Healing Wounds: Seeking Closure for the 1915 Armenian Massacres

12 Jan

 

Richard Falk & Hilal Elver

 

            Recently the National Assembly, France’s lower legislative chamber, voted to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide in 1915, imposing a potential prison sentence of up to one year as well as a maximum fine of 45, 000 Euros. The timing of this controversial initiative seemed to represent a rather blatant Sarkhozy bid for the votes of the 500,000 French citizens of Armenian descent in the upcoming presidential election. It follows similar pre-election initiatives in 2001 when the French Parliament officially declared that the massacres of Armenians in 1915 were an instance of genocide and in 2006 when the Assembly first voted to criminalize Armenian genocide denial, an initiative that never became law because the French Senate failed to give its assent. And this hopefully may happen again with respect to this recent Assembly move.

 

            Predictably, the French action was perceived by Turkey as a hostile provocation. The Turkish government, which has so far refused to describe the 1915 events as ‘genocide,’ immediately reacted, warning France of adverse economic consequences if this initiative went forward, and has reacted by withdrawing its ambassador and freezing inter-governmental economic relations. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recip Teyyip Erdogan, denounced the action of the French Assembly that had been initiated by a prominent member of Sarkhozy’s party. Erdogan, known for his forthrightness, advised the French Government that instead of criminalizing the Turkish unwillingness to acknowledge the 1915 events as genocide, France should busy itself with determining whether its harsh tactics used during the 1950s in Algeria, and supposedly responsible for up to a million Algerian deaths during the long French campaign to hold onto to its north African colony constituted genocide.

 

            There are many issues raised by this turn for the worse in French-Turkish relations, and its embittering dialogue about historic events. Perhaps, the most important, is whether it is ever justifiable to criminalize the expression of an opinion about a set of past occurrences that goes against a societal consensus. It is true that genocide or Holocaust denial can be hurtful to those who are survivors or descendants of survivors, and identify with the victims of such severe wrongdoing, and its attendant suffering, but whether the sensitivities of these communities should ever be protected by the criminal law seems doubtful, conflicting with freedom of expression and censuring inquiries into historical events that are unpopular and controversial, but occasionally illuminating enough to challenge conventional wisdom. It would seem that informed agreement and social pressure should be sufficient to deter all but the most extremist instances of denial if a genuine and sufficient consensus exists as to the locus of responsibility and the character of the events. In this instance, such criminalization is especially unfortunate as even if the facts of the 1915 events are reasonably well established, the relevance of genocide is certainly ambiguous and somewhat problematic, especially from a legal perspective.

 

            Against this background, where Turkey has not yet been willing to describe the events of 1915 as ‘genocide’ the criminalization of the denial is more likely to raise tensions that encourage a long overdue accommodation. Of course, there are related irritants to the Turkish-Armenian relationship, especially the unresolved conflict over the future of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan. Among thoughtful Turks there continues to be some questioning of the character of the World War I events in question, not about their tragic character or even a willingness to condemn Ottoman wrongdoing, but there remains a Turkish governmental and societal reluctance to pin the label of genocide on these occurrences. It is well known that the Armenian diaspora has long been seeking to induce key governments around the world to make formal declarations to the effect that what happened in 1915 was genocide, and some 25 governments have done so, as have many lesser political entities such as sub-divisions of the state or cities. Such efforts to legalize historical truth, as distinct from mourning historical events, is itself

a political gimmick to circumvent diplomacy and accommodation. But to criminalize genocidal denial represents a still further escalation of Armenian efforts to resolve the controversy over this potent g-word through branding of denial as a crime. We would insist that rather than resolving the conflict, such steps make a politics of reconciliation that much more difficult for both parties.

 

            The discourse on genocide has always been confusing, multi-layered, and often toxic. The word ‘genocide’ is weighted down by its implications, explaining both why there is such a strong impulse to invoke it and an equally intense effort to deny its applicability.  We need to distinguish genocide as a crime in international law from the political assessment of historic events as genocide due to a clear pattern of deliberate killing of an ethnic or religious group. And such a political assessment needs to be further distinguished from a moral condemnation of a pattern designed to destroy systematically a beleaguered minority that might properly be described as ‘genocidal,’ or what has been more recently described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the setting of Bosnia, which is distinct from the judicially certified ‘genocide’ that shook the foundations of Rwanda in 1994.

 

            From a legal perspective it is not plausible to call these events in 1915 as genocide. After all, the word did not exist until coined by Rafael Lemkin in 1943, and the crime was not so delimited until the Genocide Convention came into force in 1951. Beyond this, and more telling than this technical observation, is the fact that the indictments at Nuremberg did not charge the surviving Nazi leaders with genocide, but convicted these Germans of ‘crimes against humanity’ for their connection with genocidal conduct, and even here only if the alleged criminal acts were associated with World War II, found by the tribunal to be an unlawful war, and thus a ‘crime against peace.’ If the Holocaust perpetrated against Jews and others did not seem to the Nuremberg tribunal to be a distinct crime, then it seems untenable to regard the Armenian tragedy as embodying the crime of genocide. When the UN expert body, the International Law Commission, put into words what was done at Nuremberg it explicitly affirmed the Roman dictum prohibiting retroactivity: no crime without law (nulla crimen sine lege).  Such a dictum touches on a fundamental component of justice to the effect that behavior, however detestable from moral and political points of view, is not a ‘crime’ until so designated in advance of the acts in question by a competent judicial body. This principle has never been contested, and it pertains to the genocide debate whenever attached to pre-1951 events, whether the Armenian experience or to the destruction of a variety of indigenous peoples in various parts of the world or to the barbarous institution of slavery.

