The Research on the 1915 Genocide

Until a few years ago we talked mainly about the Armenian victims when referring to the massacres during World War I in Ottoman Turkey. Recent research has shown that, although the Armenians constituted the majority of the victims of the 1915 Genocide, it also subjected other Christian minorities, i.e. Assyrians/Syriacs/Chaldeans and Anatolian and Pontic Greeks. This can best be compared to the Holocaust and the relationship between the Jewish victims and other affected groups, such as the Romani peolpe.

Research on the Armenian genocide has in recent decades experienced a revival and the research has increasingly begun to investigate the massacres of Armenians which took place in the Ottoman Empire. By referring to the different basic elements of the characteristics of genocide, as well as in comparison to among others the Holocaust, the research has tried to demonstrate the similarities and the differences between the argumentation of various camps in wither confirming their claims as to why these massacres can, or can not, be defined as genocide. The concept of genocide is not a crystal clear definition, but different researchers would like to interpret the existing UN convention differently, redefining the concept of genocide and its application to specific cases may produce different results. Various researchers' views on individual cases may also vary according to their understanding of key concepts that identify a genocide.

International research on the Armenian genocide is relatively young and can be traced back to the beginning of the 1980s.[1] The research body is extensive and over the past thirty years numerous volumes have been compiled about the massacres of the Armenians during WWI. One may agree with Kjell Magnusson, who states that the Armenian genocide, second only to the Holocaust, has received the most attention in recent decades.[2] Turkey has in more than 90 years steadfastly rejected all accusations and insists that the allegations of massacres of Armenians are fabricated lies. Fear of possible claims on property, as well as territorial compensation, may well be behind the Turkish denial, but also the moral aspect of recognizing to the world that one's predecessors, who are so revered in modern Turkey, may have committed these crimes. For the past ten years, the question of recognition has also acquired a political escalation, both since the regained independence of Armenia, but also in regard to Turkey's negotiations for EU membership and has been subject to many discussion in a number of governments and parliaments. Others decline using the term genocide in the Armenian case by either pointing out the need for further research or on existing disagreement within the scholarly community.

The view on the Armenian genocide can roughly be divided into three distinct camps: one claiming that what happened was a genocide, one who denies that any massacres has even taken place and a third claiming that the massacres of Armenians, despite their existence, can not be classified as genocide. The study in the field can in principle be attributed to Western researchers, where the first group constitutes an overwhelming majority in the context of renown experts in various fields such as Yehuda Bauer, Vahakn N. Dadrian and Eric Markusen.[3] The second group consists almost exclusively of Turkish researchers who base their argument on the denial of the massacres and historical revisionism. The denial is expressed by alternative explanations that justify the implemented actions as necessary measures in time of war and that their magnitude was not as extensive as it is claimed to be. Some oft-quoted names in this group are the historians Yusuf Halacoglu, Kamuran guru and Salahi Sonyel.[4] It should be added that there are also Western scholars who have joined this group in recent times, among others, the demographer Justin McCarthy and the historians Andrew Mango, Heath Lowry and Stanford Shaw.

The third group asserts that, by analyzing the genocide criteria and comparing it to the Holocaust as the genocide paradigm, one can show why the massacres of Armenians can not be said to be a case of genocide, but just appalling massacres of an ethnic group. Among them one can mention the historians Bernard Lewis and Guenter Lewy. This latter group may also be attributed to the researchers who describe the Holocaust as the ultimate Genocide , the so-called singularists, and therefore the only valid case definition, which in turn implies belittling of other genocides including the Armenian. A prominent name among them is Steven T. Katz, but other researchers such as Lucy Dawidowicz share this view. It should also be mentioned that some scholars choose to move the boundary between group two and three, meaning that Lewis and Lewy are also regarded as deniers of the Armenian genocide, while David E. Stannard chooses to also call Katz, Dawidowicz and Bauer for revisionists (and in some manner genocide deniers) because they advocate the uniqueness of the Holocaust.[5]

In regard to the Holocaust's special features, Robert Melson asserts that it actually becomes less useful as a comparison model for other genocide, while the Armenian genocide, ironically, is a much better example. The ideology, the goal and the implementation of the Armenian case makes it better suited for the study of other genocides.[6] Even Bauer claims that the term genocide is more suitable for specifically the Armenian case, while the Holocaust should be used in such the Jewish case, when the aim was to exterminate every Jew.[7]
It is this elevation of the Holocaust to the ultimate case, which is usually the base for misinterpretations of other similar events. Not only is the Holocaust is the genocide with capital G, but sometimes even genocide is only equal as the Holocaust. It is of this very reason that Klas-Göran Karlsson criticizes the Holocaust studies, since they "are subject to strong, standardized intellectual, moral and political constraints that have made the resulting research products empirical quite detailed and homogeneous."

Back to Top

1) The first significant international academic forum which discussed the Armenian Genocide was the Holocaust Conference in Tel Aviv, 1982. See Yair Auron, The Banality of Indifference, Zionism and the Armenian Genocide, New Jersey, 2002, p. 68.
2) Kjell, MagnussonHolocaust and Genocide Studies: Survey of Previous Research, Research Agenda, The Uppsala Programme for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 8-54. Uppsala, 1999, p. 24.
3) To further highlight the diversity of the research disciplines, one could mention the following scholars: historians Yehuda Bauer, Yair Auron, Henry Huttenbach, Eric Weitz, Kurt Jonassohn, Yves Ternon, Richard Hovannisian and Ronald Suny; political scientists Robert Melson, Roger Smith and Colin Tatz; sociologists Helen Fein, Vahakn N. Dadrian, Eric Markusen, and Israel Charny (also a psychologist); lawyers Raphael Lemkin, William Schabas, Alfred de Zayas, Roger W. Smith and Gregory Stanton. In addition, there are the Turkish researcher Taner Akcam (historian), Fatma Muge Gocek (Sociology), Baskin Oran (political science).
4) For more references to Turkish authors within the subject see Clive Foss, The Turkish View of Armenian History: A Vanishing Nation, i Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), The Armenian Genocide, History, Politics, Ethics, London, 1992, p. 269-275.
5) Israel W. Charny, Encyclopedia of Genocide, Vol. 1, Oxford, 2000, p. 177-178; David E. Stannard, Uniqueness as Denial: The Politics of Genocide Scholarship, in Alan S. Rosenbaum (ed.), Is the Holocaust Unique?, Colorado, 1996. See also Colin Tatz, With Intent to Destroy, London, 2003, p. 131-132 in regard to belittling other genocides in comparison with the Holocaust.
6) Robert F. Melson, Revolution and Genocide, On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, Chicago, 1992, p. 252.
7) Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, Virginia, 2001, p. 58.

Back to Top