Sacralizing Evil: Applying Durkheim to Genocide Studies

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Edward A. TIRYAKIAN, Duke University, USA
At one level, genocide, stemming from the  efforts of Raphael Lemkin has become recognized as a crime against humanity, subject to the Convention on the Prevention of Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN in 1948. But it is also a crime, whose perpetrators  by and large have not been tried in court despite an enormous literature detailing  and denouncing the practice of genocide.  Although a crime against humanity, it is  a crime against a people, seeking the destruction of all members and its culture. The violence involved is a xenophobic   purification of the body politic by the total removal of an “alien”  presence. To develop more broadly a Durkheimian approach, I consider the two most striking cases of genocide in the 20th Century, the Armenian genocide 1915-1922 and the Jewish genocide 1941-1945 . Each mass killing took place during wartime; however, it is the consequences of the genocide on the collective memory of the surviving members of the targeted group that merits attention. Effectively, the result has been a sacralization of evil by taking the act of genocide as an empirical manifestation of evil. In the Armenian case, the Turkish state where the genocide occurred has emphatically refused to accept scholarly evidence of its having taken place. The genocide and seeking for international recognition has  created solidarity and a remembrance of the victims as newly designated matyrs. In the Jewish case, the genocide has come to be known as the Holocaust, originally used by Churchill before WWII  in reference to the Turkish genocide or Armenians, but increasingly used after World War II to  be associated with the Nazi genocide of Jews.    As “holocaust” became more  widely used  “Shoah” has come to be preferred,  albeit Holocaust Museums attract large audiences and promote as unifying  mission “never again”.