Two visitors stand next to the eternal flame at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia.

The House of Representatives votes to recognize and remember the Armenian Genocide, but Turkey continues its opposition to the terminology.

It has only symbolic value. It comes too late to protect the persecuted minority. It comes too late to punish the perpetrators. The Armenian Genocide happened more than a century ago, in 1915. And yet it was a defiant act, when, on Oct. 29, the House of Representatives voted 405 to 11 on a non-binding resolution to “commemorate the Armenian Genocide through recognition and remembrance.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promptly declared Turkey would not recognize the House resolution, continuing intense Turkish opposition to the terminology.

In 1915, during World War I, Ottoman forces destroyed whole communities of Armenians. According to the Jewish-run Combat Genocide Organization, Ottoman soldiers and civilians drove neighborhoods of Christians into the desert, where they were shot or left to die of thirst or hunger. Estimations of the dead are 1-1.5 million.

The modern state of Turkey makes it a crime to defame the Turkish people; in the course of a world war and a local rebellion, many civilians of all communities died.

In 1948, one of the first official acts of the United Nations was to establish a Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power describes in her book, A Problem from Hell, countries have trouble acknowledging the crime or acting against perpetrators.

The government of Israel does not describe the destruction of Armenian communities as genocide. Zvi Gitelman, professor emeritus of political science and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan, explains why: “At first, Turkey, a secular state since 1923, was the only majority-Muslim country that had normal relations with Israel.” Israel avoided upsetting its powerful neighbor. “Under Erdogan, Turkey has become less secular and less friendly to Israel.”

Even so, Israel continues to avoid the term “genocide.” Two professors at the University of Michigan, Ronald Suny (history) and Fatma Muge Gocek (sociology), have published studies of the Armenian Genocide. Suny, who comes from an Armenian family, said about the House vote, “The passage of the resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide is particularly important, not only as a challenge to the deniers.”

Gocek, a Turkish scholar who cannot return to her native country because of her published research, says, “By denying what happened, you prevent healing from happening, We need that healing to happen not only for the Armenians but for the Turks by taking responsibility.”


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