Interview with Norman Naimark

December 31, 2003

By Khatchig Mouradian

31st of December 2003

A senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Norman M. Naimark is also
the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor of East European Studies
and chairman of the Department of History at Stanford University. He
is an expert in modern East European and Russian history, Poland
since 1863, and the history of the German Democratic Republic since
World War II. His current research focuses on the Soviet occupation
of Eastern Europe after World War II and ethnic cleansing in the
twentieth century.

His book “Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth Century
Europe”, published in 2001, studies “cases from twentieth-century
European history that help illuminate the process of ethnic cleansing,
its causes and effects”. Aztag Daily contacted professor Naimark
requesting an interview and he gladly agreed to answer our questions
about genocide and ethnic cleansing in general, and the Armenian
genocide in particular.

AZTAG - Does one find any distinctive features in ethnic cleansing in
Europe in the 20th century when one compares it to ethnic cleansing
and genocide on other continents? Does the fact that Europe is the
"epicenter" of human rights and high levels of culture make such
calamities all the more shocking?

Norman Naimark - I think one has to consider Europe -- broadly
speaking, including Russia and the Turkey/Ottoman Empire -- the home
of ethnic cleansing. If one thinks of episodes of ethnic cleansing and
genocide outside the European continent, like the partition violence
in India in 1946-47, the Rwandan genocide, or the Cambodian genocide,
one could argue that the preconditions for these horrible events were
"exported" in some senses from Europe.

That Europe in the 20th Century was home to ethnic cleansing and
genocide is indeed more shocking, I think, because of the high
levels of culture and society. What could be more disorienting than
the Holocaust, for example, which saw one of the most civilized and
developed countries in Europe -- home of Goethe, Schiller, Weber,
Einstein, and Benjamin – turn on the Jews in such a vehement and
murderous fashion?
AZTAG - In "Fires of Hatred" you underline the difficulties of
differentiating ethnic cleansing from genocide, especially because
ethnic cleansing more often than not turns violent. What is the
importance of differentiating between violent incidents of ethnic
cleansing and Genocide?

Norman Naimark - I think intentionality is important in understand the
phenomenon of mass killing. In Bosnia, for example, or in postwar East
Central Europe, the intention of the perpetrators was to drive the
"enemy" (Bosnian Muslims and Germans) out of a concrete stretch of
territory, thus ethnic cleansing. This is not genocide; they didn't
care how they left, just as long as they left, using whatever violence
they thought was necessary to accomplish it. In the cases of genocide,
like that of the Jews or Armenians, the intent of the perpetrator is
murder, genocide. Both ethnic cleansing and genocide are crimes against
humanity. Genocide, I believe (as does international law), constitutes,
however, a higher level of criminality and it much harder to prove.
AZTAG - Is there any legal framework based on which people could be
held accountable for "ethnic cleansing" today?

Norman Naimark - The International Tribunal for Yugoslavia has included
ethnic cleansing among its listed crimes against humanity. Again,
it is an important crime, but not of the order of genocide. There
seems to be no special attempt to place ethnic cleansing in a separate
category. Instead it is joined with ideas of "forced deportation."
AZTAG - What about the moral accountability of bystanders?

Norman Naimark - I am not a moral philosopher and am unwilling to
judge the culpability of bystanders in this connection. Clearly,
they share some responsibility for what is going on. But I have been
much more concerned with demonstrating, historically, that ethnic
cleansing and genocide are the products of government planning and
the nationalist political elites that control those governments.
AZTAG - Do you think September 11th and the war on terror will change
the way the West responds to genocidal acts?

Norman Naimark - Yes, I believe the trajectory of the international
system has shifted dramatically from one that seemed increasingly
willing to deal with acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide, for
example in Kosovo, to one that is mesmerized by the "war against
terrorism." It is unclear where the "system" and its guiding star
at the moment, the U.S., will go from here. But I think it less
likely (take a look at Liberia, for example), that the U.S. and U.N.
will intervene in genocidal situations than in 1990.
AZTAG - How did your become interested about the Armenian genocide
and in what ways did your research on the Armenian genocide unfold?

