image of jerusalem 2013

The Armenian Genocide - A Monograph to my father
On 24 April 1915, prominent Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople were rounded up and massacred - A card at the Armenian Museum, Armenian Orthodox Patriachate, Jerusalem

27 March 2002   |   Armenian Issues   |   Subject  The Armenian Geocide

Twin Perceptions

For me, the Armenian genocide is a subject we covered at school a long time ago. It is also something we remember and commemorate every year on April24 th in our different countries.

I went recently to Dzizernagapert [Genocide Memorial in Armenia] and what I could feel was how extremely proud I was of my nation for surviving this gruesome ordeal. But I'm more concerned about the Armenia of today. After the trip, I couldn't stop thinking about Yerevan, and I'm even thinking of getting a little apartment to spend our summer vacations there in the future. D is a travel agent I know, and I've been eating his head off trying to convince him to take groups there - foreigners, mind you, not Armenians.

Talking about the genocide has been getting Armenians some sympathy but actual financial compensation could also be quite useful, don't you think? People are starving there, or so they say, and they seriously need help. Constantly reminding them about their misfortunes and bad luck isn't going to do much for their morale now, is it? So why dwell on this one horrific historical chapter to the exclusion of other equally pressing and contemporary issues?

Individuals, nations, and cultures are the sum total (cumulative effect) of their past experiences. However glorious or painful, it is the experiences of our forebears that are the forming forces that weave the very fabric of our identities.

No individual / generation has the right to wipe the slate clean and start all over again for the sake of expediency in the short term. By the same token we all have the obligation to help each other out, celebrate our values, and pass on our cultural identities - having made our contribution - to future generations. At best we are stewards of our heritage.

We can address questions of the Armenian character, purpose in, and contribution to life by examining ideas that have shaped western thought through the lens of our heritage. We should seek to reinvigorate our society and culture through the transformation and renewal of its leaders. We could do well to remember what Goethe said, 'He who cannot draw on3 , 000years is living hand-to-mouth.'

The two statements represent the perceptions of two Armenians living in the Diaspora. I had asked them both for their reactions to the Armenian genocide, and they shared their insightful thoughts with me on 3 January2002

In fact, the first response is congruent with an article written on 22 April 2001 by the syndicated columnist Eric Margolis. The second one comes closer to those views propounded by Robert Fisk from the Independent on 5 August2000 . Just like my friends, both Fisk and Margolis acknowledge the veracity of the genocide but then diverge somewhat when history gives way to future orientations. Theirs is a diversity of views that forms the sum-total of those realities surrounding us, teaching us, developing us and infusing us with a set of core values and beliefs.

In one sense, those twin perceptions are not only staking a claim to the pages of Armenian history. In their own ways, they are also lending themselves to definitions of national existentialism that are much closer to psychological modes of knowing than to metaphysical ones. Like the Cartesian theories of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and other like-minded philosophers, their perceptions - dissimilar and yet also similar - strive for self-discovery by placing the absolute in human freedom somewhere between the levels of existence and essence.


But let me recap for just one minute! Why did I decide to write a short monograph on the Armenian genocide in time for the eighty-seventh anniversary that falls on 24 April2002 ? Why did I canvass the opinions and experiences of a host of learned men and women in Cyprus, England, Israel, France, Armenia, Poland, Turkey and the USA?

It is my belief that the horrendous events of 11 September 2001 in the USA introduced a sea change in our global perception of world events. Until that fateful date, most countries had attempted to treat the symptoms of conflicts by applying plasters to their more visible manifestations. Ever since, the world democracies have begun addressing the root causes of some of those festering conflicts. Plasters are no longer effective tools of conflict resolution! The world has come to acknowledge a new paradigm whereby injustices cannot simply be wiped away under the carpet in the sanguine hope that they will fade away! Unless they are dealt with conscientiously, those conflicts have a way of re-appearing time and again until their underlying causes are dealt with methodically and equitably.

This global shift encouraged me to address the sad chapter in the narrative of my own people. After all, why should the British government attempt to exclude the Armenian genocide from the commemorative service of Holocaust Memorial Day? Why should those people who are loyal to the ethos of the Jewish Holocaust remain disloyal in equal measure to the ethos of the Armenian genocide? Should reconciliation and forgiveness not be anchored in justice? Do the Armenian massacres not fulfil the legal criterion of genocide under International law? How could I therefore sit back and accept that so many men and women are unable - or even unwilling - to move beyond their own set of truths, prejudices, memories, fears and dissimulation? This monograph represents my response to those questions.

