Shortly after the World War II, genocide was legally defined by the U.N. Genocide Convention as “any… acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such
.” The key word from the perspective of this article is “intent.” For while nobody can deny the disaster wrought on the Armenians by the 1915 deportations and massacres, the question is whether or not it can be defined as genocide—arguably the most heinous crime imaginable.
The Ambiguity of Genocide
The strict international law definition of genocide has not prevented its application to virtually every conflict involving a large number of civilian deaths from the Athenian massacre of the inhabitants of Milos in 416 B.C.E., to the Mongol sacking of Baghdad in 1258, to the fate of the native North American Indians, to Stalin’s induced famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s, to the recent conflicts in Bosnia, Burundi, Chechnya, Colombia, Guatemala, Iraq, Sudan, and Rwanda, which is not to deny that some of these cases do indeed qualify as genocide.
The liberal use of the term has naturally stirred numerous controversies and debates. Israel Charny offers little help by arguing that any massacre constitutes genocide, even the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. At the other end of the spectrum, Stephen Katz views the Holocaust as the only true genocide in history. In between these two polar definitions, Ton Zwaan has attempted to distinguish between “total” and “complete” genocide and “partial” genocides.
Even the U.N. definition suffers from some ambiguities owing to being a compromise among all signatories. Thus, the convention legally protects only “national, racial, ethnic, and religious groups,” not those defined politically, economically, or culturally, giving rise to varying interpretations of its intentions. For example, while the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted seven Bosnian Serbs of genocide for their role in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, the International Court of Justice, in its judgment in Bosnia vs. Serbia, focused on Serbia’s “intent” rather than “outcome” regarding the murder of Bosnian Muslims, absolving it of the charge of genocide. Clearly, these contradictory decisions have added to the confusion of what genocide legally constitutes.
Likewise, the debate whether the Darfur events constituted genocide continues apace. U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell characterized Darfur as a case of genocide based on a U.S. government-funded study, which had surveyed 1,136 Darfur refugees in neighboring Chad. By contrast, a study commissioned by U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan concluded that, while the Darfur events should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, they did not amount to genocide. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also declined to characterize the violence in Darfur as genocide while the Arab League and the African Union took a similar position, emphasizing instead the civil war aspect of the conflict. For their part EU, British, Canadian, and Chinese officials, among others, have shied away from calling it genocide. Samantha Power, the author of a Pulitzer Prize winning study on genocide, favored the term ethnic cleansing to describe what was occurring.
When in July 2008, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused Sudanese president Omar Bashir of genocide and asked the court to issue an arrest warrant, many in the Arab League and the African Union criticized the genocide charge as biased against their region. It remains to be seen how wise the ICC has been in bringing genocide charges in this case. Clearly, there was a lack of agreement on what did or did not constitute genocide in Darfur. Such a situation illustrates the ambiguity surrounding the concept of genocide.
In an attempt to alleviate these problems, scholars have offered such additional detailed concepts as “politicide” to refer to mass murders of a political nature, “democide” to describe government-perpetrated mass murders of at least one million people, ethnocide, Judeocide, ecocide, feminicide, libricide (for the destruction of libraries), urbicide, elitocide, linguicide, and culturicide, among others. In addition we now have such concepts as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.
Why this semantic disarray? Henry Huttenbach has argued, “Too often has the accusation of genocide been made simply for the emotional effect or to make a political point, with the result that more and more events have been claimed to be genocide to the point that the term has lost its original meaning.” Jacques Semelin has similarly explained: “Whether use of the word ‘genocide’ is justified or not, the term aims to strike our imagination, awaken our moral conscience and mobilise public opinion on behalf of the victims.” He adds: “Under these circumstances, anyone daring to suggest that what is going on is not ‘really’ genocide is immediately accused of weakness or sympathizing with the aggressors.” Thus,
The term genocide can be used as a propaganda tool by becoming the hinge for a venomous rhetoric against a sworn enemy. Given the powerful emotional charge the word genocide generates, it can be used and re-used in all sorts of hate talk to heap international opprobrium on whoever is accused of genocidal intent. … The obvious conclusion: The word is used as much as a symbolic shield to claim victim status for one’s people, as a sword raised against one’s deadly enemy.
Intent or premeditation is all important in defining genocide “because it removes from consideration not only natural disasters but also those man-made disasters that took place without explicit planning. Many of the epidemics of communicable diseases that reached genocidal proportions, for example were caused by unwitting human actions.” Although some would disagree, the fate of the North American indigenous people is a case in point as they died largely from disease, not intent. Therefore, a large loss of life is not in itself proof of genocide. Ignoring intent creates a distorted scenario and may lead to incorrect conclusions as to what really occurred.
What then of the Armenian case? Unfortunately, as the well-known journalist and scholar Gwynne Dyer concluded more than thirty-five years ago, most Turkish and Armenian scholars are unable to be objective on this issue resulting in a situation of “Turkish falsifiers and Armenian deceivers.”
The main purpose of this discussion, therefore, is not to deny that Turks killed and expelled Armenians on a large scale; indeed what happened might in today’s vocabulary be called war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or even crimes against humanity. To prove genocide, however, intent or premeditation must be demonstrated, and in the Armenian case it has not. It must also be borne in mind that what occurred was not a unilateral Turkish action but part of a long-term process in which some Armenians were guilty of killing as many Turks as they could in their attempt to rebel. Christopher de Ballaigue argues that “what is needed is a vaguer designation for the events of 1915, avoiding the G-word but clearly connoting criminal acts of slaughter, to which reasonable scholars can subscribe.”
Arnold Toynbee, the renowned historian who coedited the Blue Book compilation of Turkish atrocities during World War I, later wrote: “In the redistribution of Near and Middle Eastern Territories, the atrocities which have accompanied it from the beginning have been revealed in their true light, as crimes incidental to an abnormal process, which all parties have committed in turn, and not as the peculiar practice of one denomination or nationality.” Indeed, in his final statement on the subject, Toynbee declared: “Armenian political aspirations had not been legitimate. … Their aspirations did not merely threaten to break up the Turkish Empire; they could not be fulfilled without doing grave injustice to the Turkish people itself.” In addition, Adm. Mark Bristol, U.S. high commissioner and then-ambassador to Turkey after World War I, wrote in a long cable to the State Department in 1920: “While the Turks were all that people said they were, the other side of the coin was obscured by the flood of Greek and Armenian propaganda painting the Turks as completely inhuman and undeserving of any consideration while suppressing all facts in favor of the Turks and against the minorities.”
