04 April 2008

2416) The Kaiser Effect: What One Genocide Scholar Said (And Did Not Say) At Rutgers

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (A.W.) On March 28, the Armenian Club of Rutgers University hosted a lecture by Hilmar Kaiser at the Student Activities Center.

Kaiser received his PhD from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He specializes in Ottoman social and economic history as well as the Armenian genocide. He has done research in more than 60 archives worldwide, including the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul.

During the lecture, Kaiser presented an overview of the Armenian genocide, based mainly on his research in the Ottoman archives. In the days following the lecture, statements were disseminated over the internet about what Kaiser said at Rutgers, portraying him as a denier of the Armenian genocide.

Kaiser is known in the community for his controversial statements and for criticizing other genocide scholars, which he did at the Rutgers lecture. And while many scholars and readers may not agree with some of his analysis or conclusions on the genocide, at no point did Kaiser deny the genocide. He consistently used the term "Armenian genocide" when referring to 1915-16, clearly made the point that the massacres were centrally planned, and put the number of "losses" at 1-1.5 million. The Turkish members of the audience were anything but happy with Kaiser's documentation of the genocide and threw all kinds of denialist and revisionist arguments at him during the question and answer session.

Kaiser parts ways with many genocide scholars on the issue of when the decision to carry out the Armenian genocide was made. While most scholars talk about a blueprint for the massacres, or a specific date when the decision was made, Kaiser argues that there were not one but several decisions for mass murder, all centrally planned and executed.

Below, we provide the transcript of Kaiser's lecture, with the hope that it will set the record straight and generate a healthy discussion. Kaiser did not read from a prepared text. This transcript, shortened due to space constraints, is from a digital recording taken by Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian.

The ARF and the Ottoman government The Armenian community is a democratic, complex and politically competitive community. And when I now say that the leading political party was the ARF, some in the community might be offended. I just reflect the views of the Ottoman Ministry of Interior and Ottoman Intelligence. The only political group that was seen as politically of any relevance was the ARF.

The Ottoman government approached the ARF and proposed an alliance, because the ARF was also present behind the Russian lines as a Russian political party in Trans-Caucasia. The offer was that the ARF should start attacking and sabotaging Russian lines of supply and communication, thereby facilitating the Ottoman victory and, in return, the Ottoman government would then grant them the political concession they denied the Armenian community for years.

Basically, the offer was, "You join the war on our side, take the risk, and then we promise you what we have denied you for years." So it wasn't really a good offer. What would happen to the Armenian community in Russia?

The ARF declined the offer and assured the Ottoman government that the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire would faithfully serve the common Ottoman war cause, and the Armenians in Russia would serve the country they were citizens of. This was the decision. But there was a minority opinion [in the ARF] that was voted down. The minority opinion was a group of more radical ARF members who said, "OK, the Russians are coming. We support the advance and get the benefits." But this minority opinion was overvoted, and the party line was at every single time upheld, with even strong measures by the ARF leadership to assert the party line.

However, the internal communications of the meetings of the ARF had been compromised and the details of the minority opinion were within days available to Minister of Interior Talat. And the Ottoman government decided to take the minority opinion that had been voted down as the real policy of the ARF and began acting on it. They did this despite repeated intelligence reports from the Eastern provinces, from Erzerum, Van, Bitlis, and Kharpert, that the ARF and the Armenian community supported the war effort by answering to the draft much more faithfully to the Muslim population. They were supporting the regular units more than the Muslims and they were absolutely reliable.

Campaign of repression From October 1914 right into May 1915, the Ottoman government began a campaign of repression. Before the start of the war, the ARF had reactivated an earlier, secret, semi-clandestine armed wing of the party, the Self-Defense Organization. This was an organization that was created to protect Armenian villages in remote areas especially from attacks by tribal Kurdish groups, bandits, and other outrages that occurred regularly. Now this sounds like a huge organization, but per village, it was maybe 6-10 armed men, plus, regionally, some so-called "mobile units," another 10-12 people who would be rushed to this or that village. This was a defensive body that lacked heavy weapons and automatic weapons like machine guns, and was not capable to really strike.

The Ottoman government knew who the militants were, they began taking out local party leaders one by one and also tracking down the members of the organization, thereby trying to destroy it. This was very easy because in those days the winters in Armenia and Kurdistan were very severe in 1914-15, high snow, so there was no way for the militants to escape to the mountains and hide; and even if they were to leave the villages, there's a trace.

The ARF leadership, based in Van, decided that it had to put up with the situation.

