Armenian Genocide; Armenia-Turkey

By Roger W. Smith, Chairman of the Academic Board of Directors of
the Zoryan Institute

We must approach all cases of genocide as part of world history. If
we believe in "Never again" and want to prevent future genocides,
we must treat such epochal events as part of the universal experience
and of concern to all.

James Traub writes the following in an Oct. 18 New York Times review of
Daniel Goldhagen's new book, Worse than War: Genocide, Eliminationism,
and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity:

But to exclude mass murder from the realm of conscious action offers
an exculpation of its own, both to the killers and to ourselves-for
how could we, ordinary folk who cherish life, descend to such madness?

In this magisterial and profoundly disturbing "natural history" of
mass murder, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen calls for an end to such willful
blindness... Goldhagen insists that even the worst atrocities
originate with, and are then propelled by, a series of quite
conscious calculations by followers as much as by leaders. "We must
stop detaching mass elimination and its mass-murder variant from our
understanding of politics," Goldhagen writes... Atrocities resemble one
another; their differences are shaped by the perpetrators' ideology,
their specific fantasy of a purified world, their view of the victims
they seek to eradicate...

But if the ultimate goal is to ensure that we never again stand by in
the face of a Rwanda-style genocide, public opinion will not be rallied
through an earnest accounting of national interest, but through an
appeal to conscience... He heaps scorn on the United Nations, whose
founding principles of respect for sovereignty and of noninterference
in internal affairs have served, as he rightly observes, as a shield
for leaders in Sudan and elsewhere who are bent on slaughtering their
own people.

This is interesting in light of the press coverage both before and
after the signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols. A recurrent
theme emerges, particularly in countries that have yet to recognize
officially the mass murder of the Armenians in 1915 as genocide: the
dispute between Turkey and Armenia over the genocide is exclusively
their problem. For example, the BBC, in reporting on the protocols on
Oct. 10, 2009, stated, in effect, the Armenians say it was genocide,
Turkey says it wasn't, so the reader does not know what to believe:

Armenians have campaigned for the killings to be recognized
internationally as genocide-and more than 20 countries have done so.

Turkey admits that many Armenians were killed but says the deaths
were part of the widespread fighting that took place in World War I.

As far back as 2005, the distinguished human rights activist and Nobel
laureate Elie Wiesel described the difficulty of Armenian-Turkish
relations because "ancestral hate is not easily erased." This gives the
impression that the problem between the two countries is intractable
ancient history, rather than a political problem arising out of a
specific historical event: the Armenian Genocide of 1915 committed
by Ottoman Turkey.

On April 9, 2009, when President Barack Obama was in Turkey,
he distanced himself from getting directly involved in the
Armenian-Turkish issue, stating:

I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations,
which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly, very soon.

And as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views,
but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people, if
they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history,
then I think the entire world should encourage them. So what I told the
president was I want to be as constructive as possible in moving these
issues forward quickly. And my sense is that they are moving quickly.

I don't want to, as the president of the United States, to preempt
any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the
near future. I just want to say that we are going to be a partner in
working through these issues in such a way that the most important
parties, the Turks and the Armenians, are finally coming to terms in
the most constructive way.

It seems that there is a certain point of view prevailing that only
Turkey and Armenia have a vested interest in the Armenian Genocide,
and that it is no one else's problem.

One wonders, would the Rwandan Genocide be characterized as a
problem of concern only to Hutus and Tutsis? The complexities of
the situation in Rwanda, for example, involved Belgium, France,
Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S., and the
UN. The United States' contortions to avoid using the word "genocide"
in 1994, and the UN's refusal to accept General Dallaire's warning
of imminent genocide there in order to avoid getting involved, are
well documented. Such obvious political manipulation caused outrage
in most people, and the suffering caused by the slaughter of some
800,000 victims made us all empathize with the plight of our fellow
human beings. The horror of that genocide, where the men, women,
children, and elderly of one group were targeted with the intent to
annihilate them, was an outright violation of international law,
and was watched on our television screens, bringing the injustice
home to everyone. It may have been easier for some to be bystanders
in the face of that genocide, but no one today would say this tragedy
is of concern only to Hutus and Tutsis.

The same is true for the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. In fact,
the Armenian Genocide is recognized by scholars as the archetype of
modern genocide, and its lessons have universal application. One of
the lessons most particularly associated with the Armenian Genocide
is how denial of the crime can embolden future perpetrators, as we
learned from Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer. In order to be able to
prevent genocide in the future, we must raise awareness of it as a
scourge on humanity and educate our societies about it. We must resist
all attempts to disparage or dismiss any case of genocide. Once you
compromise the universality of any genocide, the entire worldwide
effort for genocide prevention is undermined.

The prevention of genocide and upholding freedom of expression and
thought are mandated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
and the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide. It is against this background that the Zoryan
Institute is committed to raising awareness of genocide and the
necessity of its prevention and to promoting universal human rights.

