Armenian and Roma Genocides
The 1948 Genocide Convention specifies that
genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to
destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
group as such.
members of the group;
serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its
physical destruction in whole or in part;
measures intended to prevent births within the group;
transferring children of the group to another group.
policies applied to persons defined as Jews in Germany, and in areas
occupied by the Third Reich and its allies, during the years 1939-1945,
covered all of the above, with the exception of the forcible transfer of
the children of the group.
two other peoples, whose fate has been most frequently compared with
that of European Jewry, are the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire and
Republican Turkey, and European Roma, colloquially referred to as
Gypsies. Substantial segments of the Roma population in areas occupied
by the Third Reich were annihilated during World War II.
In attempting to account for all three genocidal policies, that of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks during the First World War, and the Jews and Gypsy populations of Europe during the Second, it is necessary to look closely at the nature of the relations the existed between the host community and the minority groups that became their genocidal victims. In a previous lecture I discussed at some length the history of anti-Semitism and the relations between Jews and Christians in various European countries. Over a period of many centuries these were characterised by policies of exclusion that included social discrimination of a relatively minor sort, confinement to particular regions of settlement, disabilities relating to education, political participation, and employment, as well as mass violence and killings, banishment and, finally, genocide.
the historiography of the Gypsy population of Europe is poorly
documented, many of the same policies were applied at various times and
places to them as well. Roma
began migrating to Russia and Eastern Europe from northern India during
the Middle Ages, although some sources maintain that there were signs of
their presence in Europe much earlier than this; as early as the fifth
century. Although until the
fifteenth century they were not especially discriminated against, the
basis for subsequent policies that were enforced respecting them were
beginning to be quite widely disseminated. As Hancock notes, we can
seek the historical basis of anti-Romani prejudice in a number of areas,
in particular racism, religious intolerance, outsider status and the
fact that Rroma maintain an exclusivist or separatist culture. (p.26)
German-speaking Europe the first decree aimed at the Rroma was
introduced in 1416. This
was the first step in centuries of discriminatory statutes that were
introduced at periodic intervals, laws leading, as Bischoff noted in
1827, to this unhappy people being persecuted, strung up
without exception as thieves and robbers when caught and, guilty or
innocent, destroyed by the thousands.
By 1500 they were banished from Germany and the populace were
assured that killing them was not a punishable offence.
In 1709 a law was passed in Germany allowing for the deportation
of Rroma to the American colonies, or their utilisation as galley
slaves. A year later, King
Frederick I condemned all Rroma males to forced labour and introduced a
policy of removing their children from Romani families, the aim being to
bring about their cultural decline. (Hancock, p.25)
is little point in referencing here the endless stream of extreme
decrees that were the legal accompaniment of ecclesiastical,
nationalist, and scholarly opinion about Rroma in pre-1933 Germany.
Suffice it to allude to the fact that in 1721 Emperor Karl VI
ordered the extermination of all Rroma everywhere, 220 years before the
same directive was issued by Hitler, whereas in 1725, King
Frederick William I condemned all Rroma of eighteen years and over to be
situation of Gypsies in most other European countries was little better
than that in the German lands. The
conquest of the Balkans by the Turks increased the hostility of the
official authorities toward
Roma populations: In Royal Hungary, (for instance), Gypsies were
increasingly seen as spies and something of a Turkish fifth column,
which caused them to be increasingly subjected to restrictions on their
lifestyle and trade. Though
still valued for their metal working skills, particularly by the
military, these efforts to regulate the Roma eventually forced them to
adopt a nomadic way of life. In
.the Turks relegated Gypsies to the lowest social ranking,
and differentiated between the predominantly nomadic Muslim Roma and the
settled Christian Gypsies. (D M Crowe.
A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia.
London: I B Tauris, 1995, pp.xi-xii)
virtually every country where they were found in significant numbers,
the Roma were found in the lowest social strata and had to contend with
a multitude of discriminatory regulations. In
1899 the Germans established an agency that was entrusted with the task
of compiling a register of all Roma over the age of six, and the
collection of reports from the various territorial jurisdictions on
their activities and movements. Similar
restrictions and monitoring of Roma were enacted in other countries,
including Hungary, France, and Switzerland.
In Switzerland some Roma children were taken away from their
families and put in foster homes, a policy that continued until 1973,
only being brought to the attention of the general public in the 1980s.
the Nazis assumed power in January 1933, various regulations,
restrictions and policies that were enacted respecting Jews and the
physically and mentally disabled, were frequently extended to the Roma
population as well. As
Hancock notes, many Roma were sent to concentration camps and made to
undertake penal labor. From January 1934 onwards, Roma were being
selected for transfer to camps for processing, which included
sterilization by injection or castration. Over the next three years,
such centers were established at Dachau,
Dieselstrasse, Sachsenhausen, Marzahn and Vennhausen.(p.33) Under
regulations issued in 1935, Roma were made subject to the provisions of
the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, enacted
that year at Nuremberg, which prohibited marriage or sexual relations
between Aryan and non-Aryan peoples. Roma, along with Jews and
Afro-Europeans were classified among the latter.
this seedbed of centuries old discriminatory legislation and widespread
hostility and prejudice toward Roma, who were viewed as social misfits,
spies and criminals, the adoption of a policy of widespread
extermination was sealed with the legitimating seal of approval of
elements of the German scientific community.
