Friday, March 5, 2010

Genocide?

I woke this morning to the news that Turkey was recalling it's ambassador to the United States in protest against a congressional committee's classification of the 1915 killings of Armenians as 'genocide'.  'Genocide' is an emotionally charged word that lacks a precise definition, and as a result different states view historic events in different ways.  Armenian expatriates claim that Turkey massacred 1.5m of their compatriots in a deliberate campaign of extermination.  Turks counterclaim that the figure was far lower and that the Armenians were simple casualties of war.

My gut tells me that there is a common-sense definition of genocide that would go something like this:  "The systematic and intentional extermination of more than 100,000 members of a group sharing a certain characteristic".  The characteristic in question could be race, sexual preference, ethnicity, political views etc.

On the definition above, the key to deciding the Turkish / Armenian question is whether there was intent to kill Armenians simply because they were Armenians.  I would argue that the mass killing of Armenian civilians for no military reason shows that the intent existed.  Genocide being established, it is now time for Turkey to face up to its past so it can move on into its future.

On a related theme, an opinion piece published today by Timpul's Constantin Tanase highlights deaths in Basarabia caused by the Soviet occupation after the second world war.  The commission appointed by interim president Ghimpu to study the Soviet Communist era has now established the following as fact, based on recently declassified KGB archives:

  1. 173,684 basarabians died due to the post war famine induced by the communist authorities
  2. 74,515 died as a result of deportation to Siberia
  3. 54,618 died fighting on the Soviet side, having been press-ganged into service by their 'liberators', in breach of the Geneva conventions.
This is a total of over 300,000 people.  Remember that the population of Basarabia at the date of occupation was of the order of 2 - 2.5 million people, so we could be talking about as much as 15% of the population.  If it can be established that persons of a particular ethnicity were singled out, or perhaps those holding certain political beliefs, then we may be talking about a Basarabean genocide at the hands of the Soviet Union.

Grimm stuff.

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