The Armenian Genocide of 1915: Proposal
The crime of genocide is ancient but the Armenian Genocide of 1915 represents one of the most abhorrent and criminal acts of mass violence in modern times. Although the concept of genocide is relatively new and recently acknowledged as being a crime against humanity in international affairs, the Armenia Genocide remains seeped in controversy and continues to be debated from London to Istanbul and from New York to Yerevan. Scholars have debated the validity of the claim of genocide perpetuated by the Ottoman rulers of a decrepit kingdom which was slowly faded into oblivion. Were the Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire systematically annihilated as part of plan to destroy an entire people?
If so, why were the Armenians selected for extermination? Did the whole Armenian nation succumb to such a fate and what remains of the Armenian population in Turkey following the events of 1915? Why did the Turkish state resort to such a policy – perpetrating such a heinous crime against both the indigenous population as well as against the greater humanity? Seeking to answer these questions as well as many more with respect to the case of modern genocide in Asia Minor, this essay proposes to provide a thorough analysis to Armenian Genocide of 1915. Since the extermination of the Armenian community of the Ottoman Empire remains controversial – more than ninety years after the fact – this essay remains important and timely as we approach the 100 year anniversary of the genocide.
As the first genocide of the twentieth century, the extermination of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire has been scrutinized for more than ninety years. Scholars from across the world have undertaken various types of research aimed at addressing one of the most violent and underreported events of the modern era. Described by author Dicran H. Boyajian as the “Forgotten Genocide”, the annihilation of the Armenian people in Asia Minor has received far less scrutiny and attention than other instances of mass murder and wholesale slaughter including the Jewish Holocaust during the Second World War and the Iraqi bombing of the Kurdish community in Halabja in the 1980s, to name a few. Although crimes against humanity and mass murder unfortunately remain a feature of the global community, the crimes committed against the Armenian people during the last days of the Ottoman Empire remain particularly heinous. Due to increased attention being paid to an event which until recently has been ignored by historians of the region, there is a growing body of literature on the systematic extermination of the Armenian community during the Ottoman era. As a result of the increased attention, scholars have begun to pay attention to this dark period in history and subsequently more and more information is coming to light. Although a half century ago I would say that there was a dearth of information on the subject to make it a viable dissertation, I can confidently say that today the opposite is true. As time progresses and more and more information is unearthed, we can now positively analyze the events leading up to 1915. Accordingly, this is the ideal time to add to the growing body of literature on the subject of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Academics from all over the world have studied this heinous event and as mentioned above, Dicran H. Boyajian is an important scholar in the field. Other scholars in the study of this genocide include the prolific Vahakn N. Dadrian, Richard G. Hovannisian, G. P. Gooch and Nikola Hovhanisyan, amongst others. In addition to a growing body of literature by and about Armenian scholars, European and American historians such as Michael Banks, Helen Fein and Tessa Hoffman continue to publish on the subject. Scholars from around the world are slowly uncovering data and suppressed literature with respect to the first genocide in modern times and this literature emanating from both the Armenian Diaspora and the Western scholarly tradition has come together to provide a more thorough and concise analysis of genocide perpetuated in the last days of a collapsing empire.
When it comes to the analysis of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 there are two main schools of thought which come into natural conflict and are juxtaposed, one beside the other. According to the official discourse of the Turkish government – the succeeding state to much of the Ottoman Empire following its collapse in the wake of the First World War – the Armenian Genocide of 1915 never happened. Yes, according to the official line of the Turkish authorities, the Armenian Genocide is a fiction of our imaginations and has no basis in fact. According to this school of thought, the Armenian genocide was in fact created to arouse sympathy for the global Armenian community following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and in the early days of the establishment of a modern Armenian Republic. This line of reasoning was the standard argument for more than fifty years when it came to the extermination of the Armenian community of Asia Minor. The second school of thought emphatically argues that the annihilation of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire was a systematic policy of extermination engineered from the seat of authority in Istanbul and aimed at the total removal of the last vestiges of the Armenian social community from the Empire. This act was carried out with extreme brutality as the days of the Ottoman Empire were waning and represented an assault to human dignity and human rights. Accordingly, the Turkish state, as the successor regime to the Ottoman Empire, must acknowledge the atrocities perpetuated by the Ottoman rulers and should formally apologize for the events leading up to, and culminating in the slaughter of 1915. Subsequently, this line of reasoning has gained wider credence during the latter half of the twentieth and later in the twenty-first century. While the issue remains hotly contested and open to debate, the latter argument, the idea that the genocide did in fact take place and represented an affront to global harmony and standards of human rights has recently gained credence in much of the Western world. Despite this, the debate continues.
