Concordia students impacted by Turkey-Syria earthquake

On Feb. 6, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck northwestern Syria and southern Turkey. On Monday, rescue and recovery efforts were still bubbling when a separate 6.3-6.4 magnitude earthquake occurred

“Their building collapsed in the first earthquake… help didn’t get there for three days. When [it did], they were already gone,” said Ari Inceer, a Turkish student studying at Concordia who lost one of her childhood friends. Inceer is from Kahramanmaraş, a city hard-hit by the disaster.

Over the past two weeks, the death toll has climbed to over 46,000. Around the border between Turkey and Syria, there is a convergence of tectonic plates that makes the area seismologically vulnerable. Millions are displaced. 

“I don’t know if they were alive [or died instantly]. I don’t know if they called for help,” said Inceer, referring to her friend.  

“I haven’t seen my brother, sister, mother [in years]… almost losing them, even just one of them, is so scary,” said Inceer. At a cousin’s home in Istanbul (further from the earthquake’s epicenter) her family waits for answers. Their home in Kahramanmaraş has not collapsed, but it may be unstable.

Sarah Dadouche, a Syrian student, described parents that are unable to reach dead or trapped children. “People are going crazy…They know they’re dead, but…they want to take them and bury them with their own hands.” Dadouche’s family is physically okay. “They were very shaken. They [fled onto] the streets…I was thinking, ‘this is down in the south in [Damascus].’ If you go up to the north, it’s crazy.”

International sanctions have made getting aid to Syria difficult. “Because of the sanctions… no one [cares] about us,” said Dadouche. “My mind is with my parents, my mind is with my people… I don’t feel like I deserve to be here.” 

“Sometimes you need to be like an actor [when] coming to class and deliver the content to the best of your ability; irrespective of what you feel,” said a Turkish professor at Concordia who wished to remain anonymous. “You need to go on and start the show.”

Furkan Göçmez is another Turkish student. From Malatya, his home has been destroyed. “I don’t know how long they’re going to be on the streets. My family just became homeless, in like two minutes,” he said.

“I’m kind of pinching myself like, ‘oh, is this really happening?’” said Göçmez. While fleeing their building, his mother fell and broke her nose. “I don’t know where to call home. If I decide to go now, where would I go?”

While some students report professors being insensitive to their experiences, others feel supported. 

Inceer said, “All of [my teachers] separately asked if I needed anything from them personally.”

Karam Helou is the internal vice-president of the Syrian Student Association at Concordia (SSA). “[One professor from JMSB] reached out to me on the day of the earthquake. She made sure that my family was okay. I thought that was really sweet of her,” he said. 

On Feb. 7, the International Students Office (ISO) at Concordia sent an email to members of the Syrian and Turkish community offering support. “We are devastated to hear of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey this week. I would like to personally let you know that we are thinking of you and your families,” wrote Kelly Collins, manager of the ISO. The email contained links to various University resources.

From international students to Quebec residents, a number of University members received the email, including Inceer. Göçmez, Helou, and Dadouche are among students who reported not receiving the ISO’s message.  

Dadouche feels that the University was very outspoken when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. “[It] was like, ‘the news that is happening in Ukraine is a lot on all of us, so take all the time you need and these are the mental resources that you may need.’” Dadouche does not feel the same message was put out by Concordia after the earthquake. “I just keep thinking, are we not human? Do we not matter?”

When the war in Ukraine officially began on Feb. 24, 2022, the University published a notice online with resources for those who may be impacted four days later. On March 3, 2022, Concordia President Graham Carr came out with a statement on the war.

After the Feb. 6 Turkey-Syria earthquake, Concordia published a notice online with links to resources seven days later

“The notice for students was posted on the Student Hub [on Feb. 13] when we realized this was not done [on Feb. 10] which was an oversight on our part,” said Concordia spokesperson Vannina Mestracci.

“I don’t think we’re waiting for any sort of statements from [President Carr]… we’ve [gotten] used to it,” said a Syrian student studying at JMSB. “We got used to being left out,” they added.  

“Hearing the voice of the administration a little bit louder would be helpful. Helpful to whom? Helpful to us, to the people here [in Montreal]. But hearing that, [will it] do anything to the people who simply perished under concrete over there?” said the anonymous professor mentioned earlier. “From a PR point of view, this is important. I wish there was a louder and more compassionate voice from the administration.”

Tuana Bıçakcı is a Turkish student who has been a part of fundraising efforts on campus. “The lack of acknowledgement and support from the University is a little sad…It is really heartbreaking and scary to be so far away from your loved ones when a tragedy like this happens… we could have been so grateful if the University supported us a little more.” 

Hindered by international sanctions, getting aid to Syria has been tough. “[Syrians are] human just as much as the Turkish people, just as much as the Ukrainian people,” said Dadouche. “I think the bare minimum [that] the dean or the president or any professor can do is just raise awareness for a couple of minutes. For example, at the beginning of the class.”

Inceer has felt differently. “I actually didn’t pay attention to [the University’s acknowledgement]… I had other worries.” She has been preoccupied with her family feeling secure again. “I’m just trying to find work and help my family…They left everything they own…it keeps me up [at night] and I just want to be able to help them and send money to them. That’s my main focus right now.”

Göçmez also has finances on his mind. “Concordia could open up bursaries for people who are impacted by these events…My family lost their house. My father’s business has stopped there. I will be having financial hardships,” expressed Göçmez.

Combating feelings of helplessness, Göçmez and Inceer volunteered at the Turkish Student Association’s (TSA) donation site. The site was on the seventh floor of the Hall Building from Feb. 7-10. While the TSA is no longer taking material donations, they are still taking monetary donations.

“I focus on what I can control and I feel like this is something I have to do,” said Mert Kaan Kaseler, co-president of the TSA. From sanitary pads to flashlights, the collected materials were swiftly flown to Turkey. 

Turkish Student Association’s donation site in the Hall building. Photo by Tristan McKenna

Tolga Osmancik is a Turkish student heavily involved with the fundraising efforts. “This can happen to anyone in any country. When something like this happens, we should remember that we are human beings,” he said.

On Feb. 13, the SSA had an event in the Hall Building as well. In order to support the SSA, you can follow them online. 

Jana Noufal Al-Atassi is the SSA’s vice-president of finance. “It would be great if more people talked about what’s happening and what’s been happening even before the earthquake.” She discussed how the world let politics block humanitarian hurdles. “You have to keep in mind [that Syrians are] not numbers. These are humans that are dying.”

“There’s one difference between what’s happening in Turkey and Syria… the sanctions placed on Syria,” said Helou. 

“If certain powers wanted to send aid to Syria, they could have,”

Said Talal Akkad, A Syrian Student. 

Inceer discussed how Turkey could have been better prepared. “It’s a big earthquake. Three of them happened on the same day… another one happened two weeks after…[but] this shouldn’t have been the result,” she said.

When growing up, Inceer would hear discussions about her area (atop the East Anatolian Fault) being overdue for an earthquake. She is perplexed at how Turkey was unprepared. “You think [the overdue earthquake] is a myth because you trust that the system knows better…when it actually happens, you feel so helpless because it’s the system… you by yourself can’t change the system.”

Intimidation, violence and fines: The struggles of being a journalist in 2020

At a time where the world needs them the most, reporters face strong impediments to their job

Over a month ago, The Concordian published an article covering pro-Armenia student protesters who called on Montreal city mayor, Valérie Plante, to support Armenians in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh territorial dispute. It’s the kind of beat story that’s perfect for young reporters who want to get their feet wet in news coverage: a conflict being covered worldwide, with a local connection to grassroots support among fellow students.

Unfortunately, this reporting attracted the wrong sort of attention, prompting a stern letter from the Montreal Consul General of Turkey, sent not to The Concordian, but Concordia University. Key to their concerns was the inclusion of two photos, each featuring a woman holding a sign stating “Turkey = Terrorist,” no doubt a response by the protester to the cluster bombing in the region, often aided by Canadian drone technology.

