The Armenian Genocide Historical roots

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The Armenian Genocide

Historical roots
The Armenians are an ancient people whose home has been in the southern Caucasus since the 7th century BC. Mongol, Persian, Russian and Ottoman (Turkish) empires have fought on and over this region for many centuries. In the 4th century AD one of Armenia's kings became a Christian, and Christianity has been the Armenian state religion ever since. After Islam was founded in Arabia in the 7th century AD, it became the state religion in all the countries surrounding Armenia (including Iran, which was the strongest influence on Armenian culture). But the Armenians continued to cherish their Christian church, although politically they lived under a series of foreign regimes and as a result often experienced hardship, persecution, discrimination and abuse.

At the end of the 19th century, Turkey and Russia were recovering from a war with each other. In the west, 2.5m Christian Armenians were governed by the Turks; eastern Armenia was in Russian hands. A surge in Armenian nationalism gave the Armenian leaders confidence to demand political reforms. This was unwelcome to both Ottoman and Russian powers, afraid of armed partisan resistance or even the revival of interstate war. They began to repress Armenians even more harshly. In some Turkish Armenian provinces large-scale massacres were carried out from 1894 to 1896. In Russian Armenia, the Tsar closed hundreds of Armenian schools, libraries and newspaper offices, and in 1903 confiscated the property of the Armenian church.

In 1909 the Ottoman Sultan was overthrown by a new political group: the 'Young Turks', eager for a modern, westernised style of government. When the First World War broke out, the Young Turks supported Germany, which brought the country into conflict with Russia once again. It was easy for the Young Turks to expect Turkish Armenians to conspire with pro-Christian Russians against them (though many Turkish Armenians denied any such intention). As far as the Young Turks were concerned, what had long been 'the Armenian Question' had to be answered, now.

In 1915, under the cover of the war, the Ottoman government resolved to expel Turkey's Armenian population (at the time about 1.75m) entirely. Their plan included deportation to the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were driven out of their homes and either massacred or force-marched into the desert until they died. The German ambassador to Turkey wrote home: 'The government is indeed pursuing its goal of exterminating the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire'. Between 1915 and 1923 the western part of historic Armenia was emptied of Armenians. The death toll is reliably estimated to be over a million. Those who did not die fled to the Middle East, Russia or the USA.

The genocide was conducted in a well-organised way, making use of new technology available. Orders to begin the operation were sent to every police station, to be carried out simultaneously at the same time on the same day: April 20, 1915. Once it had begun, the perpetrators kept in touch by telegraph. They also made use of the Istanbul- Baghdad railway: the new line had already been laid as far as the Syrian desert. Tens of thousands of Armenians were packed into railway wagons and sent down the line into the desert, where they were left without shelter, water or food. Many of the workers laying the railway were Armenian, and thought they would escape; their turn for the death trucks came in 1916.

Genocide in wartime is relatively easy to conceal. When Hitler was planning the invasion of Poland in 1939, he gave the order to 'kill without mercy men, women and children of the Polish race or language. Only in this way will we get the living space we need. Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?'

After the genocide
After the First World War efforts were made to restore Armenian territory, but without success. Even USA's President Wilson did not stop the Turks from ignoring all treaties and hanging on to the Armenian provinces it had cleared. In 1920 Armenia finally renounced its claim to them. It took some time for the political status (and the boundaries) of Armenia to be sorted out. In 1922 Armenia became part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, under central Soviet rule, where it remained for 71 years. During this time Armenia was protected from hostile neighbouring countries, but the Soviet government (especially under Stalin) was harsh. Politicians, intellectuals and churchmen were suppressed. Workers on the land were forced to take up the communist 'collective farming' policy, becoming badly-paid labourers on the land they were no longer allowed to own individually.

In the 1920s, despite overwhelming evidence of the genocide provided by Western and Armenian eyewitnesses, Turkish officials effectively created a fog of denial. After a surge of American interest in the fate of Armenia during the 1914-18 war, there was post-war international reluctance to rock the boat, even when treaties were broken - after all, the Ottoman Empire had just been dismantled, and modern Turkey was not created until 1923.