In fact, some two months ago, I watched former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic go on trial at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal facing a total of sixty six counts on three indictments for genocide and crimes against humanity in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In her opening statement, Carla Del Ponte from the ICT prosecution team said that in Milosevic the world ‘saw an almost mediaeval savagery and calculated cruelty that went far beyond the boundaries of legitimate warfare, scenes that the international community was shocked to witness. These were crimes against humanity.’ It is my contention that the legal jurisprudence by which Slobodan Milosevic is tried for genocide in the unforgivable deaths of130 , 000men, women and children should apply in equal measure to the multiple numbers of those victims who were killed during the Armenian genocide.

Mind you, I am writing this monograph not merely as a lawyer or an academic, but also as someone whose own grandparents fled the genocide from different parts of Ottoman Turkey. My maternal grandfather was one such young lad who witnessed five of his relatives being slain before his very own eyes. He himself had a lucky escape and lived in an orphanage before re-establishing himself as a thriving carpet merchant in Jerusalem. My maternal grandmother witnessed a young relative jump into a well during the forced desert march in order to escape further suffering and humiliation. Unfortunately for her, she could not die since the well was already brimming with dead bodies, and she had to climb out of the well and re-join the march where she embraced death a week later.

So you can perhaps begin to understand why I decided to focus for a moment on the mindset of the co-perpetrators of this genocide, as much as on the nationalist emotions that fired up so much venom, violence, carnage and death. A whole people were left bleeding their lives away, and their collective story of suffering, sacrifice and pain needs to be admitted into its proper format. And at no time can this attempt be more appropriate than today when the free world is being urged to rid itself of the terror of hypocrisy.

However, let me also add a word of caution. Those human tragedies that befell my own family - let alone countless other Armenian families too - and impacted inevitably their thinking should not be allowed to hold the future captive forever or to re-define its orientation in perpetuity. Personal, painful and brutal though those tragedies were, they should be dealt with dispassionately, in a sober setting that is devoid of emotional histrionics and facile arguments.

Let me share with you a marking experience I had some two months ago! I had been invited to speak at a major colloquium in France on the topic of the Armenian genocide. As I had anticipated, a few Turkish officials were also sitting in on my presentation. During my whole delivery, they did not jot down one single word. However, once I opened the floor for questions, out came the A 4papers from their briefcases with a set of ‘ready-made’ questions. They were challenging me on the basis of questions they had prepared before hearing me out on my thesis!

I fervently hope that the Armenian genocide can universally be recognised at long last so that it can help liberate the primal scream of so many long years and exorcise the ghosts of the past for Armenians and Turks alike.

Historical Observations

It might surprise quite a few people to discover that Armenians and Turks lived for centuries in relative harmony in the Ottoman Empire. Armenians were known as the 'loyal millet', and although they were not treated as equals by the Turkish establishment, their lives were by and large manageable and decent.

However, this normalcy began to alter when many ethnic groupings became increasingly self-conscious of their political and cultural backgrounds, and when the Ottoman Empire - 'the sick man of Europe' - started to crumble. With other national minorities such as the Greeks and Assyrians vying for - and gaining - independence, Armenians and Turks began having conflictive views about the future. Armenians started calling for independence too, whilst some Turks began to envision a pan-Turkic empire spreading all the way to the Turkic-speaking parts of Central Asia.

In the last decades of the 19th century, the Armenian tendency to look toward Europe antagonised Turkish officials and encouraged their view that Armenians were a foreign and subversive element in the Sultan's realm. In fact, the more European powers asked Turkey for assurances that Armenians get better treatment, the more stringent became the response of the Turkish government. In a twenty-year span, between 1875 and1895 , authoritative estimates put the number of Armenians dead or massacred at anything between150 , 000and300 ,000 dead. There were also some150 , 000forced conversions, as well as some100 ,000 emigrants who were forced to flee their homes and towns.

However, a coup in 1908 by the progressive Young Turks - supported at the time by Armenians - replaced Sultan Abdul Hamid. Unfortunately, the reforms they had promised Armenians never materialised, and the triumvirate of Turkish leaders - Enver, Jamal and Talaat - took the reins of power and began orchestrating their pan-Turkic dream through the conscious eradication of the Armenian identity in Turkey. To achieve their goals, the First World War provided the Young Turks with a fitting pretext. In the early stages of the War in1915 , the Russian armies were advancing on Turkey from the north and the British were attempting an invasion from the Mediterranean. Citing the threat of internal insurrections, and the fact that some Armenians refused to fight against their fellow Armenians on the Russian side of the frontier, the Turkish government ordered large-scale roundups, deportations from many cities and towns and systematic torture and murder of Armenians.

