27 June 2006

817) Genocide Survivors

A genocide philosopher asked the following question: Is there a difference between the psychological state of a massacre survivor and that of a genocide survivor? His answer to that question is that genocide survivors are likely to feel they don't deserve to live. This is because fellow members of their race have been destroyed for being “inferior.” They probably failed to defend themselves adequately because they, too, may have come to see themselves as inferior. Massacre survivors, on the other hand, retain the ability to . . be normal human beings -- something they need to put their lives back together -- despite the defeat they have suffered and the correspondingly great material and moral losses that it entails.

The “intent to destroy” a certain group plays a central role in the crime of genocide. How such a terrible intention can come to dominate people's minds and souls is a phenomenon that even science finds hard to explain.

A given group may start killing the members of another group for a variety of reasons. One side may be waging a struggle for independence and the other side may be trying to stop it; the stronger side may opt for ethnic cleansing, subjecting the other side to massacre and driving them out of a certain geographic area as a result. Similarly, large numbers of innocent people may die when members of two different religions or sects enter into a struggle for dominance. Such struggles would be based on a strategic, political or religious reason and both sides would be responsible for the resulting deaths, though in different degrees. The killing of civilians in this context constitutes a “crime against humanity.” That is a crime with some sort of “justification.”

Yet, Nazi Germany destroyed Jews merely because they were Jews. The Jews had not entered into any kind of strategic, political or religious struggle with the Germans. In fact, there had been no struggle at all. From this perspective, the victims were entirely innocent. The Nazis and their collaborators destroyed the Jews on the grounds that they had to rid Germany and the rest of the world of an “inferior race.” Therefore, genocide is the crime of one group destroying another group without any “justification” or, to put it differently, with motivations that are entirely irrational. This is what constitutes genocide according to Article 2 of the Genocide Convention.

The convention defines genocide on the basis of a specific case, the Holocaust. It does not consider any other kind of massacre to be genocide. This definition is of utmost importance. Social scientists would be scientifically discrediting themselves if they failed to grasp the profound difference between “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” and proceeded to engage in studies of genocide that focus on crimes that do not come under the scope of the judicial definition of genocide. The only thing for social scientists to do is analyze anti-Semitism and other malignant types of racism that create the almost unfathomable “intent” to destroy a group. However, those who are the product of a racist culture themselves tend to adopt a defensive attitude, trying to expand the scope of the genocide concept. They have a tendency to look for genocide in every case of massacre.

What exists at the root of racism is the irrational drive to demonize the target group. Throughout history, racial hatred of such intensity has not been seen among the Muslims in general and the Turks and Ottomans in particular.

But Western Europe, which defeated the Ottomans, produced serious cases of racism such as anti-Semitism, the Inquisition, witch hunts, colonialism, slavery and scientific racism in medieval times and up to the 19th century. Great philosophers of the Enlightenment like Hegel and Kant legitimized that racism.

Western Europe felt a profound racial hatred against the Ottomans as well. In this context, it considered Turks the source of all evil, backwardness and barbarity. This inspired the Balkan Christians and the Armenians to look down on the Turks. Hardly anyone displayed an interest in the Turks that were being killed or exiled during that process. Therefore, the collapse of the Ottoman state took on a genocidal feature rather than being the outcome of an ordinary political/military struggle.

It is probably because of this reason that we are in a psychological state that is similar to that of other genocide survivors even though we won the War of Independence and founded our own republic. It is as if we lack the spirit to stand tall. We tend to blame ourselves for everything. We are oversensitive to criticism coming from the West and we seem to be hoping for “salvation” by way of “correcting” ourselves according to that criticism.

Those Turks that champion the “Armenian genocide” argument in our day are, in fact, embracing the racism of Europe, taking a racist line against their own society as the “native intellectuals” described by Fanon.

Gündüz AKTAN, Retired Ambassador



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