On 24 April 1915, on the eve of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on the Western edge of the Ottoman Empire, a little to the East in Constantinople, the cream of Western Armenian intelligentsia resided. They included nearly 200 writers, 160 painters, 55 composers, 170 lawyers, 175 professors and teachers and 340 medical professionals (physicians, pharmacists and dentists).
All were arrested without cause and without warrants. All were sent to eastern Anatolia. All were initially exiled and all were subsequently slaughtered.
The Genocide had begun.
Twenty-five years before Nazi Germany’s leadership met in Wannsee to “solve” Europe’s Jewish problem, the Final Solution to the Armenian Question was put into practice in 1915 and its horrors lasted 8 years. It involved the systematic, organised and comprehensive annihilation of a race: the Armenian Christians. Simply because they were Christians.
The manner of their slaughter and the numbers butchered are immaterial at law when deciding if the massacres rise to the level of the G-word. What is material is that a people were targeted by the state as unfit to live because they were Christians.
Like the Nazis that followed the Ottomans, good if not meticulous record keeping was a hallmark of their barbarism. One of the triumvirate known as the Three Pashas that ruled over the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, Talaat Pasha soon after the killings of April 1915 made the following four decrees:
- 27 May 1915: Laws mandating blanket deportations (one way into the Syrian desert);
- 10 June 1915: “Abandoned Property Commissions” (Emval-i Metruke Komisyonu) were erected to manage the daily conduct of the confiscations. The point of this was to decimate the Armenian economy;
- 26 Sept 1915: Laws to delegate and implement the confiscation “of all buildings and land of the deportees” (after all, Constantinople knew these folks were not going to return); and
- 8 November 1915: More laws to legitimise property confiscation, in particular buildings and land held by the Church.
The orgy of slaughter that began in 1915 should not be confused with a mid 1890s string of massacres that saw up to 300,000 Armenians butchered throughout the Ottoman Empire in what is known as the Hamidian Massacres.
When the ANZACs landed there were two million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire according to the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. By 1922, there were fewer than 390,000. Over 1.5 million were killed in what historians consider genocide. Turkish genocide deniers however reject Armenian claims and call the allegations the “Great Lie”. These apologists are more than mere deniers who rebuff the organised annihilation of Christians; they scandalously invert history claiming Armenians themselves committed genocide on the Ottomans.
Enter Geoffrey Robertson, QC. He is known by many as an eminent Australian ex-pat barrister who practices constitutional, criminal, media and human rights law in London. But to a generation of Australian Gen Xers and their parents, Kathy Lette’s husband is better known for hosting ABC-TV’s fabulous Hypothetical series.
In An Inconvenient Genocide: Who remembers the Armenians? Robertson makes clear that human rights abuses against Armenians were daily events. Killings, deportations, marches into the middle of the Syrian desert, denial of food, water and shelter, forced labour until death were commonplace.
If it weren’t enough for the Ottomans to be maltreating the wretched victims of terror on their death marches, criminal mobs as well as Kurdish gangs would relentlessly attack convoys of ambulating barely breathing carcasses of human misery. With their emaciated infants in tow.
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