Yes, the Armenians were victims of genocide

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.

Technorati Tags: , ,

14 Responses to “Yes, the Armenians were victims of genocide”

  1. yonason says:


    The Turkish focus was aimed at the rebellious Armenians. Those who didn’t rebel weren’t attacked. So of course there was a clear intent, but it was to rid themselves of an enemy sub-population that was a real and immediate threat. It just HAPPENED that those rebels were Armenian, but the PRIMARY reason was the danger they posed, NOT who they were. And the INTENT was to kill the armed forces, and to expel the rest, NOT to destroy them all. But there were excesses. Still, to the Turks credit, many of the perps were tried and convicted by the Turks themselves, so it could not have been a directive from the government.

    I repeat, the intent was to remove a REAL threat, and it just happened that that threat was the Armenians, but only in SPECIFIC regions. Many may have been massacred, but that is not “genocide,” and if it is, then genocide has no meaning apart from words already in use, and so it isn’t anything special except a license to feel self-righteous and to give one an excuse to vent one’s anger on people who we otherwise wouldn’t think we were able to.

    It’s the very SAME logic they use against Israel. The “Palestinian” Arabs are an existential threat, but that doesn’t matter, if you attack them you are racist and it it is genocide. Same argument. It’s a trap, and so many people I used to think were intelligent are falling for it.

    Regardless, whatever you believe about it, do NOT compare it with the Holocaust, which was an attempt to destroy Jews, not because of our religion or nationality or any imagined threat we posed, but because our very existence reminds the World that there is a G-d to whom all humanity are accountable. None of the other cases, no matter how horrible, are anything like it.

  2. yonason says:

    By “if you attack them you” I meant “if we defend ourselves against them” which they interpret aw our attacking them.

  3. ME says:

    First, you raise good points about what is “entirely irrelevant” to the question of whether the Ottoman Turks possessed the requisite intent and knowledge making its actions genocidal in nature. That really helps focus the issue.

    Second, I disagree with the statement, “Clearly the meaning is the ‘intent’ of people who were in control of or made use of the mechanisms of the regime,” as applied to potentially (I realize it is raised hypothetically) dispute that the Pogroms in Czarist Russia were not undertaken with the requisite “intent.” a.) Part 2., Article 6 of the Rome convention entitled Genocide, defining Genocide does not make anything “clear” about the operator of the intent. It is intentionally left broad to operate as a net in order to encompass criminal cartels and terrorists regimes that may or may not have full fledged governaning accolades in a region, occupied area, or locale: and, b.) By constructive interpretation, Part 2, Article 7, Sec. 1 entitled Crimes Against Humanity, makes clear that those intending crimes against humanity act “as part of a widespread or systematic attack.”

    Therefore, by analogy of the definition of intent from Article 7, sec. 1, Czarist Russian Pogroms could fall into both definitions, because large populations of Jews were targeted with the intent to erradicate a group. The fact that Pogroms were instituted by local populations, across Russia or in particularly ethnic ghettos, (the widespread/systematic attack component of Article 7, sec.1) the crimes against Jews and others during Czarist Russian pogroms are assuredely, and no less atrociously, compatible within the definition of Crimes against humanity.

    Third, the statement by Yonason, about the logic being applied in the article is potentially similar to that being applied against Israel, does not make sense as stated. There is no valid, formal, international or domestic Near East claim against Israel at the moment, substantiated or otherwise, claiming genocide. Yonason, your statement is as extreme as the media outlets regurgitating a remote local Palestinian wailing and claiming genocide, or an extreme media outlet publicizing a statement that the Palestinians are screaming “genocide.”

    The International criminal court issued a statement a couple of weeks ago purporting to undertake an investigation into potential “war crimes, ” (which are actually covered under the Geneva Convention 3rd and 4th parts) on both sides of the conflict, Hamas, and Israel. A commission was formed to investigate potential violations on both sides. Likely, Hamas will be found liable under both the Geneva and Rome conventions, (thank goodness for that broad net in Article 6 and subsequent “gang” provision in Article 7, Sec. 1.), because Hamas is a terrorist organization that receives funding from a sanctioned fundamentalist Islamic country, and “terrorism” was not a selected provision of crime under the Rome convention, but compensated for by broad language.

