Welcome to This Day in Today, a collection of thoughts from my series of books, This Day in… There are currently five books in the series, This Day in Genocide, This Day in Peace, This Day in Trump, This Day in Black and Blue, and This Day in Rhode Island history.
My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m the Babbling Professor!
On this day, April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising, began in Dublin, Ireland. Members of the Irish Volunteers — led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse, joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic to be independent of the United Kingdom. More than 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested, although most were subsequently released. In a series of courts martial, 90 people were sentenced to death. Those fifteen included all seven signatories of the Proclamation of 1916 and were executed by firing squad (among them the seriously wounded James Connolly who was shot, while tied to a chair due to his shattered ankle). Irish nationalism, crushed by an Imperial Military, concurrently fighting in WWI…on the other side of Europe, Turkish forces in the Ottoman Empire crushed more than nascent nationalism.
April 24th is the 102th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It’s as simple as that. One word: genocide. Once again, the President of the United States will not refer to the mass killings of Armenians as genocide. At least President Trump never promised to call it a genocide. Obama was the third presidential candidate to campaign on the promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and then fail to live up to that promise once elected. Why have President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama switched opinions? The argument is well-known: pandering candidates with limited foreign policy experience promise big, then the complexity of the situation causes policy reversal. Turkey is a strategic NATO ally; the White House needs the positive public relations image that comes with having good relations with Turkey since it is a Muslim democracy; Turkey is an ally in the war against ISIS, etc., etc., etc.
That is one truth, but there are also other truths. The truth is, that while Turkey was a strategic ally for the Cold War, so the US could monitor the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, such monitoring is no longer necessary by sea. While relations between the US and Russia are not warm and fuzzy, Russia does not have the economic, political, or social resources to threaten the United States as it did during the Cold War. Additionally, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and even Iran; all are Muslim countries trying to reconcile Islam and democracy. Though the others may not be perfect, Turkey is far from the only Muslim democracy. And let’s face it, Erdoğan is no true defender of democracy. Nor is Turkey the most supportive ally against ISIS. Turkey had to be cajoled and cajoled to even allow Kurdish forces through Turkey who have sought to engage ISIS forces in Syria. So, to recap: Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits is no longer a key US interest, Turkey is no longer a unique example of Muslim experiments in democracy, and Turkey has not actively supported joint operations against ISIS.
At the same time, the United States of America has the third largest Armenian population in the world (only Armenia and Russia have a higher Armenian population). The US Presidents have a responsibility to represent survivors and descendants of the Armenian Diaspora. Ironically, US Presidents had no problem referring to the Armenian genocide when Turkey’s government was a military dictatorship. The amnesia of the recent White House administrations is a new phenomenon and it must end. The fact is the genocide happened. Period. That’s it.
The United Nations defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Even the Turkish government admits that Armenians were massacred and that wholesale emigration of the Armenian survivors occurred. Turkey resists the term genocide because it states the massacres were not systematic or premeditated. Even ignoring the evidence to the contrary, if one were to accept the Turkish statement of facts, it still meets the threshold of the UNCPPCG. There was an Armenian Genocide. Every Armenian family knows it. About 30 countries, including Germany and Austria, have recognized the genocide. While the Vatican has already recognized the Armenian Genocide, Pope Francis has raised the profile of the recognition by publicly and unequivocally referring to the massacre as genocide. The Jewish-American Anti-Defamation League and the Central Council of Jews in Germany have called the 1915 events a genocide. As the European Parliament unanimously passed another resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide recently, German delegate Elmar Brok said, “My own people committed genocides,” he said. “and we know hundreds of thousands of Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire’s henchmen.” It’s called catharsis; just say the word. The word is genocide.
The Catholic Church has recognized its own responsibility for the Inquisition and the Crusades, including the sacking of Turkey’s own city of Istanbul (then Constantinople) in 1204. Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Serbia have all recognized, to some extent, their role in the other 20th century genocides. In 1997, US President Bill Clinton apologized for the US role in the institutional enslavement of West Africans and African-Americans. Obama signed the apology to Native Americans in 2010. It is time for Turkish President Recep Erdoğan to follow this example and acknowledge his country’s past. Maybe President Trump can help Erdogan by using the word himself. The word is genocide, and, yes, it happened. Let’s not wait another hundred years to say so.
Now to share a little bit of good news:
While it was on this day, April 24, 1957, Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad that died in Rome, Italy, Hesselblad is now recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.
Hesselblad was a Swedish nurse who had converted to Catholicism and founded a new form of life of the Bridgettines known as the Bridgettine Sisters. During World War II – and after – she performed many charitable works on behalf of the poor and those that suffered due to racial laws and promoted peace between Christians and non-Christians. The war also saw her save the lives of Jewish people who would have otherwise have perished in the Holocaust had it not been for her direct intervention.
Pope John Paul II beatified her on April 9, 2000, and Pope Francis formally approved her canonization in late 2015.
That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
Thank you for listening!