1623) Fuat Dündar: 1915 Was Part Of A "Systematic Ethnic Engineering" Project & Comments by Sukru Server Aya

  • Article by Talin Suciyan - Armenian Reporter - 4/14/2007

  • Comments by Sukru Server Aya 18 Apr 2007

ISTANBUL - Speaking in Istanbul in March, historian Fuat Dündar argued that the Armenian "deportations" of 1915 were part of a "systematic ethnic engineering" project undertaken by the Ottoman government, which was controlled by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) at the time.

Mr. Dündar, who received his Ph.D. from the prestigious École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, has studied the cipher telegrams written by members of the CUP government and tracked the ethnic and demographic changes in Anatolia between 1913 and 1918. . . . . For his master's degree, he had focused mainly on the displacement of Muslim populations, publishing a book titled Ittihat ve Terakki'nin Müslümanlari Iskan Politikasi (The CUP's settlement policy for Muslims). He is also the author of Türkiye Nüfus Sayimlarinda Azinliklar (Minorities in Turkey's censuses).

At the "Armenian conference" held in 2005 at Istanbul's Bilgi University, Mr. Dündar presented some of his findings. "Deportation is not a holistic and premeditated project," he concluded at the time. But now, speaking before a group of about 60 activists, academics, and journalist at Tarih ve Toplum Bilimleri Enstitusu (History and Social Sciences Institute), Mr. Dündar declares, "deportation is a conscious decision, the consequences of which could have been known in advance."

What follows is a conversation between this correspondent and Fuat Dündar, which also appeared in Turkish in Agos.

COMMENT: Information given about this person is misleading in as far that he invents an obscure term such as “systematic ethnic engineering” which has no relationship to the subject, other than expressing that he is some sort of “engineer” (Petroluem) which is enough to acredit him as a “historian”! I should have sent this publication to Prof.Dr. Nursen Mazici, at Marmara University Political Sciences department, where this person seems to be preparing a thesis.

The credentials submitted as regards “Bilgi University” and “AGOS” gives a lead as regards the “fast stairway to escalate like Akcam, Pamuk, Shafak a.s.o.”by creating scenarios to catch attention” instead of simple truths.

Personally, I do not think that this interview by Tulin Suciyan (whom I admire) deserves my counter comments, but this will be for one-time only.

Q: You wrote your Ph.D. thesis on settlement policies during the CUP period between 1913 and 1918. Are you talking about a systematic settling policy covering all those who were not ethnic Turks?

F. Dündar: Actually Turks were also resettled in order to obtain a predominance or majority of Turkish identity. We can say that ethnic engineering was conducted. The Turks' duty was to turkify. In the framework of this engineering, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Albanians, Georgians, Circassians, Laz people, Greeks, Jews, Assyrians, Nasturies, and Bulgarians were displaced.

C: This is pure nonesense. It appears this person has not read Justin McCarthy’s ISBN 0-87850-094-4 DEATH AND EXILE, The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922 giving exact figures of demographic changes owing to large numbers of Muslims emigrating into Anatolia from lost Balkan states and Caucassia. There was no time or reason to “Turkify” when Muslims were sleeping on streets, in their ox-carts in search of a shelter to sleep. This is pure invention and distortion. Even Istanbul streets and squares were full of refugees’ ox-carts!

Q: Was this systematic?

F. Dündar: Yes, both systematic and chronologically continuous. In 1913, the policy targeted Bulgarians. At that time, the territories that now belong to Greece belonged to Bulgarians. The Bulgarian army was powerful and that posed a threat to Istanbul. So 50,000 Bulgarians were displaced and sent to Bulgaria, and 50,000 Turks from Bulgaria came and settled in their place. Then came the turn of Greeks. [The CUP leader] Halil Mentese confessed this chronologic continuity. He said, "After Bulgarians now it's the Greeks' turn."

On October 22, 1914, the policy of expelling Greeks was halted because two days earlier a deal was made with Germany in which there was also financial aid. Therefore, for the sake of the state's stability, the attacks against Greeks were stopped. Greeks were displaced inland from the shores and the borders to be used as a tool to threaten [Greece] in the future.

Toward the end of 1914, we can see the displaced [Muslim] people in Zeitun. While Armenians were sent away, displaced Muslims were settled in their places. The purpose of this population exchange was to create a safe homeland. In 1915 Armenians were expelled from the region. Then, in 1916, the policy start targeting Kurds. New "replacement" commissions were gathered. During the same period Kurds fleed from Russia.

