This morning we visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum, and it’s hard to know how to write about it, let alone think about and process it.
For those of you who don’t know, which is probably most of you, considering this genocide isn’t taught in school or really mentioned in any major histories of World War I, the Armenian Genocide was the systematic extermination of an estimated 1.5 Million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915.
The Memorial was erected in 1965, and stands on a hill overlooking Yerevan. Inside, there is a flame that burns surrounded by a ring of flowers where people can sit and reflect. The Museum was opened more recently, but chronicles the history of the genocide in 40 panels, including photos, letters, and books from the time period to add context and offer something tangible to the visitors of the museum.
It was overwhelming to wander through the museum, reading all about what happened only a hundred years ago in this country. For many countries, it was only recently that they recognized this massacre as a genocide; Canada only officially recognized the genocide in 2006. Turkey itself will admit to the massacre, but refuses to consider it a genocide, which, understandably, is causing a lot of contention between the two countries. Interestingly, the term genocide was actually coined in reference to this very massacre, but that didn’t happen until after the holocaust.
What was incredibly poignant to me, and completely new information, was Germany’s involvement in the Armenian Genocide. Germany was allied with the Ottoman Empire during WWI, and many of their forces not only were witness to these massacres, but helped organize and perpetrate the genocide. Even after the genocide when certain leaders were brought to justice, Germany helped hide and protect head organizers of the killings. Some of these same people helped Hitler rise to power in Germany years later.
Photos and stories of the genocide are hard to process. People were killed in so many stages, and all of it was planned extermination. People sat down and discussed how best to murder massive populations. Reading about the torture and murder methods was so incomprehensible, and seeing photos of the different planned forced starvation, drowning, and burning of humans is so difficult to process. For those who weren’t massacred, most were forcibly islamacized; many women were forced to convert and were repeatedly sexually assaulted and sold into Turkish harems, while children were distributed as orphans around the Ottoman Empire and raised as Muslims.
In school and through our histories in Canada, we learn so much about the Holocaust, and I couldn’t help but draw a lot of connections between the two genocides.
To me, one of the most poignant things I came across in the museum was a quote from Adolf Hitler:
Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?