More recently, Edward J. Erickson, a military historian, concluded after a careful examination: “Nothing can justify the massacres of the Armenians nor can a case be made that the entire Armenian population of the six Anatolian provinces was an active and hostile threat to Ottoman national security.” This said, Erickson added: “However, a case can be made that the Ottomans judged the Armenians to be a great threat to the 3rd and 4th [Ottoman] Armies and that genuine intelligence and security concerns drove that decision. It may also be stated that the Ottoman reaction was escalatory and responsive rather than premeditated and pre-planned.”
On the other hand, Taner Akçam, a Turkish sociologist who has prominently broken with his country’s official narrative, concluded after compiling weighty evidence that the “Ottoman authorities’ genocidal intent becomes clear.” This conclusion was challenged by Turkish researcher Erman Sahin who accused Akçam of “dishonesty—which manifests itself in the form of numerous deliberate alterations and distortions, misleading quotations and doctoring of data—casts doubt on the accuracy of his claims as well as his conclusions.” In a later critique of Akçam’s subsequent work, Sahin concluded: “These are substantive matters that raise serious concerns as to the author’s theses, which appear to be based on a selective and distorted presentation of Ottoman archival materials and other sources. … Such errors seriously undermine the author’s and the book’s credibility.”
More recently, Akçam claimed that despite Turkish attempts to “hide the evidence” through systematic “loss” and destruction of documents, his new work in the Ottoman archives “clearly points in the direction of a deliberate Ottoman government policy to annihilate its Armenian population.” Maybe, but maybe not. Equally likely is that any destruction of documents at the end of World War I was simply designed to protect military secrets from falling into enemy hands, something any government would want to do. More to the point, Akçam also states that “the clearest statement that the aim of the [Ottoman] government’s policies toward the Armenians was annihilation is found in a cable of 29 August 1915 from interior minister Talat Pasha” in which he asserted that the “Armenian question in the eastern provinces has been resolved. … There’s no need to sully the nation and the government[‘s honor] with further atrocities.” This document, however, does not prove genocidal intent except to those determined to find it. Rather, Talat’s statement might simply mean precisely what it states: The Armenian deportations, although resulting in many atrocities and deaths, have solved the issue.
In a carefully nuanced study, historian Donald Bloxham concluded that what happened was premeditated and therefore genocide. Though stating in an earlier article “that there was no a priori blueprint for genocide, and that it emerged from a series of more limited regional measures in a process of cumulative policy radicalization,” he, nevertheless, used the term genocide because of the magnitude of what happened and because “nowhere else during the First World War was revolutionary nationalism answered with total murder. That is the crux of the issue.” At the same time, he wondered “whether recognition [of genocide] is really going to open the door to healing wounds and reconciliation, as we are often told, or whether it is a means of redressing nationalist grievances. Is it an issue of historical truth, morality and responsibility, or of unresolved political and material claims?”
Finally, it should be noted that the Armenian claims of genocide are encumbered by intrinsic legal and philosophical problems. This is due to the fact that any finding under international law of genocide in the Armenian case at this late date would constitute a legally untenable ex-post-facto proclamation, namely: Make a crime of an action which, when originally committed, was not a crime. The concept of genocide did not even exist until it was formulated during World War II by Raphael Lemkin, while the genocide convention only entered into force in 1951.
The Manifesto of Hovhannes Katchaznouni
Hovhannes Katchaznouni was the first prime minister (1918-19) of the short-lived Armenian state following World War I. It is useful to turn to his April 1923 address to the Armenian revolutionary and nationalist Dashnak party congress, held in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. While not gainsaying “this unspeakable crime … the deportations and mass exiles and massacres which took place during the Summer and Autumn of 1915,” Katchaznouni’s speech constitutes a remarkable self-criticism by a top Armenian leader. No wonder that many Armenians have done their best to remove this telling document from libraries around the world. It is, therefore, useful to cite what Katchaznouni had to say at some length:
In the Fall of 1914, Armenian volunteer bands organized themselves and fought against the Turks because they could not refrain themselves from fighting. This was an inevitable result of psychology on which the Armenian people had nourished itself during an entire generation. … It is important to register only the evidence that we did participate in that volunteer movement to the largest extent. …
We had embraced Russia wholeheartedly without any compunction. Without any positive basis of fact, we believed that the Tsarist government would grant us a more or less broad self-government in the Caucasus and in the Armenian vilayets liberated from Turkey as a reward for our loyalty, our efforts, and assistance.
We overestimated the ability of the Armenian people, its political and military power, and overestimated the extent and importance of the services our people rendered to the Russians. And by overestimating our very modest worth and merit was where we naturally exaggerated our hopes and expectations. …
The proof is, however—and this is essential—that the struggle began decades ago against the Turkish government [which] brought about the deportation or extermination of the Armenian people in Turkey and the desolation of Turkish Armenia. This was the terrible fact!
K.S. Papazian’s Patriotism Perverted
A decade after the publication of Katchaznouni’s speech, but still much closer to the events of World War I than now, Kapriel Serope Papazian produced a most revealing critique of the Dashnaks’ perfidy, terrorism, and disastrous policies that had helped lead to the events in question. Written by an Armenian who bore no love for the Turks, but hushed up, ignored, and virtually forgotten by many because its self-critical revelations do not mesh with the received Armenian thesis of innocent victimization, Papazian’s analysis calls for close scrutiny.
Authored just after the notorious Dashnak murder of Armenian archbishop Leon Tourian in New York City on Christmas Eve 1933, Papazian began by expressing disdain for the group’s “predatory inclinations” before examining the “terrorism in the Dashnaks’ early  program,” which sought “to fight, and to subject to terrorism the government officials, the traitors, the betrayers, the usurers, and the exploiters of all description.” Having analyzed the movement’s ideological and operational history, Papazian explored what actually transpired during World War I:
The fact remains, however, that the leaders of the Turkish-Armenian section of the Dashnagtzoutune did not carry out their promise of loyalty to the Turkish cause when the Turks entered the war. … Prudence was thrown to the winds … and a call was sent for Armenian volunteers to fight the Turks on the Caucasian front.
Thousands of Armenians from all over the world flocked to the standards of such famous fighters as Antranik, Kery, Dro, etc. The Armenian volunteer regiments rendered valuable services to the Russian Army in the years of 1914-15-16.
On the other hand, the methods used by the Dashnagtzoutune in recruiting these regiments were so open and flagrant that it could not escape the attention of the Turkish authorities … Many Armenians believe that the fate of two million of their co-nationals in Turkey might not have proved so disastrous if more prudence had been used by the Dashnag leaders during the war. In one instance, one Dashnag leader, Armen Garo, who was also a member of the Turkish parliament, had fled to the Caucasus and had taken active part in the organization of volunteer regiments to fight the Turks. His picture, in uniform, was widely circulated in the Dashnag papers, and it was used by Talat Paha, the arch assassin of the Armenians, as an excuse for his policy of extermination.
What then should be made of Papazian’s Patriotism Perverted? Without denying that the Turks played a murderous role in the events analyzed, his long-ignored and even suppressed revelations indicate that the Armenians were far from innocent victims in what ensued. Indeed, Papazian’s text makes it clear that incompetent but treacherous Armenians themselves were also to blame for what had befallen their cause. It is unfair to fix unique blame upon the Turks.
Guenter Lewy’s Critic
A major contribution to the debate over the Armenian atrocities, Guenter Lewy’s The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey, rejects the claim of a premeditated genocide as well as the apologist narrative of an unfortunate wartime excess, concluding that “both sides have used heavy-handed tactics to advance their cause and silence a full and impartial discussion of the issues in dispute.” In his view, “the key issue in this quarrel is not the extent of Armenian suffering, but rather the question of premeditation: that is, whether the Young Turk regime during the First World War intentionally organized the massacres that took place.”
Lewy questions the authenticity of certain documents alleged to contain proof of a premeditated genocide as well as the methods of Vakhakn N. Dadrian, one of the foremost current Armenian scholar-advocates of the genocide thesis, whom he accuses of “selective use of sources … [which] do not always say what Dadrian alleges” and “manipulating the statements of contemporary observers.”
As for the argument that “the large number of Armenian deaths … [offers] proof that the massacres that took place must have been part of an overall plan to destroy the Armenian people,” Lewy counters that it “rests on a logical fallacy and ignores the huge loss of life among Turkish civilians, soldiers, and prisoners-of-war due to sheer incompetence, neglect, starvation, and disease. All of these groups also experienced a huge death toll that surely cannot be explained in terms of a Young Turk plan of annihilation.”
So how does Lewy explain what happened to the Armenians? “The momentous task of relocating several hundred thousand people in a short span of time and over a highly primitive system of transportation was simply beyond the ability of the Ottoman bureaucracy. … Under conditions of Ottoman misrule, it was possible for the country to suffer an incredibly high death toll without a premeditated plan of annihilation.”
Lewy’s book was reviewed prominently and positively in two leading U.S. journals of Middle East studies. Edward J. Erickson noted the finding that “both camps have created a flawed supporting historiography by using sources selectively, quoting them out of context, and/or ignoring ‘inconvenient facts,'” concluding that “simply having a large number of advocates affirming that the genocide is a historical fact does not make it so.” Robert Betts, while claiming that “for the Turkish government to deny Ottoman responsibility for the Armenian suffering makes no sense,” also stated that “what emerges from Lewy’s study is the dire state of the empire and its population in 1915 and its inability to protect and feed its own Muslim citizenry, let alone the Armenians.” Moreover, such distinguished scholars of Ottoman history as Bernard Lewis, Roderic Davison, J. C. Hurewitz, and Andrew Mango, among others, have all rejected the appropriateness of the genocide label for what occurred. On May 19, 1985, sixty-nine prominent academics in Turkish Ottoman and Middle Eastern studies (including Lewis) published a large advertisement in The New York Times and The Washington Post criticizing the U.S. Congress for considering the passage of a resolution that would have singled out for special recognition “the one and one half million people of Armenian ancestry who were victims of genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923.” Instead, they argued that such questions should be left for the scholarly community to decide.
Indeed, the Armenian massacres of 1915 did not come out of the blue but followed decades of Armenian violence and revolutionary activity that elicited Turkish counter violence. There is a plethora of Turkish writings documenting these unfortunate events, just as there are numerous Armenian accounts. The Armenians, of course, present themselves as freedom fighters in these earlier events, but it is possible to understand how the Ottomans saw them as treasonous subjects.
Moreover, throughout all these events, the Armenians were never more than a large minority even in their historic provinces. Yet they exaggerated their numbers before World War I and their losses during the war. Had the Armenian fatality figures been correct, very few would have survived the war. Instead, the Armenians managed to fight another war against the nascent Turkish republic in the wake of World War I for mastery in eastern Anatolia. Having lost, many Armenians claimed that what transpired after World War I was a renewed genocide. As Christians, the Armenians found a sympathetic audience in the West whereas the Muslim Turks were the West’s historic enemy. Add to this the greater Armenian adroitness in foreign languages—hence their greater ability to present their case to the world—to understand why the Turks consider the genocide charge to be grossly unfair, especially since the Armenians have adamantly rejected any culpability on their part in this tragic event.
Without denying the tragic massacres and countless deaths the Armenians suffered during World War I, it is important to place them in their proper context. When this is done, the application of the term “genocide” to these events is inappropriate because the Turkish actions were neither unilateral nor premeditated. Rather, what transpired was part of a long-continuing process that in part started with the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, which triggered an influx of Balkan Muslims into Anatolia with the attendant deterioration of relations with the indigenous Christian Armenians.
To make matters worse, Patriarch Nerses, an Ottoman subject and one of the leaders of the Armenian community, entered into negotiations with the victorious Russians with an eye to achieving Armenian autonomy or even independence. This was followed in coming decades by continued Armenian nationalist agitation, accompanied by the use of terror, aimed at provoking retaliation, which they hoped would be followed by European intervention. When World War I broke out, some Armenians supported the Russian enemy. Kurdish/Muslim-Armenian animosities also played a role in this process.
