Posts Tagged ‘Armenian Genocide’

Dawn Anahid MacKeen on ‘The Hundred-Year Walk’ at Milwaukee-Armenian Cultural Event


By David Luhrssen

 

(Greenfield, Wis.) Dawn Anahid MacKeen grew up hearing her mother’s stories about her grandfather, Stepan Miskjian, a Genocide survivor who immigrated to America. “As a child, I was repulsed by some of those stories,” she said, speaking at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church at a Sept. 17 event ahead of Armenian Cultural Month in October.

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If sometimes repulsed, she was always curious. “’It’s all in here!’ my mother said, pointing to a pair of small booklets, in Armenian, published by my grandfather in the 1960s.” This led to the discovery of a cache of his notebooks, meticulously penned in grandfather’s careful handwriting, setting down his life from before and through the Genocide.

 

Grandfather’s writings became the basis for MacKeen’s book, The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey. Called a “must read” by the New York Post, The Hundred-Year Walk reframes his memoirs and recounts her own journey to Turkey and Syria in 2007. She retraced his steps from his hometown in Adabazar (now Adapazari), east of Istanbul, to the Syrian city of Raqqua on the Euphrates River. Having escaped his death march through the Syrian desert, he was given sanctuary by a Bedouin leader, Sheik Hammud al-Aekleh, who sympathized with the plight of the Armenians.

 

Like her grandfather, MacKeen has a gift for reporting. An award-winning investigative journalist, her work appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and Smart Money. She put her career on hold to write The Hundred-Year Walk, expecting to devote two years to the undertaking. In the end, the project required 10 years to complete. She devoured published and unpublished accounts of the Genocide and traveled to Armenian libraries in Paris and Vienna. Her journey to the Near East occurred at a time, not so long ago, when Turkey sometimes seemed on the verge of opening up to the world and Syria was a stable nation. Many of the places she visited, including the Genocide Memorial at Deir Zor, have since been destroyed.

 

MacKeen’s greatest joy was in locating the descendants of the sheikh who protected her grandfather. “Raqqa later became the capital for ISIS, but then, it was a harmonious place of many religions and ethnicities,” she said. “I received great hospitality and couldn’t help but think of the ripple effect of one kind act—because of the sheikh, my family survived.” According to MacKeen, many of the sheikh’s descendants have fled the Syrian civil war and become refugees in Europe.

 

“My grandfather’s account is an important testimony to a crime against humanity,” she concluded. “His words are my family’s heirloom. I inherited his story along with the responsibility of telling it.”

 

MacKeen’s talk and the lively questions and answers that followed capped a busy day at St. John. The Exaltation of the Cross, a feast day on the Armenian liturgical calendar, was celebrated by the traditional Blessing of the Four Corners of the World service and the distribution of basil. St. John added a new member to its community with the baptism of Ava Torosian, daughter of Jeff and Jennifer Torosian. A luncheon hosted by family members followed the baptism and gave the visiting speaker a sense for the genuine fellowship found at St. John.

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]


THE ISTANBUL POGROM
(September 6-7, 1955)

 

Nazi Germany had its state-sponsored Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) against its Jewish citizens in 1938, and the Turkish government repeated the feat against its Greek, Armenian, and Jewish citizens less than two decades later, on September 6-7, 1955. The riots were orchestrated by an array of Turkish security organizations, both official and clandestine, with the active participation of extreme nationalist groups shepherded by the governing Democratic Party (1950-1960) and government-controlled trade unions.

The process of Turkification that started at the turn of the twentieth century had entered the economic field after genocide and ethnic cleansing had been executed in 1915-1922, during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. The forcible population exchange between Turkey and Greece (1924) exempted the Greek population of Istanbul. In the Republican period, discriminatory policies against non-Muslim citizens included laws excluding non-Muslims from certain professions, campaigns to impose the Turkish language, the anti-Jewish pogrom in Eastern Thrace (1934), the Wealth Tax of 1942, and the recruitment of army work battalions during World War II. In a report on minorities, the Republican People’s Party (which ruled from 1923-1950) stated in 1946 that its goal was to leave no Greek in Istanbul by the 500th anniversary of its conquest (1953).‎

Turkish-Greek relations soured after 1953, when Greek Cypriots began their armed struggle for Enosis, the annexation of Cyprus—under British mandate—by Greece. Greece appealed to the United Nations to demand self-determination for Cyprus in 1954, while Great Britain wanted to solve the dispute without taking it to the U.N. Security Council, and leaned on Turkey to counter Greek claims.

