When Does “Annihilation” Equal Genocide? U.S. Congress Again Considers Resolution on Armenian Genocide

by Julian Ku

U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff of California introduced a resolution last week called the “Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution.” It calls upon President Bush to “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes.”

This resolution has failed many times in the past due to concerns about relations with Turkey. The sticking point appears to be the word “genocide.” After all, in 2004, President Bush already acknowledged that in “one of the most horrible tragedies of the 20th century, the annihilation of as many as 1,500,000 Armenians through forced exile and murder at the end of the Ottoman Empire.’’ It would seem that “annihilation” of 1.5 million Armenians is plenty tough and plenty awful, but the resolution insists that President Bush use the word “genocide”. Why?

I’m not really sure. I suppose an official acknowledgement of a “genocide” rather than a mere “annihilation” arises from the legal weight that the word “genocide” carries under international law. (And certainly the facts appear to fit the legal standard found here in Article II of the Genocide Convention). But as a practical matter, the designation of the Armenian genocide as a “genocide” will have no obvious practical legal consequences. If that’s so, it is still interesting how important the “legal” character of “genocide” sparks continued campaigns on behalf of the Armenians as well as the continued resistance by the Turks.


One Response

  1. I’m a little confused as to the point. Surely, by now, any who committed the atrocities mentioned are dead. Many were tried in a timely fashion, by the Turkish government itself after WW1. The Ottoman Empire, which oversaw the acts in question, has long since perished as a government.

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