In fact, the Armenian genocide began - much like the Russian and German destruction of Polish society - with the killing of officers. Next, and on the night of 23 April1915 , eight hundred Armenian leaders, writers, ministers and intellectuals were arrested in Constantinople, deported to Anatolia and later killed. In May1915 , after mass deportations had already begun, Talaat Pasha - the Turkish Minister of Internal Affairs - claimed that the Armenians were in a state of imminent rebellion and ordered ex post facto their deportation from the war zones to relocation centres in the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. The date - 24 April 1915 - is thereby etched in the collective memory of Armenians worldwide as the commemorative anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

It is also noteworthy - from the many accounts I have read or heard - how meekly obliging were most of those Armenians being led to their deaths. Those who were being killed had accepted their fate with scant protest and much resignation! Was it perhaps because they did not know where they were being taken to and had bought into the line that 'their' government was relocating them for their own safety? And those who had remained behind - primarily women and children, old and infirm - were force-marched to Der el-Zor desert in northern Syria and left to die along the banks of the Habur River. Thousands of those hapless victims were driven into a complex of subterranean caves under the desert, and the Turks subsequently lit bonfires at the mouths of those caves. The smoke was blown into the caves and those trapped therein were asphyxiated - hence, an account of the world's first gas chambers.

How many Armenian Turks were massacred and ethnically cleansed during this period? It is quite true from different accounts that some Armenians were helped along the way by compassionate individuals - Arabs, Kurds or Turks - but most never survived the march or else died upon their arrival at their 'destinations'. Archaeologists are still digging out some of their skulls today! Estimates are not always the most reliable benchmark, but learned sources today place the numbers between600 , 000to1 . 5million deaths. The Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople estimated the Armenian population in Turkey in early 1914 at2 . 1million. By1917 , toward the end of the war, there were no more than200 , 000Armenians remaining in Turkey. Testimonials, eyewitness accounts or despatches from European or American diplomats apart, my question remains the same for those who deny the genocide. Where did those1 .9 million Armenians living in Turkey before 1915 all disappear to? Surely, numbers recount their own story? It seems quite obvious that more than half the Armenian population perished, and a large number of those who survived or escaped death were forcibly driven from their ancestral homeland by the will of the Turkish government.

Legal Observations

1. Public International Law

Pre-Convention …

It is true that civilian populations have often fallen victim to the brutality of invading armies, bombing raids, lethal substances and other forms of indiscriminate killings. In the Armenian case, however, the government of the Ottoman Empire - dominated by the Committee of Union and Progress or Young Turk Party - turned against a segment of its own population. It is a correct assumption that there were certain accepted laws, norms and customs of war in international law at the time that were aimed in some measure at protecting civilian populations. But they did not cover domestic situations or the treatment by the government of its own people. Only after WWII and the Jewish holocaust was that provision included in the United Nations Genocide Convention.

The Convention …

The definition of 'genocide' in international law is largely reflected in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (commonly referred to as the1948 UNCG). Based on the declaration made by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 96 (I) of 11 December 1946 that genocide is a crime under international law, this Convention was adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December1948 . Its 19 articles specify the rights and responsibilities of the Contracting Parties.

A crucial text is Article II of the Convention that defines the acts that can be qualified as genocide under international law. It states, "In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such (a) killing members of the group, (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

The Etymology …

The term 'genocide' is a fairly recent derivative, and its etymology combines the Greek for group, tribe-genos, with the Latin for killing-cide. In1933 , at a time when neither the extensiveness nor character of the barbarous practices subsequently carried out under the auspices of the Third Reich could have been foreseen, the Polish-born Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin submitted to the International Conference for Unification of Criminal Law a proposal to declare a crime under international law any destruction of racial, religious or social groups. In 1944, he published a monograph - Axis Rule in Occupied Europe - in which he detailed the exterminatory practices and policies pursued by the Third Reich and its allies. He went on to argue the case for the international regulation of the 'practice of extermination of nations and ethnic groups', a practice that he referred to now as genocide. Lemkin was also instrumental in lobbying UN officials and representatives to secure the passage of a resolution by the General Assembly affirming that 'genocide is a crime under international law which the civilised world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices are punishable'. The matter was referred to the UN Economic and Social Council, and culminated in the signing of the Convention in1948 .

