Columns / Discourse / February 8, 2012

World Politics Corner: The politics of genocide denial

Recently the French government passed a law forbidding the denial of the Armenian genocide in World War I, in spite of opposition from Turkey.

During World War I, between 1 million to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during massacres, and when the Ottomans forced Armenians out of their homes on “death marches” of hundreds of miles to what is now Syria, depriving them of food and water.

Turkey, the government that now inhabits what was once the central hub of the Ottoman Empire, denies that the events that took place were genocide, arguing that there were intercommoned clashes that killed on both sides.

France states that it is just making sure all recognized genocides are equal under the law. In France it is illegal to deny the Holocaust; the French government already acknowledged the Armenian genocide, it is rational to assume that it should be just as illegal to deny the Armenian genocide, than it is to deny the Holocaust.

Are there any conclusions to be made? No. I don’t have any at least, but this is an interesting question to ponder.

Defining genocide

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines genocide as, “the deliberate killing of a very large number of people from a particular ethnic group or nation.”

We are still debating the issue of whether it was genocide or not. Some argue whether or not it was mechanized enough to count as a genocide.

Looking at the Holocaust, we know there were death camps, extermination was made a country policy and great efforts were taken in rounding people up and marching them off to the slaughter.

Now look at the Armenian “possible” genocide. Extermination through mass burnings or drownings were implemented by the Ottoman government: we can assume that since the government was committing the acts, it was probably government policy. Were Armenians rounded up? Yes. Were they marched off to the slaughter? Yes. Were there death camps?

To that, the answer is “maybe.” There were camps made in the locations of what are now Syria and Iraq. Scholars suggest that they were used as holding camps for those who had only a few days left to live, then a place to hold mass killings, then mass graves. Death seems a part of all those uses. Again though, it is questioned that there were death camps in the same sense as the Holocaust.

But is this one difference enough to say that what happened to Armenians isn’t genocide? Many think so.

One could also argue that this wasn’t genocide: it was displacement or deportation. They weren’t meant to die, just to be moved.

Not only does this skim over the massacres through drowning or burning, it just sounds plain stupid. Sending people to march for hundreds of miles without water or food generally results in death I’m guessing. I’m not sure, I’ve never tried it, but it seems logical that it would kill. Just saying.

Also a little tidbit, here’s a quote from the devil incarnate himself, justifying what he wanted to be done to people:

“… Send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children … Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” – Hitler, 1939.

Even he recognized the role history has to play in deciding the legacy of people’s actions. At the end of the day, we can speculate all we want. But this is up to historians and scholars to decide. And, for the most part, there has been a decision to the Armenian question. The International Association of Genocide Scholars, among others, has stated that evidence shows the Armenian situation to be genocide. Where does politics fit?

So then why do politicians feel the need to weigh in on what is or isn’t a genocide? Why should Turkey try to cleanse the history of the Ottoman Empire? Politics is business as usual, and much of that business is dirty. Nobody wants to admit to their wrong doings, but they are quick to acknowledge others.

Only 20 countries openly admit to the existence of an Armenian Genocide. There is more opposition to this labeling besides Turkey. Among many other countries, the United States denies the existence of the Armenian Genocide. Each country has its own reasons, its own benefits for denying this genocide. After all, if we’re going to start pointing fingers, let’s consider the mass killings of Native Americans and enslaved Africans, Ethiopians under Dutch rule, people of Congo under Belgium rule, Ukrainians in a man-made famine under the USSR, Bengalis in another man-made famine under the British, Koreans under the Japanese, East Africans under pre-Hitler Germany, Algerians under the French and the still ongoing situation in Darfur…

The list goes on and on and on. And imagine if we just added the racially charged issues of colonization and decolonization. Look at all the blood on our hands.

Rana Tahir
Rana Tahir is a political columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering international issues. She will graduate in June 2013 with degrees in political science and creative writing, after which she will attend the University of Denver's publishing institute.

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