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Will Sovereignty, Nationalism, Racism VS. Humanism and Intellectual Freedom

THE CAUSES AND CURES OF GENOCIDE
4-18-2012
By Dennis R Papazian PhD
Professor Emeritus
The University Of Michigan

It has been well said that under certain circumstances any people could commit genocide. Of course that does not mean that genocide is not a crime or that it should go unpunished.  It is a crime, and those who commit it must be punished, otherwise the crime will be repeated over and over again.It might also be said that under certain circumstances any individual of physical competence might commit murder, rape, or thuggery, but it is universally accepted that such crimes should not go unpunished. Therefore I do not argue in this paper that any one people is inherently genocidal by virtue of their genes, but I rather seek the fundamental elements which allow or encourage genocide among any people.

The first of these genocidal elements is the concept of sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty is related to the idea of the “divine right of kings,” a concept well established in history. The king, as representative of the deity, has complete power over life and death of his subject. Thus, the king can kill with impunity since he represents the ultimate authority. He is sovereign and answerable only to God.

In more modern times, with the demise of kings, this power has escheated to the state. In other words the state has inherited the divine right of kings and with it the power of life and death over its subjects. The state, having inherited the king’s sovereignty, has the right to kill under whatever circumstances it deems appropriate.  Until recently, this has been the general status of international law.

It is because of the idea of sovereignty, total power within the state, that post-medieval states have legally been known to deal with inconvenient minorities by slaughter and massacre. If a foreign state massacred the subjects of another state, it would be considered warfare or a cause for war. But if the state slaughters its own subjects, it was until recently under international law, of no legal business to anyone else. It might be morally reprehensible, and indeed many individuals and states in the past have spoken out against it, but it was not punishable under any law.

Thus, until the signing of the Genocide Convention, the killing of one individual was considered murder and thus punishable by the state, while the killing of thousands and even millions by the state had no name and went unpunished.

This anomaly in the case of the Armenians led Raphael Lemkin a Polish-Jewish lawyer to come up with the name “genocide” and to urge the international community to enshrine in international law a prohibition of this action and labeling it as a crime the “beginning of the end” of genocide must be the universal recognition that genocide is a crime against humanity and is not only morally wrong but also illegal. State sovereignty over people must be limited if we are to end genocide.

In modern times, nationalism, pre-nationalism, and religious exclusiveness have been some of the drivers of genocide. States kill minorities in part because they are recognizable, they are different, they are the “other.”  They are not a part of the predominant group which has the power of the state in their hands. Thus killing by rebels is not genocide, it is murder. Real genocide can only be committed by the state.

In ancient times, religion was a great distinguishing factor along with language among various people.  The division of people by religion, often with profound negative consequences, has continued up until modern times and has often marked people of the minority religion as suitable candidates for persecution or extinction.

In the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Christians and Jews suffered grave disabilities and were often marked for massacre. Even in Egypt today, the Christian minority is persecuted by the Muslim majority and were it not for their numbers might become the victims of genocide. In Bosnia, we see the attempt at ethnic cleansing by Christians of Muslims, and in Rwanda, a confusion of religious sects against each other. In fact, in almost every instance of internal state conflict today we find the divisiveness of religious beliefs.

In the case of the most celebrated genocides of our day, the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Medz Yegern, in the latter instance we have a Muslim majority persecuting a Christian minority, and in the former instance a Christian majority persecuting a Jewish minority.

Language can also be a divisive factor. Often, a linguistic minority can be despised by a linguistic majority and thus persecuted, but more often there must be other distinguishing factors involved that can lead to genocide. Those distinguishing factors are either racism or nationalism or some combination thereof.

Nationalism and racism are often closely intertwined. It is well known that in certain times and places white people mistreated black people, and in far fewer instances black people have been known to persecute white people, such as in Zimbabwe. But nationalism goes far beyond color racism, it can include various forms of mythical racial purity or unique destinies.

It is almost impossible by social science standards to define the nation or nationalism. It can generally be defined as large group of people who feel a kinship, and believe they share a common past and a common destiny. Usually a nation has a common territory, a predominant religion, a common language, a sense of a common history, real or imagined, and the hope for a common, successful future. A nation is further characterized by its exclusiveness: you can only become a part of the nation if the majority is willing to accept you.

There are a few exceptions to these general rules. For example, both the Armenians in the Jews were defined as nations in their diasporas, a people without a common territory and even at times without a common language. I called these non-spatial nationalities. I also believe that with the World Wide Web, the Armenians could become a “virtual” nationality.

Thus, Jews who lived in Germany for generations and in some cases were only one quarter Jewish by ancestry, were still considered Jews by the predominant controlling group and treated accordingly. They were marked as “outsiders,” nonmembers of the group and thus not enjoying the protection of the group. The same was true of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. They were a distinct and distinctive minority who had their own religion and their own language. They were clearly “outsiders,” although having lived in the territory for over 2000 years, members of a subordinate group.

