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Boston, MA, US
Posts: 4

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 have been 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 current USAID chief, playing a significant role in help for Ukranian refugees) 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?

West Roxbury, MA, US
Posts: 26

The Armenian Genocide and Bystanderism

The short answer to the question is yes. The United States and its allies did act as bystanders during the Armenian genocide.

In class, we sorted through the documents on the events of the genocide, and I was more than surprised to see so many New York Times articles addressing the genocide. One even said that the captured Armenians were so hungry that they were forced to eat the dead. Another went in detail describing the horrors Armenian refugees faced everyday, yet the United States did nothing but publish it. I think there is something the United States could have done, that did not include going to war with the Ottoman Empire. For example, I think that once the United States got involved in the war, they could have made it a priority to help the Armenians, not stay away from Turkey. In addition to this, Morgenthau was reporting back to the United States as its ambassador, and warned Washington that it was a “systematic plan to crush the Armenian race.” In regards to other nations, I think that anyone should take a stand when a whole population is being destroyed. Power writes that German Christian missionaries had witnessed the slaughtering of Armenians and when it was brought to the attention of the German chancellor, he denied the accusations so Germany did not offend its Turkish ally. It is hard to fathom that there are circumstances when it comes to helping innocent people, but in my opinion there is a line of what is “acceptable” and this crosses it. Power explains that the United States wanted to keep their neutrality, however the extent to which the Young Turks went in order to abolish the Armenian race is a good enough reason to intervene and help the Armenian people.

Looking at this genocide through a 2022 lens, it is easy for me to say that the United States and its allies should have done everything in their power to save the Armenian people. This also goes for any other genocide and horrific acts. Children should not be taken away from their homes and Turkified, and nineteen year olds should not have to wake up left for dead next to their family members who had been killed. I would advocate that the United States intervene because of their argument that they could not stop the Ottoman Empire because they weren’t “doing anything wrong”, but there were plenty of news sources that told the truth to Americans. Looking at it from this point of view, I argue that the United States should have intervened and helped to save some, if not most, of the American people. Also, the United States ended up getting involved in World War I anyway, so I think they could have at least tried to aid some refugees in Armenia.

In a way, I do not think that nations responded differently to the Armenian genocide than they did during the carnage in Africa. In the Armenian genocide, the United States had more than enough information and understood what was happening, but they were not as aware of what was going on in German South West Africa. However in both instances, the United States did not get involved, probably because they didn't want that conflict, and just watched from the sidelines.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 23


All countries should always step in when it comes to genocide anywhere for any group because it is the only principal morality and humanly decent thing to do. The US knew about the possibilities of the genocide before it even happened with all the New York Times articles published. They knew that the Turkish Empire was going to target Christians along with other European countries. To keep from starting a war there first they could have put out sanctions and warnings to Turkey if they actually followed through with it. Then as it happened they could have given refuge to them and sent some of their troops there to stop it. Yes there was a world war going on, but the US didn’t join till 1917 so they could have stepped in. They absolutely should because what is stopping it from happening in their country next? Of course on principle and morality. Are they just going to let a defensively group of people who have done nothing wrong other than exist be killed for doing just that? Letting something like genocide go will brew resentment from those who are being opressed and those doing the oppresing which may cause more genocides to happen.

I would advocate for a role of immediate interventionism. There is no reason to wait until it “gets bad/serious” to step in. If they have the power to prevent it before it happens then do it. If they have the power to stop it as it is happening, do it. If they have the power and means to do something, do it, not let it get worse and to the point of millions dying for no reason.

The nations most definetly behaved different for the two genocides but they also acted the same. For the Namibian genocide no one chose to acknowledge it even with all the articles published about what was happening. In comparison the Armanian genocide had way more publicity and coverage. Then in the Armenian genocide the president and other notable figure made statements and comments on what was going on but chose to remain “neutral” anyway to keep from starting/joining a war. This most definitely has to do with racial and cultural differences. The Armenians were Christians which a majority of the US population was at the time, whereas at the time of the Namibian genocide there were no cultural ties between them and any of the white nations that could have helped them. It didn’t feel like a threat to them or there peoples because there were no similarities whereas they could for the Armenian genocide.