 

            At the same time, if what took place in 1915 were to have occurred anytime after the Genocide Convention became effective, it would seem beyond any reasonable doubt to qualify as genocide. The International Court of Justice in the course of examining the Bosnian allegations of genocide, put the bar high by requiring written or documentary evidence of a clear intent by Serbian governmental leaders to commit the crime of genocide that was not available (except the particular incident involving the horrific massacre of several thousand Bosnian males at Srbrenica in 1995 was declared to be genocide). While such evidence was difficult to provide to the satisfaction of the World Court in relation to this notorious Bosnian experience of the 1990s partly as a result of a questionable arrangement with the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia not to release documentary evidence tying the Belgrade regime to the anti-Muslim cleansing operations in Bosnia, the situation with respect to Armenia is different. Unlike Bosnia, documentary evidence from the ruling Ottoman authorities does exist in sufficient quantity and quality to make a persuasive argument to the effect that ‘genocide’ took place in 1915, but because the events occurred 36 years before genocide formally became a crime such a showing is legally irrelevant.

 

            If this reasoning is accepted, it has important implications, including establishing some political space for bringing closure to the issue: Turkey could formally declare that if what happened to the Armenians in 1915 took place in the 1960s it would have been genocide, while those on the Armenian side could accept the idea that the 1915 massacres were not then genocide, but that their extent, character, and evidence would constitute genocide if taking place now, or anytime after 1951. The French move, if indeed it becomes law, is irresponsible in the extreme as it disallows the explorations of constructive ways that the violence and suffering of the past might be mitigated. As post-apartheid South Africa has illustrated, it might sometimes be politically and morally preferable for a victimized people to opt for ‘truth and reconciliation’ than to insist on the criminalization of past wrongs however heinous.

 

            It seems to me that such an approach would have mutual benefits. It would bring a conflict that has endured for decades nearer to closure. It would allow Armenians to regard their victimization as genocide from a political and moral perspective, while enabling Turkey to make such a concession without fearing such legal implications as Armenian demands for reparations and the recovery of lost property. Turkish good faith and remorse could be further expressed by appropriating funds for the establishment of a major museum of Armenian History and Culture in Ankara, by recognizing April 24th as a day of Armenian remembrance, and by encouraging honest historical inquiry into these horrific occurrences.

 

            Of course, such a politics of reconciliation can only have any hope of succeeding if there is a large display of good will and a sincere search by Turkish and Armenian leaders for positive relations between the two peoples. It is to be expected that extremists on both sides would strenuously object to such an accommodation. Admittedly, there would not be complete satisfaction even among that largely silent majority of Armenians and Turks who might welcome a pacifying development. What would be created is valuable– a new opening that would allow a more benevolent future to unfold for both peoples that could include a joint cathartic reexamination of the past. Such a development might add to the solemnity and dignity of the expected worldwide observances in 2015 of the 100th anniversary of these events and avoid these occasions from being little more than sad remembrances and shrill recriminations.  

 

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29 Responses to “Healing Wounds: Seeking Closure for the 1915 Armenian Massacres”

  1. Albert Guillaume January 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    What hope do Armenians have, if the genocide of the Palestinian peoples,that has systematically taken place since 1948 and endures to this day without any sign of abatement, continues.In fact the contrary can validly be argued.
    And the word ‘genocide’ has existed all that time too.We should refrain from calling ourselves humane and civilized, until we live up to the true definition of those concepts.If we in the west set such a high value on freedom, why do we continue to deny the same to others?Do the victims of our unjust wars and accompanying mass murders, feel pain, suffering, agony, deprivation and humiliation any different than the victims of genocide?They are no less dead or maimed, than the victims of genocide.Nor is their suffering any different.

  2. Nurhan Becidyan January 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    If the Genocide Convention did not come into force until 1951, and the the Roman dictum prohibiting retroactivity: no crime without law (nulla crimen sine lege) is going to be taken into consideration, how come the annihilation (or as I would call it the “Genocide” of the Jews can be termed as such as it happened between 1939-1945? Also have you seen Lemkin’s interview in the early 50′s where he categorically states that he first thought of the word “gencoide” because of what happened to the Armenians in 1915-1920 (http://www.videosurf.com/video/the-genocide-word-by-raphael-lemkin-88370420).

