Sunday 7 March 2010

Genocidal Thoughts

I was casting my over press reports at the weekend on the outrage in Turkey after the United States Congress defined the mass killings of Armenians in the First World War as ‘genocide.’

The Turks are a proud people, a people with a deeply ingrained sense of national honour. I suppose I can understand, to some degree at least, the collective anger that this move has occasioned. After all, it places their country on the same moral level as Nazi Germany, or at least that’s how they feel. Official channels in Turkey do not deny that something terrible happened in those years, though the tendency is to view these events as part of a pattern of inter-communal violence.

There are a number of things that occur to me. First, I think it wrong to reduce the debate to numbers; it’s just as terrible if a ‘mere’ 300,000 Armenians died rather than 1.5 million, a figure favoured by those who define the event as genocide. Second, and perhaps more important, it’s wrong to get stuck in a bog of semantics.

So far as I am concerned- and I do stress this is a highly personal view- the Armenian tragedy cannot be equated with the Holocaust for the simple reason that it was not premeditated and systematic. In other words, there was no master plan, no proposal to exterminate an entire race, no Turkish Wannsee Conference, no Turkish Heydrich and no Turkish Eichmann. The whole thing, the deportations of a politically suspect minority and all that followed, was just a bloody mess, the kind of horror, though on a larger scale, that had been such a feature of Ottoman history, in episodes like the 1878 Batak Massacre in Bulgaria that so angered Gladstone.

There is, perhaps, a more fundamental point still. The crime was the responsibility of the Ottoman Empire, in general, and the then Young Turk government, in particular. But the Ottoman state disappeared in 1923 when the Republic of Turkey was born, the creation of Mustafa Kemal. This was a genuine young Turkey, a new and modern nation, which emerged from the ruins of an empire that had been degenerating for decades beforehand.

So, yes, I do find it difficult to understand the passion over this lost past. I know it’s an even more remote past but I personally would feel no sense of outrage, bemusement, yes, but not outrage, if the Irish decided to define the crimes of Oliver Cromwell, or the more recent Potato Famine, as forms of ‘genocide.’ There are indeed occasions when the dead are best left to bury the dead.

And so far as the US Congress is concerned one wonders when it will accept a resolution to the effect that what happened to the Indians in the nineteenth century in their own country was genocide. Unlike Turkey the United States does not have the excuse of historical and political fracture. These are matters that should be thought about deeply before rushing into the politics of gesture, often empty and more often meaningless.


  1. So an act of genocide has to be a planned act, the killing of hundreds of thousands of people just for the hell of it is not genocide according to you? What of Rwanda then in 1994? Was that not genocide, just because 800,000 were not 'planned' victims they are not to be equated to holocaust. That is very strange I must say.

    You seem confused over precisely what 'holocaust' means, it is any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life. And I do emphasise "reckless" - any pointless destruction of life whether planned or not is or should be equated to genocide and the holocaust (I do not see why we to get hung up on the holocaust word, I think it funny that a simple word so arouse so much emotion).

    It seems that, according to you, that one has to reach some kind of revolutionary apex in the mutilation of human life, for one to accord one self in the books of 'holocaust'. That a even lower pits in Dante's inferno should automatically reserve such a divine right to call one's slaughter 'holocaust'?


    (I do apologise if my tone is a tad aggressive, not my intention at all, but as you say this subject does stir up a lot of emotions whether one is Turkish or not - it appears that we British still have feelings despite what OUR reckless government appears to believe).

  2. Wow, that was quick! Possibly too quick? The thing is, Spitfire, there is far too much emotion here. These are issues that have to be thought about calmly. The number is not important. The Mongols killed countless numbers in China but not with the intention of exterminating the whole race. The Hutu did intend to exterminate the Tutsi- as the Nazis the Jews-so, yes, that was genocide. But did the Turks intend to exterminate all of the Armenians? These are complex issues. I'm just trying to think things through in the most rational way I can.

  3. No, Ottoman absolutely didn't intend to kill any minorities. Besides they gave Armenians work and high level government jobs. Why do they suddenly decide to kill an important minority that has contributed the country a lot?? (ex: Zildjian)
    Actually Armenian thesis are based on a newspaper article in 1922 (Daily Telegraph) that claims Talat Pasha who was the leader of Young Turks that controlled the Ottoman government during WWI ordered to "kill every single Armenian immediately". In the Official Ottoman archives that was opened by Turkish Government, his order corresponds only to "a transportation for specific people". It is also proven that this news was created by an French Armenian.
    I'd like to add some information about 300,000 Armenian deaths. It was WWI and 1915!! Armenians declared war against Ottoman Empire and most of them died in the conflict face to face.
    I'm deeply sorry for innocent Armenians who died in 1915 but does anybody care for Turks that were killed by Armenians??
    We are ready to face with our history but we cannot accept a crime which we never committed.

  4. But did not the Turks try to exterminate Armenians? Indeed is that not always the intent of genocide, the Hutu did intend to eradicate the Tutsi. I cannot think of a possible scenario where the antagonists are not trying to wholesomely render their opponents without a fighting opportunity, hence by destroying them.

    Why would you botch a job, like genocide, instead of completing it. I agree with you this has to be thought trough rationally without emotions. So I pose the question to you, as a commander would there be any reasons in not completely destroying your enemy? (ergo introducing genocide and holocaust).

  5. I'd like to add more information about so-called "evidence" pictures:
    After Armenians refused to fight beside Ottoman in WWI against Allies, they declared war for establishing their independent country. Ottoman government decided to separate civilians to protect them from war between Armenian and Ottoman forces. So they applied forced emigration to Armenian civilians as much as Turks. Some of innocent Armenian people didn't want to move and died in war, some of them died bcs of epidemic diseases during emigration. So-called "evidence" pictures were taken during these emigrations.

  6. Thanks to both of you. It is a complicated issue and there is clearly never going to be an easy resolution. My guess is that it will take another hundred years or so before the whole thing falls into proper perspective.

  7. Some interesting aspects are raised here. The Armenians as a people declared war against the Turks, sure. When it was blatantly obvious to theTutsi what the Hutu were up to, so did they as did the jews when they finally got around to what the nazis were up to.

    Now I am neither no big fan of sound bites, god knows my fecking university loves them, so they stick them on every bloody thing they produce. Anywho, what I trying to get to the bottom of is this; how come 'holocaust' is a reserved label for the destruction of the jews but nothing else. Rather why must it be such a sacred label when seemingly everything else is arbitrarily applied nowadays (to be fair, eurocrats tend to compare eurosceptics as nazis and say that without european integration we are to get another holocaust). Think of the label of 'racism' every bloody person in this country is a racist by today's standard, so seeing as we have become so liberal when it comes to the application of derogatory words, why is this not extended to 'holocaust'.

  8. It's possible to use the word 'Holocaust' in a wider sense, as in the Gypsy Holocaust, though I agree most people think of it specifically in relation to the Nazi extermination of the Jews. The term Jewish people prefer is 'Shoah'.

  9. yea.. you are right.. it wasn't a systematic extermination. but then a lot dead people is a lot of dead people. genocide or not it shouldn't matter whether you get to pin that label onto the occurrence of it. it doesn't make it any worse than what had happened. it has happened. there were victims and there are sill survivors. so the only big argument is on the scale of terrible how terrible it really is? my take is that its terrible and that in itself was a failure to protect their rights and hence bad.

  10. "Who now remembers the Armenians?" - Adolph Hitler, prior to attempting to exterminate European Jews.

    But yes, this was a crime of the Ottoman Empire rather than modern day Turkey. I am sure it would be better to simply acknowledge what took place whilst also pointing out that this was a different state, and a different people. Refusing to recognise that just perpetuates it.

  11. It's was a hooror, Nitin, amongst many historical horrors. Now its reduced to semantics and politics.

    WG, the Armenians, I presume, and lots of others, wherever they have made their presence felt in the world.

    It's not that modern Turkey refuses to recognise that something dreadful did happen; rather it's how these killings should be interpreted. There is far too much emotion; understandable emotion, yes, but not helpeful in clarifying the issues.

  12. Ana,

    You have put it quite well. It's a complicated issue. I will not discuss it here.
    You may find this of interest:

    What sickens me is that this misery is milked/exploited by politicians and the Armenian diaspora.

    Thank you.

  13. Thanks, Levent. Some people do find it difficult to be objective here, and I do understand why. But it's as well to remember we are taking about events that took place almost a hundred years ago. Moreover, did genocide, I have to ask myself, only beginn in the twentieth century? No easy answers; there never will be.

  14. It was systematic, please google Pan-Turkism and it's ideology, it's similar to Nazism.
    Also there were similar people in Turkey, such as the Butcher of Van.
    Please be sure to research the topic properly before making a judgement.

    Thank you.

  15. FC, I do not think it wise to pull stuff off the internet, at least without considerable cross-referencing; there is simply too much misinformation. Please believe me that I always research the topics I write about. You may not like my conclusion but I try to be as fair and as objective as I can be.