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Student raises awareness about origins, effects of genocide

| Monday, April 10, 2017

By presenting on the Armenian and Yazidi genocides, Saint Mary’s senior Katherine Elliot hopes she can prevent history from repeating itself.

During her presentation in Friday’s installment of Justice Friday, Elliot said her great-uncle was just a young boy living in Tadem, Armenia when the Turks invaded his village. She said his mother rescued him from the debris, but when he looked back at his mother across the river, he saw a Turk smash open her skull with a rock.

“Obviously he was able to escape,” Elliot said. “But even as an old man, he would start crying when he would start talking about his mother and everything he lost there.”

Despite its small size today, Elliot said half of Turkey used to be Armenia.

Before the genocide, Armenians would travel to Istanbul, Turkey and incorporate themselves in society, Elliot said. She said they even became some of the top marketers, doctors and brokers, but the Turkish disapproved of the Armenian successes.

“They were a really successful group of people,” she said. “The Turkish saw this as a sign that they were stealing jobs and were taking advantage of the Turkish people and were therefore a threat to Turkish people.”

At this time, nationalism in Turkey was growing, and the Turks started to blame minorities for the issues in their country, Elliot said. The Turkish nationalist mindset was that Armenian success came at the expense of the Turkish.

“They decided that they needed to alienate the Armenians to therefore get rid of this threat,” she said. “They started by taking away property, guns, and they would tax extremely highly until they eventually started killing them off.”

There were mass deportations, camps and eventually mass graves as a result, Elliot said.

“To this day, if you go to Syria and … some areas of the desert, you will find skulls everywhere,” she said. “It is so difficult to find information on western Armenia because everything was burned, everyone was killed and any books were seen as invalid and not as superior as Turkish texts.”

Despite the mass killings, Elliot said people still question whether the Armenian genocide should be labeled genocide, because if the Turkish admit that it was genocide, they will have to give back all the land they took from the Armenians.

“They use political pressure to make sure people are afraid to comment on it being genocide,” she said. “Even using the word ‘genocide’ [in reference to what happened to the Armenians] is illegal in Turkey.”

Elliot said as younger generations of the Turkish are learning of Turkey’s history, the grotesque truth of the genocide is surfacing.

“I’m hopeful because of the young people [in Turkey] who are coming out — they’re acknowledging [the genocide],” she said.

It is essential to recognize the Armenian genocide as such because similar catastrophes are currently occurring in the world, particularly to the Yazidis, Elliot said. She said the Yazidis are one of the oldest and most misunderstood religions in the world. Even though the religion has many parallels to Judaism, Yazidis are often mistaken as devil worshipers and have suffered much persecution as a result, she said.

“They are literally flinging themselves off this mountain to prevent IS from getting to them,” she said. “The U.N. has officially said it’s a genocide.”

As students, Elliot said the best way the community can act on these events is to advocate for the cause. Students can donate to non-profit organizations to help the oppressed escape, she said.

“Few people know of these events and how big a problem it is,” Elliot said.

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