Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

This Friday marks the centennial of the Armenian genocide.

[image: Unearthing remains of Armenian victims a Der-Zor in the 1930s.]

Unearthing remains of Armenian victims a Der-Zor in the 1930s.
By Umut Ã-zsu
Published on Mon Apr 20 2015

As an adolescent, I shared a close bond with my Turkish grandmother. Born
to a large family in an impoverished village in western Anatolia, she had
come of age during the early years of the Republic of Turkey, established
in 1923 as a secular nation-state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

While sociable and loquacious, my grandmother could be touchy on certain
matters. Few such matters, though, disturbed her as much as the Armenian

On the few occasions that I broached the topic, my grandmother bristled,
visibly upset by the fact that I had so clearly made a point of raising it.
To her credit, she did not deny the events outright - `much evil was done,'
she would say, embarrassed and looking downward. But as with so many of her
compatriots, she prickled at my use of the term `genocide,' maintained that
Turks and other Muslims had also suffered, and suggested that the West
should face up to its own past before accusing Turkey of crimes (France's
suppression of the Algerian struggle for independence was her favourite
example here.)

This Friday, April 24, will mark the centennial of the Armenian genocide
One of the bloodiest events of the First World War, the genocide was the
culmination of decades of discrimination against and heavy-handed
persecution of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

In May 1915, determined to `cleanse' eastern Anatolia of`fifth columns' so
as to forestall a Russian occupation and finalize a process of
ethno-religious homogenization, the Ottoman Empire's Young Turk government
ordered the systematic deportation of Armenians. The process unfolded
brutally during the months that followed, with hundreds of thousands being
rounded up and forcibly transferred to Deir ez-Zor, a barren swath of
territory currently controlled by ISIS in what is now northeastern Syria.

Armenian property was confiscated, rape and massacre occurred regularly,
and forced marches through the desert, often without food or water,
increased the mortality rate exponentially. Those who survived often did so
through conversion to Islam or marriage to local Muslims.

The Turkish state continues to deny that these events constitute genocide.
While it admits that atrocities were committed, it argues that they were
not part of a consciously designed plan to exterminate Armenians. Noting
that the word `genocide' was coined during the Second World War, Turkey
also argues that it is anachronistic and legally unjustifiable to apply the
term retroactively. The two arguments are structurally linked, since the
1948 Genocide Convention - the first and still the most important legal
instrument concerning genocide - stresses the `intent to destroy, in whole
or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group,' and it is
precisely this `intent' that Turkey denies.

These arguments are misleading and disingenuous. Although the Ottoman
archives were purged long ago of many of the most incriminating documents,
historians have demonstrated a high degree of operational coordination in
regard to the genocide on the part of the Young Turks.

Indeed, it is well-established that Talat Pasha and similarly high-ranking
Ottoman authorities were instrumental in facilitating the atrocities that
were committed during the course of the deportations. It is true, of
course, that Turks and others also suffered dearly during the
inter-communal strife that marked the Ottoman Empire's final years. But
this does not change the fact that roughly 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians
died as a direct result of the Young Turks' actions and policies. No word
but `genocide' captures the scale and depth of this destruction.

It is high time for the Turkish state to admit what many of its citizens
have long acknowledged in private conversation: that the Armenian genocide
was indeed a genocide, and that it demands recognition as such, by Turkey
no less than other states.

My grandmother was not prepared to make this admission. And in that
respect, she was plainly wrong. She did have a point, though, when she
suggested that genocide and related forms of violence are not specific to
any one time or place. Perhaps this is ultimately the most important
message of all, and one from which we Canadians can also benefit, not least
because our current government - a government that has officially
recognized the Armenian genocide - refuses to grapple meaningfully with
this country's history of conquering and exploiting Aboriginal peoples.

*Umut Ã-zsu is an assistant professor of law at the University of Manitoba.
He is the author of Formalizing Displacement: International Law and
Population Transfers, recently published by Oxford University Press.*

From: A. Papazian