How do you organise a successful genocide – in Turkish Armenia a century ago, in Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1940s, or in the Middle East today? A remarkable investigation by a young Harvard scholar – focusing on the slaughter of Armenians in a single Turkish Ottoman city 103 years ago – suggests the answer is simple: a genocidal government must have the local support of every branch of respectable society: tax officials, judges, magistrates, junior police officers, clergymen, lawyers, bankers and, most painfully, the neighbours of the victims.
Umit Kurt’s detailed paper on the slaughter of the Armenians of Antep in southern Turkey in 1915, which appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Genocide Research, concentrates on the dispossession, rape and murder of just 20,000 of the one and a half million Armenian Christians slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks in the first holocaust of the 20th century. It not only details the series of carefully prepared deportations from Antep and the pathetic hopes of those who were temporarily spared – a story tragically familiar to so many stories of the Jewish ghettoes of Eastern Europe – but lists the property and possessions which the city authorities and peasants sought to lo ot from those they sent to their deaths.
The local perpetrators thus seized farms, pistachio groves, orchards, vineyards, coffee houses, shops, watermills, church property, schools and a library. Officially this was called “expropriation” or “confiscation”, but as Umit Kurt points out, “huge numbers of people were bound together in a circle of profit that was at the same time a circle of complicity”. The author, born in modern-day Gaziantep in Turkey – the original Antep – is of Kurdish-Arab origin, and his spare, dry prose makes his 21-page thesis all the more frightening.