    • donald abcarian January 14, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      According to Mr. Falk’s interpretation there has been only one genocide in the fullest sense of the word: the Rwandan one. He takes the Holocaust as a set of war crimes, not a genocide. This is an absurdity.
      As to the first use of the word genocide during the second world war, Lemkin would not have had the word genocide to use in 1944 if he had not started in his search for it as a direct result of his reactions to the Armenian Genocide. It wasn’t snatched from the air. The French government has recognized two genocides: the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. It has taken the steps to place both on the same legal level, nothing more.
      As to the notion that Armenians should pipe down about genocide recognition in favor of eliciting Turkey’s recognition of the “equivalent” of genocide is a non-starter if one takes even a casual glance at its reactions to Armenian claims for the last 50 years.

      • Richard Falk January 14, 2012 at 10:26 am #

        I appreciate your thoughtful reflections, but you somewhat misunderstand our effort to find some ground for a possible reconciliation. Our legal point is not that Rwanda is the only case of genocide; Cambodia, Bosnia, several others qualify as being after the crime was established in 1951.
        This is not a legalistic point, but a recognition that non-retroactivity is an integral element of criminal justice.

    • Nurhan Becidyan January 15, 2012 at 5:23 am #

      Mr. Falk:

      You still do not answer the question whether the Jewish Holocaust should be considered as “genocide”or not. You are skirting the answer.

      • Richard Falk January 15, 2012 at 7:45 am #

        I didn’t mean to evade this issue. From my analysis, the crime of genocide did not exist until after 1951, but behavior that had the properties of the crime prior to 1951 were ‘genocide’ from the perspective of morality and politics. This non-legalistic distinction explains why Nazis were not indicted at Nuremberg for ‘genocide,’ even using other language such as ‘crimes against humanity,’ which were only treated as crimes if connected with the German prosecution of the war.

      • Nurhan Becidyan January 15, 2012 at 11:39 am #

        In that case do you consider or call the Jewish Holocaust as “genocide” or not?

  3. Nazzareno January 13, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    A very good article!|

  4. Paul Boghossian January 14, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I don’t think anyone pressing for Armenian Genocide recognition was clamoring for the Genocide Convention to apply retroactively; nor is the Turkish Government making a narrow legalistic point when it refuses to call it ‘genocide.’ Rather, it denies that the concept defined by the Convention applies to the events of 1915. In fact, it strongly disavows even ‘milder’ labels such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘crime against humanity.’

    So, I think there is very little reason to believe that your proposal would be acceptable to the Turkish Government, but if it were it would be a significant step forward.

    My own view is that it is a mistake to frame the issue about 1915 exclusively in terms of the concept of ‘genocide’ because I think that concept is irredeemably flawed, as I try to explain in the following article:

    http://nyu.academia.edu/PaulBoghossian/Papers/180369/The_Concept_of_Genocide

  5. donald abcarian January 15, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    I am tempted to point out the considerable number of points in your article which seem like rhetorical “gimmicks” (to use your unfortunate word), make unsupported assumptions and have little relevance to the articulation of the two main issues: the true meaning of genocide and how to bring about closure for it. One of these adventitious elements is the reference to the Karabagh issue, which has minimal relevance, at best, to the matters dealt with but has a nonetheless transparent political purpose.

    But let me focus on the 5th paragraph where you say, “We need to distinguish genocide as a crime in international law from the assessment of historic events as genocide due to a clear pattern of deliberate killing of an ethnic or religious group.” This, by and large, is the meaning of genocide as understood in ordinary speech, narrow legalisms aside. This is where the paragraph in question should have ended. But it does not end there. It rather closes with an obscure sentence that throws a pall over what has just been clearly stated. I can only say this: If Turkey were half way as close to acknowledging the reality of what happened in 1915 as your article suggests, the best way for it to begin showing it is by demolishing the tomb in which Talat’s bones are enshrined in Istanbul’s “Monument of Liberty” and changing the names of all streets, boulevards and other public places that bear his name. If that had been done five years ago the controversial French Bill may never have come to a vote. Until that happens Armenians will have no choice but to continue in their struggle for closure.

  6. Jannaan January 16, 2012 at 3:07 am #

    Dear Peter Falk,

    I am writing to inform you about a major forgery in the photo used. Please check it out, because someone must be duping you just like they duped Donald Bloxham (see: http://eurasiacritic.co.uk/category/author/jeremy-salt).

    See the Report of International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, Wash D.C. 1914, pp 326-330 for the Russian description of the state of Edirne). When Edirne fell, the large Ottoman garrison was disarmed, imprisoned, and left without food and shelter. Observers commented on corpses lying in heaps, men sleeping in the open in winter, the great incidence of cholera and all the other horrors that had been inflicted on them. What seemed to cause the greatest impression upon Western Europeans however was the fact that all the trees on the island of detention had been stripped of their bark “as far as a man can reach” (Same Report p.111)

    Gustav Cirilli, who had witnessed the entire siege of the city of Edirne by the Bulgarians in 1913 saw Bulgarians rape and murder accompanied by pillage. (See Journal du Siége d’Adrinople, Paris, 1913, pp:155-156). See also F.O. 371-1763, No:15648, Young to Grey, Philippopoli, 5 April 1913.

