1932) Robert Fisk Is The Latest 'Sympathetic Researcher,' Say The Fish

Fisk’s ‘The forgotten Holocaust,’ which he wrote following a visit to Armenia, is full of distortions and inconsistencies, giving the impression that he is willing to create his own ‘reality’ . .

In the fall of 1991, Jalal Talabani, then secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Peter W. Galbraith, a United States official serving on the staff of the Foreign Relations Committee, were chatting about Iraqi government documents that the PUK peshmerga (Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq) had captured from the local offices of Saddam Hussein's intelligence and the Ba'ath Party during the uprisings. “This unique record of the genocide against the Kurdish people should be moved to safety,” said Galbraith. He proposed that they be given to the U.S. for safekeeping.

Talabani opposed the idea. He said he did not trust then U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush. Instead, he would give the documents to Galbraith under one condition: He did not want them “used by those American Middle East experts whom he considered pro-Arab or anti-Kurd.” Galbraith promised Talabani he would look only for “sympathetic researchers.”

Is Fisk himself a ‘raver'?

This episode was for me the most striking part of T. E. Lawrence's “Revolt in the Desert” – like Galbraith's 2006 account on Iraq entitled “The End of Iraq.” When reading it, I was particularly puzzled by the term “sympathetic researchers.” It later came to mind when I read the Aug. 28 editorial written by British journalist Robert Fisk published in The Independent titled, “The Forgotten Holocaust.”

Mr. Fisk's critical thinking is indeed worth considering. In another editorial titled “Even I question the ‘truth' about 9/11,” for instance, he complained about the presence of “ravers” in the audiences at his Middle East lecture. He expresses the belief that the biggest share of responsibility in that respect goes to the U.S. government itself since he, too, is “increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11.” He eventually wrapped up by questioning whether the following statement attributed to President Bush's departed advisor Karl Rove, might indeed be true: “We are an empire now – we create our own reality.”

I am saddened to see, however, that he does not make the same efforts to find the truth of the Armenian allegations or Turkey. “The Forgotten Holocaust,” which he wrote following a visit to Armenia, is full of distortions and inconsistencies giving the impression that Fisk, like Rove, is willing to create his own “reality.” He seems to be the latest example of the “sympathetic researchers” Mr. Galbraith was referring to.

Fisk's distortions:

I do not know where to start discussing the distortions – there are so many. Let's take just one: Talat Pasha's alleged Sept. 15, 1915 cable to his prefect in Aleppo, the wording of which Mr. Fisk claims is “almost identical to those used by [Heinrich] Himmler to his SS killers in 1941.”

He quoted, “You have already been informed that the government… has decided to destroy completely all the indicated persons living in Turkey… Their existence must be terminated, however tragic the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to any scruples of conscience.”

I am afraid to say that such a document never existed. Fisk is obviously referring to the telegrams first presented in the book “The Memoirs of Naim Bey: Official Documents Relating to the Deportation and Massacres of Armenians.” Since its publication in 1920, the book written by Armenian historian Aram Andonian was purported to constitute evidence that the “Armenian genocide” was formally implemented as state policy. However, the telegrams are forgeries and nothing more than mere war propaganda. This is a fact, not only recognized by Turkish historians – the alleged “deniers” – but also by some prominent Western academics and researchers such as Erik-Jan Zürcher. Sensible scientists of Armenian descent have long before given up using them.

Nazi analogy:

What disturbs me is not his ignorance but the way he justifies his assertions of, as he puts it, “Ottoman Turkey's attempt to exterminate an entire Christian race in the Middle East.” Like Fisk, most people supporting the Armenian allegations, the Armenian scholars in Diaspora in particular, are very eager to present the Armenian deportation of 1915 as the first “holocaust” of the 20th century. They claim it was used by the Nazi leadership as the model for their own genocide program. In nearly all his editorials on the subject, Fisk alleges, clearly under the influence of Armenian historian Vahakn Dadrian's studies, that some German officers who served in 1915 in the Ottoman army were “the main architects of the Holocaust.”

According to this line of thinking, the world's presumed lack of reaction to the “forgotten genocide” served as a justification for Adolf Hitler's planned extermination of European Jewry. Hitler is frequently quoted as having said in a speech to his generals about his plans to wage a ruthless war against Poland in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The motive behind efforts at establishing a connection between the Armenian deportation and the tragic fate of European Jewry during World War II is obvious. The Holocaust stands as the greatest single human tragedy the world has ever witnessed and any relationship with it would serve as an important tool to justify Armenian arguments.

It was, however, U.S. historian Heath W. Lowry who demonstrated that there is no historical basis for attributing the statement to Hitler. In his article “The U.S. Congress and Adolf Hitler on the Armenians,” published in 1985 in the Journal of Political Communication and Persuasion, Lowry proved that the source of the purported Hitler quote was an article (“Nazi Germany's Road to War”) that appeared in the Times of London on Nov. 24, 1945. The Times article was written by an anonymous author and, in fact, was not the earliest mention of Hitler's alleged statement on the Armenians. Rather, “this quotation and indeed an entire text” of Hitler's speech purportedly made at Obersalzberg was first published in the book “What About Germany” written by Louis Lochner, a former bureau chief of the Associated Press in Berlin. Lochner wrote that he obtained the speech from an unnamed informant and since then, its provenance has never been disclosed or investigated. What is more important, says Mr. Lowry, is the fact that in even Lochner's version of Hitler's quote there is no direct or implied reference to the Jewish people. At length he concludes Hitler's alleged reference to the Armenian case was merely another piece of wartime propaganda.

How do you become a sympathetic researcher?

In social sciences, and in history in particular, what determines the credibility of a scientist, or the reliability of his account, is the strength of his or her methodology. There has been a great variety of works tackling the methodology of historiography, but the most significant contribution has come from British historian Edward Hallet Carr. The central ideas in his influential book “What is History?” have changed mainstream thinking in the field of history.

Carr argues that history “is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts.” Facts, by their very nature, resemble fish “swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean.” He then maintains, “What the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use.” He eventually urges historians (or any researcher) “to interrogate documents and to display a due skepticism as regards to their writer's motives.” A sympathetic researcher, in turn, believes the part of the ocean he chooses to fish in is the ultimate destination. And it is in this way that I call Mr. Fisk a sympathetic researcher.

I write this piece while listening to a beautiful Goran Bregovic song from the soundtrack to Emir Kusturica's “Arizona Dream.” At one stage of the song, the lyrics go:

“The fish doesn't think, because the fish knows everything.”

I really wonder whether Mr. Fisk has ever listened to it. And whether one day an investigative journalist like Fisk will at least try to fish in other parts of the ocean as well.

C. Cem Oğuz
September 5, 2007


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