An anti-Greek propaganda campaign started in 1955, with the main Turkish newspapers agitating public opinion along nationalist organizations. The British convened a tripartite conference in London with Turkey and Greece (August 29-September 6, 1955), which fell apart when news broke of the bombing of the Turkish consulate in Salonica (Greece), adjacent to the house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born.

The bombing was organized by the Turkish consulate with the ‎knowledge of the Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry.‎ Oktay Engin, a university student in Salonica, carried out the explosion. He was arrested on September 18, but after his alibi the initial charge of executing the attack was dropped to incitement. After spending nine months in detention, he escaped to Turkey in September 1956, before the Greek courts sentenced him to three and a half years in prison. He would be later promoted by the Turkish Interior Ministry.‎

News reports of the bombing were first announced by radio in Istanbul in the early afternoon of September 6, and the daily İstanbul Ekspres, associated with the Democratic Party and the National Security Service, repeated them in print. The insinuations that the Greeks were behind the bombing became the trigger for a protest rally on the night of September 6 as cover to gather the rioters, most of who had been trucked into Istanbul in advance. The homes and workplaces of Greeks and other non-Muslim communities had been identified beforehand. Owners of Turkish shops had been told the day before to put Turkish flags on their windows; the shops without flags were destroyed or damaged. According to witnesses, the mob was furnished with a list of ‎addresses. ‎

The riots started in Taksim Square by 5 pm, and rippled out through Beyoğlu (Pera) during the evening, with smashing and looting of non-Muslim property. A correspondent for the French daily France-Soir wrote: “Everything happened as if the agitators had divided one by one the neighborhoods of the minorities, even the streets. I followed the arsonists for hours. When they arrived in front of a store, they asked for the owner. When the latter appeared, they asked: ‘Where’s your passport?’ If the owner of the passport was Greek, or even Armenian or Jewish, the looting started. Through the whole night, I heard from this frenzied mob a word that seemed to have been forgotten for a long time, giaour” (giaour “infidel”).

The police was ordered to hold a passive stance and leave the mob to roam the streets freely. The function of the Turkish militia and police was not to protect the lives and properties of the victims, but to preserve adjacent Turkish properties, except in a few cases where police officers prevented criminal activity. The fire brigade, whenever it reached a fire, claimed that it was unable to deal with it. According to a cable to the U.S. Department of State by the American consul general, “the destruction was ‎completely out of hand with no evidence of police or military attempts to control it. I ‎personally witnessed the looting of many shops while the police stood idly by or cheered on ‎the mob.”‎ The riot died down by midnight with the intervention of the army and the declaration of martial law.

On the morning of September 7, a mob overran the İzmir National Park, where an international exhibition was taking place, and burned the Greek pavilion. Next, it completely destroyed the church of Saint Fotini. The homes of the few Greek families and officers were then looted.

After the events, a total of 5,000 people were arrested, some nationalist leaders were taken to court, but nobody was convicted. There was an attempt to implicate Turkish Communists in the riots, which fired back. Attempt by Greece to bring the issue to the U.N. and NATO fizzled due to the lenient attitude of Great Britain and the United States towards Turkey within the context of the Cold War.