Posts: 23

The Armenian Genocide and Bystanderism

The United States often acts on its own best interest rather than on what is morally right or wrong. Over the course of the early twentieth century during WWI and WWII the United States chose to turn a blind eye on multiple genocides being brought about across AfroEurAsia, including, the conquest of Namibia, the Armenian Genocide, and the Halocaust. Specifically in the case of the Armenian Genocide our government acted as a bystander. With full knowledge of what was occuring in the Ottoman Empire. In the book “A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.”, by Samantha Power, we learn about Morgenthau, a US ambassador to Turkey leading up to WWI and during the Armenian Genocide. Morgenthau was in Turkey, hearing from the Armenian people of the horrors they were facing, after he was confident enough in their stories as truths he set out to do something about them. Morgenthau “cabeled Washington with a description of the Turkish campaign: Persecution of Armenians assuming unprecedented proportions.” (Power 6) He would continue to send messages to Washington, meet with Armenians, and with Talaat (the Turkish Minister of the Interior) but with little results. During the time Morgenthau was finding all this out the United States was focused on staying neutral and not joining what would become WWI. This is one factor explaining why the US government didn’t want to intervene in a country already allied and involved in the war. However the US wouldn’t necessarily have had to send troops or immense resources to the region in order to influence the Turkish government and help the Armenian people. As for our allies, in particular the British, they “pleaded for the US to use it’s influence with Germany ''(power 9), meaning they wanted the US to convince Germany to convince their ally (Turkey) to stop the atrocities against christian Armenians. With the population, foreign allies, and their ambassador to Turkey all urging the US to help the Armenians, all they did was advise Morgenthau to look for help from private sources. I think that the United States Government should’ve reacted very differently to the Armenian Genocide. Clearly they knew the extent of what was going on, when Morgenthau explained the atrocities to them the government should’ve looked into any possible way of preventing the assasination of Armenians and longer. Not only did the US bystand during the genocide, but after WWI ended when the allies prepared to hold an internation war crime tribunal for the leaders of germany, austira, and turkey “the United States would not participate… a growing postwar isolationism made the United States reluctant to entangle itself in affairs so clearly removed from America’s narrow national interests'' (power 14) Here we see the same excuse used throughout the entire event, it’s not America's business or problem what goes on internally in other countries, if it doesn’t affect americans we shouldn’t care. Clearly this is a flawed view and it should be our responsibility as the richest country in the world to help those who need, in this case, protection and saving.

I think specifically britain reacted differently to the armenian genocide then they did to the conquests of Africa. To the Armenian genocide they tried to get the US to do something to help the armenian people (britain itself had just started WWI probably didn’t have tons of resources to go to turkey etc.) At the end of the war they also led the charge in trying Talaat and other Turkish leaders who were responsible for planning and carrying out the Armenian Genocide. In contrast Britain actually took part in the conquest of Africa and brought about their own horrors on the people there only 5,10, 20 years prior.

Posts: 18

The Armenian Genocide and Bystanderism

1. In terms of what the United States should’ve done to help the Armenian people more… they could’ve done pretty much anything more than they actually did. It’s not as if they didn’t know it was happening; as discussed in class, hundreds of articles were published by the New York Times and other publications describing the horrific crimes and atrocities occurring during this period. They even had ambassadors in the region at the time writing letters describing everything they were witnessing. Despite this, the United States did almost nothing because it wasn’t politically beneficial for the United States. This is the problem with most nations and the “ways of the world” today- nations will not get involved in something even as morally wrong (to put it lightly) as a genocide because it is not what is politically best for them.

However, situations like these should never be about what is politically best for a nation. If people are facing massive amounts of human rights violations, no matter where they are, a country as powerful as the United States has the responsibility to step up and do something to help them. It has a responsibility, just like all of its people and the people and other governments around the world, to step up and do something about it- always.

2. Similarly to my answer above, because the United States specifically is such a powerful country, the role I would advocate for it to play is not one of a bystander. The entire basis of this country is democracy (although we have clearly proven in this class that it has almost never been the case for most of the people in this country), and that includes fighting for democracy and basic human rights (as well as so much more) across the globe. For our country and others witnessing genocide, I would advocate that the United States, along with many other countries, should have intervened in this. With such a clear idea of what was happening to young children, mothers, fathers, entire families - an entire population of people- there should have been no question of whether or not to intervene. This goes for any other genocide, and any other country with the means to intervene. In the same way that individual people are constantly encouraged to stand up against injustices around the world and to help others, governments have just as much - if not more of- a responsibility to do so.

3. I would say that world nations did not behave differently because each of them did nothing. Because the colonization and atrocities committed in German South West Africa (Namibia) were beneficial to Germany, they were also most likely beneficial to its allies. Also, because Germany was such a world power, any attempt to intervene may have gone badly for the opposing nation. Therefore, no country intervened- also because they were most likely committing similar atrocities across the world, which is devastating and deeply saddening to hear. The crimes committed in both of these areas were similar in that they were complete and utter violations of human rights. The response to these crimes was also similar because both of these regions/nations/peoples were not world powers, and so it was not politically beneficial for world nations to intervene, even though they should have regardless of the political repercussions.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 32

The Armenian genocide and bystanderism

  1. I find this question to be a ‘no-brainer,’ yet important one. In every regard, we should have done something (more) to help the Armenian people from being victims of the Turkish genocide. According to Power’s “A Problem from Hell”: America in the Age of Genocide, we should have listened to Morgenthau’s pleas for “a direct government-to-government appeal ‘on behalf of humanity.” If our country decided to put human lives above foreign policy, we could've saved thousands of Armenian lives. Now, I’m not advocating that the US should have went to war in Turkey, and instead proposing that the US should have recognized the genocide as such on the global stage. The US’s power along with its European allies at the time could have stopped the genocide years earlier. Instead, our government failed and simply urged Morgenthau to look elsewhere and beg private companies, like the Rockefeller foundation, for aid. Now to answer the question: should the U.S and/or other nations take a stand when an entire population is being destroyed?; my short answer, a million times yes. Again, this question seems to have a ‘no brainer’ —or ‘duh’— answer. I can’t wrap my head around why nations shouldn’t intervene no matter what. This may be because I am no political scientist specializing in international relations, therefore I don't have all the answers on ‘possible benefits of neutrality’ in circumstances like these, BUT I do have a heart. My heart— that some may call naive— just does not understand the why not question. For example, I read a heartbreaking testimony in class of a father having to abandon his daughter in the desert while on a death march. How could nations have known that this was happening and not intervened. I am even shocked why the American public didn’t do more. Yes, they fundraised and did little band aid fixes, but where was the total pressure on the government to intervene? I mean, in both Power’s book and the in-class exercise we hear of the New York Times writing about the horrors in the Ottoman Empire. For example, I read a NYTimes article in class that mentioned how Armenians were begging that the Turks bury them alive. That is an indescribable sadness to read.
  2. In short, I would advocate for the United States and other nations witnessing genocides such as the Armenian Genocide to be an upstander, rather than what they have been— a bystander. Nations should listen to the accounts of victims. Nations should see the signs of genocides now. Nations should never let children be stripped of their culture— or Turkified— as we discussed in class. Nations should never let mothers and fathers have to leave their children behind because they can barely carry themselves. Nations should actually preach and practice the never again mentality.
  3. I think world nations behaved differently during the Armenian genocide than they did during the carnage in Africa because major nations like Britain were also colonizing Africa, therefore they did not even consider allowing press to comment on Germany’s actions, like the US media commented on the Armenian Genocide. However, still focusing on the example of Britain, British officials were quick to charge Turks for crimes against the Armenian people. Although the situations are quite different, I do see one similarity between the ways nations behaved in both genocides and that is how they didn’t do anything to stop them. For example, Britain only called out the crimes AFTER the Armenian Genocide’s peak and the US JUST recognized the Armenian genocide as a genocide.
Posts: 26

Yes. We, the United States, and our allies, did act as bystanders during the Armenian Genocide. In class, we read in horror the countless New York Times articles written with explicit reports of the Armenian genocide (actually, they were counted and it was 145 in just 1915 alone). These articles made it as clear as possible that this was a genocide. The word didn’t exist yet, but the description was the same. The United States, labeling itself as “isolationist” refused to intervene, despite the fact that they’d been sending millions of dollars of aid to Great Britain starting in 1915, the same year the Armenian deportations began. Even once the US retired its identity as an isolationist nation when they officially joined WWI in 1917, still, they did nothing. Likewise, Germany, in the best position to take action against the Turkish government, sided with the Ottoman Empire and denied the truths of the genocide. Individuals who did act, such as Morgenthau and other activists, deserve much more recognition than they receive. They stood up against the strong flow of apathy and tried to heal blind eyes. Morgenthau, according to Samantha Power’s book, did everything he could to make an impact. Without the support of active politicians, though, most of his work was in vain. Ignored and turned down by Wilson’s office and his humane reasoning swatted away by Talaat himself, the helpless situation turned increasingly hopeless.

The U.S. should have interfered. Other nations should have as well. They should have pooled their resources and protected the Armenians. They should have opened their borders for refuge, especially the bordering nations. Of course, in this ideal world, where morality and livelihood are put before power by those in power (which is already some form of paradox), WWI would not have happened, as it was a war for power and land. On principle, all nations should take a stand when an entire population is being destroyed, whenever and wherever it happens. Human lives are not up for debate.

Nations witnessing genocide take the role of a bystander with options. They can ignore the genocide and continue to be a bystander, observing with unthinkable apathy as countless souls are ripped from bodies, or they can stand up for what’s right. Nationalism stands in the way of action. Why are the lives of some people prioritized over the lives of others, the only difference between them location? That is, why are citizens of a nation prioritized over citizens of the world? How is it possible for someone, namely Talaat, to say to Morgenthau, “We treat the Americans alright too…I don’t see why you should complain”? We are all human. Why is it so difficult for us to see anything but our differences?

For the most part, nations behaved the same to the Armenian genocide and the genocide in West Africa. Public sympathy seemed stronger for the Armenians simply because they were white Christians, but government action was the exact same: there was none.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

Armenian genocide and bystanderism

Due to the fact that the US did not intervene during the Armenian genocide, we were bystanders. Many people in the US tried to help, many donated money to organizations such as the new Committee on Armenian Atrocities, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The New York Times published 145 articles about the genocide in 1915 alone. However, the US government did not want to even condemn these atrocities, let alone intervene. Their ideology was that if Americans were not being endangered, the government would not be able to do anything about it. Samantha Power has an amazing quote which is “time and time again the US government would be reluctant to cast aside its neutrality and formally denounce a fellow state for its atrocities.”

The question of whether the US should intervene always when an entire population is being destroyed is one that has been debated for a very long time. The ideology that a government should only intervene when its people are being harmed seems like a good plan on paper. It is much more complicated than that. However, the US should always denounce genocide. Always. There are ways to hurt a nation without Americans themselves being endangered as well. We see this right now with Russia and Ukraine. Biden does not want to endanger American soldiers, so he is placing strong economic sanctions against Russia. Whether or not these are strong enough is a different question, but the point is that there is always something that can be done. In my opinion however, if millions of innocent people are being killed, that does not seem like the kind of nation that the US should want to be friendly with. Our relations with the Ottoman Empire at the time were good. Woodrow Wilson, the president at the time, did not want to mess with this. The strange thing however, is that even after the US joined World War I, even after they already had soldiers fighting and dying, the US did not declare war on the Ottoman Empire. They did not even condemn the Armenian genocide. The US joined a war, a war that they really had no real reason to fight in, and they still did not denounce the killing of innocent people. They should have recognized this genocide, and do everything that they could to stop it.

The US and other nations should have some role in condemning genocide when it happens, and we should be punishing the nation in some way that is doing this. Like I said before, there is always something that can be done. Genocide is unacceptable. If the US does not want to completely declare war on the country, there are many options in between neutrality and all out war. Neutrality is taking the side of the oppressor.

There was a lot more coverage in the news in the US about the Armenian genocide than the carnage in Africa. Most of the world saw people in Africa as less than human. They did not see Armenians this way. When the Ottoman Empire wanted to kill the Armenians, they had to gain popular support for this, because the Armenians had been living with the rest of the Ottoman Empire citizens for a long time. But in colonized Africa, the nations that colonized them were committing terrible atrocities and genocide against everyone there, so they did not have to gain very much popular support for it. World nations did not do very much about this because Africa was not a large concern of theirs. In terms of Namibia, Germany did horrible things there, and as we know, the world lets countries like Germany get away with genocide. The US lets countries get away with genocide, and it needs to stop happening.

Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 27

The Armenian genocide and bystanderism

It is incredibly important that other nations take a stand when it comes to genocide. There is no excuse for a nation to know about a genocide happening and not do anything they can to try to stop the genocide. In the case of the Armenian genocide, as the book mentinoed, Morganthau repeatedly tried to ask the US to interfere, and while, as we saw in our in class work, it received a fair amount of media coverage, government officials refused to do anything significant. I understand that it went against political alliances with Turkey, but the lives of millions of people should have been prioritized above politics. There may times when it can be extremely difficult for countries to intervene with things like this in other countries, but I think it is important that countries do as much as is possible for them in order to prevent genocides anywhere.

I think the US and any other countries that were witnessing the Armenian Genocide (and any other genocide) should have intervened in some way. I don’t know what the best way for them to go about this would be, whether it would be military intervention, political or economic pressure, a combination, or some other form of intervention, but I do think that it was necessary for other countries to intervene in this situation. If they were aware of what was happening and they had any kind of power to do something, they should have been using that power to help.

I think the world behaved differently towards the genocide in Namibia than the Armenian genocide. For example, the Armenian Genocide was given a lot of media coverage internationally, while everything happening in Namibia received significantly less coverage and attention from governments or civilians. From what I know, there was much more international attention on Turkey during the Armenian genocide than there was on Germany during the Namibian genocide, and even if there was any attention on Germany, there was little to no effort to stop them. Although the US and other governments did not do much to help the Armenians in Turkey, there was still private aid and international support for the Armenians (albeit not enough). I don’t know whether the US knew as much about what was happening in Africa as they did about Turkey, but in either case, they did not intervene. It could also have been dangerous to intervene with Germany. It’s seems likely that there was also a racial aspect to the United States’ inaction to do anything about the genocide in Namibia, and because Europe’s colonization of Africa was so accepted.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 21

The Armenian genocide and bystanderism

I'm of the opinion that the Unites States should've been involved in World War 1 as soon as the Lusitania was sunk, and Woodrow Wilson did have some interesting ideas of an independent Armenian state that were put into place for a short time until the Soviets invaded Armenia as the Armenians were fighting against the Turks in the Turkish War for Independence. However, even if the US had joined the war earlier, I sadly doubt that there would've been any serious actions taken against the Ottomans. The Gallipoli campaign was a disaster in many regards, and it plainly showed the difficulty an invasion of Anatolia would've been. The American public would've been outraged at such a significant amount of American soldiers being sent to seemingly die on the Turkish coasts for little reason. A significant attempt could've even led to mass Ottoman civilian deaths as partisans tried/were forced to repel the invaders (as is what almost happened in Japan had Operation Downfall taken place). Americans could've tried to pressure Germany to reign in its ally, but the Americans and Germans were not on great terms at this point and Germany was not in a position to lose any of its allies. The US never even had any substantial connection to the genocide, as opposed to the many, many more it indirectly caused during the Cold War (Cambodia, the Indonesian and South Korean politicides, etc)

It's also important to notice when you're looking at history in retrospect. At this point in American history, the United States was still a rabid isolationist that was only slightly emerging as a power. There was no real motivation or interest to defend a population that at least 95% of the American public were unaware about. This was also not the first genocide in history, not the first genocide by a modern state in history, hell, it garnered more of a response than any genocide previously. There were multitudes of genocides in Africa that nobody paid attention to, even dependents of Europeans were held in concentration camps (look up Lizzie van Zyl). Most importantly of all, there was a genocide of the Kyrgyz by Tsarist Russia DURING World War 1 that saw up to 40% of the Kyrgyz population being killed for the actions of a smaller rebellious faction. Samantha Powers even mentioned the massacres of Armenians in the decades before World War 1, and very little attention was ever directed at these events. Most of the attention around the atrocities of WW1 was centered in the trenches on the Western front, gas attacks, and the sinking of the Lusitania.

