Minneapolis—The latest issue of the Journal of Law and Public Policy (vol.5, no.1) contains a new study, in which Prof. Vahakn Dadrian, the Zoryan Institute’s Director of Genocide Research, analyzes the Armenian Genocide in a new context. Titled, “The Armenian Genocide: A Review of its Historical, Political, and Legal Aspects,” the article deals with the historical and political underpinnings of the criminality of the Armenian Genocide.
This extensive article, some 60-pages long, including 118 footnotes, is based on official Ottoman-Turkish sources, including several issues of Takvim-i Vekâyi, the legal organ of the Ottoman Parliament, which documented the post-World War I Military Tribunals prosecuting the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, Dadrian anchors his documentary analysis on prima facie evidentiary material. That material is reinforced by a wealth of corroborative material from the official archives of Imperial Germany and Imperial Austria-Hungary, Turkey’s political and military wartime allies. Dadrian also draws on the work of several contemporary Turkish authors.
“Dadrian’s extraordinary command of the languages and the sources make him unsurpassed in his ability to reconstruct and analyze the fundamental historical, political and legal issues related to the study of the Armenian Genocide,” remarked K.M. Greg Sarkissian, President of the Zoryan Institute.
A brief review of the pre-genocidal era explores the historical pattern of impunity with which the whole gamut of decision-makers, organizers, and actual perpetrators of the series of massacres were rewarded. These were inflicted upon the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in the periods of 1894-96, 1903-1904, and in 1909 in Adana. The paramount fact of impunity served to underscore the role of the factor of victim vulnerability as a major determinant in genocidal decision making. In fact, as Dadrian points out, it served to embolden the decision makers and implementers of the ensuing World War I genocide.
Another crucial factor in the unfolding of the wartime scheme of genocide was the devastating set of circumstances attending the crushing military defeats the Ottomans suffered in the 1912 First Balkan War. The anguish, misery, and most particularly the brutality of the victorious Christian armies of the Balkan peninsula inflicted upon the destitute Muslim masses trying to escape proved to be a major detriment in targeting later the vulnerable Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire through spasms of delayed revenge. Indeed, a large part of the perpetrator groups involved in the World War I Armenian cataclysm were dispossesed, bitter, and hateful Muslim refugees of the previous Balkan war.
The Armenian Genocide is depicted in this study as a direct consequence of the adoption of a radical ideology, the main architects and implementers of which were the leadership cadres of these massive clusters of Balkan refugees.
Among the range of factors facilitating the actual enactment of the Genocide is the factor of opportunity. Given the complex nature of the crime of genocide, the author maintains that optimal success in the organization of the crime requires optimal opportunism. Not only the leeways and resources of the perpetrator are to be the least restrained, but, equally important, the vulnerability of the targeted victim is to be at a fairly high level. Wars, especially global wars, tend in this respect to afford almost maximal opportunities. Wartime exigencies tend, as a rule, to not only maximize the vulnerability of the victim group that is constrained through its minority status, but at the same time complicate and often constrain the problem of outside intervention in favour of the targeted victim.
Wars are especially suitable avenues of opportunism on account of the rise to instrumental prominence of the military cadres of a potential perpetrator camp. Through them, violence is not only concentrated among experts, but even more important, such violence has per tradition, the sanction of quasi-legitimacy, if not full legitimacy, in the application of lethal violence against targets defined by legitimate authority as “internal foes.” It is a notable fact that the two major genocides of the last century, the Armenian and the Jewish, were consummated during two global wars.
One of the most outstanding features of the Armenian Genocide involves its economic dimensions, through which a massive transfer of wealth, from the victim to the perpetrator, took place. In this sense, the genocide emerges here doubly functional. The physical elimination of the victim population ends up yielding the emergence of a new source of wealth, and with it new cadres of wealthy classes in the perpetrator camp. In the section on Expropriation & Confiscation of Goods and Assets, the author documents and analyzes with ample source-material the specifics of this lethal operation of transfer of wealth from the victim to the perpetrator.
The entire essay instructively ends with an evocation of the paramountcy of law as a regulator of human conduct, and as such as a humanizing ingredient of civil life. It invokes Aristotle’s dictum that: “When separated from law and justice, man is the worst of all animals.”