3008) Conference Notes: Turkish–Armenian Relations: London School of Economics: 29 Jan 2010

29 January 2010, 6 pm
London School of Economics, London WC2B 4JF


Prof. Türkkaya Ataöv
"What Really Happened on April 24, 1915?"

Asst Prof Bestami Sadi Bilgiç
"The Question of “Genocide” in Turkish Foreign Policy: The Cases of Armenians, Pontic Rums and Assyrians"

Chaired By Dr Andrew Mango
The Way Forward


This conference has been organised in the memory of 34 Turkish diplomats and other innocent victims who were murdered by various Armenian terrorist groups between 1973 and 1985. Most of the perpetrators have never been brought to justice, and of the few that were, only some were imprisoned and given very light sentences.

The Federation of Turkish Associations UK held a conference at the London School of Economics (LSE) in memory of the Turkish diplomats killed by Armenian terrorists between 1973 and 1985. The conference titled "Turkish-Armenian Relations" was chaired by Dr Andrew Mango and the guest speakers were Prof Turkkaya Ataov and Asst. Prof Bestami Bilgic.

The conference began with a one minute silence in memory of the murdered diplomats and was well attended by many diplomats, NGO representatives, academics and students including the Turkish Ambassador to the United Kingdom HE Yigit Alpogan, the Turkish Consul General Bahadir Kaleli, Turkish Military Naval Attaché Gp Captain Ozdem Kocer and the President of the Federation of Turkish Associations UK Sener Saglam. This was the fourth year this event has been held and has become an important calendar date for the Turkish community. The event was also attended by several members of the Armenian community.

Between 1973 and 1985, 110 armed attacks were carried out in 21 different countries by Armenian terrorist organisations, in which a total of 34 Turkish diplomats, 8 members of their immediate families and 4 bystanders lost their lives, and 15 Turks and 66 citizens of other nationalities were injured.
. .

FTA UK’s opening speech:

Ambassador, Dear Guests, and Distinguished Panellists,

The Federation of Turkish Associations UK welcomes you to the 4th Memorial Conference in London, organised in the memory of 34 Turkish diplomats and other innocent victims who were murdered by various Armenian terrorist groups between 1973 and 1985. Most of the perpetrators of these terrible attacks have never been brought to justice, and of the few that were, only some were imprisoned and given very light sentences.

FTA UK is an umbrella organisation serving various needs of the Turkish community. We think the best way to solve these problems is through understanding and research. FTA UK condemns all forms of terrorism and wishes a peaceful and better world for all human beings regardless of their race, colour or religious beliefs.

Dear Guests,

May I invite everyone to stand for one minute’s silence in respect of the murdered Turkish diplomats and all the innocent lives lost during that terrible terrorist campaign?
Dear Guests,

On behalf of the Federation of Turkish Associations in the UK I would like to thank everybody here for attending this evening.

Now, I would like to leave the floor to our chair Dr Andrew Mango.

We wish everyone an informative conference.

Thank you!

Speakers’ Biographies

Dr Andrew Mango: Dr. Andrew Mango was born in 1926 in Istanbul, where he started his education at the English High School for Boys, going on to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to study Classical Persian and Arabic. He received a PhD in 1955 for a thesis on the legend of Alexander in Persian Islamic poetry. He joined the External Services (now World Service) of the BBC in 1947, and was in charge of broadcasts in Turkish between 1958 and 1972, before being promoted as Head of the South European and then also of the French Language Services. After his retirement from the BBC in 1986 he has worked full-time as researcher, writer and consultant on modern Turkey.

Prof Türkkaya Ataöv: Türkkaya Ataöv is Professor Emeritus in International Relations at Ankara University, Turkey. He did his graduate work in the United States, where he received two MAs (NYU & Syracuse Univ.) and a PhD (1959, Syracuse Univ., NY). He taught at Ankara University for more than four decades and lectured in several universities abroad. He is the author of close to 140 books, a few hundred academic treaties, and a few thousand newspaper articles. His writings have been translated into 20 different languages. He has been elected to central executive positions of UN-related international organisations, dealing with racial discrimination, human rights, terrorism, nuclear war, and exchange of prisoners of war. Professor Ataöv published 80 books/booklets on the Armenian issue, was invited as "witness of authority" by the Paris court to the two trials (1984 and 1985) of Armenian terrorists, participated in the UN Geneva meetings (1985) of the Human Rights Commission on the Genocide Convention, and partook in several meetings of the European Parliament that dealt with the Armenian issue.

