The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the twentieth century perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government against the unarmed Armenian population who lived under the Turkish rule.
This campaign was instigated and carried out to seize Armenian properties and annihilate an entire civilization. For more than half a century (from Sultan Abdel Hamid the Second till the Young Turks) the Armenians suffered from abuse, torture, massacres and persecution that led to the deportation of 1,5 million Armenians from their homeland.
Eye witness accounts were recorded by foreigners and survivors during and after the Genocide. Missionaries and scholars also reported the atrocities of the genocide. The Turkish government till this day denies that such crimes took place, refusing to admit the guilt and accept responsibility.
Many countries have already recognized the context and legacy of the first Genocide of the twentieth century.
Definition of the crime of Genocide:
At first, the term Genocide was coined by a jurist named Raphael Lemkin, who played a key role in making Genocide a crime under International Law in 1944 by combining the Greek word “Genos” (race) with the Latin word “Cide” (killing).
The Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly of the UN on December 9th 1948 as generally accepted definition for Genocide.
The Convention Articles:
- Article 1: The contracting parties confirm that Genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish.
- Article 2: Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, a racial or religious group, as such a) killing a member of the group, b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
- Article 3: The following acts should be punished, a) Genocide, b) conspiracy to commit Genocide, c) direct in public incitement to commit genocide, d) attempt to commit Genocide, e) complicity with Genocide.
- Article 4: Persons committing Genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 should be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.
- Article 5: The contracting parties undertake to enact in accordance with their respective Constitutions the necessary legislations to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of Genocide or of any other acts enumerated in Article 3.
- Article 6: Persons charged with Genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be trialled by a competent tribunal of the state in the territory in which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunals as may have jurisdiction with respect to those contracting parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.
- Article 7: Genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. The contracting parties pledge themselves in such cases to grant extradition in accordance with their laws and treaties in force.
- Article 8: Any contracting party may call upon competent organs of the UN to take such action under the Charter of the UN as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of Genocide or any other acts enumerated in Article 3.
- Article 9: Disputes between parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfillment of the present convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a state of Genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at request of the parties in dispute.
It is suggested to fourthly strengthen the Convention:
- The Convention’s definition of Genocide might need expansion to include all groups specifically targeted by policies which lead to the destruction of any delineation of humanity. Groups formed by common gender, sexual preference, profession, political conviction, economic class or sect, might be specifically included.
- The Convention’s applicability could extend more clearly to the economic policies of companies and nations, particularly when the effect of policy is to destroy existing cultures to make them reliant on foreign products or require military takeovers or incursions. Where profit motives with projected risk can be equated with the intent to destroy people (Article 1), when governments with products such as nuclear energy endanger the people at lrge, they should be held accountable to the Convention.
- Chemical and biological warfare may be specifically included as initially genocidal. Each denies humanity by its inability to discern innocent from combatant, yet has the potential for destroying entire groups. In particular, nuclear and radiological warfare involve the possible destruction of entire groups of people and the future. Without a strong Convention against Genocide as primary legal restraint to nuclear war is removed and the unacceptable becomes a tactical possibility.
- Provisions might be made for the people to apply the Convention directly to their own leadership and policy makers.
The history of the Armenian Genocide
Every year on April the 24th, Armenians all over the world commemorate the murder of their nation. It symbolizes the beginning of an organized campaign to eliminate Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. This persecution in a three decade period, during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid II in 1894-1896, in 1909 and between 1915-1923 under the Young Turks.
By 1914, the triumvirate of Young Turk dictator, Talat, Enver and Jamal pashas had adopted pan-turkism as a nationalist ideology and set out to Turkify the countries’ minorities beginning with the Armenians.
What is it?
The Genocide was a centrally planned campaign administrated against the Armenian population at the time of the Ottoman Empire. This campaign consisted of acts of suppression with the ultimate goal of purification. These acts included massive deportation, abduction, torture, massacre and starvation. The great bulk of the Armenian population was forcibly removed from Armenia to Syria, where the vast majority was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. Furthermore, large numbers of Armenians were methodically massacred; women and children were adopted, abused, the entire wealth of the Armenian people was expropriated. Other measures included the disarming of the Armenians who were part of the army and placing them into labor battalions, children were relocated in Turkish families in an attempt to erase the native Armenian identity. Ultimately, the objective of the Genocide was achieved on the bodies of 1,5 million dead Armenians and the Young Turks to achieve their goal of purification and geographical expansion of their mother Turkey on the map.
Who was responsible?
The Genocide which was carried out during World War I, between the years 1915-1918 and renewed in 1920-1923, was organized by the Turk government and specifically by the reigning political party in the Ottoman Empire, the Community of Union and Progress (CUP), popularly known as the Young Turks. The CUP was controlled by Mehmet Talaat, Minister of Interior in 1925 and Grand Visier (Prime Minister) in 1917, Ismail Enver Pasha, Minister of War and Ahmad Jamal Pasha, Minister of Marines and Military Governor of Syria.
In May 1925, Great Britain, France and Russia advised the Young Turk leaders that they would be held personally responsible for this crime against humanity. At the end of the World War I, the allies demanded the Ottoman government to prosecute the Young Turks accused of wartime crimes. In a later stage, the American, British and German governments sponsored the preparation of reports on the atrocities and numerous accounts were published. However, no strong actions were taken against the Ottoman empire either to sanction its brutal policies or to salvage the fundamental rights of the Armenian people. No steps were taken to require post-war Turkish governments to make restitutions to the Armenian people to cover their loss.
Why is it commemorated on April the 24th?
On the night of April the 24th a915, the Turkish government placed under arrest over 200 Armenian community leaders in Constantinople. Hundreds more were apprehended soon after. They were all sent to prison where most were executed. The apprehension and execution of the most prominent Armenian public figures was the first step to unfold and lead the Armenian Genocide, the beginning of the end for the Armenian people.
Eye witness and victims’ account on the Armenian Genocide.
- Doctor Martin Piege’s report: “Horrors of Aleppo seen by German teacher eye witness”.
During World War I, many of the Germans served as soldiers or in other functions in the Ottoman Empire. Reactions developed towards the Armenian Genocide. While many documents have been lost since then, extensive documentation can still be found about this matter. The archives of the German diplomats and other eye witnesses allow us to study this crime thoroughly.
Dr Martin Piege is a German teacher at the German technical School at Aleppo. He is one of the many people who witnessed the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide during the period of 1916-1917.
In a report he wrote with his colleagues to the German government, main ally of the Turkish government. he relates in details the scenes that went before hi eyes about the inhuman extermination of a whole nation and the conditions of the remaining Armenians who arrived at Aleppo at that time:
“about a hundred children, boys and girls, from five to seven years old suffering from typhoid and dysentery …their stomach weakened by months of starvation, can no longer assimilate nourishment. If one gives them bread, they put it aside indifferently. They just lie their quietly, waiting for death”
Dr Martin Piege stresses to his own government to take the necessary immediate measures to stop this crime, however, he is aware that no external factor (i-e the German government) can influence the decision taken by the Young Turks to end the existence of a whole nation.
Furthermore, Dr Piege reports the measures taken by his colleagues and the people of Aleppo to help end the sufferings of these new refugees:
“Frau Spieker brought soap and the women and children in our neighborhood were washed and cleansed from lice: Frau Spieker set women to cook to make soup for those who could still assimilate nourishment”
Moreover, Dr Piege describes in every detail the torture that the Armenians endured, so as to affect leaders’ human nature worldwide of imaginable atrocities:
” a witness saw a Turk fear a child out of his mother’s womb and hurt it against the wall. Christian peasant women were compelled to strip naked.. drag themselves through the desert for days together in a temperature of forty degrees until their skin were completely scorched”
Last but not least, Dr Martin Piege denounces Germany’s foreign policy in treating the matter of the Armenian Genocide. He stresses upon his government to end assisting Turkey because of the damage it brings to Germany’s world image:
” cannot the Turks be made to understand that their barbarities are reckoned to our account? and we Germans will be accused either of criminal complicity or contemptible weakness?”
