posts 1 - 15 of 27
Boston, US
Posts: 205

Read: Chapters 1 and 2, from Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2001), pp. 1-29.

We will be looking at the Armenian genocide this week, so I would like you to break open your “virtual copy” of former UN Ambassador from the United States (and recently appointed US AID chief) Samantha Power’s 2001 book, “A Problem from Hell”: America in the Age of Genocide. Here’s the link to the reading.

Power begins her volume by talking about the Armenian situation before there was a word “genocide” in the English language. She the introduces Based on what you read in her account, I would ask you to consider the following, based on what you read in this chapter AS WELL AS what you see in the materials we look at in class. Make sure you support your observations with specifics. (In other words, vague generalities not accepted.)

Did we --the United States--and our allies act as bystanders during the Armenian genocide?

Admittedly, between 1914 and 1918, most of Europe was caught up in World War I; the United States joined the war in 1917, after remaining steadfastly isolationist in the preceding years. The Armenian genocide occurred between 1915 and 1923, with the bulk of events occurring between 1915-1917. Needless to say, folks were busy during that period. So maybe it’s unfair to ask this question.

But I’m asking it anyway.

What could we/should we have done? Should the U.S and/or other nations take a stand when an entire population is being destroyed? On principle? Wherever and whenever it happens? No matter what? Always? Sometimes? Rarely? (Whoa, quite a few question marks here…)

In short, what sort of role would you advocate for the United States and other nations witnessing this (and by extension, any other) genocide?

Do you think world nations behaved differently during the Armenian genocide than they did during the carnage in Africa—specifically what we saw in German South West Africa (Namibia)--in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Why or why not?

Cookie Monster
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

In the case of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire that took place under the Turks during World War I, the US did act as a bystander. In the face of obvious brutality, nations like the US should deploy their basic principles in humanitarianism into helping those being oppressed escape that oppression. Instead, during this period, we took our high position in global affairs for granted, refusing to call out and punish the Turkish regime led by Talaat and to let Armenian refugees into this country. There have been many other points in history where the US has practiced this sentiment of extreme neutrality in the face of abuse occurring internationally, such as in World War II, where we only joined the allies against Germany when Japan, Germany's ally, bombed our own land. This wasn't to protect the many Jews and other ethnic minorities that were being persecuted and exterminated across Europe, but only to protect the United State's best interests. In modern times, there are many examples of this self-serving attitude in our foreign and domestic policy to date. Instead of protecting everyone with adequate health insurance, the federal government has catered to large, private corporations in order to "juice our economy". Abroad, we support corrupt and oppressive regimes through military, economic, and diplomatic means in order to preserve our own power instead of help the persecuted within those given states. The US and other western, developed nations could abandon this role by acknowledging their faults and moving in favor of positions that better protect their celebrated values.

The US and other nations should intervene in international situations that contradict their humanitarian and ethical concerns. No matter our connections to a given oppressive state, we should call them out and take the adequate steps to make sure justice is served and accountability is taken. In a more practical sense, doing this would help increase our global influence because we would have a more dispersed presence and our values would be acted upon in a visual manner for those in the international community. An example of this type of procedural approach would be to be open to refugees seeking a better life in the face of crisis, as Morgenthau, the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, tried to establish for the Armenians facing genocide in their homeland. We should also do our work in forcefully calling out leaders of take steps to exterminate our suppress segments of their populations, and punish them accordingly. One example of a misstep in this manner that occurred recently was when the Biden Administration declassified documents stating that the Saudi Arabian Prince Muhammed Bin Salman was responsible for the death of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi; however, there was no determinative punishment for the leader himself besides being called out. This is a prime example of political leaders prioritizing international power over global recognition of civil rights. Instead, the Biden Administration should've opposed sanctions on the Saudi Arabian regime and barred the prince from entering this country.

In German South West Africa, also known as Namibia, the native African peoples rebelled against the European newcomers who were attempting to steal their ancestral land. This resulted in the ordering of these natives to leave the country or be killed. German soldiers guarded every water source and were ordered to shoot dead anyone who seemed suspicious or came close. Actions like these are similar to the Armenian Genocide because they were based on the idea of inferiority of one group compared to a superior segment of the population. These incidences have occurred continuously throughout our history because we have failed to address them properly or take account for our faults. Once we take the bold steps of acknowledging missteps, we as a collective global community must act in the direct goal of keep each other safe and free.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 19

It was honestly so heartbreaking to read “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide” because it made me angry that America could have done so much to stop the Armenian Genocide, but they did absolutely nothing. Talaat’s actions towards Armenians is disgusting. Millions were killed or died due to starvation just because a few of them rebelled against the government. In reality that was just an excuse to kill millions of people because they were different.

I think that on principle alone other countries witnessing atrocities like the Armenian genocide, should be required to do something about it. Lemkin put it perfectly when he said something along the lines of, if it were a senior citizen or child a few hundred miles away you would do something about it, and it shouldn’t change your mind just because people are dying thousands of miles away. Apart from it being your duty as a leader or country that has immense power, it is also human decency to help your fellow humans who are being tortured and slaughtered. It doesn’t matter what a small fraction of the people might’ve done, where this is happening, or what the relationship between the U.S. or any other nation and the people who are being hurt is. That was the biggest issue for the U.S. when deciding whether or not to help. Armenians shouldn’t have had to pray the price for the U.S wanting to stay “neutral” in the war. In reality there is no such thing as “neutral” because if you choose to do nothing to help those oppressed you're choosing the side of the oppressor. Lemkin had the right ideas in trying to form a law or policy that required countries to act when human rights were being violated. It’s really upsetting that his ideas weren’t accepted by the American government or anywhere else because it could’ve prevented millions from dyeing during the Holocaust.