As for the necessary attribute of premeditation to demonstrate genocide, there are no authentic documents to such effect. Although there are countless descriptions of the depravations suffered by the Armenians, they do not prove intent or premeditation. The so-called Andonian documents that purport to demonstrate premeditation are almost certainly a fabrication. And in response to the Armenian contention that the huge loss of Armenian lives illustrates premeditation, what then should be said about the enormous loss of Turkish lives among civilians, soldiers, and prisoners-of-war? Were these Turkish deaths also genocide or rather due to sheer incompetence, neglect, starvation, and disease? And if the latter were true of the ethnic Turkish population, they were all the more so in respect to an ethnic group that had incurred upon itself suspicion of acting as a fifth column in a time of war.
Even so, Armenian communities in such large Western cities as Istanbul and Smyrna were largely spared deportation probably because they were not in a position to aid the invading Russians. Is it possible to imagine Hitler sparing any Jews in Berlin, Munich, or Cologne from his genocidal rampage for similar reasons? If, as the Armenians allege, the Turkish intent was to subject their Armenian victims to a premeditated forced march until they died of exhaustion, why was this tactic not imposed on all Armenians? Therefore, without denying outright murders and massacres that today might qualify as war crimes, it seems reasonable to question the validity of referring to the Armenian tragedy as genocide.
Michael M. Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University, was senior Fulbright lecturer at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey.
 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 78 U.N. Treaty Series (UNTS) 277, adopted by the General Assembly, Dec. 9, 1948, entered into force, Jan. 12, 1951.
 Israel W. Charny, “Towards a Generic Definition of Genocide,” in George J. Andreopoulos, ed., Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 64-94.
 Stephen Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
 Ton Zwaan, “On the Aetiology and Genesis of Genocides and Other Mass Crimes Targeting Specific Groups,” Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Amsterdam/Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Nov. 2003, p. 12.
 David Rhode, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s Worst Massacre since World War II (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), p. 167; Jacques Semelin, Purify and Destroy: The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 34-5, 65-6, 138-9, 195-8, 213-20, 245-6; “Report of the Secretary General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35: The Fall of Srebrenica,” U.N. doc. no. A/54/549, Nov. 15, 1999.
 The Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia and Montenegro), case 91, International Court of Justice, The Hague, Feb. 26, 2007.
 “Documenting the Atrocities in Darfur,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., Sept. 2004.
 The Guardian (London), Feb. 1, 2005.
 Scott Straus, “Darfur and the Genocide Debate,” Foreign Affairs, Jan.-Feb. 2005, pp. 128, 130.
 Public Radio International, July 28, 2008; Voice of America, July 22, 2010.
 Semelin, Purify and Destroy, pp. 319-20.
 Henry R. Huttenbach “Locating the Holocaust under the Genocide Spectrum: Toward a Methodology of Definition and Categorization,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 3 (1988): 297.
 Semelin, Purify and Destroy, pp. 312-3.
 Kurt Jonassohn, “What Is Genocide?” in Helen Fein, ed., Genocide Watch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 21.
 Gwynne Dyer, “Turkish ‘Falsifiers’ and Armenian ‘Deceivers’: Historiography and the Armenian Massacres,” Middle Eastern Studies, Jan. 1976, pp. 99-107.
 Christopher de Ballaigue, Rebel Land: Among Turkey’s Forgotten Peoples (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), p. 104; M. Hakan Yavuz, “Contours of Scholarship on Armenian-Turkish Relations,” Middle East Critique, Nov. 2011, pp. 231-51.
 James Bryce, compiler, “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16,” Parliamentary Papers Miscellaneous, Great Britain, no. 31 (London: Joseph Cavston, 1916).
 Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1922), pp. vii-viii.
 Arnold J. Toynbee, Acquaintances (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 241.
 Laurence Evans, United States Policy and the Partition of Turkey, 1914-1924 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), p. 272.
 Edward J. Erickson, “The Armenians and Ottoman Military Policy, 1915,” War in History, no. 2, 2008, p. 167.
 Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2006), p. 187.
 Erman Sahin, “Review Essay: A Scrutiny of Akçam’s Version of History and the Armenian Genocide,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Aug. 2008, p. 316.
 Erman Sahin, “Review Essay: The Armenian Question,” Middle East Policy, Spring 2010, p. 157.
 Taner Akçam, The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), pp. 19, 27.
 Ibid., p. 203.
 Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Ronald Grigor Suny, “Truth in Telling: Reconciling Realities in the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians,” American Historical Review, Oct. 2009, pp. 930-46.
 Donald Bloxham, “The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916: Cumulative Radicalization and the Development of a Destruction Policy,” Past & Present, Nov. 2003, p. 143.
 Ibid., pp. 143, 186.
 Ibid., p. 232.
 Hovhannes Katchaznouni, “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnagtzoutiun) Has Nothing To Do Anymore,” Arthur A. Derounian, ed., Matthew A. Callender, trans. (New York: Armenian Information Service, 1955), p. 2.
 Ibid., pp. 2-3.
 Kapriel Serope Papazian, Patriotism Perverted: A Discussion of the Deeds and the Misdeeds of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the So-Called Dashnagtzoutune (Boston: Baikar Press, 1934).
 See Christopher Walker, Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), p. 354; Maggie Lewis, “Armenian-Americans,” The Christian Science Monitor (Boston), Nov. 18, 1980.
 Papazian, Patriotism Perverted, pp. 7, 13, 15, 21, 38-9.
 Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007.
 For examples of Guenter Lewy’s critiques of Dadrian’s writings, see “Revisiting the Armenian Genocide,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2005, pp. 3-12; idem, The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus (Providence and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995); idem, Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1999).
 Lewy, The Armenian Massacres, pp. ix, 47, 51, 83-6, 250, 253, 258, 282.
 Edward J. Erickson, “Lewy’s ‘The Armenian Massacres,'” Middle East Journal, Spring 2006, p. 377.
 Robert Brenton Betts, “The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide/The Armenian Rebellion at Van,” Middle East Policy, Spring 2008, p. 177.
 See, for example, Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 356.
 The New York Times, May 19, 1985.
 Andrew Mango, Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Woodstock and New York: The Overlook Press, 1999), p. 161.
 See, for example, Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963); Garegin Pasdermadjian (Armen Garo), Bank Ottoman: Memoirs of Armen Garo (Detroit: Armen Topouzian, 1990); James G. Mandalian, ed. and trans., Armenian Freedom Fighters: The Memoirs of Rouben der Minasian (Boston: Hairenik Association, 1963).