And he stresses on ending educational assistance to the Turkish population since the Turks are the least gifted of all the race living in Turkey and are far behind of the Arab in civilization.
Finally, Dr Piege’s main aim is to appeal German leaders to take drastic measures so as to end this racial extermination.
Both, Germany and the Ottoman Empire denied crimes of massacres of the Armenian during World War I. It is said that due to some circumstances, the Ottoman Empire accused Germany of ordering this mass murder.
Opinion of prominent political figures.
The United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morganthau protested to the Young Turks leaders the slaughter of the Armenians and denounced its policies as inhuman:
“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well and in their conversation with me, they made no particular attempt to conceit the fact.I am confident that the whole history of human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compare to the sufferings of the Armenian race n 1915”
Furthermore, British Viscount James Bryce gave a speech in October the 6th 1915 denouncing this crime”
” The massacres are the result of a policy which as far as can be ascertained, has been entertained for some considerable time by the gang of unscrupulous adventurers who are now in possession of the government of the Turkish Empire. They hesitated to put it in practice until they thought the favorable moment had come and that moment seems to have arrived at the month of April”
We notice that leading political figures have played a role in condemning the crime of 1915 and that their firm opinion could have led to changed in the world scene.
The following testimonies and of survivors of the first Genocide had been recorded during and after the crime.
Dirouhi Highgas relates her experiences during the Genocide. She and her family were uprooted from their home and deported to Aleppo. She escaped death and today lives in . She recalls the day the Turkish soldiers obliged them to pack their belongings and leave their village, Konia, to an uncertain destination. Through their long walks, many members of the family died of dysentery.
“It was a terrible thing to go through… Everybody was sick and so many died. We left so many behind. I remember when we walked and when I turned I saw so many dead corpses left behind”
Furthermore, many Armenian students were drowned in rivers with stones tied to their neck. A student at the American College at Morsovan, Armenia, Diogenes Menippe, related the inhuman atrocities he witnessed in front of his eye. His class companion was murdered and some of his teachers imprisoned, however determined, he escaped and arrived at Constantinople where he induced the authorities that he was a foreigner since he excelled in english and entered the capital. He was one of the few lucky persons to survive the murder and flee to America safely.
The account of the eye witnesses and survivors of the Armenian Genocide are numerous and their testimonies have to be taken seriously into consideration by many scholars , historians so as to shed some light on the truth, to ensure historical objectivity and equality of all people under the law. So in case of any crime against humanity, recognition is always the first step to be taken to guarantee the limitation os all atrocities perpetrated.
Countries recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Attitudes towards the Armenian Genocide and actions to ensure its recognition have taken various forms since the crime was committed.
Actions and attitudes such as the 1948 adoption of the Convention on the Genocide, the 1965 date of celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Genocide around the world and the recognition obtained at the UN, the European parliament (1987) and several countries, depicts the success of the Armenian Diaspora to promote worldwide recognition.
Countries recognizing the Armenian Genocide are:
- Argentina 1985
- Australia 1997
- Belgium 1996
- Canada 1996
- England 1998
- France 1998
- Greece 1996
- Italy 1995
- Kurdistan 1995
- Lebanon 1995
- Russia 1995
- Sweden 1965
- Uruguay 1965
- The Holy See 1965
Countries like France, Argentina, Russia and Greece inhabit a large number of the survivors of the Genocide, thus the ratification of the resolution of recognition within their constitution.
Lebanon, as an example of one of the states that recognized the Genocide, ratified the following resolution within its parliament:
Beirut- The Lebanese Parliament unanimously approved the resolution Thursday calling for the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish Government at the beginning of the century. The resolution, which was the results of efforts put forth by the Armenian Bloc of the Parliament is the first step toward a complete recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Lebanese government and the subsequent condemnation of relentless Turkish denial acts. The resolution presented by the Parliament Executive calls all Lebanese citizens to unite with the Armenian people on April the 24th in commemorating the atrocities of 1915-1923.”