And now comes a very important document, dated March 25, 1915. The document has been used by Justin McCarthy in the book The Van Rebellion, but it seems Professor McCarthy was so overworked that he could only use half the document. I use the other half. In the second part of the report by Cevdet, the governor, to Talat (there is not a single decision at Van that was not supervised and approved by the central authorities), it says that the Armenian population is entirely peaceful, calm, doing nothing; however, in reality they are rebels, they are only waiting for the Russians to come and then they will kill every Muslim.

Van At this point, the Ottoman government decided that it does not make a difference at all if an Armenian would be fulfilling his civic duties, obeying the law, or would be in open rebellion. He would be killed anyhow. On March 25, the Ottoman forces decided to attack the Armenian community in Van and wipe them out. It didn't work.

Several Armenian leaders sacrificed their life (Ishkhan and Arshag Vramian). Knowing that they would be murdered, they went to the other side to negotiate, to win time. They knew that they were on a suicide mission going to the other side to negotiate. Basically, the negotiator was going to his own executioner in order to win a day, or in Vramian's case, even a couple of hours. And then the defense started. It was a defense, not a rebellion. The defense was successful by accident.

The letter the Central Committee of ARF Van sent to the other Central Committees says, We have done everything to avoid a clash. The last moment has come, we will be killed, we will make our last stand. There was nothing we could do.

The party line was to hold out until the last moment. They said, The last moment has passed, we cannot hold out anymore. They explain to the rest of the party why they are doing this. Basically, what they said was, Farewell, there is no chance. We will just make a stand.

And indeed, the ARF, together with (this is one of the few moments of unity in Armenian history) Hnchagians and Ramgavars fought together and they survived. But had the Russian and Armenian volunteers arrived 24 hours late, it would have meant total disaster. The Ottomans did not know that they had overwhelmed the defenders.

Deportations At this point, the Ottoman government realized that it had failed to take out the outer defense unit in the area and probably in other areas. Therefore, my conclusion (I don't have a document that says this...) is that the only way to avoid the potential threat of Armenians aiding the Russians was to deport them. So in the last phase of the defense of Van, the Ottoman government decides the deportation of Armenians in the area of the Van province, adjacent to the Bitlis province and then in the northern Erzerum province, exactly on the front line.

In the middle of June, the head of the Third Army (that's the eastern front) decreed the deportation of all Armenians within the Third Army area. This adds Kharpert, Sivas, Dikranagert and Trebizond to the deportation. It's the bulk of the Armenian population.

At the end of July, the Ottoman government orders an immediate count of all Armenians empire-wide and at the same time orders the deportation of Armenians from the remaining provinces.

So what you have here is the successive waves of deportation that resulted, by the end of September, in the total uprooting of Armenians, with the exception of parts of Constantinople, Smyrna, Aleppo, and very small groups of Armenians in Antalya.

How were these deportation organized? Basically, they weren't organized at all in the beginning. They were just decreed. They said the local administration takes care of the welfare of the Armenians. There were no precise orders on how to secure the welfare of Armenians.

However, in a process that I would describe as "learning by doing," the ideal size of an Armenian deportation caravan was established. One thousand Armenians per deportation caravan was the best economy in the use of accompanying gendarme forces. If the deportation caravan shrinks considerably, the convoy is stopped and parked until a second convoy arrives that has shrunk as well. Then they merge to the 1,000 number. So what you have here is a filter, and the system of economy shows you that the deportation was already a form of destruction, extermination. The concern was about the economy, the best efficient use of the gendarmes or the militia who accompanied the deportees. And they didn't try to stop the shrinking, by the way.

You have to understand that these were Ottoman citizens, protected by Ottoman law. At no point in the entire time was the Ottoman penal code cancelled. The government was breaking Ottoman law in the process.

These people were then sent to Der Zor, which, as a desert district, had very weak infrastructure. What we see here is that in August/September, the Ottoman central government established a deportation administration in the Der Zor, Ras ul Ein, and along the Euphrates.

Andonian was not lying One of these officials was Naim Bey, the famous Naim Bey of Aram Andonian. We have identified him. He existed, the name was right, Andonian's description of him as corrupt was right, and also his workplace at Meskene was right. Andonian was not lying.

The Der Zor massacre In 1916, the Der Zor massacre. Possibly the worst massacre of the Armenian genocide. Why did it happen? Why in 1916? And why do I say that it was not planned in 1915?

Der Zor had such a weak administrative infrastructure that it was overwhelmed. And because Der Zor was directly linked to the central government and not first to a provincial governor, it reported directly to Talat.

In early 1916, Talat ordered an acceleration of deportation of Armenians into Der Zor. He was really urging regional authorities to speed up and not to let the Armenians stray. Then Talat ordered the authorities in Der Zor to stop sending the Armenians to another settlement, Kirkuk€ ¦’·which was in the Mosul province€ ¦’·because the commander of the Sixth Army had complained that these Armenians would be a security risk as the British were advancing in Iraq. So what you see here, the overflow area of Der Zor, Kirkuk, was closed-off because the army in Iraq said we don't want to have them there.

