Posts Tagged ‘Norm Naimark’

Genocide: “That kind of shakes you up, gets your attention.”

Sunday, August 10th, 2014
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Jonah

13th century Tomb of Jonah. It’s history now.

On Friday, we said the “g” word has a lot of gravitas. An unnamed government official agreed in the most literal way: “That word has a lot of weight.” But this weekend post from Politico has left me more confused than ever:

But Thursday morning, the urgency to act in Iraq became clear: Obama’s advisers warned that there would likely be a genocide.

“I had not heard the word ‘genocide’ used in the Situation Room before,” the official said. “That word has a lot of weight.”

The reports from the intelligence community and the State Department were vivid and compelling, the official said: People were dying of hunger and thirst, women risked being enslaved and the existence of a religious minority looked imperiled. It more than met the legal definition of genocide, aides told Obama.

“While we have faced many difficult humanitarian challenges, this was in a different category,” the official said. “This was qualitatively different from even the awful things we have confronted in different parts of the region because of the targeted nature, the scale of it, the fact this is a whole people. That kind of shakes you up, gets your attention.”

I’m somewhat flabbergasted by this report. Tens of thousands of Yazidis had been cornered on a mountain, and were already burying scores of children, the ill, and the elderly in shallow graves after they had died of hunger or thirst. Clearly the ISIS intent was to kill without mercy adherents of the fascinating “devil-worshipping” religion – and those plans were not a possible genocide, but one that was well underway. As we wrote on Friday, Norm Naimark defined genocide as “the purposeful elimination of all or part of a social group, a political group.” So how many have to be “eliminated” before it is considered genocide? How many murdered to determine intent (even when the intent has been openly stated already)?

obama3I’m glad the horrific situation with the little-known Yezidis finally inspired some action, but I have been tracking the genocidal intent toward Iraqi Christians for months and waving my arms and jumping up and down about it (read the links on the Wikipedia entry here for some of the history). It’s too bad the ancient Chaldean, Melkite, Syriac Armenian, and Assyrian churches in Iraq, who numbered 1.5 million adherents a decade ago, failed to capture the public attention in quite the same way. About 200,000 are now fleeing their homes, given the choice of leaving fast with nothing but the clothes on their backs or being slaughtered. This may be about the total of all the Iraqi Christians left, and Mosul for the first time in 2,000 years has been emptied of them.

Clearly, words matter. This raises another question about genocide: is it only the most camera-ready situations that get labeled genocide? Only those people who manage to capture the public fancy?

If it hadn’t been for the Yezidis and the Kurds, would we be allowing the remainder of these Christians, and other minorities, to be robbed, beaten, raped, mutilated, beheaded, crucified, and otherwise killed or put to flight? What about the horrific massacres of Shia minorities (read about it here)? If no one calls it genocide, did it not happen? If a tree falls in the forest…

Norm Naimark, Orhan Pamuk on Armenian genocide, Turkish denial

Friday, March 11th, 2011
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Pamuk: "Nobody dares to mention that. So I do."

“Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do.”

After Turkish author Orhan Pamuk made those remarks in 2005, rallies were held to burn his books and a hate campaign forced him to flee the country.  When he returned, the future Nobel laureate faced a criminal trial.

He stood his ground:  “What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo. But we have to be able to talk about the past.”

Norm Naimark would agree:  “A healthy national consciousness cannot abide nasty secrets hidden away in a locked drawer.”

For Turkey, there are practical consequences to the government’s official denial of genocide – scholars have been intimidated into doing research, denied access to research, and governments held hostage.

Naimark has edited a new volume of essays, just released by Oxford University Press: A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire. After reading this book, no one will be able to deny the Armenian genocide.  [Note:  If you want to see how bad it was, do an image search on google for “Armenian genocide” — I will not use those photos. They are dehumanizing.]

For Naimark, whose provocative Stalin’s Genocides was widely discussed and critically praised, a critical question is how, in fact, do these frenzies happen?

Context is everything.  “It is not too strong to state that war serves as a breeding ground for genocide,” he writes in his preface.  War provides justifications and possibilities.

“In the minds of Turkish nationalists, the Armenians’ traditional designation as gâvur (infidels) took on some of the elements of race prejudice and was reinforced by popular resentment of alleged Armenian wealth and treachery. That ‘Christians’ had driven the Ottomans out of southeastern Europe during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 and now threatened the integrity of the Anatolian lands of the Turks from outside and within made the Armenian threat even more dangerous from the Young Turk point of view.”  The Young Turk ideology claimed the racial superiority of Turks to Armenians.

Envy and greed also play a role.  A trigger is often rapid status reversals, “especially when class and ethnicity are both involved” as well as racial and religious prejudices.

Rarely does genocide fix itself exclusively on one set of victims – in this case, Anatolia’s Assyrians were also targets; so were Greeks.

According to Naimark, “the whirlwind of killing pulls in more and more victims and implicates an increasing number of assailants.”

Here’s what I find interesting:  Genocide happens at a number of levels of government, each with their own methods of implementation and decision-making.   “Every case of genocide is in some measure local,” he writes.

Naimark (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

“Recent research on mass killing indicates that the crime of genocide needs to be thought of as occurring at various levels of society: at the very top, where decisions are taken that lead to mass murder; at the ‘meso-level,’ where regional officials and their accomplices, the police and military, implement orders or interpret signals from the political leadership that lead to genocide; and at the most basic local level of society, where individuals participate in the killing, steal from the victims, move into their houses, or witness the depredations. Sometimes, locals try to save individuals and families, or protest against the deportation or murder of their neighbors, usually in vain.”

Genocide is not an “event” but a process – one that follows “unwritten rules of historical behavior.”  The deportation and killing of Ottoman Armenians began in the spring of 1915 and accelerated over the next six months – but it wasn’t truly finished until the early 1920s, in the face of outside stabilizing political events.

The end product was the destruction of the Armenian community in Anatolia – as in most cases of genocide, the events took place in full view of the international community,” writes Naimark. In this case, the great powers were at war, and Realpolitik trumped humanitarian considerations.

As a result is a haunting betrayal of responsibility: “The conscience of contemporary world society is haunted by images of doomed Armenian women and children, wandering aimlessly in the Anatolian plateau, mad with hunger and grief, and by photographs of rows of corpses of murdered Armenian men and boys, guarded casually by Turkish soldiers.”

And the perps? W.H.  Auden put it best:

All if challenged would reply
– ‘It was a monster with one red eye,
A crowd that saw him die, not I. —