Former director of the Raymond Aron Center (CESPRA), historian Vincent Duclert was notably responsible for the report on the role of France in the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 2021. He publishes Armenia, a genocide without end and the world that extinct from Editions des Belles Lettres (2023).
LE FIGARO. - At a time when Nagorno-Karabakh is experiencing the end of its existence, you are publishing a work on the “endless genocide” to which the Armenian people are subject in the Caucasus. What led you to write about the plight of this people?
VINCENT DUCLERT. - I personally have no connection with the Armenians. But as a historian, I consider it my duty to explain that what these people are experiencing questions us all. They carry within them universal history. On the one hand, because they were victims of the world's first genocide, thanks to which we were able to understand what a genocidal process is - which began for them in 1894 with the massacres in Anatolia and Constantinople.
On the other hand, because they carry a knowledge of reconstruction which is absolutely incredible. What the small self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, without recognition and very isolated, has proven for 33 years is more than resilience. Even though they were denied any future on earth, the Artsakhiotes (Artsakh is the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh, editor's note) gave themselves new horizons through books, art, and language. It's absolutely marvelous. If we abandon them, we renounce this universal knowledge which they carry.
What makes you say that current events are a continuation of the Armenian genocide?
My thesis is to say that this war of aggression, particularly violent, is coupled with a war of extermination, in continuity with the genocide of 1915.
Let’s remember the story. On the eve of the First World War, Baku (current capital of Azerbaijan, editor's note), populated by Turkish-speaking Muslims, was part of the territorial and ideological horizons of the Young Turks, a nationalist political movement which wanted to transform the multi-confessional Ottoman Empire and multinational into a nation state with a single Turkish race. Armenia was then divided between two entities: two thirds in the Ottoman Empire under the name Western Armenia, and one third in the Russian Empire, Eastern Armenia.
The Armenian genocide, which began in 1890 with various pogroms, reached its climax in 1915. Western Armenia was eradicated. At the end of the First World War, the victory of the Allies raised hopes of reparation when they noted a crime against humanity - a term which appeared for the first time - and promised the Young Turks the courts. But the Treaty of Sèvres was abandoned. And Mustafa Kemal, who takes power, completes the genocide. After that of Nagorno-Karabakh, the total eradication of Armenia is the next prospect. The Armenians of Armenia will lose their rump state, which roughly corresponds to Eastern Armenia resulting from the former Russian empire. It will be attacked sooner or later by the Turkish-Azerbaijani axis.
We have an obligation to say what is happening: we are witnessing a war of elimination.
What signs do you see this in?
The elements that I provide in my book are indisputable. There have been several “red flags” since 2020, during the “44-day war”, revealing that a war of extermination was lodged within the war of aggression. Documented war crimes; slogans calling for the targeting of Armenians; acts of torture on military prisoners. In a simple territorial war, you don't designate the enemy as absolute evil!
More recently, the closure of the Lachin corridor last December is truly a continuation of the genocide. This road, the only route connecting the enclave to the rest of the world, suffered an Azeri blockade which intensified over the months, leading the 120,000 Artsakhiotes to suffer hunger. Eventually, Baku changed tactics by attacking with weapons, which allowed residents to flee. But it struck me to see, in the photos of the refugees, the children of Nagorno-Karabakh totally emaciated, with sunken cheeks. The intentional desire to starve a targeted population falls under Article II of the Geneva Convention, which describes genocide as "a crime committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious. We are witnessing a deconstruction company that is 130 years old.
What reaction would you have expected from the world and from France to these events?
Emmanuel Macron had very definitive words to condemn Azerbaijan. But States do politics, they do not do morality. Observing the continuation of a genocide, in law, would require the international community to intervene. However, the current balance of power in the Caucasus is absolutely not in favor of the West. The historian aligns data and makes observations. Everyone has their role. Especially since there is a lack of understanding of the situation of Armenians in the West. This is largely due to the denialism of the Turks and Azeris, which is progressing in our countries.
Holocaust denial is really progressing?
Yes ! Gas chamber denialism is only carried by Iran and a few Islamic countries, and even then, it is not their absolute matrix. The Armenian genocide is the identity matrix of Turks and Azeris. All their diplomacy is mobilized, and they are taking legal action in all directions against any allusion to the Armenian genocide. These are extremely powerful networks: consider that until 2021, Turkey was able to prevent the recognition of this genocide by the United States, even though it was part of the campaign promises of a large part of the American presidents!
At a minimum, our fellow citizens must build a historical awareness, which is the strength of democracies. They must also remember which are the great pages of French history linked to the Armenians. It is not only a question of doing justice to these people who, despite everything, have developed quite exceptional capacities for resistance which must be saluted. But a genocide is a crime against humanity: humanity is affected. An interesting reminder: at the end of the 19th century, in France, big names like Jaurès, Péguy, Cauchin mobilized to denounce the “war of extermination” taking place in Armenia. However, a few months later, the same people signed up to defend Dreyfus. Péguy will say clearly: we could not save the Armenians, we will save Dreyfus. Certainly, their fight for the Armenians will have helped them to better engage.