We are approaching the tragic anniversary of the Armenian genocide on April 24. The Turkish-majority Ottoman Empire used the cover of World War I to kill all but 400,000 of the 2 million Armenian citizens. As the Ottoman Empire began to fall, Armenians were used as a scapegoat, inspiring hatred and providing an excuse for a genocide truly based off of prejudice.
The term “genocide” was coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin in 1943. He was interested by defense evidence at the trial for the murder of one of three Pashas who were responsible for the Armenian genocide and fled to Germany after WWI. Lemkin’s word has come to hold incredible international significance, obligating countries to ignore the widely-accepted foreign policy of non-intervention in times of genocide or war crimes
Hitler, in fact, mentioned the Armenian genocide in his Obersalzberg Speech in 1939, citing the little-known Armenian genoicide as inspiration for the way Polish culture and their people’s genocide would be forgotten. “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Unfortunately, this statement held true for far too long. It was not only four months ago on Dec. 12, 2019 that the Armenian genocide came to be a recognized part of American foreign policy, even despite objections from President Trump’s administration. A similar bill was introduced in 2007, but the Bush administration pressed for the bill to be withdrawn over concerns that Turkey would cut essential military ties with the U.S., as they did with France.
This severely inadequate and untimely reaction to the genocide by the U.S. is, unfortunately, characteristic. It has historically shown reluctance to recognize genocides as seen through the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979 and the ongoing Rohingya genocide. These decisions are purely political, as President Bush and President Trump’s reluctance to recognize the Armenian genocide were. This fact is especially relevant to ongoing genocides because under international humanitarian law, Member States of the United Nations are committed to intervene when they recognize genocides.
Recognition, however, is a critical first step towards truly helping past and current victims of genocides. For example, victims of the Holocaust were and are still being compensated by Germany for the crimes against them. Acceptance of historical genocides paves the way for much-needed compensation to victims and their families. With regards to current genocides, recognition allows for military and financial support that literally makes the difference between life and death for thousands. Military intervention has been a common reaction when certain state’s actions are recognized as genocides: President Clinton helped stop genocide against Bosnian Muslims in the Balkans, President Obama did the same for the Yezidi people in Iraq and President Trump attempted to protect Syrian people from chemical-attacks by their own leader Bashar al-Assad.
The United States is generally touted and accepted to be one of the world’s superpowers. To quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The economic and military prowess our nation is quick to boast should be put to good use protecting and empowering the lives of genocide victims. If not for morality’s sake, then at least to honor its understanding with the United Nations about intervention in other countries at times of genocide.
The Armenian-American population has finally received the respect it deserves from its government, albeit a century too late. The Rohingya Muslim population is still waiting and still suffering. The United States have recognized the genocide as an “ethnic cleansing” but fallen just short of calling it as it is as that would obligate them to intervene and save lives. The name “genocide” has meaning beyond words, and genocides have consequences beyond understanding. The United States has and must pursue its responsibility to help put a stop to them.
Aarushi Nohria is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.