Dr Bestami Sadi Bilgiç: Dr. Bestami Sadi Bilgic is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs at the Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University. Currently he is taking part in a research project on the Ottoman minorities at the Turkish Historical Society in Ankara. Dr. Bilgic’s research interests are Modern Greek History and Politics, Late Ottoman-Early Republican History and Minorities. Dr. Bilgic is a graduate of Bilkent University where he earned a B.A. in International Relations in 1997 and an M.A. in International Relations in 1999. After spending the academic year of 1999-2000 in Greece doing research on the history of Turkish-Greek relations, he went to the United States for his doctoral studies and in 2004 he got his PhD in the field of Modern History at the George Washington University. Dr. Bilgic has published on the history of Turkish-Greek relations, and Turkish Foreign Policy.

Opening remarks by Dr Andrew Mango

This meeting, like its predecessors, is being held to commemorate Turkish diplomats killed by Armenian terrorists between 1973 and 1985. The first to be murdered were the Turkish consul and his assistant in Los Angeles in January 1973 – thirty-seven years ago. Terrorism has since become so common that news of it is often reduced to statistics. But now and then the statistics come to life. For me the moment came when Armenian terrorists killed Necla, the wife of Zeki Kuneralp, the Turkish ambassador in Madrid. I got to know Necla Hanim and Zeki Bey well, during Zeki Bey’s two terms as ambassador in London. It so happened, that I called on Zeki Bey in Madrid a few months before his wife was murdered. The Turkish ambassador lived in an old Spanish mansion with large French windows opening to the garden.

As we had lunch, I asked Zeki Bey whether it was sensible to sit behind large panes of glass at a time when terrorists were shooting at Turkish diplomatic targets. He quoted Schiller to me: “The man who doesn’t know how to die, doesn’t know how to live.” He didn’t know that not he, but his wife was to be the next victim. A tragic irony marked the assassination. Zeki Bey’s father had been lynched by Turkish nationalists who loathed him for his criticism of Turkey’s resistance to the Allies after World War I, and called him “Artin Kemal”, “Kemal the Armenian”. The purpose of terrorism is to perpetuate hatred. Zeki Bey tried to prevent this by encouraging research into the long centuries of peaceful coexistence of Turks and Armenians. Our purpose here tonight should also be to prevent the perpetuation of ethnic hatred through the propagation of myths. Untruths – to use parliamentary language – are constantly being repeated. In the last few weeks, for example, articles I read about an exhibition of the American modernist painter Arshil Gorky, who was of Armenian origin, said that Gorky’s mother had died when the Armenians fled from the siege of Van, and that the Turkish army butchered 2 million Armenians in 1920. In fact there was no siege of Van by the Turks, but an Armenian rising in Van in 1915 which facilitated the capture of the city by the Russian army and resulted in the murder of many of the city’s Muslim inhabitants and the flight of the rest. Nor did the Turkish army kill 2 million Armenians in 1920. In fact there had been 1.5 million Armenians in the whole of Ottoman Anatolia when WWI started, and close on a million of them survived as refugees. What happened were four waves of ethnic cleansing by Armenians of Turks and of Armenians by Turks, which left more Muslims than Armenians dead, as the front moved west, then east twice before a frontier was finally drawn between Turkey and Armenia in December 1920. But I’m impinging here on the talk by our first speaker, Professor Türkkaya Ataöv of Ankara University, who has devoted years of study to the tragic history of Turkish-Armenian relations. His subject tonight is the deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman authorities in 1915 – what lay behind the decision and what justification there was for it.

What Really Happened on April 24, 1915? Why and How?"

By Türkkaya Ataöv

Emeritus Professor of IR at Ankara University

My short talk may be summarized as follows: What really happened on April 24, 1915 and why? Please, do not expect me to summarize Armenian-Turkish relations throughout history, or review all the main points of what occurred just before, during and a little after the First World War. That cannot be done within a matter of about half an hour, the time allocated to me here. I have been studying this very subject, inter alia, since the early 1980s, and published so far 82 books and booklets on it.

I shall concentrate, instead, only (1) on the circumstances related to the Ottoman decision to relocate the greater part, though not all, of the Armenian population and also (2) on the arrests on the 24th of April, a date some Armenian circles are bringing pressure on some foreign parliaments to accept as a “genocide day”.

