February 18, 2011 - 11:04 AMT 07:04 GMT

A UC Davis historian argues in a recently published paper in the
American Historical Review that the Armenian Genocide sparked the
modern humanitarian movement.

Keith David Watenpaugh's paper, "The League of Nations' Rescue of
Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism,
1920-1927," was published in the December edition of the American
Historical Review, the official publication of the American Historical
Association, Asbarez reported.

"One of the 20th century's most infamous atrocities, the Armenian
genocide, also should be remembered for fostering the modern
humanitarian movement," the historian argued.

"Establishing a defining characteristic of modern humanitarianism,
people at the time began to reject the idea that suffering was
natural or normal and concluded that you could stop human suffering,
that we had the intellectual tools, the social reforms, the science
and medicine to do it," he said. "This was the first time a major
international body, in this case the League of Nations, intervened
on behalf of a large population of refugees and genocide survivors,
to try to help them. Many Americans were involved in this effort. And
it was also a major failure."

A specialist in modern Islam and human rights, Watenpaugh researched
League of Nations intake surveys that recorded the histories of
some 2,000 Armenian girls, boys and young women who, he wrote,
"were rescued - or, more often, rescued themselves - from Arab,
Kurdish and Turkish households into which they had been taken."

At the outset of the genocide, men and older boys were rounded up and
executed. Many of the survivors were women and children, who often
were sold or given away by their captors to become "agricultural
workers or domestic servants, servile concubines, unconsenting wives,
and involuntary mothers," Watenpaugh writes.

"The Armenian women and children were non-Muslims being held by
Muslims," he explained.

"So it was portrayed as an example of a basic conflict between Islam
and the West. This kind of politicization of refugee problems often
does more harm than good." The Armenians weren't victims of a religion,
rather, their enslavement had less to do with religion than traditional
social practices," Watenpaugh said.

Moreover, it is important to remember, he added, "that it was a modern
phenomenon - genocide - that created the conditions under which these
women and children could be victimized."

Watenpaugh said that he hopes his research will foster reconciliation
by creating a better understanding of a shared past of trauma and
violence in the region including Turkey, where the government still
insists the genocide never happened.

Work like this can help "modern Turks come to terms with the fact that
the genocide of the Armenians is part of their past as well," he said.

"No longer are the Armenians merely the hated 'other,' as they had
been taught in school. Perhaps Grandma was an Armenian who had been
taken. They may have absolutely loved and adored their grandmother
and she's Armenian."

From: A. Papazian