Politicos in office or at the dinner table have long opined how journalists are vital to a democracy and the need to protect them and their work. After all, public discourse from news coverage is often the only way we educate ourselves once we leave school. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book, The Elements of Journalism, found in almost every journalist’s bookshelf, describes this urgency as news reporting’s chief commitment, “to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

But that goal is challenging and getting harder. Reporters are working with less time, less money, and fewer resources than those who would seek to influence their coverage. Young, freelance and student journalists are especially vulnerable, as they have nowhere near the same security as employed reporters. And even those privileged few still face trials, as diminishing advertising revenue has seen their budgets evaporate. Adding to the issue, journalists have a long history of dealing with intimidation, and you can see why it’s becoming tougher to inform people of what’s going on.

It was only a few years ago when I was an undergrad, and the Maple Spring was raging. Red squares adorned almost every student coat, and pots and pans protests took place every night. While the demonstrations garnered international attention, eventually leading to the fall of that administration’s time in government, student journalists’ treatment was less covered. Being kettled, heavily fined for photographing and documenting, or straight assault were standard plays inflicted on young reporters by the Montreal police department, that saw anyone under 30 as a threat. As a student journalist struggling to pay your rent and tuition, how do you have the time to fight huge fines, fees, and court dates, on top of all the regular challenges life flings in your direction?

This past summer, a few reporters over at The Link were intimidated by police following a Black Lives Matter protest. Non-lethal guns were drawn on them and medics who were also present, as they pleaded with officers while kneeling on the ground at Place des Arts.

And when we aren’t scared of power-tripping cops, journalists can be threatened by the public. In 2018, far-right activists (read: fascists) stormed Vice Montreal’s offices after they published on the rise of attacks perpetrated against anti-fascist protestors. And this year, a TVA reporter was assaulted by two anti-maskers, who bear-hugged her while she covered their protest live on television. And let’s not even open the can of worms that is reporter harassment on social media.

Was the Turkish Consul’s response intimidation? Probably not directly. But it’s telling that a student newspaper in Montreal, thousands of kilometres from the conflict, caused such concern that they not only wrote a letter but sent it to the school where these same reporters were learning their craft. The editorial staff’s emails are publicly available on The Concordian’s website, so it’s unlikely this was an oversight.

Student, freelance, or full-time, a journalist commits to journalism. I say commits because we are committed to accuracy, fairness, and representative work and because we commit to this vocation. We pledge to this despite being routinely demonized, so much so that our safety isn’t a priority.

But let’s remember — without good journalists, you have nothing but marketers and merchants influencing you to buy and believe what is on their agenda this minute. We need better protection, but it can’t only be through legislation. It has to come from you. So the next time you see a journalist intimidated, please speak up. Whether it’s at your dinner table, in your Zoom call, or on social media, defend those who defend your right to know. Because without us, you won’t be ready when the intimidators come for you next.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab


“We need more action”: Canadian-Armenians demand bold measures on Nagorno-Karabakh

In an unprecedented show of force, Armenians from all across Canada poured into the capital on Friday

Gathered in front of Parliament, nearly 5,000 demonstrators were joined in solidarity by current and former MPs. Their objective? Compel the government to condemn Turkey and Azerbaijan as the aggressors in the Karabakh conflict, permanently halt the export of weapons to those countries, and recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state.

Hrag Koubelian, president of the Concordia Armenian Students’ Union and a participant in Friday’s demonstrations, believes this is a fitting opportunity for Canada to show what it’s made of.

“Given Canada’s great record in defending human rights, we hope that it officially condemns Azeri and Turkish aggression against Artsakh and Armenia. We hope to see recognition of the Armenian people’s will to peacefully live on their lands.”

Sevag Belian, executive director of the ANCC, speaks to protestors at Parliament Hill. (Credits: Shoghig Tehinian)

However, with clashes intensifying and casualties mounting by the day, some, like Tamar Panossian, are worried that the government may be dragging its feet.

Panossian says, “Time is already being wasted because we have so many soldiers already dying, already so many people who have been displaced, and they’re taking a lot of time to take action.

Such concerns have been growing among the Canadian-Armenian community ever since open war broke out on Sept. 27 between Armenian and Azeri forces over Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh.

