Against The Grain: The Armenian genocide - why Britain is at fault


Donald Bloxham is professor of modern history at the University of Edinburgh. He argues that the extermination of approximately one million Armenian Christians by Ottoman-Turkish authorities during the First World War was genocide, and that Britain is guilty of hypocrisy in its attitude towards the events.

Scholarship on the Armenian genocide is dominated by two strands, both very simplistic. One is the Turkish nationalist strand, which effectively tries to deny that it occurred, and that the Armenians who died were only killed as a direct result of their own treacherous behaviour. The second strand comes from the Armenian diaspora, whose scholars argue that genocide did occur: but their explanations for this are sometimes based on dubious evidence and are often polemical. The truth transcends both. Genocide was a policy choice made by a specific regime under specific conditions, not a culturally determined crime.

No one knows exactly how many people were killed, but in the immediate aftermath of the First World War at least 800,000 deaths were acknowledged by the new Turkish nationalist leader Mustapha Kemal Atatürk. Of around two million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1914, only 400,000 remained after the war. So the question is: what happened to them all? We know they were deported to harsh desert regions, and although some escaped to Arab states, most were massacred on the way by Ottoman paramilitaries. Putting the death toll at 200,000, as some Turkish nationalists do, is utterly untenable in terms of simple mathematics. It was one of the most intensive killing campaigns of the 20th century.

Yet both the USA and Britain still refuse to recognise it as genocide. They accept that a lot of Armenians died during "tragic wartime events", but say that the issue is best left to Turkey and Armenia. This is partly because a lot of Turkish state funding goes into official denial campaigns. In Britain, Holocaust Memorial Day assiduously tries to avoid mentioning the Armenian genocide, as a direct result of Turkish state pressure. So, a day supposedly dedicated to the commemoration of extreme events – to ensure that they never happen again – can't even confront one of the major genocides of the 20th century.

This is not just a matter for the history books. There's a direct line between Turkey's failure to confront what happened to the Armenians and the continuing persecution of Turkey's Kurds. Greater international pressure for freedom of speech and human rights in Turkey is the best way to improve the Kurdish situation. As for Britain, it should be wary of making grandiose but easy moral gestures about humanitarian issues if it is going to crumble under pressure. This isn't something that's going to go away.



Donald Bloxham's latest book, 'The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians', is published by Oxford University Press

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Nursery Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: "This is a good school. Pupils' behaviour i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3/4 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: *** Urgent: Year 3/4 Teacher required - Abb...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: The Geography department of this outstandin...

Tradewind Recruitment: Teaching Assistant (SEN)

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A Special Needs school (SEN) in the London ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen