In the second part of ‘A Deeper Look’ we dive into the Adam Jones list of methods and strategies of genocide denial, see their historical precedents and how they are playing out in the present day.
Contesting Statistics – ‘Hardly Anyone Died’
Contesting a genocide by contesting the numbers. The most infamous example of this method being used is in relation to the Holocaust in which approximately 6 million Jewish people were killed by Nazi Germany and their collaborators. Many anti-Semites and holocaust deniers attack this statistic to diminish the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews, operating on the bizarre and inhumane assumption that if the number of those killed had been 5 million or 4 million instead it would have been justifiable.
Similarly, the Armenian genocide, conducted by the Ottoman empire in 1915-1916, which was believed to have killed between 664,000 and possibly as many as 1.2 million – the statistics are unclear due to widespread destruction of all evidence of the genocide – has deniers who claim that the number was truly as low as 100,000 and could not have exceeded 300,000.
It is important to acknowledge that Armenian genocide denial is not a fringe problem, in fact the only major Turkish political party to ever acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as a genocide is the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) now known as the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP).
The current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan, is also guilty of denial. When US President Joe Biden finally acknowledged the genocide, he received harsh backlash from Erdoǧan, who said, “We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups on 24 April.”
Speaking of Biden, even as he has acknowledged one genocide, he reproduces the same strategy of denial concerning Gaza. That is, after the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza released a list of Palestinian causalities stretching more than 150 pages. The list, released 26 October, contains more than 7,000 names as well as a government identification number included to provide credibility to the list. Biden called the figures into unfounded doubt, his main argument to contest them simply being, “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed.” The United Nations as well as human rights organisations have consistently found the numbers of those killed by Israel to be accurate.
‘It wasn’t intentional. Disease and famine-causing conditions such as forced labour, concentration camps and slavery caused the casualties.’ Adam Jones also draws attention to the genocide denial method of disputing intentionality, which can be an effective argument as often intentions are hard to concretely prove.
Turkish authorities and historians frequently deny the intention and responsibility of Armenian deaths, blaming fatalities on factors outside the control of the Ottoman authorities, such as rogue, low-ranking officials acting alone, or even sickness and weather conditions. The perpetrator may manufacture the very systems onto which they attempt to shift blame for death tolls, such as the labour camps or famine causing conditions.
Similarly, Israeli officials always find a way to displace blame for Palestinian deaths by using the common ‘human shield argument’. This includes claims that ambulances were being used by Hamas to transport goods , or blaming Hamas for preventing civilians from fleeing Gaza, when in fact the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have targeted convoys of civilians who tried to heed Israel’s warnings.
Self-Defence – ‘We are the Real Victims’
The final point from Jones’ list which I will address now is the denial method of ‘self-defence’ which I believed to be tied with the strategy of portraying oneself as ‘the real victim’. Without turning another group, an ethnicity, religion, or nationality, into one homogeneous enemy – and therefore justifying any potential action as self-defence – no historical genocide could have taken place. The historical examples of this go on and on.
In 2019, when I was working with the Rojava Information Centre (RIC) in North and East Syria (NES) I saw Turkey attempt to excuse its continuous cross-border assaults as ‘self-defence’, eventually using the same reason to invade in October of the same year. The RIC documented over 30 confirmed incidents in which Turkey attacked Syria from the beginning of 2019 through to the September. In the same time-frame, 27 civilians were injured and killed. On the other hand, there was only one confirmed attack crossing the border from NES into Turkey, and the perpetrator was arrested by the local security forces. How could this be considered self-defence?
While Operation Peace Spring may not qualify as a genocide, it is easy to see the same mentality that Jones mentions existing within the Turkish government, the same ability to justify disproportionate slaughter of civilians if you can successfully convince yourself, or more importantly others, that you are the victim.
This also exists in Israel today. Following the bloody attack conducted by Hamas on 7 October, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis, many were heartbroken, angry, and in mourning. But the Israeli government has manipulated people’s grief in order to justify all of their actions in Gaza as self-defence.
Francesca Albanese, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, has pushed back at this narrative, calling Israel’s attacks “indiscriminate, disproportionate and violate the principle of precaution”.
We cannot ignore that the same narratives, the same excuses always arise when atrocities are being committed, we must not be fooled by them, or blind to the same patterns. The slaughtering of thousands of civilians will never be justified as an act of self-defence. Never again means now – and it means never again for anyone.