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Historian Examines the History of the Armenian Genocide

By Margaux Kay LaPointe , '11

Hilmar Kaiser, Ph.D., a German historian and genocide scholar, delivered a lecture entitled, “The History of the Armenian Genocide: The Evolution of Ottoman Policies,” on Monday, March 31.

This lecture was co-sponsored by the Villanova Armenian Students Association, the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, the Center for Peace and Justice Education, the Multicultural Students League, the Muslim Student Association, the Office for Mission Effectiveness, the Department of Political Science, the Ethics Department, and the Honors Department.

Kaiser has performed a considerable amount of research in the Ottoman military archives, which have only recently been made public. His lecture detailed the build-up to the Genocide, focusing on the geo-political atmosphere that facilitated the murder of 1.5 million Armenian civilians.

Lowell Gustafson, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, introduced Kaiser and the topic of the Armenian genocide. He considers this Genocide “forgotten by many people.” He hopes to educate people about Armenia, the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Darfur and, as Gustafson said, to “refashion a future.”

Kaiser referred to himself during the lecture as “an archive digger.” Using his research as the foundation for his theories, Kaiser has proposed a new definition of genocide to include murder, abduction, prevention of reproduction, inflicting damage, and destruction of the infrastructure of a people.

The Armenian Genocide was the mass killing of 1 to 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Kaiser considers this very important because it was the first genocide of the 20th century, and it occurred in the modern system of states. “Control of the modern state,” he said, “is a matter of survival.”

There are many “problems with literature and research” regarding the Genocide, Kaiser said. This causes denial by many. The most basic problem is the timeline. Some think that the genocide occurred between the 1890s and 1923, but “genocides are enacted rapidly,” Kaiser said, and there was a change in administration and policymaking during this time period. Thus, Kaiser believes the genocide began at the end of May 1915 and the middle of June 1915 when there were two waves of Armenians sent on death marches. The genocide lasted through the end of September 1916.

Additionally, historians through the years have presented the Armenian Genocide as a draft for the Holocaust. Although racism was involved, local people had little or no bias, Kaiser said. In fact, many Muslims protected and integrated Christian children into their homes and families.

In the city of Van, Turks “feared that Christian Armenians would aid Russia,” Kaiser said. “So, they decided to eliminate these people.” Because of the belief that the Armenians could defend themselves, they were deported.

Mostly, these Armenians were women, children, and the elderly. Men between 18 and 45 were fighting in World War 1. Boys of 13 and older were separated from their families and killed. The deportees were forced to walk 30 kilometers each day in summer weather. “Most of the victims fell to natural causes,” Kaiser said, “but these conditions were government created.” Many other losses were not explicitly murder. “Losses do not mean deaths,” Kaiser said. He explained that many women and children lost their identities, communities, and culture.

Thousands of Armenians came to the Euphrates River. In the middle of the desert, the government aided by Germany held Armenians in concentration camps. Rather than being surrounded by fences, the government simply controlled the source of water. There were no supplies or resources to feed and care for the Armenians who were “sick, dying, and starving with contagious diseases,” Kaiser said.

A succession of orders caused chaos. When the government realized there was nowhere to send the Armenians, “one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand were killed with a knife,” Kaiser said. “Killing was a solution.” He explained that “this massacre was not planned in 1915; it was a solution to a problem in 1916.”

Fortunately, Kaiser sees positive changes today. “Society in Turkey [presently accountable for the actions of the Ottoman Empire] has moved to a stage when such an atrocity is unacceptable.” Advocating making a difference, Kaiser said, “if you believe in democracy and human rights, you have to take a stand.”

Margaux Kay LaPointe, ’11, is a first-year student from Lebanon, Pa. She is an intern in the Office of Communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. Margaux plans on majoring in communication with a specialization in public relations.

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