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Armenian Genocide - fact or fiction? - Part 1
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
2012-02-07 08:10:29
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Last month the French Senate approved a controversial bill with a 127-86 vote that makes it a criminal offence to deny that genocide was committed by Ottoman Turks against Armenians during World War I. The measure has been sent to President Sarkozy for final approval. France already labels the so-called killings as an act of genocide, but the new bill, which passed both houses of parliament would hit anyone found denying the ‘genocide’ with a jail term and a fine of 45,000 euros (£29,000; $58,000). France has half a million citizens of Armenian descent, and many political analysts see a direct link with the passage of the bill with this year’s presidential elections.

French politicians, from both the Senate and the lower house of parliament, who opposed the law, have referred it to France’s Constitutional court. An interested reader may recall that in 2010 a U.S. congressional panel similarly approved a resolution declaring, what it called the Ottoman-era killing of Armenians genocide. The U.S. foreign affairs committee endorsed the resolution with a 23-22 vote even though the Obama administration had urged Congress not to approve it. As I have noted then, the U.S. congressional panel vote was aimed at slapping Turkey for her Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s condemnation of Israel’s offensive in Gaza that killed some 1500 civilians.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Turkish parliament in Ankara that the French bill “murdered freedom of thought”. The Turkish government argued that judging what happened to the Armenian community in eastern Turkey in 1915-16 should be left to historians, and that the French law will restrict freedom of speech. Ankara immediately froze ties with France after the vote recalling its ambassador. The Senate Bill is sure to harm France’s credibility as a mediator between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Shaykh Abdal Qadir as-Sufi noted in 2010, “Genocide, an invented word, has been made to identify the act of the extermination of a racial human group. Significantly as it is defined, it did not happen, since the victim people still exist. There are millions of living Jews and Armenians. Transferring this failed act of ‘genocide’ from historical discourse to legislation indicates the denial of history [what happened] and the enthronement of totalitarian ideology, the obligatory viewpoint of the ruling oligarchy.”

Armenians claim that up to 1.5 million people died in 1915-16 as the Ottoman Empire split. On the other hand, Turkey has always maintained that the relocation measures adopted regarding the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia was merely for security reasons, and that the Armenian toll in 1915-16 has been greatly inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide.

As can be seen, like any other genocide debate the Armenian case is also a very sensitive subject for the players involved. Depending on which side one listens to the opinions may vary drastically. Thus, unless one is unbiased and objective, the conclusions drawn may be wrong, further feeding to the controversy.

Before discussing this sensitive subject, it is proper to understand the term genocide.  Article Two of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948 describes genocide as carrying out acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. There has to be “an intent of destroying” to differentiate it from other forms of homicide.

From this definition, it is not difficult to comprehend why the mass killings in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and Rwanda, and of course, the exterminating campaigns against the Rohingya Muslims of Arakan (Rakhine) state of Burma (Myanmar) since the 1970s, against the Jews, gypsies and some other minorities during the World War II qualify as genocidal campaigns. And so do the genocidal policies in 1769-1773 when the English colonists killed some 15 million people -- one-third of population of Bengal (that included Bihar and Orissa). But what about the Armenians in Turkey in the early 20th century? Were they victims of genocide, too?

The Armenian claim seems untenable given the fact that studies of the Ottoman census by unbiased historians and other contemporary estimates show that far fewer than 1.5 million Armenians lived in the relevant areas before the war. So, how could the number of those killed be more than the total that lived? In this context it is also worth pointing out that the census bureau was headed by an Ottoman Armenian --Migirdic Shabanyan from 1897-1903. He surely can’t be accused of lying on behalf of the Ottoman state.

Yusuf Halacoglu, president the Turkish Historical Society (TTK), estimates that with the deportations (excluding inter-ethnic violence) a total of 56,000 Armenians perished during the period due to war conditions, and less than 10,000 were actually killed.

P. F. Peters, former Australian Ambassador to Turkey, noted, “The Turks had no deliberate policy of genocide at any stage, only the removal of Armenians from the front line with Russia, where they were collaborating with the Ottoman Empire’s enemies and were thus a threat to its security.” Mikael Varandian, an Armenian historian who wrote the book “History of the Armenian Movement” said, “Ottoman Armenians were completely free in the Ottoman Empire and the Turks were the Armenians’ only shelter against Russia guaranteeing their traditions, religion, culture and language in comparison to Russian oppression under the Czars.”

After the World War I, the Armenian allegations were investigated between 1919 and 1922 as part of a legal process against the Ottoman officials.  The Peace Treaty of Sevres, which was imposed upon the defeated Ottoman Empire, required the Ottoman government to handover to the Allied Powers people accused of “massacres”. Subsequently, 144 high Ottoman officials were arrested and deported for trial by Britain to the island of Malta.  The information which led to the arrests was mainly given by local Armenians and the Armenian Patriarchate. So while the deportees were interned on Malta the British occupation forces in Istanbul which had absolute power and authority in Ottoman capital, looked frantically everywhere to find evidence in order to incriminate the deportees.

An Armenian scholar, Haig Khazarian, appointed by the British, conducted thorough examination of documentary evidence in the Ottoman and British archives. However, Khazarian could not find any evidence demonstrating that the Ottoman government and the Ottoman officials deported to Malta either sanctioned or encouraged the killings of the Armenians. The British Foreign Office which investigated American archives also found no evidence that could corroborate the Armenian claims. After two years and four months of detention in Malta, all Ottoman deportees were set free without trial. As has often been the case with victors, whether in today’s Iraq or Afghanistan by the Occupying U.S. and NATO forces, no compensation, however, was ever paid to those unfortunate detainees.

Some Armenian Genocide proponents claim that when Hitler was asked about what the rest of the world would think about his ‘final solution’ (his attempt to exterminate the Jews) he rhetorically commented: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” As investigations from many researchers, including Prof. Heath W. Lowry, have abundantly shown this quote was from a forgery written by an unknown person on plain piece of paper and labeling it as “Hitler’s second speech” even though he only gave one speech that day. In his book, The U.S. Congress and Adolf Hitler on the Armenians, Political Communication and Persuasion, New York, III/2 (1985), pp. 111-140, Prof. Lowry says, “The assertion that Hitler made a reference to the Armenians in any context whatsoever is without foundation.”

Many references on the so-called Armenian Genocide cite the “Talat Pasha telegrams, (The Naim-Andonian documents)”, as evidences to support genocidal intent of the Turkish government. It claims that the Interior Minister Mehmed Talat Pasha ordered “Kill every Armenian man, woman, and child without concern.” However, subsequent research works by unprejudiced historians like Andrew Mango, Erik-Jan Zürcher and Michael Gunter (just to name a few among many others) have proven that it was not authentic at all and at best an “Armenian fiction” or at worst "forgeries".

Armenians claimed that those telegrams attributed to Talat Pasha were found in the office of an Ottoman official named Naim Bey by British forces commanded by General Allenby when they captured Aleppo in Syria in 1918. It was claimed that these were not destroyed only because the British occupation came with unexpected speed. Samples of these telegrams were published in Paris in 1920 by an Armenian author named Aram Andonian, and they also were presented at the Berlin Trial of the Armenian terrorist Tehlirian, who killed Talat Pasha. Nevertheless, the court neither considered these documents as “evidence” nor was involved in any decision claiming the authenticity of them. These documents were, however, entirely fabricated, and were in fact published by the Daily Telegraph of London in 1922, which also attributed them to a discovery made by Allenby’s army.

But when the British Foreign Office enquired about them at the War Office, and with Allenby himself, it was discovered that they had not been discovered by the British army but, rather, had been produced by an Armenian group in Paris. In addition, examination of the photographs provided in the Andonian volume shows clearly that neither in form, script or phraseology did they resemble normal Ottoman administrative documents, and that they were, therefore, rather crude forgeries, concocted by Andonian and his associates. Moreover the Ottoman archives contain a number of orders; whose authenticity can definitely be substantiated, issued on the same dates, in which Talat Pasha ordered investigations to be made to find and punish those responsible for the attacks which were being made on the deportation caravans. It is highly unlikely that he would have been ordering massacres on one hand and investigations and punishments for such crimes on the other.

Genocide is preceded by discrimination or hatred of the targeted group. If Armenians were discriminated in Ottoman Turkey, it is difficult to believe that Armenians like Migirdic Shabanyan could have held such high level positions. What we find, instead, is that several Armenians, like many other subjects, held high positions throughout the Ottoman Empire. Nineteenth-century archives show that 29 Armenians reached the status of Pasha, an Ottoman military rank equivalent to general; 22 held positions in executive government offices such as the minister of foreign affairs; 33 were elected to parliament; 18 served in embassies and consulates and 11 were professors in major universities.

As also noted by General Bronsart von Schellendorf, former Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Field Troops and later Commander of the Royal Prussian Infantry Division, the Armenians enjoyed the same social and political rights as the rest of the population of the Ottoman state. As regards the years preceding the Turkish-Russian War of 1877-78, Sir Charles Eliot, author of the book ‘Turkey in Europe’, wrote, “The Turks and Armenians got on excellently together... The Russians restricted the Armenian Church, schools and language; the Turks on the contrary were perfectly tolerant and liberal as to all such matters. They did not care how the Armenians prayed, taught and talked... The Armenians were thorough Orientals and appreciated Turkish ideas and habits... (They) were quite content to live among the Turks.... The balance of wealth certainly remained with the Christians. The Turks treated them with good-humoured confidence...”

Almost all Turkish intellectuals, scientists and historians accept that many Armenians died during the conflict, but they do not consider these events to be genocide. A number of Western academics in the field of Ottoman history, including (late) Bernard Lewis (Princeton University), Heath Lowry (Princeton University), Justin McCarthy (University of Louisville), Gilles Veinstein (College de France), and Stanford Shaw (UCLA, Bilkent University) have expressed serious doubts as to the genocidal character of the events. They offer the opinion that the weight of evidence instead points to serious inter-communal warfare, perpetrated by both Muslim and Christian irregular forces, aggravated by disease and famine, as the causes of suffering and massacres in Anatolia and adjoining areas during the First World War.

The Armenian propaganda claims that theirs was genocide similar to those suffered by the Jews in Germany. Arguments disputing the similarities to the Jewish Holocaust are however plenty. Consider, e.g., the followings: (a) there is no record (neither from origination archives nor from destination archives in Syria) of an effort to develop a systematic process and efficient means of killing; (b) there are no lists or other methods for tracing the Armenian population to assemble and kill as many people as possible; (c) there was no resource allocation to exterminate Armenians (biological, chemical warfare allocations, etc.); in fact, there was a constant increase in food and support expenses and these efforts continued after the end of deportations; (d) there is no record of Armenians in forced deportations being treated as prisoners; (e) the claims regarding prisoners apply only to the leaders of the Armenian militia, but did not extend to ethnic profiling; the size of the security force needed to develop these claims was beyond the power of the Ottoman Empire during 1915; (f) there is no record of prisons designed or built to match the claims of a Holocaust; (g) there were no public speeches organized by the central government targeting Armenians.

The comparison with the Jewish Holocaust is also untenable on several grounds. As noted by Erol Bozok elsewhere: “(i) The Jews did not start to attack and kill innocent Germans in 1919, 20 years before the start of World War Two. In contrast, Armenians began to kill innocent Turks in 1894, 20 years before the outbreak of World War One; (ii) Jews in Germany did not rush off en masse in 1939 to join the Soviet, British or French armies. According to Armenian sources, 150,000 Armenians served in the Russian Army during World War One, fighting against the Ottoman Empire; (iii) Jews from all parts of Germany, and German-occupied territories, were sent to death camps. In the Ottoman Empire, Armenians in eastern Turkey (where the Russians had invaded) were sent to remote parts of the Empire. Armenians in the west were generally allowed to remain where they were. Did many Armenians die on their way to these remote destinations? Yes, and the Diaspora refers to this tragedy as ‘genocide without bullets.’ They fail to mention that Turkish refugees were dying in droves from the same causes of famine, disease and exposure. (iv) The Holocaust is well documented as a planned and systematic extermination of one race by another; countless photos and films have recorded the horror. In the Armenian case, photo collections record atrocities and massacres committed against them. The same holds true for the massacre of Turks committed by Armenians. Other than that, the Armenian case for genocide depends heavily on testimony and hearsay filtered through Western sources. ‘Evidence’ such as Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s book and the infamous “Andonian documents” are highly suspect. Morgenthau never went to eastern Turkey and his personal secretary (who managed the flow of information to the ambassador) was Armenian. His book was ghost-written by a journalist and is a classic example of ‘hate literature,’ as one Ottoman scholar recently described it to me. The ‘Andonian Documents’ were recognized as forgeries by the British Government 85 years ago; Ottoman scholars agree with this appraisal. These documents were alleged to be copies of telegrams from the Istanbul government to provincial authorities, instructing them to exterminate Armenians. The idea of a government, on the verge of committing genocide, establishing a ‘paper trail’ with a string of telegrams is absurd.”

It is not difficult to understand why in his book “Armenia: Secrets of a ‘Christian’ Terrorist State” the late historian and author Samuel Weems wrote, “Many scholars and authors throughout the Western world are in agreement that rarely, in the pages of history, have facts been so deliberately altered to deceive and create an untrue picture. ... These Armenians are coming up with more Armenians murdered than there were Armenians in Anatolia.”


To be continued>> Part 2


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