C: Distortion of simple realities this far and blaming Turks (in defense and refuge) to plan a “systematic cleansing and resettlement” and call it “a planned exchange of population” has no logical explanation. The Armenians at Zeytun, had revolted, had put “brave revolution fights” (I can give too many U.S. paper clips) and were evacuated with French battleships during war ! Why Dundar makes no mention that Ottomans entered war in autumn 1914, the Russian had advanced pushing all the people in the area, up to Erzurum front line? Dundar makes fantasies, when 80.000 soldiers froze in late Dec.1914 and first week of January 1915 in the Russian front. Regarding Greeks, mostly they were not involved in Armenian terror activities, and were needed in the services they held. Of course they were untouched!

Q: Why?

F. Dündar: Because they were pro-Ottoman Kurds. Russians too wanted to expel and get rid of Kurds. But not by killing them. In 1917, in Palestine, Jews become the target [of the CUP]. All these steps were parts of the CUP's project. Thus, the systematic character is obvious.

C: Nonsense again about Palestine Jews who were untouched, but suffered overall famine and epidemics. Cemal Pasha had trusted Aaron Aronshon (a Jewish agro-scientiest who was to fight locust disaster) who later turned out to be a spy for Britain. Zionist immigrations to the area, was not encouraged for obvious reasons.

Q: How many people were displaced?

F. Dündar: As you know, [the columnist] Murat Bardakçi has publicized parts of the "notebook of Talat Pasha" after keeping it to himself for 20 years. He does not even say the dates when the notebook was written. Had Bardakçi acknowledged this notebook 20 years ago, we would have progressed much further in our research. In my opinion the notebook was written by the end of 1915. Only according to Talat Pasha's notebook, 80 percent of 1.5 million Armenians were deported. Muslims who escaped from Russian army come to around 1.2 million people, of whom around a million are Kurds and 200,000, Turks. Turks were made to resettle in the regions in which Armenians had been living. Kurds were scattered in Turkish-populated areas. Tens of thousands of Assyrians, Nasturis, Circassians, and Arabs too. At that time the population of Anatolia was around 12 million. One-third of this population was displaced and resettled.

C: Dundar skips the direct reply, taking shelter under Murat Bardakci, instead of Justin McCarthy’s “head counts”, and tries to prove victimization of the Kurds, who were the main adversaries of reciprocal plunders with Armenians. Regarding “deported-relocated people” if he disagrees with Halacoglu records of under 500.000, he should accept Boghos Nubar’s official letter of 600-700.000, confirmed also by Dr. Nansen, and Caleb Gates in charge of reliefs. See(*)

Q: What are your sources?

F. Dündar: Cipher telegrams. They are the operational documents -executive orders - of the CUP government. They are not decisions taken in various congresses. Cipher telegrams are operational documents.

C: Mr. Dundar is hereby invited to show his findings with authentic translations and evidence, in front of scholars of Turkish Historical Association, plus international scholars and press. The existence of “cipher telegrams” can not be generalized as genocide ordering documents, unless he has “something EXACT to say” instead of imploring other meanings he wants to label. If he does not comply with this challenge and prefers to write on AGOS etc., then, I am afraid that he will reveal his face of “charlatan history impostor” instead of a young engineer or scholar.

Q: What is a cipher telegram?

F. Dündar: These are telegrams written in code by special telegraph officers and can be decoded only by those who have the key. Codes were changed about every three months.

We can read them because Talat Pasha wrote them in a regular way and they were coded by the telegraph officer. These documents are in the Ottoman archives. Anyone able to read Ottoman can go and read them. However, this does not mean that the cipher telegrams are archived fully. The archives are open, but this does not mean that one can find all of the telegrams there.

C: This is a terrible slander and LIE unless he proves to be true. Archives, follow a certain system, and “nothing can be added or taken out”. This is “cheap talk of proof by slander”.

The fact that ethnic engineering was done through telegrams makes the whole story even more meaningful. Over the course of five years, the whole population structure changed in a certain geographic area. There is no other instance of this.

C: The population structure changed because of “force mejeure - de facto” reasons. There was no other Empire as big as the Ottomans, being plundered and chopped from all sides, which housed so many ethnicities and religions.

Q: How were the geographic borders defined?

F. Dündar: The CUP's target was Anatolia [defined in modern Turkish as all of Asia Minor]. According to me, the regions to which Armenians were sent were not within the borders of the future state project. Thus, Armenians were to be excluded from this project [the future state]. Kurds were within the project. For instance, Talat Pasha opposed the idea of resettling Kurds in Aleppo area. He wanted them to be resettled in regions that are within the borders to today's Turkey because the number of Muslims was limited. Thus, it is the optimum use of existing resources.

C: CUP’s target was to win War and protect all they had or expand, if they could... Relocations were made out of the war zones, towards Syria, because this was the safest and most distant from war fronts. The borders of today’s
Turkey was drawn by Mustafa Kemal, not by CUP! He should know “that much of history”...

Q: You are using engineering language.

F. Dündar: The language of the documents is quite cold and distanced. The author of these telegrams, Talat Pasha, was a lawyer, a very smart person, who spoke foreign languages. He differentiated between the language of the cipher telegrams and the language used in diplomacy. He was a real "statesman-diplomat."

C: Is Dundar praising Talat or degrading him because he spoke “good French”.

Q: You wrote in your book that the aim of the state was to "mix" and then to "unify and melt." If these do not work then to "cleanse." Who were the ones who were mixed and who were the ones who were "cleansed"?

F. Dündar: Kurds were mixed. Even if we disregard the politics of violence, including converts, seized and adopted children, 40 percent of Armenians survived. Only one-third of Armenians remained. "Cleansing" does not mean annihilating all. There were Armenians who remained but were disconnected from their land.

C: Justin McCarthy writes that about 40% of Muslims and Armenians in the war zones, died because of several reasons, back and forth emigrations during 1915-1922. The Armenian population in the war zones, was a maximum 700.000 (Nubar & Nansen) and 40% would be roughly 300.000. Both Katchaznuni and Lalaian confirm that during the 2 year rule of the Armenian Republic 1918-1920, almost 200.000 died in Yerevan area because of starvation. Some Armenians came back in 1918 with French and Russian troops, but later had to flee back. After the Lausanne Conference, a 2 year grace period was given to “all who had left Turkey” to come back and reposses their properties they had left. What more can be done?

There was a rule of 5 percent for instance. In comparison with the Muslim population, Armenians were not to exceed 5 percent. Even this had some preconditions. For instance, if a family had a son over 15, he would be counted as a second family. Then you had some loyal Armenians, police, soldier, etc.

C: Armenians were employed “preferentially” in all State services. However, after the “resettlement”, in order to avoid revolutionary regroupings, they were to form not more than 10 houses in small villages, or 5% of population..

Q: Were Armenians taken to the army from deportation?

F. Dündar: Yes. In 1916 or 1917 in Der Zor, Armenians were taken to the army.

C: All men in soldiery age were enlisted, Armenians were no exception. Many died “fighting alongside Turks”..

Q: What is the source of this information?

F. Dündar: Cipher telegrams.

C: No need to cipher telegrams, it is already a known fact...

Q: Did they obey the order?

F. Dündar: I do not know. But the order exists. Of course they were to be taken without any weapon handed to them, in what was called a "hard-labor battalion" (amele taburu).

C: Bias surfaces: “amele taburu” means simply “labor battalion”, (not hard labor) every man was needed!

Q: You are saying that the CUP conducted deportations and the resettlement project with great care. With which organizations on the ground did they conduct this?

F. Dündar: This is the state. The state has population records. It has a statistical agency as well. Each institution has its own statistical department. In 1915 there were maps based on the "millet system." Still, there were officers who were not working according to the CUP's mentality. They were dismissed.

Was there any attempt to persuade the officers in order to create an intellectual or ideological organization in these telegrams?

Telegrams convey orders. But for instance in one of Talat Pasha's telegrams, you can see a sentence written for persuading the recipient. He says, "By now all the Ottoman territories are a battleground." Of course, 100-percent fulfillment of orders is impossible. Local authorities may differ in the initiatives they take.

C: Officers dismissed ? What an imagination when they were direly needed! Ottoman Army laws were unchanged, only a few top commanders were CUP members! Party by-laws in military ? Pure nonsense. Dundar “jumps into bright discoveries” by the word “battleground”. The primary cause of the relocation-deportations, was the NEED TO HAVE A NO-MAN battleground so that army can move and fire freely. “Battle ground” implies that the areas were now free for war, without fear of backstabbing sabotages.

Q: You have said that population changes were tracked every three months. Are there records referring to this? Are we talking about such a well-organized structure?

F. Dündar: Yes. The number of births and the number of deaths were added. Population movements were followed and reported to the center every three months.

C: If yes, why doesn’t Dundar trust the official figures announced by Prof. Halacoglu and deviates whenever he wants?

Q: You have said that the CUP succeeded in resolving many of the problems that could have created trouble for the future nation-state. Looking back, can you say the CUP resolved these problems?

F. Dündar: The CUP left a very "adequate" population composition to Mustafa Kemal.

C: Pure imagination. Mustafa Kemal was not a member of CUP and always was against officers being involved in politics. Enver had posted him as attache in Sofia, to get rid of him ! This relationship is purely imaginary!

Q: What do you mean by "adequate"? There is no homogenous society, right?

F. Dündar: Well, at least we can say that compared to the time before the CUP, a more harmonious population composition was created. Probable Kurdish and Greek demands were halted. Of course, Armenians got the worst of it.

Q: You assume that Mustafa Kemal would have chosen to build a totally homogenous nation state. Do you not think there might have been other options?

F. Dündar: There is continuity in mentality. It is possible to trace back the mentality of assimilating Kurds in order to build a new state to the CUP period. [The Pan-Turkist ideologue] Ziya Gökalp not only proposed the assimilation of Kurds but also proposed projects to realize this. He prepared a survey questionnaire in 1914, with more than 60 questions. Criminal data were collected in this questionnaire. Whether there are ethnic divisions within the clans, or different divisions of language, weakness of the leaders, etc.

C: Dundar speaks of the real cause of the survey, the “Kurd” involvement. Ziya Gokalp’s projects remained as inspiration only, there was no time, no money, no means to execute them. They remained as a “dream”.

Q: Where was it published?

F. Dündar: It is a questionnaire sent to regional authorities by the CUP government, I mean regions in which Kurds were living. It is in the Ottoman archives. It is going to be published.

C: Big conclusions from a tiny detail !

Q: In the "Armenian Conference" in Istanbul, at Bilgi University in 2005, you said, "deportation is not a holistic and premeditated project." Now you are saying "deportation is a conscious decision, the consequences of which could have been known in advance." These are two different sentences. Could you please explain?

F. Dündar: If I am not mistaken, I said, there was no policy to annihilate all Armenians. And I still defend this argument. But of course the partial decrease in the Armenian population was due to the CUP's population policies. Moreover, at that time I said I had not yet studied the Armenian case. After having studied Armenians, one can see that Der Zor was very well known to the state. There are statements of authorities in Der Zor. Further, in 1912, a report had been prepared for the government by experts. The report says, "No immigrant could be settled in that area." Sixty percent of the population in Der Zor consisted of nomadic groups. The state knew Der Zor very well. This proves that even a decision only to deport is a conscious decision. The ,results are not invisible. Thus, it can be said that the Armenian deportation was a crime against humanity.

C: Dundar finally speaks up the words, he is engaged and expected to speak, “Armenian (only) deportation was a crime against humanity!" In other words, other deportations may not be a crime ! And revolting against the home country and doing every act of treason, “should be totally normal, and no precautions needed to be taken”! Dundar says that he has studied Armenians (meaning he knows it all, while I have been reading nearly since the day of his childhood, I do not claim that I studied all; I am ready to learn something new he has to say). The fact that “nomadic people lived in the Zor area proves that it was a scarcely populated area, suitable for living. How come that in his studies, he never read the following words from Morgenthau’s diary:

“Zenop Bezjian, Vekil of Armenian Proestants called. Schimavonian introduced him as his schoolmate. He told me a great deal about the conditions in the interior. I was surprised to hear him report that Armenians at Zor are fairly satisfied, that they have already settled down to business and are earning their livings; those were the first ones that were sent away and seem to have gotten there without being massacred. He gave me a list where the various camps are and he thinks that over (*) one half million have been displaced. He was most solicitous that they should be helped before winter set in.”

Q: What are the living conditions in Der Zor?

F. Dündar: Der Zor is a desert. Even, once upon a time, it was called "Province of the desert" on the maps. Further, on July 6, 1914, there was a discussion in the parliament. A Greek member of parliament asked why the immigrants expelled from the Balkans were resettled in Greek villages. He said, "Almost all the country is empty. What is the reason for this resettlement?" Talat Pasha responded, "Yes, there are lots of empty places. Yet, had those Muslims resettled in desert areas, they would have all died."

So, the conditions were known. But only 10 months later, Armenians were sent there.

C: Above excerpt from Morgenthau’s diary and spoken by Bezjian, prove that this interview and all that is said is just another scenario to escalate to “ZOR-ian reputation”, and is not worth to be seriously replied.

Owing to my age, I beg to be excused from replying similar premature future statements, published in newspapers.

Last word: Don’t be afraid from learning, and never think that you know it all. Even Einstein did not know it all !

S.S. Aya


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