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Daron Malakian Interview with Van Armenya of VanSystems

by Daron Malakian — musician, activist. 2003.

Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2003 at 02:27 PM UT

For our viewers who don't know what exactly is the Armenian Genocide, please briefly explain what it is?

The genocide began in the 1890's or perhaps even centuries earlier, when the first Turks swept into Armenia from the Steppes of Asia, destroying cities, stealing women, and vandalizing churches and buildings to mind-boggling degrees. Genocide-like policies are able to be traced back hundreds of years: janissaries, harem abductions, village-by-village Islamization.

The main crime (1915-1923) is in fact millions of crimes rolled into two words.  In the words of the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey in 1915, Henry Morgenthau, it was "race murder."  Girls, merchants, priests, lawyers, doctors, farmers, women, boys, old didn't matter who or what you were.  The crimes include today’s denial and the confiscations of homes and farm, abductions, humiliation, homicides, suicides, maiming, drowning, and brutal killings of many decades ago. 

All 5 million Christians (mainly Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians) were brutally killed or at least forced to march into deserts to die of starvation or become penniless refugees in friendlier Arab nations to the far south from 1893 to 1923.  The massive territory of the subcontinent known as Asia Minor was "cleaned" like a chicken bone. 

Armenia has been removed from Turkish books.  A token Christian community in Turkey and small communities of forcibly Islamized-Armenians (especially along the Black Sea) persist to this day.

Why do you suppose that few people know about the genocide today?

Has a survey been done?  Is it really that “unknown?” Many people do know about the forgotten genocide, thanks to System of a Down! Seriously, though, there are many factors that – if I can read between your lines – have made the Jewish Holocaust common knowledge and the Armenian Genocide a secret.

Think about this.  If a serial killer is the governor or mayor and controls the press, police and army, the murderer gets to write history his way.  Turkey has worked hard behind the scenes intimidating and threatening publishers and editors to always pay attention to the "other side of the story."  You might say that acceptance of denial is the final phase of genocide, the nail in the coffin of the nation killed, a nail purchased and a hammer held by the conqueror people, but in fact the tide is turning thanks to the internet.  Turkish denial is failing.  Even high school students are studying Turkish denial. 

It has taken Armenians a century to recover from the genocide and the after-effects of centuries of living in a backward Turkish society, isolated from Europe and the West.

Nowadays, most people learn about history from school, from television, from newspapers and from conversations. The Armenian Genocide is not taught in most elementary schools, it is rarely if ever mentioned on television,  it seems almost to be "avoided" in newspaper editorials and never seems to be used in television conversations. 

The genocide was at its peak in 1915, just about 20 years before the greatest mass-killing of millions of Jews, Poles and Serbs, Gypsies and homosexuals – “the Holocaust” -- started.  The Armenians don't have that famous motion picture of a bulldozer moving hundreds of bodies, so there is a greater reliance on the written history. People nowadays want easy schools and despise history. The survivors of the Holocaust outnumber the Armenians and are more effective at getting their story across, on television or in newspapers (like page 3).  Look, Hitler and Nazi means alot to people, but Talaat Pasha or Sultan Abdul Hamid 2 does not.  For what its worth, most people still have a notion that the Turks have a past that includes mass killings.  But is just below the radar screen for most of the planet.  For example, did you know the word “Holocaust” was used to describe what was happening to the Armenian people years before the rise of Hitler?

I myself am Armenian-American and had many of family members killed during the genocide and also have relatives who survived the violence and brutality of the genocide, do you have any relatives who were affected by the Armenian Genocide and if so please tell us what happened to them?

Yes, and here are the headlines:

MARY, my Paternal Grandmother — Survivor — From Tekir Dagh, Turkey. 100% of family murdered — father and brother (watchmakers) beheaded in front of her in Deir Zor.  Dies in Iraq at a very young age. Miserable life.

SEEROON, my Maternal Grandmother—From Van, Armenia. Orphaned.  Sister (age 12) to Turkish harem. Another sister to orphanage in Armenia.  100% of family from 1915 otherwise dead or missing.  Brother Aristages, 8, thrown into shredder,  her grandfather Krikor Kaya (a mayor or alderman), shot dead by Turkish officials. Unhappy, angry all of life. Dies in USA.

JACOP, my Maternal Grandfather — From Van, Armenia: just he and mother survive. Cousin stolen by Kurds, made Muslim.  100% of family dead or missing.  Infant sister, (named Hrispime) died of heat stroke on the deportation death march, other sister (Shushan) died of dysentery. He dies in USA. Difficult life.

SIMON, my Paternal Grandfather — From Bursa, Turkey — sister (age 10) stolen by Turks and sold to Sheik. Other than another sister who fled to Bulgaria, 100% dead. He survived the desert of Deir Zor.  He dies in Iraq at a very young age.  Miserable life.

Why do you think the Turks lie and say the killings were a consequence of the civil war within a world war and there was no government policy to wipe out the Armenians.  Why to this day do they deny they committed genocide?

I sometimes wonder what Nazi Holocaust denial would sound like if Germany had won World War II.  Same as Neo-Nazi denial, or more sophisticated?

Armenians in the lands controlled by Ottoman Turkey gave virtually their entire male population for the army of the Turks.  All the grains and food reserves, and a big part of the gold and silver of the Armenians was devoted to the “Ottoman” war effort.  The Turks used the Armenian men to dig ditches, and subsequently (in 1915) murdered them.  The murder of the Armenian male population and the subsequent forced deportation of their wives, sisters, parents and children into deserts resulted in death tolls (1915-1923) that are difficult to comprehend, given the limited capacity of the human brain. 

Civil war? Nothing could be further from the truth. It was genocide.  Period.

