Raphael Lemkin coined the term in 1944:
Genocide is the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.
The UN defines genocide as:
…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members 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.
Lemkin was asked how he came to be interested in the crime of genocide. He replied:
I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.
April 24 is the date Armenians commemorate their genocide. This year will mark 100 years.
The Armenian Genocide…was the Ottoman government's systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.
In addition to the historic tragedy, a review of this episode offers the opportunity to witness in real-time the impact of realpolitik on the writing and interpretation of history – a peek behind the curtains of the development of myth and the obfuscation of truth.
Therefore, I will first review the tragic history, followed by a review of the current dialogue – greatly in the news now due to the aforementioned 100 year anniversary.
The Fall of the Ottomans, Eugene Rogan
I have this book on my shelf, to be read. The end of the Great War saw the end of several European empires; I have yet to do much work regarding the Ottoman. I am not ready to start through the book, however, given the upcoming commemoration of the Armenian Genocide – as well as my recent posts on the Ukrainian Famines and Jewish Holocaust, putting me in the mood, I guess – I decided to take it off of the shelf and read (and comment on) chapter 7, “The Annihilation of the Armenians.”
I offer the following high-level and superficial summary leading up to this period: By 1915, the Ottoman Empire was a fraction of its former self – most of the European portion now independent or under authority of the Austro-Hungarians, central Asia either to Russia or Persia, much of the Middle East and North Africa under control of primarily either the British or Italians, the French are in there somewhere. Meanwhile, some factions of the Armenian minorities in what remained of Ottoman-controlled lands were agitating for more control, looking to European powers to aid in the quest for independence.
In other words, things weren’t going well for any Ottoman concerned with hanging on to any portion of past glories. It is worth keeping in mind while considering subsequent events: the Armenians were seen by the Turks as an existential threat to what little remained of the Ottoman state – a meaningless “threat” unless one views the state as a god.
And then, the Great War as practiced in the Near East:
By the spring of 1915, the Ottomans faced invasion on three fronts. Since their conquest of the Basra region of southern Iraq in the final months of 1914, Anglo-Indian troops had poised a grave threat at the southern gates of the Ottoman Empire. In the east, the Ottoman Third Army was in total disarray in the aftermath of Enver Pasha’s ill-conceived Sarakamiş campaign against the Russians in December 1914 and January 1915. To the west, British and French fleets had mounted sustained attacks against the Dardanelles, and Allied infantry had managed to secure several beachheads on both sides of the straits.
What remained of the empire was under threat:
There were good grounds for the panic that swept the imperial capital in March 1915. The empire’s collapse appeared eminent.
The Armenians were located primarily in what today is eastern Turkey (“Western Armenia” to some Armenians; a loaded term for Turks) – right on the lines of the failed battles with the Russians. There were also Armenians in Russia (“Eastern Armenia” to some Armenians). Armenians from Russia fought against the Turks, and some portion of Armenians from eastern Turkey joined their further-eastern brethren, or at least supported them.
The divided loyalties of some Armenians had turned all Armenians in the eyes of many Turks. The Young Turk leadership began to contemplate permanent solutions to the “Armenian problem.”
…when, in the spring of 1915, the Young Turks declared the entire Ottoman Armenian population a dangerous fifth column, the Unionists even mobilized average citizens to assist in their annihilation.