The irony about the Armenian Genocide is that there is no dispute over the fact that a large number of the Armenian community within the Ottoman Empire were killed, died, defiled, or deported in 1915.
It is a matter of history that in the late 19th Century that several hundred thousand Armenians had been subject to Massacre at the hands of Sultan Hamid, of the Ottoman Empire – referred to as the Hamidian massacres. At this time, as the Ottoman Empire was beginning to wane, the sizeable Armenian community was establishing a nationalistic agenda, and was striving to end discrimination, to have the right to vote and to create a constitutional government. For an Empire that was nearing its end, and which was focussed on a pan-Islamic ideology, the rise in strength of a Christian community within its borders, was a danger and a threat. The fact that the attempts to suppress the Armenian dissidents, only, spread to a sizeable proportion of the Armenian population resulting in the massacres, should have been no great surprise. A headline in the New York Times referred to these events as the “Armenian Holocaust”.
Since 1915, Turkey has tried to suggest that the deaths were a natural consequence of a civil war within the Ottoman Empire; but this was a one-sided civil war perpetrated by the Young Turks based on a perceived threat. The will of a population to have rights equivalent to other citizens and to have some opportunity for self-determination should have been met with negotiation and modern political discussions; actions that are akin to ethnic cleansing are not a rational response to such aspirations. Mass deportations into the desert which gave little shelter to children, and the infirm, was not the act of a responsible country – at best, this was sovereign negligence. I am not aware of any examples in history where such actions, which did not involve deaths, and which was contained within one ethnic grouping, was considered to be a reasonable, and lawful act. In modern parlance this is ethnic cleansing.
The European Court of Human Rights on the Bosnian Genocide Case, in its preamble stated, “the abhorrent policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, which is a form of genocide” – genocide requires a level of intent and “the intent that characterizes genocide is ‘to destroy, in whole or in part (the ethnic population)’ “. The Court concluded that the massacre of 8000 Bosnian Muslim people (predominantly adult males) in Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide under the strict definition, and recognised that this was only a “part” of the population ; a small part. It is not clear at what point mass murder becomes genocide.
In the 21st Century legalistic world, many lawyers can argue over the detailed wording of legislation which is drafted in one, or many languages, through which translation difficulties may arise. Fine argument over the nuances of meanings can involve long-winded, fruitless debate, lasting years and costing millions. At times we should consider common sense, and intent of the law, and terminology. Raphael Lemkin, a Professor at Yale University, came up with the term, “genocide” – “because it happened so many times. First to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action” he recalled in an interview. Those people, or governments, who are intent on committing acts of genocide are not going to make public, the background and justification for their actions, and particularly those that took place a century ago. Not unless of course their intentions were entirely honourable, moral and legal. I would suggest that, in the psyche of the global community, a genocide would be considered to be where the treatment of a significant population of a certain ethnic community could reasonably be expected to lead to widescale deaths resulting from that treatment, and that that treatment is done as a result of some form of ethnic enmity.
The genocides that have been recognised are all World War 2, and after, where the appeal to the global consciousness is more immediate. The Armenian Genocide existed in a different world, and for most people is beyond living memory. Anyone who has taken the time to discuss the Genocide with the Armenian community will know that this could not be further from the truth; it is very much in their consciousness and the memories of those people directly affected are still part of their everyday lives.
If Turkey had accepted culpability for the Armenian deaths after the end of the Ottoman Empire ( as Germany did after World War 2) this would have resulted in a much more positive outcome. The debate over whether it was a Genocide, or not, may not have arisen. Now that Turkey has positioned itself as a pivotal figure in world politics, and especially within the Middle East, most of the Western nations will turn a blind eye to a country’s previous misdemeanours in the interests of political expediency.
The one thing you can be sure about “Unresolved conflicts” is that if they are not dealt with properly, they remain “unresolved” and they remain a “conflict” to rise up in a much more ugly way at some indeterminate point in the future.
Categories: Armenian Genocide