Was it morally correct for countries to intervene on behalf of the Armenians? Absolutely. Would it make any logical sense for countries to intervene? Arguably no. Should there have been a stronger punishment towards the perpetrators of the genocide? Definitely. Harsher punishment against the Ottomans would've likely occurred had the Turks not fought against Allied occupation. Sometimes in history, there is sadly no room for morality and compassion to prevail. There are good answers, but no definitively right answers.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 27

Armenian Genocide and Bystanderism

The U.S. government was aware that the Turkish government was systematically killing Armenians because of their religion and ethnicity. They were restricted by their own neutrality and therefore failed to intervene. President Wilson decided that “it was better not to draw attention to the atrocities…because the Turks had not violated the rights of Americans.” The government acted as a bystander in this genocide, but the individuals and organizations who did what they could to spread awareness and influence authorities should not be overlooked. Henry Morgenthau witnessed the atrocities against Armenians and was aware that the Turkish cruelty was a “systematic attempt to uproot peaceful Armenian populations.” He pleaded with U.S. authorities to look at the issue and urged Turkey to accept humanitarian aid for Armenians. The government failed to do this so he had to rely on outside organizations, which helped raise money. The news coverage in the U.S. relayed the fact that these atrocities were in fact wholesale slaughters, so people had a good sense of what was happening. Still, the U.S. decided that their neutrality on the matter was more important. The government’s role as bystanders is apparent.

When extreme human rights violations are taking place, other nations are obligated to do more than provide aid to victims because they cannot “leave those committing it [genocide] alone.” I know this is often easier said than done, but it is not right to have economic or relationship interests outweigh the destruction and pain of an entire population that is being targeted. This is why it is frustrating that the U.S. has taken so long to even acknowledge that the Armenian genocide was in fact a genocide. The reason the government did not directly get involved was because diplomats had to “stay out of business that did not concern U.S. national interests” and because it didn’t directly affect the country. However, issues like these become U.S. issues when the country knows about them and decides to turn a blind eye. The reading mentioned how Morgenthau urged the U.S. government to push the Germany to take action, but they didn’t. I feel like if the U.S. didn’t want to directly get involved, the least they could have done was publicly condemn the genocide and do what Morgenthau suggested - use the power of other nations to help.

The Armenian genocide received significantly more news coverage than the genocides in Namibia, and the public had a better sense of what was going on in the Ottoman empire. Also, because Germany lost their colonies in Namibia after World War I, the genocide there was largely ignored and many Germans weren’t even aware of the atrocities that took place. Today, Germany has publicly acknowledged the Namibian genocide but still disregards the idea of reparations, and they have not done much beyond that. The Turkish government rigidly denies the Armenian genocide. I think part of the reason there was less public sympathy for victims of the Namibian genocide was because they were black and a colony of Germany. Though witnesses from other countries reported the horrific slaughter in both situations, foreign powers did not intervene.

West Roxbury, MA, US
Posts: 29

The Armenian Genocide and Bystanderism

The United States and our allies one hundred percent stood aside and were bystanders during the Armenian Genocide. One of the many counterarguments surrounding the way Americans didn't step in to help is that they didn’t have the “right” or the “precise” information, that they were never warned about the atrocities happening in Turkey. However, this is entirely false, the choice to not help the Armenians was just that, a choice. As we saw in the New York Times magazine articles, and The British Foreign Press articles distributed in class, it was not unknown what was happening. Word of “whole-sale expulsions and deportations from one end of the Empire to the other accompanied by frequent instances of rape, pillage, and murder, turning into massacre” (Power) was known and accessible to many countries. To add to that, Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, throughout his lifetime, was doing all that he could so that Americans could become informed on such matters in Turkey. He cabled to his higher-ups in Washington, begging them, “I earnestly beg the Department to give this matter urgent and exhaustive consideration with a view to reaching a conclusion…” (Power). And while the U.S. and its allies did eventually years later offer a joint declaration that denounced the Turkish government’s actions, World War I was a more pressing issue absorbing most of the U.S. and its allies' time (so the joint declaration didn’t amount to much). Had the U.S. acted when they first received news of the genocide and provided aid faster, maybe we could’ve lowered the death toll, but instead, the U.S. (and its allies) chose silence.

Although preoccupied with World War I, I think there still could’ve been motions and programs set up by the U.S. and its allies to help provide refuge to Armenians (and transportation to those safe places) as well as possible military aid. The issue is the U.S. is pretty far away from Turkey, so sending troops that we were probably already using doesn’t seem like the most viable plan (but I think it still could’ve been an option). More reasonably, the best way the U.S. should’ve helped was to set up plans with their alliances such as France, England, or (and at the time) Russia for refuge missions. Because of the close proximity, Turkey has to Russia, making deals and programs to help Armenians find refuge in Russia could’ve been a feasible solution (ironic that it's now Russia’s invasion that is creating the need for Ukrainian refuge). I think the U.S. and other nations should definitely take a stand when it comes to population destruction, whenever and wherever, in principle, but also action. Similar to the current bans Boston has on Russian products, it's not enough to simply state that you disagree with such atrocities (although it is the first step); you need to also follow through with a plan to stop these situations. I would advocate that if a marginalized group is under attack (Armenian or any other), countries who witness this should always do their best to help in whatever way they can afford to do so.

I would say similarities in outside countries’ reactions can be drawn between the Armenian genocide and the carnage of Africa in the 19th century, but the awareness about these issues differs wildly. During the Armenian Genocide, the U.S.’s knowledge of the events unfolding was hefty. It was well known then and now how close to one million Armenians were killed all because of their religious beliefs. Contrastingly, the carnage of Africa is much less well known. Africans were seen as people on a pedestal, ready for sale, dehumanized to the point that the division of Africa by Europeans didn’t seem at all out of the norm. Europeans didn’t see the harm of splitting up African tribes, people, or culture, they saw profit. They were exploited and beaten on account of their rubber. But this was never advertised as much as the Armenian genocide was. With the Armenian Genocide, it’s no doubt that the U.S. and its allies had the resources to be informed on what was happening in Turkey, but chose not to help (and the same with countries such as Russia which is very close in mileage). With Africa’s carnage, the U.S.’s allies (most of the European nations) were the main driving forces of the division. But similarly, nobody stepped in, nobody advocated for Africa, and just like with the Armenians no one interceded.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 28

To answer the question simply---yes, we did act as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. We knew. News outlets knew, government officials knew, the president knew, but nothing was ever done.

I think that we should have done something. I think that nations should act politically not just out of self interest, but also out of moral obligation. President Woodrow Wilson did not “formally protest” because “Turks had not violated the rights of Americans.” He stayed out of it because he saw no potential for American political or economic gain in World War I or in helping the Armenians. Moreover, other countries stayed out of it for similar reasons. Germany was allied with Turkey, so they called descriptions of the genocide “gross exaggerations” and played the same game of denial that Turkey does to this day.

Another reason that other nations should have intervened is the fact that it establishes a precedent. Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term genocide, knew that if the Armenian genocide could happen with no prevention or recognition, it could happen again. And, he was right. I think that intervention in the Armenian genocide would have set a precedent of global moral obligation that could conceivabely have prevented many of the world’s atrocities. Furthermore, in the realm of bystanders, usually just one person has to step in before everyone else feels much more comfortable doing so. It’s psychological.

Due to the geographic distance between the US and Turkey, physical intervention may have been impractical. However, the US was allied with Russia by 1917, and they could’ve pushed Russia to intervene, since they had much closer proximity. They also had a relationship with Germany that they could’ve used to push Germany to end the atrocities. The US knew what was going on. The Ottoman Empire ambassador, Henry Morgenthau Sr., constantly pushed for diplomatic intervention, and he also influenced the extensive media coverage of the event. And still, the US did nothing. Even within the war tribunals, the US stuck to the same excuse of being isolated and unaffected by the event.

When genocides are witnessed, other countries must intervene. It’s horrifying that we don’t have that expectation. If we did, I wonder how much could have been avoided.

The world absolutely behaved differently during the genocide in Namibia. At the time, there was virtually no media coverage of the incident, which marks a stark difference between that and the Armenian Genocide. Additionally, with the Namibian genocide, there was not even enough attention on the incident for Germans to need to deny it. During the Armenian genocide, officials cut off ties with media, lied to reporters and other governments because at least some people cared about what was going on. The abuse and exploitation of people and resources in Africa had been established already, so other European powers did not even see what was happening as wrong. I think in the Armenian genocide, at least some knew that what they were doing was wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t have denied it so heavily. However, the Herero were given even less humanity than the Armenians. The same atrocities were committed, but the same recognition was not given.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 24

The Armenian Genocide and Bystanderism

When approached by Henry Morgenthaue about Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and Robert Lemkin about Nazi Germany and the Jews, the US should have decided and understood that sometimes personal ties need to be broken in order for the safety of others. In the Samantha Power book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, it is repeatedly mentioned how when issues of these two genocides and mass executions were brought to Washington, they were brushed off for the sake of remaining neutral; “But because Americans were not endangered by the Turkish horrors and because American neutrality in World War 1 remained fixed, Washington did not act on Morgenthaue’s recommendations…” and “Roosevelt said he recognized the danger to groups but saw difficulties adopting such a law at the present. He assured Lemkin that the United States would issue a warning to the Nazis and urged patience.” In both of the quotes above, Power demonstrated to readers that individual actions were taken, but when they were brought to the US government, they were immediately dismissed for the sake of America’s relationships. This goes into the further issue of being able to ignore something for one’s own well being. In years and years of history, it is repeatedly seen that ignorance is put into play so a country can succeed better, both economically wise and relationship wise. Roosevelt was able to ignore the atrocities of the Nazis for the sake of US neutrality the same way Wilson was able to ignore what was happening in Armenia for the sake of relationships with the Ottoman Empire.

The US is a strong World Power, and one that has a lot of influence, which is one of the reasons why Lemkin made his 14,000 mile journey to the states, and having to leave his family behind in Nazi Germany. For them to not use their power, as well as other worldly nations, in times of atrocity throughout the world is pure selfishness. The US should have immediately sought out to help the Armenians, and put away their desires of maintaining relationships, especially their desires of maintaining relationships that are comfortable with performing a genocide.

