24 April 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, the campaign of systematic killing and ethnic cleansing of the Armenian minority population of the Ottoman Empire by the Ottoman Special Organization (the predecessor of Turkey’s National Security Service and National Intelligence Organization), the Young Turks, the Committee of Union and Progress, and more.
Holocaust survivor and lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” specifically to refer to the crimes against humanity committed by the Germans in World War II and the Turks in World War I. Between one million and 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the genocide, out of a previous population of just 1.7 million to 2.3 million. The work of some specialists suggests that the number of Armenians who survived the campaign of extermination may have been as low as 100,000.
Although there is disagreement among scholars about the exact number of people killed, what there is essentially no dispute about in the scholarly community is that there was an Armenian Genocide and that it was premeditated and intentional (not just an “unfortunate massacre” of World War I, as some apologists insist). The existence of the Armenian Genocide is accepted by virtually every leading expert. At the sixth biennial meeting of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, in 2005, the academics unanimously approved the following letter, which they sent to the Turkish government (emphasis mine):
Dear Prime Minister Erdogan,
We are writing you this open letter in response to your call for an “impartial study by historians” concerning the fate of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
We represent the major body of scholars who study genocide in North America and Europe. We are concerned that in calling for an impartial study of the Armenian Genocide you may not be fully aware of the extent of the scholarly and intellectual record on the Armenian Genocide and how this event conforms to the definition of the United Nations Genocide Convention. We want to underscore that it is not just Armenians who are affirming the Armenian Genocide but it is the overwhelming opinion of scholars who study genocide: hundreds of independent scholars, who have no affiliations with governments, and whose work spans many countries and nationalities and the course of decades. The scholarly evidence reveals the following:
On April 24, 1915, under cover of World War I, the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens — an unarmed Christian minority population. More than a million Armenians were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches. The rest of the Armenian population fled into permanent exile. Thus an ancient civilization was expunged from its homeland of 2,500 years.
The Armenian Genocide was the most well-known human rights issue of its time and was reported regularly in newspapers across the United States and Europe. The Armenian Genocide is abundantly documented by thousands of official records of the United States and nations around the world including Turkey’s wartime allies Germany, Austria and Hungary, by Ottoman court-martial records, by eyewitness accounts of missionaries and diplomats, by the testimony of survivors, and by decades of historical scholarship.
The Armenian Genocide is corroborated by the international scholarly, legal, and human rights community:
1. Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, when he coined the term genocide in 1944, cited the Turkish extermination of the Armenians and the Nazi extermination of the Jews as defining examples of what he meant by genocide.
2. The killings of the Armenians is genocide as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
3. In 1997 the International Association of Genocide Scholars, an organization of the world’s foremost experts on genocide, unanimously passed a formal resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.
4. 126 leading scholars of the Holocaust including Elie Wiesel and Yehuda Bauer placed a statement in the New York Times in June 2000 declaring the “incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide” and urging western democracies to acknowledge it.
5. The Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide (Jerusalem), and the Institute for the Study of Genocide (NYC) have affirmed the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.
6. Leading texts in the international law of genocide such as William A. Schabas’s Genocide in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2000) cite the Armenian Genocide as a precursor to the Holocaust and as a precedent for the law on crimes against humanity.
We note that there may be differing interpretations of genocide—how and why the Armenian Genocide happened, but to deny its factual and moral reality as genocide is not to engage in scholarship but in propaganda and efforts to absolve the perpetrator, blame the victims, and erase the ethical meaning of this history.
We would also note that scholars who advise your government and who are affiliated in other ways with your state-controlled institutions are not impartial. Such so-called “scholars” work to serve the agenda of historical and moral obfuscation when they advise you and the Turkish Parliament on how to deny the Armenian Genocide. In preventing a conference on the Armenian Genocide from taking place at Bogacizi University in Istanbul on May 25, your government revealed its aversion to academic and intellectual freedom—a fundamental condition of democratic society.
