This lesson introduces students to the challenges of seeking justice in the aftermath of genocide. Unlike the Holocaust, most of the primary perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide were not held accountable for their actions. While there were several sets of trials inside Turkey, Talaat, the Young Turk Minister of the Interior, and other key architects of the Armenian Genocide were able to avoid punishment by going into exile. Although Allied leaders threatened to punish Ottoman officials for "crimes against humanity and civilization", following the First World War an absence of political and moral will dashed any hopes for justice.
This lesson addresses the following essential questions:
What is justice?
For there to be justice after the crimes against the Armenians, what would need to happen?
Who should be held accountable? Who would need to be involved?
In this lesson students will...
- Define justice in their own words;
- Identify the results of the trials held by the Turkish government in 1919 and be able to describe what ultimately happened to the leaders of the Armenian genocide (Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey and Djemal Pasha);
- Apply their understanding of justice to the treatment of Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey, and Djemal Pasha;
- Connect their understanding of justice to events in their own lives.
Selected readings from Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization:
Acquitting the Assassin, pp. 165-166
The Armenian Genocide (Two Cats Productions/Oregon Public Broadcasting)
Ask students to define the word justice in their journal. Then have them think about a time when they felt like a victim or when they were treated unfairly. What would have needed to happen for there to be justice in this situation? Ask students to share their responses. Now ask students to consider the questions, "For there to be justice, what would need to happen? Who should be held accountable? Who would we need to be involved?" Have students brainstorm answers to these questions.
1. Show the class an excerpt of the film The Armenian Genocide which focuses on the post-war trials in Turkey (minutes 34:00-37:23) To help students pick up details, you can pass out a sheet with key questions. Suggested key questions include:
- What is a War Crimes Tribunal?
- Whose idea was it to organize a War Crimes Tribunal against officials who committed crimes against Armenians?
- Where were these Tribunals held?
- Who was in charge of the Tribunals?
- Who did the Tribunal find responsible for the genocide of the Armenians?
- What did the Tribunal say would be their punishment?
- Where were the accused officials when the trials were taking place?
- In the end, what happened to the accused officials?
You might have to show the clip two or three times to allow students to answer all of these questions. You could also divide the questions among the class so that students only have to listen for answers to two or three questions. After showing the clip, students can share their answers with the class. Ultimately, all students should end this activity knowing basic facts about post-war trials in Turkey.
2. "Take a stand" Activity: The next activity requires students to synthesize their beliefs about justice and their understanding of the Armenian Genocide, especially the events following the Armenian Genocide.
- Label the four corners of the room with signs reading: Strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree.
- Explain to students that you will read a statement and give them a minute to record responses in their journal. [Suggested statements follow the directions for this activity.]
- Then students will get out of their seats and "take a stand" in the corner that best represents their opinion.
- Once students are in their corners, allow students from each corner a few minutes to share what they wrote in their journals. Each group should appoint a speaker who will present these ideas to the rest of the class.
- Allow the speakers to present their ideas one at a time. Let students know that if someone says something that causes them to change their opinion, they can switch corners.
- After all "corners" have presented their ideas, facilitate a conversation among students from different corners. Encourage students to respectfully challenge the ideas of students in other corners or to ask clarifying questions if a speaker presented an idea that was confusing or unclear.
Before you begin the "Take a Stand" activity, ask students to read "Acquitting the Assassin," pp. 165-166. Or, you can summarize this reading for them. The story or Soghomon Tehlirian is also included in the film The Armenian Genocide (36:00-36:44). After students are familiar with the facts surrounding the murder or TalaatBey and the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, ask students if they strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the following statement: The not guilty verdict in the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian contributed to the cause of justice. Then begin the "Take a Stand" Activity described above. Below are other "Take a Stand" statements you might also include in this lesson:
- The Turkish War Crime Tribunals should not only have punished the leaders of the Armenian Genocide; the tribunal should also have punished anyone who was involved with harming Armenians.
- There should have been an international trial for perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide instead of trials in Turkey.
As a final debrief of the concept of justice, you can ask students to connect their understanding of the Armenian Genocide to their own experience with justice. Prompts: What is justice? Is it the same as punishment? Who is responsible for making sure that justice is served? How might perpetrators or bystanders view justice differently than the victims or witnesses?
Students can write about two episodes in their life: a time when they felt like the victim of injustice and a time when they might have been a bystander or perpetrator of injustice. Ask students to describe what "justice" would have looked like after each of these situations. Do their ideas of justice change when approaching the situation from the perspective of the perpetrator or bystander as opposed to from the perspective of the victim?
Students can write a persuasive essay elaborating on any of the "take a stand" comments. Or, they can compare what actually happened after the Armenian Genocide to their initial answer to the question, "For there to be justice for Armenians, what would need to happen? Who would we need to be involved?"