Exclusions & Weaknesses …

However, there remain considerable disagreements among legal experts regarding the deficiencies of this legal instrument. Such disagreements address themselves as much to the definition of the groups that are covered under this convention as to whether a specific set of acts merits the designation of 'genocide'. This is due to many reasons, not least the critical applicability in the article of 'intent to destroy' that can either be 'in whole or in part'. Many groups (that are not destroyed, but have their sizes radically curtailed) could fall out of the ambit of the definition of the UNCG. Similarly, those that have survived physically but have had their cultural distinctiveness expunged by such acts could also fall foul of the 1948 UNCG. For instance, policies implemented during the Third Reich against Jewish, Roma and Sinti groups qualify as genocide since they show a clear intent to destroy [them]. Conversely, instances of forced sterilisation in India in the1960 's and1970 's let alone continuing restrictions in China would not constitute genocide since there is an intention to restrict the size of a particular group but not to destroy it.

The weaknesses of this Convention arise from two basic premises. As with many other documents, this legal instrument was the outcome of lengthy negotiations between parties with different viewpoints. It therefore resulted in compromise and concomitant flux. Further, the typology that Lemkin - and the draftees of the Convention - had in mind was the destruction of European Jewry. Precisely because this particular genocide was so central to the genesis of the UNCG, its application to other religious, national, ethnic or racial groups became problematic. It is quite clear that the programmes devised by the Nazi regime for the Final Solution [of the Jewish Question] lie at the extreme of any continuum of types of mass violence. As such, this 'model' exhibits both similarities and differences with other 'genocides'. Those include the Armenian pogroms, the Ukrainian famine in the1930 's, the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia from 1975 to1978 , the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda in1994 , or even the destruction of the Tibetan culture by China. Therefore, its correlation with other cases becomes less easy.

The Context …

The Armenian genocide of 1915constitutes one of the most abhorrent crimes against humanity. However, I must also add that this genocide happened alongside other equally heinous crimes against humanity. Those ranged from the deportation of Caucasian Muslims during the period from 1827 to 1878 to the Jewish Holocaust during WWII. However, another episode that the world community has forgetfully confined to the dusty annals of history has been Stalin's Red holocaust in Eastern Europe in the1930 ’s and1940 ’s against Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Tatars, Volga Germans, Kazaks, ethnic Germans of East Europe and the Baltic people.

Popular Definition …

It therefore becomes quite thorny from a legal perspective to apply a lay definition to 'genocide' that would ordinarily be understood as 'the government murder of people because of their indelible ethnic membership'.

2. Post-War Treaties

The defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its allies came about in1918 . At the Paris Peace Conference of25 June1919 , it was declared that Turkey had officially accepted guilt for the Armenian massacres. Subsequently, the Turkish government held criminal trials and found the triumvirate guilty in absentia. On 17 October1919 , the Supreme Council of the Allies, at the San Remo Conference, proposed that the USA accept a mandate over Armenia.

In fact, the first peace agreement with Turkey was the Treaty of Sèvres that was signed on 10 August 1920. In addition to the provisions dealing with violations of the laws and customs of war {articles226 - 228corresponding to articles228 - 230of the Treaty of Versailles}, the treaty contained a specific number of provisions relating to Armenia. Article 88 of the treaty recognised Armenia as a free and independent state. Article 89 stipulated that the borders between Turkey and the newly-born Armenia in the vilayets [provinces] of Erzerum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis be determined by US President Woodrow Wilson - hence the 'Wilsonian Armenia' plan in accordance with a commission that set the boundaries of Armenia and gave it access to the Black Sea. According to the agreement, Turkey also accepted its responsibility for crimes against Armenians during the War, and undertook an obligation to compensate for the losses sustained by them. In accordance with Article230 , the Turkish government further undertook to hand over to the Allied Powers the persons responsible for the massacres committed on Turkish territory during the war.

The provisions of Article 230of the Treaty of Sèvres were obviously intended to cover offences that had been committed on Turkish territory against persons of Turkish citizenship - albeit of Armenian or Greek ethnicity. It is my stipulation that this article constitutes a precedent for Articles6 c and5 c of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters, offering an example of one category of 'crimes against humanity' as interpreted by its provisions.

The Treaty of Sèvres, however, was never ratified, and did not come into force. A new peace agreement, the Treaty of Lausanne, superseded it and was signed between the great Powers and the new republic of Turkey on 24 July1923 . This substitute treaty did not contain any provisions about Armenia or the punishment of war crimes. Appended to it was a 'Declaration of Amnesty' for all offences committed between 1 August 1914 and 20November1922 .

Reflecting the chilling actuality of realpolitik, Sir Winston Churchill wrote, "In the Treaty of Lausanne, which re-establishes peace between Turkey and its Allies, history will search in vain for the word Armenia."

Political & Psychological Observations

Milan Kundera, the exiled Czech novelist who now lives in Paris, has written that 'the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.' This single remark, in my view, sums up the human predicament today and puts the onus of responsibility on scholars and writers. National catastrophes can be survived if (and perhaps only if) those to whom disaster happens can recover through knowing the truth of their suffering. Great powers, on the other hand, would vanquish not only the peoples they subjugate but also the cultural mechanisms that would sustain vital memory of historical crimes.

When modern states make way for geopolitical power plays, they are not above deleting everything - nations, cultures, and homelands - in their paths. Great powers regularly demolish other peoples' claims to dignity, time and space. Sometimes, the outcome is genocide. In an epistemological sense, Kundera is correct in assuming that a cardinal part of the engagement against historical crimes is the struggle of memory against oblivion.

Although the successor Turkish government helped to institute trials of a few of those responsible for the pogroms at which they were found guilty, the present official Turkish contention was that genocide did not take place despite the many casualties and dispersals in the war. It further claimed that all evidence to the contrary was forged, and that as many Turks as Armenians died during this gruesome period. To my mind, this denial is a pernicious and sorry attempt at fudging the facts that genocide was perpetrated with malice aforethought. An incisive analysis by Professor Dominic Lieven of the London School of Economics attributes the disintegration of Turkey to the inability of Ottoman rulers to strike a balance between traditional imperialism and the xenophobic nationalism of the Young Turks. He later describes the Armenian genocide as ‘incomparable in its scale and horror’, and traces the Turkish denial to the dread of losing their sole remaining Anatolian homeland.

The UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, part of the UN Economic and Social Council Commission on Human Rights, referred to the genocide in its Report of 2 July1985 . The Report stated that 'at least 1 million, and possibly well over half the Armenian population, are reliably estimated to have been killed or death marched by independent authorities and eyewitnesses. This is corroborated by reports in US, German and British archives and of contemporary diplomats in the Ottoman Empire, including those of its German ally.'

However, it is also my contention that understanding the Armenian genocide helps appreciate the Jewish holocaust. Although both tragedies have their distinguishing features, they also exhibit striking parallels. These include the perpetration of genocide under the cover of a major international conflict, conception of a plan by a monolithic and xenophobic group in power, espousal of an ideology giving justification to racism and intolerance, formation of extra-judicial forces to execute the plan, provocation of public hostility toward the victim group and certainty of the vulnerability of the target groups. This is why I am rather bemused let alone disappointed that someone with such a prominent stature as Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted last year in the Ankara [Turkish] newspaper as saying, 'We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what Armenians went through but not a genocide.' Although his denial flew in the teeth of the truth, it curried nonetheless immense favour with his Turkish hosts.

However, the rejoinder came from no less a person than Professor Israel Charny, Executive Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Genocide. Professor Charny said in his letter addressed to MK Shimon Peres on 12 April2001 , 'It seems that because of your wish to advance very important relations with Turkey, you have been prepared to circumvent the subject of the Armenian Genocide of1915 -1920.' He added, 'For the record, in 2000, at a Conference on the Holocaust in Philadelphia, a large number of researchers of the Holocaust, including Israeli historians, signed a public declaration that the Armenian Genocide was factual.' Professor Charny's letter concluded, 'Even as I disagree with you, it may be that in your broad perspective of the needs of the State of Israel, it is your obligation to circumvent and desist from bringing up the subject with Turkey. But as a Jew and an Israeli, I am ashamed of the extent to which you have now entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian Genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust.'

On another level, Robert Fisk is an investigative journalist who has covered Armenian issues over many years. He considers it unacceptable that the evidence of European commissions into the massacres, the eyewitness accounts of Western journalists at the slaughter of Armenians as well as the denunciations of Morgenthau, Churchill and other politicians can be dismissed as sheer misinformation. He cites Smyrna, the present-day holiday resort of Izmir, as one example where sunbathers today have no idea of the bloodbath that took place around their beaches.

But this deliberate 'sublimation' of the Armenian genocide by some forces - in the form of those denying the truth, apologising for its occurrence or justifying its perpetration - is not due to a dearth of historical reasons. It is a result of political considerations, vested interests and military expediencies that debar its acknowledgement. This is why some countries - including the USA, the UK and Germany - have been averse to riding into a political storm by antagonising Turkey with recognition of the genocide. Every acknowledgement of the genocide by one country or another has resulted in Turkish outrages and threats that have been self-inculpating at best and perverted at worst.