    Pardon me for not reading the rest of an article with such a false highlight at its start-up.

  7. Jannaan January 16, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    On the second thought, I read the article, and here are my thoughts:

    It is not that the Turks are not accepting the Armenian allegations of ‘genocide’. The Armenians are unable to prove their claims. Not counting the vote hungry politicians, they have been unsuccessful to convince any international court over the 95 years.

    Their ‘evidence’ was refused by Great Britain’s Chief Justice during the Malta Trials while the Ottoman leaders like Talat Pasha were detained with the accusation of ‘Armenian killings’ in 1920. The Blue Book was available at the time and was not found reliable by the Chief Justice.

    Also, even the courts do not condemn whole nations, with the grand children of a generation squeezed out of its land. Only Nazis were found guilty in the Nuremberg Trials. Only few leaders who gave out orders were found guilty of Srebrenica massacres, whereas Armenians worldwide have been blindly attacking all Turks and anything Turkish.

    It is obvious that three generations of Armenian population is poisoned with this aggressive propaganda, creating a sick people. But it is not up to me to heal them. Whoever poisoned them, their Sunday School teachers (See the Reader’s Digest column of Line Abrahamian at: http://www.readersdigest.ca/mag/2006/10/hate_to_hope.php OR failing to find it there, please check out: http://www.tallarmeniantale.com/huseyin-hatred.htm ), summer camp organizers or Dashnak leaders, whoever brainwashed these masses should help them get over the sickness from their minds.

    Raphael Lemkin was a 15 year old child during the said events of 1915 and he has never been in the vicinity to get a glimpse of the said events. Any opinion he had about the Armenian ‘geno-‘ was based on pure say so, tainted by Armenian propaganda. He had never listened to the Turkish side. Verdict without the defendant is neither ethical nor legal.

    Unless you are referring to forgeries like the one shown in the purported ‘photograph’ of Armenians instead of that of the Balkan Muslims of 1913 or Naim Bey memoirs as ‘evidence’, there is no ‘evidence’ of Ottoman government orders to wipe out Armenians from Eastern Anatolia upon their collaboration with invading Russian Armies.

    The French do not accept any guilt over killing of 1 million Algerians after the 1948 convention of genocide, why should the Turks be forced to feel guilty for defending their land during World War- I (1914-1918) from invading enemy and their collaborators? “Pipe Dream”!

    The authors of this article must be blind not to recognize that it is the Armenian side that is refusing the historic commission, not the Turkish side.

  8. Aram Iskenderian January 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    I stopped reading after this part.
    “From a legal perspective it is not plausible to call these events in 1915 as genocide. After all, the word did not exist until coined by Rafael Lemkin in 1943, and the crime was not so delimited until the Genocide Convention came into force in 1951. Beyond this, and more telling than this technical observation,”

    Really?
    So you know that the word was coined by Raphaeol Lemkin, but do not know WHY and WHAT prompted him to do so?
    I would help if such articles can be published after authors do some research.

    Please watch this video, and listen to the man himself, God bless his soul.
    Genocide by Raphael Lemkin

    From Wikipedia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide
    During a video interview with Raphael Lemkin, the interviewer asked him about how he came to be interested in this genocide. He replied; “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. First to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.”

    So basically the word was coined because of what happened to the Armenians, Assyrians, and the Jews, but you say it is not legally possible to call these crimes Genocide since the word was coined AFTER the fact?
    Wow!
    And you also go further to try to present the Jewish Holocaust as if it was not a Genocide, since the charges never stated the word.

    By that token, any crime committed should not be recognized as so if there was no law or definition for it at that time.
    Where does this stop?
    Let’s say in science, since there was no scientific explanation for anything, including weather, can we label anything that happened before the scientific explanation became available as anything else?

    I have seen excuses and distractions about the Armenian Genocide, but this one is probably among the weakest.

    • Richard Falk January 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

      I understand your sense that what took place was viewed by Lemkin as something that had the properties of genocide, but you miss our point. It was only after Lemkin delimited the behavior that the concept of genocide took shape (otherwise it would have been relied upon at Nuremberg), and only after the Genocide Convention that ‘genocide’ became a distinct international crime. This is not being ‘legalistic,’ it reflects the view that non-retroactivity is a component of criminal justice. This was our whole point.

      • aramiskenderian February 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

        Mr. Falk,

        I disagree with your characterization and the attempt to deny calling a spade a spade. Lemkin came up with the word, and clearly explained it. Now we people decades later trying to redefine the word based on their view and their personal opinion and then justifying it by using the “if it was, then it should have” type of arguments.

        So please excuse me for disagreeing with such twisting of facts. This is not a personal attack rather than an accurate (in my opinion) observation of your article and what it argued.

      • Richard Falk February 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

        I understand your disagreement. My only effort was to find some possible space for reconciliation by acknowledging that the genocide that occurred in 1915 had not then been treated as a crime. This was Lemkin’s crusade was to name the events as ‘genocide’ and to criminalize their occurrence as a distinct and new crime.

