A Rebuttal to Theriault’s Open Letter regarding Genocide Watch

Editor’s Note: The Armenian Weekly received the following op-ed from Dr. Gregory Stanton regarding Dr. Henry Theriault’s open letter to the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) published on November 4. Since Dr. Stanton addresses portions of the letter that have already been published online and in print, we are only including his rebuttal comments here. 

Without the required vetting by the IAGS listserv moderator, Henry Theriault misused his position as IAGS president to directly post on the IAGS listserv an attack on Genocide Watch, on our Ten Stages of Genocide model, and ad hominem on its founding president.

Genocide Watch does not have the time to write an article to refute all of Theriault’s baseless allegations about Genocide Watch, our country report on Armenia, or the Ten Stages of Genocide model we have used successfully to predict genocides for over 20 years. Instead Genocide Watch offers the following comments on Theriault’s letter and the errors in it.

The Genocide Watch country report on Armenia, released on October 31, makes no assertion that Armenians are about to commit genocide against Azeris. Genocide Watch did not say that Armenians are about to commit genocide against Azeris and does not believe this. Genocide Watch challenges Henry Theriault to find any sentence in our Armenia country report that asserts that ​”​Armenians are about to commit genocide against Azeris.​”​ 

Apparently Theriault is unfamiliar with the difference between our genocide warnings about specific current threats and our country reports which include the historical context of human rights situations in the country analyzed.

The statement: “most striking feature of the second ‘warning’ is that it closely follows the official manipulated Azerbaijani narrative of history with Armenians” is also false. Genocide Watch rejects the propaganda from Azerbaijan that Nagorno-Karabakh is still part of Azerbaijan.

Genocide Watch did not accept any Azeri propaganda, and we also included the historical context in both our genocide alert on Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh and in our country report on Armenia. In fact, the historical context in our Armenia country report which Theriault denies is the expulsion of Azeris from Armenia and Artsakh. That is a historical fact. Genocide Watch didn’t accept any Azeri propaganda to determine it. Genocide Watch would gladly compare Genocide Watch’s website with any other website on genocide in the world, including the website of the IAGS, initiated by the Genocide Watch founding president in 2007.

Contrary to assertions in the letter, Genocide Watch shares and vets its warnings quite carefully with members of our distinguished board of advisers, with specialists on the countries we monitor and with other member organizations of the Alliance against Genocide. Additionally, the country report on Armenia doesn’t “parrot” propaganda from Azerbaijan or from any other source.

Theriault states, “a ‘warning’ from ‘Genocide Watch’ based on an unscientific process is meaningless. The facts of the risk of genocide by Azerbaijan and Turkey are rather clear; a ‘warning’ from ‘Genocide Watch’ adds no weight or legitimacy to those facts, but simply summarizes a body of evidence that is already clear and stands on its own.” Actually, many policy makers take our warnings seriously. Just recently, the British Parliament specifically noted our Genocide Emergency Alert on Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh.

Genocide Watch hereby challenges Theriault to send the chapter he mentions critiquing the “10 Stages Approach” to Genocide Watch before it is published so Genocide Watch can write a rejoinder to be included in Jim Cox’s forthcoming volume.

In his letter, Theriault misrepresents the Ten Stages model. The stages are processes. They are not linear or teleological or consistent. Many stages occur simultaneously. The reason the model is useful is that it identifies processes that may lead to genocide, and it shows that there is a logic to the processes because they reinforce each other. 

We do not claim that these are the only processes (stages) that contribute to genocide. Indeed, in 2012, Genocide Watch added two stages to its Eight Stage model. Genocide Watch does not believe that the Ten Stages of Genocide were handed down on a stone tablet on Mount Sinai.

​Theriault has never discussed the Ten Stage model with us or with anyone else from Genocide Watch before he presumes to “critique” it. Elisa Forgey, for one, could explain the model to Theriault, or the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, which uses the Ten Stage model as the structure for comparing genocides in its permanent exhibit. Genocide Watch also uses other models such as Barbara Harff’s and the Minority Rights Group’s. 

