Theriault: 2015 and Beyond

The Armenian Weekly Magazine
April 2015: A Century of Resistance

This paper is an expansion of remarks given by the author at McGill University and the University of Toronto on March 18 and 20, 2015, respectively.

There is an oft-repeated false truism about genocide, that denial is the final stage of genocide. It is so unquestionably accepted that it has even made its way into formal stage-theories of genocide. It is, unfortunately, quite wrong. Denial is not the final stage of genocide, but rather present throughout most of the genocidal process. When they are doing it, perpetrators almost inevitably deny that what they are doing is genocide. For instance, Talaat and his cronies were adamant that their violence against Armenians was not one-sided mass extermination, but instead a response to Armenian rebellion and violent perfidy in Van and elsewhere. They maintained that the deportations were intended to move Armenians to other areas of the empire, not a means of destroying the Armenian population of village after village, town after town.

The sky above the Armenian Cemetery of Diyarbakir (Photo: Scout Tufankjian)
The sky above the Armenian Cemetery of Diyarbakir (Photo: Scout Tufankjian)

We see variations on this theme in case after case. The United States did not hunt down Native American groups, did not kill those under their control or force them onto destructive reservations; no, my country fought the so-called “savages” in a series of “Indian Wars.” (One need only look at the historical record of hyper-violence by the U.S. military and general population, which tortured, raped, killed, and then mutilated Native Americans, to see who the real savages have been.) The Tasmanians were killing livestock and even settlers, while the Herero were in revolt. The Jews had a world conspiracy that was out to get decent Aryans and needed to be stopped by the most brutal means possible. Pro-democracy activists in Indonesia were actually a communist insurgency, while Guatemalan Mayans, who appear to have been hardworking people in dire poverty just trying to survive the assaults on them by their government and country’s wealthy elite, were actually communists determined to destroy the good values of their society and impose a horrible political and social order. The Tutsi were hell-bent on dominating the Hutu, who had no choice but to respond, and the Bosnians Muslims, not Serbs were the aggressors, despite the fact that the latter had by far more military power. Today, the supposed rebellion in the Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile regions of Sudan leave “statesman” Omar al-Bashir no choice but to bomb thousands of civilians with Antonov aircraft.

Denial is not a stage of genocide, but part of the commission of genocide, especially as prosecutions have led sophisticated perpetrators to begin their international tribunal defenses while the blood is still flowing.

Denial is not a stage of genocide, but part of the commission of genocide, especially as prosecutions have led sophisticated perpetrators to begin their international tribunal defenses while the blood is still flowing.

Denial is certainly prevalent after genocide, as the false truism does capture correctly. It is not a final stage, however. Indeed, as long as denial persists, we can be sure that the genocidal process is still operating. Denial accompanies this operation, and furthers its goals of “eliminating the consequences” of the genocide for the perpetrator group, even generations and centuries after the violence and destruction. Denial is not the final stage of genocide; consolidation of the genocide is.1 A genocide is consolidated after the phase of direct destruction—sometimes long after—when the perpetrator group has made final and irrevocable all the various demographic, political, identity, military, cultural, financial, territorial, and other material and symbolic gains achieved through and deriving from the genocide, when the post-genocide state of affairs has become completely, utterly, and irremediably rendered permanent so that, whether the victim group has faded out of existence or still somehow persists, its condition will remain as it is, in the enduring position of victimhood unredeemed and unrepaired. Denial, geopolitically motivated treaties, and other influences all conspire with the passage of time in the process of consolidation. What is striking about consolidation is that, no matter to what extent complex forces can be blamed for the direct phase of a genocide and leave room for repentance by the perpetrator group, consolidation is done with a full understanding of what was done through a genocide and the moral obligation to repair that it has imposed, and in deliberate rejection by the perpetrator group of somehow doing right by the victims.

A genocide deeply ruptures the pre-existing status quo and in particular devastates the victim community. Just because the violence and destruction of a genocide end does not mean that their consequences are mitigated. On the contrary, so long as the impact of a genocide on its victims remains unrepaired, that impact continues devastating them in perpetuity. Despite the wishful thinking of philosophers such as Jeremy Waldron, as Jermaine McCalpin has emphasized,2 time does not heal the wounds of genocide. On the contrary, as generation follows generation, more and more people are injured, demeaned, and assaulted by the original violence. With each day that passes without repair, the scope of the destruction increases. The end limit point of this process is not successful denial, but the point at which denial no longer is necessary because the genocide’s impact has become fully irreparable, as the genocide’s consequences become everlastingly secured in the global social, political, and economic status quo. Denial ends not with the success of denial, but the total and complete consolidation of genocide. Genocides are denied because their effects—both material and in terms of historical memory—are, thankfully, still contested. Consolidation can happen through denial, at the point where denial has erased the genocide completely enough that it will never rate contemporary political and legal consideration, but it can also occur when the genocide is fully known yet considered so far removed from present concerns that its results are generally accepted.

'Still waiting for the fair trial' (Design and photo: Ruben Malayan)
‘Still waiting for the fair trial’ (Design and photo: Ruben Malayan)


This is evident through a few examples. The genocides of the Herero, Australian Aborigines, Native Canadians, and Native Americans are still denied actively, precisely because the victim groups still experience the impacts of the injuries of direct massacre, religious and cultural destruction, internment on reservations, family degradation through boarding schools and other forced transfers of children from their home groups, and more, and so a reparative process could actually address these harms. Denial stops reparations. Denial of the Holocaust continues because the evils of anti-Semitism that it maximized horrifically remain vibrant forces in human society across the globe; the Holocaust persists through its legacy of making Jews, already considered fit targets of oppression and violence, the fit targets of mass extermination. Denials of the Bangladesh, East Timor, Cambodian, and other cases continue because perpetrators and survivors yet live, and the deep harm done to each society remains largely unaddressed. The list of denied genocides goes on.

No one denies the genocides of Melos and Carthage, of the Cathars or by Chengis Khan, because the destruction they imparted into the world has long since been completely and irreparably incorporated into the world order. For these and all too many other genocides, utterly and completely “getting away with it” has been the final stage. How many so-called great societies and states celebrated in the present and past are so because of their complete success in consolidating the genocides they committed?

The false truism reflects an important effect of denial. Years of denial after a genocide actually skew the framework through which that genocide is perceived and understood. Faced with a strong denial campaign, survivors and concerned others, including in the perpetrator group, find themselves in a seemingly endless, disheartening, degrading, and exhausting struggle simply to get the truth recognized by enough people that it will not be erased from the annals of human history. Soon enough, the genocide itself is lost in the struggle against denial: The struggle against denial becomes an end in itself. The defeat of denial under such circumstances comes to be seen as justice for the genocide. With this, defeated or not, denial wins the day, by preventing a victim group from seeing that the defeat of denial does not give it justice, but merely gets it back to the starting point from which a justice process can finally be initiated. For long-past genocides, victim groups and others forget that recognition of the genocide against denial does not repair the harms done by the genocide, but merely addresses the secondary problem of denial. Only by directly and substantially engaging those harms through a comprehensive reparations process can the world do what it can to bring justice to the victim group and all of humanity.3

The recent attention on reparations for the Armenian case represents an important move beyond focus on denial. With this in mind, it is clear that 2015, the 100th anniversary, should not be understood as a culminating point in the post-genocide history of the Ottoman Genocide of Christian Minority Groups. If recognition comes this year, as it could—though I am not holding my breath—it will mean only that finally, after a century, the victim groups and others concerned with human rights can finally start addressing the harms done. But the effects of genocide are not measured in such neat little packages of 10 years, 50 years, or 100 years, which we make special, after all, simply because of the evolutionary accident that has given us 10 fingers to count with. As much as some people, especially those outside of victim communities who need a good story before they are willing to care about a legacy of mass violence, attach significance to such time intervals, the consequences of genocide play out in a complex history of material and social causal chains so that no particular year or date has any great actual meaning. Or, to put it more correctly, every year and, indeed, every day in the long aftermath of a genocide have great importance, until the injuries are addressed in a substantial way that is appropriately transformative for both the victim and perpetrator groups.

Cover of the AGRSG Report on Reparations
Cover of the AGRSG Report on Reparations

Helping to accomplish this shift in focus toward repair has been the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (AGRSG), which in 2007 I formed with renowned international lawyer and legal scholar Alfred de Zayas, former Armenian Ambassador to Canada and treaty expert Ara Papian, and dynamic Jamaican political scientist Jermaine McCalpin. The AGRSG has done a comprehensive study of reparations for the Armenian Genocide. The AGRSG Final Report4 analyzes the harms done and the legal, historical, and ethical justifications for repair, and then proposes an innovative transitional justice process to effect it. The report includes determinations of territorial and other restitution that should be made by Turkey and discussion of the ways in which reparations should be used by the Armenian group as a whole to ensure the future viability of its state and its global identity.

The harms done by the Armenian Genocide are very much present today. They include the dramatic demographic impact on the Armenian population through direct and indirect killing as well as forced assimilation that reduced the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire to less than 40 percent of its pre-genocide number, but also the compounding impact on birthrates and retention of members by rape and other torture; rampant poverty; long-term effects of malnutrition; global dispersion; loss of religious, educational, and other institutions necessary for the cohesion of Armenian communities; and much more. To these harms are added the extensive lost property of Armenians. Not only were virtually all land, businesses, farms, warehouse inventories, food stocks, and other such property taken from Armenians, but the mass expropriation reached down to the most trivial items, from kitchen pots and pans to the clothes on deportees’ backs and shoes on their feet. Turkish activist and writer Temel Demirer has stated of this mass theft that it was with this Armenian property that the national economy of the new 1923 Turkish Republic was founded.5 What is more, since this time, Armenians have lost all that would have been built on this wealth, which compounds daily, with many living out their lives over the past century impoverished because what was theirs was denied. And this mass of material resources has not just disappeared: Wealthy Turkish families, the government, and average people have received the cumulative benefits of all that this wealth has allowed them to build, its daily compounding interest. In fact, scholars such as Uğur Ümit Üngör and Mehmet Polatel have traced expropriated Armenian property right through to contemporary national and regional elite families, some of whose family fortunes were built with the property pilfered from exterminated Armenians.6

The destruction of religious, educational, cultural and artistic, and other aspects of Armenian communal existence, coupled with demographic collapse and global dispersion, have rendered Armenian identity and peoplehood fragile, requiring continual, draining efforts by members of the community just to prevent their erasure. The demographic destruction and individual as well as state territorial expropriations of the 1915-23 period are the most important factor in the verity that today’s Armenian Republic is a small, landlocked country of barely 3 million facing a gigantic, economically and militarily powerful Turkey of 70 million—a hostile Turkey that enjoys tremendous regional power and geopolitical prominence that allows it nearly free reign in its treatment of the Armenian Republic. Even had the genocide occurred but Ataturk’s ultra-nationalist forces not invaded and conquered the bulk of the 1918 Armenian Republic, historian Richard Hovannisian has estimated that the Armenian Republic today would be a much larger and secure state with a population on the order of 20 million.7 What would it mean for such an Armenia to face a territorially and demographically smaller Turkey today? Surely Armenians in the republic and around the world would be infinitely more secure and enjoy a level of community well-being that became a fantasy on April 24, 1915.

Armenians in Turkey have borne a great share of the genocide’s impact. After almost a century of suffering in relative silence, the legacy of oppression and violence is now well known. Reflecting on Native Americans in the United States, Mayans in Guatemala, survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and other such groups, it seems clear that the most difficult situation a victim group or individual can find itself, himself, or herself in—even beyond the terrible situation of all victims—is to remain subject to the perpetrator group or individual. Far beyond the painful, demeaning effects of denial for a group that has escaped, the situation of those still under perpetrator hegemony is to be constantly forced to live within the world of violence and power of the original harm, feeling always on the edge of being pushed back into the violence, with no escape from the terror, nor space simply to mourn what happened. And perpetrator groups and individuals seem never content even with that level of continuing harm to their victims but, as we have seen with Turkey, continue with such things as repression of non-Muslim minority foundations and expropriation of their property8 and the assassination of Hrant Dink.

Reparations for the Armenian Genocide are certainly legally, historically, and morally justified in abstract terms. But, as the Armenian Republic struggles economically and politically, the Armenian Diaspora expends greater and greater energy to be less and less effective in preserving Armenian identity, and Armenians in Turkey continue to live under threat and oppression, reparations are an absolute need if the Armenian Republic, the Armenian Diaspora, and the Turkish-Armenian community have any future at all, and the 1915 genocide is not to succeed by 2065. The current trends make it a real possibility that the state will fail in the next half century, the Armenian-Turkish community will become a perpetually subjugated group with no hope of true participation as full citizens in their state and its society, and Armenian identity will become a residual and decaying aftereffect of genocide, rather than the vibrant, living community anchor it should be.

The full history of the Armenian Genocide is far from written.

Coupled with this analysis of the need for reparations, it is useful to consider some of the standard objections raised against reparations in a case such as the Armenian Genocide. First, another false truism is that time heals all wounds. Nothing could be more wrong, unless by healing we mean that perpetrator groups and the world in general eventually can forget about a past genocide when the victim group finally fades away in the ultimate triumph of genocide. Unless the harms of a genocide are addressed, then they persist and in fact compound over time, with each generation of the victim group grappling with them.

[A]nother false truism is that time heals all wounds. Nothing could be more wrong, unless by healing we mean that perpetrator groups and the world in general eventually can forget about a past genocide when the victim group finally fades away in the ultimate triumph of genocide. Unless the harms of a genocide are addressed, then they persist and in fact compound over time, with each generation of the victim group grappling with them.

If time is running out, it is running out for the perpetrator groups. As Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks join what I will call the “100-plus Club” of groups whose experience of destruction has endured for more than a century, it is Turkey that should regard the sands flowing down in the hourglass with foreboding and disquiet. As time passes, harms become more difficult to repair, and those in the victim communities who have lived and died without justice can never receive it. Already Japan is on the verge of failing utterly to repair in any way at all the harms done to the Comfort Women—actually, many if not most were underage girls—whom its military government subjected to brutal sexual enslavement in the 1931-45 period. These girls and women were interned in hellish stations and raped sometimes 30 times a day, 6 days a week, for months and even years. Many died, but those who survived have for a quarter century demanded an apology and meaningful atonement through material reparations (necessary for such things as their medical bills as they deal with the life-long effects of their horrific captivity, often without children helping them because of the hysterectomies forced on them). Japan has refused and denied, and now many former Comfort Women have passed on. Japan has already lost the opportunity with them, and as a state and society must bear the taint of this terrible human rights abuse as long as it continues to exist. And once the last former Comfort Woman is gone, the taint will be complete. I have termed this kind of impact an “impossible harm.”9

Turkey and other such perpetrators have the benefit that national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups, if they survive attempted annihilation, have identity cohesion over time, and so as long as genocide does not succeed completely, there is always a group that can receive efforts at repair. Of course, Turkey has already irrevocably lost its greatest opportunity to repair the harm to survivors and itself, as there are virtually no direct survivors of the genocide alive today. There is no longer anything to be done about this intentionally lost chance. But much can still be done. Unfortunately, with each passing day the harm grows and there are more and more members of the victim group who have lived and died without repair and who thus represent a growing permanent taint for the perpetrator state and society. Not only have Turkey and states and societies like it so far failed to do right by Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, and other victim groups, respectively, but they are failing their own future generations by imposing on them the stigma of a more and more irreparable genocide.

