2094) History Lesson

There seems to be a change of heart in the western press in regards to observing the reasons which led to the tragic events of 1915. The western press, who had always been prejudiced against Turkey and Turks, all of a sudden started looking at the other side of the medallion, and reviewing the events objectively as new articles in this respect are showing up each day in growing numbers. . .

Today, one such article which contains true historical facts, was published in National Review Online, written by Barbara Lerner. And, no, my Armenian friends, she’s not on the payroll of the Turkish Government or any other Turkish entity for that matter! Mrs Lerner was able to summarize the actual events precisely, and to the point in this excellent article.

Mrs Lerner, pointing out to the emotional power and widespread popular appeal of the moral case for condemning the Turks, states:

We must do it, Armenian genocide proponents tell us, because the Armenian tragedy was the original Holocaust: Armenians in World War I were like the Jews in World War II; Turks in 1915 were like the Germans in the 1940s. Thus, the only moral choice is to condemn the Turks, as we condemned the Nazis. The logic here is inescapable: it is the only moral choice, if the charge is true, if Armenians really were helpless scapegoats like the Jews, and if Turks really were deliberate, genocidal monsters like the Nazis. But an analogy is only an emotional appeal, not a rational argument — let alone a moral one — — unless it actually fits the historical facts. To judge whether the Holocaust analogy does, we can’t just look at Jews and Germans in World War II, then at dead Armenians in World War I, and extrapolate the rest. We have to look at live Armenians and Turks in 1915; at the desperate, multi-front war Turkey was submerged in, in that bloody year; and at how ordinary people and government leaders reacted.

Mrs Lerner continues:

We know what life was like for ordinary people and government leaders in Germany in 1942-43, when the mass killing of Jews reached industrial scale. It was orderly and safe; the Nazis were still mostly winning abroad, and in full, unchallenged control at home. Jews aside, no one starved to death in Germany then, and no German civilians were massacred or raped by enemy forces. There were no enemy forces on German soil in those years. The only enemies at home were the Jews, and they were never a real threat. They were scapegoats, not objective enemies, and they were being methodically eliminated, without exception, in all German-controlled territory.

Life in Turkey in 1915 was very different, but, genocide accusations aside, most Americans know nothing of it. Here, to remedy that lack, a little history.

Mrs Lerner first reviews backdrop to 1915 - how Turkey got to where she was in that critical year:

Turkey wasn’t a country in 1915; it was an empire in dissolution, reaching the climactic endpoint of a century-long decline in wealth, power, and control over territory. The Ottomans tried many reforms to halt the slide; all proved too little, too late. By 1915 they had already lost great swathes of territory in Crimea and the Caucasus, in a series of losing wars with their giant rival to the east, Imperial Russia. In the west, they lost most of their European territories in another series of losing wars against a rising tide of nationalist uprisings in Greece and the Balkans.

In all these lost lands, Turks and other Muslims had been at least a substantial minority; in many, a clear majority, and everywhere, they were driven from their homes in large numbers, and often brutalized.

My own grand parents were one of those who lost all their belongings and escaped to Istanbul. My great grand mother used to tell stories of how they had to just lock the door of the house with everything intact, then leave with only a small bag, and the hardship they faced on their way back.

Massacres and rapes were especially common on the eastern front. Czarist troops and their local allies were no less brutal to conquered Muslim civilians than their Communist successors were to Christian civilians in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, a few decades later. All this sent millions of Muslim refugees flooding into the Ottoman core we now know as Turkey in the years before World War I, overwhelming the Ottoman’s waning power to provide even minimal assistance to many, and seriously eroding their ability to maintain order in areas farthest from the government in Istanbul. Then, on November 2, 1914, Imperial Russia declared war on the Ottomans again, and this time, Imperial Britain and Imperial France followed suit, three days later.

Then, Mrs Lerner reviews the foreground — what was happening in Turkey in 1915, and how Turks and Armenians responded:

In January, the French, the British, and Britain’s colonial troops — Australians and New Zealanders—mounted a major attack on Turkey’s western front at Gallipoli, the gateway to Istanbul. Fighting there was fierce, and continued until January 1916, but, on this front, there were relatively few civilian casualties, and no massacres.

On the eastern front, the situation was grimmer. The czar’s army had broken through the Ottoman defense lines in the Caucasus, and was laying waste to cities and villages in Anatolia, sending old refugees fleeing in terror once more, and adding millions of new refugees to the mounting toll. Once again, the invading Russians and their local allies often treated conquered Turkish civilians with great brutality; massacres and rapes were not rare events. In much of Anatolia, death and destruction was omnipresent, and for millions of homeless survivors, clean water and food was scarce to nonexistent. Starvation killed many; raging epidemics of dysentery, typhus, and cholera killed more. In refugee-flooded areas behind the ever-changing front lines and on the roads leading to them, chaos ruled. There was no one to keep order: all available men were needed at the fronts.

