During a lavish dinner and reception at the Turkish Embassy for leaders in the Muslim community several weeks ago, myself and some of the other more than two dozen community members found ourselves baffled at the presentations centered on denying the Armenian Genocide. It became clear to me that the event was in fact aimed at currying favor with Muslim Americans and getting their assistance in lobbying against any efforts to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Soon after the event, I started receiving emails that outright denied any kind of systematic extermination of the Armenian community by the Ottoman Empire and urged me to do advocacy on Capitol Hill about the "events of 1915."
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the extermination of more than one million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. By 1923, more than 90 percent of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had disappeared: deported, tortured, executed, and raped. When Raphael Lemkin coined the term "genocide" in 1944, he referred to it as "the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group." The American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the time of these mass killings, Henry Morganthau Sr., explained vividly in his memoirs that "When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact."
While there may be reluctance by some world leaders, including our own president, to acknowledge and use the "g-word" in reference to this horrendous atrocity, there is no denying the established facts and events that transpired, which have been thoroughly documented by survivors and historians. President Obama, while a candidate in 2008, unequivocally stated that "the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence."
Obama further declared in 2008: "The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy... and as President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."
As Pope Francis said at his Mass in recognition of the centenary of the genocide, "concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it." In response to the Pope's remarks, Ankara recalled its ambassador to the Vatican and claimed the Vatican was influenced by "political lobbies and PR firms."
What is baffling however is that Turkey not only attempts to whitewash the atrocities committed against the Armenian community but also claims any support for the truth is due to PR or lobby campaigns. This is as Ankara has itself spent millions of dollars lobbying the administration, Congress, as well as Muslim American organizations to ensure that the word "genocide" is not uttered. A letter writing campaign has recently been launched calling on the administration and Congress to investigate the crimes and not to "rush to judgment in erroneously labeling 1915 events." The Embassy of Turkey has also gone to great lengths to reach out to Muslim American organizations and community leaders in the hopes that they will assist with their lobbying efforts. Earlier this week, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) released a statement denying the Armenian Genocide, setting off an uproar in the Muslim American community.
"Characterizing the events of 1915 as genocide without proper investigation of these events by independent historians will not only jeopardize the establishment of a just memory pertaining to these events, but will also damage the efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation between Turks and Armenians," USCMO's statement read.
It is absolutely appalling to reject the historical claims of the atrocities and falsely assert that there have been no conclusive investigations by scholars and historians regarding this event. It is also utterly deplorable that while USCMO claims to be the largest umbrella group of mainstream Muslim American organizations, it did not care to consult the community before issuing such a damaging and humiliating statement. USCMO certainly does not speak for me or my countless Muslim American friends who stand on the side of truth and historical facts and in defense of our Armenian American compatriots. There can be no reconciliation, which is what Turks and Armenians both want, without acknowledgment and acceptance of past offenses.
The reasons why the administration does not want to upset Ankara right now are clear, namely because the United States needs Turkey's help in the fight against ISIS. However, as a Muslim and someone who spent part of her childhood in Turkey, I find the excuses by Turkey and some Muslim community leaders and government officials in not referring to the events as genocide, simply unacceptable.
As Dr. Taner Akcam, professor of history at Clark University said during his testimony before Congress during a hearing on the Armenian Genocide on Thursday, "It is necessary to acknowledge the human dignity of victims. Without recognition, the consequent generations cannot properly mourn and heal."