Armen Baibourtian, Armenian Consul General, speaks at the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Fresno State
On Wednesday, April 24, one of humanity’s saddest chapters will be recalled for the 104th time: the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks from 1915-18.
The day will be painful for Fresnan Mike Karibian and Deanna Garabedian of Selma. Karibian wrote a recent Valley Voice column that told of the last letter his grandfather received from a brother in 1915. The brother and his family lived in Turkey at the time. They were never heard from again.
Garabedian told a moving tale in another Valley Voice about her dear grandpa Levon “Leo” Kellejian, who at age 13 witnessed Ottoman Turk soldiers march into his village and murder his parents and sisters. He was spared so he could be made a slave.
Fresno’s Armenian community will pause to pay tribute, to remember, and also wish for the U.S. government to officially recognize the Ottoman atrocities for what they were and remain today. President Trump, call what the Ottoman Turks did by its true name: A genocide.
The Armenian Genocide was the first holocaust of the 20th century, and foreshadowed what Nazi Germany would do to Jews living in Europe during World War II.
While America has long recognized the Jewish Holocaust, no U.S. president has given official status to what happened to Armenian Christians under Turkish rule. Turkey strongly denies its actions amounted to a genocide.
America has a key military base in Turkey that dates back to the 1950s and has been used time and again to stage troops to hot spots in the Middle East. The thinking is that if America ruffles Turkish feathers with a genocide recognition, Turkey might force U.S. military personnel from the Incirlik Air Base.
There is no questioning the strategic importance of Incirlik, or of Turkey, a NATO nation like America. But the issue is not just about military strategy; it is about doing what is morally right. Turkey is on the wrong side of history and should be held accountable, as much as Germany had to face up to its guilt in the systematic killing of Jews by Hitler’s regime.
Turkish politics likely won’t let that country’s president take the first step, assuming he were so inclined. So it remains up to the U.S. leader — President Trump — to do that right thing.
One of his biggest allies in Congress, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, last year called the deaths of Armenians by Turkish forces a genocide. Nunes called Turkey’s refusal to face reality “an absurdity and a disgrace.” And he called on Trump to “commemorate the tragic genocide of the Armenian people.”
Regrettably, Trump would not go that far, issuing a carefully crafted statement that avoided the word “genocide” while it recognized the deaths and suffering the Armenians had suffered.
May this year be when President Trump finally acknowledges what happened to the Armenian people as a genocide. Historians will mark it as the right decision, and only then can healing truly begin for Armenians like Mike Karibian and Deanna Garabedian.