top of page

Cultural Genocide: An Annihilation of the Soul

In “The Destruction of the Armenian Church during the Genocide,” historian, professor, and author Simon Payaslian endeavors to investigate the reactions of Armenian ecclesiastical leaders during the decimation of their community. Throughout Payaslian’s examination, the historian spotlights three clerical leaders who sought to address the developing genocide. Diverging from Payaslian’s narrower focus, Peter Balakian - Rebar Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University - details the religious devastation Payaslian examines but broadens his lens to study the various forms of Armenian cultural destruction and their impacts. Thus, in “Raphael Lemkin, Cultural Destruction, and the Armenian Genocide,” Balakian aims to deconstruct Lemkin’s overlooked concept of cultural destruction and apply it to the Armenian Genocide. In both articles, it is apparent through their particular jargon that Payaslian and Balakian cater to an educated audience. For instance, passing references to the Catholicosate of Aghtamar and of the Great House of Cilicia at Sis along with the regional WWI geopolitics require that readers possess at least a foundational understanding of eastern Mediterranean history and Armenian culture. Also, considering that a version of Payaslian’s paper appeared at an international conference organized by the Armenian Apostolic Church of America and attended by Armenian and genocide scholars, Payaslian is not likely targeting the average uninformed public. Comparably, Balakian’s use of psychological and philosophical concepts to explain the ramifications of cultural genocide limits his readership to intellectuals. Although both acknowledge the political posture from Turkey, neither author appears interested in amending its obstinate denialism. Finally, Professor Payaslian contends that while Armenian Church leaders ventured to mitigate the mass suffering induced by the Armenian Genocide, they too became victims of the Turkic Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) - the revolutionary organization and political party responsible for the mass exterminations. Balakian expands his thesis, asserting the demolition of historical monuments, liquidation of intellectuals and leaders, desecration of spiritual symbols, and forced conversion of Armenian Christians constituted Lemkin’s concept of cultural destruction. However, this cultural unraveling did not simply end with the physical massacres. If the authors’ claims are valid, then critical readers must explore the CUP’s motivations for wreaking cultural havoc, the socio-psychological repercussions of cultural destruction, and the ongoing cultural suppression since the post-WWI Kemalist regime.

At the outset of their articles, Payaslian and Balakian furnish their investigations and arguments with historical context. For instance, historian Payaslian leads with an explanation of the origins and functions of the Armenian Church in “The Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Armenian Question,” divulging that the Church performed a variety of ecclesiastical and secular undertakings. Namely, apart from offering spiritual guidance, the institution served as the diplomatic representatives and administrative agents for Armenian affairs (Payaslian, 149-150). Payaslian subsequently proceeds to expound upon the genocidal pre-conditions during the Ottoman Empire’s denouement. He outlines the cultural tensions between Ottoman Muslims and Christians, growing interference by European Great Powers in Ottoman affairs, Sultan Abdul Hamid’s paranoia, and the Turkic nationalism which developed in the early 20th century. Balakian differs slightly, commencing with a description of Lemkin and his childhood curiosities. According to Balakian, before Lemkin devoted his career to studying the Armenian Genocide - an intellectual pursuit that enabled the coining of genocide - the young Polish Jew demonstrated a fascination with researching minority mass killings (Balakian, 57-59). Both authors then contextualize the genocidal momentum before detailing the wholesale ethnic cleansing during WWI. However, the authors digress once more. As Payaslian studies the Church’s backfiring efforts to halt Armenian destruction, Balakian delves into the broader methods of cultural demolition and its psychological significance on the Armenian community. Ultimately, both articles re-converge as they investigate the immediate and long-term consequences of the cultural genocide.

