Utah Stories

Utah Armenians Commemorate the Ottoman Turkish Armenian Genocide

About two dozen Armenians and descendants of the genocide came to the Utah State Courthouse on Sunday to show their solidarity and support for the official announcement that President Biden and the entire United States Government now officially recognizes the Armenian Holocaust. 


Several dozen Utah-Armenians who are descendants of the genocide that occurred in Armenia in 1915 gathered at Washington Square on Sunday to commemorate the 106th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and show their solidarity and support for the official announcement that President Biden and the entire United States Government now officially recognizes the Armenian Genocide as such. 

Kavork Joulhayan was one of the organizers of the demonstration. Joulhayan sees this as a huge victory for honoring the lives of the ancestors of over a million Armenians who reside in the United States and other places who were forced to leave everything to begin new lives.

President Biden kept his campaign promise to officially characterize the mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as “a genocide”. This comes after years of effort by descendants of the survivors of the atrocities putting pressure on every administration since Ronald Regan to officially call the mass murder, “a genocide”. It is now finally recognized by the United States Government as such.

The reluctance of the United States to label the genocide was the result of Turkey’s attempts since the atrocities to change history and downplay the killings. Today there are thousands of descendants of refugees who fled Armenia in the early twentieth century now living in the United States and dozens of families reside in Utah who are descendants of refugees who saw most of their family members get systematically murdered.

Why Did It Take So Long For The United States to Recognize the Armenian Genocide?

Excuses in the past by other presidents and members of Congress included that the United States considers Turkey a rare ally in the region. Turkey’s support in the wars in Iraq was instrumental in ousting Saddam Hussain. They feared that by calling the atrocities a “genocide” they risked losing support from Turkey.

Turkey’s official stance on the genocide is that while killings occurred, Armenians killed Turks as well. But history doesn’t support that this was a merry a conflict, even official documents of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Government show documentary evidence  orders to systematically reduce the population of Armenians in the region.

Why Did The Turks Commit Genocide Against the Armenians?

Historical evidence shows several factors as to why the Ottoman Turkish government decided to commit the genocide. In 1908, as the Ottoman Empire was failing, a new political party rose to power and eventually overtook the existing leadership, the new government called themselves “The Young Turks”. When WWI began they believed they could help to defeat the Allies (Russia, France, and the UK). They sided with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But they chose the wrong side and were defeated. 

During the chaos, some Armenians banded together to side with Russia and fight against the Turkish army. Armenians wanted to create their own nation-state and Turkey was opposed to this idea. Subsequently, the Muslim Turkish Government decided to ethnically cleanse and “Turkify” the region by killing Christian Armenians and “deporting” thousands more.

Armenians existed in the Caucasus region for the previous 3,000 years. Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, but the Ottoman Empire rose to power and dominated the region for 600 years. Despite the second-class citizen treatment that Armenians received in the Muslim dominated  Ottoman Empire, the Armenians thrived. Their intellectuals were respected in schools and Universities and their business flourished. They even held positions high in the government. As the Ottoman Empire was in its last gasp, the Armenians became an easy target for the new ruling power’s aggression to attempt to maintain their land and power. 

The Turkish government succeeded by first executing all intellectual leaders including lawyers, writers, journalists and politicians. Then the sent all remaining men, women and children on death marches through the Syrian Desert at gunpoint without food or water killing them, raping women and leaving them for dead along the way. (read the story of my own Great-grandmother here)

According to Mount Holy0ke College

On these marches, women and children were sexually harassed, kidnapped and sold in the human trafficking industry, or simply murdered.  If someone could not continue to march, or refused, the Turkish soldiers shot him or her.  The water from rivers near the desert was polluted from the many Armenian bodies dumped in it, and therefore undrinkable.  The small number of survivors who were not killed by Turks or by starvation ended their death march through the deserts of Syria and Iraq at concentration camps.  Some were gathered in boats and brought out in the water and drowned; others were forced in caves and asphyxiated by brush fires, a primitive form of gas chambers.[2]

Many orphans were given to Turkish families and raised as Turks, no longer knowing their heritage.

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