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The Politics of Genocide and the Turkey-Armenia Protocols
Roger W. Smith
Chair, 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

James Traub writes the following in an October 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 which 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 October 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,

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, US, and the UN. The United States' contortions
to avoid using the word "genocide" in 1994, and the UN 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 in 2001, in our open letter to 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 President Sargsyan 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 Sargsyan:

.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 US, 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.

Acknowledgement 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 Scholars

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," US 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,

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 US, 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 acknowledgement 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

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 WWII, 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.