Armenian News Network / Groong

Prof. Roger Smith's Testimony in Support of H.Res. 398

September 14, 2000, Thursday

Prepared statement of Roger W. Smith
Professor of Government, College of William and Mary

Before the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:

It is a privilege to be here with you today to discuss "H. Resolution 398, The United States training on and commemoration of The Armenian Genocide resolution."

Let me begin by putting a human face on the issues we have been asked to discuss: did the killing of the Armenians beginning in 1915 constitute Genocide? And what suggestions can be made to increase awareness among American foreign service officers and others of the continuing significance of The Armenian Genocide?

I count among my friends a retired career U.S. ambassador he was an ambassador to two African states. When he heard about an Armenian Genocide resolution in congress, he asked me what was the point: the events had happened long ago (in the 19th century, he asked?), what happened may not have been Genocide anyway, and in any case, it was time to forget the events and move on. I can't think of a better example of why the training that the resolution envisages is so important. He is an astute man, yet he had no inkling that it was with The Armenian Genocide that the international law on "crimes against humanity" began, that the subsequent failure to carry through with the domestic and international trials contributed to the culture of impunity that made Genocide feasible. Nor did he have any understanding of the costs that denial of Genocide by Turkey since 1915 has inflicted upon the world:

  1. Lack of respect for the victims;
  2. Sending signals to would-be perpetrators that they can commit Genocide, then deny it, and get away with it; and
  3. Cutting us off from knowledge that might help prevent future Genocides.
Nor do i think that my friend realized the extent to which giving in to Turkish denial out of political expediency prevents Turkey from assuming responsibility for its own history, making it difficult for that nation to transcend its past.

Yet we have seen as recently as the Rwandan Genocide that there has been much confusion about how to describe the clearest case of Genocide since the Holocaust. Therefore, I would suggest that officials dealing with human rights issues and Genocide should receive training in the nature and history of Genocide, become aware of the means of prevention, and opportunities lost, and be exposed to the arguments and logic of Genocide denial. They would need to consider a range of cases, but prominent among them would be The Armenian Genocide. The Armenian case is the prototype for much of the Genocide that we have seen since 1945: it was territorial, driven by nationalism, and carried out with a relatively low level of technology. There are also powerful resources for the study of the Armenian Genocide in the reports of the American officials at the time, notably Ambassador Henry Morgenthau and Consul Leslie Davis, who made it quite clear that the Young Turk government was pursuing a policy, not of wartime relocation, but of extermination.

The evidence for this being a centrally planned, systematic Genocide comes from many sources and consists of different types of evidence, which converge in a single direction. The evidence of intent is backed by explicit Ottoman documents: "Are the Armenians, who are being dispatched from there, being liquidated7 Are those harmful persons whom you inform us you are exiling and banishing, being exterminated, or are they being merely dispatched and exiled? Answer Explicitly..."

Intent is also backed by the outcome of the actions against the Armenians: it is inconceivable that over a million persons could have died due to even a badly flawed effort at resettlement. Moreover, the pattern of destruction was repeated over and over in different parts of Turkey, many of them far from any war zone; such repetition could only have come from a central design. Further, the reward structure was geared toward destruction of the christian minority: provincial governors and officials who refused to carry out orders to annihilate the Armenians were summarily replaced. Armenian men were drafted into the army, set to work as pack animals, and subsequently killed. leaders were arrested and executed. Then the deportations of women, children, and the elderly into the deserts of Syria and Iraq began. The American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, immediately recognized that the forced marches into the desert, and the atrocities that accompanied them, were a new form of massacre. "when the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were simply giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact."

The ambassadors of Germany and Austria, representatives of governments allied with Turkey, also quickly realized what was taking place. As early as July 1915, the German ambassador reported to Berlin: "Turks began deportations from areas now not threatened by invasion. This fact and the manner in which the relocation is being carried out demonstrate that the government is really pursuing the aim of destroying the Armenian race in Turkey." And by January 1917 his successor reported: "The policy of extermination has largely been achieved; the current leaders of Turkey fully subscribe to this policy.

Mr. Chairman, I conclude with a brief CNN film clip on continuing attempts by the Turkish government to deny the historical reality of The Armenian Genocide.

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