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Scholar reflects on “enormous significance” of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide

Just one week prior to his 1939 invasion of Poland and the mass slaughter that followed, Adolf Hitler asked rhetorically, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Such a depraved sentiment indicates why it is so significant that President Joe Biden, this past Saturday, became the first US President to formally classify the persecution committed against the Armenian Christians in Ottoman Turkey from 1915-1923 as “genocide”.

The nation of Turkey continues to aggressively reject the descriptive “genocide” and has, as a key regional ally to many, successfully pressured other nations to never use the term. The denial of the Armenian Genocide deprives victims, survivors, and their families of both recognition and justice. It also weakens the international community’s resolve to prevent such atrocities from happening again, especially for the vulnerable minority Christian communities of the Middle East. President Biden’s declaration came on “Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day” which is commemorated annually on April 24th, the date in 1915 when the genocide began. In 2019 both Houses of Congress passed resolutions acknowledging that the Armenian Genocide is an historical fact. With the president’s declaration on Saturday, the United States’ capitulation to Turkish pressure has finally come to an end.

To help readers better understand this horrific episode in human history and the significance of the recent declaration, CWR spoke with Professor Siobhan Nash-Marshall. She is the chair of philosophy at Manhattanville College in New York, author of The Sins of the Fathers: Turkish Denialism and the Armenian Genocide (Herder & Herder, 2018), and translator of Antonia Arslan’s novella Silent Angel which is set against the backdrop of the genocide. [Editor’s note: See CWR’s July 2020 interview, by Joseph Pearce, with Prof. Nash-Marshall about Silent Angel.]

CWRWhat historic events led to the Armenian Genocide? Why were the Armenian Christians a specifically targeted minority within Ottoman Turkey for mass deportation and massacre?

Siobhan Nash-Marshall: There were many historic events that led to the Armenian Genocide on the international scene and within the Armenian community. Both sets are important if one wants to understand how the First Christian Nation, the nation that St. John Paul II referred to as the Martyr Nation of Christianity, suffered the Genocide.

The most significant event within the Armenian community was a powerful rebirth of its culture: the Zartonk as Armenians call it. Thanks to the careful and providential efforts of priests, like the monk Mkhitar of Sebaste in the 18th century, who collected ancient Armenian manuscripts (that can still be seen in the great collection of Venice), educated generations of new teachers, writers, historians, scholars, by the end of the 19th century Armenian culture flowered anew. That flowering took place at the same time as the notion of nationhood grounded in natural rights, the right of self-determination, the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness spread from the new world to the old. The result of the cultural flowering in that time frame was the renewed recognition of the beauty and importance of their own Christian cultural patrimony. Armenians, who had for centuries suffered precisely because of their faith (as St. John Paul II claims “Martyrdom is a constant feature of your people’s history”), who lived as dhimmis in the Ottoman Empire precisely because they were Christians, recognized that they ought not to be second class citizens because of their faith. They pushed for reforms that would allow them freely to practice their faith: to be recognized as full-fledged citizens of the empire.

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