In most cases during the Armenian Genocide even when Christian Armenians wanted to accept Islam to avoid death, they were refused the “privilege” since their ancestry was tainted and they could not become pure Muslims.  (I think the early converts to Islam would find that confusing.) On the other hand, Armenian children survivors were often gathered up by Turks, Kurds, and Arabs, given Muslim name, and brought into their families to be brought up as true Muslims. Thus the taint was apparently in the culture and not in the so-called blood. So, as I said, the Turks were proto-nationalist and religious exclusiveness.

Nationalism as we know it originated in 18th century Europe as the common man sought identity with his rise in economic status. A serf was chattel, the property of his master, and had no identity or nationality in the eyes of the overlords. This desire of the common man for identity became even stronger in the bourgeoisie since the new class, having wealth, demanded identity of its own apart from that of the aristocracy. In this early period, nationalism was often accompanied by a search for democracy, the overthrow of kings and aristocracies, and thus we have the period of the 19th century revolutions in Europe. The overthrow of emperors and kings and the establishment of nationstates characterized the 19th century.

This kind of nationalism, a nationalism of the people, was slower reaching the East and often artificially resided first in the educated classes. Thus we can argue that Turkish nationalism of the 19th century was only proto-nationalism, an incipient nationalism mixed in, and confused with, religious identity.

It is not at all surprising that Turkish nationalism arose first among upper-class Turks who were sent to Europe for their education, and also lower and middle-class Turks who receive their education in the Army from those who had often studied the military sciences in Europe, particularly Germany.  The former nationalism was of a liberal variety and the latter nationalism a more narrow, exclusivist type.

Early Turkish nationalism, indeed, was Ottomanism and not Turkism, as witness the first Congress of Ottoman Liberals in Paris in 1902.   The Ottoman Empire was an “Ottoman” empire and not a “Turkish” empire, although the predominant power elites were Turkish.  After all, the Ottomans Turks wrested the territory from other Turkish tribes who had arrive before them.  In fact, to call someone a Turk up until the 20th century was considered an insult. In theory, and even in practice for the most part, everyone was a “slave” of the Ottoman Sultan.  It was for this reason that the Janissaries could be drawn from among Christian children, since ethnicity was not as important as accepting Islam and becoming a dependable slave of the Sultan.  These converted Christian children, not ethnic Turks, ran the Empire for centuries.

By the time of the Armenia genocide, proto-Turkish nationalism was emerging, the concept of “us” and “them” was developing, and there was a reaction among the Muslim elites and population against the Tanzimat, the democratic reform movement which aimed to give all Ottomans, Christians and Muslims alike, equality before the law. Theory of democracy was one thing, but to the Muslims tradition and status was another. It is rare that individuals or classes give up status without a struggle. It was in this lethal atmosphere of proto-nationalism and rising religious obscurantism that the Ottoman state began to confront the encroachment of the European powers.

19th century was not only the century of awakening of democratic impulses and nationalism, it was also century of imperialism. The Russian Empire extended from the Baltic to the Pacific. The British Empire extended around the world held together by the British Navy and expeditionary forces. The French Empire extended into Africa to compete with the British, and the Ottoman Empire held sway over most of its traditional possessions in the Middle East and North Africa.

If you analyze it carefully, you will see that the famous Austrian economist Schumpeter was correct and Karl Marx was wrong. Imperialism was not so much an economic system inspired by the capitalist, although certain classes and states were enriched, as much as an extension of the medieval concept held by the ruling aristocracies that the more territory owned, the more powerful the Army and Navy, the more dominion you exercise, the greater your prestige and glory. These were not the values of the emerging economic middle-class which desired peace, harmony, and open markets in order to pursue their manufacturing and trade.  Obviously, as to be expected, these expanding empires clashed at the peripheries where they ran into one another.

Czar Nicholas I of Russia described the Ottoman Empire as the Sick Man of Europe. The Ottoman Empire was an integral part of the settlement of the Congress of Vienna and that the Sultan was invited into the conservative European alliance, the Concert of Europe, to ward off revolution. Nevertheless, the Ottoman Empire was seen as a weak link because of its general instability. That weakness was due to the fact that there was no generally accepted concept of a multinational, mixed religion, democratic state. The Tanzimat  reforms came from the top down not the bottom up. The Ottoman Empire needed a new identity.

As a part of the club of European empires, the Ottoman Empire faced the same jeopardies as the other empires in an atmosphere of dog eat dog. The feeling of many Turkish elites that some of the Europeans delighted in picking on Turkey in the 19th century is a gross mischaracterization of reality. Empires most often sought to tear each other apart. T for centuries the Europeans felt the Turks delighted in picking on Europe, having twice reached the gates of Vienna, and Peter the Great lost the Pruth campaign. In the vicissitudes of the ups and downs of Empires, there is little in the way of the personal. “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword,” those who go up will eventually go down. Neither side should expect to have pity since they give no pity.  Everyone picks on everyone.