The same thing goes for the genocide in German South West Africa. Nothing was done by any country to try to help the Africans who were being forced out of their homeland or slaughtered by the Germans. This was very similar to the Armenian Genocide because people were being slaughtered because of their identity, and no other country tried to help them. Just like the Armenians and Jews the people of Namibia still feel the the impact of genocide even today. They have not received any real effective reparations, and no reconciliation has been reached between Germany and the descendants of the Herero people.

Clearly the US and its allies were bystanders for all three of these genocides, and it says a lot about the US. People are so quick to defend our country and every move they make without taking the time to understand the decisions that this country has made that has harmed so many people. We are still seeing the repercussions of neglecting racial and social issues in this country. This is evident in what happened yesterday when 6 Asian women were killed as a result of Asian hate that stemmed from the actions of our very own former president. This could have been prevented, but no one was taken seriously enough when talking about these issues. It just goes to show that so much still has to be done, so we, as a country, can become upstanders.

Fruit Snacks
Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 20

The Armenian Genocide

When an entire population is being destroyed nations should take a stand, especially if they are aware of the problem. There is no reason as to why a nation should watch another get murdered because of one of their alliances or enemies. It should be made part of the world affairs because of the gravity genocides hold. The killing of millions of people should never be justified and should be stopped. It’s a basic human right for people to be safe and know they’re not going to get murdered for embracing their culture. I would advocate for the United States and other nations to talk to whoever is hosting the genocide and provide refuge for the innocent people getting murdered. World nations definitely behaved differently during the Armenian genocide and the carnage of Africa- specifically the genocide in Namibia becuase one got more attention than the other. The nations tend to pick and choose what has importance based on what affects them. The Armenian genocide got more attention, but it didn’t get enough for all the damage that was caused. Genocides need to stop existing because it’s just continuous repetitions of history.

Roslindale, MA, US
Posts: 16

The Armenian Genocide

During the Armenian genocide both the United States and our allies acted as bystanders. One thing that President Wilson was known for was the fact that for as long as he could, he remained neutral and refused to join World War 1. While the genocidee was being comitted, because it did not directly affect the United States, they were seemingly fine with it and felt no need to react. In fact even when they joined the war they tried to remain friendly with Turkey, and Turkey had to be the ones to cut off the relationship. Although the British tried getting involved this did not happen until way later, they say this was because they were actively involved in the war. But even when they did get involved they were unable to make a difference and prosecute those who participated in the Turkish crimes against the Armenians. The US acted as something worse than bystanders, because even when they knew of all the atroscities they didn't care enough to act because things would not have economically benefitted them.

For what we could have done, the answer is anything. We could have stopped trading with them, done more than humanititarian aid, sat down with Turkish leaders in an attempt to stop this. The point is that we should have done something instead of sitting back and watch hundreds of thousands of Armenians die. I believe that when genocides are taking place, it is beyond necessary for other countries to intervene. But with that being said it is necessary to do this in a very strategic way and first try to negotiate peace. When rushing into things like this I could imagine that when other countries try to interfere it becomes that much more difficult for the victims because what is being done to them could be hidden more, they could be treated more brutally or a variety of different things. So it is necessary to be strategic and think in the best interests of the victims, but something has to be done. For example what Biden has said about the genocide of Chinese Muslims was unacceptable, and very disapointing, because although I'm sure this is a complicated issue, people are being eradicated. Solely because of their religion, in this case, and just because it is in a different country that has different customs that is not an excuse, or reason to allow a genocide to continue. I think that a big fear is that if you denounc another countries actions, that you profit off of through trading that that is the end of the world because they will stop trading with you. This goes to show how being so economically driven can be incredibly selfish and in this case inhumane, because people are dying, they need help, and to ignore the atroscities that a country is comitting against a group of people solely because it does not affect you is disgusting. It is barbaric. Again I don't believe that other countries should rush in with no plans, but I believe they have the moral obligatoion to interfere in genocides. The first step would be denouncing it, the next steps would be creating plans to try and aid the victims so that they could be freed of the genocide and not experience further repurcussions from the actions of other countries. So the US and other countries would need to act as allies to the victims, or better yet upstanders in the battle to end genocides.

I would not say that world nations behaved drastically differently during these two genocides and I believe that there was a common theme of ignoring genocides and not recognizing the weight of the matter. Especially after the fact. Although Germany has acknlowedged some of the horrors that we saw in German South West Africa there is in my opinion not enough sincerity or accountability to make sure this or soemthing similar would happen again. Both of these are hard to necessarily prove but I think some real effort must be made on the part of the Germans government. In regards to the Armenian genocide and the future actions taken by them and other nations reactions I do not know of the accountablity process that took place in Turkey. But I do wonder if Talaat's ashes that were restored by Hitler were once again taken down, because if not I think that the world nations and Turkey need to address the problem with that because the horrors of the past need to not be repeated. I think that neutrality and isolationism are themes that are incredibly prevalent in the United States and other countries so again I would not say that the reactions were drastically different due to leaders' emphasis on only interfering if they are economically directly impacted. But during the moment during both of these genocides other nations should have acted as upstanders and coconspirators in an attempt to stop the eradication of these people.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 26

Prioritize Lives Over Profits.

Yes. The United States, and our allies, absolutely and unmistakably acted as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. At this point, I wonder if there has ever been a sufficient response by the international community to a genocide, or global atrocity of the kind. It is so fascinating how powerful our ideas are of national identity, of having separate governments and, therefore, being separate people. It’s such a shame that the power of a national government is so rarely used to uphold and protect common people, and so much more preoccupied in protecting their own influence… and profits, of course.