Almost all Armenian and many Western writers argue that the Armenian revolt at the beginning of the war posed no actual threat to the security of the Ottoman state or its armies facing the better mobilized Allies in several fronts. Apart from a rather long list of commentators, I recall, about a decade ago, a generalized statement by a Purdue University professor, Robert Melson, also the author of a book, in his own words, “on the origins of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust”. He said, in my presence, that the Ottoman Armenians were calm, weak, gentle, peaceful, helpless, unprotected, unarmed, non-belligerent, good Christian, and totally vulnerable civilians, mostly old men, women and children, upon whom, he added, well-armed regular Ottoman troops ascended with their full force, killing perhaps millions. The Perdue University professor left the auditorium without listening to my reply. The extensive bibliography (of fifteen pages) in his book, by the way, refers to works on Indonesia, Cuba, Cambodia, or “Marx against the peasant”, with no mention of anything that I and my colleagues in Turkey have published on the theme of his book. I personally referred to a host of Armenian writers and their collaborators in many of my publications. My own book of bibliography contains no less than 403 such sources, with the majority of which I hardly agree.

Some other writers, including myself, conclude, on the other hand, that the Armenian armed rebellion constituted a great military danger. The Armenians were hard-working, innovative, enterprising, creative, and artistically-inclined, but hardly pacific and unarmed. The Turkish historian Dr. Erdal Ilter’s 300-pp bibliography on the same subject covers, not only printed Armenian works (almost as comprehensive as those by Hovannissian, Salmaslian and Vassilian, all Armenians), but also many Turkish treatises that offer vast amount of concrete evidence from archival material, reports, yearbooks, theses, dissertations, books, booklets, albums, and recorded witness accounts on Armenian assaults on Turkish and other Muslim quarters, villages and cities and their shedding of blood during war-time.

I am not going to utilize here Turkish material, which nevertheless must be treated of primary importance. If one wishes to establish the British policy in 1588 in respect to that country’s policy towards Spain just before the battle against the great Armada or in 1939 before the German attack on Poland, the first and foremost sources would be the Foreign Office archives. Likewise, if we want to find out what the Ottoman policies regarding the Armenians during the First World War, the rich Ottoman archives are equally indispensable.
However, I shall generally rely here on the evidence provided by third parties as well as by some crucial Armenian sources that should strike one as confessions. C.F. Dixon-Johnson, Edwards J. Erickson, Bernard Lewis, Guenter Lewy, Heath Lowry, Justin McCarthy, Nogales Mendez, Stanford J. Shaw, Masud Akhtar Sheikh and Samuel A. Weeds are some of the non-Turkish scholars. One may also remember the declaration, dated May 19, 1985, of more than fifty American academics, who drew the attention of the U.S. House of Representatives for a fairer treatment of the subject, stripped of anti-Turkish prejudice.

Perhaps the pioneer of an impartial approach was C.F. Dixon-Johnson’s book, courageously printed in the crucial year of 1916 (when the British and the Turks were fighting in Gelibolu, Sinai, Palestine and Mesopotamia), criticizing the propaganda that created more bias “against an already misjudged and badly maligned enemy.” He reminded the British readers how critical the situation was for Turkey, which faced “a matter of life and death.” He added that unless the danger was removed, “the Turkish army on the Caucasus would have been hopelessly cut off...”

Edward J. Erickson, an uncommon Western scholar, presents a comprehensive study on the connection between Armenian insurgency and Ottoman security, in a long article in War in History (2008). There exists, of course, ample evidence in the Ottoman archives on how heavily the Armenians had been armed and how some hundred thousands of Muslim civilians were killed. An average European and an American may be surprised to read in a recent (2003) British book (Dictionary of the First World War by Stephen Pope and Elizabeth-Anne Wheal, p. 34) that the “Armenian rebels slaughtered an estimated 120,000 non-Armenians while the Turkish Army was preoccupied with mobilization.” The authors add that the Armenian rebels took the Ottoman city of Van in April 1915 and proclaimed a provisional government there, and further that the rebels “resumed control in late 1917, killing perhaps another 50,000 non-Armenians.” These are British figures in a book printed in London. Erickson’s fact-finding research “seeks to inform the reader why the Ottoman military reacted in the manner it did.”

Armed Armenian insurrection directly affected the Ottoman 3rd Army in eastern Anatolia and the Ottoman 4th Army in the Syrian-Palestinian front and indirectly influenced but certainly perturbed the position of the Ottoman 6th Army in Mesopotamia. The logistical resupply links of the latter were tied up with the network of the first two armies. The soldier who fights at the front does not carry with himself his whole food and ammunition for the entire duration of the war years. Ovens and bakeries for all kinds of food, fodder for animals (horses, mules, camels and oxen), ammunition and munitions, field hospitals and tents, doctors and medicine, veterinary stations, repair shops, supply depots, basic training facilities, labour and transportation units, wagons and similar support groups were all situated in some hundreds of kilometres behind the fronts. The Ottoman state having suffered through the Tripolitanian (Trablusugarb) War (1911) against Italy and two Balkan Wars (1911-12) opposing the coordinated attacks of Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, was consequently in very short supply of food, ammunition and medicine. Its stockpiles were about half of the minimum of the other belligerents. Its railways, built by foreigners for the latter’s economic profits, were not designed to serve Ottoman mobilization and supply centres. There were even two uncompleted gaps at Pozanti and Osmaniye. Animal-drawn movement was the main transportation system on immeasurable-looking roads that ran from Sivas to Erzurum and from Diyarbakir to Van.

