Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?

{Who still speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?}

— Attributed to Adolf Hitler**

** For the complicated details of this quote’s provenance, read all about the Obersalzberg Speech.

Exactly 100 years ago on the night of 23–24 April 1915 the government of the Ottoman Empire rounded up and imprisoned an estimated 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. This set in motion events that eventually led to the deaths of around 1.8 million Armenians, predominantly civilians, who were systematically exterminated. I do not think I risk violating the spirit of Godwin’s Law by suggesting that these events were eerily analogous to Kristallnacht and the Holocaust of World War 2.

Being a part of a culture that perpetrates barbaric mass violence on innocent people is never going to end especially well. Even when you think you’ve gotten away with it your unlucky descendants will have to live with the legacy of your execrable deeds. Perhaps the only thing that more flagrantly demonstrates intellectual laziness than such craven violence is later pretending it did not happen or was justified, especially when confronted with substantial evidence to the contrary.

For almost a century there has been some controversy about the Armenian Genocide. Despite being the event that caused the the word "genocide" and the concept of crimes against humanity to be invented, Turkey emphatically denies that a "genocide" occurred. So much so that it is a crime there to assert that a genocide did in fact occur. In other countries (Switzerland for example) it is a crime to deny that such a genocide occurred.

What’s crazy is that few argue whether or not countless Armenian men, women, and children were systematically and horrifically murdered. They clearly were. Turkey seems mostly intent on denying that the word "genocide" should be applied to the case. To me that is essentially like saying, "Sure I murdered them but I didn’t have a very good plan." Basically second degree murder instead of first degree.

My perspective on murder differs from the law in that I’m rather unsympathetic to the defense of incompetence. I feel much safer around people who plan to kill a specific person for a specific reason and then do so than the people who at any time could just kill anyone for no particular reason.

But does anyone really need to quibble about terminology in this case? Would the Turks prefer we call it the "Extermination of the Armenian People by Turkish Incompetence"? That would still be misleadingly generous. Imagine your most extenuated intentional murder scenario. Maybe a barroom brawl, road rage, cheating spouse, etc. How many instances of such a crime committed by the same person do you think the police would be willing to believe were spontaneous? Two, maybe three at the most. After "accidentally" running over the fourth pedestrian, the police will surely be reopening the files on one through three.

We’re not (just) talking about about the political assassination of a few hundred people. We’re talking about roughly half of Armenians. This doesn’t "just happen". The claim that the lack of good planning and high-quality German engineering somehow makes the crime less serious seems delusional to me. Furthermore, this isn’t an isolated case. The Turks claim that the chaos and general turbulence of World War 1 caused the depopulation of Armenians which would almost be plausible if it were not for the fact that non Armenians were hardly thus affected. Oh, and the other genocides. Yes, it seems the Ottoman Turks had been practicing for 1915 with previous massacres of Armenians.

The point of this is not to humiliate anyone (still alive anyway). On the contrary, the essential objective is to eliminate future opprobrium. The idea is to not let the important historic implications of a people’s actions become unaccounted externalities of their present policy. It is essential to remember the darkest parts of human history as accurately as possible if we are to most effectively prevent future occurrences.

I will not forget the Armenians.