Once the Nazis assumed power in January 1933, extensive funds
were channelled to a variety of scientific institutes that were
set up to conduct research into race and genealogical issues, or were
already doing so. Among the
now mainstream issues that they were investigating were the
interrelationship of hereditary characteristics, racial purity, and the
behaviours of the Roma peoples. Dr
Ritter, who was employed in the Reich Department of Health in Berlin,
and who had at his disposal information on 30,000 Roma registrations,
concluded in 1940 that the Gypsy question can only be considered
solved when the main body of asocial and good-for-nothing Gypsy
individuals of mixed blood is collected together in large labour
camps and kept working there, and when the further breeding of
this population of mixed blood is stopped once and for all.
Only then will future generations of the German people be really
freed from this burden. (Muller-Hill, p.57)
Einsatzgruppen, which began operations in the conquered areas of the
USSR after the invasion of the USSR, on June 22, 1941, were instructed,
according to Muller-Hill, to kill Gypsies, along with Jews and
commissars. On December 16 1942, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS und
Chef der deutschen Polizei, issued a decree that led to Gypsies being
deported to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In early 1943, German Gypsies began being deported there.
Of the 20, 943 who were registered in that camp, some 3461 were
transferred to other camps. The
rest died of starvation disease or gas.
After 2897 children, women and men (including former soldiers of
the Wehrmacht) were driven into the gas chambers on the night of 2-3
August 1944, there were no more Gypsies in Auschwitz. (ibid, p.60)
racist and intolerant ideology of the German Nazis was shared by other
extremist groups in central and eastern Europe. There were significant fascist movements in Hungary, Croatia
and Romania, all three of which eventually allied themselves with the
Third Reich. During the
course of the war they agreed to introduce policies that paralleled
those that the Nazis promulgated for the Third Reich respecting Jews and
Gypsies. As Crowe notes,
While initial efforts centered around registration and restrictions
on nomadism, the German assault on the Soviet Union
efforts that paralleled the Nazi Final Solution for the Jews.
By 1942, racial laws similar to those in the Third Reich were in
place throughout Eastern Europe, and genocidal policies of mass murder
were underway. The success of these efforts
varied from country to
Gypsies and Jews were protected by the government of King
Boris III and thus suffered few losses.
Roma in Hungary and the rump state of Slovakia were spared from
the worst genocidal indignities until Germany occupied both countries in
1944. The Roma in the
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Romania, the Independent State of
Croatia, and the Soviet Union suffered horrifying losses, while Gypsy
deaths in Serbia were moderately high.(ibid, p.xv)
Gypsies had also been sent to the ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw in
Poland, and shared the fate there of the more numerous Jewish captives.
Like the Jews, the Gypsies were exterminated by means of gas vans
are no precise figures on the numbers of Gypsies that were murdered by
the Third Reich and its allies. The
range of estimates is between 250,000 and 500,000.
(cf. Holocaust: The Gypsies.
Sybil Milton. In S
Totten, W S Parsons, I W Charny (eds.) Century of Genocide. Eyewitness
Accounts and Critical Reviews. New
York: Garland, 1997)
circumstances of the Armenian population of Ottoman and Republican
Turkey were very different from that of the Gypsy population of Europe.
First, they were concentrated in a relatively circumscribed
geographical region. Secondly,
unlike the majority of Roma who were nomadic, they were a sedentary
Armenians are an Indo-European people with a very ancient culture, who
were first referred to in writing by historians toward the end of the
7th century BC. They
gradually occupied the region that today is situated in Northeastern
Turkey and the Republic of Armenia in the former USSR.
The Armenian language is Indo-European, having some elements in
common with other Caucasian languages, and displaying Greek influences,
but being quite distinct from the language spoken by the Muslim Turks.
Another characteristic that differentiated them from the
surrounding population in the Turkish Ottoman Empire, was their
religion. The Armenians
were the first people to embrace Christianity as a nation, doing so in
the 3rd century. The
Armenian Church, however, pursued an independent course.
In 506 at the Council of Dvin, the Armenian Church rejected the
ruling of the Council of Chalcedon (451) that the Person of Christ
consists of two natures and became Monophysite, a view that claimed that
Christ had only one nature. In
the 7th century, the Georgian Church broke away from the Armenian,
leaving the Armenians separated by faith from all those who surrounded
them. [EB, Micropaedia, Vol.1/Armenia]
seems to be the case that in all instances of large scale genocidal
policies, important differences in terms of social and/or physical
attributes separate perpetrator and victim groups, and that these help
to account for the hostility that is mobilised by the former. In tracing
the origins and implementation of these policies, it is usually
instructive to explore in some detail the nature of the structural
relations that pre-exited the genocide between the groups involved, as
it is the matrix of these relations that helps to explain why such
policies emerge and the reasons why particular groups are selected as
genocides of the Armenians, as those of the European Jews, the Gypsies
and the Rwandan Tutsi, can be construed as an extreme form of
ethnopolitical conflict, that is, of political conflicts between groups
differentiated on the basis of ethnicity.