When the armed hostilities actually started between the Turks and the invading enemies, not only ammunition had to be rushed to the fronts, but also thousands of wounded soldiers had to be carried to the hospitals at the rear. The Ottoman 3rd Army had suffered losses especially at Sarikamis in the east and the 4th Army had to retreat to the Sinai and Palestine following an unsuccessful assault on the Suez Canal. By the Spring of 1915, the 3rd Army had lost half of its men as dead, wounded and POWs, and two-thirds of its animals.

Wide and frequent guerrilla actions and combat operations of armed Armenians in Russian, British and later in French forces were of crucial importance under the circumstances. Quite contrary to the mainstream but arbitrary assertion that the Ottoman Armenians were only an unarmed peaceful lot that had not touched a weapon, two reports submitted by Armenian-Americans to the US Government, later printed in book form in 1924 and 1926, explicitly state (respectively) that “200,000 Armenians fought as independent units or in the Allied ranks” and “more than 200,000 of them fought” on the side of Turkey’s enemies during war time. Consequently, the single-sentence statement of a British professor (David Marshall Lang) in a compendium on the Armenians, that these people “were not all angels” is very much a biased understatement.

Bogos Nubar, the head of the Armenian National Delegation at Versailles (1919) categorically stated, in a letter addressed to the French Foreign Minister, that the “Armenians, since the beginning of the war, had been belligerents.” The Russian Tsar, the Prime Ministers of the Allied Powers and their generals on the battlefield acknowledged the indispensable Armenian armed support. The long list of such confessions and appreciations includes messages of gratitude of Tsar Nicholas the Second, the Russian commanders in the Caucasus (for instance, Count I.I. Vorontsov-Dashkov, Generals Loris Melikoff and Terkhougasoff), D. Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, A. J. Balfour, J. Bryce, General E.H.H. Allenby, 116 members of the French Parliament, and many others.

The commanding officers of the Armenian insurgents and war historians of Armenian origin conceded, and even took pride, that they had resorted to arms against the Turks during the war. The title of a post-war book by Armen Garo (Gareguine Pasdermadjian), the former Armenian deputy in the Ottoman Parliament in Istanbul but later a prominent general of the insurgents, asserted for obvious reasons that the Armenians were “A Leading Factor in the Winning of the War.” General Andranik Ozanian, who had led an Armenian contingent in the Bulgarian Army and against the Turks during the Balkan Wars, later joined the Russian forces with his men. Similar armed units, under Dro, Hamazasp and Keri, were ready to move into Erzurum. None other than Samson Harutunian, the president of the Armenian National Bureau, appealed to the Russian Tsar assuring him of their loyalty and adding that they wished to see “the Russian flag wave freely over the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus”.

The Armenians took possession of the ancient city of Van in order to open the way into the interior of Anatolia. Henry Morgenthau, Sr., the US Ambassador reported then that 25,000 armed insurgents had attacked the Muslim quarters causing the inhabitants of the latter to flee for safety. Similar incidents occurred in the neighbouring cities, where thousands of guns, tons of dynamite, bulletins, posters, maps, foreign currency and ciphered messages in Armenian, Russian and French were found in Armenian homes, work places, churches, schools, and bank safes. There were numerous massacres of isolated Muslim villagers by armed Armenians, the Ottoman gendarmerie were attacked openly and frequently, assassinations were carried out, telegraph poles were cut, and roads blocked. The Ottoman functionaries, who collected guns, not only in the eastern Anatolian towns and villages of Askale, Bayburt, Bitlis, Elazig, Erzincan, Kayseri, Malatya, Mus, Sivas, Urfa or Aleppo, but also in Amasya and Adapazari (the latter just next to the capital city of Istanbul), knew that insurgency was worsening considerably.

