The Unlikely Voice of a Forgotten Genocide
This week marks an important anniversary in history that a lot of people are not even aware of. 101 years ago, people from a particular ethnic group were rounded up by the authorities of the country they lived in, forcibly removed from their homes, and savagely murdered. It was one of first known crimes of this type in the modern era, so unusual that a new word had to be coined to describe it: genocide.
But this wasn’t in Nazi Germany or 1990s Rwanda. This crime preceded those by decades.
In 1915, the country we now know as Turkey was still the Ottoman Empire, and it was the Ottoman government that ordered the mass extermination of the ethnic Armenian community within the empire’s borders. No one is positive exactly how many people perished in the massacres, since the Ottomans were not as meticulous with their record-keeping as the Nazis, but estimates range from at least 500,000 to over 1.5 million deaths. If so many people were rounded up and murdered by their government, especially in a country we have a decent relationship with, why don’t more people know about? Why didn’t anyone teach us about it in high school history class alongside the other major crimes of the 20th century?
It’s all about politics, of course. The Ottoman Empire dissolved just a few years after the genocide began and the Republic of Turkey more or less took its place on the map. The official position of Turkey is that this event never happened. They don’t just refuse to apologize, they refuse to even acknowledge that it occurred in the first place. There are Turkish politicians who have referred to an “event” or “incident” that may have happened around this time, but words like murder, massacre, or genocide have never come up. And with our aforementioned decent relationship with Turkey, the United States has also long ignored this crime.
Officially, our Federal government has never recognized or condemned the Armenian Genocide, although many politicians have tried to bring about the legislation, and past presidents have discussed it, nothing has ever come to fruition. Currently 44 U.S. states formally recognize it, but due to the potential fallout with Turkish leaders, we awkwardly talk around it like the world’s largest elephant in the room. It remains the same around the world.
Turkey is a powerful ally to many, and is in an unusual position as one of the only “stable” states in their region (but they’ll break out the missiles at the drop of hat so take that with a grain of salt), so no one wants to rock that boat. Only 27 countries recognize the Genocide on any kind of provincial or federal level. Early on in President Obama’s campaign, he spoke of the atrocities and promised to push to formally condemn it as an unquestionable act of genocide, but that idea got dropped fairly quickly after his election and never really came up again.
Oddly, the greatest ally and most powerful spokesperson pushing to bring light to this event, is none other than Kim Kardashian. She may be thought of as a silly airhead who does nothing and is only famous for being famous, but she’s a lot sharper than most people give her credit for. Whatever your feelings are on her and her weird brand of reality fame, she is using her fame as a platform to promote awareness. Anyone who has kept up with her on TV or through social media is well aware of the pride she has in her Armenian heritage. It is something she references frequently, and she even documented a recent trip to her ancestral homeland for her show. Suddenly a whole generation of young people who had likely never heard of Armenia before are becoming familiar with Armenian culture and history. Kim holds the attention of millions of adoring fans, and knows how much of an influence she has on them. That’s why she’s stepped up to become the unofficial spokesperson for the Armenian Genocide. As the most visible representative of ethnic Armenians in the U.S., Kim takes every chance she gets to educate her audience and speak up for the victims and those that have been silenced by the Turkish government.
Whether you like her or not, Kim Kardashian is doing exactly what most political leaders are too afraid to do. Getting people’s attention is what she does best, and she is certainly bringing attention to this issue. Even if our government won’t formally recognize and condemn the crimes committed by the Turks, at least there is someone out there working hard to make sure everyone knows what happened.
The political nuances of this issue aside, the most important thing here is that people remember the victims. The old saying about being doomed to repeat history is absolutely true and relevant in this case. Never forget what people are capable of. Kim Kardashian may not wield any political power (probably a good thing), but by talking about it as much as she does, she is ensuring that the victims will not be forgotten any time soon.