Gurr and Harff define an ethnic groups as psychological
communities whose members share a persisting sense of common
interest and identity that is based in some combination of shared
historical experience and valued cultural traits [such as] beliefs,
language, way of life, homeland. (p.5)
respect to the relations between Armenians and Turks in the Ottoman
empire, differences of religion and language are important in accounting
for some of the hostility and violence which the Armenians experienced
over the centuries, particularly during the nineteenth and early
significance can be understood in the context of Esmans definition of
communalism and Wyszomirskis analysis of the preconditions for the
genesis of communal conflict.
defines communalism as "competitive group solidarities within the
same political system based on ethnic, linguistic, racial or religious
identities." [In Wyszomirski, p.431] Wyszomirski suggests that
communal conflict during the last two centuries has arisen in four
environments. The first of
these was that of the emergence of nation states in the West, examples
of which included the conflicts that arose between the English
and the Welsh and Scots, and those that erupted in the
Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada.
In these countries, the conflict was managed effectively and
stable democratic governments resulted.
second environment in which communal conflict emerges is that of
post-colonial societies. In
these societies, prior to independence competing communal elites
played down their differences in the interest of winning freedom from
the colonial powers. Once independence was achieved, the scarcity of resources to
cope with conditions and aspirations rapidly led to the establishing of
coalitions to ensure the maximum allocation of existing resources to
members of their own ethnopolitical groups.
The consequence has been that elites of communally based
groups "engaged in tactics of outbidding.
This in turn has fostered extremist positions, the disappearance
of brokerage institutions, and the breakdown of former management and
regulatory procedures." (Wyszomirski) This characterised the
situation in such multi-communal societies as Lebanon, Sri Lanka, India,
Nigeria, Sudan, and Burundi, among others.
third environment, in which communal conflicts have flourished over the
last two centuries, has been that of former polyglot empires which have
contemporary example is the former USSR.
There, the political authorities kept in check, submerged, or
endeavoured to eliminate communal identities in the interest of the
formation of an integrated national identity.
The collapse of central communist rule was quickly superseded by
the re-emergence of regional, ethnic, and religious identities.
The disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the
nineteenth century produced similar results in terms of an
intensification of communal conflicts.
Similar processes were set in train during the nineteen nineties
in the former Yugoslavia. The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire
during essentially the same time frame as that of the dissolution of
Austria-Hungary also led to burgeoning of communally based conflicts in
the Balkans as well as in the eastern provinces of Turkey, the region
where the Armenian population was concentrated.
fourth environment that Wyszomirski selects is that of certain
post-industrial states. Here a quest for new forms of identity has in
some instances given rise to communal conflicts and aspirations that
until now have generally been managed effectively.
The conflict between French and Anglo Canadians, and between
Walloons and Flemings in Belgium, are instances of this category of
is, however, probably necessary to add a fifth category to Wyszomirksi's
list. This would include
patterns of communal conflicts arising from flows of economic migration. Such flows have resulted in communal conflicts in certain
countries of Western Europe, notably in Britain, Germany and France.
burden of Wyszomirksi's argument is that communal conflicts are likely
to erupt when common identities do not exist between communities
coexisting in proximity to each other, or within the same
socio-political system, because of the presence of basic divisions
between them on the basis of language, religion, or race.
It is necessary to stress the probabilistic element in all of
this. Such divisions may
lead to the eruption of communal conflict, but under certain
circumstances may not do so. Thus,
although there are divisions between communities in Switzerland on the
basis of both language and religion, this has not been manifested in
communal violence. Similarly,
in Lebanon religious differences between Muslims and Christians were
managed effectively until the eruption of the Lebanese civil war in the
potential for communal conflict, however, is always present in social
systems where significant divisions on the basis of race, language, or
religion exist. In
Wyszomirksi's view "religion, language, and race, singly or in
combination, form the core of communal identities and values.
It is these elements of the communal identity which are `non-compromisable'.
As long as they retain political salience, they cannot be traded
or bargained with." (434-435)
Armenians were divided from the Turks of the Ottoman Empire by both
language and religion. Although
they resided relatively peaceably within the Ottoman system so long as
the empire prospered, once the processes of disintegration accelerated,
and the empire began to contract rapidly, something which gathered pace
from the middle of the nineteenth century onward, Armenians increasingly
became the targets of violent massacres.
was it about the Armenians that made them viable targets for sporadic
outbursts of violence? In
other words, what characteristics of the Armenians relative to the
surrounding communities made them suitable targets for victimization?
