The date April 24th, 2015, marked the centenary of the beginning of the horrific Armenian Genocide. Both the event and the commemoration of it accompanies a highly controversial debate over the nature of genocide and the acceptance of it as such. The genocide, which began in 1915 and ended in 1917, involved the systematic attack of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire by Turkish authorities. The attack involved forced deportation and the mass killing of between 600,000 and 1.2 million Armenians as well as other atrocities including rape, forced marriages, and forced conversions, all demonstrating the horrific nature of the event. Thus, it is important to commemorate the event because of the devastating impact it had on both the victims and their families. However, that does not make it any less controversial. This article will subsequently discuss some of the issues surrounding how the genocide is commemorated.
The persistent denial by Turkish authorities over whether what occurred constitutes genocide marks the main controversy around commemoration. This ties into the debate over the controversial use of the term genocide. First coined by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944, the definition has been adopted by the UN to mean ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’ which includes mass killings. It is this definition that the argument proposed by Turkish authorities in their denial focuses on; what occurred was supposedly not intentional, but an indirect result of their main goal of relocation of the Armenians. It is these complications over defining genocide which has led to a debate over how to remember the Armenian Genocide when it is not universally accepted as such. For this reason, the Armenian genocide and the victims involved face the potential of being overshadowed by such a divisive debate. Therefore, it is important to remember the victims and the atrocities they suffered to successfully commemorate their lives, rather than focusing on the technicalities of these terms.
Remembrance of this genocide is evidently a sensitive issue. With several debates circulating over the legitimacy of the event as a genocide, the commemoration was never going to be an easy task. Nevertheless, it was and is still important to do so. The 2015 centenary successfully addressed what occurred through memorials, a mass cultural outpour and it inspired activists to continue to lobby for formal recognition from the Turkish authorities of the genocide. Whilst Turkish authorities have not officially accepted the genocide, the 1915-17 events have been much more widely accepted thanks to continued action, demonstrating the power of commemoration in making a ‘forgotten genocide’ more widely known.