Its not easy comparing two genocides, but it is easy to say that even though both of these genocides were ignored on a governmental level, the Armenian one caught a lot more traction. This could have been for a few different reasons, lack of information or people being able to tell their stories, the cover-up performed by King Leopold and his government, or many other different reasons, but it would be naive to say that race wasn’t a main one. Although both of these genocides were ethnically charged, the Armenians were white, whereas the Namibians were not.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 24

The Armenian genocide and bystanderism

There is incontrovertible that the US and our allies acted as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. The knowledge the US had of a potential genocide in the Ottoman empire extended even before the leaders of the Young Turks began their deportations of Armenians, “The outside world had known that the Armenians were at a grave risk well before Talaat and the Young Turk leadership ordered their deportation.” And when Turkey entered WWI, Talaat, one of the leaders of the Young Turks made it clear they would be targeting Christians. Britain and France widely publicized the atrocities, as well as the United States as we saw in class in the numerous New York Times articles. This was clearly something Allied civilians and government officials knew an abundance about. The United States knew that if they acknowledged that an entire race of people was purposefully being exterminated it would reflect badly on them not to intervene and at the time they wanted to remain neutral in the war. It allowed them to sustain their moral high ground despite their inaction allowing them to turn a blind eye to the death of over a million people, “It was better not to draw attention to the atrocities, lest US public opinion get stirred up and begin demanding US involvement.” Woodrow Wilson himself stated that, “.... there seems to be a systematic plan to crush the Armenian race.” While lying to their people the US made a political choice with no concern for Armenian lives, deciding that since this “didn’t affect Americans” there was no reason to get involved and become a part of the war. Of course ignoring genocide would end up doing nothing for them as they became involved in the war either way. The United States and its Allies chose to listen to the lies and propaganda that Turkey and its allies were spreading despite what primary sources and their own people were telling them.

A committee on the Armenian genocide was formed and raised $100,000. However the committee did not encourage military intervention, condemning the atrocity but opposing war. One could argue that their existence was futile and was just another way that Americans declared their moral superiority while still being complicit to genocide. They even earned the scorn of Theodore Roosevelt who declared they were willing to have, “peace at any price,” and that he didn’t understand how people could advise neutrality, “between despairing and hunted people, people whose little children are murdered and their women raped, and the victorious and evil wrongdoers.” The government even used relief campaigns, from the committee Roosevelt criticized, as an excuse not to declare war on Turkey.

“ I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion but merely as a human being” -Henry Morgenthau. Henry Morgenthau Sr, a German born and Jewish American ambassador to the Ottoman empire begged the US government to intervene and even brought his concerns straight to the Turkish government. He received visits from desperate Armenians and trusted missionaries that explained to him exactly what was happening. Morgnethau could only come to one conclusions, the Ottoman government was committing race murder (the term genocide was not being used a this point). He stated that, “These measures are not in response to popular of fanatical demand but are purely arbitrary and directed from Constantinople in the name of military necessity, often in districts where no military operations are likely to take place.” Understanding that the Armenians had no means to defend themselves against Turkey’s military attacks and that this was not a two sided issue was essential to defining what was happening to them as “race murder.”

The government responded to Morgenthau’s pleas by telling him to seek aid from private sources, since the US government wasn’t responsible for Armenian lives. He was successful in collecting some aid from Christian religious groups and raised $1 million to transport Armenian refugees to the US. Initially Turkey accepted his proposal, but would end up blocking their exit. Further proof that their goal was extermination and not just deportation of the Armenian people. While Morgenthau saw that proof for exactly what it was, US Secretary Lansing saw it as something unfortunate or understandable, unwilling to believe the Turkish government would commit such an act without it being necessary. Morgenthau was not the only ambassador witness to the Armenian genocide, the British ambassador also pleaded with the US to help stating that, “ some crimes which, even now in the convulsion of a great war, the public opinion of the word will not tolerate.” History tells us that both Morgenthau and the British ambassador failed to enlist the US government to help the Armenian people. Morgenthau left the Ottoman Empire in 1916, he could not bear the fact that he had failed to stop the genocide, and earned a reputation among his colleagues for being a loose cannon because of his efforts. While he served as ambassador,over 1 million people were killed. It could be argued that the British ambassdor was incorrect since the genocide was widely publicized and even after the war the world didn’t seem to be much interested in justice for the Armenians. When the US entered the conflict in April 1917, it refused to declare war or break relations with the Ottoman Empire, even more disturbing it was the Ottomans that broke off the relationship with the US, not the other way around. It seemed as though the unrelenting effort by Morgenthau came to no avail, as the US government went beyond just being a bystander, but participated in a relationship with the perpetrators of genocide. As Powers stated, “The United States would offer humanitarian aid to the survivors of “race murder” but would leave those committing it alone.”

The US and its allies’ actions as bystanders would not just have detrimental effects on the Armenians, but would also lead to a pattern, repeating history over and over again, “States would forever be stuck dealing with the consequences of genocide, unable to see of unwilling to act ahead of time to prevent it” (Powers). In response to Morgenthau’s confrontation, Talaat said, “We treat the Americans all right, too, I don’t see why you should complain,” which was the same ideology the US government adapted when considering whether or not to respond to the Armeninan genocide. The Turks treated the Americans “all right” so there was no reason to get involved. The Young Turks cultivated a propaganda campaign that the US wasn’t willing to look beyond, claiming their actions were in response to Armenian revolts and that, “The Armenians have only themselves to blame.” Within its nation the Young Turks were able to create a culture of collective guilt, “ Those who were innocent today might be guilty tomorrow.” Although this was supposed to apply only to Turks that would become complicit in the genocide I believe it also applies to the US as complete ignorance of the genocide may have allowed them to be innocent, but their complete knowledge of it made them guilty.

