Reading

France, Great Britain, and Russia Joint Declaration, 1915

In 1915, France, Great Britain, and Russia, issued a declaration condemning the ongoing Armenian genocide carried out in the Ottoman Empire and threatening to hold the perpetrators accountable.
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At a Glance

Reading

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • Genocide

In 1915 accounts from international observers, politicians, and reporters alerted the world to the unfolding massacre of the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire. Outraged, Russia (who had a significant Armenian minority) called on its French and British allies to join in warning the Ottoman leadership that it would be held accountable for its “fresh crimes . . . against Christianity and civilization.” Britain, which was slow to respond at first, countered this proposal by turning to a universal language: It wanted to stay away from language that simply portrayed these unspeakable acts as crimes committed by Muslims against Christians (or simply a violation of Christian values). 

The British asked that the declaration condemn “crimes against civilization,” namely, barbaric acts that violated the principles of the entire civilized world. Lemkin relied upon these distinctions in his Madrid paper (see Reading 2: “Crimes Against Individuals as Members of a Larger Group,” in the case study Totally Unofficial: Raphael Lemkin and the Genocide Convention). The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, then came up with a compromise and coined the phrase “crimes against humanity and civilization.” It was also one of the first times a state was accused of committing a crime against its own citizens. 1

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Department of State, Washington 
May 29, 1915 
Amembassy [American Embassy], 

Constantinople.

French Foreign Office requests following notice be given Turkish Government.

May 24th 

For about a month the Kurd and Turkish populations of Armenia has been massacring [killing] Armenians with the connivance [approval] and often assistance of Ottoman authorities. Suchmassacres took place in middle April at Erzerum, Dertchun, Eguine, Akn, Bitlis, Mush, Sassun, Zeitun, and throughout Cilicia. Inhabitants of about one hundred villages near Van were all murdered. In that city[the] Armenian quarter is besieged by Kurds. At the same time in Constantinople Ottoman Government ill-treats inoffensive [harmless] Armenian population. In view of those new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly to the Sublime-Porte that they will hold personally responsible [for] these crimes all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated [involved] in such massacres. 2

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Glossary 

Constantinople was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. 

The Turkish Government controlled the Ottoman Empire. 

The Kurds were an ethnic minority living in the Ottoman Empire. Most Kurds practiced Islam. 

The Turks were the ethnic majority that ruled the Ottoman Empire. Most Turks practiced Islam. 

Armenia was a territory within the Ottoman Empire. Armenians were one of many national groups that lived within the vast Ottoman Empire. With their own language and culture, most Armenians take pride in the fact that they were among the first people to adopt Christianity, even before the Roman Empire. 

In 1915, the Ottoman Empire ruled an area that extended from southern Europe to the Middle East. 

Erzerum, Dertchun, Eguine, Akn, Bitlis, Mush, Sassun, Zeitun, Cilicia and Van were all villages and towns in Turkey with large Armenian populations. 

During World War I, the Allied government , including France, Britain, and Russia, fought against the Axisgovernments, which included Germany and the Ottoman Empire. 

The Sublime-Porte is the name of the court where laws were made in the Ottoman Empire. 

 

  • 1Gary Jonathan Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 115-17.
  • 2France, Great Britain and Russia Joint Declaration (May 24, 1915), Armenian National Institute website, http://www.armenian-genocide.org/Affirmation.160/current_category.7/affirmation_detail.html (accessed on October 11, 2006).

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History and Ourselves, "France, Great Britain, and Russia Joint Declaration, 1915," last updated September 14, 2022, https://www.facinghistory.org/.
This reading contains text not authored by Facing History and Ourselves. See footnotes for source information.

 

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