Genocide & Its Discontents

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Pointing to the historical nationalist upheavals that the Ottoman Empire witnessed in its last decades does not negate the occurrence of a genocide targeting Armenians.

Yes, it is quite true that nationalists Armenian paramilitary groups conducted massacres against Turkish and Kurdish villagers in their areas in their attempt to seek independence and protect their identity from the Turkification policies unleashed by nationalist officers in the Young Turks movement.

The response of the so-called Three Pashas in particular, Talaat, Enver and Djemal to the Armenian drive for independence was to organize a large-scale campaign of slaughter and ethnic cleansing that left millions of Armenians dead, women children, and elderly included. The intent here was clear: to wipe out the Armenian population in a large swath of territory across the southern and eastern borders of Turkey. This represents a genocidal venture pure and simple. Some legal purists would claim that since the intent was not to wipe out all Armenians wherever they happen to be in the world, the development, no matter how tragic, cannot be considered genocide. But few would subscribe to this highly restricted definition of genocide.

But there are those who would defend calling the development “genocide” by raising the following hypothetical:

Had the Armenian militias been larger, stronger, more organized and better armed, wouldn’t they have conducted their own genocidal venture against Turkish and Kurdish populations in their midst? Wouldn’t the same nationalist discourse and motivations drive them to undertake a similar venture?

Well, considering the nature of the nationalist upheavals at the time, and how they infected the political discourse and thinking of so many peoples in the Ottoman Empire, including Turks, Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Kurds and Arabs, to name but a few, one could say that such development would not have been unthinkable. Indeed, and as the historical record shows, many massacres against Turks organized by members of other ethnic groups in the Empire did take place at the time. But whether this would have led to an actual genocide anywhere remains a hypothetical. The historical reality with which we have to contend at this stage is that the actual genocide that took place was one organized by Turkish authorities against the Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire. The fact in this regard are plain, and hypotheticals cannot refute realities.

“The human capacity for willful blindness and self-delusion is so enormous it often renders the observable facts meaningless and irrelevant.”

Still, it has to be noted that the occurrence of such a development speaks volume about the nature of the times, not the character of the Turkish people, most of whom would not have heard anything about these tragic goings-on, would not have had a say in the matter, and the stories that would have reached them regarding this development would have been highly inaccurate, and mixed with reports of other horrors taking place at the time, some real, some imagined. After all, that was not the internet age.

Yet, considering how people in the internet age can be still divided on the issue of the genocide taking place in Syria under their eyes and nose one has to wonder whether this rejectionist attitude is really about facts.


With some of today’s observers angling to justify the Syrian genocide by claiming that the regime is simply defending itself against terrorists, a claim not too dissimilar from that made by the Three Pashas and their officials, while others attempt to dilute it or challenge the accuracy and veracity of the reports and evidence pointing to it, and most people around the world simply ignore it, it’s obvious that the human capacity for willful blindness and self-delusion is so enormous it often renders the observable facts meaningless and irrelevant. Illusions play a far greater role than science and facts in shaping people’s perception of who they are, their basic attitude and their sense of self-worth and wellbeing. That’s why our lives continue to be shaped by illusions and lies rather than science and its facts.