While the World is pausing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre of more than one million Armenians by the former Ottoman Empire, many major Muslim American organizations and Arab World leaders have been either silent or have argued that the Armenian genocide is little more than a part of World War I. Armenians, who are Christian, have lived among Palestinians and the Arabs for centuries and have been powerful advocates of Palestinian rights.
By Ray Hanania
The word “genocide” represents one of the most reprehensible acts of inhumanity on earth, symbolizing the intentional murder of a specific target based on their race, nationality or their religion. The word first came into use in 1943 by writer Polish American writer Raphael Lemkin specifically in reference to the Ottoman massacres of Armenian Christians that began in 1915. The word “Genos” is Greek for “family, tribe or race” and “cide” is the Latin word for “killing.”
On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire that had ruled for more than five centuries claiming to be benevolent to the non-Muslim “people of the book” — dhimmi system overseeing Christians and Jews — rounded up more than 250 intellectuals and activists from the Armenian community that lived in Constantinople, which has been renamed by the Ottoman Turks as Istanbul, and murdered them.
The Ottomans also targeted other Christian minority groups including Assyrians, Chaldeans and Orthodox Arabs and Greeks and over the course of the war, murdered more than one million. Some estimates put the total killed at 1.5 million, making it only the second worst mass murder in the 20th Century second only to the Nazi Holocaust of more than 6 million Jews during World War II.
“Armenia” is recognized as being the first nation in the world to adopt the Christian religion. It’s land mass hugged the Mediterranean Sea. The Eastern part existed in Persia and the Western part in the Ottoman Empire. It received its independence in 1918, but two years later was occupied by the Soviet Union, only to receive its independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Communist Empire.
Officials of modernday Turkey deny that the Armenians were massacred and they claim that the killings were a part of the growing conflict in the region beginning with the Balkan Wars before World War I. Turkey has wavered in its solidarity with the Arab World, sometimes working with and most recently criticizing the brutal military oppressive nation of Israel, but it is a part of the Muslim World.
As the anniversary approached, many Muslim organizations around the world felt compelled to question the authenticity of the massacres and to defend Turkey, not because it is a secular Muslim nation but because it is a Muslim nation. The defense is an act of Muslim solidarity. The largest Muslim organization in the United States, the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), the largest umbrella group of mainstream Muslim American organizations, issued a statement criticizing the use of the word “genocide” to describe the massacres and called for more investigations. Click here to read the statement.
In contrast, Christians across the world have expressed sympathy to the killing of the Armenians by the Ottomans, and even leaders of the American Jewish community, including the viciously anti-Arab American Jewish Committee, have condemned the genocide and expressed solidarity with the Armenians. Pope Francis commemorated the genocide during services on April 12, 2015 at the Vatican. President Barack Obama acknowledge the massacre, but did not use the word genocide.
Sadly, the issue of Armenian Genocide has been a political football played by all sides.
The real tragedy is that the Armenians have lived and suffered with Arabs and Muslims through the centuries at the hands of tyrants, dictatorships and colonizers. Armenian Christians have lived in Palestine’s Christian community and often identify themselves as Palestinians. In fact, many of my oldest family friends are Armenians whose families lived in Bethlehem and were persecuted, oppressed and victimized by the Israeli occupiers.
Armenian Christians have shared in the suffering at the hands of Israel and at the hands of Muslim tyrants and Muslim extremists, such as al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) which intentionally targets Christian victims with beheadings. Many Christians in the Muslim World are persecuted because of their religion. When a Muslim converts to Christianity, they are often murdered by mobs with little protection from the government police or prosecution by the Muslim governments.
The tragedy is Muslims and Christians live together and share the same suffering and oppression. Yet, for some reason, Muslims organizations and governments are hesitant to stand up and defend Christian rights, although they are quick to condemn Christians like myself who speak out for Christian Arab rights in Muslim countries.
Instead of condemning Christians who champion the rights of Christian Arabs, Muslims organizations and governments should stand in solidarity with the Christians against the growing religious persecution that is sweeping the Middle East, Arab World and the Muslim World.
The persecution of Christians is a reality in the Muslim and Arab World and it must be confronted.
And the genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire is no different than the holocaust of Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Both occurred during world wars. Both did occur. Many others also died during those conflicts. But clearly, the Germans singled out Jews and the Ottomans singled out Armenians for brutality and massacre.
This human tragedy needs to be acknowledged, not denied through arrogance or politics.