Second, even setting aside the legal status of Turkey as the Ottoman Empire’s continuing state and Turkish Republican forces’ perpetration of the second phase of the Armenian Genocide from 1919 to 1923, Turks in the Turkish Republic today do bear responsibility for addressing the harms of the genocide. They are not in any way to blame for it,10 even when they deny it (though they are separately culpable for denial). But, as their state and society continue to hold the gains made and to benefit from them, and Armenians continue to suffer from the material, political, and identity losses sustained, today’s Turks have an obligation to repair the damage as much as possible. Of course, nothing approaching full repair is possible: They cannot bring back the dead, nor can they turn back the denial clock to erase all the damage done as the harms to Armenians who have lived and died have compounded for a century. But, as the AGRSG Report lays out, significant symbolic and material reparations are very possible today; they require only the political and ethical will to make them. Making them is not unfair to present-day Turks. This is not a burden forced on them by Armenians, who should just go away quietly. On the contrary, the burden of genocide has been forced on present-day Turks and Armenians by the perpetrators of the genocide, who damned their progeny to the moral taint of genocide for this past century and beyond. However extensive a reparations package is made by Turks today, the burden they assume in giving reparations is the barest tiny fraction of the burden of loss and suffering the genocide still imposes on Armenians. The push for reparations is asking Turks today to shoulder just a small part of the burden borne by Armenians, to share just a part of the unfairness history has imposed. If this is a sacrifice for Turks today, this is appropriate: Such a sacrifice confirms the true rehabilitation of the Turkish state and society, which were formed in part by the many genocide perpetrators in the Turkish Republic’s government and military, and which have retained deep within their political culture the same genocidal attitudes toward past victims as drove genocide in the first place. Reparations are necessary for the rehabilitation of the Turkish state and society, as surely the Kurds and those residual Armenian and other communities in Turkey could attest.

[A]s the AGRSG Report lays out, significant symbolic and material reparations are very possible today; they require only the political and ethical will to make them. Making them is not unfair to present-day Turks. This is not a burden forced on them by Armenians, who should just go away quietly. On the contrary, the burden of genocide has been forced on present-day Turks and Armenians by the perpetrators of the genocide, who damned their progeny to the moral taint of genocide for this past century and beyond.

Even a substantial territorial return to the Armenian Republic, which seems to cause an existential crisis for some Turks, is not an absurdly irrational imposition. How dare, many Turks say or think, Armenians demand Turkish land? But that very thought betrays the problem. This land became Turkish through the genocidal ideology that depopulated it of Armenians. Holding that land against what is right means holding on to that genocidal ideology. That is why land reparations are crucial for Turkey’s rehabilitation away from genocide.

Another objection is that the quest for reparations, particularly territorial, is a hopeless pipedream kept alive by deluded so-called “Armenian nationalists” who refuse to live in reality. Realpolitik is the dominant ethic of international relations, and it leaves no room for moral imperatives toward repair. Armenians are too weak to compel reparations, and should focus on what is actually possible. What is more, international law, however much based on the principle that harms should be repaired, simply does not have the legal and procedural mechanisms to deal with the Armenian and other long-standing cases. As the perpetrator groups have held out for so long, they have in fact made law irrelevant. And even where laws and procedures are available, domestic courts usually want no part of such overarching concerns, and international courts are subject to a range of political forces that bring the matter back to realpolitik again. Wherever victim groups such as Armenians turn, the situation seems hopeless.

How dare, many Turks say or think, Armenians demand Turkish land? But that very thought betrays the problem. This land became Turkish through the genocidal ideology that depopulated it of Armenians. Holding that land against what is right means holding on to that genocidal ideology. That is why land reparations are crucial for Turkey’s rehabilitation away from genocide.

This is just what those who know that their power rests on genocide and oppression want them to think. Again and again victim groups, oppressed groups, are told that there is no hope, that they have no power, that realpolitik trumps morality every time. Why do the powerful say this? Because they know that to hold their power and ill-gotten gains, they must convince their victims to believe it. For, once victim groups believe that nothing can change, nothing will change. We must be thankful that slaves and abolitionists in the United States and around the Western world did not believe that the system of slavery of Africans was inevitable and would not fall. Surely countless slave holders in the U.S. South made this claim in 1855, only to see the end of slavery within the decade. And their descendants said the same thing about segregation, but Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and millions of others refused to believe it and continued pressing, until the world did change. Surely Gandhi was told in 1935 that decolonization was a useless pipe dream, and thankfully he refused to bow to such an oppressive “reality.” Nothing in the world is given, and as much as human history is filled with genocide and oppression, it is filled with the efforts of those who oppose and overcome it. However much we might debate the nature of “justice” as a philosophical context, divergent ethical theories all seem to agree that causing others to suffer is wrong and imposes an obligation to help those caused to suffer. Rather than succumbing to the apparent limits of politics and law, if they do not allow justice (though from ancient times promotion of justice has been their sole validation), then we must transform politics and rewrite the law. Politics and law must conform to genuine justice, not dictate to humanity some stunted, anemic shadow of the just.

The examples of King, Gandhi, and others suggest something else we should consider. I have written before about the importance of group reparations for such peoples as Armenians, over individual reparations, which do not contribute to the rebuilding and reconstitution of the people as a whole.11 But now I would like to push these ideas further. The current reality we live in across the globe is a world order formed through the forces of aggressive war, colonialism, slavery, apartheid, economic exploitation, mass rape and sexism, and, of course, genocide.

It might be said that, because the deep-reaching forces of destructive change have been so dramatic and blatant, and their result so often absences that mean there is nothing to see, the denial process inherent in human political arrangements and societies has led us all the more readily to miss the impact of the past on the present. Benedict Anderson might have highlighted the process by which what became nations in Europe and elsewhere were built through a linguistic and conceptual homogenizing process,12 but as Ernst Renan explained a century before him, this process of nation formation is accomplished through a long period of destruction that can include both the physical elimination of divergent populations and the cultural destruction of competing language, ethnic, and other groups.13 Let us not forget that the Christianization of Armenians in the 4th Century of the Common Era was accomplished through the rampant and now quite regrettable destruction of the religion, culture, and art of the paganism that existed before. To recognize the forces of destructive change that have made the reality we inhabit is not very hard once we know that we are looking for incongruous presences and bright, shining absences. Consider Europe, for instance, with its multitude of cultures; languages; political arrangements; great philosophical, literary, and artistic traditions; and cuisines. Yet, in the midst of our gaze, a nagging twinge at the edge of consciousness and history becomes a full question: Where are the Jews? To answer in Israel or the United States, Canada, or elsewhere begs the question. A conglomerate of groups sharing a religion and sense of identity in areas from Russia to France, this group was a central part of the very fabric of European identity and society for a millennium, but now they are largely gone relative to that prior presence, their great contributions erased through centuries-ago expulsions from England, forced conversions in Spain, pogroms in Russia, and more, and then, of course, the maximal moment of anti-Semitic destruction continent-wide, the Holocaust. The world we have today is the product of this treatment of the Jews.

