ALAN DERSHOWITZ , EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF LAW, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
newsweek 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.
in 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.