Throughout his article, Payaslian leans on documents from the Patriarchate in Constantinople and Catholicosates of Cilicia at Sis and of the Mother See in Echmiadzin - in modern Armenia and formerly under Russian suzerainty - to reason that the Church inadvertently exacerbated the Armenian Question - a term referring discussions on Armenia’s political fate, freedoms, and autonomy. Moreover, Payaslian utilizes geopolitical events to explain the Ottoman Empire’s mounting paranoia - a factor that fueled cultural destruction. To illustrate, since the decline of the Ottomans in the Crimean War of 1856, Armenian calls for security and the end to arbitrary domination, corruption, and unfair taxation went unheeded by the regional government (Payaslian, 151). Hence, growing repression and subsequent Armenian agitation spurred the Patriarchate’s involvement in European diplomacy. Aiming to introduce reforms on behalf of its victimized community, the Church wrote to the Great Powers to ameliorate Armenian plights (Payaslian, 151). While these correspondences between the Patriarchate and European administrations certainly raised suspicions regarding the Church’s loyalty, paranoia substantially escalated after the Russo-Ottoman Wars of 1878. Under the resulting Treaty of San Stefano, Russia gained vast territories at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Specifically, Russia absorbed more Armenians into its political orbit (Payaslian, 152). Following its contraction, the Ottomans tightened their grip on Armenian communities, fearing a conspiracy between Ottoman and Russian Armenians against the vulnerable empire. Payaslian surmises this reactionary response initiated a cycle where the Patriarchate - alarmed by the growing Armenian militancy - continuously appealed to foreign powers, including the recently victorious Russian czar. Despite the Patriarchate’s unrelenting advocacy for cooperation with the Ottomans - even amidst the mounting violence - and the Patriarch’s frequent pledges of allegiance to the empire, these correspondences threatened the rising, ultra-nationalist CUP. Thereby, considering the diplomatic role assumed by the Armenian Church, the ultra-nationalists sought to invalidate the Church as the core and protector of Armenian society.

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

Pursuing delegitimization as a strategy, the CUP might perennially enfeeble Armenians and uproot their culturally subversive roots. For instance, when Archbishop Ormanian and Armenian poet Vahan Tekeyan echoed public confidence, writing that the recently elected Patriarch Zaven would defend Armenia, the Turkish government seized the opportunity to dismantle popular trust in the cultural, spiritual, and administrative leader (Payaslian, 155). With Turkish administrative support, mobilized Muslim masses and a centralized military removed and murdered the higher clergy. Those few spared community leaders - such as the Patriarch - could only continue their fruitless pleas to vacillating Allied Powers as death squads slaughtered caravans of acolytes and civilian deportees (Payaslian, 157). With few community representatives left to negotiate on behalf of Armenians and evoke sympathy from bystanders, the CUP facilitated the genocide of Western Armenia. Moreover, the genocidaires appropriated or leveled religious monuments to efface the memories of Armenian civilization, thereby disrupting their cultural continuity and the threat it allegedly posed. Thus, Payaslian employs primary documents and historical context to elucidate the Ottoman insecurity and preservationist instincts that instigated the destruction of the Armenian Church during WWI. Payaslian argues this untimely distrust of ecclesiastical authority - compounding with pre-existing hostilities - eventually triggered the cultural assaults against Ottoman Armenian communities.

Balakian also calls on primary documents such as memoirs to dissect the cultural destruction in Ottoman Armenia. However, the humanities professor proposes a slightly different motivation for the elimination of minority churches, schools, artwork, literature, and other community centers. For instance, using the direct observations of British diplomat Fitzmaurice, Balakian maintains Turkish troops sometimes corralled Armenians into churches before firing through windows and setting the building ablaze. In these conflicts, the troops mockingly called upon Christ to prove himself a greater prophet than Muhammad (Balakian, 68). From Balakian’s perspective, the selection of churches - centers of Armenian communal life according to Payaslian - linked physical murder with the demolition of their culture (Payaslian, 149; Balakian, 68). Moreover, not only did these massacres subvert clerical authority by damning Armenians within their supposed sanctuaries, but the Turkish taunts even endeavored to undermine Christ’s spiritual authority. These religious underpinnings aimed to shred the crux of Armenian strength and hope: their faith. Mockery of Jesus Christ implied that even the Armenian Savior could not spare the victims from Turkish domination because their tainted beliefs could not withstand Islamic purity. Therefore, dissimilar to Payaslian, Balakian does not directly attribute the cultural demolition to political insecurity. As intimated by the taunts, ethno-religious divisions kindled cultural violence. Perceiving Christianity as inferior to Islam, idiosyncratic Armenian traditions appeared to muddle the dominant culture's integrity. Therefore, to completely erase the tarnished and distinctive society, the Turks aimed their mass killings toward Armenian culture centers (Balakian, 67). Without these cultural repositories, the traditions, symbols, and expressions interwoven into the Armenian identity disappeared. Without their identities, Armenian society ceased to exist, allowing a purer Turkic culture to thrive.