In addition to the cleavages on linguistic and religious grounds,
certain segments of the Armenian population were differentiated from the
Turks by economic function, as well as by cultural values, orientations
and aspirations. Like
the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians were organized in milletts,
semi-autonomous geographical administrative units that were headed by
ethnically indigenous leaders. Although
this allowed them a degree of autonomy at the local level, they were
barred from holding high government office.
Sections of the Armenian population were differentiated from the
predominantly agrarian, peasant population of Ottoman Turkey by economic
position. Like certain
segments of European Jewry, some Armenians were heavily involved in
finance and commerce, travelled extensively in the West, and were
economically prosperous. This
applied particularly to those who resided in the cities.
differences from the Ottoman population along these significant social
fault lines, were a source of friction.
Some Ottoman officials particularly resented them because their
assistance in financing the activities of the state was necessary. Armenians involved in such activities, much like European
Jewish bankers and financiers, were, of course atypical of the Armenian
community as a whole. Most
Armenians were peasants too. They
did, however, differ significantly from others tilling the land.
They had tended to adopt western methods of cultivation and
husbandry and were, therefore, more prosperous than their Turkish
counterparts. This was a
further source of resentment.
The "poverty-stricken Turkish peasants and nomadic Kurds
regarded the relatively prosperous Armenian peasants as a "standing
insult" and an inducement for plunder." (ibid, pp.450-451)
earlier adoption of Western education and values, their contact with the
West, and their relative economic prosperity, all went towards inclining
their leaders to a heightened sensitivity to their communal identity.
As Wyszomirski summarises the situation: "the status of the
Armenian communities in the Ottoman Empire was precarious at best.
Racially, linguistically, and religiously different from the
Ottoman Turks, they occupied an economic elite position in society; they
began to modernize earlier than the Turks; not only was there no common
value or identity between the two groups, but each had developed a brand
of nationalism which excluded the other.
Such a situation was so potentially explosive that even the
smallest incident could result in violence." (p.451)
are certain similarities, therefore, with the situation of the Jews in
Western Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth century,
particularly with the Jews in Germany.
They, too, were early modernizers, educationally and economically
advanced, and important handmaidens in the emergence and growth of the
state administrative and economic system.
Another important similarity was that they were dispersed in more
than one nation state.
resided on both sides of the Turkish-Russian border. At the beginning of the First World War there were
approximately 1,700,000 Armenians on the Russian side of the border, and
some 2,100,000 million on the Turkish.
Their loyalty to the state, as that of Jewish citizens and
residents in Europe states, could easily be brought into question by
those who found it to their interests to manipulate communal violence
for political purposes. Parallels can also be drawn between both groups and Europe's
Gypsy population. Linguistically,
ethnically, and culturally separated from sedentary populations, they
were also mobile across state boundaries.
Frequently they were considered, and probably were, within the
state, but not of it. There
were few bonds of communal identity between them and the population
groups amongst whom they moved or resided, not least because of the
discrimination and repression that they experienced.
In addition, Gypsies were perceived as socially and economically
dangerous; a potential infestation to be kept at a distance.
of Kurds, Circassians, Chaldeans, and others had for centuries preyed
upon Armenian villagers and peasants.
These were largely raids of pillage, and the killings, although
they occurred frequently, were a subordinate consideration to the main
objective of economic expropriation.
The marauding bands relied on being able to return and replenish
their bounty subsequently. However,
over the course of the nineteenth century the intensity of conflict in
the Caucasus increased significantly with the expansion of the Russian
empire southward. The
Russians enlarged their Armenian population following the Russo-Persian
War of 1826-27 and the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-29. As the Armenians
resided on both sides of the border with Russia, they increasingly came
to be identified as enemies. As
Reid notes: "What had really occurred was the dissolution of all
bonds between Ottoman Muslims and Ottoman Christians as the result of
the Russian war, and the declaration of jihad.
Ottoman Christians" increasingly were identified as
belonging to the "domain of war, the sphere of the enemy."
the last quarter of the nineteenth century there occurred a development
that was probably critically important in radically altering the basis
of communal hostility towards the Armenian population of the Ottoman
massacres had followed the defeat of the Turks in the Russo-Turkish War
of 1877-78. The leaders of the Armenian community appealed to the
Russians to incorporate into the Treaty of San Stefano of 1878,
provisions ensuring protection for the Armenian population.
Under Article 16 the Sultan undertook "to carry out into
effect, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by
local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to
guarantee their security from Kurds and Circassians". (Hovannisian,
p.14) These provisions were never carried out due to the
intervention of the British government, which ensured a renegotiation of
the San Stefano Treaty. Under
Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, which superseded the Treaty of San
Stefano, the Sublime Porte merely agreed to implement the necessary
reforms and to report back to the European powers.
The reforms were never in fact implemented.
by Kurds and Circassians continued.
The Ottoman authorities did nothing, and the Great Powers turned
their attentions elsewhere. However,
the attempt by the Great Powers to intervene directly in Ottoman affairs
at the behest of one of its minority populations was a portentous
development. The Great
Powers had sought to intervene in the domestic affairs of another
country on behalf of one of its communal minorities.