Estimations of victims are varied, with a number of 30 to 37 Greeks as most likely. Moreover, 32 Greeks were severely wounded. The mobs beat and injured many people, destroyed and vandalized cemeteries, dragging the dead in the streets. Some 200 Greek women were raped. It was also reported that Greek boys were raped and that a priest was burned alive. Many Greek men, including at least one priest, were ‎exposed to forced circumcision. ‎

The material damage was considerable, including 5,317 properties (4,214 homes, 1,004 businesses, 73 churches, 2 monasteries, 1 synagogue, and 26 schools). According to the Istanbul police, 3,836 Greek (2,572), Armenian (741), and Jewish (523) businesses were destroyed. The American consulate estimated that 88% of the businesses were non-Muslim (59% Greek, 17% Armenian, and 12% Jewish), as well as 92% of the homes (80% Greek, 9% Armenian, and 3% Jewish). ‎

Estimates of the economic cost of the damage varied from the Turkish government’s estimate of 69.5 million Turkish liras (equivalent to 24.8 million dollars) to the Greek government’s estimate of 500 million dollars. The Turkish government paid 60 million Turkish lira of restitution to those who registered their losses.

The pogrom greatly accelerated the emigration of Greeks and Armenians from Turkey. The Greek population of Istanbul decreased from 65,108 to 49,081 between 1955 and 1960. Overall, the Greek population of Turkey declined from 119,822 persons in 1927 to about 7,000 in 1978, and some 2,500 according to current estimates.

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

Birth of Henry Morgenthau, Sr.
(April 26, 1856)

 

Righteous men were a plenty during the years of the Armenian Genocide, and Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Ambassador of the United States to the Ottoman Empire, was the prominent American name among them.

 240px-Henry_Morgenthau__Jr.1947Morgenthau was born in Mannheim (Germany) on April 26, 1856. He was the ninth of eleven children to a Jewish family. His father, Lazarus Morgenthau, was a prosperous manufacturer and merchant, who bought tobacco from the United States and sold it back as cigars. However, the American Civil War hit him severely: German cigar exports ceased after a tariff on tobacco imports was set in 1862. Four years later, the family migrated to New York. Despite his father’s unsuccessful attempts to re-establish himself in business, Henry Morgenthau—who knew no English on his arrival at the age of ten—graduated from City College in 1874 and from Columbia Law School in 1876. Beginning a career as a successful lawyer, he would later make a substantial fortune in real estate investments. He married Josephine Sykes in 1882 and had four children. He served as a leader of the Reform Jewish community in New York.

In 1911 Morgenthau, then 55, left business to enter public service. He became an early supporter of President Woodrow Wilson’s election campaign in 1912. He had hoped for a cabinet post, but Wilson offered him the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, with the assurance that it “was the point at which the interest of American Jews in the welfare of the Jews of Palestine is focused, and it is almost indispensable that I have a Jew in that post.” The encouragement of his friend, Rabbi Stephen Wise, led him to reconsider his decision and accept the offer, although Morgenthau was no Zionist himself.

The United States remained neutral after the beginning of World War I, and since the Allies had withdrawn their diplomatic missions following the outbreak of hostilities, both the American embassy and Morgenthau himself additionally represented their interests in Constantinople. American consuls in different parts of the Empire, from Trebizond to Aleppo, reported abundantly about the Armenian plight and documented the entire process of the Armenian Genocide. Morgenthau continuously kept the U.S. government informed of the ongoing annihilation and asked for its intervention. His telegram to the State Department, on July 16, 1915, described the massacres as a “campaign of race extermination.” He intervened upon the Young Turk leaders to stop the mass killings, although unsuccessfully. His friendship with Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, ensured a wide coverage of the Armenian atrocities throughout 1915.

Morgenthau reached out to his friend Cleveland H. Dodge, a prominent American businessman, who was instrumental in the foundation of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief in 1915 that would later become Near East Relief (nowadays the Near East Foundation). Finding “intolerable” his “further daily association with men . . . who were still reeking with the blood of nearly a million human beings,” as he wrote in his memoirs, he returned to the United States in February 1916 and campaigned to raise awareness and funds for the survivors, resigning from his position as ambassador two months later. In 1918 he published his memoirs, including his account of the genocide, as Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (published in Great Britain as The Secrets of the Bosphorus).