How exactly was the United States complicit in the tortures, deportations, and massacres of the Armenian race? We held onto a resolute obsession for neutrality, for complying, in order to maintain alliances with Germany and Turkey, even when the human rights abuses escalated, the death count in the New York Times increasing, more and more urgent with the passing months. What is more, as Samantha Power wrote in her book, A Problem from Hell, President Woodrow Wilson and his administration considered it better to “not draw attention to these atrocities, lest U.S. public opinion get stirred up and begin demanding U.S. involvement” (5). The United States deliberately avoided addressing the issue because it would force their hand to oppose the Turkish government and actually help the Armenian people. These actions, what we call “bystanderism,” is not accidental — it is the purposeful allowance of murders which robs the United States of the right to claim that they were blameless, then, and now.

Our allies, too, were bystanders. Though countries like Britain and France published the murders of Armenians and eventually made a declaration against these crimes, it took a while to get there, considering some members of the government didn’t believe in all the stories of the genocide at the time, thereby downplaying the gravity of what Armenian peoples were going through. In addition, these publications might have partially or mostly served as propaganda, in support of the government and in opposition to the Triple Alliance, only published because it was a time of war, less so for actual humanitarian concern. Whatever the reason, however, they still stood by, being “busy trying to win the war” as Power wrote, and justifying this to themselves as the greatest effort they were capable of (5).

In term of international response, however, I think we can see some similarities in the Armenian genocide with many others, including the genocide in Namibia. For one, there wasn’t really an international response. While learning about the Herero and Nama genocide in class, we learned that German propaganda at the homeland facilitated this genocide, as it painted the Namibians as subhuman; what wasn’t mentioned was how American media was covering this atrocity, whether they were at all. Although I can’t say for sure that the international community never protested the genocide in Namibia, I would assume the genocide would be mentioned more in our present-day — likely with the narrative of Western nations as “saviors” — so it being buried completely, with practically none of our class having heard of this before, I think we can draw our own conclusions. Likewise, during the Armenian genocide, there was no response. Power described the repeated, urgent pleas of Henry Morgenthau Sr. — U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire — to Washington, with the response of U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing being: “‘however much we may deplore the suffering of the Armenians, we cannot take any active steps to come to their assistance at the present time’” (13). There was such apathy, in both cases, to the plight of others because they did not contain anything of national interest to the United States. Human rights were not considered our business — it’s not our problem.

Another similarity with these genocides I noticed was the sympathy given to the perpetrators of these crimes. With the Armenian genocide, Lansing was in accordance with Talaat Pasha, who essentially oversaw and ordered the genocide, and his expressed (need) to suppress Armenian rebels, seeing it as an “unfortunate but understandable effort to quell an internal security threat,” as Power described (13). Granted, Britain tried to hold several Turkish leaders accountable, but this was deprioritized for their national interests. In addition, when Raphael Lemkin drafted his law in 1933 which spoke of a “universal jurisdiction,” or the conviction for perpetrators of such great human rights violations regardless of where crime was committed or nationality of the offender, it gathered very little international support, showing perhaps that nations did not prioritize condemning perpetrators for their crimes. With the genocide in Namibia, German soldiers were not particularly admonished or punished either for their crimes; they were praised as it was considered a “major achievement of the war” that the “Herero nation was annihilated and had ceased to exist,” as Reinhart Kössler and Henning Melber wrote in their article, “Toward a culture of memory for a memory culture today – a German perspective.” The main difference, that I can think of at least, is that the international community is more aware of the Armenian genocide and its occurance — even if they do not discuss their role in it — whereas the genocide in Namibian is forgotten and buried. There are perhaps several reasons for this, but I wonder if it is because our society has consistently devalued Black lives, and therefore are more apathetic towards Black murders. While the Turks presented the annihilation of the Armenian race as an action necessary for their safety as a nation against a rebelling population (though, of course, as @user1234 said: it was “just an excuse to kill millions of people because they were different”), Germans called it an elimination of a subhuman race, considering Black people unworthy of owning or occupying land, at least compared to the white colonists. Armenians, too, have and continue to experience racism, though they have largely been considered white in the United States in order to assimilate, a different racism than that directed towards the African native populations in Namibia.

Our role as Americans, and, I think, with the international community at large, is to take a stand when we see human rights violations, to have a stance and not stay neutral, because passivity and complicity aids the oppressor — a sentiment @user1234 has spoken to as well. What is most disturbing about reading Lemkin’s testimony is that, knowing now of the crimes the Nazis committed against the Jewish population, Lemkin came to the United States as a refugee, seeking the attention and action of U.S. officials, of the communities at the most elite American universities, and of the general public of America, all whilst the deportations and prosecutions of Jews have already begun, and all Lemkin could find in such a supposedly powerful and noble nation that we were “‘mildly and only politely interested’” in the human rights violations towards Jewish peoples, more focused on our own work, on our own nation (27). In addition, as @CookieMonster has written, we only finally intervened after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, which was, in their words, “only to protect the United State's best interests.” When it comes to human rights, we need to utilize the strength of nations and state to only bring them aid, not to ignore the voices of those persecuted because it’s “not our place” to intervene. We are all human beings, and putting American economic and political interests ahead of the destruction of human lives is a severe and heavy crime, and one that is irreversible. While I certainly do not think the United States should take to going to war in other countries as a means of intervention, I think the American people and state should prioritize human rights and pressure perpetrators of violence and genocide, using the economic relationship we care so much to protect. Our role, in genocides, in other human rights violations and global atrocities, must always be to protect the health and lives of humans, to not remain in our habits of bystanderism.
West Roxbury, MA, US
Posts: 21

They willingly acted as bystanders

The allies, along with the US, acted as bystanders during the Armenian genocide despite knowing about the atrocities occuring in Turkey. The allies, excluding the US at first, did issue a declaration in opposition to the killings and a statement that those involved and responsible for it (not just the ones giving the orders but also the agents themselves) would be prosecuted after the war. But even this statement wasn't fully true, as the allies did not fully go through with the prosecutions even after the war. While the allies were busy with fighting, they should have taken a more aggressive stance against the Armenian genocide, and for that they are bystanders.

