Explaining the Unexplainable: Terminology Employed by Armenian Media

Explaining the Unexplainable: The Terminology Employed by the Armenian
Media when Referring to 1915(1)

By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
September 23, 2006

What terminology have Armenians employed to describe the greatest
tragedy in their history? When was the term Tseghasbanutyun (Genocide)
incorporated into their discourse? I will try to answer these
questions by looking at the April 24 editorials in three
Armenian-language dailies’Aztag (Factor), Zartonk (Awakening), and

These newspapers, all published in Beirut, express the views of the
three Armenian political parties that survived in the Diaspora’the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) or the Tashnags, the Social
Democratic Hunchagian Party, and the Democratic Liberal Party or the
Ramgavars, respectively. Aztag has been published, without any
significant interruption, since 1927; Ararad and Zartonk, since

Survivors of the Armenian Genocide used a number of terms to refer to
the destruction of their people in the Ottoman Empire. In the
editorials under study, the term most commonly and consistently used
from the 1920s to the present is Yeghern (Crime/Catastrophe), or
variants like Medz Yeghern (Great Crime) and Abrilian Yeghern (the
April Crime). Other terms include Hayasbanutyun (Armenocide), Medz
Voghperkutyun (Great Tragedy), Medz Vogchagez (Great Holocaust), Medz
Nahadagutyun (Great Martyrdom), Aghed (Catastrophe), Medz Nakhjir and
Medz Sbant (both, Great Massacre), Medz Potorig (Great Storm), Sev
Vojir (Black Crime) and, after 1948, Tseghasbanutyun (Genocide), or
variants like Haygagan Tseghasbanutyun and Hayots Tseghasbanutyun
(both, Armenian Genocide).

Yeghern was the word most frequently used when referring to the
destruction of the Armenians before the term `genocide’ was coined by
Raphael Lemkin in 1944 and incorporated into the 1948 UN Genocide
Convention. Even after that, Yeghern maintained its prominence for a
number of decades.

It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the expression
Haygagan Tseghasbanutyun started appearing more frequently than the
term ‘Yeghern’ in the editorials under study and, generally, in other
related articles in Armenian-language newspapers and publications4.

Hayasbanutyun was used after the Lebanese jurist Moussa Prince
published his book Un génocide impuni: L’Arménocide
(Unpunished genocide: Armenocide) in 1967(5). In the next few years,
more than one Armenian translation of this book appeared as a book and
as a serial in Ararad (6).

>From 1978 to 1982, the term Hayasbanutyun was employed at least once
in every April 24 editorial in Aztag. However, it rarely appeared in
the other newspapers under study.

The term Tseghasbanutyun appeared for the first time in Aztag on April
25, 1948, a few months before the UN General Assembly approved the
`Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’
in December of that year. Titled `Tseghasbanutyun,’ the editorial
begins with the following question in reference to the Jewish
Holocaust (7):

`Was another earth-shaking storm necessary, so that men would learn
the word Tseghasbanutyun (Genocide)? ¦The attempt to exterminate
the Armenians en masse’genocide’only served the purpose of filling the
pages of books and giving brilliant speeches, while the other [attempt
of extermination] immediately resulted in a logical ending: trials and
hanging.’ (Aztag, 1948)

The next time the term was used in Aztag was in an editorial
condemning the disinterest of the West over the attempted decimation
of the Armenians (8) was even more evident the next time the term
appeared in an Aztag editorial:

`A second World War was needed so that the peoples of the West would
feel on their own flesh what it means to plot a crime against a nation
and would condemn it by employing the term genocide’ (Aztag, 1950).

Two years later, another April 24 editorial stated: `The condemnation
of the crime of genocide in speeches and on paper is not enough’
(Aztag, 1952). In this editorial, the term tseghasban (9) (perpetrator
of genocide) is also employed in reference to the Turks.

In the following years, and leading up to the 50th anniversary of the
Yeghern in 1965, the term Tseghasbanutyun was not used in the
editorials of Aztag. However, it was mentioned, albeit sporadically,
in other articles dealing with the issue published in the same

Zartonk first employed the term Tseghasbanutyun in its April 24
editorial in 1954 and it continued to use it in subsequent years:(11)
`The Armenian fatherland was depopulated as a result of the horrible
crime of Genocide that was unleashed on the 24 of April’ (Zartonk,
1954); no one listened to the few great humanists who were `condemning
barbarity and genocide’ (Zartonk, 1955); `The German-Austrian
whore-like politics turned a blind eye to this ghastly genocide’
(Zartonk, 1956); `Forty-five years after the Medz Yeghern started,
today, while we deeply mourn the martyrdom of our fathers and mothers,
brothers and sisters, we also state with endless joy that the
genocidal Turk has failed in his plan¦We should vow to do
everything to crown our SACRED CAUSE [Emphasis by Zartonk] with
success, so that no [other] Talaat (12) will ever again even
contemplate solving `the Armenian issue’ through violent genocide’
(Zartonk, 1960); `The Ittihadist leaders or the Ottoman ministers had
already prepared the ground for the unprecedented genocide’ (Zartonk,
1964), etc.

After 1965, the term Tseghasbanutyun was gradually incorporated into
the standard lexicon of the three newspapers under study and was used
interchangeably with other terms when referring to the events of 1915.

In 1965, stressing the importance of the 50th anniversary of the
Genocide, the ARF Central Committee in Lebanon signed a declaration in
Aztag titled `Our Word,’ which appeared in lieu of an editorial. In
this declaration, the term Yeghern was used five times, while
Tseghasbanutyun was used only twice. (13)

In 1966, in a move atypical for the period before the 1990s, an
editorial titled `Tseghasbanutyun,’ used the term Tseghasbanutyun
seven times (three in reference to the UN Genocide Convention),
tseghasban Turk (the genocidal Turk) once, and Yeghern not at all.

Ararad first used the term Tseghasbanutyun in an April 24 editorial in
1966. Thereafter, the term appeared with some regularity in the
newspaper’s April 24 editorials: `The Diaspora Armenians have an
immensely important role to play in acquiring condemnation for the
genocide of the Turk’ (Ararad, 1966); `Even the wildest imagination
would not be able to portray the genocide committed against us’
(Ararad, 1967); `The genocide committed against our people is also a
crime against humanity’ (Ararad, 1968); `56 years have passed from the
genocide and the pillaging of Western Armenia’ (Ararad, 1971), etc.

The expression Haygagan Tseghasbanutyun was not employed at this
juncture. Typically, when referring to the events of 1915-16, the
expressions used were `the genocide of 1915,’ `The Turkish genocide,’
and `the genocide committed against the Armenians.’ It is only in the
1980s that Haygagan Tseghasbanutyun becomes the most frequently
applied expression when referring to 1915.

Deniers of the Armenian Genocide argue that the Armenians themselves
never referred to 1915 as `genocide’ before the 1980s. As this study
demonstrates, their argument, popular in the Turkish media and
academic circles, does not stand. While it is true that the Armenians
have employed a number of terms to refer to the annihilation of their
people, shortly after the term `genocide’ was coined by Raphael Lemkin
and even before the UN Genocide Convention was approved, the Armenians
realized that the term was applicable to the horrors their people
experienced just a few decades earlier.

Of course, they were not alone in this realization. Lemkin himself
referred to 1915 as `genocide’ and stated that it paved the way to the
unanimous adoption of the Genocide Convention by the UN General
Assembly in 1948. `One million Armenians died, but a law against the
murder of peoples was written with the ink of their blood and the
spirit of their sufferings,’ wrote Lemkin in an exclusive article for
the Hairenik Weekly in 1959.


1 This article is an excerpt from a research paper presented at the
fourth Workshop on Armenian-Turkish Scholarship, held at New York
University in May 2006. I am indebted to Dr. Ara Sanjian for his
guidance and invaluable advice from the first day I embarked on my
research on issues related to the Yeghern and the Armenian media. I
also thank Dr. Asbed Kotchikian and Dr. Rania Masri for reading the
drafts of the paper upon which this article is based.

2 The Tashnag Aztag was published twice a week until 1930, and then,
three times a week until 1932, when it became a daily publication. The
newspaper was initially the private property of Haig Balian, but it
expressed the views of the ARF until June 1965, when it formally
became the official organ of the ARF Central Committee of Lebanon. The
Hunchagian Ararad became a weekly in June 2001.

