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Commemorating two genocides: Armenian and Communist

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Halloween may be fast upon us, but October 29 and 30 have marked the bloodiest commemorations of the year. In the last two days, the world has belatedly remembered the genocide of Armenian Christians and the brutal repression of all dissidents by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Last night, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 296, a bill “recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide, the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.” (Only 11 people voted no and three, including Ilhan Omar, voted “present.”) Despite the bill’s clear geopolitical intent – it came coupled with legislation imposing sanctions against Turkey – this declaration is welcome and long overdue.

The facts are indisputable. U.S. diplomats thoroughly documented Turkey’s massive kidnapping, sexual abuse, torture, and murder (by axe, starvation, or firing squad) of its Christian minority. Acton Institute Communications Director John Couretas painted a gripping portrait of the Turkish atrocity when he reviewed Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi’s The Thirty-Year Genocide for a recent issue of Religion & Liberty. Couretas notes:

The problem, as Turkey’s Erdogan shows, is that “successive Turkish governments and the Turkish people have never owned up to what happened or to their guilt,” the authors write. “They continue to play the game of denial and to blame the victims.”

Indeed, Turkish apologists claim “the Armenians were by far the greatest beneficiaries of the opportunities offered by the Ottoman Empire.”

As a result, no U.S. president in a generation has dared to raise Turkey’s ire by calling the systematic slaughter of three-quarters of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian Christian population a genocide. “Only Reagan didn’t disappoint,” one Armenian-American leader remembered.

Whatever inspired this legislation, and whatever its fate in the legislative process, it is a rare act of political courage in Washington, and a rarer nod to reality. It deserves our praise.

October 30 also marks the day each year when the world pauses to remember the millions of victims of Soviet Communism. Since 1991, October 30 has been known as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions.

The observance traces itself back to October 30, 1974, when imprisoned Soviet dissents, led by Kronid Lyubarsky, declared the Day of the Political Prisoners in the USSR. Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov promoted their cause. In 1991, it became an internationally recognized event.

Each year, survivors and their families gather in Moscow at the Solovetsky Stone – a stone removed from a monastery the Bolsheviks converted into a gulag – to honor those murdered by socialism. Since 2007, this has sometimes been preceded on October 29 by a ceremony reading victims’ names.

Today even the Kremlin’s official propaganda service, Tass, had to report on the event. However, it stated “[t]he exact number of victims of the Soviet-era political repressions remains unknown, but, according to some estimates, it may be as high as over 10 million people.” In fact, the number is likely closer to 20 million. Old habits die hard.

There is no room for deceit if we hope to prevent future pogroms, genocides, and state-sanctioned mass atrocities.

Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute notes that the annual day of remembrance falls, by chance or providence, on the same date that the 22nd Soviet Party Congress voted to remove Stalin’s body from Lenin’s mausoleum: October 30, 1961. (One of Lenin’s followers claimed Lenin’s ghost demanded Stalin’s eviction. “He stood before me as if he was alive, and said, ‘I’m uncomfortable being next to Stalin, who brought so much trouble to the Party,’” said 80-year-old Dora Lazurkina.)

The connection between the two dates is more than coincidental. Perhaps the person who best grasped the crimson thread that unifies history’s atrocities was Ronald Reagan, who wrote in his in 1981 order establishing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council that America must never forget the Nazi Holocaust, nor “the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it — and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples.”

Genocide stems from losing sight of other people’s God-given human dignity and value, out of religious bigotry or collectivist ideology alike. “Forever must we remember just how precious is civilization, how important is liberty, and how heroic is the human spirit,” Reagan wrote. Western civilization must continue to uphold the dignity of human life at all stages, respect freedom of conscience, and limit the size of government to the point that genocide is both unthinkable and impossible.

That begins by removing the idolatrous remains of mummified dictators. It demands that we acknowledge the depths of inhumanity committed by human rights abusers, past and present. And it obligates us to expose and resist the collectivist ideologies that fuels barbarism everywhere it rears its head.

In the words of the man who best perforated the tissue of lies that all totalitarian regimes use to insulate themselves, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

(Photo credit: Victims of the Armenian genocide, documented by the U.S. government. Public domain.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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