Denial of One Genocide Breeds Indifference to Them All
April 10, 2022
By Alan Dershowitz
It is a historical fact that beginning in approximately 1915, the Ottoman Empire murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent Armenians. This was part of a program of ethnic cleansing and a desire by Turkish Muslim leaders to get rid of Armenian Christians. There is some dispute as to the precise number of Armenians killed, ranging from approximately 600,000 to double that number. There is also some dispute about the causes of this atrocity, especially the role of World War I. But no honest person can dispute the basic facts: namely, a decision was made by Ottoman authorities to exterminate and/or expel Armenians, and that the order was carried out largely by the military.
Why then do some people—even some decent people—refuse to recognize this historical event? Turkish authorities have done everything in their power to pressure individuals and countries not to acknowledge this genocide. They have done so by threats, extortion, and bribery. For many years these tactics worked. Indeed, it is reported that Hitler, in 1939, used the Armenian genocide as a way of assuring the German people that the world will not react to his planned genocide against the Jews. According to reports by eyewitnesses, he said the following to the audience: "Who remembers now the extermination of the Armenians?" Whether or not this is an exact quote, it accurately summarizes the lesson Hitler drew from the Turkish genocide against the Armenians: no one will really care if the Nazi's exterminate the Jews.
Ken Burns recent documentary on the Holocaust suggests that Hitler was probably right. Between 1939 and 1945, six million Jews—babies, children, women, the elderly, men in the prime of their lives—were murdered by gas chambers, shooting squads and pogroms organized by the Nazis and in which local Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and others took part. Although after it was over, memorials have been built to commemorate this unspeakable tragedy, while it was occurring, most countries in the world—including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom—did worse than nothing: they willfully and deliberately shut their doors to Jews trying to escape the Nazi barbarity.
In some respects, Hitler won at least one of the two wars he began in 1939. He lost his war of conquest and German expansion, but he won the war against the Jews. He has been reported to have said that he would kill Europe's Jews and Germany would become richer and more powerful. Both of these predictions have come true. He murdered two thirds of Europe's Jews, and following the war and the Marshall Plan, Germany has become the wealthiest and most powerful nation in Europe.
Would all this have happened if the Turkish government had been brought to justice for the genocide it committed against the Armenian people? We can never know the answer to that haunting question. But we can know that the world's reaction to genocides has been weak at best. Turkey paid little or no price for its mass murders. Nor did Germany, despite grudging and minimal economic reparations.
In the case of Germany, a relatively small number of high-ranking Nazi officials were prosecuted and convicted. A few handfuls were executed. Many of those who were imprisoned were soon freed by the American high commissioner in Germany, an anti-Semite named John McCloy, who loved Germany as much as he disliked Jews. Most of those released had gone through a whitewashing called "denazification.'
Following the disclosures of the Holocaust following World War II, the world pledged "Never again." But since then, we have seen mass murders including genocides again and again and again and again. The international community condemns the perpetrators and sympathizes with the victims, but it does little or nothing to prevent these mass killings.
The Armenian genocide was not the first time in human history when mass murder was committed against an ethnic or religious group. The Chmielnicki massacres in 1648 in Ukraine, not only were not condemned, but Chmielnicki was praised as a national hero. A statue of him remains near the center of Kyiv. Several Ukrainian Nazi leaders who were directly complicit in the Holocaust have been honored by the Kyiv government.
Any tyrant now contemplating a future genocide will look back at this sordid history and conclude that the international community will do little or nothing to prevent or even punish those who commit such atrocities. The United Nations has devoted more time to condemning Israel for its carefully modulated defensive wars than it has to condemning unjustified mass killings in Africa and Asia.
Anyone who denies the Armenian genocide must be classified as deniers along with those who mendaciously deny the Holocaust. All genocide deniers raise the potential for future genocides.