But even worse is the US involvement with the Armenian genocide, and that being practically no involvement at all. No one can say the US did not know about the genocide; new papers were publishing about it all the time, the American embassador in Turkey constantly wrote to Washington pleading for intervention and hating the fact that he had no power to stop the Turkish government, and even Talaat Pasha - the one who orchestrated the killings - taunted the US. I was shocked to hear that he asked the New York life insurance company to send the insurance money of any Armenians who they insured to the Turkish government because all the Armenians and their families were practically dead by that point. How could it be that the US government did not get involved after that? It is difficult to wage war when there is not public support to do so, especially when the government wishes to remain neutral. Even though Americans were hearing about the mass killings that occurred on caravans of Armenians fleeing the genocide, it was difficult for them to ascertain the extent to which these killing were occuring, especially as there were few recorded accounts of what happened.

It’s easy to look back now and say that the US should have intervened immediately, but the US was not the same superpower that it is now. Before WWI, the US practiced isolationism, avoided most European conflicts, and did not have anywhere near the global influence that it does now-a-days. At the same time though, this in no way excuses the US for being a bystander.

When a genocide is occuring or a country is attempting to destroy one of it’s populations or another country’s populations, there should always be some other nation that takes a stand against it. But then this raises the question of who, as not all countries are able to take actions if they are dealing with their own conflicts or issues. The US, being a global superpower, should step in in most cases, but there should also be international oversight of what the US is doing, especially after the killings have ended to make sure the US is not involved for any other reasons, such as economics. The UN should also always get involved and intervene in a possible genocide, as they are supposed to be the international peacekeepers. During the Rwandan genocide, the UN sent International Peacekeepers in an attempt to either stop or slowdown the killings, but they remained almost useless. They could protect some Hutus while actively protecting them, but once the Peacekeepers left, the Hutus had no more protection. The UN is a good idea, but they don't have that much power.

I do believe that nations acted differently with the Armenian genocide than they did during Nama/Herero genocide in Namibia. There is the similar parallel that in both instances, nations tried to remain ignorant to what was happening, but during the Armenian genocide there was a world war occuring that prevented some countries from taking direct action. Though, even if countries such as Britain or the US were not involved with WWI, they may not have taken such action, or to the extent that they should have. But with the Nama/Herero genocide, abuse from colonizers on the natives was already a precedent set by other European countries with colonies, such as Belgium, which led to nations being more tentative to get involved. But in both cases, Germany attempted to cover up the atrocities and nations decided to remain oblivious and not peak too much behind the thin veil of lies set before them.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 17

American isolationism

America has a problem where it tries to remain as isolationist as possible and remain neutral in every conflict except when it serves their own interests. This was true during WWII when they didn't intervene in the Holocaust and stayed out of conflict until it effected them and it is definitely true for the Armenian genocide as well.

The Armenian genocide was not an incidental event caused by the outcomes of WWI it was a clear cut intentional attempt to wipe out the Armenian people due to their religious beliefs. While these atrocities happened and a million Armenians were killed, the US and the rest of world stood by as bystanders and did nothing. Germany the country best positioned to stop these events given their alliance with the Ottoman empire but they did nothing and even covered it up which shouldn't be all that surprising considering their own history of violence in the 20th century which weve been learning about in class. The allies did condemn the genocide but did little to actually prevent them other than continuing thier existing war campaign but given the circumstances there wasnt a significant more that could be done. However the US was determined to remain neutral at this point and made no action to pressure either the Turks or their allies when this could have potentially saved countless lives. Talaat one of the Turkish leaders responsible for the genocide asked for the life insurance money on the dead Armenians because they had no living family left and the US government didn't act despite strong suggestions from their ambassador.

The NY times and other outlets did their best to expose the horrors that were unfolding but this press coverage alone wasnt enough. Various Christian and other organizations did donate but without the help of the Government little could actually be done.

When other countries wanted a war crime tribunal in the aftermath of the war US leadership opposed it. The lack of Intervention from the US as well as in part other countries allowed these atrocities to go unchecked and created a precedent for the atrocities of WWII. The US needs to step up as a world leader when theres any sort of injustice committed by another government against their people especially when it gets to this level where entire groups are being wiped out.

Some nations did try to act unlike with the violence that happened in Namibia which is likely because of the Christian identity of the Armenians. Despite some attempt at stopping this from some country it mostly went overlooked and those attempts to stop were usually surface level and little effort was ever actually made to stop it.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

We are all human beings

It is clear that many nations, especially the United States, failed to act against the atrocities inflicted upon the Armenian population. In some cases, countries like Germany championed the Turkish government’s slaughter of the Armenians. When German officials were presented with these horrors, they claimed that the Turkish response to the “Armenian treason” was acceptable and that they should leave these matters to the Turkish government.