The absence of European Jewry is inverted in the presence of African Americans in the United States. They are there every day, in the highest echelons of celebrityhood, politics, and business, but also in the great ghettoes that punctuate major and minor U.S. cities, in the U.S. prison system that incarcerates more people than the rest of world combined, and in the anxieties of polite white society. How many thousands of hours of political talk shows and academic and government reports try to sort out why the majority of African Americans are in a place of rampant poverty and violence. Why is such a high percentage of Blacks poor? The answer seems so complex that it is unanswerable. But is it? Perhaps I betray the simple limits of my mind by pointing out what seems obvious, but is not Black poverty the direct result of slavery and Jim Crow segregation and discrimination, or more exactly the fact that the extreme damage done by both has never been repaired? The release of slaves followed generations of legally and violently imposed illiteracy and educational exclusion; of family destruction, torture, rape, and degradation that materially undermined and psychologically traumatized the population; and the loss of 250 years of extorted free labor to build the Colonies and then the United States. While for a brief moment during reconstruction some small repair was made, in the form of the land necessary for former slaves to become working-class citizens, the 40 acres and mule were quickly repossessed by Uncle Sam and the slave owners then compensated for the loss of their property—their property. The vast majority of African Americans were plugged into the already genuinely inhospitable capitalist economy of the United States without capital, training or education, or full recognition as human beings. Is it any wonder they started poor? That they stayed poor? Despite some upward (and downward) mobility in the United States, class is generally constant across generations, for the simple reason of inheritance. Those with money give it to their offspring, who are plugged into the economy with property, while those without it have nothing to offer their children, who end up at the same low level as their parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents. Add to this the powerful exclusions and discriminations of Jim Crow, which kept Blacks from joining the various Caucasian immigrant groups in their upward economic climb and took away whatever they were able to get, to keep them right where they always had been, and Black poverty today is not just explicable, but inevitable.

While setting right each instance of such a historical wrong is a step in the right direction, this approach to reparations is not simply an aggregation of cases by single groups. Reparations is the process of global transformation through which we can finally begin to rework our world away from the structures resulting from genocide and all these other destructive, terrible forces, toward a vision in which all human beings have dignity and enough to eat, in which all people can live free from violence and degradation. “Solidarity” in its true sense is not just recognizing the similarity of experiences and struggles and lining up different groups together in a mutual support network. It is built on recognition that victim groups are together in a single, unified, shared world formed by genocide, slavery, imperialism, and so on, and that, at the deepest level, they face a common force of oppression and destruction that must be addressed as a whole if the local success of one group will not be cynically balanced by a shift in the structure that will mean victimization of other groups. The problem is so big and individual groups’ parts so interwoven that it can only be solved for each group through a coordinated global approach. As each specific group pursues justice against the legacy of mass violence and oppression it has experienced, it must do so in a way that resonates with and promotes every other group in the struggle for justice across the world.

Explained this way, the task ahead surely appears daunting. If the world has taken more than half a millennium to become what it is today, it is a given that such a broad transformation will not happen overnight through some fantasy of revolution. Fortunately, in the past decade, there has emerged a global reparations movement. Jews, Hereros, African Americans, indigenous North and South Americans, Aborigines, South African Blacks, former Comfort Women, Assyrians, Greeks, a host of other groups, and, yes, Armenians are more and more recognizing their common cause and working toward the great goal of a repaired world. However long it will take, if we are committed to a truly just and good world order, we must all actively participate this struggle.




[1] This concept and approach are first introduced in Henry C. Theriault, “Denial of Ongoing Atrocities as a Rationale for Not Attempting to Prevent or Intervene,” in Samuel Totten (ed.), Impediments to the Prevention and Intervention of Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review. “Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review” book series, Vol. 9 (New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Transaction Publishers, 2013). pp. 47-75.

2 Jermaine O. McCalpin, “Reparations and the Politics of Avoidance in America,” The Armenian Review 53:1-4 (2012): 11-32.

3 This line of argument is developed in Henry C. Theriault, “From Unfair to Shared Burden: The Armenian Genocide’s Outstanding Damage and the Complexities of Repair,” The Armenian Review 53:1-4 (2012): 121-166.

4 The full report is available at

5 Temel Demirer, presentation, “The ‘Armenian Issue’: What Is and How It Is to Be Done?” panel, “1915 within Its Pre- and Post-historical Periods: Denial and Confrontation” symposium, Ankara, Turkey, April 25, 2010.

6 Uğur Ümit Üngör and Mehmet Polatel, Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property (London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011).

7 Richard G. Hovannisian, public lecture, Armenian Relief Society Armenian Summer Studies Program,

Amherst College, July 1991.