He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and worked with various war-related charitable bodies. He also headed the American fact-finding mission to Poland in 1919 and was the American representative at the Geneva Conference in 1933. He died on November 25, 1946, in New York City, at the age of 90, following a cerebral hemorrhage, and was buried in Hawthorne, New York. Morgenthau was the father of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, and the grandfather of Robert Morgenthau, long-time District Attorney in Manhattan, and historian Barbara Tuchman. He appeared in “Ravished Armenia,” the film based on the memoirs of survivor Aurora Mardiganian, commissioned by the Near East Relief. One of his dialogues with Talaat is portrayed in the forthcoming film The Promise.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the European Parliament
(June 18, 1987)

Turkey has been in a dialogue with Europe since the 1940s. In 1948 Turkey was one of the founding members of the European Organization of Economic Cooperation, predecessor of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It adhered to the Council of Europe in 1949 and to NATO in 1951. During the Cold War, the country positioned itself along Western Europe and the United States. The European Economic Community (EEC), predecessor to the current European Union, was founded in 1957, and Turkey became an associate member in 1963. By then, the preamble of the agreement of association signed between both sides recognized that “the aid contributed by the EEC to the efforts of the Turkish people to improve their level of life will ultimately facilitate the adhesion of Turkey to the Community.” The final goal, therefore, was well known to both sides.

 

Bilateral relations were quite cold in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly after the September 1980 coup d’état in Turkey. Following a formal return to democracy after the end of the military regime in 1983, Turkey presented its demand of official adhesion to the European Community on April 14, 1987.

 

Armenian political violence had winded down, and in August 1985, the report on genocide by Benjamin Whitaker had been approved by the U.N. Sub-Commission of Human Rights, with mention of the Armenian genocide as one of the first in the twentieth century. The European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Community, resisted enormous pressure from Turkey and its hired guns, and set the record straight. The courageous actions of a group of Parliament members, led by French Henri Saby (1933-2011), on the basis of a detailed report introduced by Belgian Jaak Vandemeulebroucke in April 1987, were instrumental to deliver the historic decision. The “Resolution on a political solution to the Armenian question” was voted in Strasbourg during the plenary session of June 18, 1987, and the European Parliament became the first major international body to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

 

The resolution established that “the tragic events in 1915-1917 involving the Armenians living in the territory of the Ottoman Empire constitute genocide within the meaning of the convention on the prevention and the punishment of the crime of genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948,” although it denied that the Republic of Turkey could be held responsible and stressed that no claims against Turkey could be derived from the recognition. It called for a fair treatment of the Armenian minority in Turkey and made “an emphatic plea for improvements in the care of monuments and for the maintenance and conservation of the Armenian religious architectural heritage in Turkey.” Most importantly, it stated that “the refusal by the present Turkish Government to acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people committed by the Young Turk government, its reluctance to apply the principles of international law to its differences of opinion with Greece, the maintenance of Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus and the denial of existence of the Kurdish question, together with the lack of true parliamentary democracy and the failure to respect individual and collective freedoms, in particular freedom of religion, in that country are insurmountable obstacles to consideration of the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the [European] Community.”

 

The resolution was repeated many times afterwards. A resolution of November 12, 2000, on “The progress made by Turkey on the path of adhesion” reminded, on point 10, that Turkey had been invited to recognize publicly the Armenian genocide. The February 28, 2002 resolution about “The relations of the European Union with the South Caucasus” reproduced textually the position of June 18, 1987, and asked Turkey to create the conditions for reconciliation. After a recommendation of 2004 about “The policy of the European Union towards the South Caucasus” repeated the positions of 1987, two resolutions of December 15, 2004, and September 28, 2005, reaffirmed the existence of the Armenian genocide. The last declaration in this regard was the resolution of April 15, 2015, passed on the centennial of the genocide. 

 

The government of the Republic of Armenia bestowed upon Henri Saby the medal “Mkhitar Gosh” in March 2011 for his services to the Armenian Cause. The former member of the European Parliament passed away in August of the same year. According to his last will, his ashes were buried in France, Armenia (cemetery of Tokhmakh, in Yerevan), and Artsakh (cemetery of Stepanakert).