While sporadic fighting has occurred along the line of contact (LOC) in the past, the latest round has been the deadliest to date. Recent estimates place the number of casualties in the thousands.

The Armenian community is particularly worried that active Turkish interventionism has made Azerbaijan more belligerent. In response, Sevag Belian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, says the government needs to take some strong measures.

“Canada cannot afford doing business with a genocidal state such as Turkey that has absolutely no intention to adhere to international law. Let it be clear: this is a red line for our community,” says Belian.

Some current and former MPs are trying to bring this issue to the attention of the government. Alexandre Boulerice, New Democratic Party MP for Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie, and a long-time supporter of Armenian causes, says this is a matter of human rights and national self-determination.

Canadian-Armenian man looks over a demonstration sign calling for Turkey’s expulsion from NATO. (Credits: Shoghig Tehinian)

“You can count on us and the NDP to continue putting pressure on the Liberal government to do more.” He agrees the suspension of weapons exports to Turkey must be made permanent.

The Conservatives, for their part, are stressing the importance of an open and transparent investigation into weapons exports, as well as the right to self-determination.

Harold Albrecht, former Conservative MP for Kitchener—Conestoga, who also attended the demonstration, believes Canada ultimately must stand up for Armenians. He said, “I’m hoping I can influence my colleagues [in the Conservative Party] to put pressure on the government.”

Some of that pressure is even coming from within the Liberal party itself. In a statement that was read out on Friday, Fayçal El-Khoury, Liberal MP for Laval—Les Îles, expressed his full support for the demonstrators.

“We will never stop until we reach the recognition of the free and independent Republic of Artsakh. I have been with you, I am with you, and always will be with you,” he said.

Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told his Turkish counterpart that “external parties should stay out [of the conflict].” Additionally, Global Affairs Canada temporarily suspended some weapons export permits to Turkey, pending an investigation into their use in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mher Karakashian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, says Armenians are definitely encouraged by these steps. However, he awaits what the government will do next. “We will have to see what happens in the coming days. Our hope is that Canada takes up a leadership role, together with its allies, mobilizing the international community to bring a peaceful resolution to this crisis.”


Photographs by Shoghig Tehinian


Pro-Armenian protestors gather to call for Mayor Valérie Plante’s support

A thousand protestors gathered in front of city hall on Thursday

A pro-Armenian protest in front of Montreal City Hall on Thursday Oct. 8 called on Mayor Valérie Plante to publicly support Armenians in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh territory conflict.

On Sept. 27, conflicts re-erupted in the region, leaving at least 23 civilians killed. While the Nagorno-Karabakh territory is recognized internationally as located in Azerbaijan, the majority of the territory is occupied and controlled by a majority population of ethnic Armenians.

Aram Shoujounian, one of the organizers of the demonstration on Thursday, said they want Plante to denounce Azerbaijan and Turkey’s violence towards Armenians in a conflict that has claimed over 300 lives, according to Armenian, Turkish, and Azeri reports.

Shoujounian said the protest also calls on Plante to recognize the independence of the “Republic of Artsakh.”

While the disputed territory is officially called the Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians refer to the territory as the Armenian-language name of the region: “Artsakh.”

At present, the majority of the territory is ruled by a government called the “Republic of Artsakh,” and positions within the government are largely held by ethnic Armenians.

“We’re telling Valérie Plante, and the entire city hall, to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state, because that’s the only way to guarantee the security and the right to live on the territory of the Republic of Artsakh,” Shoujounian told The Concordian.

“We do not want our democratic societies to stay neutral,” said Shoujounian.

Located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the territory has been disputed through political and military conflict for decades, beginning in the ‘80s.

Russia brokered a cease-fire with both countries in 1994, but conflict continued throughout the years.

Canada suspended drone technological exports to Turkey after reports emerged that the technology was used by Turkey to target Armenian civilians.

A ceasefire agreement on Oct. 10 was promptly broken just minutes after the agreed upon deadline. Both countries put blame on the other for breaking the agreement.

