Fashion And Genocide Don't Mix. Unless, Of Course, You're A Street Photographer.
Prologue: As a desperate, struggling amateur photographer, I’m always looking for any semblance of event that may reap some photo opportunities. A couple nights ago, while surfing the SLC Event website, I noticed that there was a small Fashion Walk at the City Creek shopping center in downtown SLC. Eh, I’m really not a fashion guy, but I had to get out and do something. I guess. I hit up the Utah Transit Authority (Trax) site to plan my virgin train ride into the city.
I departed bright and early, on the dot of 11:28am, from the Murray Central Station aboard the Roadrunner… uhm… Rumrunner… Frontrunner! That’s it. The purple line on the train maps. The weather was descent for the moment: sunny, a few fluffy grey clouds, about 70 degrees. Although, it felt as though it may storm at any moment. There was an eerie, cutting wind making the hair on my arms stand up.
Every time I ride any city train, whether it’s in NYC, SLC, DC, or Baltimore (no fancy acronym), I always feel disoriented; Like I’m going the wrong way constantly. This time was no different. I switched trains three times, but by some miracle made it to City Creek only twenty minutes late for the fashion thingy. Armed with my Nikon D5100, equipped with a 1.8g, 35mm lens, I walked from the fountains in front of Nordstrom’s to the food court area. No amateur retail models in sight. Hmmm. Ok, well I’ll walk back past the countless other shops and head into Nordstrom’s to check the store for some information. On the way back through the shopping center I spotted what I came for; about a dozen well-dressed people were stalking through the shopping center. Each one was holding a sign stating which store clothed them, and as they walked off the escalator, I snapped a few shots of the lucky guys and girls. Approximately thirty other people did the same with their cell phones. Done and Done. The Fashion walk was over, and I was disappointed and at a loss once again. But this article isn't about the Fashion Walk. It’s about Genocide.
Genocide is the organized killing of a people for the express purpose of putting an end to their existence.
The Catalyst: Post Fashion catastrophe, I was meandering around downtown Salt Lake, mostly staring up like a tourist, when a brightly colored gathering brought my attention back to street level. Reds, blues, oranges, and yellows all marching around the base of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building. I noticed a dozen people carrying the US Flag, but at least three times as many people hoisted a red, blue, and orange striped mystery flag. Lots of kids, too. Intriguing, and also some hopeful photo opportunities.
I strode across the street to the Federal Building. As my feet touched sidewalk, I was immediately assaulted by a smiling, talkative Armenian boy. I’m not smart. Especially about foreign cultures. I’m an American. I only know he was Armenian because he told me himself. Today is April 24, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. I am truly ignorant. The enlightening child told me everything. (He didn’t say I was ignorant. He informed me about the Armenian Genocide.) However, I am not apathetic. Now that I was informed, I needed to understand as much as I could.
I ambled through the crowd of people that were dressed in dark, morose clothes. I was wearing a bright blue button down shirt, and orange Fila sneakers with a bulky camera around my neck. I nearly stood out more than the Armenian Flag. Despite being an obvious outsider everyone was incredibly welcoming. They didn’t mind me snapping photos, and a sage like Armenian woman handed me some literature, and explained the current situation to me.
I was hungry. When I’m hungry, I can’t think straight. And I had a ton of research to do. So I went to Tony Caputo’s for lunch and then rode the train home.
Immediately after I arrived home, I poured over the Armenian Genocide papers the nice lady gave me. It was a good start, but as with any great human tragedy of this scale I craved answers. What drives a normal society to perpetrate an organized, murderous tirade aimed to annihilate an entire group of people? History has taught us that it normally begins with one powerful, desperate man. This situation was no different. The Ottoman Empire was in dire straits. The Turkish government feared a complete loss of power. And of course, they can’t blame themselves for it. So the only logical action is to find an innocent minority group to pin it on, right? It seems much easier than saying “We screwed up. Let’s fix it.” Unfortunately, the peaceful Armenians, who had inhabited this area for 3000 years, were chosen as the scapegoat. And in the early 1890’s, Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II, declared that he would solve the “Armenian Question”. As with everything in the past couple millennia, religious differences helped justify the persecution. The Turks were Muslims, and the Armenians were Christians. In fact the Armenians were the first organized Christian State in history. More fuel for the fascist fire.