 

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Birth of Maria Jacobsen
(November 6, 1882)

Maria Jacobsen in 1910

Maria Jacobsen in 1910

     Maria Jacobsen was a key witness of the Armenian Genocide. She belonged to a group of missionaries of different nationalities who had been active since the years before in various areas of Armenian population and continued their work for years, helping victims and survivors with their humanitarian efforts.

    Jacobsen was born in Denmark, in the town of Siim, near Ry, on November 6, 1882. She lived in Horsens with her parents. She learned about the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896 through the Danish media. Feminist activist Jessie Penn-Lewis arrived in Denmark from England in 1898 and helped form the Women’s Missionary Workers (Kvindelige Missions Arbejdere, K.M.A.) two years later. Young Maria soon partook in the efforts to support and provide relief to orphans in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In 1907, at the age of twenty-five, she departed to Constantinople with American missionaries, and then left for Kharpert, where she worked at the Armenian hospital. She also developed charitable activities in Malatia, Aintab, and other cities.

     After a two-years sojourn in Denmark from 1912-1914 with a charity mission, she returned to Kharpert on the eve of 1915 and became a witness of the Turkish atrocities and the deportation of the Armenians.

     Maria Jacobsen kept a diary in Danish from 1907-1919, which became a valuable source to document the day-to-day unfolding of the Turkish anti-Armenian policy. In a diary entry on June 26, 1915 regarding the deportations, she stated: “It is quite obvious that the purpose of their departure is the extermination of the Armenian people.” She added: “Conditions now are completely different from what they were during the massacres of 20 years ago. What could be done then is impossible now. The Turks know very well about the war raging in Europe, and that the Christian nations are too busy to take care of Armenians, so they take advantage of the times to destroy their ‘enemies.’”

     Jacobsen adopted three children during this period. The first, Hansa, had fled the Bedouin family to which she had been sold, and was hiding in a tree until she became unconscious from sickness and fell. A Turk police officer and Jacobsen found her, and the Danish missionary chose to adopt her on the spot. The second child was Beatrice, and the third was Lilly, who she had found on the side of the road.

Maria Jacobsen

Maria Jacobsen

     In 1919 Maria Jacobson left the Ottoman Empire after contracting typhus from the orphans. She first went to Denmark and then to the United States, where she gave a series of lectures and speeches on the plight of the Armenian people, and the massacres that they had undergone, and raised money for the orphans.

    The Kemalist government prohibited the activities of all foreign missionaries, and in 1922, Jacobsen went to Beirut, where she continued to gather and care for the orphans. In July 1922, after moving to Saida, she helped establish an orphanage which sheltered 208 Armenian orphans. The Women’s Missionary Workers (K.M.A.) acquired in 1928 an orphanage previously owned by the Near East Relief, located in Jbeil, where Jacobsen moved with her orphans and would be known as Bird’s Nest (Terchnots Pooyn, in Armenian). She would be known to the orphans as “Mama.”

     Jacobsen was also fluent in Armenian, and often read the Bible to the orphans in their mother language. She married an Armenian dentist. She became the first woman to receive the Gold Medal Award of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1950 for her humanitarian work. Four years later, on December 14, 1954, she was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor by the government of Lebanon on her 50th jubilee celebration for her service and dedication to the Armenian community.

     Maria Jacobsen passed away on 6 April 1960 and, according to her will, was buried in the courtyard of Birds’ Nest. Part of her archives were deposited in the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in 2010. Her diary was first published in a bilingual Danish-Armenian edition in 1979 by Archbishop Nerses Pakhdigian and Mihran Simonian, and years later, an English translation was published by the Gomidas Institute.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

The 50th Anniversary Demonstration of Yerevan
 (April 24, 1965)

 