 See Justin McCarthy, Muslims and Minorities: The Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire (New York: New York University Press, 1983), p. 115.
 M. Hakan Yavuz with Peter Sluglett, eds., War and Diplomacy: The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2011), pp. 1-13.
 See Janet Klein, The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), pp. 50, 131, 183.
 Aram Andonian, ed., The Memoirs of Naim Bey: Turkish Official Documents Relating to the Deportations and Massacres of Armenians (London: 1920. Reprinted, Newtown Square, Pa.: Armenian Historical Research Association, 1964). For the case against the authenticity of these documents, see Sinasi Orel and Sureyya Yuca, The Talat Pasha Telegrams: Historical Fact or Armenian Fiction? (Nicosia: K. Rustem and Bros., 1986). For the counterclaim that newly found Ottoman archival source material vindicates the Adonian documents see, Akçam, The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity, p. xviii, fn. 22.
The Battle for the Soul of Islam: Will the real reformer of the faith stand up?
Saudi and Emirati efforts to define ‘moderate’ Islam as socially more liberal while being subservient to an autocratic ruler is as much an endeavour to ensure regime survival and bolster aspirations to lead the Muslim world as it is an attempt to fend off challenges rooted in diverse strands of religious ultra-conservatism.
The Saudi and Emirati efforts to garner religious soft power have much in common even though the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates build their respective campaigns on historically different forms of Islam. The two Gulf states are, moreover, rivals in the battle for the soul of Islam, a struggle to define what strand or strands will dominate the faith in the 21st century.
The battle takes on added significance at a time that Middle Eastern rivals are attempting to dial down regional tensions by managing their disputes and conflicts rather than resolving them. The efforts put a greater emphasis on soft power rivalry rather than hard power confrontation often involving proxies.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE propagate a ‘moderate’ Islam on the back of significant social reforms in recent years that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler and relegates the clergy to the status of the ruler’s clerics.
The reforms include Saudi Arabia’s lifting of a ban on women’s driving, enhancing of women’s professional and personal opportunities, curbing the powers of the religious police and introducing Western-style entertainment.
The UAE last November allowed unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosened alcohol restrictions and criminalised “honour killings,” a widely criticised religiously packaged tribal custom that allows a male relative to kill a woman accused of dishonouring her family.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE compete in the Muslim world with Turkish and Iranian Islamist strands of the faith that are laced with nationalism.
The Gulf states’ state-led moderation of religious practices rather than of theology and Muslim jurisprudence is also challenged by some strands of Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam on the basis of which Saudi Arabia was founded.
“Wahhabism has refracted into three broad groups since the early 1990s: a left that has developed a discourse of civic rights, a centre occupying official posts of state (dubbed ‘ulama al-sultan’ or the ruler’s clerics) that has put up some resistance to the loosening of their powers in the social, juridical and media spheres, and a Wahhabi right sympathetic to the jihadist discourse of al-Qaeda and its focus on questions of foreign policy,” said scholar Andrew Hammond.
While Turkey and Iran pose a geopolitical danger, autocratic monarchical rule is more fundamentally threatened by the religious challenge posed by what Mr. Hammond dubs the Wahhabi left and the Wahhabi right as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the only non-state player in the battle for the soul of Islam, that advocates and practices reform of Islamic jurisprudence and unconditionally endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Implicitly drawing a distinction with Nahdlatul Ulama, Mr. Hammond argues that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms amount to “defanging Wahhabism not dethroning it.”
The crown prince, since coming to office, has radically cut back on the investment of tens of billions of dollars in the propagation of religious ultra-conservatism across the globe, most effectively in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also sought to balance Wahhabism with Saudi ultra-nationalism and shave off the rough social edges of the kingdom’s austere interpretation of the faith. His subjugation of the clergy, and incarceration of adherents of the Wahhabi left and far-right, put an end to a 73-year long power-sharing agreement between the ruling Al-Saud family and the clergy.
The left has entertained concepts of a constitutional rather than an absolute monarchy, called for political liberalisation and civil rights and in some cases endorsed the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled four Arab autocrats.
The Wahhabi left could be joined in challenging the conservative Gulf monarchies and, simultaneously, be challenged by Nahdlatul Ulama once the group expands its activities to target the Muslim world’s grassroots beyond Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country as well as its foremost democracy. In its first outreach to grassroots elsewhere, Nahdlatul Ulama is expected to launch an Arabic-language website before the end of the year that would target the Arab world.
Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of a humanitarian Islam that embraces principles of tolerance, pluralism, gender equality, secularism and human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration goes considerably further than proposals put forward by Mr. Hammond’s Wahhabi left, perhaps better described as more liberal rather than an ideological left-wing of a fundamentally ultra-conservative movement.
The Indonesian group’s concept of Islam also contrasts starkly with the Saudi and Emirati notion of autocratic religious moderation that involves no theological or jurisprudential reform but uses ‘the ruler’s clergy’ to religiously legitimise repressive rule under which protests, political parties and petitioning of the government are banned and thought is policed.
“The state has strengthened the Wahhabi centre through neutralising the Wahhabi left and right, which have each represented a threat to state authority and legitimacy … As for the civic rights innovations of the Wahhabi left exemplified by al-Awda, it is precisely this discourse that the state wants to shut down,” Mr. Hammond said, referring to the imprisoned cleric.
The track record of proponents of autocratic religious moderation is checkered at best. While the UAE has created a society that is by and large religiously tolerant, neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt, which doesn’t have the wherewithal to fight a soft power battle in the Muslim world but seeks to project itself as a champion of religious tolerance, can make a similar claim.
Prince Mohammed has met Jewish and Evangelical leaders. Mohammed al-Issa, the head of the Muslim World League, long a major vehicle to promote Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, doesn’t miss an opportunity these days to express his solidarity with other faith groups. Yet, non-Muslims remain barred in the kingdom from worshipping publicly or building their own houses of worship.
In Egypt, Patrick George Zaki, a 27-year-old student, lingers in prison since February 2020 on charges of spreading false news and rumours for publishing an article documenting incidents of discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.
Mr. Zaki was arrested a year after Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s citadel of Islamic learning, signed a Declaration of Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together with Pope Francis during the two men’s visit to the UAE. The declaration advocates religious freedom and pluralism.
By contrast, Nahdlatul Ulama secretary general Yahya Staquf recently told the story of Riyanto in a September 11 speech at Regent University, a bulwark of American Evangelical anti-Muslim sentiment founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. A member of Nahdlatul Ulama’s militia, Riyanto died guarding a church in Java on Christmas Eve when a bomb exploded in his arms as he removed it from a pew.
“To us in Nahdlatul Ulama, Riyanto is a martyr, and we honour his memory every Christmas Eve alongside millions of our Indonesian Christian brothers and sisters,” Mr. Staquf said.
From ‘Decisive Storm’ to Secret Talks: The Journey of Saudi Conquest of Yemen
In the last days of the spring of 2015, Saudi generals were sitting around a V-shaped table in front of a newly appointed defense minister, dwelling on the answer to the rise of Houthi rebels in Yemen which had critically threatened the security of the southern border. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been known for its wise and cagey foreign policy, often following the lead of Washington, in any regional or global military conflict but this time was different.
When the 29-year-old defense minister, Muhammad bin Salman, ordered, “Send in the F-15s,” it shocked all of them. Despite having spent only eight months heading the armies of the kingdom, he was about to shape an aggressive or rather reckless foreign policy of one of the most resourceful and conservative countries in the world.
The Unresolved Conflict
After six years of war in Yemen, 233,000 lives have been ravaged of which more than 3,000 were children, 3.3 million have been displaced from their homes, 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian support, while 16.2 million Yemenis are on the verge of food insecurity. Now, Saudi Arabia is finally looking for a way out.
“We want the guns to fall completely silent,” remarked Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, in March, laying out the Yemen Peace Initiative. The Houthis rejected the plan as it imparted “nothing new” according to them. “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade,” stated the Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammad Abdulsalam, to Reuters.
Riyadh had severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in January 2016 after the Saudi embassy was stormed by the protestors angry at the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a top Shia cleric from Saudi Arabia’s eastern province—a region known for being marginalized on the sectarian basis.
Saudi Arabia and Iran held the first official talks, brokered by the Iraqi government, in Baghdad on 9th April. The Baghdad talks canvassed the Yemen conflict as well as the political and economical instability of Lebanon to evaluate whether both countries can reach a common understanding of the situation.
The Zaidiyyah Imamate
Coming to the Yemen conflict, the rugged Yemeni mountains known for their finest coffee growing regions have a thousand-year-long history of the rule of Zaidiyyah imamate carved on them.
The Zaydism Shia sect is rooted in the unsuccessful rebellion of Zayd bin Ali, the grandson of Husayn bin Ali – the direct descendent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – against the Umayyad Caliphate in 740AD. Zaidiyyah’s theology differs from Iran’s Twelver Shiism and Ismaili branches in being far more tolerant towards early Islamic caliphs and in set qualifications for an imam to be a ruler.
The Creation of the Yemen Arab Republic
The imamate resisted the Romans and Ottomans to some extent for centuries but a revolution was brewing and the imams provided the catalyst themselves. Amid 1930’s modernism, Yemeni Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din stepped up from his conservative policy of not allowing foreign travel and authorized around forty boys to study abroad. He envisioned them as his “Famous Forty”—leaders of politics, military, and administration.
Until 1959, several hundred boys had gone through advanced studies from Iraq, Egypt, and Europe but they had envisioned something else. They laid the foundation of a progressive republican movement marked with several attempted coups and the assassination of Imam Yahya (1948) till 1962 when the last imam, al-Badr, was deposed by the revolutionary movement. This led to the emergence of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) with Abdullah Sallal as its leader and after that, Yemen was never the same.
Tracing the Root of the Saudi-Yemen Conflict
Al Saud had troubling relations with the imamate since Saudi Arabia had emerged as a kingdom in 1932. “Who is this Bedouin coming to challenge my family’s 900-year rule?” stated Imam Yahya once, which erupted the 1934 war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and ended up in the Treaty of Taif. The treaty demarcated the border and granted Jizan, Asir, and Najran to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s victory.
The Saudis then cultivated alliances within the bordering Yemeni tribes to erect a makeshift buffer zone during the 1960s civil war in Zaydi Imamate. Al Saud sided with Yemeni loyalists when the republican government tossed away the Treaty of Taif in 1962 and Egypt lined up 70,000 troops to assist the republic against Imam Badr’s guerrilla opposition.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, North and South Yemen struggled for coexistence and peace with continuous border clashes, including a bloody civil war in the South, which John Kifner aptly referred to as MassacrewithTea, that cost thousands of souls. Eventually, after 20 years of political and military turmoil, South Yemen’s Ali Salim al-Baidh joined with the North’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the unification agreement of the two states on November 30, 1989.
Yet, while Ali Abdullah Salih was being declared as the president of a unified Yemen and the country was facing an economic collapse, something worse was brewing in the heights of northern Yemen.
The Houthis and the Saudi Construct
Feeling his unique sect threatened by the Saudi-funded proselytization through Salafist preachers, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, a Zaydi scholar from Maran range established a seemingly political and revivalist movement, Ansar Allah (Supporters of God)to preserve the Zaidiyyah sect, followed by 40% of the Yemeni population, which turned into an aggressive armed insurgency in no time.
The point is that the current regional discord has centuries-old bad blood embedded in its roots. The Houthi movement, their substantial public support, and their military successes must be deconstructed from the local perspective, along with the regional one, to reach a better understanding of the conflict.
The Saudi-led coalition has been portraying Houthis just as an Iranian proxy, which is far from reality. In their annual policy paper, the Middle East Institute of Washington D.C stated that the current civil war of Yemen is entrenched in widespread public resentment over political marginalization, a paralyzed economy, and a corrupt and failed state.
Where Saudi Arabia’s policy of sectarian expansionism across the borderlands made the descendants of Zaidiyah Imamate, ousted from a centuries-long rule, feel more vulnerable, discrimination for Shia sects by Abdullah Saleh’s regime and corrupt practices tossed Yemen into a cycle of political upheaval and violence—all of which had nothing to with Iran.
The Houthis took arms against the Yemeni government six times from 2004-2010, a chapter remembered as the Saada Wars, long before Tehran came into the picture.
Civil War in Yemen
In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, the Houthi leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, called countrywide demonstrations to end Saleh’s 33-year rule but after Saleh resigned and declared his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the head of state in exchange of immunity, hopes rose for peace. However, Hadi, shockingly, stepped down in January 2015 and fled the country after the National Dialogue Conference failed to agree on the division of Yemen in the UN-backed transitional process and the Houthis stormed the Presidential Palace.