Bogos Nubar, in a letter dated April 17/30, 1915, and addressed to the Armenian Catholicos of the Adana (Cilicia) region, advised “unified rebellion of the Armenians against the Turkish authorities wherever possible.” The same Armenian leader, in a communiqué sent to Lieut.-General Sir John Maxwell, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in Egypt, assured him to rely on “25,000 Armenian insurgents in Cilicia and on the 15,000 more to come from nearby provinces...to pave the way for the Allies to land forces.” He added that with such a force, they could occupy Musa Dag, Cebel-i Akra, Dört Yol, Iskenderiye, the Beylan Pass, Hacin, Sis, and the like, and that they “could cut the telegraphic wires, destroy railway tracks, blow up bridges, and thus interrupt the enemy’s communication lines” to such an extent that “the Turks will not be able to use their forces against them throughout the winter.” The 4th Army commanders were deeply concerned over the possibility of a concerted Anglo-French amphibious invasion of the Mersin coast, which was already bombarded from the sea several times.

As the Armenian war historian Gen. Gabriel Gorganian recorded in his series of articles in the Boston-based Armenian Review (1967-70), the Armenians fought (as easily comprehensible from the very title of that series) certainly not against the Allies or even the Germans, but against the Turks. The Ottoman leadership knew that their local forces were inadequate to meet the growing threat. The powers that the Turks were fighting in several fronts were in direct contact with the Armenians for coordinated military operations against the common enemy. Initially the 41st Infantry Division and later the 23rd and the 44th Infantry Divisions were forced to abandon their original defence positions and move towards the insurgency areas.

The Ottoman decision-makers, obviously, reacted to an actual internal threat. They had to solve an acute military problem that threatened the security and the total operations of three full-fledged armies in eastern and southern Anatolia. Their reaction was a response to a fast-growing threat. There is no evidence of a premeditated plan of extermination. They initially considered the removal of the Turkish and other Muslim civilians who were running away, in pitiful conditions, from renewed Armenian attacks. The Turks also entertained the idea of exchanging the Muslim minorities in the Caucasus with those Armenians who would rather live in Russia. But when they finally decided on the removal of the bulk of the Armenians principally from the battle zones to the safer areas in the southern territories of the Ottoman state, the military and the civilian leadership knew, via the information gathered from the German General Staff, that the Spanish had already relocated the Cubans in 1898 and that the British had done the same to the Boers and the Blacks in South Africa after the Boer Wars. Moreover, the Turks themselves had temporarily removed groups of the ethnic Bulgarian and Greek minorities in Thrace during the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and the small Greek minority in Gelibolu during the combined Anglo-French assault on the Dardanelles in April 1915. In both cases, these minorities were sent to the resource-rich Aegean region, where they lived rather comfortably and survived.

The first move of the Ottoman Interior Minister (Talât Bey) came on April 24, 1915, when he sent a circular to 14 provinces and 10 counties ordering the termination of the activities of the Armenian revolutionary committees. As well analyzed by Yusuf Sarinay, who reproduced genuine Ottoman documents on those arrested that day, the date in question was destined to become the “Genocide Day” for the Armenians in diaspora. The individuals taken into custody on April 24 were believed to be the master-minds behind the massacre of the Muslims in the east. One reason for the haste was the alarm caused by the suspicion, originally expressed by the German Ambassador in Istanbul, that the Armenians might carry out a series of bomb attacks on April 27, during the anniversary ceremonies of Sultan Mehmet Resat’s accession to the throne.

It was again on April 24, 1915, that 235 high-brows, out of 77,735 Armenians living in Istanbul, were taken out of their homes and offices and moved to Çankiri, a central Anatolian town in the north of Ankara. Although much higher figures are given in various Western sources, which also generally assert that “they were shot” immediately or on their way to a new place, none were killed by the state. Two of them were murdered, however, on personal initiative, and the culprits were summarily tried and executed for manslaughter.

The arrested Armenians were distributed to the homes of the local residents, but were told that they could go out, sit in the cafés, and walk in and around the city but should report to the police station once every 24 hours. They could apply (so did Arsak, the son of Mardiros, and Arsak Diradorian) for daily payments from a special Interior Ministry fund. Perhaps unexpectedly, 44 of them escaped; no less than 14, who proved that they were Armenians but foreign (American, Russian, Iranian, and Bulgarian) nationals, were simply deported. Some (like Vartabet Gomidas) were let go for the need of medical attention (eventually to Vienna in the case of Gomidas). Some were pardoned and allowed to go back to Istanbul or to other cities such as Eskisehir. Some (like Dr. Allahverdian and Hayik Tiryakian) had been mistakenly arrested and consequently released. No charges could be brought on 35 of them and were set free. The rest were sent either to Ayas near Ankara or to Zor in the south. Those whose custody continued were all members of the executive boards of the Armenian Hinchak and the Dashnak Parties, which may now be better described as terrorist organizations in terms of their programs and activities. Some (like Akrik Keresteciyan), who were transferred to Zor, were soon released, however. Dikran Bagdikian, a Dashnak member, died on March 9, 1918, in Ayas, apparently on account of natural causes.

