One hundred one years ago, the descendants of Hayk Nahapet, the patriarch of the Armenian people, were forcibly marched to the Syrian desert and deprived of food, water and any semblance of humanity by Ottoman Turkish soldiers. Children witnessed the rapes and murders of their family and friends. Pregnant mothers had their fetuses ripped from their wombs, while able-bodied men and intellectuals were beheaded, their dismembered heads then tossed around or stabbed onto pikes in a disgusting display of single-minded, cold-blooded savagery.
These are the images that Armenians today live with, the memories of the atrocities ingrained into the fabric of their identities.
These brutal crimes against humanity are why Armenians and non-Armenians around the world banded together last weekend, marching in protest of the perpetual denial of the 1915 genocide. In Los Angeles alone, there were tens of thousands demonstrators. Chants such as "Shame on Turkey" and "1915 Never Again" echoed for miles.
I am an Armenian, raised in a household where my sisters and I played more frequently with our mother's collection of Armenian sheep-herder figures, called hovivner, dressed in traditional clothing than we did with Barbie dolls.
We grew up with the fear of a repeated genocide looming over our shoulders, feeling angry, frustrated, and marginalized that such a huge part of our history was blatantly denied by the country we were born and raised in — the country we call home.
The United States' continued denial of the Armenian genocide due to its alliance with Turkey, a country plagued by human rights violations and questionable relationships to terrorist groups like ISIS, is a sad reality, one that is riddled with painful hypocrisy. Amnesty International reports that the Turkish government repeatedly violates the right to freedom of assembly and censors both news media and social media. Furthermore, the country enacted Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code in 2005, making it a crime for anyone to insult the nation's government. Although, according to Amnesty International, the policy was amended in 2008 to limit arrests and acquire a better international standing, the government continues to bully individuals critical of its actions. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that 27 academics were arrested for signing a petition to stop Turkey's violence against Kurdish populations.
The deliberate choice our national leaders make to continue denying the genocide, a historical fact that is recognized by academics, more than 20 countries and most American states, is one that brings shame to the land of the free.
By no means is it a brave decision. However, because it is a heavily political one, I am repeatedly disappointed, but not surprised. What drew more shock and disillusionment, however, was the Wall Street Journal's decision to publish a full page ad denying the Armenian genocide.
The ad was for the website Fact Check Armenia. It urges viewers to visit the site, where they are fed information denying the 1915 events as genocide and justifying the crimes committed against Armenians. It paints Armenians as Russian-backed spies who "fled from their military service." Newsweek reports that all of the information on the site is provided by the Turkic Platform.
Modern-day Turkey continues its rampant denial, in tandem with the United States. But interestingly, Ottoman Turkey recognized the horrors committed by its government. In their book, Judgment at Istanbul: The Armenian Genocide Trials, Armenian historian Vahakn Dadrian and Turkish historian Taner Akcam provide information surrounding a three-year period of court-martials, which resulted in the main perpetrators of the genocide, Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Ahmend Djemal Pasha and Ismail Enver Pasha being sentenced to death for their crimes. At this point, they had already escaped. Yet the trials took place years before the term genocide was coined. To use Winston Churchill's words for referring to the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of Nazi German leaders, it was a "crime without a name."
All of this information is accessible to anyone who cares to look for it, making the WSJ's actions even more reprehensible. It only enabled further denial of the Armenian genocide with its decision to run the ad. In a statement to the Huffington Post, the media outlet had this to say:
"We accept a wide range of advertisements, including those with provocative viewpoints. While we review ad copy for issues of taste, the varied and divergent views expressed belong to the advertisers."
As an aspiring student reporter who hoped to one day intern for the WSJ, I feel obligated to say: Shame on you. Your answer is simply not good enough.
I respect objectivity in the field of journalism, but not at the expense of the truth. The decision to print this ad had nothing to do with objectivity and everything to do with willful ignorance. Even under the umbrella of professional impartiality, the WSJ placed itself directly in the middle of the issue by running the ad, rendering any objectivity claims or attempts moot.
Had the ad promoted the denial of any other genocide in history, the WSJ would have likely not published it.
The WSJ's behavior is even more difficult to swallow than the U.S. government's, for it is the role of journalists to serve as watchdogs, not as lapdogs who salivate when money comes into the picture. As of now, there is no definitive proof that the WSJ's motivations in running the ad were financially driven, but when a full-page, non-contract color ad in a national edition costs $354,823.27 ($409,601.41 in a global edition), it is difficult to come to another conclusion.
Even if the WSJ's actions were not financially motivated, its actions are still inexcusable. A journalistic outlet should not serve as a platform of denial for any kind of crime, particularly not one against humanity.
As Alex Griswold of Mediaite and Jason Wells of Buzzfeed News report, the Washington Post was criticized for running a full-page ad, which included an open letter to President Obama by the Turkish American National Steering Committee in 2015 — the same ad the New York Times refused to publish. In a statement to Boston Magazine, Director of Corporate Communications for The New York Times Linda Zebian said, "We only accept ads that adhere to our advertising acceptability standards," sharing a segment of the paper's rules that reads:
"We do not accept advertising that denies great human tragedies. Events such as the World Trade Center bombings, or the Holocaust, or slavery in the United States, or the Armenian genocide or Irish famine cannot be denied or trivialized in an advertisement."
Take note, WSJ.
There was a point in my college career when, after writing several articles about genocide recognition during my years as a student reporter, I reached a point where I worried that perhaps spending so much energy on remembering the past was interfering with the development of a future. I wrote about this fear, anxious that maybe, just maybe, constant remembrance could perpetuate a victim mentality, particularly as the United States and Turkey continued to deny the genocide. I was hopeful that developing relations with Turkey could gradually lead to acceptance of the genocide, since a century's worth of bitterness seemed to be going nowhere.
But I could not have been more wrong. As tens of thousands of people join forces every year to remind Turkey of its bloody past and the United States of its shameful denial, we are reminded that the Armenians are not a people who will stand for victimization, and rightfully so. As the Jewish Holocaust, the Bosnian Genocide, and Darfur Genocide evidence, history repeats itself. It is time to accept responsibility.
One hundred one years ago, Armenians were forced on death marches to the Syrian Desert, stripped of their homes, their loved ones, and their freedom. Today, we march in solidarity toward justice.
Reach Contributor Agnessa Kasumyan here.