The Ten Stage model says in its opening paragraph that it is not a linear model. Theriault portrays it as a linear model that can only apply to past genocides.

In fact, it is merely a logical model of ten of the processes that may result in genocide. The model has proven useful in comparing genocides for many scholars and teachers, and it is one of the most powerful models yet discovered for noting processes that have been proven to contribute to genocide.

Contrary to comments in Theriault’s letter, the model is most useful for noting events in a country or situation that are danger signs of possible genocide. The model is oriented toward the future, not the past. No one claims that the model is causal. And it certainly isn’t magical.

Theriault reveals his mistaken view that the Ten Stages model is linear and must occur in order and totally misses the purpose of the model, which is to look forward, and to indicate warning signs of processes that contribute to genocide.

Stating that the “‘10 stages’ approach is completely unscientific,” Theriault here demonstrates his inadequate view of the scientific method. He echoes political scientists who think the model is “unscientific” because it is not based on statistical analysis. In fact, it is as scientific as models of the processes of photosynthesis or of the double helix, which are also not based on statistical analysis. The Ten Stages of Genocide is a social scientific model. The genocidal processes are structured systems of social and cultural transformations. Theriault expresses the tautological reasoning of an academic philosopher, rather than the inferential reasoning used by social scientists, lawyers, and other students of human social processes who deal with probabilities and factors that increase the likelihood of events, rather than their certainty.

Genocide Watch challenges Theriault to invent a better model for describing the processes that contribute to genocide. Contrary to what is stated in the open letter, in fact, the model is not teleological or linear, as the Ten Stages of Genocide model says in its very first paragraph. In addition, the Ten Stages model does not attempt to account for all of human behavior or force events into the model. Rather the model describes processes that have been shown to contribute to genocides and that may be early warning signs of genocide in the future. It is event based, not reductive.

Additionally, the Ten Stages model never claims that polarization or any other stage is genocide. It simply shows that polarization is a process that may contribute to genocide. Genocide Watch fully understands the difference between the processes that may lead to genocide and the legal concept of genocide itself.

As an international lawyer who has helped to establish several international tribunals to try the accused based on the Genocide Convention, prosecution nearly always comes after a genocide ends. The Ten Stage model is designed to note social events that may contribute to and be predictive of future genocide. No single event “determines that an event is genocide.” Genocide is the culmination of many events. Genocide is defined by the acts and the intentions of the perpetrators.

The Ten Stages are only contributing processes. They are not causal. They cannot result in “false positives” – another philosopher’s red herring. The presence of one or several of the stages does not mean that a genocide is occurring or is inevitable. It only means that public policy makers should take steps to counter the processes, or risk ignoring early warning signs that have led to genocide in the past and that may lead to another genocide in the future.

Again, Genocide Watch did not say that Armenians are likely to commit genocide. Theriault’s straw man for his attack on Genocide Watch and its Ten Stage model is imagined from his misrepresentation of Genocide Watch’s country report on Armenia, and from his misrepresentation of the Ten Stages of Genocide model. 

Genocide Watch knows the difference between genocides and non-genocides. The Ten Stage model has proven to be a powerful predictive model. It has made Genocide Watch nearly always the first human rights NGO to predict and warn about impending genocide.

Genocide Watch is often years ahead of other NGOs in warning of genocide, and in fact famously predicted and warned the president of Rwanda in 1989 that genocide would occur there within five years.

Genocide Watch is also nearly always the first human rights organization to declare that a genocide is underway, as in the case of Darfur in 2004, the Rohingya in 2012 and ISIS in 2014.  Genocide Watch and several other members of the Alliance against Genocide (which was founded and is chaired by Genocide Watch) currently warn that genocide is being committed by Fulani jihadists in Nigeria. Most governments and human rights organizations are still in denial and refuse to call the massacres of Christians in Nigeria genocide.

