1697) Turkish Genocide Of Assyrians And Armenians

(AINA) In March 2003 the Swedish organisation "Levande historia" arranged a seminar in the town of Uppsala . . with the theme "The genocide on Armenians and other Christian groups in 1915". I attended in my capacity as a legal expert on international law, but the two most important contributions were presented by two historians, Klas-Goran Karlsson from the university of Lund, and David Gaunt from the university college of Sodertorn. They both confirmed that genocide, in a general sense, had taken place in the then Ottoman empire during the First World War.

The strange thing with this seminar in Uppsala was that Turkey's embassy in Stockholm had sent a historian from Ankara to give a contrasting picture to the picture they suspected the seminar would confirm. The discussion between the historians reached a complete deadlock and the event was commented on later by Turkey's largest newspaper, describing Swedish scientists with derisive words of abuse.

This controversy should never have taken place from a purely historical point of view because the scientific research done on this issue is relatively clear.

There are very many witnesses from 1915: missionaries who were there in the Christian areas; consuls from western countries who reported back to their embassies about what happened; German military attaches who reported in the same way; and the American ambassador Morgenthau in Constantinople who gave reports about his contacts with the government of the Young Turks, especially about a conversation with Turkish war minister Enver Pasha, in which the minister assured that what took place was ordered by the government.

A document was published already in 1916 entitled The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916 by James Bryce, British expert in political science, and Arnold Toynbee, a historian. Bryce had previously been ambassador to the USA and had led an investigative commission during WWI about alleged war crimes in occupied Belgium. Toynbee was in the beginning of his career as a world famous historian.

Johannes Lepsius, a German missionary in Anatolia, was given a task by the authorities in Berlin during the same period of time. He was ordered to compile German diplomatic correspondence concerning Armenia. The documentation of Lepsius was published in 1919 in Potsdam. A number of scientific works published in modern times have completed the picture. Prof. David Gaunt published his book Massacres, Resistance, Protectors 2006. It covers the fate of all the Christian groups of eastern Anatolia during WWI.

It all started in Constantinople on 24th April 1915 when several hundred leading Armenian intellectuals were arrested, deported and murdered. It was assumed that their Orthodox belief made them friends of the Russians and thus a security risk. Orders followed demanding cities and villages in the east to be emptied on their Christian population. The Armenians were to be removed southwards and death marches and massacres followed. The camps they were removed to in the Syrian desert were not any new settlements; they were an end station of starvation, assault and misery.

The western allies issued a proclamation on 24th May 1915 in which they described what was going on as a"crime against humanity and civilisation", announcing court proceedings against guilty individuals after the war. No such court proceedings, apart from a few exceptions, ever took place, but the expression "crime against humanity" was coined.

According to The United Nations Convention on Genocide ratified in 1948, the affected population must constitute an ethnically or religiously definable group in order for the term genocide to be applied to them. This criterion is fulfilled retroactively in the case of the Assyrians and Armenians.

It also requires an intention from the perpetuators to annihilate the group entirely or partly. This criteria of intention is the most difficult to prove. Yet I advocate that the research of history has been able to prove since long time ago such an underlying political purpose: to clear the Ottoman Empire from foreign elements and build a homogenous Muslim state.

The order of the regime of the Young Turks from April 1915 to clear cities and villages from Armenian elements is documented. The following order, on how to handle the people who are driven together and deported, is lost, probably destroyed in an early stage. But the certainty of the existence of such a brutal order, in practise an order for partial annihilation, is made clear from a later order by Talat Pasha, Minister of Interior, to the governor in Diyarbekir. It is made clear in a telegram from Constantinople from 12th July 1915 that the regime needs to put itself in a more positive light because of the international protests. Talat Pasha issues directives saying that the killings which are lacking in discrimination against Christian groups (in general) must stop, i.e. the special treatment issued for the Armenians must not befall the Assyrians. This was the meaning of the telegram; the genocide committed against the Armenians was acknowledged, but it was not to spread to other Christian groups.

