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Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, a day to mark the victims of the Armenian Genocide, is observed on 24th April by only a handful of states: Armenia, the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Canada, France, Argentina and the State of California (US). The Armenian Genocide took place between 1915 and 1923 when 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were arrested, deported or murdered by the Ottoman Empire. Despite the staggering human cost of the Armenian Genocide, only some 32 countries recognise the atrocities for what they are – genocide.
The formal recognition of historic cases as genocide is not a matter of semantics. Such a formal recognition is crucial for survivors and their families in their efforts to move on. It is crucial for reconciliation and discovery of the truth. It sends a clear message of solidarity with the targeted communities. It is also crucial to deter similar crimes in the future. Denial can only achieve the opposite.
What does this failure to recognise the Armenian Genocide say about the future of Armenians? Shall we be expecting atrocity crimes since impunity begets further crime? Yes, and ultimately, these atrocities are happening today.
At the end of September 2020, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated, affecting the situation in the territory of the Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent state with an Armenian ethnic majority. The escalation resulted in deaths, injuries, displacement of half of Artsakh’s population, and destruction of cultural and religious places.
In light of the emerging evidence, Genocide Watch, a non-governmental organization led by Gregory Stanton, a world-renowned genocide expert, issued a Genocide Emergency Alert due to Azerbaijan’s aggression. According to Genocide Watch ‘Although a paper ceasefire was signed on October 15, 2020, Azerbaijani forces are still attempting to capture new territory. Azerbaijan uses laser-guided drones from Turkey, Russia, and Israel to attack Artsakh’s defenders, who are mostly Artsakh civilian volunteers. Azerbaijan is using Syrian mercenaries. Azerbaijan’s political ally, Turkey, provides air support for Azerbaijani forces, sparking fears that Turkey will resume the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – 1922.’ Genocide Watch identified several early warnings of genocide.
A similar genocide warning was issued by several experts and members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. As they emphasised, ‘history, from the Armenian Genocide to the last three decades of conflict, as well as current political statements, economic policies, sentiments of the societies and military actions by the Azerbaijani and Turkish leadership should warn us that genocide of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and perhaps even Armenia, is a very real possibility. All of this proves that Armenians can face slaughter if any Armenian territory is occupied, consequently recognizing of the independence of the Republic of Artsakh is the way to save Armenians of Artsakh from extermination now or in the near future.’
The recent atrocities should not come as a surprise. Indeed, according to the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, ‘history of atrocity crimes committed with impunity against protected groups’ is an indicator of the risk of genocide. If history of atrocity crimes committed with impunity is indeed a risk factor of genocide, this is all the reason we need to ensure that past atrocities are recognised for what they are as this knowledge will help us to analyse the situations against the risk factors and identify the risk of atrocity crimes. This should then be followed by informed responses to prevent the escalation.
The case of the Armenian Genocide and the recent atrocities in the Republic of Artsakh show us that we have not learned anything from past cases of genocide, and as such, we are not equipped to recognise situations where there is a risk of atrocity crimes – to act to prevent their escalation. We may have important framework at disposal; however, States still do not use them in their assessments of situations of concern.
Armenians were let down over 100 years ago, they cannot be let down yet again. We need to recognise the atrocities perpetrated by the Ottomans Empire against Armenians for what they were – genocide. We need to use this determination to educate and raise awareness. We need to use this knowledge to inform our responses when the communities are targeted yet again. And above it all, we cannot continue denying the atrocities, denying their nature and scale. A denial is not a prevention method. It is a type of wilful blindness that cannot be accepted anymore.
by Dr Ewelina U. Ochab, Co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response
You can follow Ewelina on twitter here: @EwelinaUO