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Awful. A Near Genocide.

Armenians underwent hell, but they missed the real thing.

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 10, 2010.

When I first came to Boulder in 1971, there were several older folks I'd meet periodically at the ticket counter where I worked, or here at KGNU, or at a friend's house who would, when talking with expressive hands or just reaching across the counter for tickets, expose the underside of the forearm. There were blue black numbers on them of, I think, eight digits between elbow and wrist. It was shocking to see. Those particular folks, now gone, were, of course, survivors of the Nazi death camps. Some would have been young, under ten, when they were held down and the number inflicted.

This is Holocaust Awareness Week at CU, and as ever there are talks by survivors of the Nazi camps, this so Jews and Gentiles both can be assured by those who were subject to history's one undeniable attempt by a national government to eradicate a gene pool, that it happened. It actually happened.

But increasing numbers of people, especially Americans, have the attention span of a fruit fly's wet dream when it comes to history, and Americans in general are unsafe with facts, easily impressed by the superficial whiff of science, not at home with distinctions between myth and reality, and suffer from a longing for sentimentality over the products of a harsh world.

There's no escaping the fact that with the diminishing numbers of survivors, these awareness gatherings seem a lot like the Simpson's episode where the family goes to the mall to a Bonanza Reunion, although the main actors are all dead, and the reunion is composed of walk-on extras remembering stuff they weren't really part of. One lady at CU's awareness week this year was an infant in 1944, and could obviously only tell stories told her. In a few years, that's all we'll have, save on video. And truthfully, the young think of the Holocaust, if at all, as not unlike a television show or movie from the past. There is small connection to the Second World War, now. And there never was any to the First, which caused the Second. It gets worse. In the recent Oscar hoopla, the movie Inglorious Basterds was referenced as a historical war film in various mentions.

Turkey recently pulled back its ambassador to the United States in a huff because one committee in the Congress utilized the term 'genocide' in reference to the Turkish massacres of Armenians around the First World War. The word 'genocide' is a bomb. It was felt a new term was needed to describe that which was worse than mere mass murder, slavery, land theft, and attendant sadistic brutality. Although all those things are hand maidens to genocide, there need be the intent to erase a targeted group both physically and from history. That requires effort and organizational skill above and beyond a street gang or even modern military level, and the Nazis had it and applied government and institutional power to achieve their goal of eliminating all Jews, physically and from the history books. First, from the land they controlled, but later, since they intended to control all land, everywhere. A great deal of money and effort and manpower was spent on this that could better have been spent elsewhere from a military perspective. The Holocaust was not a short term fetish, nor profitable. There is no evidence that the Turks blamed Armenians for all their problems, nor wanted them all dead. They wanted to steal land and were willing to slaughter towards that end.

Armenians were viewed merely as Orthodox Christians like the Russians with whom they certainly sympathized, and who were then fighting Turkey. Further, the Armenians wanted to flense off southeast Turkey. The Turks exterminated Armenians to steal their land in a limited geographic area. But if the Armenians had said 'you win, we're moving to Chile', the Turks would likely have let them go. Their goals were criminal and selfish but decidedly local. When the Jews tried to leave Germany decades later, they were prevented. This because the Nazis saw the Jews as the reason for every bad thing in the fictitious history the Germans then taught, and Germany's contribution to western civilization would be the extermination of Jews, even those loyal to Germany.

Mass murder, land theft, race war and religious atrocity are so historically common that no new word is needed to describe what happened to the Armenians. It wasn't until 1943 that Raphael Lempkin felt the need for a new word. That's a clue, and the blue black numbers on the arms of children are the proof that what the Nazis intended and what the Nazis did is alone deserving of it.