One determined American nurse did persist in making her experiences known; she also exposed the new callousness at Istanbul's American Embassy (which in 1915 had tried hard to intervene). The new ambassador, driven 'obsessively' by commercial interests, was willingly colluding in Turkish denial. Allen Dulles, US Eastern Affairs chief (later to become director of the CIA), had a problem meeting the ambassador's urgent desire for cover-up. 'Confidentially,' said Dulles, 'the State Department is in a bind. Our task would be simple if the reports of the atrocities could be declared untrue or even exaggerated but the evidence, alas, is irrefutable. We want to avoid giving the impression that while the United States is willing to intervene actively to protect its commercial interests, it isn't willing to move on behalf of the Christian minorities.' But few moves were made beyond offering a refuge for dispossessed Armenians.

Turkish denial
Armenia has persistently called for the massacres of 1915 and after to be acknowledged as genocide. They have also asked Turkey to apologise for it. Turkey, however, has continued to deny genocide,
claiming that the figures given are false: instead, 300,000 Armenians (and many thousands of Turks) were killed in the general carnage and turbulence of internal fighting during the First World War, with local massacres carried out by both sides. Both Armenia and Turkey have collected extensive documentary evidence to support their respective cases (with mutual accusations of forgery).

In 2001, when the first Holocaust Day took place in the UK, the national Assembly of France formally decided to acknowledge the Armenian killings as genocide, though not mentioning Turkey by name. All the same, it provoked a substantial row with Turkey, which suspended diplomatic relations, called off trade deals, toyed with imposing sanctions, and contemplated formally accusing France of genocide during Algeria's 1955-1962 war of independence.

The 70,000 or so Armenians who live in Turkey today have distanced themselves from the arguments, saying that the dispute should be left to historians.

from a letter sent by an American observer in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1915:

' "Armenia without the Armenians" - that is the Ottoman Government's project. The Muslims are already being allowed to take possession of the lands and houses abandoned by the Armenians. The exiles are forbidden to take anything with them. In the districts under military occupation there is nothing left to take, as the military authorities have carried off, for their own use, everything that they could lay hands on. The exiles have to traverse on foot a distance that involves one or two months' marching and sometimes even more, before they reach the particular corner of the desert destined to become their tomb. We hear, in fact, that the course of their route and the stream of the Euphrates are littered with the corpses of exiles, while those who survive are doomed to certain death, since they will find in the desert neither house, nor work, nor food. It is simply a scheme for exterminating the Armenian nation wholesale, without any fuss. It is another form of massacre, and a more horrible form.

All the men between 20 and 45 have been sent to the front lines. Those between 45 and 60 are working for the military transport service, or have been exiled or imprisoned on one pretext or another. The result is that there is no one left to deport but the old men, the women and the children. These poor creatures have to travel through regions which, even in times of peace, were dangerous. Now that Turkish brigands, as well as the police and civil officials, enjoy the most absolute licence, the exiles are robbed on the road, and their women and girls dishonoured and abducted.

About a million Armenian inhabitants have been thus deported from their homes and sent southwards into exile. These deportations have been carried out very systematically by the local authorities. In every village and every town, the population was disarmed by the police (and by criminals released from prison for this purpose. On the pretext of disarming the Armenians, these criminals committed assassinations and inflicted hideous tortures.). Next, they imprisoned the Armenians en masse, on the pretext that they had found something incriminating in their possession. After that, they began the deportation. Any men who had not been imprisoned were massacred. The remainder - old men, women, and children - were placed at the disposal of the Muslim population. The highest official as well as the most simple peasant chose the woman or girl who caught his fancy. The rest were marched away. An eye-witness reports to us that the women deported from Erzerum were abandoned, some days ago, on the plain of Harpout, where they have all died of hunger (50 or 60 a day). The only step taken by the authorities was to send people to bury them, in order to safeguard the health of the population.

