When my father was three years old, he was sentenced to a brutal
death, along with his mother and infant sister, by the Turkish
government. Along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians, they
were earmarked to be herded into the Syrian desert where they would die
of starvation, disease, or worse — torture and death at the hands of
brutal soldiers or hordes of roving bandits.
It was 1915, and the grisly and premeditated genocide of the Armenian
people was at its peak. The Armenians in that area that were not
butchered outright — the men were often killed immediately — were
herded together and deported by force into the Derzor, the Syrian desert
east of Aleppo, to perish. My father’s father, a doctor, had been
pressed into the Turkish army against his will, to head a medical
“One of my earliest recollections, I was not quite three years old at
the time,” my father, Vahey Kupelian, told me a year before he died in
1988, “the wagon we were in had tipped over, my hand was broken and
bloody, and mother was looking for my infant sister who had rolled away.
The next thing I remember after that, mother was on a horse, holding my
baby sister, and had me sitting behind her, saying, ‘Hold on tight, or
the Turks will get you!”
The three of them took off, and ended up in Aleppo, which was one of
the gateways to the desert deportation and certain death.
Once they arrived, my grandmother asked around to find out who was in
charge. She managed to bluff her way into getting an audience with the
governor general of Aleppo. Since her husband was in the service of the
Turkish army — albeit by force — she boldly said to the governor
general, “I demand my rights as the wife of a Turkish army officer!”
“What are those rights?” he countered.
“I want commissary privileges and two orderlies,” she answered.
In this way, through sheer chutzpah, my grandmother Mary
Kupelian managed to fast-talk her way out of certain death, not only
saving her own life and those of her son and daughter, but also the
lives of her husband’s two brothers, whom she immediately deputized as
“orderlies.” The group managed to sneak several other family members out
of harm’s way, and my grandmother kept them all from starving by
obtaining food from the commissary. Thus was my family spared, although
little Adolphina, my father’s infant sister, was unable to survive the
harshness of those times, and died shortly thereafter.
As for my grandfather — after an unusually bloody battle between the
Turks and the British, he and the other doctors, all Armenians, had just
finished tending to the Turkish wounded as best they could. Immediately
after this, a squadron of Turkish gunmen came and killed them all,
including my grandfather.
In all, one and a half million Armenians perished in those years, at
the hands of the Turkish regime.
Yet to this day the government of Turkey denies that any genocide
ever took place — despite thousands of eyewitness accounts, despite the
over 24,000 documents compiled from the U.S. National Archives of State
Department records from 1910 to 1929 detailing the extermination of the
Armenians. Despite the New York Times’ over 194 articles from 1913
through 1922 outlining the hideous manner in which Armenians died in
The U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, Henry
Morgenthau, tried desperately to stop the slaughter, and said that
the treatment of the Armenians by the Turks “surpasses the most beastly
and diabolical cruelties ever before perpetrated or imagined in the
history of the world.”
“One day I was discussing these proceedings with a responsible
Turkish official,” Morgenthau later wrote, “who was describing the
tortures inflicted. He made no secret of the fact that the government
had instigated them, and, like all Turks of the official classes, he
enthusiastically approved this treatment of the detested race. This
official told me that all these details were matters of nightly
discussion at the headquarters of the Union and Progress Committee.”
The former ambassador continued, “Each new method of inflicting pain
was hailed as a splendid discovery, and the regular attendants were
constantly ransacking their brains in the effort to devise some new
torment. He told me that they even delved into the records of the
Spanish Inquisition and other historic institutions of torture and
adopted all the suggestions found there.”
I will not recount the unspeakable things the Turks did to the
Armenians, but rest assured they exceed the darkest and foulest
imaginings of your mind.
This barbaric and massive extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by
the Ottoman and Turkish military and paramilitary forces effectively
eliminated the presence of the Armenian population from Turkey. After
inhabiting the Armenian highlands for three thousand years, this ancient
people, historically the first Christian nation, was driven from its
historic homeland and forced into exile. Like the modern state of
Israel, modern Armenia had a new birth after the breakup of the Soviet
Today, the entire Turkish government and establishment is, on a
national scale, reminiscent of the Nazi war criminals who turn up now
and again, living in middle America, 70-something, working as a shop
foreman somewhere, tending their flower gardens, smiling to their
neighbors and living a “normal” life — their beastly past neatly buried
in the dark corners of their mind — and perhaps the minds of a few
A troubled nation, Turkey can pretend to be a civilized nation among
other civilized nations, but its every move, every policy, its strategic
cooperation with NATO and the West, is designed — like the former Nazi
tending his garden, smiling at his neighbors — to bury forever the
truth of the ferocious crimes it committed.