On the other hand, there were bystanders like the United States, who recognized the massacre of the Armenians but refused to intervene in “non-domestic affairs.” In A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Powers tells us that in 1915, the United States refused to join the Allied declaration, which condemned “crimes against humanity and civilization,” wishing to remain neutral in this issue. President Wilson tried to steer attention away from the genocide in Turkey because he knew that it would cause the U.S. public to demand for U.S. involvement, even though it did not directly impact Americans. Despite the inaction of the U.S. government, there were still some upstanders like Henry Morgenthau, a U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He made countless efforts to communicate to the U.S. government that the persecution of the Armenians was a systematic attempt by the Turkish government to annihilate a specific population, urging U.S. officials to take action. Morgenthau offered to raise money to take in Armenian refugees, but this plan did not proceed because Turkish officials would not allow Armenians to leave. In addition, he also used his connections to publish accounts and information about the slaughter of the Armenians. Similarly, Britain and France made the atrocities against the Armenians public through news coverage but no real action was taken by either nation as they were too focused on winning World War I. Although Morgenthau took many opportunities to address and fight against the Armenian massacre, including speaking directly to Talaat, the orchestrator of the genocide, nothing compelled the U.S. government to act.

This same isolationist response from the U.S. was seen during the Herero and Nama genocide in Southwest Africa. Our country took no actions to stop the horrors that occurred in the concentration camps in Namibia. Because of the lack of efforts from the U.S. and other nations, many people do not know about what happened in Namibia and the pain of the Herero and Nama becomes forgotten. To echo @Cookie Monster, the U.S. only entered World War II because American lives were taken by the Pearl Harbor bombing. This point that they brought up reminded me of the Dr. Seuss cartoon titled “America First.” It illustrates a woman telling two American children a story called “Adolf the Wolf,” referring to the dehumanization and slaughter of Jewish people under Hitler. The cartoon reads that “the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones… but those were Foreign Children and it really didn’t matter.” This undoubtedly demonstrates the U.S.’s complete disregard for people that were oppressed and killed abroad during World War II. The fact that this attitude was perpetuated in cartoons that children looked at speaks levels to the bystanderism from the United States.

It is disappointing to know that our country just watched the slaughter of Armenians and other groups of people happen. This pattern continues today as our country fails to condemn and fight against the persecution of the Uyghurs in China. Regardless of when and where, I believe that the United States and other nations have an obligation to intervene when an entire population is being killed because of who they are. As @boricua1234 said, the U.S. and other countries could have done anything. This could have been providing humanitarian aid or allowing those who were fleeing the genocide to seek asylum or holding perpetrators accountable. We have the resources and platforms to protect victims and escapees of violence and allow their voices to be heard. Something that stood out to me in the reading was Morgenthau’s response to Talaat: “ I am not here as a Jew but as the American Ambassador… I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion but merely as a human being.” I found his statement very powerful and relevant to the role as an upstander. In order to create meaningful change, we have to start seeing each other as humans. We need to be willing to help and support each other no matter where we come from or who we are.

brighton, ma, US
Posts: 21

"I do not appeal to you as a race or religion but merely as a human being"

Wilson’s behavior was inexcusable. Although known for trying to stay “neutral” for as long as possible, his decisions are morally wrong. By choosing not to act and therefore becoming a bystander, Wilson only adds to the problems at hand. One part of “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide that really stuck out to me was Talatt’s rebuttle to Wilson’s behavior, “ Why are you so intested in the Armaneians anyway? You are a Jew, these people are Christians… What have you to complain of?” I think that this quote sums up Wilson's actions. Morally everyone should be creating a space where everyone is treated equally, however through personal interest, our own judgment can become tainted. In order to instake change there needs to be more than one group supporting one another which is the reason why the Armanian genocide had fled into such a dark turn. In a state of fear and frustration, people tend to group one another that are similar to them to instate feeling of unity in a time of uncertainty, as well in this context, Tallat had dealt with a person who was different and therefore shunned the idea of working with them because of this instance, and his history with America. What I found even more interesting was the ambassador’s response, “ I do not appeal to you as a race or religion but merely as a human being.” Although in the situation he was using it in, it was far from the point I will make, it is interesting that his point also is a double ended sword. America should have responded with that quote, “I want to help you regardless of my race or religion or my standing.” At the end of the day, people’s lives are in danger and Wilson should have taken better initiative with his role in order to save the population because it is what is morally right and understand that other factors such as economic wealth should not matter. I think what was so disgusting about his behavior was that there was nothing that America was dealing with at the time that could have potentially stopped them to help out financially or timewise. Wilson’s behavior was just out of habit, in my opinion there is no excuse to help out unless you are in your own peril where your attention cannot be divided. Because of the United States involvement with the Armanian oppressors, they should have taken more of a stand in negotiating with them as they are in good relations. At the end of it, they should have done something. Extending on to a genocide in general, when it comes to a group of people’s lives at stake, I think that it is crucial that it is a group effort to combat it in any way possible whether that may be a mediator, or advocating about the hardships in their own countries.

I think that it is horrifying to see the borders that they put around their own countries. Seen time and time again, when addressing a situation, the country first asks the question: Does this directly affect me and my standing. If the answer is no, then there is no actual action made and therefore it is shoved under a rug. In both Namibia and Armenia, they both had instances of getting their voices heard in the news, the problem was more who would listen? Living in the United States with such an individualistic mindset, it leads many to isolate themselves from world problems due to the mere fact that it does not directly affect their everyday lives. I honestly don’t see much of a difference between the two genocides due to the lack of international recognition. The main difference I see from the two was the intention behind the genocide itself. Namibia was due to the resources at hand connecting with what was needed for economic growth, while the Armenian genocide came with the intention of becoming a genocide.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 20

The Armenian Genocide

It is horrible to read about the immense atrocity that plagued the Armenian people. It is truly eye opening to learn about how the United States remained uninvolved while witnessing the genocide and the horrible occurances during the time period. Despite their plentiful opportunities to step in and intervene in order to prevent this from continuing, the United States stressed their desire to remain neutral instead.