We believe that it is clearly in the interest of the Turkish people and their future as a proud and equal participants in international, democratic discourse to acknowledge the responsibility of a previous government for the genocide of the Armenian people, just as the German government and people have done in the case of the Holocaust.
Approved Unanimously at the Sixth biennial meeting of
THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GENOCIDE SCHOLARS (IAGS)
June 7, 2005, Boca Raton, Florida
Like the Nazis, the Turks created extermination, concentration, and deportation camps for the Armenian population.
Listen to the chilling story of Araxie Barsamian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. She recalls how Turkish militias systematically executed all the men in her village, then sent the women and children on a death march through the Syrian Desert.
Although cameras were rare when the genocide took place a century ago, some photographs were taken and preserved.
Henry Morgenthau, US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, witnessed the Armenian Genocide firsthand, and detailed the horrors he saw in his memoir. Speaking of the following photo, he wrote
Scenes like this were common all over the Armenian provinces, in the spring and summer months of 1915. Death in its several forms—massacre, starvation, exhaustion—destroyed the larger part of the refugees. The Turkish policy was that of extermination under the guise of deportation.
Delusional Denial Still Persists
While many countries recognize the Armenian Genocide—and while some, such as France, have gone so far as to consider making it illegal to deny the genocide (as the EU has done vis-à-vis the Nazi Holocaust)—some still refuse to take a stance, or even outright deny it altogether.
In spite of this overwhelming international consensus, even on its centennial, some of the world’s leading governments continue to deny that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide. That Turkey claims Armenians were not subjected to genocide, although immoral and unacceptable, may perhaps be expected. But Turkey is not alone. Even the US government joins in this despicable denial, refusing to acknowledge the crime against humanity. For seven years in a row, Obama reneged on his promise to recognize it.
The fact of the matter is that Turkish, US, and other governments that deny the Armenian Genocide are just as delusional, immoral, and deranged as Holocaust deniers. “Scholars” and other contemptible charlatans who claim that the Holocaust was a hoax are laughed out of Academia—as they should be. Armenian Genocide deniers should be subjected to equally harsh censure.
Just as there is a tiny handful of “scientists” who claim climate change is not anthropogenic (i.e., caused by humans)—or who even deny global warming altogether—there is a modicum of “scholars” who insist the Armenian genocide was not a genocide. They are on the absolute fringes of their fields and respected by almost none of their peers. Their voices are amplified by the powerful interests that support them, be it the Koch Brothers and fossil fuel corporations in the case of climate change deniers or the Turkish government in the case of Armenian Genocide deniers, but they should be given no credence.
On the centennial, Armenian Genocide deniers took to Twitter with the preposterous hashtag #ArmenianGenocideIsAnImperialistLie. This particular strand of genocide deniers insists that the Turks’ systematic mass murder of the Armenians is a myth created by Western imperialist powers in order to cover up their own genocidal crimes.
Vile hashtags such as this serve as a reminder that “anti-imperialists” are not necessarily progressive. “Anti-imperialist,” on its own, is no longer a useful political category, for it has been co-opted by the far-right. Today, many neo-fascists and ultranationalists claim to be “anti-imperialist.”
This is not to deny the extreme evils of which Western imperialist powers are guilty. Yet covering up crimes against humanity committed by so-called Third World nations by pointing to obscene crimes carried out by Western capitalist nations is in itself a form of great inhumanity. This is morally unacceptable; this is politically disastrous; this is the behavior of Stalinists.
One must be diligent in opposing all crimes against humanity committed by all countries.
And one must too, of course, be committed to the pursuit of the truth. For, ultimately, recognizing the Armenian Genocide is not just about the pursuit of justice for its survivors, the Armenians. Achieving justice is certainly an important and necessary goal. Yet, even beyond this, recognizing the Armenian Genocide is a matter of accepting basic, fundamental facts about human history. Ignoring it is hence not just immoral; it is also delusional.