan offered conciliatory statements, calling the events of 1915 “shared pain” between Turks and Armenians and offered condolences for families who suffered during the genocide. However, members of the ASA did not think these statements matter.
“We don’t care what [Erdogan] says, what we care about are the opinions and actions of the brave Turkish people who march in solidarity with Armenians living in Istanbul on April 24,” said Ani Aslanian, an ASA member and fifth-year philosophy and European studies double major, said in regard to Erdogan’s comments.
“We want to see an official apology [by Turkey] and reparations.”
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