That’s what the Turks were struggling with in 1915, and some Armenians struggled with them, serving in the Ottoman government, and fighting side-by-side with Turks in the Ottoman army, says Mrs Lerner and continues:

Most Armenians who demonstrated this kind of loyalty to the Ottoman state came from Istanbul, Izmir, and Aleppo; the wives, children, and elderly they left behind when they went off to war were not driven from their homes or subjected to massacres. After the war, these men collected their veteran’s pensions, just as other veterans did; some of their descendants live there still.

But Armenians were hardly immune to the fierce currents of nationalism sweeping the region in the late 19th and early 20th century. In eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus, especially, many Armenians on both sides of the border saw the Russian invasion as their great chance to recreate their ancient Christian kingdom in Anatolia, with the aid of the Czar’s mighty Christian army. Armed Armenian nationalist groups — the Dashnaks, the Hunchaks, and others — saw Armenians who fought for the Turks as traitors to the Armenian cause; many still do. Nationalist Armenians were at war with the Turks in 1915, and the Armenian generals and guerilla leaders who commanded them are still honored as Armenian heroes today. Military leaders like Generals Andranik Oznanian, Garegin Nzhdeh, Drastamat Kanahyan (“General Dro”), and Garo Pasdirmaijan (“Armen Garo”) are largely unknown to Americans whose knowledge of Armenian history is limited to the orthodox genocide literature, but well-known by Armenians. Here, again, the analogy to the Jews of the Holocaust simply does not fit. There are no statues to the Jewish generals who fought the Nazis in Germany in 1942-43, because there were none.

In 1915, Armenian generals were in the forefront of the Russian invasion: some led Russian troops; others led special Armenian battalions, made up of Armenian volunteers from both sides of the border; still others organized Turkish-Armenian military units behind the lines, capturing Anatolian cities like Van, even before the Russians arrived, joining the Russians in capturing Bitlis, Mus, and many other Turkish towns and villages, massacring Turks in a number of those places, before Ottoman reinforcements recaptured them in a long, bloody series of seesaw battles that raged throughout eastern Anatolia in 1915. Some Turkish civilians responded by massacring Armenians, and wild, outlaw tribes of Circassians and Kurds preyed on hapless civilians in both groups.

Of course, nothing justifies any of these massacres, but the claim that Ottoman government leaders ordered any of them is belied by the frequency with which, when they could, they tried and punished men responsible for them: not just Armenians, but many Turks, too, including government officials and military men found guilty of failing to protect civilians. But the Ottoman government in 1915 was no fount of wisdom. It was the product of a series of mutinies, coups, and countercoups that began in 1908, deposing one Sultan and installing another, most of whose rapidly eroding powers were seized in 1913 by three rebel leaders, Talat, Cemal and Enver. And in 1915, that triumvirate made a decision that resulted in many civilian deaths. They decided to deal with the civil war in eastern Anatolia by ordering Ottoman soldiers to march all Armenians out of the area, and resettle them in the Ottoman city of Aleppo, in what is now Syria.

Orders were given to distribute food and water as needed, and to protect the marchers. But, due to the chaos of war, the dearth of supplies, the critical shortage of troops needed at the fronts, and the competing tragedies playing out all around them, there was no chance that the transfer plan could be carried out humanely. It turned into a death march, comparable to the one our soldiers endured on Bataan in World War II, but made worse in the Armenian case by the fact that many of the marchers were the women, children, and old people left behind. Many did not survive the horrors of the trip. Still, we don’t call the Bataan death march a genocide, and there is even less reason to claim the Armenian death march was intended as such. If the Ottomans wanted to kill all Armenians, they would not have exempted Armenians from Istanbul, Izmir, and Aleppo from the transfer order, along with others serving in government and the military. Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Gallipoli who founded the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, had a more cogent view: he saw the triumvirate as incompetent, and Enver, especially, as a dangerously unrealistic commander whose poorly conceived plans resulted in the slaughter of many Ottoman soldiers; and he saw the Armenian transfer plan as more of the same.

Mrs Lerner concludes her article by stating that:

The bottom line here is that in actual historical fact, Turks were not like Nazis; Armenians were not like Jews; and attempts to convince Americans that they were are propaganda, not history. The Armenian tragedy was real and terrible, but it was not the only terrible tragedy in Turkey in 1915 and it wasn’t genocide; it was that in the midst of a wider war that brought death and destruction to millions on all sides, nationalist Armenians fought a war to claim a piece of Turkey for a country of their own, and lost. Later, they got a state of their own, but its development has been stunted from that day to this by high levels of poverty, corruption and political violence. If Armenians would accept their share of responsibility for the tragedies of 1915, trade with their increasingly prosperous Turkish neighbors could do much to alleviate that poverty. Some in Armenia have long wanted to do that, but most government leaders — and the powerful Armenian diaspora community those leaders rely on — have always insisted, instead, on demonizing Turks and whitewashing all Armenian actions in World War I. And, although they proved incompetent at governing, they achieved great success as propagandists. In this, Armenians are very similar to Palestinians; very different from both Jews and Turks.

And the urgent questions that these facts raise for us are these: How did a narrative so far from the facts gain such wide currency and power in contemporary America? What can we do to make ourselves less vulnerable to specious narratives, promoted by other groups who fail at governing, but excel at propaganda?

