“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” asked Adolf Hitler nearly 25 years after Ottoman Turkey slaughtered the sons and daughters of Armenia.
In an attempt to ethnically cleanse a people, the Turks initiated the 20th century’s first mass extermination — paving the way for the Fuhrer’s Final Solution. Indeed, the crumbling Ottoman Turkish empire’s butchery of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1917 presaged the Shoah.
Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway, a descendant of Armenian genocide survivors, wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer last year: “As many people surprisingly do not know, the Armenian Genocide was essentially the blueprint for the Jewish Holocaust — concentration camps, mass deportations, tattoos and more.”
Nazi Germany’s grisly extermination of 6 million Jews, an atrocity that still haunts Germany, was humanity’s moral nadir. But the Armenian genocide (commemorated Tuesday as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day) has been largely expunged from the pages of history thanks to Turkish pressure and Western expediency.
Today, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a theocratic authoritarian with megalomaniacal tendencies — continues the ugly Turkish tradition of denial, disavowal and, yes, deceit vis-à-vis the Armenian Genocide. According to Erdogan: “The Armenian issue is a useful blackmail opportunity against Turkey all around the world, and it is even starting to be used as a stick.” Ankara’s strongman also stated that “Our attitude on the Armenian issue is clear from the beginning. We will never accept the accusations of genocide.”
All this comes from a self-anointed “sultan” who has eroded civil liberties, jailed opponents, curbed freedom of expression and branded women inferior beings.
The West should not be fooled by Erdogan’s rapprochement with Israel. In fact, he regularly traffics in anti-Semitic rhetoric. According to Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Erdogan is “the Joseph Goebbels of our time.”
As for Turkey’s solidarity with the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against ISIS, Erdogan entered the Syrian fray duplicitously. Indeed, the recent Turkish invasion of Syria’s Afrin District — in a bid to crush the Syrian Kurds — will likely expand eastward to the Iraqi border, risking a confrontation with the United States.
According to Patrick Coburn in The Independent (March 7, 2018): “The Syrian Kurds believe they are facing an existential threat. They believe Turkey wants to eliminate not just the enclave of Afrin, but the 25 per cent of Syria that the Kurds have taken with US backing since 2015.”
Secular Turks fear that in seeking absolute power and yearning for territorial expansion, Erdogan will repeat the geopolitical mistakes of the Ottoman Turks. In the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12, the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Kingdom of Italy. As a result, Libya — which comprised the former Turkish provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica — became an Italian colony. And Ottoman Turkey began its ignominious downfall, culminating in the horror of the Armenian genocide.
Rosario A. Iaconis is adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated his first name.