Although ethnic and religious contrasts existed amongst regular Ottoman subjects, the cultural genocide was more organized than haphazard intercommunal conflict might suggest. As Payaslian spotlights, the mobilization of Muslims against Armenian culture stemmed from senior authority. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Turkic armies, death squads, and locals could seamlessly plan the mass destruction of Armenian spiritual and material culture without a centralizing power to facilitate communication and coordination. Therefore, the CUP played a significant role in precipitating destructive violence. Yet, Payaslian divulges that according to CUP contemporaries, practically all Ittihadists - members of the CUP - possessed no more respect for Islam and Muhammad than they did for Christianity and Christ (Payaslian, 156). In fact, Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to Constantinople, quoted Turkish Interior Minister Talat for disclosing that he hated all ecclesiastical figures - regardless of their faith (Payaslian, 156). Thus, rather than instigating cultural destruction, it is more likely that Ittihadists exploited religious differences to mobilize animosity, eliminate Armenians, ensure the status quo, and assuage their paranoia. Thus, Payaslian refines Balakian’s interpretation. Nevertheless, Morgenthau’s account demands further scrutiny. Although not officially at war with the Ottomans, the U.S. allied against the Empire in WWI. Hence, analogous to the CUP’s schemes of ecclesiastical delegitimization, as informal rivals, the United States government might have sought to distort Talat’s opinions and discredit the minister’s morality and religiosity as a form of its own propaganda. Even so, both authors fundamentally agree that cultural destruction aimed to uproot Armenian existence.

Members of the Young Turks: İshak Sükuti, Serâceddin Bey, Tunalı Hilmi, Âkil Muhtar, Mithat Şükrü, Emin Bey, Lutfi Bey, Doctor Şefik, Nûri Ahmed, Doctor Reshid and Celal Münif

In addition to essentially agreeing on the underlying incentives for Armenian cultural destruction, both authors agree on the immediate socio-psychological ramifications. As Payaslian emphasizes at the beginning of his article, the Church played a vital role in Armenian community life. Since its inception, the institution interweaved Christianity into Armenian culture, bringing it to the center of communal organizations and shared identities (Payaslian, 149). Moreover, if Lemkin was correct in theorizing houses of worship afford humanity solidarity and avenues for spiritual expression, then by destroying and undermining churches, the CUP sought to undo the ancient social cohesion that strengthened Armenians amidst centuries of foreign domination (Balakian, 59). Thus, relying on apostolic history and Lemkin’s reputable analyses, the authors contend ecclesiastical destruction ultimately strove to disintegrate Armenian social unity. As a result, a fragmented Armenia would empower the CUP to pummel the unorganized masses. Also, because Armenian-Anatolian origins predate Christ and Armenian Christian roots originate in the 4th century CE, this clarifies why the CUP razed ancient Church properties (Balakian, 63-64; Payaslian, 164). By abruptly destroying the Church and its venerated possessions, they shattered confidence in communal durability. Thereby, the perpetrators strove to nullify hope for spiritual cohesion and cultural continuity. With their institutional foundations leveled, both authors agree the consequent isolation and disorganization imperiled ordinary Armenians to the Turkish bureaucratic machine (Balakian, 65; Payaslian, 159).

Affording greater attention to social psychology, Professor Balakian delves into the accounts of Gregoris Balakian - a bishop of the Apostolic Church and memoirist of the Armenian Genocide - to confirm the cultural components of CUP policies and to outline their psychological significance. Furthermore, the professor continues to equip his assessments with the ethos of accredited scholars. In the bishop’s accounts, for example, the weaponization of other Christian symbols becomes apparent. As reported by the cleric, the genocidaires periodically crucified Armenians - including pregnant mothers. For Armenians, the Holy Cross embodied the tenants of their beliefs: resurrection and immortality (Balakian, 70). Therefore, the crucifixion of even a few Armenians also links genocidal schemes with cultural bastardization. Not only does the act proclaim to other Armenian Christians that their corrupted faith will destroy them, but it also attacks foundational convictions. By crucifying pregnant women, intellectuals, artists, and leaders, it declares the opportunities for cultural resurrection also perish on the cross. With the current and unborn cultural transmitters eliminated from Anatolia, the continuity of Armenian beliefs - allegedly abhorrent and antithetical to Turkish traditions - unravels into ruins. Thus, religious desecration aimed to pervert Armenian culture so that its subscribers began to dissociate with their formerly shared beliefs. Comparably, the coerced Turkification of abducted children also strove to fray the cultural threads historically interweaving Armenian communities. In one of his encounters with an Islamized Armenian girl, Gregoris Balakian enunciated the psychological trauma of forced conversion (Balakian, 71). He opens by describing her spiritual collapse. Her emotional unwinding yielded a psychological severing between her Armenian past and her newly impressed identity. As an Armenian Christian, she embodied a subhuman pollutant worthy of slaughter; therefore, she must stow away her former self. Yet, as a Turkish Muslim, she inhabited a foreign and manufactured persona; moreover, she betrayed her community, culture, God, and soul. Regardless of her choice, her death or conversion would inevitably cleave into the generational flow of her inherited culture. Hence, wrecked by her limited options and secluded from her brethren, the young woman found herself wishing for the escape and peace of nonexistence. As maintained by Aesthetics and General Theory of Value professor Elaine Scarry at Harvard University, this dehumanizing torture further displaces traumatized survivors from their cultural roots (Balakian, 72). Also, according to Lemkin - the lawyer responsible for analyzing mass slaughter, pioneering the UN Genocide Convention, and defining genocide - destroying the individual identity frays the spiritual cohesion essential to group survival (Balakian, 72). Thus, if trauma and fear detached survivors - like Balakian’s young encounter - from their former spiritual identities, then the distressed victims were unlikely to defend an already collapsing community. Thereby, in addition to utilizing primary documents from the genocide, Peter Balakian draws upon the thoughts of reputable scholars to establish the link between genocide's sociological repercussions and the destruction of Armenian society. Simply stating cultural weaponization harmed Armenian unity lacks the credence essential for convincing audiences. Therefore, Balakian must rely on the ethos of primary witnesses and internationally accredited experts like Scarry and Lemkin.