The Armenian tree was uprooted and thrown in a desert sandstorm.  It is quite ingenious on the part of the Turkish apologists -- in a sinister way.  To use the word "civil war," after all conjures up images of two parties more or less equally armed and engaged in conflict.  The Jews and Germans were not engaged in civil war in World War II.

It was absolutely genocide, with a few heroic acts of self-defense, but absolutely, positively not civil war!  Not even close. The presence of Armenians in the Russian army, by the way, which fought the Turks, is no reason to murder Ottoman Armenians.  After all, Tatars (Turks) also fought for the Russians against the "Ottoman Turkish army," too. 

Armenians fought for Iraq and also for Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, but their respective populations in those two mostly Muslim nations were not targeted for genocide.

After 1914, the fact that Russian Armenians fought soldiers with zeal and bravery against Turkish soldiers during World War I, is understandable, but cannot exonerate the Turks for having committed genocide against ‘Ottoman’ Christian unarmed civilians.  Deaths of Ottoman soldiers (300,000 – less than 3% of the population) should not be compared to the deaths of unarmed Armenian civilians targeted for destruction and killed (1.5 million out of 2.3 million, nearly 3/4ths of the population!) and their subsequent permanent removal from their ancestral homelands.

Turkey obviously has something to hide, and that is why they deny.

Have the Turks committed crimes of humanity against other countries too?

These 1915 Christians were mostly Armenians, but also Assyrian and Pontic and Ionian Greek Christians living on their ancestral homelands of Asia Minor, or today's "Turkey." Assyrians, Nestorians, Chaldeans, Jacobites and other "Semitic Christians" are considered the "same people" by some who refer to them as Assyrians or Neo-Chaldeans.  I like to call them Semitic Christians, and include some Arabic and Turkish speaking Christians in that group.  More or less between 1893 and 1923, 800,000 square kilometers (of Turkish-claimed land) was "ethnically cleansed," eliminating thousands of ancient villages of Armenians, Assyrian and Greek Christians living on their ancient homeland.

Turkey succeeds in obliterating the Kurdish culture: teaching Kurdish, despite reports to the contrary, is still a crime in Turkey.  There is no freedom to teach Kurdish as their is freedom to, say, teach Spanish or a Native American tongue in the USA. Most Kurds are forced to communicate in Turkish as their main tongue.

Do you feel Turkey will in the near future admit that they committed genocide against the Armenians and apology for what they did?

Only if they can get away with the fruits of genocide. They fear justice, and seek to keep Armenian lands, Armenian architecture, and deny the contributions of Armenians to their landscape, language, culture and gene pool.   Even the Turkish alphabet was prepared by an Armenian, Hagop Dilachar. They do not want to admit any of this.  99.9% Muslim Turkey is deep in denial about the Christian and Armenian origins of the core of its cultural, architectural and genetic corpus.

They want this issue to die.

We must also remember, 300,000 Armenians were slaughtered in the 1890’s under the direct order of Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid 2, whose mother was an abducted Armenian “harem girl.”  Another 500,000 were made homeless.  Thousands of orphans and lamenting Armenians fled to Russian Armenia with a grudge against Turkey.

30,000 Armenians were burned alive in Turkey’s shocking attack on the Turkish Armenian city of Adana, in 1909.  That was the year of transition between the Sultan and the increasingly nationalistic Young Turkish leadership.

What is missing is any sort of acknowledgement or a “we are sorry.” What is your opinion on Armenian-Turkish relations today? What type of activity is there?

There should be no relations unless Turkey admits to the Armenian Genocide and negotiates reparations. Turkey is guilty of genocide.  That is a massive, mind-boggling crime they have gotten away with. Turkey is deep in denial, and denial is a continuation of the genocide.  There is no crime known to mankind bigger than genocide.

The United States has not signed a bill for resolution of the Genocide, in your opinion why haven’t they done so yet? Do you see the US passing this bill in the near future?

Turkey is guilty of genocide.  A resolution would be nice. France and other nations have already officially recognized the greatest targeting and mass killing of Christians in world history.  Turkey in October of 2000 asked the American Jewish lobby to tell President Clinton to call Senator Dennis Hastert and have the resolution (5 minutes from a vote) to be shelved for the year.  It worked.  Armenians were upset with the Jewish lobby.

When did you first hear about System of a Down? Were you surprised the band is all of Armenian descent?

I had read about them in an Armenian newspaper written in English.  I tried their website, but the music was warped due to an internet problem.  I gave up and moved on. Then one day they entered my television set when I was flipping through the channels.  I saw their CHOP SUEY! video on MTV, and immediately went to the record store to buy their album.  I was impressed with their masculinity, artistry and power.

What kind of an impact do you feel System of a Down is making on society in regards to the Armenian Genocide awareness?

Huge.  High School students are now writing papers on the Armenian Genocide, thanks to System of a Down’s website. One day I worked as a substitute teacher and saw a student with a “TOXICITY” black t-shirt.  Another student asked me what nationality I was. I said, “same as System of a Down.” “I knew it,” one of them howled. I have other stories.  Once a college student asked me if I was related to them. They have educated literally millions about the Armenian Genocide.  I think knowledge of Armenian history is key to increasing one’s appreciation for their music and lyrics.

What are your feelings on the movie  “Ararat?”

If you handle it the right way, not squeeze too hard or rush too quickly to judge it, it is the best movie of all time, and the most generous, thought-provoking film of all time.  It is still paying dividends, upsetting me, and generating energy in me to do better.  It is a pomegranate, full of seeds and thus ignored by most apple and orange-loving Americans.

Van Armenya
of VanSystems
Webmaster at and

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