Armenian men were disarmed within the Ottoman army as an ordered execution of 250 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople took place. They were originally used as pack animals to transport goods but soon this was recognized as doing them a favor. Schools were closed and churches destroyed as deportation orders were made to camps in Syrian deserts where the majority died before arrival. “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide discusses a 19 year old boy named Soghomon Tehlirian who was on a caravan. During this experience at such a young age he watched his sisters get raped, his brothers head get cut open by an ax, and his mother shot. Despite the significant trauma this genocide inflicted upon the Armenian people, Turkey attempted to conceal these events and claim them to be gross exagerations. Bodies were buried in order to hide the evidence and appear as if they were solely deportations.

The fact that the United States remained a bystander throughout this awful event is really disappointing. A quote that stood out to me was when Roosevelt said that this represented “Neutrality between despairing and hinted people, people whose little children are murdered and their women raped, and the victorious and evil wrongdoers.” This illustrates the absurdity of the United States remaining on the side lines as the Armenian genocide occured. While witnessing a group of people being targeted and depleted, one should have the responsibility to protect and attempt to end this violence. While millions of people were being executed and ill treated, the United States prioritized avoiding attention and confrontation from other countries.

The United States as well as other countries should have acted against the atrocities of the Armenian genocide. They could have provided a location in which those fleeing danger could find asylum. This would have provided an outlet where those in need could obtain aid and safety from the horrors that were occurring. We should promote repercussions for these cruel actions and fight to acquire justice for the wrongs. There are an abundance of actions the United States as well as other countries who chose to simply observe could have done in order to improve this horrific situation. We have the moral obligation to hinder the progression of any genocide and it is unforgivable to remain impartial within such an event.

I believe that there are a vast number of similarities between the world nations behavior during the Armenian and Namibia genocides. Ignorance is very prominent during these events and countries tend to cast aside and conceal their occurrences. Neither country really acknowledged their roles in the atrocities that took place in both locations. The United States neglected to intervene in order to halt the destruction of these groups and maintained the same isolationist mindset within both the Namibia and Armenian genocide.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 20

Responsibility to Take a Stand

First off, yes the US and other nations around the world should take a stand when an entire population is being destroyed. Wherever and whenever it happens nations have a responsibility to act. I think that oftentimes nations can have reasons for not engaging, such as believing in non interference or wanting to stay neutral, like the US in this situation, but they should still speak out when an entire population is at risk. I do think it is important to respect nations borders, and not interfere with what is happening in different countries generally, but there is a line where other nations have a responsibility to act. States' right to be left alone should not be valued over individual right to justice.

Because this happened during the war, it was easy for nations to ignore it, and easy for the Turkish to justify it. Talaat was able to justify trying to wipe out an entire population because some of them had ideas against Ottoman rule. The Turkish government used the idea that Armenians were engaging in uprisings against Ottoman rule, even though many of them were not. What I found disturbing was that many in the Turkish government were blaming the Armenian people for what was happening to them, saying it was because of their actions.

We have to acknowledge that there were people trying to stand up for the Armenians, but it doesn't seem that they did enough. I think it is important that many nations recognized what was happening, the Allies created the Allied declaration, The New York Times and other news sources reported about the genocide which at least spread information, and many organizations donated to the Committee on Armenian Atrocities. They needed to actually take action. None of these actions really did anything to stop the Turkish from what they were doing. As Germany was an ally with Turkey, some nations did try to encourage Germany to speak out against what was happening but again they needed to do more. Germany covered up Talaat’s actions. They agreed that the harsh actions taken were appropriate to Armenian treason. Whether Germany actually agreed with the actions of the Turkish government, or they just didn't want to lose an ally, they should have spoken up as they were in the best position to do so.

President Wilson did nothing because the actions did not directly harm Americans. It makes sense that the US wanted to keep their neutrality in World War I, but people’s lives should have mattered more. They were worried that speaking out and joining the allies would bring attention to what was happening and force them into the war, but they should have acted against this because they knew what was happening. I think it was wrong that Morgenthau, the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, could not speak out about what was happening to the Armenians because ambassadors are supposed to “act respectfully toward their host governments.” As ambassador, he was one of few who would be able to get first hand accounts and information about what was happening, but he still had trouble persuading the US government to do anything.

I also found it disturbing to compare nations’ responses with what was happening to the Armenians to what was happening to the Herero and Nama in Namibia just a few years earlier. Although nations definitely should have and could have done more to help the Armenian population, it seems that they did almost nothing to stop the Germans in Namibia. I agree with @BLSstudent that their motivations could have been because the Armenians were Christian and many of the nations that tried to act were as well. The lack of involvement from the US in this situation created an alarming pattern of inaction when large numbers of people are being harmed or killed.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 25

Not Enough Hope on the Horizon for Genocide Prevention

Power’s description of the Armenian genocide and the United States’s role (or lack thereof) in it clearly indicate that the US was a bystander. There is no defense. Morgenthau begged repeatedly for months that we intercede and do literally anything to end the genocide. The United States’s foreign policy priorities were clear, however: if a matter did not directly impact American interests, of what importance was it to them? America essentially said, mass murder was unfortunate, but, we shed a tear and dab our eyes, respect for Turkey’s sovereignty just doesn’t allow for intervention. As was so often the case, a blinding fixation on gain excluded humanity’s common interests from playing the essential role it should have in their policy. The inaction of the Committee on Armenian Atrocities only confirms the popularity of this doctrine (i.e., interference only in affairs relating to American interests, and total respect for sovereignty).The CAA advocated pacifism apparently fearing the fate of “American schools and churches” in the country should America step in. I think this explanation requires a bit more context as to what exactly the meant, but either way, such a concern hardly permits inaction on a crime against humanity. The setting up of a war tribunal after the fact by France and Britain, although ulterior motives such as the punishment of their enemies were also present, does show that there WERE other states and leaders who did believe in certain, universal laws of humanity that the US so forcefully denied. This means that the US hadn’t just fallen prey to the prevailing political thought of the time; it actively chose to follow the unacceptable path it did.

