Origin of Two Human Rights Concepts

Genocide Awareness and Prevention

Alan Whitehorn, ABC-CLIO.com, November 2013

The mass slaughter of the Armenians was… instrumental in the birth of two important human rights concepts: "crimes against humanity" and "genocide."

… A hallmark of the Armenian Genocide was the long forced marches into inhospitable mountains and deserts. Without sufficient food, water or shelter, many perished through hunger, thirst, exposure and disease (typhus, dysentery and pneumonia). Others were the targets of marauding gangs that robbed, raped, and tortured the civilian deportees.  Countless numbers were victims of brutal mass killings. In October, cattle cars were used to ship thousands of Armenians into the desert. In total, approximately a million and half Armenians would die.

Genocide Awareness and Prevention

Alan Whitehorn, ABC-CLIO.com, November 2013

The mass slaughter of the Armenians was… instrumental in the birth of two important human rights concepts: "crimes against humanity" and "genocide."

… A hallmark of the Armenian Genocide was the long forced marches into inhospitable mountains and deserts. Without sufficient food, water or shelter, many perished through hunger, thirst, exposure and disease (typhus, dysentery and pneumonia). Others were the targets of marauding gangs that robbed, raped, and tortured the civilian deportees.  Countless numbers were victims of brutal mass killings. In October, cattle cars were used to ship thousands of Armenians into the desert. In total, approximately a million and half Armenians would die.

Ongoing accounts of the killings and atrocities were reported by foreign embassy officials, missionaries and the world press. The allied governments of Britain, France, and Russia issued a formal diplomatic warning on May 24, 1915. They noted the "crimes against humanity" being committed by the Young Turk regime against the Armenian people. The Entente allies warned that the guilty officials would be punished. The postwar Ottoman courts martial, however, were not very effective. Subsequent Turkish governments denied the genocide, despite overwhelming documentary evidence.

The largest number of killings took place primarily in 1915 and 1916, but continued for several more years, even after World War I. Today, all that remains of historic Armenia is a tiny landlocked stated based on the Eastern fragment from the former Russian Empire/Soviet Union.

The Armenian Genocide of 1915 became an important precedent for later genocides such as the Holocaust. The Armenian Genocide reveals the enormously destructive effect of ethnic and religious intolerance and arbitrary violent state power. The indifference of bystanders enabled dictatorial leaders to pursue their plan to eradicate an ethnic and religious minority. Those who survived endured great hardships and were scattered in a global diaspora. Today only a very small portion of the Armenian people is left in its historic lands in what is now Turkey.

The Armenian Genocide is a reminder of the risks of not learning the lessons of history, the dangers of genocide denial, and the long-term negative consequences of allowing perpetrators to go unpunished. These were contributing factors to subsequent genocides. The knowledge of past genocides, such as the Armenian case, is key to understanding and preventing future genocide. The mass slaughter of the Armenians was, however, instrumental in the birth of two important human rights concepts: "crimes against humanity" and "genocide."

 

1 comment
  1. “Those who survived endured…”

    "Those who survived endured great hardships and were scattered in a global diaspora." Thank you, Alan, for this acknowledgment of the ongoing suffering of those who survived. For many, their entire lives were marked with the torment of remembering the sight of family members being butchered. They lost the generations that had come before them and the little children that followed them. Many from small rural villages found themselves living in poverty in large cities with streetcars instead of donkeys, a different language, and different customs. And, always, the terrible burden of their grief for their lost family and home and way of life followed them.

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