Armenian Genocide - One of the Biggest Tragedies of the 20-th Century

According to a number of authoritative expert views on the matter, the genocide on the Armenians continued for a few decades in the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian people suffered the heaviest losses in the period 1894-1896, when about 300, 000 were exterminated.

The genocide also took place from World War I to 1923. Thus, the policy of the Armenian genocide was the official policy of the Turkish authorities for decades. Especially when Turkey began to lose the previously-conquered territories in the Balkans, as Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria each regained their independence, there was a threat that the Armenians, with Western and particularly with Russian help, could reestablish Armenia in its historic boundaries, including broad parts of Eastern Anatolia.

April 24, 1915, was a symbolic day. On this day, on the decision of the Turkish government, arrests of Armenian secular and spiritual leaders, intelligentsia, and Armenian deputies in the Turkish parliament began to take place in Istanbul and other cities of the Turkish Empire. After this, the “beheaded” Armenian people, deprived of their leaders, became vulnerable and helpless before the Turkish authorities during World War I, who decided to put an end to the Armenian question once and for all.

At the beginning of the war, the Turkish government called Armenian men to duty in the armed forces, thereby depriving Armenian women, children, and the elderly of protection; after this, on April 24, they began persecutions in earnest, and prepared the ground for the deportations and extermination of an entire people. Around the time the war began, there were 2.3-2.6 million Armenians in Western Armenia.

According to different estimates, after the massacres, mass exterminations and deportations, there remained only about 700, 000-800, 000 who managed to flee to Russia, Arab countries in the Middle East, and, via some Western organizations, to the Balkans, after which to France and the United States. The main reason for the tragedy was, first and foremost, the unwillingness of Turkey to give autonomy to the Armenians in their own historic motherland, as the Turks feared that the next step would be full independence for the Armenians.

As a second reason for the mass exterminations of Armenians the Turks used the facts that, just like Armenians living in the Russian Empire, a considerable number of Armenians living in Western Armenia as part of the Turkish Empire supported Russia in the First World War. Consequently, the entire Armenian people were called traitors and Russian agents.

Contemporary Turkey does not recognize its actions against the Armenians as genocide for a few reasons. First, no people want the shame associated with crimes against humanity of such magnitude when the leaders of those people deliberately made the decision to exterminate another people.

Second, the Turkish government fears that admission of guilt would lead to paying compensation to the people who suffered genocide. When the Armenians were persecuted and forced to flee into the Syrian desert, they abandoned their homes and all their possessions. Thus we have the potential question of reparations.

Third, the Turks have not forgotten the treaty of Sèvres, according to which large parts of Western Armenia were to become the home of an independent Armenian state, and they fear that recognition of the genocide would give the Armenians ground to demand the return of the sacred to them mountain of Ararat and Middle-Age Armenian capital Ani, located right on the border of current Turkey and adjacent to present-day Armenia.

The first and last step for Turkey must be the recognition of the Armenian genocide. Not long ago, the Armenian side went the distance and signed protocols with Turkey on the normalization of relations, reestablishing of diplomatic contacts, and opening of borders without any preconditions, including that Turkey recognize the genocide. But unfortunately, Turkey decided against ratifying the protocols (for more information, see David L. Phillips // Institute for the Study on Human Rights, Columbia University // // 2012 // Diplomatic History: The Turkey-Armenia Protocols.).

As concerns the International Court of Justice, it can take up the issue of the Armenian genocide if both parties to the conflict turn to it. For a number of reasons, and here is not the place for an in-depth evaluation of them, so far neither Armenia nor Turkey have brought it up to the Court.

The catastrophe that the Armenian people suffered at the beginning of the 20th century is not in the past, at least for Armenians. This greatest of crimes against humanity at the start of the past century has not yet received international legal recognition and condemnation, no perpetrators have been punished, and the Turkish government has not repented and apologized to the Armenian people for the crimes of the Young Turks. This is tantamount to Jews and Germans reconciling without the Germans admitting to having committed the Holocaust and paying the price. This is why the lack of recognition of the crime on the part of the Turkish government stands in the way of reconciliation of the two peoples, though as I said before, the Armenian side was ready to normalize formal relations and open the borders even so.

If Turkey were to recognize the genocide and pay reparations, this would of course help the normalization of relations between the two peoples and two countries. We have some cause for optimism in that Turkish society, and this is especially visible among the creative intelligentsia, is increasingly ready to recognize the genocide. There are some estimates that about 20 percent of society is ready to do so. It is enough to remember the Nobel laureate writer Orhan Pamuk. There is growing understanding in Turkey that it is necessary to get rid of the shame of having committed genocide and not repented for it.

Putin’s participation in the memorial ceremony of the genocide is hard to exaggerate in importance. His participation really gave the event global resonance. Of course, the participation of the presidents of France and other countries was also significant. Pope Francis’ liturgy on the eve of the Memorial in the Vatican also had great resonance, as did the statement made by the German President. But Putin’s participation was especially notable because on that same day, the Turks, having changed the date of the Gallipoli battle to April 24 from April 25, attempted to draw attention away from the events in Yerevan and to themselves. But the category of participants in the Gallipoli Campaign commemoration, including such notable guests as Prince Charles, the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, was not up to par with the level of Putin, the French President, and a number of other heads of state. Even here, the Turkish authorities could not help themselves but engage in attempts to turn global attention away from the tragedy of the Armenian people.

I think that the Armenians regarded President Putin’s participation very highly, because he showed continuity in Russian policy as stated by three countries on the initiative of czarist Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov, when Russia, England and France stated on May 24, 1915, that the actions of the Turkish government against the Armenians constituted crimes against humanity and civilization. Putin was there despite the fact that modern Russia has extensive economic and trade relations with Turkey, and Putin himself enjoys friendly relations with President Erdogan. This level of participation by Russia made it surprising to see the much lower level of participation of the American delegation.

Not President Obama, not Vice President Joe Biden, who spends days and nights in Kiev, not even Secretary of State John Kerry considered it necessary to partake in the ceremony. And let’s not even talk about the fact that neither the American President, nor the American Congress, have recognized the Armenian genocide. This is all publicly justified by saying that recognizing the genocide may complicate U.S.-Turkish relations. This is a monstrous demonstration of double standards because Americans loudly call on the world to act in accordance with international law, goodness and justice, while at the same time, in this situation, they put their own mercantile interests higher than such principles. The double standards are all the more startling considering that Putin, risking way more in trade interests than America would, nonetheless showed that Russia always sympathized and sympathizes with the grief of the Armenian people and acts on the basis of unwavering principles of good and justice, rather than on the principles of pettiness and greed. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.