Open Letter to President Obama. Or Was Hitler Right?

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, on April 24th Armenians and their friends all over the world will be commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide organized and executed by Ottoman Turkey.

About twenty countries acknowledge this tragic chapter in history, yet the majority of countries turn a blind eye on facts and tiptoe around the topic of the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks in order to not irritate the Turkish government. What is particularly disappointing to me is that Israel (because of its history) and my two adopted home countries - the United States and Germany - are among those countries that choose perceived political convenience over standing for the truth and for justice.

Mr. President, as you know, about a week before Nazi Germany started World War II by invading Poland, Hitler gave his infamous Obersalzberg speech to his chief commanders of the Wehrmacht. That speech and subsequent events show that Hitler took what Ottoman Turkey did to Armenians and other Christians as an example for his plans to annihilate Jews and other groups which, according to him, were a threat to Aryan supremacy.

There are many parallels between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Anyone who is familiar with these pages of history understands that had the world held the Ottoman Empire accountable for its actions towards Armenians and other Christians, it could have prevented the Holocaust. All other genocides over the last century could have been prevented as well. It is overwhelming to think of the millions of innocent lives that could have been saved...

In his Obersalzberg speech Hitler orders his commanders to be merciless and brutal in the physical destruction of the "enemy." He then adds, "Who, after all, talks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" So, was Hitler right? Because even a hundred years later - despite all the facts and efforts - the world by and large still doesn't talk about it.

As you might know, just in 1915 The New York Times alone published about 150 articles about atrocious events taking place in the Ottoman Turkey. That comes to more than an article every other day for a whole year. The word "genocide" didn't exist then, so those reports described the massacres of Armenians as "systematic," "authorized", and "organized by the government", which are all characteristics of genocide. The word "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, in part, to refer to the Ottoman crimes against Armenians.

Being a jurist, Lemkin understood the importance of providing legal protection to groups that are targeted to be exterminated. Mr. President, being a jurist yourself, I am certain that you share and relate to Lemkin's position.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, various US presidents' speeches show that they knew that Armenians were massacred as a result of organized and state-sponsored plan to annihilate Armenians. Theodore Roosevelt characterized Ottoman Turkey's crimes against Armenians as "the greatest crime of the war." He also adds:

"...the failure to act against Turkey is to condone it . . . the failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense."

Time proved that President Roosevelt's, and so many others', concerns were not baseless. Not holding the Ottoman Government accountable for their crimes, gave a green light to other atrocious crimes against humanity that are taking place to this day.

Among US presidents, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan used the word "genocide" in their speeches. Other presidents - including Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and yourself - gave speeches at various times that showed clear understanding that this tragedy was not an unfortunate accident or the byproduct of the World War I, but was rather carefully planned and mercilessly executed by the Ottoman government.

Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during 1913-1916, repeatedly reported on what was happening to Armenians. Morgenthau made numerous efforts to bring international attention to the atrocious crimes against humanity in the Ottoman Turkey. He wrote:

"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. . . . I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915."

Morgenthau left his post of the ambassador in 1916. He is quoted to say, "My failure to stop the destruction of the Armenians had made Turkey for me a place of horror."

I find it appalling that the US government would ignore one ambassador's, Mr. Morgenthau's, countless calls for attention and action, and decades later it would make another ambassador, the US ambassador to Armenia, Mr. John Marshall Evans, resign for the proper use of the word "genocide."

Mr. President, today I would like to remind you of the promise you repeatedly made while being a senator and a presidential candidate. I am actually certain that you never forgot that promise. Moreover, I am certain that if it were only up to you, you would have recognized the Armenian Genocide during the very first year of your presidency. But I also know that other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, are considered to be giants who changed the world because they stood by what is right and fair over convenience.

As a scholar in the biomedical field and a three-time cancer survivor, I genuinely believe that the world urgently needs more peace and healing. This will not happen unless we end oppression. Oppression will not end unless we stand by correct principles. The Turkish government has successfully executed all eight stages of the genocide (classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination, and denial). While we can't change the past, we have control over our actions today. I hope today you will choose to not be part of the final stage of the Armenian Genocide - denial. I hope that you will make a choice to contribute to peace and healing. Forty-three states have already recognized the Armenian Genocide - by legislation or proclamation. It is time for US to recognize it on the federal level as well. One can cover up an atrocious event of this magnitude only for so long. I genuinely hope that you will become the president who stops contributing to injustice.

Roza Selimyan
P.S. Mr. President, I thought you might want to also know that my own family name is the reflection of the tragedy that happened to Armenians. Before the Genocide our family name was Ulikhanian. When some of my ancestors managed to escape the Genocide and left their historic lands behind, they acquired a new family name to have a constant reminder of the Selim district in the Kars province where their home had been for centuries...