Turkey did murder about 2,000,000 Armenians and 350,000 Greeks, the first such extensive genocide of the last century (the first was the German slaughter of 65,000 Herero in Namibia in 1904). I know, I know, my figure of Armenian’s murdered far surpasses the 1,500,000 most often given by Armenian and genocide scholars, but they are only counting that period during WWI when the Young Turks were in power. I included the post war period when the Nationalist under Atatürk continued the genocide of Armenians and added the Greeks, and so mentioning Atatürk enrages Turk students the most. After all, he is a hero to Turks and the father of modern Turkey. ~R.J. Rummel

If there is one thing that Mr. Rummel can be relied upon to get right, it is the facts concerning “death by government.” His inclusion of the post-WWI slaughter of Armenians is entirely appropriate and much needed in telling the whole story of the genocide of the Armenian people from 1915 to 1923. What makes this post even more interesting is that Mr. Rummel seems to have no awareness that the tragic and horrific events of this period are partly the fruit of democratic ideology, mass politics and the rhetoric of self-determination as these inspired all ethnic groups, including the Turks, in the Ottoman state to think in terms of political self-rule, mass identity and government by consent.

Wilson’s exhortation to self-determination was still a few years away, but the same foolish principles inspired and motivated the “reformers” in the empire. As will often be the case in democratising Islamic states, it is the Christians who will have the most to lose as they lose the relative protection of a monarch or dictator and gain the meaningless protection of what Patrick Henry called “paper chains” of a constitution while they are actually left at the mercy of a Muslim majority.

Indeed, a more or less straight line can be drawn between the ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ revolution of 1908 and the horrible violence of the ensuing decades. The war exacerbated trends within the empire that had already begun, but the genocide cannot readily be written off as a by-product of the tensions of war nor can it be put down to the machinations of an elite–the elite was complicit and responsible, but carried out its policy of annihilation through popular enthusiasm directed against the Armenians of what is now northeastern Turkey.

Undoubtedly, the Young Turks scrapped constitutional government and ruled as an oligarchy, and Ataturk’s republicanism was authoritarian, but what is telling is how much worse the attacks on Armenians were beginning in 1915 than they had been in the brutal massacres of 1894-95 following twenty years of political “modernisation” and “democratisation.” In the end, the genocide of the Armenians, beyond being the explosion of ethnic and religious hatred that it was, was a pure expression of the tyranny of the majority and the envy and hatred of the mob for those whom it resented. It is telling that violence on such a scale did not take place under Ottoman absolutism, vicious and tyrannical as it was in many ways, but only following the introduction of democratic, reformist ideas. The Young Turks represented those most, not least, committed to those reformist principles, and they were responsible for one of the worst slaughters of non-combatants in the history of the world. What lessons can we find in that concerning the “democratic peace”?

This evil was therefore partly a consequence of attempting to introduce democratic principles into a society entirely unready for them, demonstrating the explosive and dangerous potential of democratic ideas for transforming unfriendly, but usually peaceful, neighbouring ethnic groups into seemingly perpetual enemies and vicious rivals for power, all the while lending a kind of legitimacy to the domination by the largest group. Democratists will object that democracy without minority protections is not their sort of democracy at all, but the demos itself does not care what sort of democracy such idealists desire. If the mass demos believes it is sovereign, and it serves the interests of the demos to murder a million or two million it is a reality of such rude democracy that the demos will commit those murders.

It is only the prescriptive rights and largely undemocratic hindrances to popular rule that modern democratic states still possess to some degree that prevent Western-style democracies from degenerating into this sort of rude and brutal tyranny. Democracy does not induce restraint or moderation, but unchains all the passions and lets them run wild. If we hope to avoid genocide in the future, an aristocratic, constitutional republic or a monarchy would be a much safer bet than empowering “the people” anywhere.