  9. monalisa January 18, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    Dear Richard,
    if I understood it right: you mean that healing is better as indictment and that for any indictment it should start at a certain time.

    My opinion is: that especially Western countries had have their own troubles and if Fance open its mouth concerning Turkey during the Ottoman Empire they should look at their own dirt on their garments – there would be more than enough to deal with.

    What I mean is:
    practically only a handful countries on our globe have not been involved with genozids or what could be called as.
    France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal and USA to name a few who could be put on the Nuremberg trials for genozids.

    The point is: starting from which time countries should be held responsible for in terms of recompensation. By saying responsible I mean put on a trial like Nuremberg.

    I agree with you that healing wounds would be much much better.

    But as we all can follow-up: political instrumentalism is on the table.

    if Turkey doesn’t “bend” over Western “orders” the political instrumentalism will take longer.
    With political instrumentalism I mean too that people in Armenia, foremost people in religious higher positions (in this case Christians) are instrumentalized. To instrumentalize with “religious” points is easy done. Even today where everybody should know the history of countries and its downfalls, religions are used – today against Moslems. In this case it was the Ottoman Empire – which were on the verge to be overthrown by the British Empire.

    PS: None of any individual living today can be put on trial for crimes done in the past.
    Countries have chanced, some are bigger now, some became smaller during the 20th century.

    Healing wounds should take place in such cases by coming together, exchanging culture, economic and science. If needed to give each other an helping hand. But this should be done by the countries themselves.
    Not from outside. And not through “rules” created by countries who aren’t better in moral terms than those they would like to “bend”.

    monalisa

  10. donald abcarian January 18, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Mr Falk, in all honesty, Lemkin cited the Armenian Genocide as an example of genocide. He did not “view” it as something “having the properties” of genocide. Let us call things as they are and not interpose obfuscatory terminology such as this. As to your representation of the reasons the word genocide was not used at Nuremberg, you cannot be serious in saying it was because the concept was not well delimited by Lemkin before Nuremberg. Apparently you take chapter 9 of Lemkin’s “Axis Rule In Central Europe” as some kind of footnote to the Genocide Convention, rather than the complete and painstaking articulation of exactly what he meant by “genocide”. This is surprising. To refresh your mind, here is what he says in introducing the concept:

    “New conceptions require new terms. By “genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. . . . . Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarilty mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disntegration of the political and social institutions, ofculture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.”

    • Paul Boghossian January 18, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      If anyone wonders why it has been so difficult to make progress on this issue, all they need to do is look at these comments and those on the Foreign Policy Journal website. What these comments show is that people, on both ‘sides’ of this dispute, are so crazed with anger or something, that they cannot think straight, leading them to heap abuse even on people who are AGREEING with them.

      Richard Falk (and his co-author) AGREE that the events of 1915 were genocide, in the sense that the events fall under the concept defined by the Convention on Genocide. The small point they are making is that the Convention itself does not apply to 1915 because laws don’t apply retroactively. What is so difficult to understand about that? What they say is true. Laws (in general) don’t apply retroactively.

      Their proposal that the Turkish Government accept that the events of 1915 fall under the concept defined by the Genocide Convention, even as they don’t fall under the Convention itself (because laws are not retroactive), is ALL that anyone could coherently have hoped for from Armenian Genocide recognition.

      If their article suffers from a problem, it is that there is zero chance that the Turkish Government will accept their proposal, since that Government is very far from being willing to acknowledge the moral enormity of what the Ottoman Turks committed.

  11. donald abcarian January 18, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    A few questions for Mr. Boghossian: Should Mr. Falk’s small point made in reminding us of the non-retroactivity of law deprive Armenians (or the French, or anyone else) from applying the concept of genocide to what happened to the Armenians in 1915? Is the concept of genocide rendered meaningless and unusable by the law that was derived from it? Does he agree with Mr. Falk that Armenian efforts to gain recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a “gimmick”?

    A couple of observations: Since law is ipso facto not retroactive, Turkey should have nothing to fear in terms of legal repercussions from characterizing what it did to the Armenians as genocide, this being the best descriptor of its policy toward the Armenians in 1915. This would do wonders for reconciliation, if that is what we are concerned with. In terms of the recommendation and relevance of the South African “truth and reconciliation” model, it needs to be pointed out that the truth and reconciliation model applies to people who are part of the same nation. In the Armenian case, the dispute is between a traumatized diaspora and an all powerful state which has for 97 years used every device it could muster to deny the nature and the scale of what was done and shows every sign of continuing to do so. Of course Turkey would welcome any characterization of what it did in 1915 that falls well short of the concept of genocide. Would Mr. Boghossian consider that sufficient to achieve reconciliation and close the book on 1915?