As previously noted by Professor Payaslian, arrested bishops and deported patriarchs witnessed the mass agony of cultural de-sacralization behind bureaucratic obstacles. Frequently, they remained powerless against the military and its rapacious commanders - a reality evidenced by the roundabout conversations between Patriarch Zaven and Minister Talat (Payaslian, 160). Balakian agrees, stating that by preventing the higher clergy from aiding their community - like Gregoris Balakian, who, according to his memoir, was arrested and deported - exile undercut the Church’s legitimacy and exacerbated psychological trauma during the genocide (Balakian, 71). Payaslian corroborates this analysis by spotlighting the attitude of Catholicos Sahag of Cilicia, who, during the atrocities and clerical deportations, lamented over what he described as the loss of their spiritual center and the soul of their community (Payaslian, 161). Yet, Balakian uses scholarly research and primary accounts from the British diplomat and bishop to arrive at a bleak long-term conclusion. In the long run, cultural subversion aggravated Armenian dysphoria and splintered the cohesion enforced by the Patriarchate and Catholicosate (Balakian, 85). Perhaps, in the short term, Payaslian might agree. However, the historian rejects Balakian's long-term assessment of social cohesion, noting that by early 1920, the Patriarchate’s statistics demonstrated Church-led repatriation revived Armenian life as apostolic churches, organizations, schools, and orphanages resumed their community activities (Payaslian, 163). Also, the Church’s reinstatement in Constantinople and their involvement in refugee repatriation and community rehabilitation amended the severity of cultural delegitimation. Yet, Balakian counters Payaslian with a qualification, contending that an exilic gap - socio-psychological and physical - still ruptures Armenian cohesion (Balakian, 83). As the residual trauma and modern diasporan predicament - an outcome of deportations and a fear-induced exodus - distance Armenians from Anatolian roots, they ultimately grow estranged from their ethnic brethren and apostolic leaders. Thus, cultural roots and interactions continue to decay, and the loss layers. This uprooting would imply the cultural solidarity between Armenians never recovered, and the institutions that once unified the Ottoman minority - although reinstituted - never reclaimed their pre-genocide influence.

Perhaps, the authors’ sources and professions may clarify the differing outlooks on social cohesion in the long run. To illustrate, one must note Payaslian's statistical evidence derives from the apostolic dioceses. While the dioceses are not lying about their renewal, as an institution that formerly exercised considerable influence over its community, it might be unwilling to depict a continued authoritative decline after the genocide. Instead, it would likely highlight its re-emergence, willingness to protect Christian souls, and unifying social engagement to current and prospective members. Hence, Payaslian’s sources may contribute to his relatively encouraging attitude. In contrast, while Bishop Gregoris Balakian served the interests of the Armenian Church, the witnesses he encountered had no incentive to conceal their internalized tribulations. Trained as a historian, Payaslian recounts history as a series of events. However, the analyses of significant occurrences - like wars, legal reformations, geopolitics - and statistics - like the increasing reestablishment of Armenian institutions - sometimes lack human intimacy. Therefore, by simply noting that, in the 1920s, Constantinople reinstituted the Armenian Church, one infers reinstatement restored ecclesiastical authority and cultural cohesion. However, this sequential perspective overlooks the emotional complexity of the time. Thus, the personal memories collected by individual survivors might portray a complicated reality that deviates from broader historical surveillance. Hence, as a professor intrigued by insights into humanity, Balakian builds upon significant historical events but hones in on the tortured human experience, touching upon the persisting trauma responsible for shaping cultural dissociation.

