“Genocide”: what we call things MATTERS

(by Eileen Dombrowski) May no student graduate from our course without a sensitive awareness that what we call things truly matters! This week’s illustration is a rather grim one, but one that resonates with TOK topics: language as a way that we gain knowledge, influenced by how we categorize; concepts and naming as important issues in every area of knowledge, to the extent that the topic is given special emphasis in the knowledge framework. This particular illustration also demonstrates that history as an area of knowledge is not entirely about the past:

“Lawmakers in Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of Parliament, voted overwhelmingly Thursday to label as ‘genocide’ the mass killings of Armenians during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire—a move that has angered Turkey. The issue is a sensitive one in Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Empire. Ankara acknowledges there was violence against Armenians during the period, but denies the actions constituted a genocide…With their vote Thursday, German lawmakers joined colleagues from more than 20 countries, including France and the Vatican, who have labeled the actions genocide—as have most non-Turkish historians. Turkey denounced the vote.” from The Atlantic

Why does naming matter so very much in this case, to the extent that calling the death of as many as 1.5 million Armenians “genocide” involves a decision in German parliament (as it has in other countries) and precipitates a diplomatic incident as Turkey recalls its ambassador from Germany? Turkish news agencies have similarly responded by comparing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Hitler.

This would be a splendid Real Life Example for a student presentation, but also an effective example for teacher-led discussion on knowledge questions of naming and knowing – and on not-naming and not-knowing. If you’re on holiday at the moment, though, put this dark example aside for later.


Krishnadev Calamur, “Germany’s Vote on the Armenian Genocide”, The Atlantic, June 2, 2016 http://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/06/armenian-genocide-germany/485279/

“German MPs recognise Armenian ‘genocide’ amid Turkish fury”, BBC, June 2, 2016 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36433114

Stefan Ihrig, “How the Armenian Genocide Shaped the Holocaust”, The Daily Beast, January 23, 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/24/how-the-armenian-genocide-shaped-the-holocaust.html

Alison Smale and Melissa Eddy, “German Parliament Recognizes Armenian Genocide, Angering Turkey” New York Times, June 2, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/world/europe/armenian-genocide-germany-turkey.html?_r=1

“Turkish paper compares Merkel with Hitler after Germany votes to recognize Armenian genocide” Jerusalem Post, June 4, 2016 http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Turkish-paper-compares-Merkel-with-Hitler-after-Germany-votes-to-recognize-Armenian-genocide-455913

2 responses to ““Genocide”: what we call things MATTERS

  1. Susana Leventhal

    I read the article about this and thought that it’s a wonderful idea to begin my next semester. Thank you Eileen!!!


  2. Point of note – Godwin’s law – if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism – source wikipedia

    Liked by 1 person

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