  4. Vic Rosenthal says:

    To Yonason: if they were only attacking ‘the Armenians that rebelled’, why did they kill so many women and children? Also it was all over Armenia, ultimately. Possibly it started out as you describe, but then they got carried away by their hatred.

    Note that this is exactly what they accuse Israel of doing in Gaza, and as a matter of fact it is exactly what Israel does NOT do. It’s been pointed out that if Israel wished to commit genocide in Gaza it could have done so easily with artillery and not had to place soldiers at risk. And see my latest post about the blood libels that have been refuted.

    I don’t think the Armenian Genocide was equivalent to the Holocaust, but I do think that it fits the definition of ‘genocide’ and is more than just a ‘massacre’. The Holocaust is unique in many ways, but it’s not the only genocide.

    To ME: I think that you are right that it is possible for a non-state entity to commit genocide, but in the case of an accusation against officials of a state, if they systematically make use of the army/police that is prima facie evidence of intent. I think there is also a question of scale and organization that comes into it.

    Do you really think the ICC will find Hamas guilty, and exonerate Israel? This is the ICC that refused to consider evidence about terrorism as relevant to the security barrier!

  5. yonason says:

    @”ME” – “There is no valid, formal, international or domestic Near East claim against Israel at the moment, …”

    While technically correct, that ignores the fact that Israel is being treated ‘as if’ it is guilty, or strongly suspected. Surely you are aware of the implications inherent in the international “both sides need to show restraint” demands signaling that the Israelis are as bad as the Paleos., who clearly DO have intent to destroy us, though deny it in diplomatic circles and so are given a pass because they have not yet achieved it.

    That is perverse because Israel must refrain from dealing effectively with the existential danger out of fear we will be accused of worse than we already have, while if we do too little, they will achieve more success, and more Jews will die.

    Furthermore the World that presumes to pass judgment on us shows no concern when Hamas, which openly admits it’s goal is genocide of all Jews, launches 10,000 rockets at civilian Jewish communities. But that same World works itself up into a self-righteous lather whenever we fight back, even a little.

    Because there is a G-d, and Jewish blood is precious to Him, the World will pay dearly for the blood they have a share in shedding, and it will probably be at the hands of the same kind of thugs whose war to destroy Israel and Jews they have sponsored, while at the same time demonizing Israel.

    If we say that the Turks are guilty of defending themselves, not just overdoing that self-defense (as they did), then we open the door to the same charges being leveled against us (even though we do not overdo it).

    I hope that’s a bit clearer?

  6. ME says:

    But most importantly people, the pogroms occurred under Stalinist Russia.

    Just going with the flow can be belaboring.

  7. yonason says:

    @Vic “Also it was all over Armenia, ultimately. “

    Armenia was the front in the war with Russia. On the front, lots of people die, especially when war is so primitave as it was back then. Also, yes, there were massacres, but they weren’t either approved of or orchestrated from the Turkish leadership, as would be required for it to be called genocide. (that’s where the intent comes in).

    Just because there were a lot of deaths doesn’t necessarily mean that it was Genocide. Turkish, Russian, German, British records on that time have been opened for inspection. It might help if the Armenians opened their files, if they haven’t yet. (The weren’t, if I understand the situation correctly.)

    Besides, how did the “historian” (propagandist) Dadrian’s family survive? The Turks knew who they were, but made no attempt to even harass them, let alone kill them?

  8. ME says:

    Diminishing hysteria surrounding the ICC commission is important. So, if that means, addressing it for what it is, merely an investigation, is important.

    I do not feel it is reasonably certain that Israel is being charged or has been charged or will be charged with any formal allegations of war crimes.

    I feel the investigation is investigatory.

    So, exoneration is not even an issue.

    Yonason: I am really distraught over the prospect of Israel having to defend itself against investigations and media attacks. More than you know. The constant barrage of kassam attacks launched on Israeli soil by Hamas is not a compelling antagonism when accompanied by the verbal threats of genocide = assult, was not the only factor for defense. The saftey of citizens, protecting the Israeli population against crimes against humanity, there are many compelling defenses in Israel’s favor. Quelling the media onslaught which practically compels the ICC investigation, makes the investigation, suspect, with respect to Israel.

