The Armenian Genocide - a Hundred Years Later
On April 24, Armenians around the world came together for Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Just a week before, we began rehearsals for State of Denial, a play set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian Genocide was carried out during and after World War I. It was implemented in two phases—the wholesale massacre of the able-bodied male population, followed by the deportation of women, children, the old and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians perished.
The word genocide – the intentional action to destroy a people – was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent who barely escaped the Nazi Holocaust himself but lost 49 relatives to it. After the war, Lemkin emigrated to the US where he campaigned to define and outlaw genocide. In his words “Sovereignty…cannot be conceived as the right to kill millions of people.”
Lemkin’s lifelong interest in the study and prevention of mass killings was first triggered by the Armenian Genocide.
Most historians and many countries (31 in 2019) recognize the events of that time in Turkey as genocide. But the Turkish government denies that there was an official campaign to obliterate the Armenian population.
In the US, many political parties and 49 out of 50 states recognize the Armenian Genocide. The US government does not, due to pressure from the Administration which considers Turkey to be a key ally.
Has the world learnt its lesson from the Armenian Genocide and the Nazi Holocaust? Not really. From the Rohingyas being massacred and driven out of Myanmar, to the mass re-education of Uighurs (“cultural genocide”, as Lemkin called it), genocide is alive and thriving. Perhaps it is part of the human condition and can only be caged, not killed.
Which is why, it is important for us to not forget. Rahul Varma’s State of Denial reminds us that the scourge of genocide – from Turkey to Rwanda – has not yet lifted from the world. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The American premiere of State of Denial runs June 7 to 15 at Sunnyvale Theatre. There will be a TalkBack with the playwright Rahul Varma after the shows on June 7, 8 and 9.