We are making great efforts to save at any rate the Armenians of Constantinople from this horrible extermination of the race, in order that, hereafter, we may have at least one rallying point for the Armenian cause in Turkey. The whole Armenian population of Turkey has been condemned to death, and this decree is being put into execution energetically in every corner of the Empire, under the eyes of the European Powers. So far, neither Germany nor Austria has succeeded in checking the action of their ally and removing the stain of these barbarities, which also attaches to them. All our efforts have been without result. Our hope is set upon the Armenians abroad.'

Mutual tolerance is threatened wherever there is a history of mutual conflict. There's a difficult balance to be reached: if people are 'assimilated' in a country not their traditional home, is there a line to cross beyond which their individual histories and heritage are, in effect, exterminated? How far can racial, religious, national observances be maintained without seeming defiant and aggressive?

People also become victims of conflicts between wider communities, as the Armenians became the victims of conflict between two rival empires, both requiring Armenian loyalty and support. On a small scale, in local communities, it is the same. Allegiances to factions and power groups always carry risks of bitter hostility that may break out in violence and the use of force.


Bosnia Genocide
200,000 Deaths

In the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, conflict between the three main ethnic groups, the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, resulted in genocide committed by the Serbs against the Muslims in Bosnia.

Bosnia is one of several small countries that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia, a multicultural country created after World War I by the victorious Western Allies. Yugoslavia was composed of ethnic and religious groups that had been historical rivals, even bitter enemies, including the Serbs (Orthodox Christians), Croats (Catholics) and ethnic Albanians (Muslims).

During World War II, Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi Germany and was partitioned. A fierce resistance movement sprang up led by Josip Tito. Following Germany's defeat, Tito reunified Yugoslavia under the slogan "Brotherhood and Unity," merging together Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, along with two self-governing provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina.

Tito, a Communist, was a strong leader who maintained ties with the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, playing one superpower against the other while obtaining financial assistance and other aid from both. After his death in 1980 and without his strong leadership, Yugoslavia quickly plunged into political and economic chaos.

A new leader arose by the late 1980s, a Serbian named Slobodan Milosevic, a former Communist who had turned to nationalism and religious hatred to gain power. He began by inflaming long-standing tensions between Serbs and Muslims in the independent provence of Kosovo. Orthodox Christian Serbs in Kosovo were in the minority and claimed they were being mistreated by the Albanian Muslim majority. Serbian-backed political unrest in Kosovo eventually led to its loss of independence and domination by Milosevic.

In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia both declared their independence from Yugoslavia soon resulting in civil war. The national army of Yugoslavia, now made up of Serbs controlled by Milosevic, stormed into Slovenia but failed to subdue the separatists there and withdrew after only ten days of fighting.

Milosevic quickly lost interest in Slovenia, a country with almost no Serbs. Instead, he turned his attention to Croatia, a Catholic country where Orthodox Serbs made up 12 percent of the population.

During World War II, Croatia had been a pro-Nazi state led by Ante Pavelic and his fascist Ustasha Party. Serbs living in Croatia as well as Jews had been the targets of widespread Ustasha massacres. In the concentration camp at Jasenovac, they had been slaughtered by the tens of thousands.

In 1991, the new Croat government, led by Franjo Tudjman, seemed to be reviving fascism, even using the old Ustasha flag, and also enacted discriminatory laws targeting Orthodox Serbs.

Aided by Serbian guerrillas in Croatia, Milosevic's forces invaded in July 1991 to 'protect' the Serbian minority. In the city of Vukovar, they bombarded the outgunned Croats for 86 consecutive days and reduced it to rubble. After Vukovar fell, the Serbs began the first mass executions of the conflict, killing hundreds of Croat men and burying them in mass graves.

The response of the international community was limited. The U.S. under President George Bush chose not to get involved militarily, but instead recognized the independence of both Slovenia and Croatia. An arms embargo was imposed for all of the former Yugoslavia by the United Nations. However, the Serbs under Milosevic were already the best armed force and thus maintained a big military advantage.

The end of 1991 brokered a U.S.-sponsored cease-fire agreement between the Serbs and Croats fighting in Croatia.

