Questions and Answers About the Armenian Genocide

Questions and Answers About the Armenian Genocide –

The New York Times – Pope Francis’ description of the killing of Armenians 100 years ago as a genocide has caused a diplomatic uproar with Turkey and elevated resilient historical arguments about what really happened. The arguments are likely to intensify as Armenia prepares to officially commemorate the event in less than two weeks.

Here are some questions raised by the pope’s statement, made during his Sunday Mass, and by the response from Turkey, which condemned his remarks as “baseless” and recalled its ambassador from the Vatican.

Q. What does genocide mean and what is its origin?

 A. Genocide is generally defined as the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political or cultural group, with the intent to destroy the existence of that group. The term did not exist until 1944, when a Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, combined the Greek word for race or tribe, “geno,” with “-cide,” from the Latin word for killing. According to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mr. Lemkin created the term genocide to describe systematic killings conducted by the Nazis. But Mr. Lemkin said he also had the killings of Armenians in mind. In a 1949 CBS interview, Mr. Lemkin told a commentator, Quincy Howe: “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, and after the Armenians, Hitler took action.” The term was incorporated into the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide.

Q. What is the historical event at issue?

A. It refers to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, starting in 1915, when the Ottomans, who were aligned with Germany in World War I, sought to prevent Armenians from collaborating with Russia and ordered mass deportations from the empire’s eastern provinces. As many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians died from the combination of forced exodus, starvation and killings by Ottoman Turk soldiers and the police. About 500,000 Armenians survived, and many scattered into Russia, the United States and elsewhere in what became an Armenian diaspora. Many historians now consider the deaths of the Armenians to be the first genocide of the 20th century.

Q. Why is Turkey’s government so opposed to the use of the term “genocide” to describe what happened?

A. Turkey’s government has acknowledged that atrocities were committed during that period but has argued that a large number of Turks were also killed, and that to portray the killing of Armenians as systematic and intentional is historically inaccurate. Turkey’s government has disputed the number of Armenians killed, suggesting that it was far lower than 1.5 million. The government has often responded angrily when other countries, groups and individuals call the Armenian killings a genocide.

Q. How many other countries have taken a position on this question?

A. According to the website of the Armenian National Council of America,legislatures in at least 15 countries, and the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, have passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide. The United Nations Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities has also described the period as genocide. Some countries, including Switzerland and Greece, have called for criminal charges against those who deny it.

Q. What is the position of the United States government on use of the word genocide to describe what happened?

A. Successive administrations have sought to skirt this question because of Turkey’s growing importance, both as a NATO ally and as an influential political and economic power in the Middle East. They have also described the use of the term genocide as harmful to efforts at Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. When President Obama first campaigned for president in 2008 he used the term genocide but has softened his description since taking office, calling the period of history an atrocity and a dark chapter,but resisting efforts by members of Congress to bring a resolution on the question to a vote. Pope Francis’ use of the term genocide in his Sunday Mass has raised speculation that Mr. Obama might do so as well.

Q. What special events are planned to commemorate the centennial?

A. Prominent Armenians in the diaspora have already started commemorating the 100th anniversary. Some have collaborated with Hollywood celebrities to award a humanitarian prize, starting next year, in honor of those who helped to save Armenians during that period. In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, the centennial will be officially remembered on April 24 and will be attended by a number of world leaders, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The Parliament of Armenia is also likely to adopt a statement before the centennial remembrance calling on parliaments and interparliamentary organizations around the world to recognize the Armenian genocide.

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