We are confident, the more factual historical documents come in daylight, the more people will start thinking perhaps they were wrong in their first judgment, and would want to hear the other side of the story as well, before coming to a final decision.

One such document is that of the first prime minister of the Independent Armenia Hovhannes Katchaznouni, called “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnagtzoutiun) Has Nothing To Do Any More“. It is actually a manifesto which he had presented to the Convention of foreign branches of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation convened in April 1923 in Bucharest, Romania. Convinced that the questions raised there would be subject to serious consideration of, not only the members of the Dashnag (Dashnak) Party, but also of other Armenians as well, Hovhannes Katchaznouni thought it was his duty to have the manifesto published and thereby made public property. The Armenian version of the book was published in Vienna by the Mihitarian Press in the year 1923.

One small detail is the fact that it is rather difficult, even impossible, to find it nowadays in the libraries of the world. On account of what the former Prime Minister says of the Dashnag experience, it is quite possible that certain Armenian circles prefer it to be dropped from the list of acquisitions of libraries. In some libraries it appears in the card catalogues, but cannot be found in the stacks.

Posted in 1915, Alleged genocide, Armenia, Armenian, Armenian Genocide, Ataturk, Hovhannes Katchaznouni, Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Turkish, Turks, WW I | 7 Comments
7 Responses to “History Lesson”
on 19 Oct 2007 at 1:12 am
1 Nihat

Admin: It is time commenters stopped accusing those who disagree with them of being bribed, bought or paid. These are ad hominum attacks and will not be tolerated. If you cannot argue without attacking the person, do not comment.

on 19 Oct 2007 at 2:40 am
2 Kathy

admin: comments containing personal attacks are deleted. commenters that persist may be banned.

on 19 Oct 2007 at 2:42 am
3 sashal

Don’t go Ahmedinejad on us here, trurkishdigest:
your lies

The liars are out in force these days. Does National Review really want to be known as a venue for genocide deniers?

She seems to think that a people cannot be made into a scapegoat when things at home are going badly, but only when they are going relatively well. This is a very unique understanding of what scapegoating is. It is rather stunning that so many hacks and amateurs can confidently deny what honest scholars of genocide studies and history affirm. As for those who “excel” at propaganda, Ms. Lerner does not need to look very far, since her article is a classic example of that very thing.

P.S. Incidentally, it is articles just like this one that confirm my view that passage of the resolution is highly desirable. Every day that this resolution is blocked is another small victory for these genocide deniers. Whenever someone argues that the resolution is redundant or “gratuitous” because no one questions that the Armenians experienced a genocidal campaign against them, I will simply point to this article and others like it to show that denialism is flourishing.

Like Cohen’s shambles of a column the other day, Lerner’s article insists on defining what genocide is based on its identity with the circumstances of the Holocaust. Since no other genocide in modern history has ever been identical to the Holocaust, this style of argument implicitly denies all the other acknowledged genocides of the 20th century by emphasising dissimilarity of circumstances. Lerner’s article is a blatant example of “blaming the victim,” pinning the blame for the actions of a relative few revolutionaries on an entire population. And of course the trials of guilty officers were conducted by the non-CUP elements of the Ottoman government, yet Lerner uses these trials as exculpatory evidence to the advantage of the CUP leadership.

I don’t know how many times one needs to say this: there was a deliberate and organised campaign of extermination authored by the leaders of the CUP and carried out in a series of massacres and death marches on their orders. As Akcam has shown, the CUP leaders would send our duelling sets of orders, with one set ordering humane and decent treatment of the deportees and the other ordering their annihilation. These are obviously war crimes–that much hardly anyone will seriously dispute–and they very clearly meet all but the most peculiar definitions of genocide. It’s not clear to me what could actually motivate someone to engage in Lerner’s morally abhorrent contortions.

on 19 Oct 2007 at 3:11 am
4 sashal

Kathy, very good.

Hypothetical question.
What would the reaction be from the War on terror crowd if Iran was ally in that fight.
Would we close our eyes on their denial of the Holocaust, so we would not want to hurt their feelings.
Listen, Turks, grow up.
Accept what has happened in History, it will make your life much easier.
Germans did accept it , Japanese did.
And nothing bad happened to them…

on 19 Oct 2007 at 3:45 am
5 Nihat

Dear Admin,

In my comment #1, I did not accuse anyone “who disagree[d] with [me] of being bribed, bought or paid.” I don’t do ad hominem attacks. Period. But I sometimes fall for sarcasm, like in #1, where I was criticising exactly the attitude you say you don’t like. What I wrote was in direct reference to the opening thoughts of the author of the original post. I was sarcastic nonetheless, and I am not proud of that. So all is fine.

on 19 Oct 2007 at 4:01 am
6 Chris

I’m not sure I understand why the Armenians had to go through the same exact thing as the Jews for it to be genocide.

on 19 Oct 2007 at 5:10 am
7 R

Good point Chris. Witness Rwanda.

Oct 19th, 2007 by TurkishDigest
The Van Der Galiën Gazette


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