I read with interest Ayse Kilic's Local View ("LB640 misses mark, risks research," March 19) disputing the characterization of the Armenian Genocide as such.

The term “Armenian Genocide” refers to the systematic murder of the ethnic Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire, which principally occurred in 1915 in what is modern-day Turkey. By most accounts, approximately 1.4 million people were murdered.

The evidence of this awful history came from the contemporaneous eyewitness accounts of independent third parties, many of whom were U.S. diplomats and missionaries.

Post-Ottoman Turkey has long denied that the Armenian Genocide was really a genocide. The documentary evidence forces the opposite conclusion.

In 1915, there were only a small number of neutral power diplomats in Turkey. World War I was ongoing, and the Ottoman Empire was allied with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Allies. The United States did not enter the war until 1917, so, in 1915, we were a neutral power and our diplomats were still present in Turkey.

Henry Morgenthau was U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The U.S. foreign service officers stationed in the Ottoman Empire -- including such men as Oscar S. Heizer (stationed in Trabzon), Leslie A. Davis (Harput), Edward I. Nathan (Mersina) and Jesse B. Jackson (Aleppo) -- were eyewitnesses to the events making up the genocide, and their contemporaneous reports to Ambassador Morgenthau were forwarded to the Secretary of State and widely reported at the time.

Their reports were confirmed by German and Austro-Hungarian diplomats as well as Christian missionaries. There should be no doubt of their veracity.

There is both a Nebraska and family connection to this history. Edward Nathan was a young lawyer from Philadelphia when he married Anne Nefsky, my grandfather’s sister, in Lincoln in 1907. The same year, he started his 30-year career as a U.S. foreign service officer.

In 1909, my great uncle was ordered to Mersina as a result of Armenian massacres in nearby Adana and served there until 1917, when the U.S. entered the war and our diplomats and their families were evacuated to Switzerland. As a long-serving U.S. diplomat in the Ottoman Empire, Edward Nathan was well schooled in what he witnessed in 1915. His communiques to Ambassador Morgenthau, and those of the other U.S. Consular officials, are housed in the National Archives.

Why does any of this make a difference, and why should the Nebraska Legislature care in its consideration of LB640? This legislation seeks to update Nebraska's multicultural educational curriculum by including studies of genocide. Paraphrasing philosopher George Santayana, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Denial of the Armenian Genocide lets modern Turkey off the hook when an accounting of what was done and who did it is more than 100 years overdue. It emboldens those who would promote denial of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of 6 million Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany in World War II, as well as more recent genocides in places like Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia.

Denial of the Armenian genocide in itself is one of the best arguments for comprehensive and accurate education on what actually happened. In 1939, at the time of his invasion of Poland, Hitler is reported to have said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

We need the answer to be Nebraska’s high school students.

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Robert Nefsky is a Lincoln attorney.



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