In contrast, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum are always too late to declare that genocide is underway. They usually avoid even using the word genocide until the genocide is over.

Additionally, the Ten Stage model has proven to be useful not just to “high school students and diplomats without significant knowledge” but to thousands of professors and scholars who write and teach about genocide. It is the most widely used model in publications about processes that contribute to genocide. It is one of the most widely used models in the World Bank, the UN, the US government, and by risk prediction organizations. Genocide Watch is always striving to improve the Ten Stage model. If Theriault can come up with a better model for warning about genocide, we would welcome it and use it.

In his open letter, Theriault ignores what Elihu Richter and others call “the precautionary principle,” which holds that when warning signs of a catastrophe are compelling, preventive action must be taken, and the burden of proof that the catastrophe will not occur shifts to the deniers that it will occur.

This is the basic principle of epidemiology to prevent pandemics. It is also the principle underlying measures to prevent global warming. The same principle should be applied to genocide prevention. Otherwise preventive action will always come too late.

The problems with the Ten Stages model exist solely in the imagination of Henry Theriault. In fact, they don’t exist, and Genocide Watch has never claimed that the model is finished or perfect. 

Theriault explains: “I would like to believe in the good intentions of him and others involved with ‘Genocide Watch.’ But whether their intentions are good or not is beside the point. In the present case, the presumptuousness and unconcern for the real consequences of issuing such laxly conceived and carelessly tested ‘warnings’ will not be paid by them, in their comfortable lives, but by the thousands of 18, 20 and even 50 year-old ‘soldiers’ as well as the civilians on both sides who are likely to die in the coming weeks and months.”

The ad hominem arrogance and hypocrisy of this personal attack by Theriault is not worthy of rebuttal. Not a single person has ever made a penny from working for Genocide Watch. Our goal in life is not to maintain our “comfortable lives.” Genocide Watch has spent a total of $100,000 over 20 years—$5 thousand dollars per year. All of the staff of Genocide Watch are volunteers. 

At Genocide Watch we will continue to do what we can with our imperfect model of the genocidal process to prevent the deaths of the thousands who die every year from genocide, including the people in Armenia and Artsakh.

Theriault has simply not proven the invalidity of Genocide Watch’s Genocide Emergency Alert on Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh, or of Genocide Watch’s country report on Armenia and Artsakh, or of Genocide Watch’s Ten Stages of Genocide. He most certainly hasn’t proven that the IAGS has done more than Genocide Watch to prevent genocide. 

Genocide Watch is respected by many policy makers, scholars, teachers, students, journalists, and concerned citizens around the world. Our work is part of the curriculum in hundreds of schools and universities. Our work reflects the scholarship and research of hundreds of experts around the world. We have not only helped to create international tribunals. We have played an active role in preventing a number of potential genocides: East Timor, Kosovo, Macedonia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia under Meles; it’s a rather long list. And we are still working to prevent genocides in many other countries.

Since Theriault refers to the IAGS, perhaps he should be reminded that following in the footsteps of the IAGS founders—Israel Charny, Helen Fein, Robert Melson and Roger Smith—Genocide Watch and the founding president were instrumental in incorporating the IAGS, getting it non-profit status, making its finances honest and accountable, writing its bylaws, founding its journal, founding the IAGS website and listserv, and organizing the first IAGS Biennial Meeting held in Bosnia—a country that had recently lived through a genocide.

It’s not a bad record for Genocide Watch to have had a hand in organizing the IAGS. Genocide Watch hopes new leadership will return the IAGS to its broad original inclusion of policymakers, journalists, academics, teachers, artists, lawyers and activists.

Dr. Gregory H. Stanton is the founding president of Genocide Watch. He was Professor of Genocide Studies at George Mason University and James Farmer Professor of Human Rights at University of Mary Washington.

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