In April 1992, the U.S. and European Community chose to recognize the independence of Bosnia, a mostly Muslim country where the Serb minority made up 32 percent of the population. Milosevic responded to Bosnia's declaration of independence by attacking Sarajevo, its capital city, best known for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics. Sarajevo soon became known as the city where Serb snipers continually shot down helpless civilians in the streets, including eventually over 3,500 children.

Bosnian Muslims were hopelessly outgunned. As the Serbs gained ground, they began to systematically roundup local Muslims in scenes eerily similar to those that had occurred under the Nazis during World War II, including mass shootings, forced repopulation of entire towns, and confinement in make-shift concentration camps for men and boys. The Serbs also terrorized Muslim families into fleeing their villages by using rape as a weapon against women and girls.

The actions of the Serbs were labeled as 'ethnic cleansing,' a name which quickly took hold among the international media.

Despite media reports of the secret camps, the mass killings, as well as the destruction of Muslim mosques and historic architecture in Bosnia, the world community remained mostly indifferent. The U.N. responded by imposing economic sanctions on Serbia and also deployed its troops to protect the distribution of food and medicine to dispossessed Muslims. But the U.N. strictly prohibited its troops from interfering militarily against the Serbs. Thus they remained steadfastly neutral no matter how bad the situation became.

Throughout 1993, confident that the U.N., United States and the European Community would not take militarily action, Serbs in Bosnia freely committed genocide against Muslims. Bosnian Serbs operated under the local leadership of Radovan Karadzic, president of the illegitimate Bosnian Serb Republic. Karadzic had once told a group of journalists, "Serbs and Muslims are like cats and dogs. They cannot live together in peace. It is impossible."

When Karadzic was confronted by reporters about ongoing atrocities, he bluntly denied involvement of his soldiers or special police units.

On February 6, 1994, the world's attention turned completely to Bosnia as a marketplace in Sarajevo was struck by a Serb mortar shell killing 68 persons and wounding nearly 200. Sights and sounds of the bloody carnage were broadcast globally by the international news media and soon resulted in calls for military intervention against the Serbs.

The U.S. under its new President, Bill Clinton, who had promised during his election campaign in 1992 to stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, now issued an ultimatum through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) demanding that the Serbs withdraw their artillery from Sarajevo. The Serbs quickly complied and a NATO-imposed cease-fire in Sarajevo was declared.

The U.S. then launched diplomatic efforts aimed at unifying Bosnian Muslims and the Croats against the Serbs. However, this new Muslim-Croat alliance failed to stop the Serbs from attacking Muslim towns in Bosnia, which had been declared Safe Havens by the U.N. A total of six Muslim towns had been established as Safe Havens in May 1993 under the supervision of U.N. peacekeepers.

Bosnian Serbs not only attacked the Safe Havens but also attacked the U.N. peacekeepers as well. NATO forces responded by launching limited air strikes against Serb ground positions. The Serbs retaliated by taking hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers as hostages and turning them into human shields, chained to military targets such as ammo supply dumps.

At this point, some of the worst genocidal activities of the four-year-old conflict occurred. In Srebrenica, a Safe Haven, U.N. peacekeepers stood by helplessly as the Serbs under the command of General Ratko Mladic systematically selected and then slaughtered nearly 8,000 men and boys between the ages of twelve and sixty - the worst mass murder in Europe since World War II. In addition, the Serbs continued to engage in mass rapes of Muslim females.

On August 30, 1995, effective military intervention finally began as the U.S. led a massive NATO bombing campaign in response to the killings at Srebrenica, targeting Serbian artillery positions throughout Bosnia. The bombardment continued into October. Serb forces also lost ground to Bosnian Muslims who had received arms shipments from the Islamic world. As a result, half of Bosnia was eventually retaken by Muslim-Croat troops.

Faced with the heavy NATO bombardment and a string of ground losses to the Muslim-Croat alliance, Serb leader Milosevic was now ready to talk peace. On November 1, 1995, leaders of the warring factions including Milosevic and Tudjman traveled to the U.S. for peace talks at Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio.

