Editor's warning: This article contains graphic material.
VAN, Turkey-As Turkey moves toward eventual membership in the European Union (see Madisonian Turkey from this week's issue), this Muslim nation should also come to grips with a terrible crime that has gone largely unpunished.
Armenians, many of them Christian, lived in this area of what is now eastern Turkey for about 2,000 years. Despite suffering massacres in 1894 and 1895 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, they still numbered well over 1 million in 1914. Ten years later only scattered handfuls were left. Adolf Hitler used what is now called the Armenian holocaust as his model for an even greater holocaust. Ottoman Turks developed techniques later used by the Nazis, such as piling 90 people into a train car with a capacity of 36, and leaving them locked in for days, terrified, starving, and often dead.
Hitler was even more impressed with how the Turks got away with genocide. When Hitler on Aug. 22, 1939, explained that his plans to invade Poland included the formation of death squads that would exterminate men, women, and children, he asked, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
In recent years some have. Books such as Peter Balakian's The Burning Tigris (HarperCollins, 2003) tell of the Armenian tragedy in a way that also helps us to understand radical Islam. That's because the key incitement to massacre came on Nov. 14, 1914, when Mustafa Hayri Bey, the Ottoman Empire's leading Sunni authority, urged his followers to commence a jihad: One pamphlet declared, "He who kills even one unbeliever . . . shall be rewarded by Allah."
The jihad proclamation received wide dissemination. When a priest asked a Muslim army officer how he could participate in killing several thousand Armenian women, Captain Shukri's answer was simple: It was jihad time, and after the murders he could "spread out my prayer rug and pray, giving glory to Allah and the Prophet who made me worthy of personally participating in the holy jihad in these days of my old age."
The Ottoman Turk government set up and paid special killing squads. The Ministry of the Interior gave instructions to "exterminate all males under 50, priests and teachers, leave girls and children to be Islamized." Historians and journalists have estimated that Turks killed 800,000 to 1 million Armenians in 1915 alone, and an additional 200,000 to 500,000 over the next seven years.
Here in Van 89 years ago, provincial governor Jevdet Bey gained the nickname "the horseshoe master" because he nailed horseshoes to the feet of Armenians. Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to Turkey, described in 1918 testimony of torture he had heard: "The gendarmes would nail hands and feet to pieces of wood-evidently in imitation of the Crucifixion, and then while the sufferer writhes in his agony, they would cry, 'Now let your Christ come help you.'"
Aurora Mardiganian, the only member of her family to survive, told of killing squads that planted their swords in the ground, blade up, at intervals of several yards. Killers on horseback each grabbed a girl, rode their horses at a controlled gallop, and tried to throw the girl so she would be impaled on a sword: "If the killer missed and the girl was only injured, she would be scooped up again until she was impaled on the protruding blade."
The silent film Ravished Armenia, based on Aurora Mardiganian's account, caused a U.S. sensation-but British officials demanded before showtime in London the deletion of a scene of Armenian women being crucified. Miss Mardiganian agreed that the scene, which showed the women being crucified on large crosses with their long hair covering their nude bodies, was inauthentic.
The scene was inaccurate, she said, because the crosses in the film were large, but in reality they were little and pointed: "They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down. And after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood, through . . ." Americans, she said, "can't show such terrible things" (and I can't write about them in full detail).
After the World War ended in 1918 several Turks, including "the horseshoe master," were executed for war crimes. Hundreds of perpetrators went free, and to this day Turkish textbooks cover up the slaughter of Armenians, as they also cover up the slaughter of Greek Christians in western Turkey during that same era.
Prove Hitler wrong. Governments are to wield the sword to bring justice, so remember Armenian and other victims of governments that killed their own people, and thank God that the United States has worked to protect innocent people in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan.