Today the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) marks the one hundred and sixth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. This memorial observance, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, commemorates the date on which the implementation of a large-scale program of imprisonment marked a major escalation in the Ottoman Empire’s violent persecution of its Armenian population that would later be recognized as the Armenian Genocide. Due to the scale, duration, and character of the atrocities committed, the event is widely known as one of the first “modern genocides.”
The Auschwitz Institute commends the decision of US President Joe Biden’s administration to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide today, April 24, 2021. In a statement from the White House, President Biden commemorated the anniversary of the atrocities, saying:
Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future — toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.
The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.
This action sets a global example, honoring the victims of this appalling atrocity and providing a measure of justice to their families. The United States’ recognition of this event as a genocide represents a crucial step towards ending the spread of denialist and revisionist agendas that can enable and inspire future mass atrocities. The decision to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide follows a March 19 letter sent to President Biden by a bipartisan group of 38 US Senators urging him to take action. The letter concludes:
Administrations of both parties have been silent on the truth of the Armenian Genocide. We urge you to break this pattern of complicity by officially recognizing that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide.
The failure of the international community to reach a consensus that fully recognizes the Armenian Genocide undermines the tragedy experienced over a century ago by the Armenian community and not only diminishes the accuracy of our shared history, but also emboldens those who would plan similar crimes today, underlining the importance of President Biden’s statement.
Dr. James Waller, the Auschwitz Institute’s Director of Academic Programs, explains:
The truth of the Armenian Genocide is long overdue, as nations continue to deny its existence and undermine the tragedy that so many endured over one hundred years ago. To deny the genocide is to deny the past, and to deny the past is to condemn the future. While we continue to urge universal recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the Auschwitz Institute applauds the Biden administration’s decision to declare these atrocities an act of genocide. In so doing, the US joins at least 29 other countries in signaling a commitment to truth, memory, and human rights. More than simply political statements, such designations remind the world that atrocities cannot be buried in the shallow ground of denial.
On April 24, 1915, leaders and intellectuals within the Armenian community of Constantinople were detained and interned. This event initiated a longer series of arrests that resulted in the imprisonment, relocation, and/or murder of countless notable Armenians across the Ottoman Empire over the course of the subsequent months. Soon thereafter, Ottoman authorities commenced internment, displacement, and deportation actions against the general Armenian population. For their part, Armenian men were most often put into servitude at a variety of forced labor camps before facing arbitrary executions. Women, children, and elderly members of the Armenian community, by contrast, were made to participate in “death marches.” These forced marches led victims on protracted journeys through what is now the Syrian desert, with many subjected to torture and rape in addition to death through attrition.
While historians’ estimates on the total number of those who perished vary, between 1,000,000 and 1,800,000 Armenians are known to have lost their lives as a result of the genocide. This number amounts to approximately 70% of the region’s Armenian community. The scale and cruelty of the atrocities served as one of the principal inspirations for the creation of the word “genocide” by Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin and, by extension, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.