23 November 2006

1248) Prof Ataov's Edinburgh Speech

 © Credit Hürryet USA Armenian-Turkish Relations Need Fairer Evaluations

Emeritus Professor of International Relations
at Ankara University, Turkey

It is not only unfair but also unscientific to describe as “revisionists” all those who challenge the one-sided traditional view that considers the Turks as “brutal victimizers” and the non-Muslims of the former Ottoman state, principally the Armenians, as “victims.” . .

The assertions that the Armenians were loyal subjects living in their homeland, where they ostensibly constituted a majority, who became a target of ‘genocide’ right from the end of the 19th century down to the creation of the Turkish Republic are more than an over-simplification. Such emphasis on one-sided evaluation only strikes one as an orchestrated misrepresentation. So are the various numbers of “victims”, which sometimes double the whole Ottoman Armenian community in 1914. Those who attempt to challenge such biased and off-balanced approach are frequently labeled as “revisionists” or “deniers”, as if to revise an entrenched interpretation is scholarly impermissible. Scholarship is like a building that requires perpetual repair. All theories should be checked for correctness, and the validity of former generalizations has to be re-tested.

Interested parties need to provide a fresh look at past Armenian-Ottoman relations. Western public opinion has been heavily saturated to date by a completely one-sided and perpetrated Armenian view. A more balanced and realistic look is necessitated by virtue of the fact that today, close to a century after the events in question, Armenian organizations in a variety of nations are actively pressuring the legislatures of their adopted homelands to enact laws proclaiming the Armenians as victims of a genocide. This view is unsustainable in the light of objective scholarship. The controversy is too complex for superficial analysis or rash decisions of political bodies such as a number of world parliaments. A search for revenge by one party cannot be the same as justice, especially when the driving force behind the controversy happens to be the ruthlessness of one side, operating as a well-organized pressure group, powerful politically and financially. It does not seek objectivity, nor a recognition of the rights and the losses of its adversaries. It aspires to politicize the issue and attain practical results by inducing representative national or regional political bodies to pass ill-advised, hasty and premature judgements, even sometimes including fine and imprisonment for statements against Armenian views. This is a preposterous negation of the gains of centuries-old struggle for human rights and the democratic process. Such a renunciation is only an anticipated consequence of submission to powerful interest groups. It overlooks not only a second view and the losses of the other side, but also gives stamps of approval to most relevant omissions, colossal exaggerations, misleading propaganda, planned falsifications, and sometimes outright lies. No representative bodies in the democratic societies should play host to such intolerance, partiality and narrow-mindedness.

Consequently, appraisal of historical data and their interpretation lie within the competence of independent academics, especially the historians. Even then, sometimes, a consensus has yet to be reached by the scholarly community at large. Judging by the variety of publications and the opinions expressed therein, the “Armenian issue” proved to be a highly contestable topic of the latter kind. There are differences of opinion, not only among the Armenians and Turks, but also within the Armenian, Western and Turkish groups of writers.

As a researching, teaching and publishing professor of international relations, I personally had wide differences with a range of Turkish policies, domestic and international, for the last four decades or more. Especially the Foreign Office department that is expected to deal with the Armenian issue avoids by itself any contact with me, on account of my criticisms, which I consider as my constitutional right in a democratic framework. Today, I am here on my own. The said department did not even offer a new print of a piece of paper that legally exempts people like me from an additional ‘going abroad tax’.

As a leading researcher on this issue, on the other hand, I know that the Ottoman archives, one of the richest historical treasures of the world and utilized by many Turkish and foreign scholars, are bountiful, reliable and very useful as ‘official memories.’ The Armenian issue happens to be a part of Ottoman history, and as such it is a first-hand Turkish source material of primary importance. Methodologically, it cannot be sound to analyze French history on the basis of German, or British history with Spanish, records. If the question is to determine what the official Ottoman policies were in respect to the Armenians, the Ottoman archives are indispensable. They need to be considered first and foremost if the point is to define official attitude.