The Ottoman authorities, understandably in the context of the
normal conduct of foreign affairs at that time, resented this.
was this the only occasion for such intervention. In 1895 the Great Powers demanded, inter alia,
that the various Armenian provinces be amalgamated into one
administrative unit and that political prisoners be released.
Although the Sultan, Abdul-Hamid, agreed to introduce reforms,
albeit on a lesser scale than was originally demanded, he again failed
to do so: "Even as
Abdul-Hamid seemed to acquiesce in the reform programme in October 1895,
the Armenians in Trebizond were in the throes of massacre.
In the following months, systematic pogroms swept over every
district of Turkish Armenia. The
slaughter of between 100,000 and 200,000 Armenians, forced conversion of
scores of villages, the looting and burning of hundreds of settlements,
and the coerced flight into exile of thousands of Armenians became
Abdul-Hamid's actual response to European meddling." (Hovannisian,
next important development was the assumption of power in Turkey in 1908
of the Committee of Union and Progress, usually referred to as the Young
Turks, known also as the Ittihadists.
A counter-coup staged by the conservatives in 1912 (?) failed,
and in the immediate aftermath widespread massacres of Armenians
occurred throughout Cilicia, were some 20,000 were massacred.
The Young Turks rise to power, suggests Melson, was brought about
because the regime of Abdul-Hamid "was not able to deal with
pressure from the great powers, the challenges of modernization, and
with the demands for self-determination of the minorities." The
CUP, however, had limited success in introducing domestic reforms, and
prior to the First World War their military ineptitude resulted in the
loss of nearly half the territory of the Ottoman Empire, (p.2043)
reverses, and the modernization strains effecting the empire, moved the
leadership of the Young Turk's to embrace a pan-Turkic nationalism.
As Melson notes: "By 1912, the Young Turk's had rejected not
only the Ottomanism and Pan-Islam of their predecessors, they also
turned against liberalism and pluralism and became convinced Turkish
nationalists. [They] became
intent on creating a new empire stretching from the Caucasus all the way
to central Asia that would be dominated by Turks and in which minorities
would have only nominal rights."(2043)
This change in the constituents of Ottoman/Turkic national
identity had important repercussions for their relations with the
Armenians: "They ceased being perceived in religious terms as a
millet and came to be viewed as a rival nationality occupying the same
land claimed by Turks." The
Armenians, moreover, occupied a critical portion of territory in the
path of the imperial aspirations of the new political leadership.
fate of the Armenian population of Turkey was sealed with the decision
of the Turkish government to enter the war on the side of Germany and
Austria-Hungary. This meant
that Turkey was fighting against its traditional enemy, Russia, with the
Armenians straddling both sides of the border region.
At exactly the time that war broke out, in August 1914, the
Armenian Dashnak Party was holdings its Eighth World Congress in Turkey,
at Erzurum. It established
a committee to make recommendations concerning the response that Turkey
should make. It recommended
that Turkey remain neutral. The
CUP sent an emissary to the Congress to discuss a proposal with the
leaders of the Dashnak Party. He
recommended that the Dashnak Party, in the event of war with Russia,
should foment subversion among Russia's Armenian population.
The Armenian negotiators "rejected the proposal, reaffirmed
their Partys vow of neutrality and guaranteed Armenian loyalty in the
event that the conflagration should reach Turkey.
These offers were later renewed to Armenian deputies in the
provinces. But each time,
Dashnak Party political leaders declined the offer." (Ternon, p.97)
CUP emissary pointed out that the Russians had made a similar proposal
to their compatriots over the border, and that this had been accepted.
It was also claimed by the Ittihad that Russia had promised to
hand over conquered Armenian Turkish territory to an independent state:
"In this Turkish version of events, it was claimed that the Dashnak
committee had decided to remain in the shadows until war was declared.
If war broke out, they would incite the Armenians to revolt against the
Ottoman armies as soon as the Russians crossed the border." (Ternon,
p.97) Although there was no
truth to these allegations, certain developments made it appear a
plausible account. In any
event, it constituted an adequate justification for the action taken
against the Armenians in the eyes of the Turkish leadership, members of
the CUP, and many other Turks.
Turkish campaign against the Russians in the latter part of 1914 and the
early months of 1915, proved disastrous.
Enver Pasha, Minister of War, "sacrificed an entire army to
his militarily unsound obsession to break through to Baku and the
Caspian Sea in the dead of winter". (Hovannisian, p.19)
In order to achieve this objective he sought to surround the town
of Sarikamish in order to cut the Kars-Sarikamish railway.
As Ternon notes one of the units arraigned against him was the
Armenian 4th Legion. His
army was repulsed with a loss of 90,000 men killed and 12,000 captured,
largely due to inadequate logistical preparation for the harsh winters
of the Armenian plateau.(p.100) The
Russian Armenians had organised a Volunteer Corps of Armenians, as they
had done during the wars with Turkey in 1827 and 1877.
Many of those who volunteered had been former Ottoman subjects
who had fled from previous massacres.
