The intended question to be posed in this essay relates to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and its evident connection to the massacres of Armenian minority in Azerbaijan in 1988-89. The path I have chosen to answer this question leads throughout the history of Genocide in 1915. Hence, the tragedy at the outset of the twentieth century provoked the slaughter of the same prosecuted ethnical minority by the same perpetrating ethnic majority only seventy years later.
According to the theory introduced by sociologist Alfred Schults, any event by its own nature has no meaning. His view is that a meaning is something ascribed to events or objects and is based on two concepts functioning evenly: the sediment of past experience and another one projected in future. These two factors establish what he calls the system of relevances that enables to interpret a current even out of dual perspective based on past and future. By all means this theory is applicable to massacre of 1915 and the pogroms in 1988. The outlined parallels between the two series of events denote a much more disastrous circumstance under which all the Armenian population in Azerbaijan was jeopardized by “the Turks.” In this case the Schutzs theory indicates that the significance of past events (the various massacres and genocide) became evident in interpretation of the pogroms that occurred in 1988-90.
No crime carries as much destruction and cruelty as genocide. It aims at loss of ethnic identity of a victimized party. Genocide intends not just to kill, maim, or violate people; the ultimate purpose is to deprive the victim of its future as a strong national entity. Any massive crime has impact on contemporary and/or possible prospective relations of the victim and the perpetrator on global political arena. One well-documented massive crime against humanity is the Armenian Genocide of 1915 when number of casualties was estimated from 600 000 to 2 000000 people. The bloody event in history of Armenia caused not only human loses, but deprived Armenia partially of ancestral territory.
On the 9th of December 1948, the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention, compiling the following definition in Article II:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following facts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The definition of genocide accepted by United Nations has caused a great deal of controversy, for it excluded social and political groups. Thereafter, in the 1980s Helen Fein developed a broader and more profound definition of genocide, from which she excluded killing as a mandatory attribute of warfare, and on the opposite, included groups being persecuted based on their social and political belonging:
Genocide is a sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim.
In the case of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 the governmental atrocity against its own people wasnt specified anywhere in the scrolls of International Law. It contained certain regulations on account of a civilian, noncombatant population during wartime, but this incident became first of its kind for which international law had no stipulation. When the legislative definition of genocide was accepted by the United Nations in 1948, it turned out to be that Armenian genocide fell under each of the five categories of it. Although the pogroms in Sumgait and Baku of 1988-90 resemble more the pogroms in Ottoman Empire in 1890s rather than actual genocide which occurred in 1915 and culminated in 1921 in the fight and expulsion of survivors who returned to Celicia, the analogy between 1915 and 1988-90 is apparent.
Armenians were a minority population in both Azerbaijan and Turkey, thus clearly identifiable for persecution. Armenians were more upwardly mobile than the majority population, hence creating the possibility of potential social conflict. The overarching political conditions were unstable in both the Soviet Union and the Ottoman Empire revolutionary change often being a prerequisite of genocide. Armenians were scapegoated for political events outside the borders of the country in which they were residing.
Armenian genocide is one of the first genocide of the twentieth century. It became a model for the “political” type of genocide. The majority of the current genocides followed this pattern.
In order to examine to what degree the Genocide of 1915 is related to the pogroms in Azerbaijan in 1988-90 some history of Armenians is to be examined.
Armenians have populated the highland region between the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean seas for centuries long. This area presented a crossroad between East and West. As a result of the geographic location Armenia wasnt govern by its own dynasties constantly. The state has experienced direct foreign rule as well as paying fees to the surrounding states. Besides the geography, Armenia had another disadvantage. It was the only Christian state surrounded by Muslim entities, this aspect kept Armenia apart from others. Such distinct difference referred Armenians as second-class citizens after the Ottoman Empire annexed the territory that had molded ancient and medieval Armenian kingdoms, in the sixteenth century. The Ottoman Empire established on its territory confessional-based Muslim, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian millets. Through these establishments the Ottoman administrative system legalized the social inequality within a structure of the society. The millet system enabled Armenians to preserve their cultural-religious identity, but kept them politically and militarily inefficacious. Armenians didnt pose any threat onto the multinational, unequal society and retained in accord to certain degree with the dominant Muslim millet as long as they paid the tributes to the government and remained politically inactive.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a wind of changes came across the Ottoman Empire and caused external challenges and internal instability. Incapable of competing with the West economically and military, the ruling authority lost a number of provinces and ended up in debt. Such immediate breakdown of law and consequent venality fractured the foundations of Ottoman multinational society. Due the increasing threats to continued existence of the Ottoman Empire, the sultans, under the pressure of Great Britain, launched a program of remodeling that broke away from the traditional sociopolitical theocracy.
The tanzimat period, stretching from 1839 to 1876, was designed to commence theoretical equality of all Ottoman subjects. However, while the decree went into power, the system of millets maintained, and the equality within it correspondingly. During the political internal and external torments Armenians endeavored to uphold and to follow the reforms in order to secure life and property. They had no intentions to develop a task of separation or acquiring independence from the Ottoman Empire.
Then followed the Russian-Turkish War, in which Turkey lost severely. The military and diplomatic failure of the sultan Abdul-Hamid II attributed to the break away of the most of Balkan provinces. Thus, the attention of the European community was drawn to the “Armenian Question.” However, the fact of European protectorate, explicitly expressed verbally in regard to the domestic policy of the crumbling Ottoman Empire only aggravated the condition of Armenians in Turkey. Armenians quest for security and equality resulted in brutal pogroms ordered by Abdul-Hamid, which were carried out by armed Kurdish brigands in almost every province inhabited by Armenians. The ultimate purpose of Abdul-Hamid wasnt to exterminate the Armenian population, but rather to point out that they have to follow the policies of the Ottoman Empire. Particularly, to look up at Europe was a forbidden act. His successors aimed at creating an entirely socionationalistic frame of the state, free from Armenians, rather than just preserving a political status quo. The only way to achieve the goal was to whip out the entire Armenian population from the Ottoman Empire territory.
In early 1913 the Young Turk government was overthrown by its militaristic and nationalistic wing, with Enver, Taalat, and Jemal Pashas in head of it. This threesome involved the country into WWI as the ally of Germany. Later in 1915 the same government outlined and put into effect a plan for the elimination of Armenians, estimated between two and three millions subjects. The plan was carried out in phases. In April 1915 people represented the Armenian religious, political, educational, and intellectual authority in the Western tradition, variously one thousand individuals, were jailed throughout the entire Empire, and consequently killed within few days. The next phase consisted of liquidation of the young male adult population, which mainly were recruits of the Turkish army. The number approximated 200,000. They were purged through mass burials, incineration, executions and weakness in labor battalions.