The Armenian Genocide Wasn't Primarily A 'Genocide'

Religion and race are different, and the distinction matters.

Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day commemorates the one-and-a-half-million Armenians who died at the hands of the Ottoman government during and around the time of the First World War. Despite the clear historical record, many countries continue to deny that it ever took place — most notably Turkey, which perpetrated the atrocity. Just about everybody else misremembers it, and a look around the world in 2018 attests to George Santayana’s observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The Armenian Genocide was not primarily a genocide. Indeed it was a genocide — Ottoman Turks targeted and massacred over a million Armenians — but genocide was not its defining feature. “Genocide” comes from the Greek word “genos,” from which we derive “genetic.” It entails race and ethnicity. Genocide is the killing of a race. The Ottoman Turks did not target Armenians primarily for their ethnicity but rather for their Christian faith. In the early fourth century Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion. At the time of the Armenian genocide, the Muslim Ottomans also slaughtered some 750,000 Greek Christians; 300,000 Assyrian Christians; and 250,000 Maronite Christians. Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians do not share a common ethnicity. The Ottomans slaughtered them because they worshipped the same God.

Henry Morgethau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, sounded the alarm on the widespread murder, enslavement, and starvation as part of a “scheme to annihilate the Armenian, Greek, and Syrian Christians of Turkey.” Genes are a biological fact; religions are sets of ideas, and ideas don’t pass from generation to generation in the bloodstream. A man cannot change his biology, but he can change his mind. Muslim Ottomans did not slaughter Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians for the colors of their skin or the cuts of their jib. They massacred millions for the sake of one idea for the perceived offense of another.

According to a 2018 study by the Catholic organization Aid To The Church In Need, Christian persecution around the world and particularly in the Middle East is worse now “than at any time in history.” The report explains, “Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution” in countries like Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and, you guessed it, Turkey.

Cowards in the West conflate race and religion because all men are created equal but all ideas are not. Those who suspect certain ideas are better than others fear being smeared as “Islamophobic” — that is, harboring an “irrational fear” of Islam. The Ottoman Turks did not irrationally slaughter two-and-a-half million Christians; contemporary Turks, among others, do not irrationally persecute Christians in 2018. They did and continue to do it for a reason, which still we obscure. On Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, even a century later, denial abounds.

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