"It cannot...be denied that in the first few months of the war the
majority of the Russian Armenians were driven by strong anti-Turkish
feeling which found its expression in the formation of these volunteer
corps." (ibid, p.98) Given
that the Russians were fighting with the assistance of Russian
Armenians, some of whom had formerly been citizens of the Ottoman
empire, it was not difficult for the authorities and the CUP to convince
others that Turkish Armenians constituted an active Fifth Column, and
that they were providing information to enemies of the state.
addition, there is probably little doubt that even though the
overwhelming majority of Turkish Armenians did not actively support the
Russians, they hoped for a Russian victory.
They knew that their conditions would be better under Russian
rule, than under that of the Turks.
The Turkish administration considered that proof of this was
provided by the events that took place at Van during April and May 1915.
15 and 18 April, Turkish troops sacked some 80 Armenian villages,
massacring their inhabitants. The
troops were preparing to do the same to the Armenian population of Van,
some 30,000 out of a total population of 50,000.
These Armenians, however, prepared themselves for defense. They
were shelled by Turkish artillery for a month.
The Armenian volunteer corps fighting with the Russians persuaded
the Russian officer to relieve the siege, and they crossed the border on
May 4. By the 16th, the
Turkish troops were withdrawing. In
July the Turks launched a counter-offensive and the Russians retreated.
Russian army ordered the Armenians to flee.
Some 150,000 left for Transcaucasia, many dying on route from
starvation and the predations of Kurdish bands.
The most important immediate consequence was that a major area of
Armenian concentration was emptied of its inhabitants.
Although this was perceived as advantageous by the Turkish
administration, one positive consequence was that at least a large
proportion of the Armenian population of this region survived the war.
A more important and far-reaching consequence of what the Turks
referred to as the Van `revolt,' was that at this juncture that the
leadership in Constantinople gave the decision to exterminate the
Armenian population of Turkey.
noted earlier that for various reasons relations between the Turkish and
Armenian communities over the latter half of the nineteenth century had
been characterised by outbreaks of violence and large-scale massacres.
Many hundreds of thousands of Armenians were slaughtered during
the nineteenth century. The
circumstances of the First World War, which resulted in Armenians on
either side of the Russian-Turkish border fighting in opposing armies,
coupled with the enmity felt by the Turks to the Armenians, and the
sympathies of the Armenians for the Russians, created conditions which
enabled a genocidal thought to be translated into a genocidal policy. The genocidal thought had been part of the collective
representations of leading Turks for some time. In the 1870s Abdul-Hamid had said that the "sensible
thing to do is to destroy and eliminate any and all elements which may
some day give rise to the same danger, afford the opportunity for
foreign intervention and serve as its tool.
...Thus, we must eliminate, leave behind no traces of that
Armenian nation". (Wyszomirski, p. 452)
Now the conditions allowed for the translation of thought into
war provided a context that enabled a policy to be followed through that
it would have been difficult to pursue to its limits in peacetime.
Armed conflicts provide circumstances, as Melson notes, which
facilitate the formulation and implementation of the decision to commit
genocide. First, wars
aggravate feelings of threat and vulnerability. Secondly, during wars leaders, officials, and administrators
need be less concerned about the attitudes of their citizens at home;
they are frequently given much greater license, on the pretext of
national emergency, to dispense with established freedoms and rights.
Also, the opinions of the leaders and publics of other states
recede in significance. Finally,
Melson notes, "wartime conditions may close off other policy
options, leaving genocide as a strong choice for an already radicalized
regime." (p.2045) All of these points apply equally respecting the
emergence, formulation and implementation of genocidal policies during
World War II respecting the Jewish and Roma populations of Nazi
is no doubt that the authorities took a deliberate decision to
exterminate the Armenians, that they transmitted this decision to the
relevant officials, political [the party], administrative, and military. Those who were not keen to comply were removed from post.
This was the fate of the Governors-General of Kastamuni and
Ankara. (Libaridian, p.52) Similar policies were pursued in most areas
of Armenian concentration over vast territorial tracts.
a preliminary to wide-scale massacre, it was necessary to disarm the
Armenian population of Turkey. Some
300,000 were serving in the army. From
the middle of March onward most of the Armenian soldiers were disarmed.
First, they were used by the Turks as porters and in other menial
jobs. Then, as Hofmann
notes, "they were taken in groups of 80 to 100 and shot, beaten to
death or killed in some other way by soldiers or police, acting under
orders from their officers. Subsequently,
in many towns and villages, men not liable for military service and aged
between 16 and 70 were rounded up, supposedly for conscription, and were
then shot without any form or trial, or else were literally worked to
death in the sappers units." (p.72)
secret organization was established with a view to organising what was
passed off as the deportation of the Armenian population from the war
zone and adjacent areas. Most
of the organizational work was conducted via the party apparatus.
Initially, leading Armenians: intellectuals, lawyers, and
doctors, were ordered to report to the police.
They were then jailed, and later executed.
