On Oct. 30, the Student Government Association Senate at The University of Southern Mississippi passed landmark legislation beseeching USM to recognize the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks in 1915.
According to The New York Times, before World War I there were over 2 million Armenians residing in the Ottoman Empire, or what is now considered Turkey. By 1922, there were less than 400,000 left in the area. Armenians were ordered to turn in any weapons that they owned to the authorities and those Armenians serving in the military were moved into labor battalions where they were either killed intentionally or overworked until they perished.
There were mass executions across the country where the bodies were thrown unceremoniously into mass graves. Men, women and children were forced to participate in death marches across the Syrian desert to concentration camps with many dying along the way of exhaustion, exposure and starvation. Many historians consider this to be genocide, or the systematic extermination of a certain people group.
However, the Turks believe this to be the ugly reality of an even uglier war. They refuse to acknowledge the extermination of the Armenians was systematic and claim that they were fighting against potential threats to the nation, considering the existence of few Armenian guerilla companies that had paired with the Empire’s foe, Russia.
The United States refuses to acknowledge the murders of thousands as a genocide, preferring to retain diplomatic steady ground with the Turks. However, according to the Armenian National Committee of America, 42 individual states currently recognize the label of the event as a “genocide,” condemning the Turks’ actions as heinous war crimes.
Sen. J.D. Rimann introduced the bill to the student legislative body and said he first became interested in the issue when he began to research the Armenian genocide for a class project. “I think (Mississippi) just hasn’t thought about it,” he said. “I don’t think people know
Rimann said that the bill, if passed, will be sent to Mississippi Rep. Toby Barker for consideration in the Mississippi State Legislature, where Rimann hopes that Mississippi will pass the bill as well and become No. 43 on the list of states to recognize
The bill was passed unanimously through Senate without opposition and little debate, with discussion detailing the history of the genocide and more details provided for the senators previously uninformed of
Pending administrative approval, Southern Miss will be the first university in Mississippi to take the initiative and approve a policy that directly addresses political and social issue such as the Armenian genocide.
Robert Faulkner, a senior English licensure major, said he appreciated the Senate’s attempt to bring lesser-known issues to light.
“I think it’s important that USM recognizes important issues like the Armenian genocide,” he said. “I think that (the Senate) has done a great thing by bringing Southern Miss up to speed with the rest of the academic community.”