The fiftieth anniversary of the Medz Yeghern [Great Calamity], the Armenian genocide, became a watershed in the process of commemoration, as Armenians mobilized throughout the world to demand justice. The commemoration in the Armenian diaspora, including marches and public events in different capitals, was overshadowed by the unprecedented and unexpected explosion of popular feelings in Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia. 1915 had been practically a taboo subject during the long night of Stalin’s repressive regime, and only after 1955 was there a gradual opening on the issue, which was coincidental with the “thaw,” the period of Nikita Khruschev as secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

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After the transition of the 1950s, the “thaw” actually reached Armenia with the designation of Yakov Zarobyan as first secretary of the local Communist Party in 1960. Gradual, but firm steps to restore public memory within the limits of what was ideologically permissible followed, including painstaking negotiations within the highest echelons of the Soviet hierarchy. The Soviet Union was disinclined to active confrontation with Turkey, and thus, in early March 1965 the party leadership in Moscow allowed very reluctantly the commemoration of the genocide.

 

On March 16, 1965 the Council of Ministers of Soviet Armenia passed a resolution, “On the Construction of a Monument to Perpetuate the Memory of the Victims of the Yeghern of the Year 1915.”

 

Commemorative activities were held in Holy Etchmiadzin, the Academy of Sciences, the Writers Union, and other venues. Several articles were published in the press. On Saturday, April 24 an editorial of the party daily Sovetakan Hayastan of Yerevan condemned the genocide and praised the Armenian rebirth in Soviet fashion:

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“Exactly 50 years have passed from those terrible days when the Turkish rulers, guided by the fury of racism, attempted to annihilate an entire people. They did everything, deported and massacred, burned and ruined, but they were not able to annihilate the Armenian people, despite the heavy losses. …The Armenian people, wholly dedicated to the most humane ideas of peoples’ friendship and socialist internationalism, severely condemns, along with progressive humankind, the policy of genocide, one of whose first victims was the Armenian people under Ottoman Turkish rule fifty years ago, and which fascism carried with fury and disproportionately bigger magnitude during the Second World War years in Europe.”

 

An official event by invitation had been planned for the evening, to be held at the Opera Theater. Everything seemed under control, but it was not.

 

In the morning, several thousand young people gathered at Lenin Square (now Republic Square), near Lenin’s huge statue (toppled in 1991) and various speakers among them started to talk about the meaning of the day. Several leaders, such as Anton Kochinian (president of the Council of Ministers) and famous astronomer Victor Hambardzumian (president of the Academy of Sciences), also spoke to the audience.

 

After they left, the public, whose number had reached an estimate of no less than 30 to 40,000 people, formed an orderly caravan that walked through the streets of central Yerevan. The demonstrators marched with calls of “Our lands!” and carrying banners that said, for instance, “2,000,000” (the number of victims) and “Solve the Armenian question fairly.” Their number appears to have grown up to 100,000 people, according to some accounts. The demonstration, after stops at the Polytechnic Institute (now State University of Engineering) and Yerevan State University, walked towards the tomb of Gomidas Vartabed in the Pantheon, where several writers, scholars, and young people spoke.

 

The demonstration continued in the evening, and the marchers tried to force their way into the official ceremony at the Opera Theater, which was surrounded by several police lines. They were repelled by the use of the fire sprinklers of the theater. However, a hundred or two hundred young demonstrators managed to enter the building. The event, where Nagush Harutiunian (president of the Supreme Soviet) and Victor Hambardzumian, had already spoken, was disrupted. The party leadership left the stage, as well as many in the audience. Catholicos of All Armenians Vazken I took the stage to calm the demonstrators.

 

The failure to prevent the demonstration would lead Moscow to various punitive measures, including Zarobyan’s removal in February 1966. However, the commemoration would become a tradition year after year. The first monument was dedicated in the courtyard of Holy Etchmiadzin in October 1965, followed by the memorial on the hill of Tsitsernakaberd inaugurated on November 29, 1967. Starting in 1975, the leadership of the country would join the hundreds of thousands of mourners who every April 24 would pay their respects at the memorial. In November 1988, following the impact of the Karabagh movement, the law “On the condemnation of the genocide of the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915” would also make a provision to declare April 24 a national holiday.