On the other hand, if the question is how some Armenians –and, by the way, also some Turks- suffered, then accounts of personal experiences in the form of memoirs or autobiographies are of importance. Even within the scope of individual reminiscences, one cannot concentrate solely on the Armenians. One should take into account as well the pains endured by the Turks, their mass murders included. Further, if one aims to find out why such tragedies occurred, one must discuss all pertinent political and socio-economic currents in a broader context.

The Turks have published volumes of thousands of pertinent Ottoman documents that shed light on the issue and help create a balanced approach, and gave as gifts rolls of films of many more thousands to the leading libraries and research centers of the world. I share the opinion that had there been an independent, international or a supranational court at the end of the 1914-18 War and had it listened to witnesses of both sides and weighted other evidence of all related and interested parties, including the Turks and the other Muslims who had suffered in Armenian hands, it could not have decided that this controversy was a case of a genocide on the part of the Turks. Can anyone assert, not with tongue in cheek but with a clear conscience, that this is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?

It is true that the Turks themselves set up courts during and after the war and sentenced a number of the guilty to severe punishments, including the penalty of death. The circumstances of the enforced migration of the bulk of the Armenians, especially the details of the disposal of the immovables left behind, had been, even in 1915-16, the subject of official Ottoman investigation. But the courts established in the occupied Ottoman capital could not have been vehicles of independent judgement. The victors weighted heavily in the formation of investigation committees, the preparation of the lists of the accused, the selection of witnesses, and the final verdicts. Under these circumstances, the Istanbul courts tried and convicted the Turks, and only the Turks. The court buildings were surrounded by the occupying powers, who urged for swift decisions. As a matter of fact, until the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, justice was almost always distributed on selective bases. Even that contemporary court suffers from certain statutory weaknesses as well as recent encroachments on its independence.

It was probably Arthur Ponsonby, a former British MP (also the author of Falsehood in Wartime) first coined the following phrase: “Truth is the first casualty in wars.” World War One was the first global armed conflagration born of deceitfulness, nourished by fiction, and sustained by prejudice. While smearing whole nations, and only those in the other warring camp, it sent millions of young people to their deaths. But eventually, some of the falsifications were unearthed, and Germany, an enemy of the Entente, gained its place in Europe. Some other fictions, on the other hand, are kept alive. An ocean of truth is still not acknowledged. Armenian-Turkish relations are still a one-sided episode that needs fair treatment.

Not only there exist historical and psychological mental obstacles for an impartial hearing of Muslim and/or Turkish views, but Christian Armenians, with strong financial and political status in the Western countries, enjoy a ‘right’ to be listened to more than their adversaries. The trauma induced by centuries-old Ottoman expansion is still a living part of some national psyches. Not only the Armenians, but some European groups as well, eating their hearts out, of actual or mythologized losses, remain wedded to the understanding that the Turks can only be victimizers. Such an approach supports, even legitimizes, injustice.

The Turks defended Jerusalem against the invading Crusaders and were branded by them as violent infidels. Later, they drove deep into the Balkans and ended Byzantine rule in old Constantinople. Although this was half a century before Columbus set foot on the New World, Christian mourning for the losses kept intensifying. The Turks stayed in south-eastern Europe for centuries and reached the outskirts of Vienna. An American missionary (A.W. Williams) and the Armenian president (M.S. Gabriel) of a powerful New York group had the following to say about the Turks in a Chicago-printed book as late as in 1896, only five years before the world entered the 20th century: “The Turk is not a member of the best human race…like the Armenians…[He] does not belong even to the next best, the Semitic…The mental inferiority of the Turk is matched with a religion of a very low order…Islam is …immoral…[The Turk] is a wild beast to be caged…beg pardon of the hounds, hyenas…and all other wild beasts for using their names,,,to describe a Kurd or a Turk…”

Such descriptions are outright racist, but this was the ‘education’ that some grand parents of the present Western generations had been subjected to. In spite of voluminous material in the British archives, written by the English diplomatic representatives in Istanbul, not a word about the atrocities committed by the enemies of the Turks. Between 1821 and 1922, the Muslims of the Balkans, the Crimea, the Caucasus and Anatolia suffered overwhelming mortality and exile. Lord Bryce, the British poet who captured the imagination of Europe with his dashing good looks and love affairs no less than his romantic and satirical poetry, is known to have “aided” the Greeks against Turks in 1821 making him a great Greek national hero, but he could not have known that the practice of killing Turks and forcing others to flee would cost millions of Muslim lives. Byron did not read the official dispatches of the British ambassadors in the Ottoman capital nor the contemporary American professor Justin McCarthy’s scholarly books. But you, ladies and gentlemen, can now. Please, do!

The Republican Turkish leadership well knew of that “death and exile” pattern between 1821 and 1922 as well as the off and on sanguinary relations between the Armenians and the Turks before and after 1915. It was neither ignorance nor craving to conceal facts, but to raise the future generations not with feelings of animosity or revenge, but with a look to the future instead of the past. In 1923, about one-fourths of the Anatolians were refugees, who were pushed out of their homes leaving their dead and lands behind. To heal the traumas thus created, the Republican Turkish leadership consciously downplayed the sufferings of Turks, which is well-documented in European (particularly British) and Turkish archives. It also deemphasized the claims of Turkish citizens to a variety of rights related to the former Ottoman territories. Turkish focus was on the future.

Ottoman as well as Republican leadership was well-informed of all facts, including the sufferings of the Armenians and Turks. Armenian claims, resting only on their own losses, were frequently packaged in a manner to appeal to Western prejudices, i.e., in Muslim versus Christian wrappings, and continued to circulate, initially among the young Armenian generations, and now introduced into some Western parliaments. Gradually, the nature and scope of Armenian allegations changed and grew in volume. Claims of killed Armenians multiplied reaching at times the exorbitant and unreasonable figure of 2.5 million. Such claims continued to expand, also bearing a deadly fruit. Several Armenian terrorist organizations struck out wildly at a wide variety of Turkish targets, assassinating close to forty Turkish diplomats and their relatives, most of whom were not even born at the time of the alleged events. The seeds of exaggerations, deceit, lies and omissions on the part of their elders bore the fruit of terrorism. The assassinations created an interest in the Western media, from which Armenian leaders took quick advantage and repeated their allegations.
One of the present Armenian omissions was their armed participation in the 1914-18 War against the Turks in all fronts –the Caucasus, Palestine, Syria, and south-eastern Anatolia. In the 1920s, this fact was admitted by the then Armenian commanders, like Garo, Antranik, Kari, Vartan, Hamazasp, Dro, Khatcho, Mourat and others, either in their memoirs and later in numerous Armenian publications (by Hacobian, Tourabian, Gorganian, and others, all Armenians). A number of Armenian reports, originally submitted to one or the other victorious powers, but later printed, quote the significant figure of “200,000 or more” Armenians (Ottoman and recruited Armenians from abroad). These statements and books may still be found in the leading world libraries.

It was the Armenian armed revolt in the Ottoman province of Van and the subsequent bombardment of the Muslim quarters and series of military cooperation with the invading Russian armies that led to the decision to resettle them in the southern Ottoman lands. There was no Turkish decision to kill them. There exist ample documents revealing orders to remove the Armenian minority from the areas close to the war zones. Even the so-called British Blue Book (1916), which is an entirely one-sided war-time propaganda effort, with no mention at all of a single case of Muslim or Turkish casualty, states (in page 664) that 989,900 of the displaced reached their destinations, and, adding those who stayed in their original places, about 1,150,000 Ottoman Armenians were living. The celebrated British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, who edited the Blue Book on behalf of Charles Masterman’s Wellington House, later wrote that such publications were “distributed as war-propaganda.” He admitted to a biographer (W. H. McNeill) that the war-time propaganda office with 300 employees was a “Mendacity Bureau.”

Not all British, Westerners or even Armenians were that subjective. For instance, C.F. Dixon-Johnson’s book, published at a time (1916) when his country (the UK) was fighting the Ottomans on several fronts, stated. “…Sensational stories are passed as authentic reports for the acceptance of a public prone to believe anything…Some well-known hand…the wealthy Armenian Committees…spread over Europe and America [have been deceiving the leadership of these countries]…The facts are otherwise…The Armenians themselves commenced the troubles by rising in rebellion…The Turkish authorities…had no other alternative than to order the removal of their rebellious subjects…Untrue assertions [should not be disseminated because they might] be detrimental to the enemy.” The French Commander M. Larcher enumerated the justified reasons for the enforced dislocation in a book (La Guerre turque…) introduced by Field-Marshal Franchet d’Espérey. Similarly, the British Captain C.B. Norman, an officer in the Royal Artillery, sent to Turkey to note the events of the 1890s, deviated from the conventional view in a manuscript surprisingly entitled The Armenians Unmasked. That was also the verdict of an American correspondent, who wrote in his book (The Armenian Troubles and Where the Responsibility Lies) on the same events that the charge of premeditated massacre was “absurd.” Noting the source of “gold, weapons and craft” as Russia, he wrote that the Armenian bands would “watch their opportunity to kill, set fire,,,and escape.” He demonstrated that the story, which had then thrilled the world, of an Armenian woman throwing herself with her child into an abyss, followed by others until the ravine was full of corpses, was a horrible reproduction, with additions and embellishments, of “an old tale in poetry by Mrs. Hemans, years ago under the title ‘The Suliote Mother’.”

Several distinguished Armenians, among them the first prime minister of independent Armenia Hovhannes Katchaznouni and a prominent Armenian-American K.S. Papazian, expressed deviations from the mainstream. The former notes that “historical truth cannot be subverted forever”, that “Armenian bands were formed in Caucasia…for military action against Turkey”…that they had lost “all sense of reality”… that the “Turks had proposed to meet and confer”…that they did not do so but “defied them” and that they “drew a vast state on paper” and believed in it. Papazian in his book (Patriotism Perverted) tried to inform the US and the world of the past misdeeds of Armenian terrorists directed against their adversaries. A few Czarist officers, who personally witnessed armed Armenian assaults on defenceless Turks, prepared reports on those killed individually or en masse. Robert F. Zeidner, who treats the violent collision between the Armenians and the French on the one hand, and the Turks on the other, in the Turkish province of Adana, in his doctoral dissertation (The Tricolor over the Taurus…), concludes that in describing the defeat and retreat of the former, he actually traced the course of the American disaster in Vietnam. The books of several contemporary researchers (for instance, Heath W. Lowry, Samuel A. Weems, Guenter Lewy, Edward Tashji) that deviate from the traditional Armenian interpretations may be read with profit.

In addition to attacks on Turkish targets, including the assassination of diplomats, militant Armenian circles resorted to a variety of forgeries and falsifications that brainwash and mold an average person who is not necessarily qualified to carry out his/her own research or accustomed to pursue the whole truth by reading academic treaties. A significant example is the case of the forged “Andonian documents”. Turkish scholars critically examined the contents of a book, presumably exposing Ottoman ‘documents’ in support of the claims for genocide, by the Armenian writer Aram Andonian, printed in 1920 in three languages. The Turks established the forgery on the basis of ciphers, dates, numbers, contents, and fake signatures. Genuine Ottoman authorizations, which have been amply published, pertain, on the other hand, only to the relocation of some Armenians and include orders for strict punishment of those who mistreat them in any way during the process of removal and resettlement.. Moreover, speedy investigations were made and severe punishments carried out, whenever necessary.

Even the British, who were searching the Ottoman archives, following the Armistice, to be able to accuse the 144 Ottoman detainees (that included the Prime Minister, Cabinet members, army generals, governors, and the like), imprisoned in the Crown Colony of Malta, knew of the so-called “Andonian telegrams”, had enough information of their fake nature and did not use them against the Ottoman leadership. All of the Malta detainees were then set free. Are some European parliaments, which have no mandate to act as criminal courts, preparing to indict the same group of people, after the passage of full nine decades? Even the British, victorious after the end of World War One and in command of the Ottoman archives as the leading occupier of Turkish territory, were not equipped with the legal competence and proper documentation to pursue such a purpose. The British application to the U.S. Government to provide them with genuine documents to indict the Ottoman leadership produced the official reply from Washington, D.C. that what they had would not be of use in a court. One does not wish to see parliamentary bodies, regional as well as national, to be ultra vires, that is, to act beyond its power and authority.
This issue is smeared with scores of other falsifications. For decades, a picture depicting a heap of skulls that adorned the cover of books, illustrated articles, and mailed as postcards, presumably as ‘evidence’ of “Turkish barbarity” in 1915, was not a photograph but an oil painting by a celebrated Russian painter (Vassily Vereshchagin), who died in 1904. Similarly, a cheap photo-trick replaced the dogs near the feet of Mustafa Kemâl Atatürk, modern Turkey’s founder, for a corpse of a supposedly Armenian infant. Two forged statements, falsely attributed to the same Turkish statesman but allegedly confessing the crime of genocide, is still being repeatedly used, even by the European Parliament, in spite of several publications to the contrary. For instance, James Tashjian, the former editor of The Armenian Review of Boston, strongly opposed this falsification in two pervasive and clear-cut articles. A six-meter-high memorial covers a whole wall in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., repeating a much-debated statement of Adolf Hitler, but with a small inscription at the very bottom that reduces the source to a Western correspondent. A sentence of eleven words is used over and over again as if the Turks are also responsible, although indirectly, for the Jewish genocide, which is undeniable and unique in many ways. The Turks are proud, by the way, of their exemplary relations with the Jews of the world, starting with their confrontation of the notorious Spanish (and partly European) Inquisition of the 15th century and also for opening their frontiers to the escapees from German fascism.

The years 1914-18 were also a period during which all the Anatolians had to live through –or die because of general war conditions, including the spread of epidemics. The mere mention, especially in Turkish sources, of unsanitary predicaments or even of the widespread hunger and unavoidable misery is almost instantly chastised as outright propaganda intended to downgrade the actual loss of Armenian lives. Armenian and Muslim populations in those years were reduced for a number of reasons. General war conditions and epidemics hold a unique place among the causes of death. According to the official British records (Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire), the British Army and the Navy lost 120,000 soldiers/sailors only from disease. Even the Commander of the British Army in Iraq (Sir Frederick Maude), the Commander of the Turkish Eastern Front (who happened to be the son-in-law of the Ottoman Sultan), and the German Commander of the Ottoman Army in Iraq died of cholera or typhus. Even such high-ranking decision-makers, including a very close relative of the Turkish Sovereign, could not be saved. Not differentiating victims on the bases ethnicity and religion, lack of adequate medical facilities took the lives of both Armenians and Muslims. Knowing the adverse health conditions well enough, thousands of Armenians chose to become draft dodgers.

More than nine decades passed since the events of 1915 in parts of Ottoman Turkey. During this time, facts and fiction, often polemical, became mingled and confused the issue. The Armenians and the Turks need to review their relations in a way more balanced than the one which now dominates the thinking of large portions of Western societies. In addition to the proper study of all pertinent facts in history, the element of psychology apparently influences attitudes and conclusions. There now exist studies, linking the psychological factors that impede resolution between individuals with those that obstruct peace between large groups or nations. They address the “psychological need” to have both enemies and allies. Sometimes, people have, besides a need for enemies as well as allies, a psychological investment in the continuation of a given conflict. Some groups make use of enemies as external stabilizers of their sense of identity and inner control. Militancy towards the enemies may mask their own internal conflicts. They have an investment in the maintenance of the enemy. They need the ‘enemy’ to such an extent that they do not want to part with it.

A group may select an event and confer on it the distinguished grade of “chosen trauma”, to represent a mental condition of ‘victimization’, which may become a part of its identity. The choice is made usually when the social and psychological “tent” symbolizing the strength of the group is disturbed or shaken. That event, associated with feelings, modifications, and even mythologizing is passed from generation to generation. For that group, historical facts are no longer important. To stabilize the tent, the mourners remove all the so-called ‘foreign’ elements, including the losses of the “other” group, from the modified trauma. But historical facts may nevertheless argue for a different situation.

In the Armenian issue, we are frequently confronted not with all the circumstances of what really happened before, during and after 1915, but what that year symbolizes now for the substantial part of the present generation of Armenians. The modified symbolization, stripped of elements that contradict the traditional view, hardly coincides with historical facts. The two different sets of material are not necessarily one and the same thing. The dominant interpretation may also be shared by a number of non-Armenians, who have a part, standing, reservations, and preferences in the treatment of the issue.

There is a history of foreign power intervention ostensibly for ‘humanitarian’ purposes that gradually turned such meddling into a ‘right’. Frequent European interventions via diplomacy, force, missionaries, and business interests in the internal affairs of the Ottoman state should be well-known. When General Allenby entered Jerusalem in 1917; he stated that his victory over the Turks signified the end of the Crusades. The British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s comment that ‘the Turk would now be driven back to the Arabian desert from where he came’ was a colossal blunder especially coming from a global decision-maker, who was expected to help create then a lasting peace for the whole world.

The guiding beacon in the interpretation of the Armenian issue was mainly the testimony of the U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who knew none of the local tongues, not even the language of diplomacy then (French), but relied on two Armenian advisers and interpreters (H.S. Andonian and A.K. Shimavonian). In the composition of his book that continues to influence so many generations, he received the aid of his Armenian translators, the suggestions of U.S. Secretary of State R. Lansing and the ghost-writing of B.J. Hendrick. The book portrays the Ottoman leaders as if they were criminals publicly boasting of their crimes. Devoting no space to any legitimate Turkish view, he does not mention even the significant fact that an Armenian (G. Nouradunghian) was the Ottoman Minister of Foreign Affairs during the crucial year of 1913. This fact is not surprising because the multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual Ottoman state had recognized, as early in 1461, the Armenians as a separate community with right to the free use of language, faith and work. This tolerance was the acclaimed “millet” system practiced by the Turks at a time when Cromwell was persecuting the Catholics, the French official church massacring their Protestant converts, and others subduing the Calvinists.

The Armenian issue is being politicized in a number of countries in Western Europe, where one notices a rising racism and discrimination. A lasting remedy passes through educational efforts to change attitudes. The required change involves the ability of the present generations to interact with various cultures. If a representative political body passes judgements on the basis of one-sided and perpetrated Armenian arguments, not only such a pursuit is beyond its expertise, but also such prejudiced arguments may well be unsustainable in the light of objective scholarship. The only appropriate alternative is to leave the matter to the free discussion of academics, who possess adequate expertise in related disciplines.

British Citizens' Proclamation of Turkish Rights
British Committee for the Protection of Turkish Rights,

PO Box 43666
London SE22 9XW

also in Swansea - Wales and Edinburgh - Scotland

Invitation to a public lecture by Prof. Turkkaya Ataov in London

21.11.2006 18.00 - 21:00
SOAS, Khalili Lecture Theatre,
Russell Square, Thornhaugh St., London WC1H 0XG

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British European Turk NGOs serving the community.. Social Engineering in progress!


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