These are the principles reflected in our commentary on the Turkish
Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) in 2001, in our open letter
to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on his call for a joint historians'
commission in 2005, in our commentary against the proposed law to
criminalize denial of the Armenian Genocide in France in 2006, in our
co-organizing a Symposium on the Albright-Cohen Genocide Prevention
Task Force Report in March 2009 (which, among other issues, was based
on faulty assumptions and the ignoring of past history), and in our
open letter to Armenian President Sarkisian regarding the protocols
last month.

Our position on the protocols is to make sure that the incontestability
of the Armenian Genocide is neither ignored nor called into
question. It is from this perspective that we wrote to President

...numerous distinguished historians, political scientists,
sociologists, legal scholars, and authoritative institutions around the
world have investigated the genocide many times over, issued academic
publications, and even made public declarations. These scholars have
devoted their professional lives to conducting scientific research with
the highest levels of academic integrity. As a result of their work,
scholars have identified the Armenian Genocide as the archetypal
case of modern genocide, whose pattern has many similarities with
subsequent cases.

What the Armenian and Turkish governments do or agree upon, as two
sovereign nations, is their prerogative. However, our objective
is to raise the awareness of all those involved in these protocols
(the two signing countries, the three OSCE monitoring countries-the
U.S., Russia, and France-and the EU representative) that the Armenian
Genocide is a historical fact, part of the universal human experience,
and can not be compromised.

Furthermore, any attempt to deny it was genocide, to trivialize this
enormous crime, or to relativize it as an issue only between Armenians
and Turks will be firmly opposed by scholars, legal specialists,
and human rights activists in this field. The recent open letter from
Prof. William A. Schabas below is vivid testimony of this resolve.

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan and President Sarkisian,

The proposed protocols between Armenia and Turkey call for an
"impartial historical commission" to investigate what the world knows
as the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

As the leading scholarly organization engaged in the study of genocide,
we welcome continued investigation that will enhance our understanding
of the 1915 massacres. However, we are extremely wary of any call
for allegedly impartial research into what are clearly established
historical facts.

Acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide must be the starting point
of any "impartial historical commission," not one of its possible
conclusions. The world would not accept an inquiry into the truth
of the Nazi Holocaust, or the extermination of the Tutsi in Rwanda,
and nor can it do so with the genocide of the Armenians.

William Schabas, President, International Association of Genocide

In 1915, against the background of great power politics intervening
in the Ottoman Empire and of World War I, some 1.5 million Armenians
were slaughtered. While on May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers (France,
Great Britain, and Russia) warned the Ottoman leaders that they
would be called to account for their "crimes against humanity,"
U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau described on July 16, 1915 what was
happening as "race extermination." Raphael Lemkin, the legal scholar
who coined the term "genocide" in 1944, describing in his personal
memoir how he became involved in its study, wrote:

I identified myself more and more with the sufferings of the victims,
whose numbers grew, and I continued my study of history. I understood
that the function of memory is not only to register past events,
but to stimulate human conscience. Soon contemporary examples of
genocide followed, such as the slaughter of the Armenians.

We note that monitors at the protocols signing ceremony-Russia,
France, the European Union, and Switzerland (the mediator in the
negotiations)-all have already acknowledged the Armenian Genocide
through their respective parliaments. The U.S., whose official
diplomatic archive is one of the richest historical sources on the
Armenian Genocide, will itself eventually have to stop compromising
the truth for political expediency. President Ronald Reagan called
it genocide in 1981. President George W. Bush described it as "the
annihilation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians through forced exile
and murder at the end of the Ottoman Empire" in 2004. President Obama,
in January 2008, stated:

I also share with Armenian Americans-so many of whom are descended
from genocide survivors-a principled commitment to commemorating and
ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances
of genocide in world history. As a U.S. senator, I have stood with the
Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgment
of the Armenian Genocide. Two years ago, I criticized the secretary
of state for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans,
after he properly used the term "genocide" to describe Turkey's
slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with
Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide
is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but
rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of
historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that
calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable
policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian
Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as president I
will recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Notwithstanding the above, we are of the opinion that while Turks
today are not guilty of committing the genocide, they are responsible
for accepting and allowing Turkey's official state denial. Denial is
considered the final stage of genocide, which continues to victimize
the survivors and their descendants, aggravating an open wound
that can not heal. The tremendous pain that an Armenian feels is no
different from that a Jew, Pole, or Roma feels because of people,
such as President Ahmedinejad of Iran, who deny the Holocaust of
World War II, or a Tutsi feels when the Rwandan Genocide is denied.

In conclusion, the Armenian Genocide is part of world history. If we
want to prevent future genocides, we must treat all cases of genocide
as part of the universal experience, and of concern to all.