From a purely methodological perspective, an analysis of the Armenian Genocide can be undertaken from a variety of standpoints. A literature review with an eye to recent scholarship as well as primary source data (which may be difficult to find) will provide an extensive overview of the problems associated with documenting an event which has remained shrouded in secrecy for almost a century. Although the Ottoman Empire and its successor regime, the Turkish Republic, officially denied the existence of the slaughter in 1915, the world is beginning to grapple with the true events of that fateful year in Armenian cultural history. An exploration of the antecedents to the genocide, including precipitants – both domestic and geopolitical – and triggers will be thoroughly discussed with reference to the available material. Importantly, the geopolitical strategic context played an important role in fermenting Ottoman insecurities at the turn of the twentieth century and the roles of the major Western European powers (France, England and Germany) during the early half of this century must be analyzed in depth. In addition to international antecedents, domestic causes for this outrage must also be addressed with an eye to exploring the internal factors leading to a policy of annihilation. Accordingly, a mixed analysis using both qualitative and quantitative data – if available – is the primary means through which this study will be undertaken. Accordingly, this mixed methodology can serve the purpose of this analysis and provide a complimentary approach to uncovering the Armenian Genocide.
A variety of theoretical paradigms can be employed to explore the Ottoman annihilation of the Armenian community in 1915. Conflict Theory, expounded by a variety of scholars in including Karl Marx, argues that conflict is endemic in society and that conflict over resources, particularly material goods, helps explain conflict in society. According to this theory conflict is precipitated by a variety of factors including conflict over race, class, religion, ethnicity and a variety of other conditions. Conflict Theory can perhaps explain the emergence of ethnic slaughter during the Ottoman days. Another theory, Relative Deprivation Theory, would argue that the Armenian Holocaust in 1915 was directly attributed to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during its last days. Proponents of this theory, including Ted Robert Gurr, have argued that rising expectations, coupled with a decreased ability to meet those expectations contributes to the outbreak of violence and conflict. Accordingly, the Armenian Genocide can also be viewed through this lens. At this early stage we are not sure which theoretical analysis will be applied to this particular case but what is certain is that this essay will forthrightly argue that the Armenian Genocide did in fact occur and was an affront to humanity. A variety of theoretical paradigms and analyses will be discussed with reference to this project.
Finally, research on the subject of the Armenian Genocide will explore our primary research questions through an analysis of the most pertinent and relevant primary material as the well as through a thorough and complete overview of the most up-to date literature on the subject. As mentioned earlier, scholarly attention has been increasing as time progresses and this event is finally receiving the important attention that it deserves within scholarly circles. Accessing the most relevant and important information available is an important objective of this analysis and this will be accomplished through a comprehensive literature review. Utilizing the best books on the subject as well as the most up to date and complete scholarly journals which focus on peer reviewed analyses of the genocide, a plethora of information is available through library and online research. By conducting as thorough a review as possible, I hope to obtain the necessary information on a topic which is belatedly coming to light.
In sum, due to the comprehensiveness of the analysis and the stated research goals which attempt to be far-reaching and inclusive, I hope to complete this dissertation by the end of the academic year 2009. I am presently conducting preliminary research as well as producing a draft assignment and thanks to many early successes and a strong existing base of knowledge I hope to move forward in the months that follow with a finished product by the end of the academic year. Since I have already accomplished a lot with respect to setting the parameters of my analysis and in engaging in strong preliminary research, I believe that my goals are fully attainable. Seeking an in-depth and scholarly rigorous analysis of an event which has been shrouded in mystery for nearly a century, this analysis has set out with some lofty goals. As mentioned earlier, this dissertation will complement preexisting literature on the subject and will add to our understanding of the first genocide of the twentieth century, the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
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