There were bits and pieces of information spreading throughout the Armenian communities. It was whispered that the Turks were rounding up and arresting Christians. But no one would confirm the rumors. With each passing moment, more information was being shared, but the community leaders were not available to confirm or deny.
The Armenians, in the beautiful city of Constantinople, were in a panic. Their fathers and mothers had told them stories of the massacres under Abdul Hamid I and Abdul Hamid II, but that was a generation previous. Were not we, Christian Armenians, fighting alongside our Islamic neighbors against those horrible Allies…England, France, Italy, and Japan? Were not our sons dying for the glory of Turkey?
The elders told all to “stay calm”. But there were those among them who had lived through the horrors of Abdul Hamid II’s pogroms, when more than 200,000 of their brothers and sisters were slaughtered. And that was a mere two decades ago.
It is April 24, 1915.
Just a year previous an orange glow accompanied the sun as its rays sliced through the clouds like a dagger. The gold cross which had once crowned the majestic dome of the Roman Catholic Church where Emperor Constantine had worshipped, had been replaced with the symbolic “new moon” of Islam on the renamed Blue Mosque and now heard the prayers of those whose knees bowed to Mecca.
Europe was in flames.
A coalition made up of Germany, Austria, and Hungary –which had seduced Turkey to fight on their side with a promise that all of the Arabian Peninsula would be annexed by the Ottomans once victory over the Allies was secured. The Allies included England, France, Italy, and Japan. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife lit the powder keg that exploded into World War I. On August 1, 1914, Germany had declared war on Russia.
But America was at peace.
The US economy was booming thanks to the war in Europe. President Woodrow Wilson, the first Democrat to occupy the White House in 20 years, enjoyed overwhelming support because he had “kept America out of the war.” Wilson can thank Roosevelt for ending the Republican monopoly on the Presidency.
Because he did not agree with his handpicked protégé (William Howard Taft), Theodore Roosevelt decided to run as an independent for the Progressive Party, the Bull Moose Party, which split the electoral votes in favor of Wilson. The popular vote in 1914 gave Wilson -6,294,293; Roosevelt -4,117,000, and Taft 3,486,110. Incidentally, the Socialist in that race, Eugene Debs, garnered 897,011 votes.
Americans were flocking to the movie houses that year to see D.W. Griffith’s phenomenal film, “Birth of a Nation”, a classic three-hour drama of the Civil War and the Reconstruction Period. According to reviews, Lillian Gish starred as a Southern Belle, who is terrorized by a Negro. Her honor is avenged by the Ku Klux Klan who comes to the rescue like knights in shining armor.
But no one came to the rescue of the Armenians.
As Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, pointed out, the Turks had a hidden agenda. On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government began and ruthlessly carried out the general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor. The clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act could be, on a scale so great. There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions…Churchill asserted.
On that day, April 24, 1915, orders issued by Talaat, the Minister of the Interior, and Enver, the Minister of War, instructed the Ottoman military to round up the Armenian political leaders, religious leaders, and intelligentsia in Constantinople. The detainees were driven from the city and later executed. Armenians who had held ranks in the military, and those who held posts in government, as well as soldiers, who had fought alongside their Turkish counterparts, were disarmed, relieved of their duty, taken to labor camps and later slaughtered. Talaat’s order to his governors read: No Christian Armenian in the province who refused to accept Allah and the Koran shall be spared.
Women and children and the elderly were driven from their homes at bayonet point, rounded up into caravans and led on death marches with little to no food, starving and killed when they were too weak to stay in line. Before the end of the decade, there were no Armenians remaining in Turkey.
More than one million, five hundred thousand Armenians died in what civilized people have called the first genocide of the 20th century. That date, April 24, 1915 – one hundred and one years ago – is truly a day that has gone down in infamy.
No Armenians will ever forget April 24, 1915. The blood of our forefathers runs through our veins and our hearts.
And although I abhor referring to him or anything he has said or written, out of necessity I will. In launching his insane plot to wipe every Jewish man, woman, and child from the face of the earth, Nazi Dictator Adolph Hitler, in 1939, rallied his generals when they hesitated to carry out his command by saying, “After all, who today remembers the Armenians.”
We do. We shall never forget. We demand justice.
Tom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess. Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!