On Friday Oct. 16, Justin Trudeau met with Armenian and Turkish leaders to speak on the conflict, and to encourage a peaceful resolution. A petition supporting Armenia and Armenians in Artsakh was begun by Ontario Liberal Member of Parliament Bryan May, and will collect signatures to present to parliament until Nov. 8.

Fourth-year Concordia student at the protest.

One fourth-year Concordia student said she was attending the protest because more needs to be done.

“There is a second genocide towards Armenians happening right now and people are silent,” she said.

She says leaders need to take a stand to get involved beyond peace talks, stating, “Talking nicely and telling them to cease fire won’t work because we had a ceasefire agreement.”

Nathalie Setian, the student’s close friend, said, “they [Azerbaijan and Turkey] just want to invade and erase us as a nation as an Armenian race.”

Both Armenian Montrealers said they came to pressure government officials to support the self-determination and safety of the people in the disputed region, and to aid the movement in Montreal.

“We’re raising money [for Armenian soldiers], we’re donating a lot, we’re writing open letters,  we’re urging the government and the politicians and especially the media to stand with us,” said Setian.

“We’re raising our voices and doing as much as we can to get people to stand up for us, because we’re not accepting biased and falsified information by journalists.”

Last week the Armenian diaspora in Montreal organized a protest in front of the Montreal Gazette and Global News media offices, to call out the “surface level” reporting on the conflict, and how the reporting does not accurately represent the level of threat this conflict has for the ethnic Armenians in the conflict zone.

“If you are neutral, that means you support terrorism,” said Setian.

“We don’t want genocide to repeat itself and we don’t want whatever happened in Syria to repeat itself in Artsakh,” said Setian.

Since the protest, Setian has co-written an article on the conflict.

On Saturday Oct. 17, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire starting at midnight. The deal was brokered by the OSCE Minsk Group. Early Sunday morning, the ceasefire deal was broken with both sides blaming each other for the violation.

Today, Monday Oct. 19, Plante has released a statement saying she stands in solidarity with the Armenian people, and will support efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“To the Armenian community of Montreal I would like to offer you all our support…I wish you strength and peace in these very difficult times and know that we stand altogether with you,” said Plante.

Photos by Hadassah Alencar

Briefs News

World in Brief: Another win for Bernie Sanders, COVID-19 shuts down northern Italian cities, bees in California, fatal earthquake in Turkey.

Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucus on Saturday Feb. 22, continuing his Democratic lead after the third primary contest. With strong support from the Latino voters in the Nevada caucus, Sanders finished with 47 per cent, reported The Guardian. Joe Biden took second place, at 24 per cent. Buttigieg was third, with 14 per cent. Elizabeth Warren was fourth, with 9 per cent. Next up for the democrats, the South Carolina race.

There have been two deaths in Italy as a result of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), with seventy-nine confirmed cases of the virus. A dozen towns in northern Italy have shut down as a result. The origin of the virus in Italy, has been linked to a man who hadn’t travelled to Wuhan. Those who died were a man and woman in their 70s, though it has not yet been confirmed whether the woman died from the virus or an underlying health problem. Towns affected in Italy have closed schools, businesses, restaurants and sporting events, reports The Associated Press.

A swarm of 40,000 bees shut down a California block, sending five people to the hospital, including three first responders last Thursday. Firefighters and police responded to a call for a single bee sting, soon realizing that an entire block had been covered with bees. The bees had stung seven people, two did not need hospital treatment. One firefighter had been stung 17 times. Firefighters and a professional beekeeper were able to safely remove the hive situated on the roof of a Hampton Inn. Some of the bees were killed, while others left the area, as reported by CNN.

Nine people were killed by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in eastern Turkey on Sunday morning. The earthquake also struck western Iran, injuring 75 people, with no reported fatalities. Turkish Health Minister, Fahrettin Koca, said that 37 people had been injured and nine are in critical condition. The earthquake also affected 43 villages in Turkey’s mountainous regions. Twenty-five ambulances, a helicopter and 13 emergency teams have been sent to aid the public. The Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) of Turkey has said 144 tents for families had been set up, reported The Associated Press.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Political tensions in Turkey forced many to flee to escape imprisonment

Four years after the 2016 coup attempts in Turkey, repercussions of the tensions between the long-standing leading party and its rivals are still felt among many.

