Recently I’ve received some comments critical of my posts about the Armenian Genocide (there have been quite a few; you can search here). I have asserted that the events of 1915-17 do constitute genocide, and that Turkey should admit that a predecessor regime, the Ottoman Empire, is guilty thereof.
Start with the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) definition of ‘genocide’:
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Did the Ottoman Turks do this to the Armenians in 1915-17?
Note that the following things are entirely irrelevant to this question:
- If the Armenians living in the Ottoman empire were hostile to the Turks
- If the Armenians collaborated with the Russians during WWI
- If the Armenians were or are racist or antisemitic
- If the Turks were or are friendly to Jews or Israel
- Whether the Holocaust was ‘worse’ than what happened to the Armenians
- If the Armenians ever committed massacres of their own
- Whether partisans of either side are associated with right- or left-wing causes
- Whether Hitler ever said “who remembers the Armenians?” (probably not)
We know — and most of those who disagree with calling the massacres ‘genocide’ agree — that hundreds of thousands died (estimates range from 300,000 to 1.5 million — Wikipedia). The question is, were they killed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such?”
This has two parts: was it aimed specifically at Armenians, as such (as opposed to, e.g., as revolutionaries), and was there intent.
One way to determine if it was directed at Armenians qua Armenians is to ask if the victims included a great number of Armenians who were not in any sense combatants — e.g., children, old men, most women. And this was indeed the case, because entire Armenian populations were marched by foot over great distances, during which they died of hunger and disease, as well as deliberate murder. This is quite different from a non-genocidal massacre of political or war prisoners, for example.
There is a huge amount of similar eyewitness testimony to these events; to call it all “propaganda” is unreasonable.
What about intent? Clearly the meaning is the ‘intent’ of people who were in control of or made use of the mechanisms of the regime. So it could be argued that anti-Jewish pogroms in Czarist Russia were not actually genocidal, even though the regime was antisemitic, insofar as pogroms were initiated by local Jew-haters and not part of a coordinated policy promulgated by the regime.
In the case of the Armenians, laws calling for deportation and/or confiscation of property (for example, the Tehcir Law of 1915) were put into place and enforced by Turkish soldiers and police. The population displacement is thus seen to be a deliberate act of the regime, and not either local actions or a result of the disorder associated with war.
Even if the minimal estimate of Armenian deaths is accepted, it is still a substantial proportion of the population. It’s clear that Armenians were singled out because they were Armenians, and that the Armenians died as a direct result of orders and policies of the Ottoman regime and in particular the “Three Pashas“.
Therefore I conclude that the legal sense of the word ‘genocide’ is correctly applied in speaking of the Armenian Genocide.
Whether Jews ought to support Armenian political goals is another question, as is the appropriate attitude toward Turkey, whose new Islamist government is a reason for concern.
Note: like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s almost impossible to find historical material on the Armenian Genocide which is acceptable to both sides. I tried to base my argument only on generally agreed-upon historical facts.