Then, after the young men in the military, and the leadership
cadres of the Armenian people had been dealt with, the major phase of
the campaign was undertaken.
notices were posted and the local Armenian community was assembled, and
marched from the towns and villages towards Aleppo, still then a Turkish
city, from where they were to be dispersed to resettlement areas.
The two main areas chosen were Syria, southwards, and east,
towards the deserts of Mesopotamia.
of the deportees never arrived at their destinations. They were subjected to incredible atrocities by the soldiers
who accompanied them, and marauding bands of Kurds and Chetes.
In many villages the inhabitants were simply massacred, without
the formalities of the lengthy deportation marches.
In other cases the "convoys were wiped out as soon as they
were outside the town. Others
continued, decimated by repeated attacks." (Ternon, p.107) The
local population, roused to action by the call to jihad, carried out the
killings. In the regions
that were inhabited by Kurds, "nomadic groups attacked and looted
convoys, carrying off women and children.
The most sinister role was played by the bands of Chetes, who
sometimes massacred entire convoys." (ibid.)
atrocities committed were numerous and barbarous. The bands of Kurds and Chetes, had, along with other various
groups of Turkish irregulars, been waging a form of total war throughout
the nineteenth century in the Caucasian border regions. The Ottoman army found it cheaper to provide these bands with
weapons to patrol the frontier regions, and grant them carte blanche to
forage, than to provide regular military units for that purpose.
A form of anarchic warfare prevailed in the areas that were
inhabited by some of the Armenian population.
As Reid notes, "soldiers were encouraged to commit even more
terrible deeds, because corrupt generals refused to issue supplies, so
that they could sell them back to the government for profit.
This corruption, plus the government's intention to economize,
created the circumstances that encouraged plundering and eventually
the circumstances I outlined earlier translated the genocidal thought
into a planned genocide, the character of the Turkish troops facilitated
its implementation. This
applied particularly to the irregular fighting bands in the Eastern
region. Reid concludes that
the "cause of all the atrocities and finally the genocide of
1915-18, was the aggressive personality moulded by the experience of the
perpetual offensive raid." These
troops developed an ideology and sentiments of total hatred towards the
Christian inhabitants of the area.
Their aggressiveness, their total disregard of any norms of
civilized discourse, of any notions of morality, and their failure to
draw a line between the permissible and impermissible regarding this
outgroup, is not dissimilar from the conditions that prevailed during
the American civil war in the border regions of Kansas, Texas and
Missouri. The conditions in
both areas spawned a similar type of warrior-character.
As Richard Brownlee noted in his Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy,
in these border areas there emerged gangs of irregulars: "Led by
desperate men such as William C Quantrill, Bill Anderson, George
Todd...the guerrillas, most of them only boys, fought a total war.
West of the Mississippi they plunged a fairly stable, congenial,
and conservative society into intense partisan conflict that was felt by
every man, woman and child. This
was not a war of great armies and captains; this was bloody local
insurrection, a war between friends and neighbours...
Here organized bands of men killed each other and the civil
was it, too, in the border areas of the Caucasus.
The only major difference being that in the latter region there
was a complete absence of restraints.
At least during the American Civil War the marauding bands of
guerrillas generally left the women and children alone.
Describing a raid by a Kurdish chieftain in 1877-78, Reid noted:
"At every Christian village along the way...[the] band committed
atrocities. ... The Kurds
raped women and children trapped in the church of Avgugli.
Women were raped at Latwantz and Shahbaghi. ...At one place, the new bride of a priest was raped
repeatedly by the raiders, while her husband, the priest watched her
torment. The priest saw her
die before his eyes, and then he himself was killed after being
mutilated terribly." (pp.2055-56)
pattern was repeated in the 1915-18 massacres.
Women were repeatedly raped.
Some were carried of into slavery.
Hofmann notes that the treatment of pregnant women with new-born
babies was particularly pitiless. This seems to be a characteristic
killing mode of many situations of mass killings, including the
Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the killings of communists in Indonesia in
the 1960s, and elsewhere.
could attack the Armenians en route with impunity. A German who witnessed events at Aleppo, "reported
corpses of violated women, lying about naked in heaps on the railway
embankment at Tell-Abiad and Ras-el-Ain.
Many of them had clubs pushed up their anus.
Another...had seen Turks tie Armenian men together, fire several
volleys of small shot into the human mass with fowling pieces and go off
laughing while their victims perished in frightful convulsions. Other men had their hands tied behind their backs and were
rolled down steep cliffs. Women
were standing below and they slashed at those who had rolled down with
knives until they were dead. The
German consul from Mosul related that...in many places on the road from
Mosul to Aleppo, he had seen children's hands lying hacked off in such
numbers that one could have paved the road with them.
At the German hospital at Urfa there was a little girl who had
had both her hands hacked off". (Hofmann, pp.77-78)
Other groups were herded into caves, having been soaked in
petrol. This was then ignited. Children
today still search in these caves, hoping to find gold, either wedding
rings or teeth. (Ternon, p.119) These witnesses spared their readers and
listeners details of the worst atrocities.
deportees were sent to areas where there were few places of settlement,
and where the land could not possibly sustain the numbers despatched
there. It was expected that
most of them would die. A
League of Assistance report described their plight: "The suffering
of these poor people, most of whom are ill because of lack of food and
ill-treatment, can hardly be conveyed in mere words.
