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Belinda Richardson: Beyond Personal Justice

Armenians and Turks, young and old, all set together in silence in the memory of the victims of 1915 massacre. Many of the speakers noted the historical importance of this event - 100 years later, this was the first significant effort of opening a new platform for discussion inside Turkey.

Armenians and Turks, young and old, all set together in silence near Taksim square in the memory of the victims of 1915 massacre. (Photo: Diana Asatryan)

“Why the Armenian Genocide Matters for Human Rights: Beyond Personal Justice,” a research project by Belinda Richardson, a teaching assistant in religious studies and human rights, looks at the history of the Armenian Genocide and the societal/political stigmas surrounding the issue that, a century later, continue to impact human rights. Belinda was one of the participants of Project2015, where she attended almost a week-long events held in Istanbul, to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

On April 24, 1915, what is symbolically considered the start of the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman Empire rounded up a population of Armenian intelligentsia in Constantinople and began the mass deportation and extermination of its minority Christian Armenian population. This genocide would last more than two years and target not only Armenians, but the Ottoman’s other non-Muslim populations as well, including Ottoman Greeks and Christian Assyrians. The socio-economic strata that arose from embedded cultural and religious assumptions within the Ottoman Empire’s social fabric had become the source of “the legal and cultural attitudes that created the background for genocide” (Akçam, 2006). These feedback loops between societal stigmas and political actions – combined with a lack of accountability for the genocide in the international arena – would set the stage for a century of political impunity that continues to impact human rights today. This impunity would extend not just temporally as the Ottoman Empire became modern day Turkey, but beyond Ottoman borders, allegedly emboldening Adolf Hitler in his plans for the Europe’s Jewish population: “who, after all, [spoke at the time of the Holocaust] of the annihilation of the Armenians?” The political and social climate in Turkey today surrounding the Armenian genocide will be indicative of Turkish attitudes regarding other human rights issues such as violence against women, freedom of the press, treatment of refugees from regional conflict zones, and religious freedom. Yet while the fight for the Turkish government to recognize the Armenian genocide is, for many, a personal and national search for justice, this impunity is also symbolic of the Turkish government’s attitude toward human rights on a larger scale. Recognition of the Armenian genocide has evolved from Turks versus Armenians to a more generic form of conflict: abuse of political power versus civil society in Turkey.

You may access the full research here: WhyItMatters

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