I write this post with a heavy heart, to share the grief of my community as well as a few words of warning about the consequences of remaining defenseless. April 24 marked the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which began with the murder of Armenian intellectuals and continued with the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The atrocities are too grisly to describe in detail, but they include victims being skinned alive, gang-raped, and saturated in oil before being lit on fire – not to mention the unborn babies ripped from pregnant mothers’ wombs and smashed against rocks. The wounds of the Armenian community remain fresh due to the Turkish authorities’ continuous attempts to deny the systematic extermination of a nation.
This painful history has filled countless novels, reports and films, but I’d like to share only the briefest points that can serve as warnings, given today’s debates about citizens’ capacity to defend themselves. Peter Balakian, author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, notes that during the Genocide, “Armenians were made vulnerable by other policies that often rendered them incapable of defending themselves. They were not allowed to own weapons, which made them easy prey for Turks and Kurds.”
Armenians had been targets of massacres long before 1915, but the situation became increasingly dire upon the creation of the Young Turks party at the beginning of the 20th century, as “the new bureau’s focus was on the ‘non-Turkish and non-Muslim races and nationalities’ in the empire because their loyalty was ‘suspect.’” Balakian goes on to describe the Turks’ plan to blame Armenians for Ottoman military failures, during which they “not only disarmed the Armenian soldiers but ordered all civilian Armenians who were suspected of possessing arms to surrender them to their regional and local administrators . . . It was a preliminary process: Local officials broke into Armenian homes, demanding weapons when often there were none to be found, arresting and executing innocent civilians arbitrarily.” We also learn that “some terrified Armenians actually went out and bought weapons from the police . . . which they believed they could surrender to appease the gendarmes and avoid arrest. But this, of course, had the opposite effect.”
Meanwhile, Balakian gives us a counter-example of “self-defense in the face of violence,” as demonstrated by the month-long valiant resistance of the city of Van against Ottoman forces. Balakian writes:
What followed was one of the most remarkable acts of self-defense in the face of genocide that has ever been recorded. Three hundred men with rifles, and another thousand men and boys with pistols and antiquated weapons, defended thirty thousand Armenians in an area of more than a square mile in the Armenian quarter of Aikesdan, and an area of less than a square mile in the walled city of Van.
The resistance lasted a month, as innovative Armenian “tinsmiths, coppersmiths, blacksmiths, and jewelers turned out some two thousand cartridges and bullets a day” while a troop of young boys “dug thousands of Turkish bullets out of the ground so the artisans could melt them down and recast them.”
In short, intellectuals and leaders were targeted first. Those that fought back to protect themselves and their families were able to resist the longest. I do not wish to reiterate the countless arguments we have already read in support of the Second Amendment – you are already well acquainted with the statistics. I simply wish to illustrate, at this solemn time of remembrance, another reason why we should all care about our freedom to resist – a reason that, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, the majority of Americans support this statement: “A gun in the house makes it safer rather than more dangerous.”
Written by Alissa Tabirian