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Terminology of the Armenian Genocide

The terminology of the Armenian Genocide is different in English, Turkish, and Armenian languages and has led to political controversies around the issue of Armenian Genocide denial and Armenian Genocide recognition. Although the majority of historians writing in English use the word "genocide", other terms exist.

Terminology of the Armenian Genocide Intro articles: 4


Yeghern and Medz Yeghern

Medz Yeghern (Մեծ եղեռն, lit.'Great Evil Crime') is an Armenian term for genocide, especially the Armenian Genocide. Usage of the term has been the subject of political controversy because it is perceived as more ambiguous than the word genocide.[1][2][3] The term Հայոց ցեղասպանություն (Hayots tseghaspanutyun), literally “Armenian Genocide,” is used in official contexts, for example, the Հայոց ցեղասպանության թանգարան (Armenian Genocide Museum) in Armenia.

Overview of "Armenian language" article


On 19 December 1915, The Washington Herald condemned "The Massacre of a Nation"

Contemporary observers used unambiguous terminology to describe the genocide, including "the murder of a nation", "race extermination" and so forth.[4][5]

Crime against humanity

In their declaration of May 1915, the Entente powers called the ongoing deportation of Armenian people a "crime against humanity". Crimes against humanity later became a category in international law following the Nuremberg trials.[6][7]


The English word genocide was coined by the Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944. Lemkin's interest in war crimes stemmed to the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian for the assassination of Talat Pasha; he recognized the fate of the Armenians as one of the main cases of genocide in the twentieth century.[8][9] Although most international law scholars agree that the 1948 Genocide Convention, which established the prohibition of genocide in international criminal law, is not retroactive,[10][11] the events of the Armenian Genocide otherwise meet the legal definition of genocide.[12][13] David Gutman states that "few if any scholars, however, reject the use of 'genocide'" for the Armenian case soley because they consider it anachronistic.[14] However, it is possible to write about the Armenian Genocide without downplaying or denying it, using a variety of terms other than genocide.[5]

As well as having a legal meaning, the word genocide also "contains an inherent value judgment, one that privileges the morality of the victims over the perpetrators".[15]

Ethnic cleansing

The term ethnic cleansing, which was invented during the 1990s Yugoslav Wars, is often used alongside or instead of genocide in academic works. Some Turkish historians are willing to call the Armenian Genocide ethnic cleansing or a crime against humanity but hesitate at genocide.[16]

Terminology of the Armenian Genocide English articles: 9


Völkermord, the German word for genocide, predates the English word and was used by German contemporaries to describe the genocide.[4]


The Turkish government uses expressions such as "so-called Armenian genocide" (Turkish: sözde Ermeni soykırımı), "Armenian Question" (Turkish: Ermeni sorunu), often characterizing the charge of genocide as "Armenian allegations"[17] or "Armenian lies".[18] Turkish historian Doğan Gürpınar writes that sözde soykırım is "the peculiar idiom to reluctantly refer to 1915 but outright reject it", invented in the early 1980s to further Armenian Genocide denial.[19] However, in 2006, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered government officials to say "the events of 1915" instead of "so-called Armenian genocide".[20] Erdoğan, as well as some Turkish intellectuals, have distinguished between "good" Armenians (those who live in Turkey and Armenia) who do not discuss the genocide and "bad" ones (primarily the Armenian diaspora) who insist on recognition.[21][22]

Many Turkish intellectuals have been reluctant to use the term genocide because, according to Akçam, "by qualifying it a genocide you become a member of a collective associated to a crime, not any crime but to the ultimate crime".[23] According to Halil Karaveli, "the word [genocide] incites strong, emotional reactions among Turks from all walks of society and of every ideological inclination".[24]