There is no room in official Turkey today for recognition of the
Armenian holocaust. The hatred is still there. Indeed, after the
devastating earthquake that decimated Armenia in 1988, Turkey blockaded
aid to Armenia, delaying trains so long that food and medicines went
And just last month a group of computer hackers calling themselves
the “Green Revenge Group” hijacked the Armenian National Institute’s website and redirected visitors to
a propaganda site denying the Armenian holocaust ever happened.
The ANI website features comprehensive documentation of the Turkish
genocide against the Armenian people, including historic documents,
records of international affirmation, bibliographies and a unique
collection of documentary photographs.
ANI’s Board of Governors Chairman Robert A. Kaloosdian called it “a
stark reminder that deniers will resort to any means to cloud, obscure
and erase the memory of the Armenian Genocide.”
But all of us deniers need our enablers, don’t we? Helping the
Turkish government live in this state of perpetual denial of its past
crimes is the United States government. After freely acknowledging the
reality of the Armenian holocaust for decades — just as the U.S. has
always recognized the Jewish holocaust — the U.S. government has
changed its tune in recent years.
The U.S. and NATO have decided that since Turkey is strategically
important, located as it is on the edge of the Middle East, our ability
to locate military bases there and rely on Turkish cooperation is more
important than truth. So we now soften our condemnation of Turkey, often
referring to the “alleged” and “disputed” Armenian holocaust.
Living in denial, Turkey is a fragile country today, full of internal
conflict — between secularists and fundamentalists, between Kurds and
Turks. Its economy is weak. If the U.S. did not prop it up, it would
Is there any hope?
Yes, I believe there is. Sometimes good things happen. It may be my
imagination, but there are signs.
“With the people of Israel watching, I bow in humility before those
murdered, before those who don’t have graves where I could ask them for
forgiveness.” So spoke German President Johannes Rau in an historic
address to the Israeli Parliament earlier this week.
“I am asking for forgiveness for what Germans have done, for myself
and my generation, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, whose
future I would like to see alongside the children of Israel.”
Although the Germans have, of course, openly acknowledged the Jewish
holocaust for decades, Rau’s poignant address before the Knesset was
profoundly important. Indeed, one of the finest, most inspiring things a
human being can do in this deeply imperfect world is to apologize –
sincerely, completely and without guile, for past wrongdoing. It is, all
by itself, healing.
Confession is good for the soul, says the Good Book. If Turkey would
openly confess its great sins, as Germany did after World War II and as
its new president did on Wednesday, Turkey also would have a chance to
heal not only itself and its national soul, but also the thousands of
descendants of those massacred Armenians. It’s the least they can do.
When it comes right down to it, there are only two kinds of people in
this world. Not black and white, rich and poor, free and unfree,
faithful and infidel, or Christian and pagan. I’m talking about getting
down to the level that God really cares about:
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any
two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and
spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts
and intents of the heart.” — Hebrews 4:12
The intents of the heart. There are people who, when confronted with
their error, can sincerely acknowledge it and apologize. And then there
are people who, when confronted with their wrongdoing, deny it, deny it
even to the death. On the spiritual level, these are the two types of
people who populate this planet.
Sincere, honest apology is the very epitome of moral courage, and
evidence of a secret faith in divine providence.
About once every generation a leader emerges who can rise above the
muck. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was one. He rose above the ancient
cultural and religious hatred of his people for the Jews, and in the end
embraced Menachem Begin and Israel as a man of peace.
May Turkey raise up such a leader. One man could lead that nation –
or at least all the decent souls in that nation, and every land has its
share — to national repentance and healing.
Turkey has suffered for centuries under a dark, cruel and inhuman
culture. Today’s Turks are not responsible for the atrocities committed
by their ancestors — they weren’t even alive then. But today’s Turks
are responsible, as individuals and as a nation, for confronting the
harsh reality of their nation’s past, admitting it to the world, and
apologizing to the Armenians — not only for the horrors of the
genocide, but for having denied it ever since.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and
hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who
curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who
spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your
Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:43-45
OK, I’ll tell you what. I will not only pray for Turkey, but I will
ask every Armenian reading these words, and all believers as well, to
pray for Turkey, that a leader might truly lead that dark nation into
the light — a painful journey indeed, but one that leads ultimately to
true humanity and redemption.
Prof. Ronald G. Suny has announced a major conference on the Armenian
Genocide in which a number of Turkish scholars will participate, at the
University of Chicago on March 17-19. Most Armenians are skeptical,
saying it’s foolishness to talk seriously about the genocide with
Turkish scholars, whose sole aim for decades has been obfuscation,
historical revisionism and outright denial. Yet Prof. Suny apparently is
determined to facilitate a truthful dialogue with Turkish and Armenian
scholars. Although he may be naïve, as some Armenians suggest, or
falsely optimistic as others believe, he is making an effort, a
beginning, in what could be a long road toward national redemption for