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Uruguay Recognizes the Armenian Genocide
(April 20, 1965)

As it is well known, the fiftieth anniversary of the Medz Yeghern, the Armenian genocide, became the event that gathered Armenians worldwide around public claim for recognition of what had happened in 1915 and for the Armenian Cause.

 

Believe it or not, the small community of Uruguay was at the forefront of the struggle. Around 1963 the young generation came together to commemorate the month of Armenian culture in October, and the next year it joined its voice to the campaign in neighboring Argentina against the issuance of a postal stamp by the Argentinean postal service that would commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. These activities became the driving force behind the decision of young people in a community politically divided as elsewhere in the Diaspora to come together and organize the commemoration on April 24 in a unified way. They created the Coordinating Committee of Armenian Youth Organizations of Uruguay (Mesa Coordinadora de Organizaciones Juveniles Armenias del Uruguay), which was integrated by five organizations belonging to different political orientations of the community.

 

The Coordinating Committee organized the commemoration of 1964, with an imposing “March of Silence” through the streets of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, which was widely commented in the press and had its impact over Armenians all over the world. It invited to a general assembly of 19 organizations (the entire spectrum of the community) that in January 1965 issued a communiqué, stating that, “The Armenian Cause belongs to all Armenians and is not the domain of any faction,” and that “Political organizations, religious institutions, and all organizations existing in the community must set to work around the Armenian Cause.”

 

The intensive activities carried by the Coordinating Committee, including lectures, press releases, PR work with the Uruguayan press, and a competition of posters for the 50th anniversary, were crowned by its lobby efforts.

 

These political efforts led to a commemoration by the Municipal Council of Montevideo on April 27, 1965, which was preceded, most importantly, by the passing of a law recognizing the genocide.

The draft bill was written by Representative Enrique Martínez Moreno, and introduced on January 29, 1965 to the Constitution and Codes Committee of the House Representatives, with the signature of six co-sponsoring representatives of different political parties. The bill stated:

 

Article 1. The following 24th of April is declared "Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Martyrs," in honor of the members of that nationality slain in 1915.

Article 2. The stations of the Official Radio Service must on that date conduct part of their broadcast in honor of the mentioned nation.

Article 3. Armenian descendants who are public servants are authorized to miss work on the mentioned date.

 

The word genocide was not mentioned in the draft bill, but it appeared mentioned several times to legally qualify the extermination of 1915 as “one of the most terrible genocides that history has known,” in the introductory text of the draft, adding that “the synthesis of one of the most brutal genocides is more than a million assassinated persons.”

 

The draft bill was discussed by the House of Representatives on April 6, 1965. A proposal to add an article naming a school of Montevideo with the name of Armenia mustered the necessary number of votes, while another proposal to devote a school class to refer to the genocide did not. The draft bill was approved with the addition of article 4 (“The 2nd Grade School, No. 156, in the department of Montevideo, is designated with the name of ‘Armenia’”) and went to the Senate. The project was not treated on April 7 and was delayed until April 20, when it was treated with urgent character and approved with unanimous vote. The law 13,326 was signed by Washington Beltran, President of the National Council of Government (Uruguay had a collegiate executive in those years), and issued on April 22, 1965. The enthusiasm that the approval of the law created in the Uruguayan Armenian community inspired a massive assistance to the commemorative acts from April 23-28.

 

Petty politics caused the demise of the Coordinating Committee shortly thereafter. The Armenian community would fall into decades of new political divisions that seem to be on their way to solution on the eve of the Centennial. It is noteworthy that on March 2004, the Uruguayan Parliament passed law 17,752 that extended the commemoration to every April 24, repeating the text of 1965 without the use of the word genocide. Nevertheless, on April 7, 2015, the Postal Service of Uruguay issued a stamp on the centennial of the Armenian genocide and Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa underscored that, “Uruguay was the first country to recognize the Armenian Genocide by law 50 years ago, a transcendental step in a struggle that continues to the present day.”

 

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