Terminology of the Armenian Genocide Turkish articles: 4


  1. ^ Mouradian, Khatchig (23 September 2006). "Explaining the Unexplainable: The Terminology Employed by the Armenian Media when Referring to 1915". The Armenian Weekly.
  2. ^ Matiossian, Vartan (15 May 2013). "The 'Exact Translation': How 'Medz Yeghern' Means Genocide". The Armenian Weekly.
  3. ^ Boghos Zekiyan, Levon (2014). "Expulsion (tehcir) and genocide (soykırım): from ostensible irreconcilability to complementarity : thoughts on Metz Yeghern, the Great Armenian Catastrophe". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b Ihrig 2016, pp. 9, 55.
  5. ^ a b Maksudyan 2009, pp. 644–645.
  6. ^ Segesser, Daniel Marc (2008). "Dissolve or punish? The international debate amongst jurists and publicists on the consequences of the Armenian genocide for the Ottoman Empire, 1915–23". Journal of Genocide Research. 10 (1): 95–110. doi:10.1080/14623520701850369. S2CID 72225178.
  7. ^ Chorbajian, Levon (2016). "'They Brought It on Themselves and It Never Happened': Denial to 1939". The Armenian Genocide Legacy. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 167–182. ISBN 978-1-137-56163-3.
  8. ^ Ihrig 2016, pp. 9, 370–371.
  9. ^ de Waal 2015, pp. 132–133.
  10. ^ de Waal 2015, pp. 257–258.
  11. ^ Baker 2015, p. 211.
  12. ^ Robertson 2016, p. 73. "Put another way – if these same events occurred today, there can be no doubt that prosecutions before the ICC of Talaat and other CUP officials for genocide, for persecution and for other crimes against humanity would succeed. Turkey would be held responsible for genocide and for persecution by the ICJ and would be required to make reparation."
  13. ^ Lattanzi 2018, pp. 27–28, 96–97. "Apart from the question of the evocation of a strange standard of evidence—unequivocal! (in any case, it is indeed unequivocal!)—,specific clear decisions were taken by the Turkish rulers to eliminate the Ottoman Armenian community. At any rate, even if documentation on such decisions were not available—what is not the case—, following the criteria set up by international criminal tribunals and ICJ concerning the intent of destroying a substantial part of a community protected by the Genocide Convention, this specific subjective element can be inferred from other elements... All these elements are in fact present in the Metz Yeghern case: the nature of the wrongful acts committed; their massive, systematic and simultaneous occurrence in the concerned territory; the specificity of “deportations”, intentionally aimed to avoiding the return of Armenians in their century-old homeland; the appropriation of the Armenians’ properties and the destruction of Armenian cultural and religious buildings etc., from which it clearly results that a return was excluded."
  14. ^ Gutman 2015, p. 169.
  15. ^ Göçek, Fatma Müge (2015). Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present and Collective Violence Against the Armenians, 1789–2009. Oxford University Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-19-933420-9.
  16. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (2009). "Truth in Telling: Reconciling Realities in the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians". The American Historical Review. 114 (4): 930–946. doi:10.1086/ahr.114.4.930.
  17. ^ Simone, Pierluigi. "Is the Denial of the "Armenian Genocide" an Obstacle to Turkey's Accession to the EU?". The Armenian Massacres of 1915–1916 a Hundred Years Later: Open Questions and Tentative Answers in International Law. Springer International Publishing. pp. 275–297 [277]. ISBN 978-3-319-78169-3.
  18. ^ "Prof. Taner Akçam receives 'Heroes of Justice and Truth' award during Armenian Genocide Centennial commemoration". Clark Now. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2020. The Turkish government persists in its long-standing refusal to call the killings genocide, denying the claims as “Armenian lies.”
  19. ^ Gürpınar 2016, pp. 217–218.
  20. ^ de Waal 2015, p. 181.
  21. ^ Galip 2020, p. 117. "In subsequent years, his [Erdoğan's] denialist discourse has become harsher, as he has adopted a more aggressive and threatening tone aiming to divide the ‘good’ Armenians (who he also refers to as “our Armenians”) who do not talk about the genocide from the ‘bad’ Armenians (referring to diaspora Armenians) who are accused of bringing up the accusations of genocide against Turks."
  22. ^ Mamigonian, Marc (10 May 2010). "Mamigonian: 'Divide et Impera': The Turkish-Armenian Protocols". The Armenian Weekly. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  23. ^ Cheterian 2015, p. 142. "The first, and recurrent, problem Akçam faced concerned the use of the term ‘genocide’ in his work, and it took some time before he was able to bring himself to describe the events of 1915 in this way. He was far from alone in his hesitancy to do so..."
  24. ^ Karaveli, Halil (2018). Why Turkey is Authoritarian: From Atatürk to Erdoğan. Pluto Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7453-3756-2.