But Krikor Zohrab and Seringulan Vartkes were murdered by two individuals (Ahmed the Circassian and Halil of Galata), both of whom had no official connections whatsoever. They were caught by the Turkish police, tried and found guilty by an Ottoman court, and duly executed by state functionaries.

Most of the Ottoman Armenian population, especially those near the war fronts, were moved towards the south. Catholic and Protestant Armenians, civil servants in the state bureaucracy, army personnel functioning as officers, soldiers, doctors, and medics, some tradesmen, some construction workers and foremen, those working in the Ottoman Bank, Tobacco Administration, and in the foreign embassies and consulates, orphans and widows, the sick, the disabled, and the like were all exempt, together with the members of their families. The Prime Minister’s directive, dated May 30, 1915, set the general guidelines, which included orders for their safety, funds for their upkeep, work equipment in new places and the safekeeping of abandoned property. It was especially underlined that this was certainly not an order for their extermination and that those guilty of attacks and neglect for their protection would be immediately court-martialled and punished severely.

The texts of these orders and their translations into the leading European languages are available in the foreign archives. Attacks and dereliction, in some cases, nevertheless occurred. As indicated in some Armenian and third party reports, the great majority reached their destinations, sometimes in orderly fashion and at times exhausted, but alive.

The Ottoman courts tried 1,974 individuals in 1915-16, and gave 67 capital punishments, 524 imprisonment sentences and 63 harsh captivity verdicts (for solitary confinements). Some court judgements involved minor misdeeds, such as “purchase of an Armenian unmovable at a low-price” or for “an act contrary to good behaviour.” The fascist regimes in Europe, decades later, never displayed such open-mindedness and threw the book at their own men for mistreating a group proven or at least suspected for cooperation with the invading enemy.

However, court judgements in Istanbul, the Ottoman capital occupied at the end of the war, call for an entirely different evaluation. The sine qua non of a court of law is its independence. Although the Nazi racists and the Japanese militarists deserved punishments, even the Nurnberg and the Tokyo trials were the products of the victors’ justice. Let us imagine, for the sake of the argument, that a tribunal had existed in 1918 like the International Criminal Court of today, with judges and prosecutors elected by all the contracting states by secret ballot, representing the principal legal systems, equitable geographical representation and gender balance. Had both the Armenians and the Turks applied to that court with evidence and witnesses, but with no political influence from outside, the verdict would probably have been that groups of Armenians and Muslims, after centuries of peaceful coexistence, had killed each other, the sword dangling sometimes more over one side and at times over the other. On the basis of bloodshed on both sides, no independent court could have then decided that one group represented the victims only, and the other the victimizers. Let us remember at this point that the courts in occupied Istanbul did not try those Armenians for the extensive crimes that they had committed.

The years between 1914 and 1922 were also the period during which all the inhabitants of Asia Minor had to live through –or die- because of unhealthy war conditions including the spread of epidemics. The mere mention of unsanitary predicaments involving the dissemination of fatal bacteria and virus, or even of the far-flung hunger and unavoidable misery of so many consecutive years is almost instantly chastised as outright propaganda intended to downgrade the actual loss of Armenian lives. The truth is that Armenian (and Muslim) lives were reduced on account of many reasons, including voluntary or enforced outward migration, attacks on some people, fatalities brought about by almost a dozen wars in which the Armenians participated, general war circumstances, and rampant epidemics.

During the First World War, the British lost 120,000, the French 179,000, the Germans 166,000, and the Russians 395,000 soldiers, solely on account of diseases, according to their own official statistics. Casualties among the Armenians and Turks far exceed the figures that all interested parties are prepared to accept. Even Damat Hafiz Hakki Pasa (The Commander of the Turkish Eastern Front, who happened to be the son-in-law of the Ottoman Sultan), the German General Colmar von der Goltz (the Commander of the Ottoman Army in Iraq), and Sir Frederick Maude (the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Iraq) lost their lives on account of cholera or typhus. There is no doubt that the Armenian people also suffered, not only in 1915-16, but also during the last two decades of the Ottoman Empire. But it was part of a tragedy that engulfed all the citizens. As far as the general war conditions were concerned, the heaviest toll hit the Turkish soldiers and civilians.

Armenian-Turkish controversy proves once more that coming to terms with the past needs to be an exercise in good faith, free from domestic and international politics. Historical analysis should be all-inclusive, based on research and solid evidence. The blame cannot be put on the shoulders of a whole people, or on the future generations. One cannot reactivate the out-dated theologian concept of “original sin” and deduce from it the obsolete assertion that the new generations are born with guilt for all. Justice abhors double standards. In a book printed in Chicago in 1896, just four years before the world entered the 20th century, an American Protestant missionary (A.W. Williams) and the president of the Armenian Patriotic Alliance in New York (M.S. Gabriel) stated that the Turk was “a wild beast to be caged.” The authors begged “pardon of the hounds, hyenas...and all other wild beasts for using their names...” to describe...the ferocity of Kurd or Turk.” Nor can one explain past events via political organs that act like Orwellian ‘truth ministries’. All sources must be examined without preconceptions or prejudice. The gates of research on the Armenian issue is not closed yet. One cannot argue like a prosecuting attorney seeking to suppress information unfavourable to one’s position. One cannot rely on wartime propaganda and politically and racially motivated reports, reflecting the feelings or experience of one side only. The outstanding British historian Arnold J. Toynbee had described Wellington House, the war-time British propaganda center, where he had worked as a young scholar and brought out the controversial book on the Armenian issue, as a “mendacity bureau.”

The many facets of truth will appear only when an inquiring mind examines all the interpretations. That is why the British Government today repeatedly states that it cannot define the events of 1915 as genocide. That is why the spokesman of the Office of the UN Secretary General categorically declared that the “United Nations have never approved nor supported a report that describes the Armenian experience as ‘genocide’”.

Probing into the past cannot be restricted only to a nation, region, date, or to an ethnic/religious group. No nation can demand from another to examine solely the past of the latter. No nation may be singled out by others and made a scapegoat. No nation may be forced to serve the interests of another under the label of “coming to terms with its past.” If need be, the records of all countries, without any exception, and no veto privilege operating in favour of anyone of them, should be open for close scrutiny. If all agree to do so without exception, some of us will not be surprised when the Turks come out among those with the whitest record.

If my presentation does not conform to the mainstream interpretations, I may remind my colleagues that scholarship is like a building that needs continuous repair. One cannot have the frame of mind of the past European generations most gullible and thirsty for stories of blood-curdling atrocities, and be satisfied with them. It is the duty of the academic people to question the validity of the mainstream ideas. This is what I have basically attempted to do.

Excerpts from Dr. Bestami S. Bilgic’s talk at LSE

“Thanks to the Armenian terrorist activities in the 1970s and 80s against Turkish diplomatic representatives and their families around the world and to the efforts of Armenian Diaspora in Europe, the UK, and Americas which has relentlessly worked for recognition of an “Armenian genocide” by countries with most of which Turkey has had close political and economic relations, the issue of “genocide” has become one of the foreign policy items of the Turkish Republic…”

“… a “genocide” is not something for parliaments to decide. A genocide verdict can be given only by an international court particularly designated for “genocide” issue. In some countries, interpretation of the events of 1915-16 as “not genocide” has been labeled as “denial” of a “truth” and thus unlawful…”

“…Recognition of the events of 1915-16 as “genocide” by national parliaments has been one of the steps for the Armenian genocide claimers in their way to have Turkey convicted for committing the first genocide in the twentieth century, which is itself legally problematic given the fact that the Genocide Convention was signed after the alleged genocide was perpetrated…”

“…Despite close French-Turkish relations especially in terms of large French investment in Turkey and handsome contracts for French companies in Turkish defense industry, the French parliament with active lobbying of the Armenian community passed a resolution in 2001 that recognized the events of 1915-16 as “genocide”. In 2006 the French lower chamber passed another resolution that would make the “denial” of the so-called genocide a crime.

Actually, already in 1995 Prof. Bernard Lewis was convicted by a French court since he said that there was no Armenian genocide. Of course, the French parliament’s decision was taken with political concerns. And the French court’s decision can easily be interpreted as a violation of freedom of expression in a EU country, which has claimed to be the ‘champion’ of ‘liberté’ since the eighteenth century…”

“… Genocide is worst of all crimes… The odd thing in this entire affair is that historians and lawyers, who perhaps of all must be best equipped, to shed light on what happened, are silenced by the Armenian genocide claimers and some national parliaments who are endorsing their claims…”

“…Turkish side calls onto all countries including Armenia for the establishment of a historical commission that will discuss the events of 1915-16, while Armenian side and its third party supporters declare a historical event historically non-debatable…”

“… Turkish-Armenian relations did not start in 1915. It did not start in 1815, either.