The seeds of Armenian hate grew rapidly during the period from 1890 to 1908 when a group called the Young Turks, who “…valued loyalty and blind obedience above all” (I mean, what productive fascist state doesn’t?), seized governmental power that year. The Young Turks were also known as the “Committee of Unity and Progress”. Sounds all warm and fuzzy. What sane citizen wouldn’t yield to their control? The Young Turks harbored a severe distaste for all Non-Turk Christians. This heightened the focus onto the Armenian population once again.
A brief summary of the atrocities: World War I. An excellent excuse for Genocide. The Young Turks initiated a Jihad against Christians, and the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and the Central Powers. An odd decision considering that at the time za’ Germans were mostly Protestants and Roman Catholics. Government hypocrisy knows no bounds. Allied Russia (the Good Guys for now, also a Christian state) shared Turkey’s eastern border. The Young Turks feared that when Russia advanced on the eastern front, the Armenians would aid the Russians instead, and turn against the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks used that line of logic to disarm the Armenian population. In preparation for the oncoming slaughter, the Young Turks took every firearm from the Armenians, therefore rendering them completely helpless. In 1914, Armenian men, in the tens of thousands, were forced into slave labor by the Turkish military. And on April 24th, 1915 the Young Turks boldly initiated the Armenian Genocide. They began by rounding up hundreds of prominent Armenian figureheads from Constantinople, and had them executed. Shortly after, masses of Armenian men were arrested and shot dead. Now, mainly Armenian women, children, and the elderly remained. Under the auspices of safe relocation, they were forced to march through the burning Syrian Desert naked, with no food or water, until they died on their feet from dehydration, exhaustion, or starvation. Those who refused to cooperate were beaten to death or shot. Some Armenian boys were adopted by Turkish families. These boys were forced to denounce Christianity, then painfully circumcised, robbed of all Armenian identity, and assimilated into Turkish culture. Lastly, a select few, mostly young Armenian females, were deported. The Turkish Police escorted packed caravans of these deportees out of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Sadly however, the Turkish Government emboldened local bands of roaming Kurdish thieves to rape and kidnap the Armenian deportees. Some were kept for a lifetime of indentured servitude. Unfortunately, this dehumanizing treatment of Armenians did not cease with the conclusion of WWI. It was ongoing until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, when the sultanate and caliphate were dismantled.
Cold, hard maths: There were over two million Armenians residing in Turkey in 1914. At the end of the genocide in 1922, only about 387,000 remained. That is some incredibly depressing subtraction. Yet, in the face of these stunning facts, the Armenian Genocide has only recently gained acknowledgement. Why?
Keep in mind the word Genocide wasn’t coined until 1943. Here is a list of some notable countries and organizations, and the year they officially recognized the Armenian Massacre as a Genocide:
Uruguay – The very first in 1965.
The United Nations – 1985, via the Whitaker Report.
Canada – 1996.
Greece – 1999
Italy – 2000.
United Kingdom – 2000.
France – 2006.
United States – 2010. However, Presidents Ronald Reagan (1981) and Barack Obama (2008) have both referred to the massacre as a Genocide previously.
European Parliament – 2015.
Turkey and Azerbaijan still hold a position of denial.
It has been stated that Adolf Hitler, in his prelude speech to the Invasion of Poland in 1939, mentioned it with this quote, “Who speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?” He was definitely aware of the Armenian Genocide in 1939. And it seems Hitler was, in one way or another, influenced by it, or why would he speak of it? Maybe he was hinting, “They got away with it.” Would a much earlier worldwide recognition of the systematic massacre of the Armenians in Turkey have prevented or lessened the nightmarish Holocaust that began in 1939? Nobody can really answer that, but everybody needs to think about it! Everybody must be aware! Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance inevitably leads to more pain and suffering. The only way to stop it is to: learn, act, teach, and repeat. If we are committed to those steps we can stop terrible events like these from ever reoccurring.
I added some pictures of the proud Armenian people that paraded in front of the Federal Building in Salt Lake City on April 24th, 2015. A special thanks to every single individual in attendance. Especially, the young boy adorned in Armenian red, blue, and orange, and holding the American Flag. Who simply told me, “We’re here to let people know about the Armenian Genocide”. It worked kid!