As part of a more than week-long San Diego State University educational program called the “Symposium on Moral Courage,” Thomas Jefferson School of Law hosted a lecture on the Armenian Genocide, with UCLA Professor and historian Dr. Richard G. Hovannisian.
The Armenian Holocaust was one of the first genocides to take place in modern history, according to Dr. Hovannisian. “In fact, when it took place, there was no term ‘genocide.’”
But genocide, it was.
After the Ottoman Empire dissolved and the “Young Turks” came to power in the early 1900’s, Turkey “massacred, brutalized and deported” tens of thousands of Armenians living in that country, according to Hovannisian.
“Under cover of World War I, there was a war within a war,” said Hovannisian, “as Turkey turned against a segment of its own people – the Armenians. Males were killed outright. Women and children were marched for hundreds of miles while they were being brutalized. Some women were screaming in anguish 60 years after the massacre – wondering what happened to their children.”
In 1915, as the massacres were taking place, there was no international law that outlawed a nation to mistreat its own people, according to Hovannisian. Other national were reluctant to interfere with any nation’s sovereignty, he added, even though the allies declared the genocide a “crime against humanity.”
Turkey did begin court martial proceedings against the perpetrators of the genocide later, but Hovannisian said the leaders of the movement had all fled Turkey, before they were condemned to death in absentia. “Justice miscarried. It fizzled, he said.” Many years later, in 1951, the International Law Against Genocide was adopted.
What happened to the Armenians in Turkey set the stage for other deplorable ethnic cleansing movements later in the 20th Century, most infamously, Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews. But the Armenian Holocaust came to define the word genocide.
“Talk about Moral Courage,” said Hovannisian. “What kind of cowardice and inhumanity is this?”