Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Since April is Genocide Awareness month, and since today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, I thought that I would discuss it.  Although you cannot currently visit a museum about the Armenian Genocide, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps there is a monument commemorating the Genocide near you.

April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, because on that day in 1915, the Ottoman Empire’s government began to arrest Armenian intellectuals, and thus officially begin the Genocide.  The causes of the Genocide were complex, and included political, national, and religious motivations.  It occurred during WWI, so the Armenians were accused of siding with the Ottoman Empire’s enemies, the Russians.  Additionally, nationalism was on the rise during that time, and the Turks and Armenians had a separate ethnicity and language.  Finally, the Ottoman Empire was primarily Muslim, while Armenians were/are Christian.  Although the numbers are contested, approximately 1.5 million Armenians died between 1914 to 1923.

I found this sign about the Armenian Genocide in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Cathedral of St. James.

After the Genocide, Armenians found themselves scattered throughout the world.  Therefore, monuments commemorating the tragedy have been erected throughout the globe.  Armenia’s capital of Yerevan has a museum dedicated to the Genocide called the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute.  The only memorial I have seen dedicated to the Armenian Genocide is one that was erected in 2015 at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, Illinois (suburban Chicago), for the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, IL.

Like most genocides, the Armenian Genocide began slowly, with the elite taken away first.  Eventually, the women, children, and elderly were rounded up and sent to the desert (although young women often had a worse fate).  Along the way, many perished, including my great-great-grandmother.  However, she was not Armenian.  She was Assyrian.  Although these numbers are also contested, at least 200,000 Assyrians and 500,000 Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire perished during the Genocide.  These smaller Christian populations found themselves in the same situation as the Armenians.  According to 1914-1918 Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire’s Christian population dropped from 20% to 2% because of the Genocide.

This is one of several monuments to the Assyrian Genocide (a subset of the Armenian Genocide) found at Montrose Cemetery in Chicago. Although Turkey hardly has any Assyrians now, most Assyrians trace their families back to Turkey, and most had family who died because of the Genocide.

Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who coined the word “genocide” and started the Genocide Convention of the U.N., was originally inspired to do his work because of the Armenian Genocide.  However, even during his time, people did not know much about the Armenian Genocide.  His contemporary, Adolf Hitler, said the following a few weeks before invading Poland and starting WWII in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The Armenian Genocide still continues to remain under the radar.  Ever since the 1930s, Hollywood has attempted to make a film based on The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a 1933 novel about the Armenian Genocide by a Jewish man who himself had to flee Nazi Germany.  However, whenever Hollywood began any attempts, Turkey placed pressure against it.  Hollywood did not make a film about the Armenian Genocide until over 100 years later, with 2016’s film The Promise.  Before the film was even released, it received negative ratings on IMDB, proving that many people were angry about its release.  Interestingly enough, around the same time that The Promise was released, Turkish and U.S. producers released a film about the Ottoman Empire during WWI called The Ottoman Lieutenant.  Some accuse it of being a reactionary film against The Promise, since it portrays Turkey’s stance on the Armenian Genocide, meaning that it downplayed what happened and denied that it was systematically planned.  Turkey continues to deny the Armenian Genocide. The United States only recently officially recognized it, on December 12, 2019.

This text is from the credits of the 2016 film The Promise.

April is Genocide Awareness month not only because the Armenian Genocide began then, but because the Cambodian Genocide began in April of 1975, and the Rwandan Genocide began in April of 1994. Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, often falls in April too. Below are posts that I wrote about several museums that commemorate genocides.

The National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Sources and Further Reading

The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation. http://www.genocide-museum.am/eng/index.php (accessed April 24, 2020).

Bagdasarian, Adam. Forgotten Fire. London: DK Publishing, 2000.

Booker, Brakkton. “Senate Passes Armenia Genocide Measure, Ignoring White House Objections.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/12/12/787582258/senate-passes-armenia-genocide-measure-ignoring-white-house-objections (accessed April 24, 2020).

“Genocide Awareness.” Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. https://hhrecny.org/genocide-awareness/ (accessed April 24, 2020).

Grandma’s Tattoos. Directed by Suzanne Khardalian. Sweden: HB PeA Holmquist Film, 2011.

“Hitler and the Armenian Genocide.” The Genocide Education Project. https://genocideeducation.org/background/hitler-and-the-armenian-genocide/ (accessed April 24, 2020).

Kherdian, David. The Road from Home. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1995.

The Ottoman Lieutenant. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Newport Beach, CA: Eastern Sunrise Films, 2017.

The Promise. Directed by Terry George. New York: Film Nation Entertainment, 2016.

Ritman, Alex and Mia Galuppo. “’The Promise’ vs. ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’: Two Movies Battle Over the Armenian Genocide.” The Hollywood Reporter. April 21, 2017. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/promise-ottoman-lieutenant-two-movies-battle-armenian-genocide-996196 (accessed April 24, 2020).

Seidenberg, Bob. “St. James Armenian Church Dedicates ‘Khachkar’ to Victims of 1915 Massacre.” Chicago Tribune. November 4, 2015. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-evr-armenian-cross-tl-1029-20151104-story.html (accessed April 24, 2020).

Suny, Ronald Grigor. “Armenian Genocide.” 1915-1918: International Encyclopedia of the First World War. May 26, 2015. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/armenian_genocide (accessed April 24, 2020).

They Shall Not Perish: The Story of Near East Relief. Directed by George Billard. Eldred, NY: Acorne Productions, 2016.

Werfel, Franz. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Translated by Geoffrey Dunlop. Jaffrey, NH: Verba Mundi, 2012.

Yacoub, Joseph. Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide, A History. Oxford University Press, 2016.