Biden Needs to Call Genocide By Its Bloody Name | Opinion

I am a descendant of genocide survivors. Turkey drove out my ancestors—indigenous Assyrians who practiced Christianity and spoke modern Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ—from their ancestral lands via genocide. I was born in Chicago where I grew up immersed in our culture, hearing family stories about where my ancestors came from, what they endured and why I should cherish my heritage.

It's a heritage that many throughout history attempted to erase—efforts that persist to this day. Today's denial of the Armenian genocide, which also claimed the lives of Assyrians and Greeks under the Ottoman Empire, is a continuation of this erasure. And it's gone on long enough.

It's time for President Joe Biden to stand up to those who would erase the history of Indigenous communities for their own advantage.

It's time for the U.S. to recognize the Armenian genocide.

The horrific events of the 1915 genocide were a continuation of persecution that Christians and other minorities faced at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of the modern Turkish state. Historians estimate that 3 million Christians in total were killed, the apex of an extended period of mistreatment that started in the late 1800s.

Turkey Christians
In this photograph taken on February 23, 2020, a member of the Assyrian Christian community stands with her children as they attend a Sunday mass at the Mor Behnam Kirklar Church in Mardin, southeastern Turkey. BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

And yet, our community has struggled to have this cataclysm recognized. Turkey has expended immense pressure to ensure the genocide goes unrecognized; it openly and strategically teaches genocide denial. When Pope Francis called the 1915 events genocide, Turkey called back its ambassador to the Vatican. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump sidestepped the issue; Obama said he would recognize the genocide when he ran for president, and then failed to, while Trump put relations with Turkey ahead of the souls of millions that are still not at rest.

As we approach the April 24 memorial of the genocide, it remains to be seen if President Biden will follow in his predecessors' footsteps. Will he sidestep the issue, or will he be willing to anger Turkey by declaring the obvious—that millions perished at the hands of hatred?

"If we do not fully acknowledge, commemorate, and teach our children about genocide, the words 'never again' lose their meaning," Biden wrote last year, calling the 1915 events genocide.

Will he honor the memory of our ancestors by doing so officially as president of the United States?

This isn't a mere semantic question. In 1943, a Polish Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin invented the term genocide to describe the events of the Holocaust alongside the massacres of Armenians and Assyrians. It's important to call out genocide, to remember victims, preserve their stories, form resolutions and initiate reparations. If not recognized, deniers of genocide and entire nations will commit genocide with no repercussions.

The world today is proof of that. Though we say "Never Again," it keeps happening. Whether it's the genocide ISIS committed against Assyrians/Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims in 2014, the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar or the genocides in Ethiopia's Tigray region and China's Xinjiang province, humans continue to persecute with the objective of eradicating minority cultures.

Governments must call genocide by its ugly name. Recognition is the first step in healing communities affected by genocide.

Members of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek community in Los Angeles, California rally near the Turkish Consulate on April 24, 2015, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks under the Ottoman Empire in 1915. David McNew/Getty Images

The U.S. government does realize this—sometimes. It labeled the killing of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq by ISIS genocide—events that personally affected my relatives who lived in Mosul, Iraq. My extended family members were abandoned, without the "protection" of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, or the Iraqi army as ISIS terrorists advanced upon Iraq's second largest city. Once again, Assyrians had to flee for their lives with no means of defending themselves, leaving behind their homes, belongings and livelihoods.

Politics, money and power have for too long stalled the recognition of events that happened 106 years ago.

Is Turkey a country the U.S. wants diplomatic relations with—a country that does not recognize its bloody past and has no regard for basic human rights today?

Turkey was called "the world's largest prison for journalists." The country recently sentenced a Syriac Orthodox Christian monk to 25 months in jail for giving food to visitors at his monastery. Turkey also recently pulled out of a European convention that aims to protect the rights of women.

It's time for President Joe Biden to recognize the Armenian genocide, which also claimed the lives of Assyrians and Greeks. The souls of genocide victims and their descendants both seek justice to end a painful past and present.

Ramsen Shamon is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek. His Twitter is @Ramsen_.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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