    • Paul Boghossian January 18, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      A few questions for Mr. Boghossian:

      Question 1: “Should Mr. Falk’s small point made in reminding us of the non-retroactivity of law deprive Armenians (or the French, or anyone else) from applying the concept of genocide to what happened to the Armenians in 1915? ”

      As I said clearly, the answer to this is No. Genocide is an act with certain properties. Acts with those properties could have occurred before the law prohibiting such acts was passed. It is perfectly coherent to ask whether such acts occurred before the law was passed, and to answer in the affirmative. As far as I can tell, Falk and Elver do not deny that. They say:

      “Unlike Bosnia, documentary evidence from the ruling Ottoman authorities does exist in sufficient quantity and quality to make a persuasive argument to the effect that ‘genocide’ took place in 1915, but because the events occurred 36 years before genocide formally became a crime such a showing is legally irrelevant.”

      They are saying that the designation is LEGALLY irrelevant, not that it is descriptively, morally or politically irrelevant. They are right about that, at least as far as the Genocide Convention is concerned.

      Question 2: “Is the concept of genocide rendered meaningless and unusable by the law that was derived from it?”

      No idea what this is asking. The concept is detachable from the law governing it. You can ask whether some act falls under the concept, even as you might concede that the law doesn’t apply to the act.

      Question 3: “Does he agree with Mr. Falk that Armenian efforts to gain recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a “gimmick”?”

      I do not agree with this, although I am conflicted about it.

      I don’t particularly like getting political bodies to legislate what counts as historical truth. On the other hand, all governments have to have, and do have, a view about the history of the nations they are dealing with, a view which conditions how they relate to those nations. And in this particular case, we are dealing with a massive and powerful campaign on the part of a state to distort and falsify morally important historical truth, a campaign that must be rebutted using available political means.

      Question 4: “Of course Turkey would welcome any characterization of what it did in 1915 that falls well short of the concept of genocide. Would Mr. Boghossian consider that sufficient to achieve reconciliation and close the book on 1915?”

      Going by the definition of ‘genocide’ in the UN Convention, 1915 clearly counts as genocide. So, in a sense, nothing else will do.

      The problem that I have is that the concept defined by the UN Convention is so poorly constructed that there are very legitimate issues about how it is EVER to be applied properly, problems that have absolutely nothing to do with the Armenian case. So that is a complication (which I try to explain here: http://nyu.academia.edu/PaulBoghossian/Papers/180369/The_Concept_of_Genocide)

      But putting that complication to one side, no, there is no reason to accept any other description — and as far as I can see, Falk and Elver agree.

  12. donald abcarian January 18, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    Mr. Boghossian, I would suggest to you that the article’s “small point” about the non-retroactivity of law (which is, in any case, self-evident and could be stated in a few words) is designed to cast its shadow over the Armenian use of the very concept, in effect suggesting by association that such use is illegitimate. Let’s take a look at a crucial passage in the article dealing with this distinction:

    ” We need to distinguish genocide as a crime in international law from the political assessment of historic events as genocide due to a clear pattern of deliberate killing of an ethnic or religious group. And such a political assessment needs to be further distinguished from amoral condemnation of a pattern designed to destroy systematically a beleaguered minority that might properly be described as ‘genocidal,’ or what has been more recently described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the setting of Bosnia, which is distinct from the judicially certified ‘genocide’ that shook the foundations of Rwanda in 1994.

    From a legal perspective it is not plausible to call these events in 1915 as genocide. After all, the word did not exist until coined by Rafael Lemkin in 1943, and the crime was not so delimited until theGenocide Convention came into force in 1951.”

    The second obscure and unintelligible sentence (“And such a political assessment. . . . .”) erases the clarity of the distinction just made so that the author’s can then go on in the next paragraph to say: “From a legal perspective it is not plausible to call these events as genocide”. But what about the political perspective? Shouldn’t that have been addressed as well for symmetry in their analysis? But, no, it is not. Why? How can they in the absence of addressing it then go on a talk liberally about a “truth and reconciliation” process?

    • Paul Boghossian January 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      Mr Abcarian,

      Your comment typifies what is supposed to pass for wisdom and insight in this debate. Someone makes a proposal designed to push the sisue forward and everyone’s response is to pounce on the author, trying to find some hidden partisan motive.

      Why not take the proposal at face value? As I say, it is highly unlikely to succeed because it is very far from what the Turkish Government is prepared to concede. It suggests conceding the only thing that could ever coherently have been at issue.

      But instead of fishing around for fishy motives why not just take the proposal for what it is, a well-meaning but perhaps ineffectual proposal to get past the current impasse?

      You say that the authors claim that “From a legal perspective it is not plausible to call these events as genocide”. And you ask: “But what about the political perspective? Shouldn’t that have been addressed as well for symmetry in their analysis? But, no, it is not. ”

      This shows how desperate you seem to be to find some nefarious motive behind the proposal. The authors address the political and moral perspectives very explicitly on several occasions. I quote:

      “Such a dictum touches on a fundamental component of justice to the effect that behavior, however detestable from moral and political points of view, is not a ‘crime’ until so designated in advance of the acts in question by a competent judicial body. This principle has never been contested, and it pertains to the genocide debate whenever attached to pre-1951 events, whether the Armenian experience or to the destruction of a variety of indigenous peoples in various parts of the world or to the barbarous institution of slavery.