Amplifying his somber outlook, Balakian finally concludes Armenian culture in modern Turkey remains severely diminished by the government. Although not directly disagreeing with Balakian, Payaslian offers a slightly more optimistic view. He asserts that despite the depredation, the current Patriarchate sustains the memory of genocide and the remnants of its traditions, history, and arts by sponsoring community organizations, literary and artistic celebrations, and commemorative events (Payaslian, 164). This social engagement would suggest portions of Armenian culture and community endure. Therefore, according to Payaslian, the CUP failed to expunge Armenian culture entirely. Instead, it energized preservationist and commemorative efforts ensuing the Church’s reinstitution in Constantinople - as epitomized by the International Conference on the Christian Response to Violence where Payaslian presented his research. However, Balakian qualifies Payaslian’s affirmation, adding that while the Patriarchate returned to Constantinople, the rest of Turkey and ancestral Armenia remain inaccessible and irreclaimable for survivors. Not only have Armenian churches been prohibited from returning to the southeastern provinces - historically the seat of a significant diocese - but local police still inspire fear of violence for individuals seeking Armenian ruins and the connections to their cultural past (Balakian, 80). Only permitted to gaze at their decaying memorials behind barbed wires and military guards, in a sense, modern Armenians find themselves in the same situation as the powerless clergy during mass deportations. Unable to successfully pressure the Turkish government into reforming and acknowledging persistent grievances, the cultural loss heightens, suspending shared memories in limbo. Therefore, the Patriarchate's return only restored whatever scraps remained of the formerly cohesive culture.

Although Payaslian does not overtly share this cynicism, he does corroborate the Church’s geopolitical restructuring, strengthening Balakian insistence on the status of Armenian culture. According to statistics recorded by the apostolic dioceses, by the end of 1921, the new Kemalist movement virtually destroyed the weakened Cilician Catholicosate in Sis, promoting the expropriation of Armenian homes and seminaries by Muslim immigrants (Payaslian, 163). Further, he acknowledges Ataturk’s campaign of genocide denial and cultural debilitation. In a statistical table located in “The Catholicosate of Cilicia in Exile” subsection, Payaslian reveals that in 1913, the Patriarchate of Constantinople recorded 3,778 churches and 3,909 parishes in Ottoman and Russian Armenia. By 1954, only 38 churches remained in the Republic of Turkey (Payaslian, 164). While a bulk of this destruction is due to CUP policies of cultural destruction, the relatively insignificant number of churches nearly four decades since WWI insinuates continued cultural suppression. Thus, despite the collapse of the CUP and the cessation of bodily massacres, it appears Balakian may be correct. In the long term, complete recovery, justice, and spiritual cohesion remain elusive, and the cultural genocide seemingly continues in Turkey. However, because Payaslian’s original audience consisted of members from the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, he may be unwilling to openly declare the institution's shortcomings at preserving social cohesion throughout the diaspora (Payaslian, 165). Instead, he is more likely to underline the Church’s cultural renewal in the face of its current Turkic obstacles.

Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America

Perhaps, the most compelling evidence submitted by Balakian is a series of contrasting images. For example, Balakian juxtaposes two photographs of the St. Astvadzadzin Monastery in Tomarza. The initial photo portrays the monastery before the cultural genocide, displaying the spiritual center encircled by a flourishing Armenian community (Balakian, 75). Yet, the following image depicts the ruins of St. Astvadzadzin as modern Turkish houses creep toward the architectural skeleton. Although Tomarza city still exists, the current Turkish government allows its Armenian heritage to decay almost as if its non-Turkic history conflicts with modernization. Therefore, by juxtaposing images of religious sites before and after the massacres, Balakian supplements his insistence that former Armenian possessions deliberately decompose in favor of Turkic interests. Also, it highlights the current inability of the Armenian Church to recover these sites. Moreover, since Kemal Ataturk’s rise following the CUP’s demise, the government forcibly converted Armenian community centers into sports arenas, warehouses, and Turkish restaurants (Balakian, 76-81). In most instances, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge these landmarks by their former Armenian names, almost as if their history stains Turkish purity, insinuating little ideological progress since the CUP regime. Hence, Balakian’s visuals serve to reconvey the cultural destruction he relays throughout his article. Like Payaslian’s statistical table, the digestible portrayals effectively summarize information lost amid the myriad of words. Ultimately, these sustained attacks against minority cultures displace Armenians further away from the foundations of their culture, enabling Turk resettlers to appropriate ex-Armenian communities like Tomarza and obscure their non-Turkish history.

