4 Holocaust & Genocide Stud. 161 (1989)
Revolutionary Genocide: On the Causes of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the Holocaust

handle is hein.journals/hologen4 and id is 177 raw text is: Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 161-174,1989  8756-6583/89 $3.00 + 0.00
Printed in Great Britain                                      Pergamon Press plc
'Genocide in the 20th Century'
REVOLUTIONARY GENOCIDE: ON THE CAUSES OF THE
ARMENIAN GENOCIDE OF 1915 AND THE HOLOCAUST*
ROBERT MELSON
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Abstract - The aim of this essay is to advance the development of a conceptual
framework for the study of genocide, by comparing and generalizing from the
Holocaust and the Armenian genocide of 1915. Some current explanations of the
Holocaust and the Armenian genocide emphasize the ideologies of the perpe-
trators, the functional exigencies of the organizations of destruction, and the
provocative behaviours of the victims. Without denying the importance of such
factors, this essay focuses on the revolutionary crises of the state and on the
successful modernization and mobilization of traditionally despised minorities as
crucial antecedent variables to genocide.
THE PROBLEM
In taking an overview of the scholarship on the Holocaust, on the one hand, and the
Armenian genocide of 1915, on the other, one is struck by how often three kinds of
explanations are proffered. Two of these apply especially to the Holocaust and one to the
Armenian genocide. When explaining the Holocaust, some writers suggest that this
genocide was due primarily to Nazi ideology which itself had 'roots' in racism and earlier
forms of antisemitism.1 Meanwhile, other writers, examining the same phenomena, claim
that although Hitler's ideology may have been important for legitimizing decisions, the main
sources of the Final Solution derived from the exigencies of the machinery whose task was
to solve the 'Jewish Question'. Neither the 'intentionalists', nor the 'functionalists', as the
first and second sets of writers have come to be known, would argue that it was the victims
themselves who provoked the Holocaust.2
Surprisingly, however, that is precisely what some respected scholars imply in their
analysis of the Armenian genocide of 1915. Influential scholars of Ottoman and Turkish
history suggest that the Armenian genocide had little to do with the ideology of the
Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) or with the exigencies of the bureaucracies that
were saddled with the tasks of the deportations. Instead, they suggest that its origins lay in
the provocative behaviour of the victims themselves.3 Thus, the ideology of the
perpetrators, the functional needs of the machinery of destruction and the provocative
behaviour of the victims are often cited as principal factors in explanations of genocide.
Given the complexity of the problem before us, credible and valid explanations of
genocide simply may not exist, and given the space of a brief essay only the sketchiest of
*An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 'Remembering for the Future' Conference,
Oxford, 10-13 July 1988. I wish to acknowledge the support of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish
Culture; The Truman Institute, Hebrew University; and the Center for Humanistic Studies, Purdue
University.

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