However, it equally concerns me when certain historians or politicians try to 'downgrade' the Armenian genocide in order to 'upgrade' the Jewish holocaust. Norman Finklestein, in his angry book on the 'Holocaust industry', says that the Jewish experience - both his parents were extermination camp survivors - should not be allowed to reduct the genocide committed against other ethnic groups in modern history. Indeed, it is worrisome that some parties have painstakingly shaped a theology of the Jewish holocaust that is exclusive of all other tragedies. It is undeniable that the appalling barbarities of the Jewish holocaust are beyond description - let alone contemplation. But to think of this holocaust in terms of a capital H because of the six million deaths, and then hardly grant the genocide recognition let alone quibble over whether it merits a capital G, underrates the values that have made Judaism and Christianity compassionate religions. It also sullies with humbug the premise upon which politicians ought to base their decisions. It gives to Caesar what is irredeemably to God - and vice versa! To my mind, that is spurious if not also deplorable.

Let me quote Lord Kinross, author of several publications on the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, as he described the method by which the organisers of the massacres exploited religious sentiment. He writes about the early massacres:

'Their tactics were based on the Sultan's principle of kindling religious fanaticism among the Muslim population. Abdul Hamid briefed agents, whom he sent to Armenia with specific instructions as to how they should act. It became their normal routine first to assemble the Moslem population in the largest mosque in a town, then to declare, in the name of the Sultan, that the Armenians were in general revolt with the aim of striking at Islam. Their Sultan enjoined them as good Moslems to defend their faith against infidel rebels … Each operation, between the bugle calls, followed a similar pattern. First into a town there came the Turkish troops, for the purpose of massacres; then came the Kurdish irregulars and tribesmen for the purpose of plunder. Finally came the holocaust, by fire and destruction, which spread with the pursuit of fugitives and mopping-up operations, throughout the lands and villages of the surrounding province. This murderous winter thus saw the decimation of much of the Armenian population and the devastation of their property in some 20 districts of eastern Turkey.'

This evocative account of the massacres that took place at the time, and the seditious psychology that manipulated them, are reminiscent as much of Otto von Bismarck's policy of divide et impera towards Austria in the 1800's. They are also reminiscent of the terrorist methods employed by some governments or individuals today. But the democracies of the world can deflect some accusations of double-talk or inconsistency by applying the same value judgements and standards over past miscarriages of justice that they are seemingly applying over the more recent ones. With the West having taken the high moral ground by waging an open-ended war against such injustices, is it not reasonable to assume that what applies to the goose today will have surely applied to the gander yesterday?

Indeed, international affirmation of the Armenian genocide is steadily growing within the executive, legislative and local assemblies and organs of many countries - including inter alia France, the Holy See, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Cyprus, Russia, Canada, the USA, Argentina, Uruguay or Lebanon. Moreover, a landmark vote by the European Parliament on 28 February 2002also called out for a ‘humane act of moral rehabilitation towards the Armenians’. It reaffirmed [by a majority vote of 391 against 96 with15 abstentions] its opinion of 18 July 1987 that Turkey must recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915 before it can join the European Union. Furthermore, there is a bipartisan campaign in the USA encouraging the House of Representatives to sign a letter asking President Bush to appropriately acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Launched by the Congressional Caucus on Armenia on 5 March 2001 with 33 signatures, it now enjoys the ever-growing backing of over 100 Representatives.

It is my contention that the equivalent mindset and comparable action of those elements of mens rea and actus reus in criminal law are also active in the events that unfurled against Armenians over many years in Turkey. Indeed, the adoption of executive or legislative measures recognising the Armenian genocide by various countries does not only carry historical, political or psychological weight. It also carries legal weight since those affirmations incorporate themselves gradually into international custom as one of the three primary sources of International law.


The Armenian people hold the dubious and grim distinction of being the first victims of genocide in the20 th century. They suffered a heinous crime brought about by a malignant combination of totalitarian brutality, evil ideology and religious as well as racist hatred. But how can its after-effects be syncopated in the hearts of Armenians today?

What remains an indispensable Armenian sine qua non for the healing and reconciliation processes to work is an unadulterated recognition by Turkey of this genocide. Such recognition would then facilitate the putting in place of appropriate, mutually acceptable and workable mechanisms for the rehabilitation, restitution or compensation of the survivors of those who lost their lives and livelihoods during this gruesome ordeal.