Reasons behind countries not recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
This limited global recognition is due to political constraints (ex: The North Atlantic Treaty Organizations NATO needs a strategic ally in the Middle East and near the former Soviet Republics) and lack of interest.
Many key political bodies including the USA fail to recognize the Armenian Genocide. They only attempt to pass weak resolutions that recognize atrocities or by taking up the Genocide cause only to let it die in process. For example, the Clinton administration continued to back Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide recalling the events of 1915 atrocities and massacres.
Thus I conclude that the Genocide perpetrated in 1915 has been gaining recognition through the years, although powerful states still deny ir for political strategic reasons.
The Turkish perspective.
The Ottoman archives debate began in the mid 1980’s when the Turkish officials announced the opening of the ottoman archival collections on the Armenian Genocide. Many of the Ottoman archives remained inaccessible to critical scholars. However, these critical studies did shed some light on the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The debate among the Turkish leaders of the Genocide of that of denial. In search of truth, a member of the Turkish forum’s advisory board, Erol Yorulzmazoglu gives us his point of view , which is acceptd by the whole turkish population.
At first, the author’s aim is to attract the sympathy towards the Ottoman Empire’s status : “The Ottoman Empire was struggling for survival” and he accuses the minorities (Serbs, Greeks and Armenians) living within the Empire to have revolted against the Central Government. According to the author, the Armenians,backed by Russia, were engaged into campaigns against the Turkish population of Eastern Anatolia, making enormous Turkish losses: “Russian campaigns have literraly exterminated Turks from these lands with the help pf local nationals such as the Serbs, the Ukrainians, the Armenians…”
During World War I, the Turks sided with the Axis powers so it was normal for the Allies to side up with the Armenians and recognize the Genocide.
Erol Yorulmazoglu accuses the Armenian Diaspora to have spread wrongly what has happened during the years of 1915 and on. According to him, the Turkish government only started to relocate the Armenian population to the other end of the Empire due to their savage attack against the Turkish population of Eastern Anatolia. It is therefore, the Armenian campaign that led to the retaliation of the Turks and the casualties that resulted on both sides illustrates clearly civil war.
The author concludes that as long as the Armenian Diaspora and its supporters continue to uphold the claim of an alleged Genocide, Turks will never accept the guilt for a crime that their ancestors never committed. Moreover, he insists that it is the Armenians that are in denial of their act at the beginning of the 19th century. He claims that neither side is innocent and both should admit their actions because without peace and prosperity these two wounded nations cannot bury the hatchet.
Till today, the modern state of Turkey refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by their ancestors. Within Turkey, denial had been forged in the leaders’ mind and political of revisionism was ensued in academic circles where younger generation of Turks are simply not told about the massacre committed against a whole nation. Erol Yorulmazoglu is one of the many who blame the Armenians of the question of Genocide.
When compared with recent acts of Genocide, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-1995 between the Serbs, the croats and the muslims, we see many similarities in the acts and atrocities committed against innocent civilians. People were herded and slaughtered in both Genocides while the world watched and chose to look away. In both cases, none of the people got fair compensations to make up for their losses and in both cases, international intervention was limited and absent.
Ultimately the reaction of the international community as always came too late.
It is obvious that the world is in desperate need of affirmative action to be taken before and during the time period where such crimes are committed.
it is worthy to mention that the Turkish government used the events of World War I as a cover to carry out the Armenian Genocide, which is a common political strategy utilizing propaganda to create a shift of attention of all major political actors. A more recent example of this strategy would be the Israeli government and the use of “War on terrorism” as a cover to carry out their objectives while the world is aware yet absent.
In retrospect, the Armenian people suffered crimes against their basic fundamental rights of a normal human life. They lost their homeland, their people and a large part of their history. This, by itself, comes in direct contradiction to all human rights mentioned, signed and ratified by most countries. Whether it is the ” Declaration of Human Rights” or the ” Geneva Conventions” or any other relating UN resolutions or articles, the world must enforce all laws pertaining to protecting human identity and dignity.