I am a firm believer in the adage that history repeats itself. Names and circumstances change, but the lessons to be learned remain the same, and because people refuse to learn those lessons, we can say that history repeats itself. Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. Benjamin Franklin declared, “Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”
April 24 marks the anniversary of the beginning of a period known as the Armenian genocide. On that date in 1914, the Turkish government put into operation a plan to expel or kill all of the approximately two million Armenians who lived in Turkey and the rest of the Ottoman Empire. Not only did Turkey side with Germany in World War I that year but also its religious leaders declared jihad against all Christians (Armenians) living in the empire.
Life was never easy for Turkish non-Muslims, most of whom were Armenians. The government forced them to live as second-class citizens and imposed harsh restrictions on them, including payment of special taxes. They were allowed no voice in government. They were afforded few protections for their lives or property. When World War I erupted in 1914 and Turkey joined the Central Powers, the Turks accused the Armenians of helping the Russians, who had joined the Allies. They used that “security threat” to justify even harsher measures that developed into genocide.
First, the Turks enforced “resettlement” on the Armenians. They expelled them from Turkey and relocated them to the Syrian desert, forcing many of them to walk for miles in the heat without providing means for feeing them. They killed many of them along the way. Many others starved or died of thirst. “Relocation” became a death march not unlike the later Bataan death march of World War II.
With the Armenians gone, the Turks plundered the wealth the Armenians had been forced to leave behind. They expropriated their real estate holdings. They disarmed those who remained to prevent any opposition. They also eliminated the threat of opposition by executing or putting under forced labor all able-bodied Armenian men who were in the Turkish military.
By 1918, an estimated one million Armenians had been killed. Armenian children were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. Armenians were enslaved, the women forced into Turkish harems. Only 380,000 survived the genocide.
When World War I ended, the Ottoman Empire was dead. A secular government was established in Turkey, and leaders of the genocide fled to Germany, which promised not to prosecute them for their crimes. And people forgot about the Armenians. The Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge the genocide, and it is illegal to discuss it there today. Even Americans have been reluctant to acknowledge it for what it was—an attempt to exterminate a people, specifically because they were Christians. The U.S. Congress did not recognize it as genocide until 2010.
The saddest fact, however, is that the underlying hatred behind that period still exists today. Just a few days ago, on April 13, 2016, a Turkish leader in Sweden was forced to resign after he called on fellow Turks to kill “the Armenian dogs.” And people in the United States—including our own president—continue to ignore the facts and instead refer to the religion behind not only the Armenian genocide but also the current reign of terror a religion of peace.
Must we see history repeat itself yet again—perhaps even in our own country—before we will admit the truth and learn the lesson? Only twenty years after the Armenian genocide the Jews of Europe learned by cruel experience that some people in this world hate God’s chosen people. The Holocaust occurred, but despite the end of Nazism, the hatred of Jews continues. But then arose radical Islam, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS, all organizations committed to wiping out the infidels, especially Jews and Christians.
How often will history have to be repeated before we learn?