Aztag, Zartonk and Ararad are not the only daily newspapers that have
mirrored opinions of the Lebanese-Armenian community. A fourth daily,
the independent Ayk, published by Tigran Tospat, appeared from
1953-75. Because of constraints on space and time, this study does not
deal with Ayk’s editorials on Armenian Martyrs’ Commemoration Day.

3 In the 1990 editorial, Yeghern appeared only once in Aztag, while
Tseghasbanutyun was employed three times. In the 1997 editorial, for
example, Zartonk employed the term tseghasban 10 times; tseghasbanagan
(genocidal), twice; and Tseghasbanutyun, three times. Yeghern was not
employed. In the 2005 editorial, the term Tseghasbanutyun appeared 11
times in Aztag. It should be noted that even in the 1980s and 1990s,
one does encounter editorials where the term Tseghasbanutyun was not
the word of choice when referring to 1915 (see, for example, Aztag,

4 It is interesting to note here that the first ever book with the
word genocide (as applied to the Armenians) in the title was published
in 1948. It was Josef Guttmann’s 19-page booklet, The Beginnings of
Genocide: A Brief Account of the Armenian Massacres in World War I
(New York: Armenian National Council of America, 1948). This was the
English translation of an article originally published in Yiddish in
Yivo bleter, the Journal of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, v. 28,
no. 2, under the title `Di shhite oyf Armener hit draysik yor tsurik.’
Thereafter, we have to wait until 1965 for Father Jean
Mécérian’s Le génocide du peuple arménien:
le sort de la population arménienne de l’Empire ottoman, de la
Constitution ottomane au Traité de Lausanne, 1908-1923 (Beirut:
Impr. Catholique, 1965). There was one Armenian title published in
Beirut with the word Tseghasbanutyun in 1959: Tseghasbanutyune
khorhrtayin mioutenen ners: usumnasirutyun zankvadzayin sbanutyants
`(Genocide in the Sovet Union: A Study on the [Committed] Mass
Murders) but that was about the USSR, the translation of a book
produced by Institut zur Erforschung der UdSSR in 1958. (This research
was carried out through WorldCat.)

5 The term `Armenocide’ is also used in the title of The Genocide of
the Armenians by Turks, the Turkish Armenocide, Documentary series,
v. 1: The Memoirs of Naim Bey: Turkish Official Documents Relating to
the Deportations and Massacres of Armenians ([Newton Square, Pa.]:
Armenian Historical Research Association, 1964).

6 One of the translators is Dikran Vosgouny, an editor of Aztag in
that period.

7 The Holocaust and other genocides are seldom mentioned in April 24
editorials. The Rwandan Genocide, for instance, is mentioned in Aztag
in 2004, in the context of the 10th anniversary commemoration of that

8 In the editorials, Western powers are frequently blamed for the
suffering of the Armenians. Germany is considered an accomplice to
what befell the Armenians. Britain, France and the U.S. are blamed for
being bystanders and, prior to that, doing little to fulfill their
promises to the Armenians suffering under the Ottoman rule.

9 As this paper demonstrates, for decades tseghasban remains an
adjective inseparable from `the Turk’ in the Armenian newspapers. It
is worth nothing that Haygazn Ghazarian’s book on the Armenian
Genocide, published in Beirut in 1968, is titled Tseghasban Turke.

10 See, for example, H.K. Barsalian’s `The God-Chosen Armenian’ on
page 2 of the April 23 1959 issue, and the series of articles by
Yer[vant] Khatanasian titled `Genocide and the Armenian Cause’ in
April 1964.

11 It should be noted here that the editor of Zartonk, Kersam
Aharonian, played an instrumental role in making the Armenian Genocide
a central cause in Lebanon in the 1960s. The 1,116-page book,
Hushamadyan Medz Yegherni, which he edited in 1965, was regarded as
the most comprehensive Armenian-language book on the topic of Yeghern
published until then.

12 Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha, the leading figure of the
triumvirate that came to power in 1913 in the Ottoman Empire and a
prime architect of the Armenian Genocide, is regarded by the
editorials throughout the entire period under study as the
personification of genocidal evil. His name is often cited together
with the name of Soghomon Tehlirian, who assassinated Talaat on March
14, 1921.

13 In the resolution adopted by the 18th ARF General Meeting in 1963,
the term Tseghasbanutyun was employed for the first time in the line
of successive General Meeting resolutions.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS