By Ben Lieberman, author of The Holocaust and Genocides in Europe.
Great War 100
As the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War approaches many of the key facets of the war on the western front leave a sense of shock but cause little dispute. We will remember the Great War in the west for the long years in the trenches, the battles at the Somme, Verdun, Ypres and elsewhere that dragged on for month after month, and for the enormous numbers of casualties and deaths. No one will deny these basic truths. In the east, however the memories of war remain in dispute and nowhere more so than in Turkey in the case the Armenian Genocide.
Starting in 2014 the anniversaries will come one after another
until 2015 when, if the past offers a guide, the very remembrance of the mass
destruction of Ottoman Armenians will most likely once again cause controversy
in the Republic of Turkey. Without a major change in their stance, Turkish
leaders and officials who offer any comment on the centenary of the Armenian
Genocide will insist that no such genocide took place.
Any such rejection will defend leaders long dead and ignore the overwhelming judgment of historians. No one responsible for the deportation and destruction of Armenians is still alive. Indeed, those most responsible for executing the genocide did not long survive the war, and no perpetrator of any kind can remain alive in Turkey. As for historians, those who deny the scale of slaughter or the use of the term genocide to describe the destruction of Ottoman Armenians make up a dwindling and small minority. The International Association of Genocide Scholars, for example, passed a resolution in 1997 stating the murder of Armenians was genocide.
For Turkey's leaders to acknowledge genocide would subject no one alive today to any punishment and would cause no controversy among the overwhelming and vast majority of historians with any knowledge of the subject. As we move through a series of hundredth anniversaries of the First World War, the centenary of the Armenian Genocide should not devolve into yet another installment of a historical debate, which has at best become a sham, given the overwhelming evidence amassed from diverse sources that demonstrates the purposeful campaign carried out to destroy the Ottoman Armenians. By recognizing the centenary of genocide, Turkey’s leaders will earn respect even as they also honor the sacrifices of Turkish soldiers during the Great War.