587) No Evidence of Ottoman Intent to Destroy Armenian Community -INTERVIEW with Gunter Lewy

Gunter Lewy, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Massachusetts/Amherst, argues in his latest book ‘The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide’ that what happened in 1915-16 was a huge tragedy but was not genocide as the Ottomans had no intention of exterminating the Armenian race..

The Armenian lobby in the US tried hard to prevent the publication of the book, but Prof. Lewy does not want to go into details about the Diaspora’s efforts to block his book. Though Prof. Lewy gives the details of the massacres and accuses some Turkish authorities of distort history by denying significant massacres, Prof. Lewy has been attacked by Armenian hardliners as a “denier.” Here are the excerpts from Prof. Lewy’s interview with ZAMAN:

Though you reach a figure of 642,000 Armenians killed in 1915-16, you argue that there was no intention to wipe out the Armenian race. Is lack of intention on its own sufficient not to call the incidents genocide?

According to Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948, “intent to destroy” is a precondition of genocide. A large number of dead alone is not sufficient. Thus, for example, collateral casualties of an aerial bombing do not constitute genocide, no matter how large the number of victims. There exists no evidence that the Ottoman regime had intent to destroy the Armenian community.

The Armenian Diaspora claims that you wrote this book with the help of the Turkish government, implying that you are serving Turkey’s interests. What is your reaction?

I am a retired professor of Political Science, the author of 10 other books published by prestigious publishing houses such as Oxford University Press. I wrote this book as I wrote all of my previous books – with the help of American foundations such as the American Council of Learned Societies. I also had a travel grant from the German Academic Exchange Service. I did not receive financial support from the Turkish government or any other government. I have not seen the allegation you refer to but it is part of the campaign of vilification Armenians wage against anyone who questions their version of the tragic events of 1915.

Armenian “genocidier” scholars argue that ‘you are not even an expert; you do not even speak Turkish’. They also accuse Jewish origin American scholars of distorting history by denying the so-called genocide.

I came to this topic as part of a planned comparative study of genocide. I am not a Middle East expert (even though I lived 8 years in the Middle East) and I do not read Ottoman Turkish. However, the archival materials and other original sources in Western languages are more than adequate to research this topic. The reports of American, German, Austrian consular officials who were on the spot in Anatolia, as well as the accounts of foreign missionaries who witnessed the deportations are richer and better sources than what is contained in the Turkish archives. A requirement that only persons fluent in the Turkish language be considered competent to write about this topic would, disqualify most Armenians who also do not know Turkish. The argument that Jewish scholars deny the genocide because they are Jewish and want to defend the uniqueness of the Holocaust is indecent as well as irrelevant. A book has to be judged by its content and not by the motive of its author.

The West was not at all concerned about the Muslim cleansing of the Balkans, but charities exist to help Ottoman Armenians all over the Western world. How do you explain the West’s astonishingly different reaction to the Muslim atrocities in the Balkans in 1912-1913 and the Armenian atrocities of 1915?

Obviously, all human life should be of equal worth. The West took its time in reacting to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, but it did eventually react forcefully and halted these atrocities. Armenian misdeeds during World War I were often ignored because Armenian propaganda was well orchestrated and the Western world did not expect Christians to behave this way. The horrendous events of World War II have since taught us that no nationality, no matter what its religion or cultural achievements, is immune to outrageous criminal conduct in war.

You quote in your book (pg. 246) that “massacre, outrage and devastation have always been congenial to Turks.” Do you think this prejudice was pivotal in the Western attitude to Armenian massacres?

The allegation often made by Armenians that Turks love massacres and devastation because of their national character was indeed shared by many in the West who likewise condemned the “terrible Turk.”

Can you compare and contrast Shoah and the Armenian massacres?

Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish Question – the Holocaust or Shoah – aimed at the total destruction of the Jewish people. The Armenian massacres of World War I were not committed at the behest of the Ottoman government, and that fact alone makes a crucial difference. The fact that the large Armenian communities of Istanbul, Izmir and Aleppo were exempted from the deportation is another important indication that the Young Turks had no genocidal designs against the Armenian minority of their country.

You argue that Salahi Sonyel put the number of Armenians deported at 800,000, Kevorkian at 870,000, Bogos Nubar Pasha at 600,000-700,000. How is it possible that Armenian scholars reach a figure of 1,500,000 killed (not even deported) and that the West seems to agree with this number?

Unfortunately many Western scholars and parliamentary bodies simply repeat the Armenian allegations without critical examination as to their veracity.

Why do you think Armenians waited until 1965 to call what happened in 1915 genocide?

I am not sure why the Armenians waited until 1965 before they alleged genocide. It is said that the impact of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 was deeply demoralizing. Also, the early 1960s brought a lot of scholarship on the Jewish Holocaust of World War II, and the Armenians may have sensed an opportunity to cash in on this aroused humanitarian conscience.

What is the West and Russia’s share of the responsibility in the massacres?

Western governments and Russia had often made promises of Armenian autonomy or even independence. These promises undoubtedly encouraged Armenian revolutionaries to go on the attack, cause large casualties among the innocent, and thus provoke Western or Russian intervention on their behalf. By making promises that were not kept the West probably shares some of the responsibility for the events of 1915-16.

In more than several pages you accuse Dadrian, a renowned scholar on the Armenian ‘genocide,’ of either of exaggerating the facts or excluding documents. How widespread and ingrained is this attitude among Armenian origin scholars in terms of being selective?

Many Armenian scholars use selective evidence or otherwise distort the historical record, but V.N. Dadrian is in a class by himself. His violations of scholarly ethics, which I document in my book, are so numerous as to destroy his scholarly credentials.

Do you think the Armenian Diaspora’s tactics i.e. making as many countries as possible recognize the 1915 incidents as genocide, will have any affect on Turkey to recognize it as a“genocide” without a court ruling?

It is the business of legislatures to legislate and not to decide contested historical questions. Turkey should insist on this principle and not give in to outside pressure with regard to the alleged Armenian genocide.

What is the way out? You argue that there are some Armenians who will be satisfied “with an official statement by the Turkish government that it deeply regrets the great suffering of the Armenians during World War I” (pg 269) How plausible is this argument?

Since writing the book and expressing in it some optimism about Turkish-Armenian reconciliation I have been to Turkey, and I am now more pessimistic in this regard. European pressure has caused a nationalistic backlash among many Turkish intellectuals, and I think it extremely unlikely that the Turkish government will be willing to make a statement of regret of the kind that has been proposed. The Armenian Diaspora, too, appears to be getting more demanding and extreme.

How shall Turkey approach the issue? Should Turkey do more, other than offer to establish a joint commission, which was immediately refused by the Armenians?

The idea of a joint historical commission is a good one. In order to be credible, it will be important for the Turkish historical scholars to do better than the work of the Turkish Historical Society has done so far. The fact that the president of this society, Yusuf Halacoglu, is a person who does not even read English is a scandal.

Brussels (ZAMAN)
Selcuk Gultasli
April 24, 2006


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