Perhaps not even 1215 is the starting date. Therefore, one needs to put aside the “genocide vs. denial” dichotomy in order to make a scholarly evaluation of the Turkish-Armenian relations in general and the events of 1915-16 in particular…”

“…Research on the events of 1915-16 is still going on. It is not complete, yet, if it will ever be. But, it will come close to completion some time. Be that as it may, it is constantly being marred by political decisions and considerations…”

“..All parties interested in the events of 1915-16 need to hear what others have to say…”
“…If one considers national parliaments’ recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide and thus putting pressure on Turkish foreign policy makers to recognize the “genocide”, and then compensate claimers in cash and territory a success of the Armenian Diaspora, then this success seems to have inspired other anti-Turkish groups in the world. Pontian Greek and Assyrian groups as well have been putting forth their own genocide claims lately…”
“… “Genocide” issue has become one of the tools through which anti-Turkish groups in the world have been attempting to apply pressure upon Turkey… It is a low-cost policy, for the Diaspora communities are using the “fire range” of their host countries, which they deem, enjoy a better range at Turkey than Turkey has at them…”


Turks and Armenians are not doomed to eternal hostility. The two communities lived together in peace and amity for centuries – roughly from the conquest of Anatolia by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century to the Congress of Berlin in 1878. The Armenians were so closely integrated into Ottoman society that the German military adviser von Moltke described them as “baptised Turks”. Most of them spoke Turkish as their mother tongue; they were active as merchants, craftsmen and intellectuals in the development of the Turkish theatre, in publishing, in promoting relations with Europe. There were Armenian civil servants, ambassadors and an Armenian minister in the Ottoman government right up to 1914. Then in the space of less than forty years – between 1878 and 1915 – the ideology of nationalism wrenched the two communities apart. Today, a small Armenian community continues to thrive in Istanbul, and thousands of illegal Armenian immigrants are finding employment in Turkey.

If the past is any guide, and as the admittedly small-scale current coexistence shows, amity between Turks and Armenians is still possible if not within the same state than across frontiers as good neighbours. A few months ago, a protocol was signed between the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia. It provided for the establishment of full diplomatic relations, the opening of frontiers, and the formation of a scientific commission of historians to establish an agreed version of past events. This agreement which was widely welcomed in the USA and the EU is today threatened. The Armenian Constitutional Court has ruled that first, there should be no linkage between the opening of frontiers and a solution of the dispute about Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and that, second, before historians are asked to examine the record, Turkey should recognise that Armenians had been subjected to genocide. The two demands negate the protocol. Unless the Armenians at least begin to withdraw from the large slice of Azeri territory they occupy in and around Karabakh, Turkey cannot allow the exploitation of past tragedies in order to perpetuate a current one, for, let us not forget that close to a million Azeris have fled from the territory now occupied by the Armenians.

Secondly, a commission of historians must be allowed to study the past without any preconditions. The best way to break the deadlock is to press on with academic research even if there is no agreed framework for it. On the other hand, the surest way to perpetuate hatred is to conduct propaganda campaigns, seeking to turn politicians into historians by demanding that parliaments should pronounce on historical claims. In any case, while deadlock persists the search for truth should continue, and every effort should be made to avoid stirring up inter-communal hatred. Our purpose tonight is, therefore, not to score points but to show that truth and reconciliation go together, and that Turkish-Armenian reconciliation cannot be founded on lies. Surely, people of good will cannot disagree on this point.

About FTA UK
The Federation of Turkish Associations UK (FTA UK) was formed in 2002 consisting of sixteen independent and diverse Turkish associations to bring together the voice of their members on common issues. The FTA UK represents a large proportion of the Turkish community which is estimated at nearly 500,000 ethnic Turks who live mainly in London and its surrounding areas and includes Turkish Cypriots.

The Federation’s main aims and objectives are; to bring together the Turks living in Britain in solidarity and strengthen their relationship; to help the community to integrate better within the British system whilst maintaining their own culture and identity; to find solutions to their common problems and protect their common interests; to promote and enhance the British - Turkish friendship and to share the Turkish culture and history.

The Federation carries out its duties completely independently without being influenced by any political party, ethnic influence, religion or any form of discrimination and in the interest of the British-Turkish Community. It is a non profit - non governmental organisation and acts as an umbrella organisation and communication vehicle for the whole community.

Contact FTA UK :
· E-mail: turkishfederationuk@yahoo.co.uk
· Post: FTA UK, 41 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR
· Telephone: + 44 (0)7788 908 803

Prepared by Servet Hassan


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