On April 19, 2015, the United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) penned a press release regarding “the tragedy that befell Armenians” in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Rather than call the tragedy what it was, a genocide, USMCO is calling for the characterization of those events to be “balanced, constructive and also recognize Turkish and Muslim suffering.” Among the supporters of this release are American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). I have rarely been so disappointed with what many consider the leadership of the American-Muslim community as I am in this moment.
April 24, 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and rather than stand for justice, rather than stand up in solidarity with our Armenian brethren, USCMO is playing politics — and the wrong side of politics, too. USMCO says “[a]s Americans, we are concerned about alienating a key ally, Turkey, through one-sided declarations that political and religious leaders have made on this subject. The events of 100 years ago should be based on a consensus among historians and academicians with access to archives and documents from that era.” As Americans, as human beings, what we should be concerned about is upholding justice for all, not about “alienating a key ally.”
If the USCMO needs a history lesson, we are happy to give them one. Armenians faced violence and discrimination at the hands of the Ottoman Empire well before 1915. In the late 1800s, animosity towards the Armenian populations shaped into state sanctioned violence. In response to major protests by the Armenians seeking basic civil rights, the Turkish military as well as Turkish civilians ransacked Armenian cities and massacred hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
During World War I, Armenians supported the Allied Powers, particularly Russia, to fight against the Turks in the Caucasus region that is their ancestral home. This, combined with the disdain the Turks already had for the Armenians, led the Turkish government to “remove” the Armenians. April 24, 1915, is widely considered the beginning of the Armenian genocide. On that day the Turkish government arrested and subsequently executed hundreds of Armenian intellectuals. Armenian Civilians were then sent on death marches through the dessert; they were often forced to walk naked under the scorching dessert sun until they died. Anyone who stopped walking was shot. As one historian notes:
“Rape and beating were commonplace. Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians eventually succumbed or were killed.”
The Turkish government created a special organization, which then created killing squads for the purpose of liquidating the Armenian community. They killed Armenians in abhorrently violent ways all over the Turkish countryside. Killing squads also kidnapped Armenian children and gave them to Turkish families. Turkish-Muslims moved into the homes of deported Armenians and seized their property; Armenians were never compensated for this.
In 1922, when the massacring was over, the Armenian populations had been decimated. What started out as a population of over two million, was slaughtered until less than 400,000 Armenians remained in the Ottoman Empire.
The Turkish government still denies that genocide took place. They justify the killing of the Armenian population as a culling of an enemy force, a measure necessary during wartime. Because Turkey is an important ally for western interests, especially the United States, western nations generally refuse to acknowledge it as genocide. However, contrary to what USMCO may believe, many historians, with “access to archives and documents from that era” have characterized the massacre of the Armenians as genocide.
USMCO says that “as the only Muslim-majority member of NATO and current President of the G-20 Summit, Turkey has taken on a unique regional and global leadership role in ensuring peace and prosperity for all. Our government has been closely cooperating with the Turkish government on defeating ISIS while also alleviating the suffering of Syrian refugees.” They are referencing Turkey’s prominent place in geopolitics as if that role absolves it of responsibility for the mass murder of 1.5 million human beings. USMCO talks about “reconciliation” but they fail to recognize that true reconciliation can only occur if it is rooted in honesty and responsibility, something Turkey has staunchly refused. Additionally, when did we, as American-Muslims, stop holding perpetrators of injustice accountable for their actions? When did leadership and power become acceptable excuses for denial of past crimes and for the perpetration of further harm?
By placing the American-Turkish political relationship above honesty and justice, USMCO has sent a message that the American-Muslim community does not stand in solidarity with other oppressed populations. Rather, it has shown that the American-Muslim community places political interests above what is right. Failing to hold Turkey accountable is a transparent attempt to support a Muslim majority country at the expense of the ideals many Muslims pride themselves for; honesty, compassion, and justice. I reject USMCO’s statement. They do not represent me, and they do not represent millions of Muslims who stand in solidarity with our Armenian brethren.
Please sign our open letter to the USCMO condemning their statement on the Armenian genocide, here.