After the Houthis took over Sanaa in February 2015, Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy for Yemen, went straight to Riyadh, which highlights Saudis’ concerns over the matter. On March 26, 2015, the Saudi-led coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm, with Saudi jets targeting the military compounds around the capital overnight.
The tactical inabilities of the coalition air force manifested to reality when three days later, Saudi warplanes accidentally bombed a refugee camp killing at least 40 and injuring 200. It was the beginning of one of the most horrible bombing campaigns, a disaster from a civilian and military perspective.
As civilian casualties mounted, the United States, concerned by the human cost of the conflict, urged Saudi Arabia to reach a negotiating position as soon as possible. Riyadh ended Operation Decisive Storm on 21 April, claiming the achievements, and rolled out Operation Renewal of Hope. But the truth was, the Saudis failed to deliver a considerable blow to the Houthis’ hold of the capital.
In May and June, the first reports came of mortar and Scud missile attacks by Houthis across the Saudi border. The Houthis proved tenacious and provoked Riyadh for a ground invasion, which worked out disastrously for the Saudi-led coalition. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Sudan, and others had deployed hundreds of ground troops by the end of the year.
Although they spawned some temporary gains in forcing the Houthis out of key southern provinces, like the vital Aden seaport in July, Zinjibar, and Al-And Airbase in August, the Houthis also inflicted heavy casualties to the coalition. In just one Houthi missile attack on a weapon depot in Marib in September 2015, 45 Emirati and Five Bahraini troops were killed.
The Kuwait Talks: A Failed Attempt at Resolving the Conflict
After a year into the war with no end in sight, reports came in March 2016 of the first Houthi delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia, led by Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis’ senior advisor and spokesperson.
Two weeks later, the UN envoy for Yemen, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that talks will circumvent the withdrawal and disarmament of militias and inclusive political dialogue. Kuwait’s emir and legendary peacemaker, late Sheikh Sabah, mediated talks between the delegations of the Houthis, Abdullah Saleh, and ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had returned to coalition controlled Aden in September 2015. Riyadh kept its distance from the Kuwait talks held in April 2016.
“Saudi Arabia seeks through the Kuwait talks to exonerate itself from its aggression against Yemen and to portray said aggression as a civil Yemeni war,” accused Yahya Saleh, a former general and Saleh’s nephew, after the Kuwait talks struck a stalemate over Houthis demanding a new consensual transitional regime while Hadi’s delegation insisted on a return to the current government, an out and out surrender for Houthis.
The peace talks were formally suspended in August 2016 when Houthis announced a new ten-member governing body to replace the interim Supreme Revolutionary Council, which had run the country since February 2015. The unilateral move was immediately denounced by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. “Houthis, as well as their supporters, are making the search for a peaceful solution more difficult,” declared the statement issued by the group of G18 ambassadors of nations that backed the UN peace talks while tens of thousands of Houthi supporters rallied through Saana to show their support for the Houthis.
In all of this, a frangible ceasefire was held throughout the year with occasional skirmishes. In October 2016, a coalition double airstrike cremated a crowded funeral hall, killing around 140 mourners, adding to the domestic and international pressure on the US to review the billion dollars arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.
Previously, The Guardian had concluded that each one in three Saudi strikes hit civilian targets but the coalition kept sweeping all of this under the rug. The Houthis also left no stone unturned to kill any hopes of negotiations when in March 2017, a Pro-Houthi court sentenced President Hadi and six other top officials to death in absentia for high treason. This was followed by the Burkan missile attack on Mecca in July 2017, although the Houthis claimed that it was aimed at the King Fahad airbase.
The United States’ Endless Support of Saudi Arabia
In August 2017, the Middle East Eye reported an email leak between UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, and a former high-level US diplomat, Martin Indyk, which revealed that the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman, wanted out of Yemen but Riyadh could not withdraw without ensuring the cross-border security.
On the other hand, in a striking development, the Houthi-Saleh split went real in December 2017 amid Saleh’s attempt to switch sides with the coalition and turned up in Houthis killing the former president of Yemen, who had been the sole ruler for more than three decades.
As 2018 unfolded, the international criticism for Saudi intervention and Washington’s role in the Yemeni chapter of war crimes plummeted. Houthis were no angels either as a UNHCR report published in Aug ‘18 noted coalition hitting civilian targets, it also documented blanket use of force on the civilian population in Houthi controlled areas.
“The group of experts is concerned by the alleged use by the Houthi-Saleh forces of weapons with wide-area effect in a situation of urban warfare.” stated the report. It also stated that the Houthis were hitting women and children through shelling and snipers in their homes, fetching water at local wells, or traveling to seek medical attention.
On August 18, another coalition strike annihilated 40 boys, aged from six to eleven, in their school bus. As Bellingcat traced back the Mk-82 bomb, approved by the US Department of State, used in the attack to Lockheed Martin, it added to the criticism of the US’s unconditional support to the Saudi regime.
In June 2018, the Yemeni National Army backed by a Saudi-led alliance had launched an offensive to recapture the northwestern port city of Hodeidah, a significant economic hub and fourth-largest city. After six months of intense fighting, both parties agreed to a truce, total withdrawal from Hodeidah, and a “mutual understanding” in Taiz.
In January 2019, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Italian Institute of International Political Studies had listed Yemen in the Top Conflict Watch of the year. As Houthis scaled up their military capabilities, shooting down US MQ-9 reaper drone with Iranian assistance—according to CENTCOM—reports came of UAE pulling out from Aden, amid intensified tensions between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf.
On September 14, 2019, at 3:31 to 3:42 am in morning, the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and the world’s largest oil processing facilities, Abqaiq and Khurais Oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia, were attacked by Houthi drones, shutting down half of the kingdom’s crude output.
Despite the Houthis’ taking credit for the attack and the UN’s claims regarding the Houthis acquiring long-range drones (1200-1500km) capable of hitting Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, the United States and Saudi Arabia asserted that the attack hadn’t stemmed from Yemen. Instead, Iran was directly behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” tweeted the US Secretary of State at that time, Mike Pompeo.