Kaiser Wilhelm, King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany, was hardly a merchant or businessman. He was a military man of the old aristocracy and thought in military values. The glory of the state and of its ruling house depended on conquest and acquisition of territory. Of course, he was abetted in this by German business circles. Businessmen love monopolies and closed markets although they hated the high taxes and physical losses which go along with military activities. Kaiser Wilhelm observed that the most potential imperial territory that remained on the face of the earth was that of the Ottoman Empire. Unlike the Russians and the Austrians, who had experienced Ottoman invasions and were now taking back old as well as new territories, the Kaiser decided to pretend to defend the Ottoman Empire by resisting Russian advances, (which were abetted by Great Britain), and reigning in Austrian ambitions.  Pretending to be a friend of the Muslims and of Turkey, the Kaiser insidiously increased his power over the Ottoman Empire by effectively taking over the Turkish armies, with the cooperation of the Young Turk leaders, under the pretense of lending Prussian advisors and instructors to build up Turkish forces.

It was in this lethal environment that the Armenian genocide occurred. Obviously, like most of the people of Europe and indeed many in the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians desired to see the Ottoman Empire reform itself into a truly multinational state in which all peoples and all religions would be equal before the law. It was enlightened Turkish elites who instituted the Tanzimat, or the Ottoman democratic reform process in their attempt to modernize the Ottoman Empire, not revolutionaries.

In fact, the Armenians cooperated with the Young Ottomans and later the Young Turks, the Committee of Union and Progress, to institute reforms by overthrowing the reigning Sultan if necessary. In fact, it was the Young Turk Party which took power in Constantinople in 1908 and announced the reestablishment of the Constitution of 1878. According to all reports, Muslims and Christians, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, and Turks hugged and danced in the streets celebrating the arrival of democracy.

Losses in the war led to the establishment in 1913 of a dictatorship by the Committee of Union and Progress over the Ottoman government under three of its prominent leaders, Talaat, Enver, and Jemal (Çemal) Pashas. Looking for an internal scapegoat to deflect attention from their own military ineptness, they turned on the unarmed Armenians. If you can’t beat armies, you can always massacre unarmed civilians. The story of the Armenian genocide need not be repeated here. It is well known in the West and in most countries in the world except for present-day Turkey.

I respect the Turkish people and have confidence in them. I lament the fact that the Armenian genocide is not recognized by the present day Turkish government as a crime committed by its predecessor government under the dictatorship of the Committee for Union and Progress. I lament the fact that the people of Turkey are denied free access to accurate sources because of Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code which makes it a crime to insult Turkishness. This article has been widely used to prevent an airing of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish people so they could arrive at their own conclusion. I lament the fact that such collections as the Confiscated Properties Archives and the Military Ministry Archives are not open to inspection by objective scholars.  I limit the fact that in internal Turkish government study of violations of the Treaty of Lausanne, the official end of World War I for them, was suppressed and never published, thus denying the Turkish people knowledge that their government is in violation of a major international treaty.

I also lament the fact that the Turkish war crime trials held after World War I were broken off. That is a great pity, because not punishing those directly responsible for the Armenian genocide it has left a patina of guilt on the whole of the Turkish people, a guilt which they do not deserve. It is a pity that the Turkish people allow their government to hold them responsible for something for which they had no control over.

But there is a glimmer of hope for truth. The Turkish government has instituted a number of reforms which might make freedom of investigation more readily possible. Conferences are being held in Istanbul and Ankara on the topic of the Armenian genocide, and even books are being published although the publisher, Ragip Zarakolu, has frequently been thrown in jail for his audacity.

It is humanism, the understanding that we all– black, white, yellow, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, Armenians, Turks, and all others– are actually one people with one destiny on this frail earth which holds the key to ending genocide.

It is also intellectual freedom which is vital to bringing knowledge, understanding, peace, and harmony among peoples. As long as governments try to control access to the truth, antagonisms will remain among people. Thus intellectual freedom is an absolute necessity for settling issues like the Armenian genocide and preventing other such atrocities.

To help our fellow Turkish investigators, we have taken some of the work off of their backs. We have published the trial records of the Turkish post-World War I military tribunals, in modern Turkish in Turkey, held to punish the authors of the Armenian genocide. These records include sworn testimony and certified exhibits proving the guilt of many who were on trial.  It is a pity that these trials were never brought to a conclusion, thus leaving a patina of guilt on the whole of the Turkish people rather than on the individuals who misguided and misled the common man to commit unspeakable crimes. Perhaps those trial should be reestablished to fix guilt once and for all on the real perpetrators, the leaders of the Committee for Union and Progress who control the Ottoman government.

We have also recently published the records of the German archives in Turkish in Turkey, allies of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, in which the evidence once again is overwhelming that a genocide had been committed. Such terms were used as murder of a nation, ethnic extermination and the like.

Fortunately, the diary of Talaat Pasha which records the numbers of Armenians expelled daily from every town and village in the Ottoman Empire has recently been published. We often refer to it as the Black Book of Talaat Pasha.  Furthermore, we have learned from other sources that expulsion was nothing but a euphemism for eradication.

I would hope that in a venue like the United Nations, the hope of the world, that Armenians, Turks, and others would feel free to investigate, analyze, and discuss freely these terrible events which have left their ugly mark on both the Turkish and the Armenian psyches. Rather than these events discussing genocide becoming the occasional for quarrels, they should be occasions for the renewal of communication and investigation. I hope my remarks are accepted in that spirit.