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December 21, 2016 / Congau

Genocide

It is a criminal act, according to French law, to deny that the killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 was genocide.

If we try to investigate this question, we therefore run the risk of becoming criminals. It’s incredible that there can be such a law in the free French republic, but the threat of punishment didn’t stop Socrates from searching for the truth and it shouldn’t stop us either.

Was it genocide then? Well, first of course we have to know what genocide is and the United Nations Genocide Convention provides a definition: It is “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Now, go ahead and investigate the Armenian incident or any other case of mass killing, and see if it qualifies.

But wait a moment. There is one problem with this definition which always makes it possible to doubt if something is a case of genocide. That little word “intent” is extremely elusive. How do you ever decisively prove that anyone really intended to do anything?

You may perhaps be able to prove the intent of one single action committed by one single person, but when many people are involved, the collective action will usually be a complicated combination of various individual intentions. Moreover, an outcome of an event may be the result of a chain of action where only the first act was clearly intended.

Even the most clear-cut murder is habitually questioned by defense lawyers. The accused did kill the victim, they may say, but he didn’t really intend to. It was an accident, a matter of self-defense, a case of insanity etc. etc.

Now, if a simple “ordinary” murder can be that complicated to reconstruct, how complex must it not be to deal with a situation of war involving hundreds of thousands of people. Was there really one intending mind behind it all?

And even if you think there was, the issue is so intricate that you must admit that it is possible to have different opinions. At least a truth seeking person should be allowed to investigate the matter and if he draws a conclusion that the French lawmakers disagree with, he should not be made a criminal.

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