...The living leapt into a mass grave, begging to be buried too
and thus be spared such terrible suffering.
...At the same time people suffer the most brutal ill-treatment
at the hands of the Turkish gendarmes who have no compunction about
extorting from their unfortunate victims anything which is of any value
in their eyes". (Hofmann, p.79)
In many of the camps, the inmates were systematically
slaughtered. The German
Consul in Aleppo reported that at the Ras-ul-ain concentration camp
about 300 to 500 persons were taken 10 km from the camp and slain.
The bodies were then thrown into the river.
ended the Armenian problem in Turkey.
In the course of the First World War two thirds of Turkey's
2,100,000 Armenians were killed. Of
the remainder, many were exiled, and the rest lived in fear.
Although the victorious allies had pledged to try the Turkish
leaders responsible, little was done in comparison with the scale of the
atrocities that had been encouraged and permitted. Some
sixty-odd high-ranking officials were prosecuted before a military
tribunal established by the Turkish government.
Kemal-Bey, who had been a provincial governor, was sentenced to
death and publicly hanged in Constantinople.
Four of the leaders of the war-time government were sentenced to
death in absentia. They had
fled to either Russia or Germany. (New York Review of Books, October 7,
connection between the Armenian massacres of the First World War, and
the policies pursued in the Second, has been alluded to be some
scholars. The Armenian
Genocide demonstrated that it was not difficult to implement such
policies in time of war, and that the long-term repercussions were
manageable. According to
the Archives of the Nuremberg Proceedings, Hitler, at a meeting of SS
units at Obersalzberg, on August 22, 1939, at which he instructed them
"to kill, without pity, men, women and children" in their
march against Poland, commented that such activities would have no long
term repercussions. Who, he
said, "remembers now the massacres of the Armenians?" (Staub,
p.187, and 309)
have examined in some detail at the circumstances associated with the
Armenian massacre, and have endeavoured to do so through the analytic
lenses provided by a number of authorities.
In passing I noted certain similarities to the Holocaust, and,
following the excellent analysis provided by Wyszomirski, I commented on
certain factors that contribute significantly to the gestation and
activation of communal conflicts.
the analysis provided a number of conclusions can be drawn.
First, genocidal policies appear in many cases (but not
necessarily in all,) to be a by-product of a long process of gestation.
This is easily borne out by reference to the genocidal policies
implemented respecting Armenians, Roma and European Jews.
All three peoples had been the victims of persecution,
exclusion, hatred, and massacre over centuries.
the absence of unifying bonds of common identity or interest between
groups, whether focused on nationality, culture, religion, race,
economic pursuits, or language, and the continued importance of
distinctive communal identities, constitute potential social fault lines
across which violent conflicts may erupt.
The disintegration of the former Yugoslavia into separate
political entities based on mystical notions of `Croatism,' or `Serbism,'
as well as the re-emergence of communal identities in the former USSR,
illustrate the rapidity and ease with which conflicts can be instigated
across such potential social fault lines. These case studies illustrate the ease with which what
appeared to be a relatively stable modus vivendi is easily shattered.
the Armenian case illustrates that it is the relations between persons
as representatives of groups that are important in the context of the
eruption of group conflicts. Armenian
and Turkish peasants developed workable and amicable relations over the
centuries in the areas where they lived together, in much the same way
as many Armenians, Jews and Turks developed social and commercial
relations in the cities and towns.
These, however, are relatively easily rendered asunder under the
pressure of group conflicts manipulated by leadership elites.
This was vividly illustrated in the case of the former
Yugoslavia, where people have been virtually `forced' into adopting a
communal identity they had not previously considered relevant to their
life circumstances or interests. (cf. Slavenka Drakulic/ Balkan Express:
Fragments from the Other Side of War. Hutchinson, London, 1992)
virtually all communal conflicts it is the manipulation of situations by
elites that sows the seeds which bear the fruit of violence and
pogroms in Russia during the latter part of the nineteenth century and
the early twentieth, Muslim-Hindu conflicts in India throughout this
century, the conflict between Sinhalese and Tamil in Sri Lanka, or that
between the ANC and Inkatha in South Africa, all attest to the central
place of elites in manipulating situations so as to produce communal
conflicts. The violence
does not suddenly erupt from a groundswell of popular emotions.
the term genocide is at times used rather loosely, there is generally
broad agreement among scholars that Gypsies and Jews during the period
of Third Reich hegemony in Europe during the Second World War, and the
Armenians of Turkey during the First, were all targeted for
destruction, in whole or in part.
In tracing the origins and implementation of these policies it
is, as I sought to demonstrate, necessary to inquire into the nature of
the structural relations that obtained between the perpetrators and
victims of genocide, as it is the matrix of these relations that helps
to explain why such policies emerged and particular groups were selected