Photo: Ottoman troops guard Armenians being deported. Ottoman Empire, 1915–16. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum welcomes the recognition of the Armenian genocide by President Biden. This follows the 2019 Congressional resolution recognizing this tragic event as genocide.
“Holocaust history teaches that an honest reckoning with the past is a prerequisite to understanding the present and building a better future,” said Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “Recognizing the full magnitude of the crimes committed against the Armenian people, even a century following the events, is important not only for the victims and their descendants. We know from watching Europe deal with the Holocaust and its legacy since 1945, just how important it is for all societies to openly acknowledge difficult national history.”
Between the spring of 1915 and the end of autumn 1916, the government of the Ottoman Empire, giving direction from its capital in Istanbul, arrested, deported, conducted mass killings, and created conditions intended to cause widespread death among the country’s Armenian Christian citizens, most of whom were living in the territory of modern-day Turkey. At least 664,000 and possibly as many as 1.2 million Armenian men, women, and children died in massacres, in individual killings, or as a consequence of systematic ill-treatment, forced displacement, exposure, starvation, and disease.
The ripples of the Armenian genocide were felt during the Holocaust. Franz Werfel’s Forty Days of Musa Dagh, depicting the genocide of the Armenians, was published in 1933 the year the Nazis came to power in Germany. It circulated widely in both Jewish and non-Jewish circles. Many German Jews—who were being targeted as the enemy, driven from their homes, deprived of the ability to provide for their children, and ghettoized—identified with the Armenians’ plight. And, some of those who helped save Jews and are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations were Armenians who were motivated by memories of their own genocide.
The origins of the term “genocide” rest, in part, in the events of 1915-16. Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin’s exposure to the history of Ottoman attacks against Armenians as well as antisemitic pogroms and other cases of group-targeted violence fundamentally shaped his work seeking international legal protection for groups. Galvanized by the murder of his own family during the Holocaust, Lemkin tirelessly championed this legal concept until it was codified in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.
“While the general outlines of what happened to the Armenians are clear, a full and complete documentation of this history will only be possible when all public and private archives are opened to independent researchers,” continued Bloomfield. “The Museum continues to call for all relevant archives to be made available for scholarship.”
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit ushmm.org.