The Genocide Study Trap
July 1, 2005
The Genocide Study Trap
By David Boyajian
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently asked Armenia to agree to the creation of a Turkish and Armenian commission that would study the murder of Armenians in 1915 to determine if it constituted genocide.
President Bush liked the idea. So did German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis.
The Turkish members of such a commission would, of course, never consent to a finding of genocide. The result, therefore, would be a "hung jury," exactly the kind of ambiguity that Turkey is looking for.
What many individuals and countries are unaware of, or deliberately ignoring, is that the mass killings of Armenians have already been the subject of a number of studies conducted by third party organizations.
In 1985, the United Nations Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities issued a genocide study that is sometimes referred to as the Whitaker report.
"The Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915-1916," stated Paragraph 24 of the report, is an example of "genocide." Furthermore, it "is corroborated by reports in United States, German and British archives and of contemporary diplomats in the Ottoman Empire."
The Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, sitting in Paris in 1984, impaneled a jury of Nobel Prize recipients and distinguished experts in international law from around the globe. Its conclusions, published in "A Crime of Silence: The Armenian Genocide," sliced Turkey to pieces:
"The extermination of the Armenian[s]…through deportation and massacre constitutes a crime of genocide...within the definition of the [UN Genocide Treaty of] 1948."
Furthermore, "By virtue of general international law" and the UN's 1968 "Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutes of Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity", the jury determined, "no statute of limitations can apply" to Turkey's crimes.
Nor can Turkey use "the pretext of any discontinuity in the [1915 vs. current Turkish] state" and so "must recognize officially...the consequent damages suffered by the Armenian people."
Another study, requested by the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), was released in 2003. TARC itself was, of course, controversial and ill-fated. Nevertheless, the study, facilitated by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), concluded that the 1915 murders "include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the [UN Genocide Treaty of 1948]."
(In view of TARC's US State Department sponsorship, it was to be expected that the report also alleged that the 1948 Genocide Treaty is not retroactive to 1915 and, consequently, Armenians cannot assert land or reparations claims against Turkey. In any event, for the reasons cited by the 1984 Tribunal and others, the report is wrong about Armenian claims and implicitly acknowledges that, conceding that it did not consider "other...international law").
Were there to be another study, Turkey, the US, Europe, various business interests, and perhaps Turkish friends such as Israel and Pakistan, would covertly try to bring about a judgment of "no genocide" or "we are unable to arrive at a decision." The study would also emulate the TARC report by trying to relieve Turkey of liability.
The West, after all, wants to shield eastern Turkey from Armenia claims as that territory is the only land bridge to the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea basin that bypasses Russia and Iran.
Even during the Cold War, international political pressure corrupted a UN report on genocide. The report's Paragraph 30, issued in 1973, had stated that the Armenian "massacres" were considered "the first genocide of the 20th Century." Turkey objected and was supported by the US, Austria, France, Iran, Italy, Nigeria, Pakistan, and others. During the ensuing years, Paragraph 30 was removed.
Just last year, a United Nations report on the mass killings in Darfur, Sudan decided they might not be "genocide." Even the US had, grudgingly, termed them genocide. The report may have been the victim of clandestine international influence.
Still, let's suppose that a new study were to reaffirm that Turkey committed genocide.
Regardless of what it may promise now, Turkey will almost certainly reject a verdict of genocide. It has, after all, brushed aside every previous study that affirmed the factuality of the Genocide.
Even if it were to accept such a verdict, Turkey would retreat to its well-known fallback position: "Modern" Turkey bears no legal responsibility for the actions of "Ottoman" Turkey.
Turkey's pathetically obvious game is to keep asking for new studies until it gets one that concludes there was no genocide. That would be bad news for Armenians. Western nations would pronounce the Genocide issue dead.
The Diaspora's Job
Besides, should we be trading our dignity and rights for what is likely to someday be an ambiguously-worded, half-hearted statement of guilt by the Turkish government?
Even a sincere genocide acknowledgment's value is questionable as, by itself, it is unlikely to heal Armenian wounds or change Turkish policy toward Armenia.
Only restitution and the return of Armenian land will ultimately bring a significant degree of satisfaction. Restitution means the recovery of, or in some instances compensation for, homes, farms, stolen assets, schools, communal property, and thousands of churches.
Quantifying the theft and material damage committed by Turkey is urgently needed. A starting point is published studies from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and more recent works by scholars such as the late Professor Kevork K. Baghdjian. Last year's successful prosecution of the New York Life Insurance Company by Armenians shows that headway can be made.
Geographic and demographic studies of eastern Turkey should also be undertaken. Future territory must include a Black Sea coastline so that Turkey and its friends can no longer block Armenian access to Europe and Russia.
We recognize that achieving all our goals right now is not realistic. In the meantime, Armenia must at least avoid anything that would make the future prosecution of claims more difficult.
Poor and preoccupied with Karabagh and the Turkish blockade, Armenia lacks the resources and public relations savvy to undertake a full defense of its rights against Turkey. Diasporan think tanks and political parties must, therefore, shoulder the burden. Is it not the job of political parties, after all, to uphold national rights?
But, first, we must not yield to the temptation for yet another study to confirm what we and the world have already proved: Turkey committed genocide against Armenians.
Now, let's move on.
David B. Boyajian is an Armenian American freelance writer based in Massachusetts
Article used with authors permission.