After three weeks of negotiations, a peace accord was declared. Terms of the agreement included partitioning Bosnia into two main portions known as the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. The agreement also called for democratic elections and stipulated that war criminals would be handed over for prosecution. 60,000 NATO soldiers were deployed to preserve the cease-fire.

By now, over 200,000 Muslim civilians had been systematically murdered. More than 20,000 were missing and feared dead, while 2,000,000 had become refugees. It was, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, "the greatest failure of the West since the 1930s."

Source: United Human Rights

Cambodian Genocide

Death toll: 2 million

Cambodia is a country in South East Asia, less than half the size of California and twice the size of Scotland. Once it was the centre of the ancient kingdom of the Khmer, and its capital was Angkor, famous for its 12th century temples. The present day capital is Phnom Penh. In 1953 Cambodia gained independence after nearly 100 years of French rule. In the 1960s the population was over 7m, almost all Buddhists, under the rule of a monarch, Prince Sihanouk.

In 1970 Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a military coup. The leader of the new right-wing government was lieutenant-general Lon Nol, who was made president of the 'Khmer Republic'. Prince Sihanouk and his followers joined forces with a communist guerrilla organisation founded in 1960 and known as the Khmer Rouge. They attacked Lon Nol's army and civil war began.

Cambodia was also caught up in another country's war. Cambodia's neighbour to the east is Vietnam, which had also fought against the French to gain independence. When the French were defeated in 1954, Vietnam was divided in two: communist North Vietnam and pro-Western South Vietnam (backed by the USA). Civil war immediately broke out. The Viet Cong, a group of Vietnamese communist guerrillas (backed by North Vietnam and China), based themselves in the jungles of South Vietnam and fought against the South Vietnamese army from there. In 1964, the USA entered the Vietnam war, with airpower, firebombs and poisonous defoliants, but found they could not budge the determined Vietnamese communists. The inconclusive war in Vietnam cost many American and Vietnamese lives, devastated the country, and achieved nothing but misery for anyone caught up in it, including the Cambodians.

Under Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia had preserved neutrality during the Vietnamese civil war by giving a little to both sides: Vietnamese communists were allowed to use a Cambodian port to ship in supplies, the USA were allowed to bomb - secretly and illegitimately - Viet Cong hideouts in Cambodia. When US-backed Lon Nol took over, US troops felt free to move into Cambodia to continue their struggle with the Viet Cong. Cambodia had become part of the Vietnam battlefield. During the next four years, American B-52 bombers, using napalm and dart cluster-bombs, killed up to 750,000 Cambodians in their effort to destroy suspected North Vietnamese supply lines.

The Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement in 1970 was small. Their leader, Pol Pot, had been educated in France and was an admirer of Maoist (Chinese) communism; he was also suspicious of Vietnam's relations with Cambodia. The heavy American bombardment, and Lon Nol's collaboration with America, drove new recruits to the Khmer Rouge. So did Chinese backing and North Vietnamese training for them. By 1975 Pol Pot's force had grown to over 700,000 men. Lon Nol's army was kept busy trying to suppress not only Vietnamese communists on Cambodian territory but also Cambodia's own brand of communists, the Khmer Rouge.

In 1975 North Vietnamese forces seized South Vietnam's capital, Saigon. In the same year Lon Nol was defeated by the Khmer Rouge. It's estimated that 156,000 died in the civil war - half of them civilians.

Under Pol Pot's leadership, and within days of overthrowing the government, the Khmer Rouge embarked on an organised mission: they ruthlessly imposed an extremist programme to reconstruct Cambodia (now under its Khmer name Kampuchea) on the communist model of Mao's China. The population must, they believed, be made to work as labourers in one huge federation of collective farms. Anyone in opposition - and all intellectuals and educated people were assumed to be - must be eliminated, together with all un-communist aspects of traditional Cambodian society.

So, at short notice and under threat of death, the inhabitants of towns and cities were forced to leave them. The ill, disabled, old and very young were driven out as well, regardless of their physical condition: no-one was spared the exodus. People who refused to leave were killed; so were those who didn't leave fast enough, and those who wouldn't obey orders.

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