Norman Naimark - I had heard about the Armenian genocide from Armenian
friends and found myself very confused by the contradictory nature
of Armenian claims on the one hand and Turkish protestations on the
other. The scholarly literature on the genocide is growing -- people
like Vahakn Dadrian, Richard Hovanissian, Taner Aksam, and Ronald
G. Suny have made important contributions -- but it is not nearly
as solid and developed as that on the Holocaust. As I consequence,
I wanted to study the documents myself, as a way to understand what
happened for myself. The older I get as an historian, the more I want
to see the documents myself in order to judge controversial problems.
AZTAG - Also in "Fires of Hatred" you say that "the concept of
Genocide does not fit the Armenian case perfectly", citing the fact
that Armenians in Constantinople and Smyrnia were left intact due to
the presence of foreign observers in the city and that some Armenians
were converted to Islam, and some Turkish officials ignored the order
etc. Some of these are, fortunately for Armenians, some "gaps" in
the plan to annihilate a whole race; do these gaps make a genocidal
act less genocidal, or less "perfect"?

Norman Naimark - What I tried to say in the book is that, first
of all, we are short of the kinds of documentation we have for the
Holocaust. Because intentionality is so critical for the determination
of genocide, it would be an easier case if we had more internal
Turkish documents that would demonstrate the intention of murdering the
Armenians. Also, genocide seeks to destroy all of a nation. Armenians,
as you know, could sometimes convert, escape to the mountains, stay in
certain locations, survive as Protestants or Catholics, etc. I don't
think there is a perfect or imperfect genocide. But conceptually,
the Armenian case does not fit neatly into our idea of genocide. I
believe it was genocide, as you know from my book. But it is not the
same kind of case as that of Hitler and the Jews.
AZTAG - In the book, you do not hesitate to use the "G" word when
you speak about the Armenian massacres and deportations. What were
the "pieces of information" that led you to conclude that this was,
in fact, Genocide?

Norman Naimark - The "G" word is important and I do believe it fits
the Armenian case. What convinced me more than anything was reading
the documentation of the various consuls and doctors and observers who
witnessed what was going on around them and reported it to Ambassador
Morgenthau back in Constantinople or to their respective governments
or bosses. Thus, there is an accumulation of first-hand eyewitness
evidence about what was being done to the Armenians that -- combined
with some other documents, the post-WW I trials of the Young Turks,
some remarks by the Young Turk triumvirate itself, and a few others --
convinced me this was intentional murder of a nation, thus genocide.
AZTAG - Do you consider the Armenian Genocide a template for other
genocides that followed?

Norman Naimark - I think the Armenian genocide was not so much a
template for genocide as an historical precursor of other genocides,
especially the murder of the Jews. We know Hitler and his circle knew
about the Armenian genocide. There is some question whether he actually
made the statement "And who remembers the Armenians now." Still,
the example of mass murder and the inability and unwillingness of the
"international community" to do anything about it -- which was clear
in the Armenian case -- certainly had some kind of influence on the
Nazi sense that one could do these sorts of things with impunity.
AZTAG - The Armenian Genocide is denied by Turkish governments, and
it is not recognized by a number of other countries, including the
USA. Naturally, without recognition and some form of reparation the
wounds would not heal. In your opinion, how can this issue be resolved?

Norman Naimark - You are right, there is only one way for healing
to take place, and that is for the Turkish government not only
to recognize what was done to Armenians, but to give historians
unrestricted opportunity to use Ottoman archives. I have participated
in conferences where, in a very preliminary way, Turkish historians
(usually from outside Turkey, but not only), and Armenian historians,
have discussed the genocide from their own perspectives. There IS
progress on this score. But there is much more work to be done,
including the building of a museum in Washington commemorating and
documenting the genocide. Healing will come, but it will take time
and it will take honesty. I hope soon the Turkish government will
come to this realization, as well.

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