Since the war offered such an opportunity for the US to join the fight against the genocide, I believe they should have absolutely joined the fight—it wasn’t as if doing so was going to trigger a new war or create a conflict that wasn’t already happening. Plus, the US would have the support.

I’d like to look at this event from a more modern lens, however. Specifically, considering recent events in comparison to it. Let’s take the case of the Uigher Muslims in Xinjiang, which @cherryblossom noted is a parallel to the Armenian situation in some respects. Well, there isn’t a war going on in China right now, obviously. So the US can’t just join that war and help fight this genocide. Should the US invade/attack China? Certainly not. And yet, if we claim that genocides should be stopped at any cost, wouldn’t this be the next logical conclusion? The US has tried sanctions, tariffs, and import bans, but none of those have worked.As at @BLStudent says, press coverage in the past has been helpful and important, but ultimately failed to make a difference. The same is true today. As of right now, China is shaping up to be successful in their elimination of the Uighers as a people. Horrifying to say, yet what meaningful resistance has there been? And, what in actuality can be done to prevent this?There are a lot of lingering questions about what to do when genocides are happening in our present. Taking a stand is non-negotiable, as are basic steps like sanctions (both economic and on leaders). But further than that, I think there is a real hesitancy to use the military these days—which makes perfect sense. American imperialism has hurt far too many to even think of advocating its use, and yet, practically speaking, it is the only real method through which the Uigher genocide might be stopped. So we remain paralyzed, in indecision and in meager commitment to actions which least harm us, and the Uighers continue to be destroyed. What is the answer here? While we struggle to find it, the suffering of millions unfolds and the long history of genocide gains another chapter. “Never again” becomes “once again.”

I don’t want to spiral too far here, but let’s continue this line of reasoning to the next point: what to do about brutal, horrific abuses of human rights around the world in general? In from Yemen to Syria to North Korea, hundreds of millions suffer under dictatorship, war, and terrorism. The United States holds immeasurable wealth and influence in the international sphere. Shouldn’t we use it? Does the imperative to act exist only under the condition of genocide? Surely the crises in the countries mentioned above are just as alarming and damaging as the genocide in Xinjiang. But what are we doing there? Exceedingly little; and in the instance of Yemen, we have actually been promoting the violence and war crimes by supporting Saudi Arabia. And what can we do?

In sum: the adult world loves to make bold promises about uplifting humanity and preventing genocide at all costs, but even when people are paying attention to genocide and want to act, history thus far indicates that their attempts will inevitably fail. I do hate to be a cynic, but everything here seems to indicate that if a leader has the power and understanding of hate and rhetoric necessary to commit a genocide, they will succeed in at least beginning it if they wish. The same goes for leaders bent on war, violence, and authoritarianism. Without exception, as far as I am aware. Which is an alarming position to be in. Because we care! And we want to do something! And we look back on history’s atrocities and tut-tut the US for not doing more, for not preventing the brutality the occurred. But I feel that we are so helpless here, because here we are, in that exact same position, and not doing enough, once again—now WE are the guilty ones, not the Americans of the past!! So, are we doomed to stand as powerless spectators to the cruelty and suffering of humanity? I feel we are. We think we have improved so much over time, and in many ways we have, yet we still cannot find a way to resolve conflict and save people from atrocities. How dispiriting.

In regard to the final question, I’m sure the US behaved differently in regard to the Herero genocide. A) Herero are Black Africans, meaning their plight could hardly be expected to evoke concern from the average American at the time (and still today, frankly). The smaller scale of the murder and the similarity of it to what America itself had just abolished 30 years ago (i.e. forced labor—> slavery), also likely mitigated any concerns that might have arisen. Plus, the Herero were not Christian, like the Armenians were (Powers noted several times this was a major sticking points for why Americans thought they should intervene), and Namibia likely seemed a remote German colony to them.

BOSTON, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 17

Humanitarian Obligation

Unfortunately, it is quite clear that the United States and many other countries during the genocide of the Armenians acted as bystanders. Despite ample knowledge of the atrocities occurring in Turkey, essentially nothing was done by the global community to oppose these crimes against humanity. In fact, the most apparent action regarding the events seemed to be Germany’s role as somewhat of an accomplice to Turkey. According to Samantha Powers in her book, A Problem from Hell, “German officials generally covered up Talaat's campaign, ridiculing the Allied accounts of the terror as "pure inventions" and "gross exaggerations.” Germany, who was heavily allied with Turkey at the time, likely would not have been expected to take action against the genocide although this was clearly the correct option.

However, it is quite upsetting that nations like the United States did not take a strong position of opposition and attempt in any way to stop the murder of Armenians in Turkey. While it is somewhat understandable that the United States did not want to get involved in the war and choose sides, especially with the American public strongly opposing American involvement, the genocide was a separate issue and should have been treated as such. It seems former president Roosevelt was keen to this reality: As noted in Powers’ book, “Roosevelt wondered how anyone could possibly advise neutrality "between despairing and hunted people, people whose little children are murdered and their women raped, and the victorious and evil wrongdoers." He observed that such a position put “safety in the present above both duty in the present and safety in the future." While condemning the actions of the Turkish government would likely have damaged relationships with both Turkey and Germany, simply pointing out that the hunting of an entire ethnic group is wrong is an obvious choice. Furthermore, as Roosevelt pointed out, not only was the United States inaction a neglect of humanitarian duties, but with the war still in the balance, it was also risking the lives of millions of more people with a possible Turkish/German victory.