Turkish policy-makers carry a huge redemptive responsibility. How does the Turkey of today relate to that of the late1800 's or early1900 's? The Ataturkist regime must apologise for the excesses of the past, extrude the atrocities perpetrated by its predecessor regime 87 years ago and then establish itself as a peaceful neighbour of Armenia within the comity of nations. Whether Turkey views itself as a new secular and post-Islamic system of governance, or whether it projects itself as the heir to the Ottoman regime, there are issues of State Responsibility arising from International law that trigger a series of secondary legal obligations. The International Law Commission 1949 deals in its draft articles with elements ranging from wrongful acts or conduct to the regime of reparations and sanctions.

Notwithstanding, I strongly believe that one key factor for the Turkish resistance to accept their incontrovertible responsibility for the Armenian genocide is a fear that such recognition could well result in legal claims and class-action lawsuits for financial compensation by those Armenian survivors of the genocide, their heirs or families. After all, a legal precedent has already been set with the victims / survivors of the Jewish holocaust. [The Jewish Claims Conference has also been working since 1951 on compensation and restitution issues.] And incidentally, what I am suggesting here is no less and no more than what was envisaged by the Treaty of Sèvres - had its provisions been applied rather than being replaced by another agreement that left those issues pendente lite or unresolved.

It is natural that Armenians should not forget or devalue the significance of the genocide in the history of their own lives. However, they should also remember that a new and independent Armenia has come into being again, and that they should assist in the rebuilding of this1700 -year-old Christian nation whose infrastructure remains much in shambles today. It is therefore incumbent upon Armenians to configure their strategy toward the genocide in conjunction with the foreign policy interests of the Republic itself. The two constituent wings of the Armenian nation - those in Armenia and those in the Diaspora – should cohere into a oneness that flaps together for the larger good.

It remains my opinion today that no Armenian could idly sit back and promote their identity or interpret their ethos solely through the exclusive lens of the genocide. Armenians have to act proactively for their national interest, and acting for the future today goes hand in hand with working for the past. In the words of the Italian humanist and writer Count Giovanni Picco della Mirandola, 'the past should marry with the future in the present'. I tend to believe it is important to commemorate the genocide and seek worldwide recognition for it without necessarily jeopardising the national interests of Armenia as a ten-year young independent republic. After all, the paramount strength of any people lies in its sense of solidarity and cohesion as much as in its institutions, parties or structures.

Let me conclude by quoting a reminder from a classic statement of Athenian ideology! It is from the Funeral Oration delivered by Pericles elegising those Hellenes who had died in battle. Eloquent about the threats to ancient Athens at the height of its power, he perorated, 'What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies is our own mistakes'.

I hope that we Armenians do not recycle our misapprehensions in the belief that they are good strategies, and that our different perspectives of order, power and freedom do not impede the re-construction of our one national identity.

As an Armenian, I am willing to do more than my fair share of soul-searching in quest of the truth. Is Turkey today willing to do at least its fair share of truthful soul-searching too? After all, the process of reconciliation does not start in Yerevan, Beirut and California as much as it does in Ankara - and very much more so!

And whoso degrades His dignity in the creature, degrades the Creator in his victim! - Franz Werfel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh


  • 800.000 Armenian deportees were actually killed … by holding the guilty accountable, the government is intent on cleansing the bloody past. - Kemal Pasha, in March1915
  • Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention. - Talaat Pasha to the German Ambassador, in June1915
  • The [Turkish] government is indeed pursuing its goal of exterminating the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire - Wangenheim, German Ambassador, on 7 July1915
  • The massacres are the result of a policy which, as far as can be ascertained, has been entertained for some considerable time by the gang of unscrupulous adventurers who are now in possession of the Government of the Turkish Empire. They hesitated to put it in practice until they thought the favourable moment had come, and that moment seems to have arrived about the month of April1915 . - British Viscount James Bryce, on 6 October1915
  • The Ottoman Empire should be cleaned up of the Armenians and the Lebanese. We have destroyed the former by the sword; we shall destroy the latter through starvation. - Enver Pasha, on 19 May1916
  • In its attempt to carry out its purpose to resolve the Armenian question by the destruction of the Armenian race, the Turkish government has refused to be deterred neither by our representations, nor by those of the American Embassy, nor by the delegate of the Pope, nor by the threats of the Allied Powers, nor in deference to the public opinion of the West representing one-half of the world. - Count Wolff-Metternich, German Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, on 10 July1916
  • … The Armenian massacre was the greatest crime of the war, and the failure to act against Turkey is to condone it … the failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense. - Theodore Roosevelt, on 11 May1918
  • Surely a few Armenians aided and abetted our enemy, and a few Armenian Deputies committed crimes against the Turkish nation … It is incumbent upon a government to pursue the guilty ones. Unfortunately, our wartime leaders, imbued with a spirit of brigandage, carried out the law of deportation in a manner that could surpass the proclivities of the most bloodthirsty bandits. They decided to exterminate the Armenians, and they did exterminate them. - Mustafa Arif, Minister of Interior, on 13 December1918
  • What on earth do you want? The question is settled. There are no more Armenians. - Talaat Pasha to the German Ambassador in1918
  • When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact … I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in1915 . - Henry Morgenthau, Sr, US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in1919
  • Mutilation, violation, torture and death have left their haunting memories in a hundred beautiful Armenian valleys, and the traveller in that region is seldom free from the evidence of this most colossal crime of all ages. - US General James G Harbord, in1919
  • These leftovers from the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule. - Mustapha Ataturk Kemal, founder of modern-day Turkey, on 1 August1926
  • Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? - Adolph Hitler, August1939
  • The association of Mount Ararat and Noah, the staunch Christians who were massacred periodically by the Mohammedan Turks, and the Sunday School collections over fifty years for alleviating their miseries – all cumulate to impress the name Armenian on the front of the American mind. - Herbert Hoover Memoirs, in 1952
  • Mr Speaker, with mixed emotions we mark the50 th anniversary of the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people. In taking notice of the shocking events of1915 , we observe this anniversary with sorrow in recalling the massacres of Armenians and with pride in saluting those brave patriots who survived to fight on the side of freedom during WWI. - Gerald Ford, in April1965
  • It is generally not known in the world that, in the years preceding1916 , there was a concerted effort made to eliminate all the Armenian people, probably one of the greatest tragedies that ever befell any group. And there weren’t any Nuremberg trials. - Jimmy Carter, on 16 May1976
  • Like the genocide of the Armenians before it … the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten. - Ronald Reagan, on 22 April 1981
  • [We join] Armenians around the world [as we remember] the terrible massacres suffered in1915 - 1923at the hands of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire. The United States responded to this crime against humanity by leading diplomatic and private relief efforts. - George Bush, Sr, on 20 April 1990
  • It was not war. It was most certainly massacre and genocide, something the world must remember … We will always reject any attempt to erase its record, even for some political advantage. - Yossi Beilin, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, on 27 April1994

Suggested Readings

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge - Stephen Hawking

  • Artinian H (2001). The Godless and the Infidels. Writers Club Press
  • Ataov T (1984). A Brief Glance at the ‘Armenian Question’. Ankara, University Press
  • Auron Y (2001). The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide. Transaction Publishers
  • Bedoukian, K (1978). Some of us Survived. Farrar Straus Giroux, NY
  • Boyanian, D (1972). Armenia: The case for a forgotten genocide. Westwood, NJ – Educational Book Crafters
  • Bryce J & Toynbee A. (1916). The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire,1915 -1916. London, HMSO
  • Chaliand G & Ternon Y (1980). Genocide des Armeniens. Brussels, Complexe
  • Dadrian, V. The History of the Armenian Genocide. Berghahn Books
  • Dadrian, V. German Responsibility in the Armenian Genocide. Blue Crane Books
  • Dadrian, V. Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review. Vol2 , Israel Charny, ed.
  • Goekjian, V (1984). The Turks before the Court of History. Rosekeer Press, NJ
  • Graber, G (1996). Caravans to oblivion: The Armenian Genocide. New York – John Wiley and Sons
  • Hovannisian, R (1980). The Armenian Holocaust: A bibliography relating to the deportations, massacres and dispersion of the Armenian people, 1915-1923. Cambridge, Mass – Armenian Heritage Press
  • Hovannisian, R (Ed) (1991). The Armenian genocide in perspective. New Brunswick, NJ – Transaction Publishers
  • Housepian-Dobkin, M. Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City. Newmark Press, NY
  • Lepsius J (1921). Deutschland und Armenien. Postdam & Fayard (French edition)
  • Morgenthau H (1918). Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. (New York, Doubleday)
  • Simsir B & others (1984). Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul, Bogazici University Press
  • Werfel, F (1933). The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Carroll & Graf Publishers

Suggested Web-Sites with Hyperlinks

Map of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Empire

Based on maps prepared by Z Khanzadian for the Armenian National Delegation and Raymond H Kevorkian and Eric Van Lauve for the Bibliothèque Noubar

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   Armenian Issues   |   27 March 2002


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: