defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its allies at the end of 1918 raised the
possibility of enacting the numerous pledges concerning the punishment
of the perpetrators and the rehabilitation of the Armenian survivors. After
the Young Turk leaders had fled the country, the new Turkish prime minister
admitted that the Turks had committed such misdeeds "as to make the conscience
of mankind shudder forever." United States General James G. Harbord, after
an inspection tour of the former Armenian population centres in 1919, reported
on the organise nature of the massacres and concluded: "Mutilation, violation,
torture, and death have left their haunting memories in a hundred beautiful
Armenian valleys, and the traveller is seldom free from the evidence of
this most colossal crime of all ages." The Paris Peace Conference declared
that the lands of Armenia would never be returned to Turkish rule, and
a Turkish military court martial tried and sentenced to death in absentia
Enver, Talaat, Djemal and Dr. Nazim, the notorious organisers of the genocide.
No attempt was made to carry out the sentence, however, and thousands of
other culprits were neither tried nor even suspended, and even accused
and imprisoned war criminals were freed and sent home.
release of the perpetrators of the genocide signalled a major shift in
the political winds. The former Allied Powers, having become bitter rivals
over the spoils of the war, failed to act in unison in imposing peace or
dealing with the stiff resistance of a Turkish nationalist movement. They
concurred that the Armenians should be freed and rehabilitated but took
no effective measure to achieve that objective. They hoped that the United
States would extend a protectorate over the devastated Armenian regions,
but the United States was recoiling from its role in the world war and
turning its back on the league of Nations. Unable to quell the Turkish
nationalist movement, which rejected the award of any territory for an
Armenian state or even unrestricted return for the Armenian refugees, the
Allied Powers in 1923 made their peace with the new Republic of Turkey.
No provision was made for the rehabilitation, restitution or compensation
of the Armenian survivors. Western abandonment of the Armenians was so
complete that the revised peace treaties included no mention of "Armenians"
or "Armenia". It was as if no Armenians had ever existed in the Ottoman
Empire. The 3,000 year presence of the Armenians in Asia Minor came to
a violent end. Armenian place names were changed, Armenian cultural monuments
were obliterated or allowed to fall into disrepair. Attempts to eliminate
the memory of Armenia included change of the geographic expression Armenian
Plateau to Eastern Anatolia . The Armenian survivors were condemned to
a life of exile and dispersion, being subjected to inevitable acculturation
and assimilation on five continents and facing an increasing indifferent
world. With the consolidation of totalitarian regimes in Europe during
the 1920s and 1930s memories of the Armenian cataclysm gradually faded,
and in the aftermath of the horrors and havoc of World War II it virtuall
became the "forgotten genocide".
In recent years, growing awareness
of the Holocaust and the commitment to the prevention and punishment of
the crime of genocide has again raised the Armenian Genocide to the level
of consciousness among educators, scholars and defenders of human rights.
The trans-generational trauma of the Armenian people is beginning to be
understood, and various official and unofficial bodies have called on the
present government of the republic of Turkey to recognise the injustice
perpetrated against the Armenians by previous Turkish governments.
a thoughtful essay, Terrence Des Pres, the author of The Survivor: An
Anatorny of'Life in the Death Camps and member of the United States
Holocaust Council, has captured the importance of remembering:
Milan Kundera, the exiled
Czech novelist, has written that "the struggle of man against power is
the struggle of memory against forgetting." This single remark, in my view,
sums up the human predicament today and puts the burden of responsibility
exactly where it falls--on writers, and now more than ever on scholars
. . . National catastrophes can be survived if (and perhaps only if) those
to whom disaster happens can recover themselves through knowing the truth
of their suffering. Great powers, on the other hand, would vanquish not
only the peoples they subjugate but also the cultural mechanism that would
sustain vital memory of historical crimes.
When modern states make way for geo-political
power plays, they are not above removing everything - nations, cultures,
homelands - in their paths.
powers regularly demolish other peoples' claim to dignity and place, and
sometimes, as we know, the outcome is genocide. In a very real sense, therefore,
Kundera is right: against historical crimes we fight as best we can, and
a cardinal part of this engagement is "the struggle of memory against forgetting".
(Extract from Prof.
Richard G. Hovannisian, in "Model Curriculum for Human Rights and Genocide",
California State Board of Education, 1988.)
Studies: Resources - Macquarie University, Sydney 1997)
Armenian Genocide: Context and Legacy
By Dr. Rouben Adalian
1915 and 1918 the Ottoman B Empire, ruled by Muslim Turks, carried out
a policy to eliminate its Christian Armenian minority. This genocide was
preceded by a series of massacres in 1894-96 and in 1909, and was followed
by another series of massacres beginning in 1920. By 1922 Armenians had
been eradicated from their historic homeland.
There are at least two ways of looking
at the Armenian experience in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. Some
scholars regard the series of wholesale killings from the 1890s to the
1920s as evidence of a continuity in the deteriorating status of the Armenians
in the Ottoman Empire. They maintain that, once initiated, the policy of
exposing the Armenians to physical harm acquired its own momentum. Victimization
escalated because it was not countermanded by prevailing outside pressure
or attenuated by internal improvement and reconciliation. They argue that
the process of alienation was embedded in the inequalities of the Ottoman
system of govemment and that the massacres prepared Ottoman society for
Other scholars point out that the
brutalization of disaffected elements by despotic regimes is a practice
seen across the world. The repressive measures these govemments use have
the limited function of controlling social change and maintaining the system.
In this frame of reference, genocide is viewed as a radical policy because
it reaches for a profound alteration of the very nature of the state and
society. These scholars emphasize the decisive character of the Armenian
genocide and differentiate between the periodic exploitation and occasional
terrorization of the Armenians and the fmality of the deliberate policy
to exterminate them and eliminate them from their homeland.
all empires, the Ottoman Empire was a multinational state. At one time
it stretched from the gates of Vienna in the north to Mecca in the south.
From the sixteenth century to its collapse following World War I, the Ottoman
Empire included areas of historic Armenia. By the early part of the twentieth
century, it was a much shrunken state confined mostly to the Middle East.
Yet its rulers still governed over a heterogeneous society and maintained
in stitutions that favored the Muslims, particularly those of Turkish background,
and subordinated Christians and Jews as second-class citizens subject to
a range of discriminatory laws and regulations imposed both by the state
and its official religion, Islam.
The failure of the Ottoman system
to prevent the further decline of the empire led to the overthrow of the
government in 1908 by a group of reformists known as the Young Turks. Formally
organized as the Committee of Union and Progress, the Young Turks decided
to Turkify the multiethnic Ottoman society in order to preserve the Ottoman
state from further disintegration and to obstruct the national aspirations
of the various minorities. Resistance to this measure convinced them that
the Christians, and especially the Armenians, could not be assimilated.
When World War I broke out in 1914, the Young Turks saw it as an opportunity
to rid the country of its Armenian population. They also envisioned the
simultaneous conquest of an empire in the east, incorporating Turkish-speaking
peoples in Iran, Russia, and Central Asia.
The defeat of the Ottomans in World
War I and the discrediting of the Committee of Union and Progress led to
the rise of the Turkish Nationalists. Their objective was to found a new
and independent Turkish state. The Nationalists distanced themselves from
the Ottoman government and rejected virtually all its policies, with the
exception of the policy toward the Armenians.