An Armenian and Muslim tragedy? Yes! Genocide? No!
That summarizes the conclusion of 68 scholars who declared more than a decade ago that historic evidence does not support a premeditated attempt by the Ottoman Empire to exterminate Armenians.
Years have gone by since this declaration was published, but efforts continue by Armenian groups to prove through propaganda, political arm-twisting, well-funded lobbying, public relations campaigns and outright terrorism what impartial historical research did not yield.
Several of the scholars who say there is no evidence of genocide and draw attention to Turkish Muslim suffering have been threatened, harassed and attacked by Armenian extremists for their courage to speak out. The home of one American Middle East scholar, Stanford Shaw was fire-bombed. Bernard Lewis, the renown Ottoman and Middle East historian, was dragged to court by Armenian groups in France and tried under a law applied to “Holocaust deniers.” Even after the trial, Lewis said he cannot call the incidents that took place in eastern Anatolia a genocide against Armenians.
Other American scholars now have unlisted phone numbers, because of relentless hate calls. There are few scholars left today who dare putting themselves, their careers and their families in harm’s way. This is the kind of fate that has befallen American scholars who fell into discord with the Armenian version of history. Not to mention the scores of assassinated Turkish diplomats and civilians killed in attacks in Turkey and abroad by Armenian terrorists to “draw attention” to their cause.
The ad published on p. 10 of the April 22 issue of The GW Hatchet asking Turkey to “stop denial” is part of this relentless effort to have public relations override academic research. The Armenian declaration presents a false picture of history, one that is being pumped into American conscious by some Armenian groups and is based on outright falsifications and a selective reading of history.
But let’s not look at the present and the future, let’s look at the past. These are the facts:
Both Armenians and Muslims in eastern Anatolia under the Ottoman Empire experienced harrowing casualties during World War I and the War of Turkish Independence. Hundreds of thousands perished. Most were innocent. All deserve pity and respect. An Armenian tombstone is worth a Muslim tombstone, and vice versa.
Genocide is a word bristling with passion and moral depravity. It is reserved in national laws and international covenants for acts of mass killings or savage repressions of a racial, religious or ethnic group with the intent of partial or total extermination. Thus, to accuse Turks of Armenian genocide is grave business, and should thus be appraised with scrupulous care for historical accuracy. To do less would not only be unjust to the accused, but also diminish the arresting meaning of genocide.
To discredit the Armenian genocide allegation is not to deny that Armenian deaths and suffering during the war occurred and should not be mourned.
The deep pain that wrenches any group victimized by massacres and war frequently distorts or imbalances recollections. Truth is usually the first casualty of war. It is customary among nations at war to manipulate the reporting of events to blacken the enemy and to valorize their own and allied forces. World War I was no exception, including reports pertinent to the Armenian genocide allegation.
The Ottoman Turks are accused of planning and executing a scheme to exterminate its Armenian population in eastern Anatolia by relocating them hundreds of miles to the southwest region of the empire and away from the Russian war front. The mass relocation exposed the Armenians to widespread killings by marauding Kurds and deaths from malnutrition, starvation and disease.
Was there an intent to exterminate Ottoman Armenians in whole or in part?
The Ottomans’ relocation decree was a wartime measure inspired by national self-preservation; it was not aimed at Armenians generally (those outside sensitive war zones were left undisturbed), nor calculated to kill by relocation depredations, hardships and hazards.
Further, approximately 200,000 Ottoman Armenians who were relocated to Syria lived without menace through the remainder of the war, as did tens of thousands in Istanbul and other areas remote from war zones.
The conclusion that the relocation orders were an authentic war measure is supported by mountains of evidence showing an alarming percentage of Armenians were allied with the Triple Entente, especially Russia. Tens of thousands defected from the Ottoman army or evaded conscription to serve with Russia. Countless more remained in eastern Anatolia to conduct sabotage, espionage and to massacre Turks.
The Armenian genocide allegation is further discredited by Great Britain’s unavailing attempt to prove Ottoman Turks guilty of massacring Armenians or other atrocities. Britain occupied Ottoman territory after the war. Under section 230 of the Treaty of Sevres, Ottoman officials were subject to prosecution for outrages to Armenians both in Turkey and the southern Caucasus. Britain had access to Ottoman archives, but yet after spending 30 months searching for evidence of criminality, came up with nothing.
None of this is to deny that hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians perished during World War I and its aftermath. But Muslims died in even greater numbers (approximately 2.5 million in eastern Anatolia) from Armenian and Russian massacres and wartime deprivations.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities examined the truthfulness of Armenian genocide charges in 1985. After meticulous debate, the sub-commission refused to endorse the charges for lack of convincing evidence.
If the evidence is so patently faulty, what explains the credence given by many in the United States to the Armenian genocide allegation?
The Ottoman Empire generally received bad reviews in the West for centuries, in part because of its predominantly Muslim creed and military conquests in Europe. It was an enemy of Britain, France, Russia and the United States during World War I. Thus, when the Armenian genocide allegation initially surfaced, the West was predisposed toward an acceptance that would reinforce its stereotypical and pejorative view of Turks. The reliability of obviously biased sources was generally ignored.
Further, the Republic of Turkey (founded in 1923) was not inclined to defend its Ottoman predecessor. Ataturk, modern Turkey’s founder, was seeking a new, secular and democratic dispensation that would distance itself from Ottoman misgovernment.
The Armenian lobby has skillfully and forcefully marketed the Armenian genocide allegation in the corridors of power, in the media and in public school curricula. They had been relatively unchallenged until some giants in the field of Turkish studies appeared on the scene to discredit and deflate the charges by fastidious research and a richer understanding of the circumstances of the frightful Armenian World War I casualties.
Turkish-Americans also have belatedly organized themselves to present facts and views about the Armenian genocide allegation and other issues central to U.S.-Turkish relations. But the intellectual playing field remains sharply tilted in favor of the Armenians.
Isn’t it time to let the genocide allegation fade away and to join hands in commemorating the losses of both communities during World War I and its aftermath? Wouldn’t that be the blessed equivalent of turning swords into plowshares?
-The writer is president of the Turkish Students Association.