  9. yonason says:

    @”ME” “The pogroms occurred under Stalinist Russia.”

    No. Under Stalin it was the “purge” which targeted everyone that paranoid lunatic thought might be a danger to his rule – unbelievably many without regard to religion.

    The pogroms were under the Czar(s) – [1881-1919]

    (some info on 1903-1906)

  10. ME says:

    After I wrote that, I remembered that the pogroms were initiated earlier, but that Stalin continued a legacy of extermination.

  11. yonason says:


    They rebelled to attain “self-determination” and they propagandized from then to now about how they suffered as a result of their rebellion. But they don’t admit their own share of the guilt in that suffering.

    Imagine you are walking along, and suddenly someone jumps out from behind some bushes and tries to kill you. Suddenly, from some other bushes another fellow jumps out and saves your life.

    Now, imagine its a year later, and you see those same two fellows fighting. Would you take the side of the one who tried to kill you?

    Armenians enlisted by the thousands in Nazi armies, and many rounded up Jews to send to the extermination camps. The Turks saved perhaps as many as 100,000 Jews from annihilation. And yet you side with the Armenians who were allied with our executioners? Unbelievable.

    Even Aharon had to perform the miracle of the blood because Moshe Rabeinu couldn’t strike the water with his staff because it had a part in saving his life. How much more so should we be grateful to a people who saved ours? Being ungreatful is a terrible sin, and we must guard ourselves from it.

    Also, every Jew knows what a terribly evil thing a “blood libel” is. Well, from everything I’ve read, accusing the Turks of “genocide” for defending themselves against SOME (not all) of the Armenians, is no different from the world accusing Israel of causing paleostinian suffering, when all we are doing is defending ourselves against their aggression.

    Ingratitude and blood-libels are NOT the tools of Jews.

    If you know of Steven Plaut, then you know he’s one of the staunchest pro-Israel conservatives around. He also thinks a Jew has no buisniess sticking his nose into this… (SEE HERE, about 1/5 the way down).

    If it’s necessary for you to slander others to feel good about yourself, you have nothing that deserves being felt good about.

  12. yonason says:

    (SEE HERE, about 1/5 the way down). should have just read “(SEE HERE).” That’s not the refe I was planning on using, which had a lot of other material preceding what I wanted to show you. This ref., …
    …has no extraneous material. Sorry.

  13. bob says:

    No, you are absolutely wrong.

    How do you prove a genocide?
    There is only one and one reason alone…


    If the INTENT is to destroy/kill PART or WHOLE of a race/group/religion. Then it is genocide.

    The problem is, this was not the intention of the Ottoman government at all. This has been proven beyond a doubt in many books covering the Ottoman-Armenian conflicts in which the ARF joined the Allies to create Greater Armenia.

    To deal with the rebellion the Ottomans relocated hostile villages where the ARF were suspected to be hiding out. This was a STANDARD EUROPEAN method to deal with rebellions during war-time.

    The Ottoman Empire did what was legal at the time. But due to food shortages, war, and constant rebellion by the Armenians. More than 300,000 Armenians were killed. Some of them by bandits (it was worse than the “wild wild west” in Eastern Turkey). Others by disease, war, poverty, murder (by the Kurdish tribes, or Circassians, or Arabs, or Turks who were angry for the massacres of Armenians).

    None of that proves genocide.

    If there was an Armenian Genocide. Why weren’t Western Armenians ever killed or sent away?

    If there was an Armenian Genocide… Why was money distributed by governors and the federal government to Eastern Armenians to rebuild in their newly settled Syria??

    If there was an Armenian Genocide… Why were Ottoman National Guard courtmartialed and some were hung, for failing to protect Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire.

    If there was an Armenian Genocide. Why were orders by Talat Pasha, excusing Protestant and Catholic Armenians from the relocations (as requested by EUROPEANS).


  14. bob says:

    Furthermore, how can you as a Jewish person, even begin to compare the horrible suffering of Jews in World War II… to the migration, rebellion, and subsequent escape to the United States, France, and Russia of the Armenian people?

    The Armenian people had it easy compared to German Jews who had no where to run.

    Did Nazi Germany have Jewish Governors? Well Ottoman Empire had Armenian governors did you know that? Of course not, you’re just reading wikipedia, not actual textbooks on the subject.