02 September 2007

1926) Why Is It So?

Essay by Harry Blackley *

For twenty years Professor Julius Sumner-Miller hosted a TV program on Australian television titled "Why Is It So?"

During the "Why is it so?" series, Sumner-Miller showed hundreds of experiments, set up by his assistant Mr Anderson. Through these experiments, he tried to show "how Nature behaves without cluttering its beauty with abstruse mathematics.

He explained complex chemical and physical phenomena through simple experiments using every day examples.

When looking at Turkey and the Armenian Question, I asked myself the question, "Why is it so? . .

Why is it that Turkey and Turks are portrayed as they are in what we call the Western world?

The history of the world is filled with conquerors, military leaders and revolutionaries. How they are portrayed depends on to which race they belong. Why is this so?

If Alexander the Greek-speaking Macedonian is referred to as Alexander the Great, it is due to the stories written about his life and conquests. Yet these conquests resulted in massacres, the rape and looting of hundreds of thousand of civilians. Genghis Khan is portrayed as a brutal, barbaric savage who did no more than Alexander yet his conquests are portrayed in a totally different way in the West. Why is this so? People of a different race have written his story.

What did the Ottoman Turks do in Eastern Anatolia that draws such fierce condemnation in the West? Were the actions taken any different to similar actions taken by civilized Western nations in America, South Africa, Algeria, Ireland?

It is a matter of public record that Armenians claimed to have fought on the side of the Entente against their own State. These claims are well documented as the Armenians sought reward for their efforts to defeat the Ottoman Empire by the creation of an Armenian homeland or State.

The Armenians betrayed their nation and in turn were betrayed by those they say that they assisted just as the civilized West, despite the promises made if they fought against the Ottoman Empire, betrayed the Arabs.

Yet the Armenians are portrayed as victims of cruel, barbaric Turks. Why is this so? It is so because the stories written by Armenians and the civilized Christian West say it is so.

The Athenian dramatists, storytellers, knew the power of stories to explain the actions of human beings. Shakespeare knew this too, long before Freud and others were able to explain 'why is it so?'

Marx wrote that religion is the opium of the people. If we think that Thoreau was correct when he wrote that men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them, perhaps it is understandable that people need some opium to make life bearable. All religious texts are stories even if handed down from God. Since we are mere human beings we cannot comprehend God except through stories.

Can anyone comprehend what happened in Eastern Anatolia almost a hundred years ago in a place more primitive, dangerous, disease ridden and totally out of control by the central government not unlike Afghanistan in the 21st century? What are the stories that can help us understand? Unfortunately they are all written by Armenians and naturally influence the perception in the civilized West. This is not to say that Turkey has not produced or sponsored learned studies on the subject that show these Armenian stories to be false.

But as Sumner-Miller demonstrated, the vast majority of the people cannot comprehend masses of 'abstruse information'. Just as few people can understand Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex, it is still the Athenian playwright, Sophocles, and his play Oedipus Rex that haunts us about a subject that is still hotly debated.

The well-known, respected producer of surveys on nation brand image, Simon Anholt, wrote that a nation's image cannot be changed with expensive public relations campaign but simple narratives and stories can over time, change it. As an example he cites Australia's positive image to stories such as 'Crocodile Dundee'.

How do stories work? They work by engaging the reader in characters they can relate to, engage with and be concerned with. In other words, a complex story is reduced to a level that a reader can understand just as Sumner-Miller reduced complex chemical and physical phenomena to a level that ordinary people could understand.

Which brings me to my current project, a novel set in Van 1914-1915. It is a story about a French Armenian Marxist revolutionary who travels to Eastern Anatolia to fight with the Armenian Revolutionary Army, the daughter of a Scottish Baptist Missionary and a young Turkish man.

Here is the introduction that sets the scene for readers who know nothing of the Armenian question.


Beginning in 1789, the French Revolution by the peasants against the King, the Church and nobles set off changes that would shape Europe and the world in the coming two hundred years. It gave birth to the idea of nationalism that flowered with the arrival of the industrial revolution in Western Europe. For centuries, no such thing as a modern nation had existed. Prior to the industrial revolution, the vast majority of people lived as peasants in an agricultural society and owed their allegiance to nobles or the Church.

The greatest empire of its day, the Ottoman Empire, failed to industrialize and fell into decay. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the already established nations such as Britain, France, Italy and Germany were in the process of building empires overseas in places such as Africa and looked to the Ottoman Empire for further expansion into the oil rich Middle East and Anatolia, modern Turkey. To this end, they and Imperial Russia encouraged countries under the control of the Ottomans where a majority of the people was of the same race, to rebel against the Empire and bring about new, separate nations. These included Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. Ottoman Muslims were a sizeable minority in these countries and in Greece prior to its becoming a republic in 1923.

By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the Muslims who had lived in all these countries had been massacred or driven into exile in Anatolia, modern Turkey. In Bulgaria alone, half a million Muslims were slaughtered and three quarters of a million forced to flee into Ottoman Turkey.

The Armenians were a scattered minority in the Ottoman Empire with only stories handed down from a time fifteen hundred years ago when they had been a majority in some parts of Eastern Anatolia and in Cilicia along the Mediterranean coast.

As the nineteenth century ended, due to migration to foreign lands, Armenians were no longer a majority in any part of the Ottoman Empire.

By the early twentieth century, Imperial Russia was home to over a million Armenians. The entry of Russia into the First World War against the Ottoman Empire was seen as an opportunity to carve out an Armenian national homeland in the Caucasus. An estimated 150,000 Russian Armenians flocked to the Imperial Army to fight the Ottoman Turks. The Armenian Revolutionary Army in the East was ready with 50,000 Ottoman Armenian volunteers to assist in the defeat of their Ottoman government and so acquire a homeland for an Armenian nation. They trusted their fellow Christians in Russia and believed in the promises of the European nations that their assistance would be rewarded with a Greater Armenia. The betrayer became the betrayed.

Almost a century later, the greatest military nations in the world have been unable to quell the tribal warlords in Afghanistan and the insurgents in Iraq. Turkey has the second largest military force in NATO after the USA. Since 1984, when the PKK began pushing for an independent Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey, over 30,000 have been killed in insurgent, terrorist and Turkish force operations; the PKK killed 600 in 2006 alone.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."
Samuel P. Huntington

*Harry Blackley is the Author of "Love and Death in Cyprus" (Kibris'ta Ask ve Olum)


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