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100 Years On – Great Crime

The Ottoman Empire, like the Austro-Hungarian, was an admixture of many peoples and religions.  Turks, Assyrians, Kurds, and Armenians, Muslims, Christians, and Zoroastrians, all of them made up a fractious empire.  On April 24, 1915, the tensions between the Muslim Turkish majority and the ethnic and religious minorities in the Empire broke, leading to the deaths of up to 1.5 million people.

Modern day Turkey, one of the successor states to the Ottoman Empire, vociferously objects to applying the term “genocide” to this horror.  To this day, Turkey and our own government refuse to acknowledge the systematic murder of men, women, children, and old people during World War I.

What brings one people to wish for the extermination of another?  Our history is replete with stories of mass murder and the destruction of entire peoples.  What is it in our souls that allow us to make fellow human beings “the other”, less than human, and deserving of all the suffering we can dish out, and to deserve to starve, to work to death, to take the bullet in the back of the neck, to be locked, naked and afraid, in the gas chamber.

Conversely, what is it about our governments that they will not admit the faults of our past?  It is only in the past fifty years that the worst abuses of the Indian Wars were acknowledged.  Germany has come to terms with its guilt in the Holocaust of World War II, but Japan still drags its feet.  The Turkish government, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, from victims and witnesses, as well as historical documents and forensic studies, continues to deny that what happened to the Armenians and other minorities was a genocide.

I’d like to say that we as a race learned from this, but I can’t.  Places like Lviv, Treblinka, Nanking, Warsaw, Berlin, Choeung Ek, Sabra and Shatila, Halabja, Dos Erres, Srebrenica, and Sinjar are testaments to our continued ability to treat human beings as disposable, as a corruption that needs to be burnt out of the world.  It’s an ability and an inclination that I’m afraid we will never lose.

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