So Der Zor became a cul de sac, a dead end. And even the one caravan that made it to Mosul was sent back to Der Zor on the orders of Talat. Mind you, we have survivor memoirs of people who were in the caravan. Then, the central authorities say, No more Armenians into Homs, Hama. Only Der Zor. Cannot go south, cannot go east.

Next order: The deportees in Ras ul Ein were sent into Der Zor.

Then comes the order that Armenians should not be employed by the government anymore. It means the Armenians don't get paid for their work anymore. If you don't get paid but you have to pay for work, who feeds you? The government. You see the problem that's building up? A lot of Armenians, very expensive, very few resources, and then comes the big thing. The presence of Armenians threatens the supply lines of the Iraqi army along the Euphrates. They must not stay along the Euphrates. If you are not allowed to stay at the Euphrates, if you are not allowed to leave the area, where to put you? Then in July, Talay says, Move the Armenians away from Der Zor. What was the direction? Cheddadiyye. What we also see is that Talat coordination in late July, in rapid succession, the deployment of additional mounted gendarmerie or militia forces in Der Zor. There's a build-up.

Then in August, the Armenians are massacred. And you don't find much on this in the archives. The only thing you find in some Turkish military memoirs is a description of the bone fields.

The Young Turk government did not have one decision for mass murder, they had several decisions for mass murder, and these various decisions for mass murder add up to this total wipe out, destruction.

Concentration camps When we talk about concentration camps, we all think about Auschwitz or Germany in World War II. In the Armenian genocide, you don't have that. You do not need barbed wire. The desert was much more effective. In the Syrian desert, you don't have to fence the Armenians. Once you control the exits to the water, you control the movement of the people because the people have to go to the water to survive.

Gendered genocide The Armenian genocide is a highly gendered genocide. The Armenian genocide is a history of the women and the children, because the men were in the army or were killed early in the deportation. The historiography of the Armenian genocide is also highly gendered. It's written by the males.

Number of victims The Ottoman Armenian population was approximately 1.8-2.2 million people. Depending on the estimate, between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians were "lost." When I say "lost," I mean killed, but also taken into Muslim households. "Lost" to the community, not returned.

It turns out the Armenian Patriarchate figures are surprisingly reliable. I obtained documents from the Ottoman archives where you find Armenian in small numbers in villages where, according to the Patriarchate, there were no Armenians.
The Armenian Weekly April 5, 2008


Adrienne McOmber, wife of Richard McOmber, and mother of Armen McOmber, just phoned me to tell me that she and her husband went to a lecture last night at Rutgers University to hear Dr. Hilmar Kaiser, an event unfortunately sponsored by the Armenian Students Society wherein Hilmar, as he has done for the past several years, badmouthed and denigrated just about all Armenian genocide scholars in the US and Europe, including Vahakn Dadrian and Taner Akcam, and put into question the very reality of a genocide sponsored by the Young Turk government against the Armenians in 1915-1923.

The lecture was attended by some apparently high-ranking Turks who smiled and nodded throughout the lecture. They then invited Hilmar to dinner today! They talked with Hilmar in Turkish, but we had Turkish speaker present who understood what was going on.

He is attempting to put into question all the valuable scholarship produced by Armenians and their cohorts regarding the Armenian genocide and thus deny that the genocide was sponsored by the Turkish central authorities, making it only a series of massacres carried out on the local level. This is subversive activity at its worse.

Unfortunately, an important Armenian patriotic organization had unwittingly sent Hilmar on a speaking tour around the United State a couple of year ago, wherein he did the same thing. I received phone calls from all over the United States warning me about what was going on. Knowing his itinerary, I asked people to record his "lectures" so I would have proof of what he was doing. I then contacted his sponsors who replied that "he attracted young people" and was therefore useful. Finally I had to contact some higher ups who then caused the organization to warn Hilmar that if he spoke against Armenian genocide scholars his tour would be brought to an end.

Now Hilmar is back on the road on a speaking tour, offered free to Armenian student organizations, wherein he is now doing the same badmouthing and putting the Armenian genocide, as a genocide, in question. He will speak at Villanova University on Monday, March 31.

The man is a clear and present danger. If he puts into question the work of our best genocide scholars, then the Turks have a natural and effective ally against us. He worked for me several years ago and I had to fire him for his dishonesty. I still have the records.

All Armenian student groups and all Armenian organizations must be warned not to sponsor his talks and also to attend his lectures when they are inevitable, record the lectures and send a copy to me, and be prepared to defend our genocide scholars against his false accusations.

Dennis R. Papazian

Kindly Forwarded by Ara Baliozian