Raphael Lemkin was a man who admired the actions of Morgenthau. He was a Polish and Jewish man that would dedicate his life to the condemnation of genocide and making the world aware of it. Following the Armenian genocide Lemkin was appalled that state sovereignty would shield the men that committed genocide agains the Armenians and he understood that, “states would rarely pursue justice out of a commitment to justice alone.” Lemkin knew that what happened to the Armenian people would not be a one time occurrence if the world did nothing. He wanted the world states to unite in a campaign to ban genocide, and prepared a law that would do so. When his law was presented to the League of Nations, they were skeptical of his references to Hitler and Jewish families that had already begun to flee Germany. The president of the supreme court of Germany left while his proposal was being read out of protest. The League of Nations wasn’t stupid, they knew what the significance would be if they rejected his proposal, history would look down on them. So they tables it, since they didn’t want to admit they would stand by and allow innocent people to die exactly as all the nations that made up the League had done during the Armenian genocide.

We know now that Lemkin was right, and in the cruelest form of irony it was his people that were target by Nazi Germany. He had to watch as everything he predicted came true, and once again the world did nothing. He tried every method possible to get the world’s attention, he traveled 14,000 miles to the United States to try and tell people what was happening in Germany. He told the US government that Hitler was planning on wiping out Jewish people but was met with people who were indifferent or who didn’t believe him. When he was brought into the US War department as an international law expert he was met with people that were, “masters in switching the discussion in their direction,” meaning they too were not listening. When Lemkin met with the Vice President, he got no reaction, next he tired Franklin D. Roosevelt. The president said it would be too difficult to pass a law banning genocide, urging him to be patient. Of course Lemkin was furious as anyone would be that was forced to watch their people be slaughtered as the world did nothing, “But when the rope is already around the neck of the victim and strangulation is imminent, isn’t the word ‘patience’ an insult to reason and nature?” He believed a double murder was being comitted, one by the Nazis and the others by the Allies that knew but did nothing. It seemed as though the world had learned nothing from what had happened to the Armenians or simply still didn’t care, as once again the US refused to get involved. Their purposeful ignorance would lead to genocide at a devastating scale: the Holocaust.

What the US needs is more people like Lemkin and Morgenthau who stopped at nothing to try and prevent genocide. Especially during a time of war the US already knew exactly what it needed to do, “ … unless Turkey is beaten to its knees very speedily there will soon be no more Christians in the Ottoman Empire” (statement by Red Cross officials). During both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust the US military already had a presence in Europe or was at least supplying weapons to their allies. Now that we’ve done extensive knowledge on WWI during class, we have come closer to understanding the devastating consequences of it, but for nations already at war helping stop genocide would have brought the death count down by millions. For people that will take, “peace at any price,” The US and international organizations should at least be involved in making sure the victims of genocide recieve justice as the British government attempted to do following the Armenian genocide. Without any support from its allies once the Turkish government took British citizens captive, the British government was stuck and was forced to give up the prisoners they held that were perpetrators of the genocide. This also allowed the Turkish government to take the first step in erasing their history and becoming a nation that would never admit what their government and their people had done. The US government claimed that they could only judge violations against American citizens on American property, which of course is ridiculous coming from a nation that had committed genocide itself, as well as committed atrocities abroad. From now on that needs to change or history will continue as it always has, as it did following WWI and WWII. The UN needs to become a more active governing body that intervenes when genocide is taking place no matter what, and the US needs to stop being a country of self interest since it is frankly hypocritical since it doesn’t care about its own people that its targeted. I’m not going to pretend like I know how to stop a genocide or know exactly how the US should intervene, but I’m sure there are plenty of people involved in the US government and international government that would at least be able to get a foot in the door and who have the knowledge to do so. We can’t let people just sit around with that knowledge as is what happened during the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.

Even before the Armenian genocide, was the genocide against the Herero and Nama people of present-day Namibia, another genocide the US failed to get involved in. To my knowledge the actions of the US government during the Armenian genocide and the Herero and Nama genocide were similar in the sense that they did nothing. However the US would have a greater interest in not getting involved in South West Africa for two main reasons: one would be the US was an imperialist nation itself and the other would be the belief that Africans were racially inferior. The US had just recently abolished enslavement and wouldn’t criticize a white nation for attempting to “civilize” African people no matter the cost. While there may have been useless empathy for the Armenian people, who were Christians, I doubt there was even that for the Herero and Nama people who were just a part of the price of imperialism. Their deaths would benefit Germany’s economy, which likely allowed more people to turn a blind eye. I suspect that there was also more widespread media coverage for the Armenian genocide and the world was mostly unaware of what was happening in South West Germany, nor am I sure that people would care. It is important to say again that the US did nothing in either case, despite one being more publicized than the other. This history of doing nothing would continue past both world wars as during the Cambodian Genocide and the Rwandan Genocide. Even after so many genocides people refuse to accept that they can take place, Powers stated well that, “The prospect of atrocity seemed to remote.” Even if people acknowledge its existence it can be difficult to make them care beyond a certain point, Hitler himself said when planning the Holocaust, “Who still speaks of the Armenians?”

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