Raphael Lemkin - Looking back at the word Genocide

Author of the word `genocide' - which referred not only to the Jewish Holocaust but also the the Armenian Genocide, when he came up with the concept following the Second World War. `In fact, when Mr. Lemkin coined the term genocide the Armenian events were one of the two archetypes he used in his work'. Mr. Lemkin was Jewish himself.

The fate of the Anatolian Armenians during World War I, and especially the inability of the victorious Allies to prosecute effectively the leading Young Turks, deeply shocked the young Lemkin. In the wake of this experience he concluded that an international law against the wholesale extermination of ethnic and religious groups had to be created. In order to achieve this goal, Lemkin was willing to limit state sovereignty, which most legal philosophers and practitioners of international law rejected: “But sovereignty of states implies conducting an independent foreign and internal policy, building of schools, construction of roads, in brief, all types of activity directed towards the welfare of people. Sovereignty cannot be conceived as the right to kill millions of innocent people.”

As Lemkin stated in his unpublished autobiography, the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians had a lasting impact on him and reinforced his interest in mass violence. Until his death he was working on a broad study of genocides in the history of humankind. Although his manuscripts on the Armenian genocide and on the Holocaust have been touched upon in the last years, the real signifi- cance of his unpublished works has been neglected.

"For example, as we speak about the Armenian Genocide of 1915, not everyone realizes that “genocide” is a word that was not coined until 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist. Turkish propagandists know this well. They point out that what happened to the Armenians could be a massacre or a tragedy, but not genocide, simply because the term genocide did not exist back in 1915. This argument is as ridiculous as saying that Cain could not have murdered Abel because the word murder was not yet invented at that time!

Mr. Lemkin had repeatedly mentioned in his writings that as a young man he was so troubled by the Armenian mass murders and the then on-going Holocaust that he coined the word genocide and worked tirelessly until the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, on Dec. 9, 1948. " (From: Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide In Newly-Found 1949 CBS Interview, Harut Sassounian)