Why does it take so long to say that we are sorry? To acknowledge wrong doing and ask for pardon? Why do whole societies refused to acknowledge their past injustices and thereby turn them into present evils? Why do onlookers stand by, becoming complicit by their silence and inaction? Why are we more afraid of the loss of money, influence, and political good will than we are for the cancer of cowardice that grows inside when we stand by in silence?
I just attended an important event at the Armenian Genocide memorial at Fresno State. It was very moving to me. My eyes were filled with tears. I am sad to say that before moving to Fresno in 2009 I hadn’t even heard of this event. But many Armenian friends have shared the history and even personal accounts from their families. Oddly enough, I had tears in part because of the great injustice, but they were also tears of joy because an evangelical Turkish pastor had come to continue a process of reconciliation and healing. Even though others would not acknowledge the genocide, he was there to acknowledge, apologize, and seek reconciliation among brothers in Christ. It was a beautiful event. It was a miracle a century in the making.
This year is the 100th anniversary of this great evil, and still the government of Turkey and many others refuse to acknowledge that it even happened, let alone to apologize. My own president and government have refused to make a simple statement using that “G” word. And it is strange because the U.S. Doesn’t even need to apologize as the perpetrators of what happened in 1915. We don’t need to acknowledge that WE did it. We just need to acknowledge that someone else did a great crime. But so far, we won’t. But I am hopeful that this will change.
When we refuse to call evil exactly what it is, we give it power. Others may be emboldened to repeat similar acts with a sense of impunity. It was only 24 years after the great outbreak of the genocide in 1915 that Hitler acknowledged it, but in a sinister way. He said, “who, after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians.” He was posturing for the annihilation of the Jews, and he viewed this as the trial run. The worldwide silence on this issue, the failure of other nations to intervene or even “remember” what happened while the events were still fresh in memory had implications. It inspired Hitler. It made him feel that he could not only repeat these acts, but that he could get away with it. He interpreted the silence and concluded hat this group of people were so despised that the world would be better off for their destruction. Such are the depraved justifications of mad men.
But why would it take so long for a nation like ours, one so entangled in its own quest for social justice, to even call this event what it is?
There are many answers, but none of them will can bear the weight of our silence. What does matter is that now we have become part of the problem, we have refused to leave the great stream of indifference that flows through history. Even while we pat ourselves on the back for our moral progress. Now, even though we weren’t the perpetrators we need to apologize for failing to act, and failing to offer the simple gesture of words. We must ask forgiveness for our unwillingness to pay the price for speaking the truth. And we must acknowledge that it took us far too long to do it.