      At the same time, if what took place in 1915 were to have occurred anytime after the Genocide Convention became effective, it would seem beyond any reasonable doubt to qualify as genocide.”

      This says VERY CLEARLY that 1915 was genocide and is morally and politically heinous as a result. It is not legally indictable for the simple reason that genocide was not a recognized international crime at the time. That is a very narrow legal point, and not a moral or political one, as the authors emphasize,

      For that reason, it is unlikely to push the issue forward. But that is not a reason to distort what the authors say.

  13. donald abcarian January 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    I apologize for not catching the fact that “amoral” was a typo for “a moral” in the 5th paragraph and therefore made too much of it. I close with the hope that Turkey will some day acknowledge the truth so that all the toxicity generated by its denialism will evaporate and liberate us all for better days.

  14. donald abcarian January 19, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Mr. Boghossian,

    I had meant my previous apology on the typo “amoral” to be my last word in this debate.
    But then I read your latest post and now feel compelled to present a response for the sake of clarity.

    You say that the authors say VERY CLEARLY that 1915 was genocide. I must dispute that statement with the following quotes from their article:

    If the Holocaust perpetrated against Jews and others did not seem to the Nuremberg tribunal to be a distinct crime, then it seems untenable to regard the Armenian tragedy as embodying the crime of genocide.

    The Armenian side could accept the idea that the 1915 massacres were not then genocide, but that their extent, character, and evidence would constitute genocide if taking place now, or anytime after 1951.

    Turkey could formally declare that if what happened to the Armenians in 1915 took place in the 1960s it would have been genocide, while those on the Armenian side could accept the idea that the 1915 massacres were not then genocide.

    These do not sound like clear endorsements of the idea that Armenians or anyone else can meaningfully refer to 1915 as genocide. Quite the contrary.

  15. lista otto November 6, 2012 at 2:36 am #

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    • Richard Falk November 6, 2012 at 9:00 am #

      Fred Skolnik: I keep your comment above, but I ask you not to make personally insulting comments directed toward others, including others who submit comments. I will do my best to be evenhanded in monitoring comments so as to limit this blog to substantive discussion carried on in a civil tone. There
      are many other venues that are available for those who wish to engage in personal attacks. I hope you will contribute on this basis. Richard Falk

  16. Hakis datvan April 9, 2013 at 2:21 am #

    To the European Commission :

    TURKEY İS GUİLTY OF THE GENOCİDE COMMİTTED İN WEST ARMENIA.

    In order to create a Turkish nation from above, Turkish nationalists waged a bloody campaign against non-Turkish and non-Muslim elements of the empire.
    The First World War served as an excuse for the Young Turks, the then Turkish goverment, to exterminate Armenians. It was a deliberate and sustain war, in the course of which hundreds of thousands Armenians, Syrians and Greeks had been ruthlessly killed or forced into exile.
    The collapse of the Ottomans had left a power vacuum, filled by another section of the Turkish nationalists, called Kemalists at a later time.
    Mass extermination of the Ottoman times and also an extermination of an ethnically distinct and separate people from Turks.
    What happened back then has been handed down to the later generations by their parents and grand-parents, who witnessed the onslaught, and of whom some are still alive.
    Furthermore the sites of the mass graves all over West Armenia are well known and can easily be located if and when need be. The ruins of the country`s cultural heritage including churches belonged to the nations`s Christian section are still visible.
    The Turks are guilty of the genocide of millions. Muslims in general, are guilty of even more millions of non-muslim deaths.
    The Genocide of Armenians caused more severe damage to the Armenian nation than the Holocaust did to the Jews. While the number of Jews killed by the Germany was larger than the number of Armenians killed by Turkey, the Armenians lost most of their homeland of Cilicia and Western Armenia due to the genocide. The Holocaust also gave a huge international impetus to create Israel. the Holocaust helped create Israel; the Genocide help in the disappearance of the Armenian homeland.
    For even if the opening of Turkey’s archives conclusively show there was a deliberate policy and practice on the part of Turkish authorities in 1915-1923 to dispossess and eliminate Armenians (and Greeks) from their ancestral homeland by the use of mass murder, threats and intimidation–in short, that Turkey was guilty of genocide–what then? It is too late to put on trial any of the perpetrators of that genocide, since they have returned to the dust and mud whence they emerged.
    We think it is only fair to mention the Assyrians that were slaughtered as well with the Armenians and Greeks the total of the 3 ethnic groups were 2.8 million.
    People wish to see the justice served. A search for justice has already began. A legal action against Turkey will at long last be taken at some time in the future.

    We demand of the Turkish authorities firstly the recognition of our country, occupied west Armenia, which was autonomous under the Ottoman Empire and which lost its autonomy; secondly the recognition of the genocides or attempted genocides suffered by our people and which it witnessed in 1915.
    We demand the immediate end of the policy designated under the name ‘Plan D’ which forces the population into an exodus or forced assimilation.

    We demand demilitarisation and the banning of all the activities of military and paramilitary teams which have been exercising terror over the population since 1889.
    The language of the occupied west Armenia, is still banned today. We demand self-determination in the matter of communication, education and social organisation. The Turkish state must recognise the specific beliefs and traditions of the occupied west Armenia people. The policy of Islamisation and Turkishisation (exemplified by the precept: ‘one mosque per village, one Imam per village’) must cease.
    The military policy of the Turkish state has already destroyed a great part of our patrimony: setting fire to our forests, bombing our villages, systematic destruction of our historical monuments the sacred of our culture, and riches of humanity as well.

    We bring to your attention this dramatic reality in the context of the discussion of entering into negotiations with Turkey.

    May the threat to pour people end and may all the minorities of Anatolia live in peace.
    We, the signatures below, demand justice and support the initiatives aiming to bring Turkey to justice.

    Hakis Datvan, spokesman for the Collective Lake Van.

    To the European Commission :

    TURKEY İS GUİLTY OF THE GENOCİDE COMMİTTED İN WEST ARMENIA.

    In order to create a Turkish nation from above, Turkish nationalists waged a bloody campaign against non-Turkish and non-Muslim elements of the empire.
    The First World War served as an excuse for the Young Turks, the then Turkish goverment, to exterminate Armenians. It was a deliberate and sustain war, in the course of which hundreds of thousands Armenians, Syrians and Greeks had been ruthlessly killed or forced into exile.
    The collapse of the Ottomans had left a power vacuum, filled by another section of the Turkish nationalists, called Kemalists at a later time.
    Mass extermination of the Ottoman times and also an extermination of an ethnically distinct and separate people from Turks.
    What happened back then has been handed down to the later generations by their parents and grand-parents, who witnessed the onslaught, and of whom some are still alive.
    Furthermore the sites of the mass graves all over West Armenia are well known and can easily be located if and when need be. The ruins of the country`s cultural heritage including churches belonged to the nations`s Christian section are still visible.
    The Turks are guilty of the genocide of millions. Muslims in general, are guilty of even more millions of non-muslim deaths.
    The Genocide of Armenians caused more severe damage to the Armenian nation than the Holocaust did to the Jews. While the number of Jews killed by the Germany was larger than the number of Armenians killed by Turkey, the Armenians lost most of their homeland of Cilicia and Western Armenia due to the genocide. The Holocaust also gave a huge international impetus to create Israel. the Holocaust helped create Israel; the Genocide help in the disappearance of the Armenian homeland.
    For even if the opening of Turkey’s archives conclusively show there was a deliberate policy and practice on the part of Turkish authorities in 1915-1923 to dispossess and eliminate Armenians (and Greeks) from their ancestral homeland by the use of mass murder, threats and intimidation–in short, that Turkey was guilty of genocide–what then? It is too late to put on trial any of the perpetrators of that genocide, since they have returned to the dust and mud whence they emerged.
    We think it is only fair to mention the Assyrians that were slaughtered as well with the Armenians and Greeks the total of the 3 ethnic groups were 2.8 million.
    People wish to see the justice served. A search for justice has already began. A legal action against Turkey will at long last be taken at some time in the future.

    We demand of the Turkish authorities firstly the recognition of our country, occupied west Armenia, which was autonomous under the Ottoman Empire and which lost its autonomy; secondly the recognition of the genocides or attempted genocides suffered by our people and which it witnessed in 1915.
    We demand the immediate end of the policy designated under the name ‘Plan D’ which forces the population into an exodus or forced assimilation.

    We demand demilitarisation and the banning of all the activities of military and paramilitary teams which have been exercising terror over the population since 1889.
    The language of the occupied west Armenia, is still banned today. We demand self-determination in the matter of communication, education and social organisation. The Turkish state must recognise the specific beliefs and traditions of the occupied west Armenia people. The policy of Islamisation and Turkishisation (exemplified by the precept: ‘one mosque per village, one Imam per village’) must cease.
    The military policy of the Turkish state has already destroyed a great part of our patrimony: setting fire to our forests, bombing our villages, systematic destruction of our historical monuments the sacred of our culture, and riches of humanity as well.

    We bring to your attention this dramatic reality in the context of the discussion of entering into negotiations with Turkey.

    May the threat to pour people end and may all the minorities of Anatolia live in peace.
    We, the signatures below, demand justice and support the initiatives aiming to bring Turkey to justice.

    Hakis Datvan, spokesman for the Collective Lake Van.

    Click here, if you want to sign

    IMZA KAMPANYASINA KATILALIM
    https://www.change.org/tr/kampanyalar/the-european-commission-avrupa-komisyonu-we-the-signatures-below-demand-justice?utm_campaign=share_button_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

    IMZA KAMPANYASINA KATILALIM
    https://www.change.org/tr/kampanyalar/the-european-commission-avrupa-komisyonu-we-the-signatures-below-demand-justice?utm_campaign=share_button_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

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  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Healing Wounds: Seeking Closure for the 1915 Armenian Massacres - January 16, 2012

    [...] most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).Hilal Elver is his wife, originally from Turkey.Go to Original – richardfalk.comClick to share this article: facebook | twitter | email. Click here to download this article as a [...]

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