Tehran immediately refuted all such accusations. Despite this continuous rhetoric, US President Donald Trump’s statements had hinted that Washington would avoid any additional escalation with Iran which would have doomed global energy supplies further down the hill while markets hadn’t recovered from the previous attacks on Saudi facilities.
The Saudi-Emirati Rivalry in Yemen
On the other hand in a dramatic twist, the civil war turned multi-layered when the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) separatists seized Aden’s control from coalition-supported government forces. Few days after a joint statement was released from both Saudi and Emirati foreign ministers urging for peace talks between the Yemeni government and southern separatists, the UAE struck Hadi’s forces to aid southern separatists, killing 30 Yemeni troops as per Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
In November 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia successfully struck the Riyadh agreement, between the southern separatists and the Yemeni government, which entailed power-sharing in cabinet and the military withdrawal of all forces from Aden, Abyan, and Shabwah. The landmark deal granted the absolute authority of southern Yemen to Saudi Arabia. Later in the same month, Reuters reported indirect talks in Oman between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.
In January 2020, the Houthis claimed to seize 1,500 square miles of territory in Al-Jawf and the Marib governorate, and in March, they successfully captured the strategic city of Al Hazm. “Control of the capital of Al-Jawf could totally change the course of the war. The Houthis are changing the balance in their favor,” Majed al-Madhaji, executive director of Sanaa Centre, deciphered the situation to AFP.
Bethan McKernan, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent reported the same that Saudi-Emirati tussle had been dragging the conflict as Riyadh was already back channeling with Houthis through Oman while the UAE was pressing the attacks to keep the Saudi-backed Islah faction in check.
The One-sided Agreement
In April 2020, in light of the proposal sent by UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, the coalition announced a unilateral ceasefire amid the globally surging COVID-19 pandemic, although the coalition forces kept violating the ceasefire with at least 106 airstrikes in just a week.
The Houthis had already called it a “ploy”, demanding the lifting of air and naval blockade of Yemen which had been depriving the population of food and medicines. It seemed like the international pressure on the coalition, and the financial strain on Al Saud was dealing with, had not gone unnoticed by those controlling most of northern Yemen.
The Houthis had released their own proposal which Elana DeLozier from the Washington Institute narrated as a “wish list”, as it had thrown all the responsibility of ceasefire on the coalition with demands of demilitarization of borders and above all, war compensations and salaries in northern Yemen for a decade, but all were non-starters for Riyadh.
The Saudis kept extending the one-sided ceasefire but things only got worse. The STC separatists withdrew from the Riyadh agreement six months after signing, announcing the establishment of self-rule in southern Yemen. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government immediately denounced the declaration while the Houthis were claiming to “liberate” 95% of the Al-Jawf governorate; this left only the Marib province in the north under the control of Hadi’s forces.
The Houthis were keenly observing and seizing the fruits of coalition infighting. Separatists moved to redirect the revenues from ports, free zones, and an oil refinery to the STC accounts as reports surfaced of the Yemeni government attacking the separatists in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.
A week later, the STC president, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, landed in Riyadh to talk over the deadlock that persisted between supposedly anti-Houthi allies. The Yemeni government and STC separatists agreed to a ceasefire to begin peace talks in June 2020. In December 2020 while a freshly established cabinet of coalition-backed government arrived in Yemen after agreeing to equal power-sharing, two blasts shook Aden International Airport. With cabinet members remaining safe, 22—with most being aid workers—were killed in this fatal attack.
Coalition’s Failure in Yemen
“Incompetence, lack of unified leadership, and the absence of a military strategy by the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition played into the hands of the Houthis,” stated Nadwa Al-Dawsari from the Middle East Institute. Local tribes lacked the medium-range surface-to-air ballistic missiles and other advanced weaponry on which Houthis built their tactical achievements.
The Houthi combat units constituted 20, or even fewer men, and three trucks for higher mobility to counter the constant aerial surveillance by coalition UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and the US satellites. According to Jamestown Foundation, disregard for meritocracy and skills, the weary chain of commands, and persisting corruption in Yemeni government forces due to Saudi black-cheque strategy laid the ground for coalition failures. While perpetual imprecise bombings cost thousands of civilian lives and the worst humanitarian crisis due to the air and naval blockade, the public resentment against the coalition fueled.
In the aftermath of King Abdullah’s death in January 2015, his brother Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to rule but being 79 with speculations of dementia and Parkinson’s enabled his most ambitious son, Muhammad bin Salman, to rise as a de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Reportedly he is named “little general” behind his back due to his craving for respect from Washington and turning down his advisers who predicted a catastrophic outcome from an all-out Yemeni offensive, including former foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. Saudi military failure in Yemen hatched from a “panicked reaction of an inexperienced prince with too much to prove” rather than from his desire to check Iranian influence and rescue Yemen, wrote Sophia Dingli, a lecturer in international relations from the University of Hull.
Besides all this, Washington has also altered its course with Joe Biden in the Oval Office. “The war in Yemen must end,” stated President Biden in his first significant foreign policy speech. A week later, the state department repealed the Houthis’ status of Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization(SDGT) and Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) enacted a day before Donald Trump left the Oval Office.
Saltana Begum, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) advocacy manager in Yemen, voiced that at that time “We had famine warnings where 16 million people – that’s one in two Yemenis – were close to starvation.”
Setting Terms for Peace
In June this year, the Saudi-led coalition even ceased the air raids temporarily for “preparing the political ground for a peace process in Yemen,” remarked the coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki. The gesture came as efforts ramped up for a political settlement. The US Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking had visited Riyadh in the same month where he met several government officials along with UN Envoy Martin Griffiths.
Saudi and Houthi camps have been reportedly close to a ceasefire deal. The Houthis want the end of the blockade “without impossible conditions” before a “comprehensive ceasefire”, stated Houthi’s chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. As promising as it all might seem, and although Oman has been an excellent mediator with its impartial and carefully measured foreign policy, there are still a lot of bridges to cross and compromises to be made from both sides for a mutually beneficial post-war arrangement.
The Saudis would not just demand guarantees on border security from Oman and Iran but also a check to Iranian influence and even that won’t cater to the grievances of anti-Houthi factions battling alongside coalition forces. So, the peace process has to be inclusive for sustainable accords.
Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh
The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.
During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers. The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.
Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.
Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).
Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.
Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan. She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.
Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.
During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world.
In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.
Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.
Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.
Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.
Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:
” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”
On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:
“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”.
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