The Swedish word for genocide, folkmord, has been used by Hjalmar Branting (a famous Swedish prime minister) during an Armenia-meeting on 27th March 1917. He said:

"We are not talking about minor assaults but about an organized and systematic genocide (folkmord), worse than we have ever witnessed in Europe. It has been about annihilating the population of the entire area, drive the survivors out in the desert with the expectation that they will not endure but that their bones will whiten in the desert sand. This genocide is unparalleled among all appalling acts of the war. Our hearts have ached when we have read about it."

(Socialdemokraten, the official publication of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, 28th March 1917).

There was no juridical term for these events during WWI, but the term used by the allies "crime against humanity" was to gain political validity through the regulations of the Nuremberg trials in 1945.

What a Swedish government, minister, parliament or parliamentarian committee could say about the Armenian and Assyrian tragedy is that it is about massacres that were described as a crime against humanity in 1915 and which could today, from a juridical point of view, be described as genocide. The current Turkish republic has no juridical responsibility for these events as it is a successor state of the Ottoman Empire, but today's Turkey has a democratic identity to guard and it has a responsibility to make sure that freedom of speech is functioning. To be able to freely debate the past and sometimes take a moral responsibility for the damage inflicted on others is a feature of civil democratic societies.

An investigation was launched in 1997 in Sweden to find out about our trade revenue from Germany during the Second World War. A report named "The Nazi gold and the Bank of Sweden" (SOU 1998:96) established that gold ingots had been received from looted occupied countries and we had even possibly received gold taken from teeth from the death camps in the east. Sweden then gave around 40 million kronor to the Jewish centre in Stockholm as a form of moral compensation.

Swiss banks had enriched themselves in a corresponding way during the war. As the years passed the banks even incorporated the bank accounts of murdered Jews with their own funds. A storm of protests in the USA in 1998 led the Swiss banks to form a solidarity fund to be used for compensation of survivors. A court in New York announced later that one of the banks would pay compensation amounting to 1.25 billion dollars.

There are more examples of how a debate in democratic states has led to compensation. The money itself cannot compensate for lost lives, but the willingness to pay compensation marks guilt and responsibility and a will for reconciliation. The fact that one is recognized as a victim, as an object of a historical and massive injustice, gives a confirmation of ones identity from the perspective of the affected group.

It is obvious that an open discussion in Turkey about the events of 1915-1918, without any obstacles from article 301 of the Turkish penal code, would benefit Turkey's application for EU membership.

Our politicians are eager to claim that the Assyrian and Armenian genocides are an issue for the historians. But the same thing is not claimed about the Holocaust. The fact that the events of 1940-45 are an issue for politicians and diplomats was recently confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly when it adopted a resolution condemning all denials of the Holocaust. But Seyfo, the year of the sword as it is called by Assyrians (1915), is considered immature for political judgements. I like to uphold that the historians have done their job and they have done it well when it comes to the genocides of 1915-18. They cannot point to documents from any Turkish equivalence to the Wannsee-conference, but they have collected enough material to show there was a deliberate intention to commit what we today call genocide. One cannot ask scientists to agree totally; they have not agreed totally regarding the Holocaust either. But the stage of knowledge about the Assyrian and Armenian genocides is not insufficient to the degree that allows timid politicians to hide behind arguments of claimed indistinctness.

With this said, I do not claim that now is the right occasion to mediate historical truths on the international stage. It might not be the correct time. But it is concurrently time for our politicians to inform themselves about the factual matter and handle it in a moral manner. What we today call genocide did really take place in the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire year in 1915 and even the years that followed. Furthermore, the affected were different Christian groups -- Armenians and Assyrians. It is time for our politicians to acknowledge that serious historians have confirmed this historical writing and that there is no reason to question their conclusion.

Prof. Ove Bring is one of Sweden's foremost legal experts on international law. He is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and a member of the International Law Delegation of the Swedish Foreign Office. This speech was delivered by him during the conference on the Assyrian genocide in the Swedish parliament on 30th January 2007.

By Prof. Ove Bring
Translated from Swedish by Munir Gultekin.

Editor's note: the above speech was delivered to the Swedish Parliament on January 1, 2007.

Assyrian International News Agency
May 15 2007


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