The murder of extended families, the targeting of community leaders, the critical role of eyewitnesses--each of these factors surfaces in Haigas Bonapart’s interview. These tactics are all too familiar to those of us who study the crime of genocide and the strategies employed by its perpetrators. By destroying communal ties and eliminating those individuals who might rally a group in self-defense, civilians under systematic assault are made much more vulnerable to isolation and mass violence.
Mr. Bonapart also underscores the power of a single voice when he describes a pharmacist from his community. This man managed to survive a massacre and bring both witness and warning to other Armenians who had been told that their fate would be deportation, not death. Survival is in itself a form of resistance. It is through the memories of survivors and their willingness to share stories of their trauma that the historical record is given detail, credibility, and humanity.
The origins of the term “genocide” rest, in part, in the events of 1915-16 in Anatolia. Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin highlighted early exposure to the history of Ottoman attacks against Armenians, anti-Semitic pogroms, and other cases of targeted violence as key to his beliefs about the need for the protection of groups under international law. Inspired by the murder of his own family during the Holocaust, Lemkin tirelessly championed this legal concept until it was codified in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.
Author: Edna Friedberg, Ph.D., Historian, Levine Institute for Holocaust Education United States Holocaust Memorial Museum