Balakian adds further complexity to the modern Armenian predicament by contrasting Armenian experiences with the situations of other genocide victims. For example, Holocaust survivor Samuel Gruber detailed the restoration of Jewish material culture throughout Europe, stating that the renewal of Jewish monuments reversed the cultural erasure precipitated by the Holocaust (Balakian, 84). Conversely, according to the U.S. Commission on International Freedom, Turkey persistently limits the return of Armenian property - consisting of community buildings, artworks, and other artifacts - to their rightful owners (Balakian, 85). Therefore, as previously stated, Armenian survivors and descendants may only observe as their cultural monuments erode into graveyards of oblivion. Thus, contrary to European Jews, Armenians in post-WWI Turkey can not even visit - let alone preserve or reconstruct - their holy sites, schools, monasteries, or ancestral homes (Balakian, 85). As a result, these poignant contrasts denote that Armenian trauma persists and still aggravates their incorporeal wounds. Thereby, Payaslian is correct in pointing out the reinstatement of Churches after WWI; yet, the bulk of Armenian material and spiritual culture and its producers remain expatriated or buried under ruins and Turkification. Thereby, Balakian’s use of juxtaposed photos and narratives adds complexity to Payaslian’s verdict on social cohesion but supplement the data table depicting apostolic reductions in Turkey.

Ultimately, each author accomplishes the objectives outlined at the outset of the articles. For example, Payaslian delineates the exertions of Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan of the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople, Catholicos Sahag II Khabayan of the Great House of Cilicia at Sis, and Catholicos Kevork V Surenyants of the Mother See at Echmiadzin - located in modern Armenia. Together, the ecclesiastical figures sought to curb the physical and cultural destruction by appealing to European Great Powers, pledging their loyalty to Turkey, and imploring CUP leaders for a merciful resolution. However, their efforts proved futile as they unintentionally deepened inter-ethnic distrust and received conflicting assurances from Europe and the CUP. In the end, Payaslian demonstrates that the Church also became victims of the mass deportations, murders, and demolitions. By abolishing the Church and liquidating its leaders, the CUP effectively bound the hands of the Patriarchate and Catholicosate from resisting Turkish cultural ascendancy. Therefore, for individuals specifically interested in the role of the Armenian Church during the genocide, Payaslian's article satiates this curiosity; yet, one must bear in mind the historian's sequential - and typically straightforward - perspective and the potential biases of his clerical sources. Moreover, by invoking the ethos of scholars like Raphael Lemkin - a lawyer commemorated for introducing genocide studies - Balakian effectively argues that the Armenian Genocide went beyond physical devastation and sought to raze and erase culture. Via Lemkin’s analyses and witness accounts, Balakian outlines the demolition of community centers, the perversion of cultural symbols, and the coerced conversion of people and their monuments. Thus, for scholars and students fascinated with a complex analysis of genocide's interpersonal ramifications, they should read Balakian's essay. However, they should complement their reading with Payaslian's article to develop a robust understanding of the motivations spurring cultural genocide.

Finally, despite their diverging outlooks, both professors agree on the purpose of cultural eradication. Together, Payaslian’s apostolic focus and Balakian’s broader evidence prod audiences to reach a similar conclusion. By demolishing community centers and cultural legacies, the Young Turks sought to debilitate and eradicate Armenian existence. Although Balakian maintains the CUP successfully enfeebled Ottoman-Armenian cohesion - a verdict Payaslian hesitates to overtly verbalize - both authors indicate the Kemalist regime sustained its assaults on Armenian Christian culture.


Works cited

Balakian, Peter. “Raphael Lemkin, Cultural Destruction, and the Armenian Genocide.” Holocaust and Genocide Studies27, no. 1 (2013): 57–89.

Payaslian, Simon. “The Destruction of the Armenian Church during the Genocide.” Genocide Studies and Prevention 1, no. 2 (2006): 149–172.


bottom of page