Mehmet Said Noyan, 20, fled Turkey in 2017 following his father’s imprisonment.

“I think it was eight or nine in the morning,” Noyan said. “[My father] was having breakfast, and the law force came and said ‘sir, we have orders to take you in, we’re going to have to rush you.’ And so they did, and he’s been in jail ever since 2016.”

Noyan’s father, Ömer Faruk Noyan, was a university professor in Turkey. During his off time, Ömer parted in the Gülen movement. The Gülen movement—or Hizmet in Turkish, named after its leader Fethullah Gülen—is a non-governmental religious movement that promotes democracy while focussing on education stemming from “Islam’s universal values, such as love of the creation, sympathy for the fellow human, compassion, and altruism,” according to their website. The movement first appeared in 1960 and has been growing in popularity since the ‘80s.

Once strong allies of the Erdogan government, members of the Gülen movement became one of Erdogan’s greatest foes. So much that, since 2016, thousands of its members were targeted and imprisoned for their involvement in the Gülen movement, including Noyan’s father and uncle.

After leaving his family and his life behind two days after his 18th birthday, Noyan fled in a delicate attempt to California where he made his way to Quebec. He now studies political science at Concordia University.

But going back to Turkey is out of the question for Noyan. “I might get arrested myself because of my father and my affiliation with [the Gülen] movement,” he said.

In 2014, Turkey’s leading party, Justice and Development Party, underwent allegations of corruption and bribery. Although all charges were dismissed for the majority of the suspects, the government blamed the Gülen movement for orchestrating the investigations, paving the way for an attempted coup two years later. The movement was said to hold strong influence among the ranks of Turkish institutions such as the judiciary, the police, and the secret security sector, as explained in an article by The Guardian; all of these institutions spearheaded the investigation against government officials.

Individuals like Noyan’s father were accused of attempted terrorism, trying to bring the government down and hate speech against the prime minister, “none of which he had done,” Noyan said. “He’s a civil engineering professor and also a geologist back in Turkey, so I don’t know how he was in any way affiliated to these accusations. But they had to get rid of this opposition that was not working in their favour.” Although Noyan admits that some members could have acted in bad faith, he condemns Turkey’s “bold accusations.”

In Ömer’s ruling, it was stated that there was no tangible evidence other than statements from fellow detained members, translated Noyan from the official document written in Turkish. Noyan explained that tactics used by officials to target individuals resembles giving names in exchange of liberation. “And I get that as people trying to survive,” Noyan said, although condemning these acts as unethical.

Since his father’s detainment, Noyan’s family, with the expertise of his sister who is a lawyer, applied to all levels of courts in Turkey, none of which were accepted. However, last November, the European Committee of Human Rights settled a hearing with the specific date still unknown. However, Noyan is pessimistic about the process, he explained, since Turkey would be reluctant to give compensation to released prisoners.

Ömer’s sentence is coming to an end with little more than 10 months left to serve. Noyan still doesn’t know what will happen to his family since the interactions with his father consist of 10-minute periods every Friday morning over What’s App. Afraid of the calls being tapped, his conversations with his father barely passes the threshold of “how was your day and university,” he said. The difficulty of knowing what will happen also lies in the bans set on released prisoners.

They don’t let you out of the country, they don’t let you go to work, they just make you sit at home all day,” Noyan explained, referring to his uncle, who was released a few months ago. “As a man of his caliber, who speaks four or five languages, has published many books, appeared on national television and studied in France, it’s pretty much social death to my father.”

Such repercussions already affected his mother, Sümeyra, who was denied unemployment benefits and help finding work due to her husband’s situation.

While his father’s decision is underway, Noyan is focusing on his degree and hoping for the best. He wishes to start law school, following his sister’s curriculum, which he finds ironic considering how unlawfully Turkey judged his father, he joked.


Graphic by @sundaeghost



The forgotten genocide of the 20th century

The bitter smell of Armenian coffee—otherwise known as soorj—fills the house as I stare at an old photograph of my late grandfather whilst sipping on this cultural delight. The black and white picture is brittle and cracked, and it continuously endures the test of time, serving as a critical reminder that my grandfather worked tirelessly to bring his family to Canada.

He lived in a very different world compared to mine. His world was filled with instability, violence and bloodshed, as his family members were survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide. It was a dark moment in history, and an even darker fissure in Turkish society.

Yet Turkey still denies the genocide ever took place, with the government in Ankara insisting the systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenian ethnics was simply a casualty of war, according to The New York Times. As a descendant of these survivors, I find this policy extremely offensive; it highlights Turkey’s backwardness and refusal to come to terms with its bloody past.

My connection to the genocide begins with my grandfather’s family, who hailed from a Turkish city called Iskenderun, situated by the Mediterranean. This city once housed a large and vibrant Armenian community, as did many others within the Ottoman Empire.

This all changed rapidly in 1915 when a radical political party called The Young Turks obtained power. The Young Turks saw the Armenian minority as a threat and also as a scapegoat, since the Ottomans had allied with Germany in WWI, and were losing the war at this point—especially on the Russian front. This led to a campaign of mass murders, arrests and deportation of ethnic Armenians, according to the United Nations.

This meant that my grandfather’s family was deported out of Iskenderun in 1915—before my grandfather was born—forced to march through the Syrian Desert in the harshest of conditions with barely any water, food or shelter. Hundreds of thousands would eventually die from exhaustion, starvation, dehydration and exposure, with marauding bandits also allowed to raid, rape and pillage Armenians as they marched onwards.

Two of my great-grandmother’s daughters were kidnapped during this period, never to be seen again. My ancestor’s house and possessions were confiscated and looted by locals and those in power.

A few family members survived this death march and made it to Deir al-Zour in the heart of the Syrian Desert. My grandfather was born sometime later without a birth certificate or any official papers. They were refugees, trying to find stability in a world that sought to murder them.

In 1985, the United Nations officially recognized the events of 1915-1917 against the Armenians, stating in the UN report on genocide that “evidence of that massacre has been provided in numerous diplomatic documents of the various countries, including Germany, which had been Turkey’s ally during the First World War.”

More than 25 countries including France, Canada and Russia recognize the events of 1915-1917 as genocide against the Armenian people, according to the CBC.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still adamantly denies a genocide took place. In a 2010 interview with CNN, Erdogan said, “no nation, no people has the right to impose the way it remembers history [onto] another nation of people.” He said in the same interview “no one should expect this of Turkey,” when questioned about labeling the violence as ‘genocide.’

This statement from the Turkish leader is a slap in the face to all Armenians around the world, and demonstrates the sheer lack of respect Erdogan has towards the living descendants of genocide survivors.

It’s bad enough that the perpetrators of the genocide were never tried for their crimes against humanity in an international court, or even in a Turkish court for that matter. In fact many of the collaborators went on to serve in the next government led by Kemal Ataturk, according to professor Frank Chalk, cofounder of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. But to have a government policy that denies the systematic murder of more than a million people seems downright blasphemous.

Even prominent members of Turkish society have spoken out, admitting that there was indeed a genocide, only to be silenced by the government.

Orhan Pamuk, a famous novelist from Istanbul spoke out in 2005 to a Swiss newspaper, saying the murder of the Armenians was undeniable, according to BBC News. Following his comments, Pamuk was branded a traitor by the government and he was charged in Istanbul with ‘public denigration of Turkish identity’ according to The Guardian, with a prison sentence of up to three years. The charges were eventually dropped, but serves as a reminder that freedom of speech is hard to come by in the Turkish Republic.

“There is a debate in Turkish society today about which policy to follow in the future,” said Chalk, before adding that “the number of Turkish academics, intellectuals, and lawyers arguing in favor of acknowledging the Armenian Genocide is growing every year.”

Although the path to justice is far from over, the most important aspect here is to remember the genocide. To remember the people who did not get to live in a peaceful country, attend university, or live full lives. To pay homage to the 1.5 million people who were systematically targeted and murdered for belonging to a group, which included my ancestors, my family, and countless other families.

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