Although it is tough to say exactly what the United States and other nations should have done, it is easy to say that they should have done a lot more. Firstly, it seems that some people believed that even a stronger position of opposition to the genocide may have made an impact. From Powers’ book, Hans Morgenthau, the former US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire made a statement saying, “I earnestly beg the Department to give this matter urgent and exhaustive consideration with a view to reaching a conclusion which may possibly have the effect of checking [Turkey's] Government and certainly provide opportunity for efficient relief which now is not permitted. Morgenthau evidently believed that US action to condemn and act against the genocide may have had an impact on Turkey’s willingness to commit these atrocities and that further action including relief efforts could have saved lives. In another quote, the former British ambassador to the United States, Viscount Bryce noted, "If anything can stop the destroying hand of the Turkish Government, it will be an expression of the opinion of neutral nations, chiefly the judgment of humane America." It is clear that public opinion, especially that of neutral countries, and even more so countries with elevated power and moral reputations like the United States, could have made an impact by swaying global opinion.

While the circumstances surrounding an event always have an impact on what happens, as @yvesIKB and others have stated, in the case of a genocide or other human rights violations, there must always be an obligation to take action in some form. In the case of the Armenian genocide, the United States took the disturbing stance of deciding it was not their problem. As Powers explains, “According to the cold blooded legalities of the situation, the treatment of Turkish subjects by the Turkish Government was purely a domestic affair; unless it directly affected American lives and American interests, it was outside the concern of the American Government. The United States believed that because the Armenian genocide was not affecting Americans, they had no reason to get involved. However, an issue such as genocide, humans rights, etc. should be approached from the stance of being a human, not as the member of a specific nation or people. As Morgenthau pointed out to Talaat, “I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion but merely as a human being." As human beings, it should always be our job to take a stand against crimes of this magnitude, no matter what.

I think one main difference related to international response between the atrocities in Namibia and the Armenian genocide is that there was generally less knowledge and care for the destruction of indigenous African peoples. Obviously, not enough attention and action was taken regarding the murders in Turkey. However, it does at least seem that these actions were receiving some attention from people such as Morgenthau, Roosevelt, Bryce, and others who spoke out. Also, although many neutral nations did not publicly come out and condemn the genocide in Turkey, it seems that there was some of level of recognition surrounding the severity of these crimes. However, in Namibia, it seems as if not only did Germany fail to recognize the genocide of the Herero and Nama as a crime, but other nations simply ignored and were completely unbothered by these events, regardless of a desire to stay neutral and uninvolved. This may be because almost every western nation had in some way or were continuing to commit atrocious acts to the people of Africa and black people in general. As we know, most European nations participated in and were continuing to colonize Africa at the time of the genocide of the Herero and Nama, and the United States had been for centuries involved in the slave trade. However, the attacks on Armenians and Christians was more unique to the Ottoman empire, and therefore could more easily and “comfortably” be condemned and remembered as an atrocity by the global community.

Posts: 17

This is VERY much our obligation

The United States and their allies undoubtedly acted as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. They sat back and watched Turkey attempt to completely eradicate an entire population, without any intervention. At the time, President Woodrow Wilson was trying to do anything possible to stay out of World War I, even at the expense of over 800,000 lives. He had the naive notion that the U.S. would be able to stay neutral in the war, and therefore decided not to take any sort of stance for or against Turkey. Essentially no other countries got involved with this genocide, claiming that they were too consumed with other war, and if they did, the work was very minimal. The American government even tried to hide the scale of the horrors from the general public, so they were not forced to take more action. This was truly disturbing to me. How are we any better than the countries and governments committing genocide if we know it is taking place and hurting so many, and are still trying to hide the extent of it so that we do not feel obligated to get involved?

It is hard to say what we could have done, but anyone can agree that doing nothing was absolutely unacceptable. Although I understand @noodles point that the U.S. was not the same global superpower that it is today, I do not think that this is an excuse to remain complicit in genocide. There are many steps the United states could have taken before completely involving themselves in a World War, including ending trade relations, sending money or relief, and alerting their more powerful allies of the horrors taking place. Although media sources such as The New York Times did try to extend coverage of the events taking place in Turkey, I also think that there could have been a more influential way of spreading awareness. People are heavily swayed by the news, and even a little more content could have gone a long way.

There is never an excuse for there to be complete ignorance when a country is attempting to destroy a population– an international response is necessary. I understand that not every country is in a position where they can financially support sending help to another country, however I do believe that there should be some kind of predetermined system in place as to who, and how people should respond. This could be something worked out with only immediate allies, or even as big as the whole country. Any nation has the obligation to stay aware of events in the rest of the world, even if they are not politically beneficial to them in the moment. It is never beneficial for hundreds of thousands of lives to be lost, it does not matter where it is happening. We always have the responsibility to say something, even if we cannot do something. We need to ensure that something is done, even if it is not by us.

Unfortunately, the response to the Armenian genocide is eerily similar to that of the one that took place just a decade prior in Namibia. The initial motives were different in both cases, but the bottom line of one population feeling enough superiority over the other to the extent that they dehumanize and attempt to eradicate them is the same. Although there were also different circumstances affecting the world at the time, everyone lived with the sort of mentality that if the events were not seemingly directly affecting them, then they should be ignored, or even worse, covered up. There was almost no intervention in either of these mass genocides, and that is a chronic failure on our behalf. America is not responsible for the initiative other countries take to respond on their own, but we are incredibly responsible for ours.

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