8 Sait Ҫetinoğlu, “Foundations of Non-Muslim Communities: The Last Object of Confiscation,” International Criminal Law Review 14:2 (2014): 396-406.

9 Henry C. Theriault, “Repairing the Irreparable: ‘Impossible’ Harms and the Complexities of ‘Justice,’” in José Luis Lanata (ed.), Prácticas Genocidas y Violencia Estatal: en Perspectiva Transdiscipinar (San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina: IIDyPCa-CONICET-UNRN, 2014), pp. 182-215.

[1]0 This distinction is informed by George Sher’s treatment of the difference between “blame” and “responsibility” in “Blame for Traits,” plenary address, 28th Conference on Value Inquiry, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, USA, April 14, 2000.

[1]1 Henry C. Theriault, “Reparations for Genocide: Group Harm and the Limits of Liberal Individualism,” International Criminal Law Review 14:2 (2014): 441-469.

[1]2 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London, UK: Verso-New Left Books, 1991).

[1]3 Ernest Renan, “What Is a Nation?”, Martin Thom (trans.), in Homi K. Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration (New York, NY, USA: Routledge, 1990), pp. 8-22.

Henry Theriault

Henry Theriault

Henry C. Theriault, Ph.D. is currently associate vice president for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University in the US, after teaching in its philosophy department from 1998 to 2017. From 1999 to 2007, he coordinated the University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights. Theriault’s research focuses on genocide denial, genocide prevention, post-genocide victim-perpetrator relations, reparations and mass violence against women and girls. He has lectured and appeared on panels around the world. Since 2007, he has chaired the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group and is lead author of its March 2015 final report, Resolution with Justice. He has published numerous journal articles and chapters, and his work has appeared in English, Spanish, Armenian, Turkish, Russian, French and Polish. With Samuel Totten, he co-authored The United Nations Genocide Convention: An Introduction (University of Toronto Press, 2019). Theriault served two terms as president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), 2017-2019 and 2019-2021. He is founding co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Genocide Studies International. From 2007 to 2012 he served as co-editor of the International Association of Genocide Scholars’ peer-reviewed Genocide Studies and Prevention.


  1. Outstanding, intelligent and compassionate essay. Fills in many blanks in the dialogue about genocide, denial, and reparations. Addresses past, present and future in a productive manner.

  2. A fine essay. But there is a need for the concept of imperialism to find a place. Empires did not just dispense (if at all) Western and civilized values; they imposed terror regimes (the Russian empire in Finland in the 1890s), and set local populations against one another so as to prolong their power. They manufactured famines (such as Britain did in Bengal). And it was the policy of the British Empire which, by supporting Ottoman Turkey almost incessantly, laid the foundations for the Armenian Genocide.

    • {“… the British Empire which, by supporting Ottoman Turkey almost incessantly, laid the foundations for the Armenian Genocide.

      During the Crimean war in mid 1800s, Russian Empire had completely destroyed the Ottoman Turkish forces.
      Had British and French not intervened on behalf of Turks and saved the decrepit Sultanate, it would have been dismembered there and then, rendered incapable of aggression, and there would be no Armenian Genocide.

      Similarly with the Gallipoli campaign.
      England and France were of course allies with Russia in WW1.
      The agreement was that after Russia’s allies took the Dardanelles, it would be turned over to their ally, Russia.

      Sometime during the events, England and France decided that they didn’t really want to give Dardanelles to Russia, so subsequently engaged in a phony war* with the Turks just for show.
      (not sure if Turks were in on it though).
      The withdrawal of Brits and ANZACs from Gallipoli gave the green light to Turks to launch the Armenian Genocide.

      Yes, indeed, the British Empire (…and the French), perhaps inadvertently, did lay the foundations for the Armenian Genocide.
      Even today, UK and US are the only two major Western countries that fully and proactively support Turkey in their worldwide denial campaign of the Armenian Genocide.

      * in 1918, British, French, and Italian forces occupied Constantinople without firing a shot.

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