Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Armenian Question Answered

At PoliGazette we like to offer readers a chance to actively participate in the debate. We do that by allowing you all to comment, but we also encourage you to send us guest posts, which we will then publish. If you’ve got something to say, and want to do so by writing an article for PoliGazette contact me at michaelATpoligazetteDOTcom. Today’s guest post is written by Turkish American reader Kemal. The title is “The Armenian Question Answered.”


An Overview

WWI hostilities involving the Ottoman Empire ended with the Armistice of Mudros, signed Oct. 30, 1918. The Armistice guaranteed the Ottoman Empire all lands it possessed when the Armistice was signed. The Armistice also required the Ottoman military and citizens to disarm immediately. As Ottomans disarmed, in breach of the Armistice, British military forces pushed north and conquered Mosul and Kirkuk, lands the Ottomans possessed when the Armistice was signed. Why? Oil.

British forces also occupied Istanbul, the Ottoman capitol. Italian forces landed in the southwest and moved north. To ensure the Italians did not take more than their “fair share”, Greece invaded Turkey with Britain’s support, landing in Izmir on May 15, 1919 and began moving east. Meanwhile, France and the “French” Armenian Legion invaded southeast Anatolia to “liberate” it from its majority Ottoman Muslim citizens and committed countless massacres of the civilian population along the way.

The Entente Powers planned to divide Ottoman lands among themselves and push the millions of indigenous Muslim Ottoman citizens into a small piece of land in the middle of Anatolia. The Picot-Sykes agreement evidences that the Entente Powers planned as early as 1916 to occupy and divide Anatolia among themselves.

Turkish Nationalist forces were formed under former Ottoman military leaders, like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Ismet Inonu, and Kazim Karabekir, in reaction to, and to counter, the invading foreign armies.

Anatolia was invaded and occupied after WWI with the intent to partition it as the spoils of war among the Entente Powers, Greece and Armenians. This is a very important piece of history in relation to Armenian genocide claims because the effort to arm Armenians and use them to obtain control over southeastern Anatolia started long before WWI, and was funded and supported by England, France, Russia and the U.S.

The Armenians lost that war. Now, they call it genocide in an effort to obtain through political pressure and “moral” opprobrium lands they could not obtain by force and in which they were never the majority.

A Step Back In Time

Even as it lost its former power and ability to expand, European countries and Russia saw the Ottoman Empire as a continuing threat and, of course, each country had its own expansionist aims. Rather than exercise physical dominion over other lands, European countries wanted to exercise “influence” over areas that would benefit their trade with the far east. The Ottomans were seen as a potential barrier should they ever become “unfriendly.” And, of course, xenophobia and prejudice played their respective roles.

The Ottoman Empire had always been a multi-ethnic and multi-religious regime. When Ottomans conquered lands during their expansionist phase through the 1600s, they left the indigenous people to continue on with their own culture, language, religion and left them answerable and subject to the rule of their own religious leaders in communal affairs. The Ottomans added a layer of “federal” rule on top of that. Rather than imposing the adoption of an “Ottoman Muslim” identity, they left the ethnic, social and cultural identities of people intact. In the end, this practice, which had allowed the Empire to flourish as the most tolerant multi-ethnic and multi-religious Empire of its time, became its Achilles heel of vulnerability.

The Demise of the Empire—First, Divide the People

Starting in the 1800s European powers, influenced by the French revolution, began to exploit ethnic identity in the Ottoman Empire to divide its people and bring down its rule.

This occurred first in the Balkans where Ottoman Greeks, Bulgarians, Romanians and others began revolting against the Ottoman regime with the support of England, France and Russia. The Ottoman Empire lost almost all of its Balkan territories due to those ethnic and religious based nationalist movements.

Before the various Balkan nationalist movements began, millions of Ottoman Muslims lived in those lands. However, during those nationalist movements Ottoman Muslims were ethnically cleansed from the Balkans to form ethnically homogeneous nations unified by religion. Thus, Slavic people (Bulgarian, Romanian, Serb, Croat) and Greeks who had converted to Islam for whatever reason during the past 300 years were forced to flee or were massacred. One demographer’s research revealed that Anatolia absorbed over 7 million such refugees from 1820-1923. That is why the people of Turkey today are comprised of a broad mosaic of ethnicities and today the label “Turkish”, like the label “American”, refers to a nationality, not an ethnicity.

After the Ottomans lost the Balkans, the next ethnic group Europe and Russia chose to exploit for the same purpose were Ottoman Armenians. Europe and Russia began helping Ottoman Armenians to organize the same type of nationalist movement against the Ottoman regime in earnest in the 1890s. The Armenian movement came to a head during WWI. Having already relived the same experience in the Balkans, during WWI, the Ottoman regime sought to move Armenians away from the Russian front where Armenian revolutionaries were effectively impeding Ottoman military efforts to defend southeastern Ottoman territory from Russian invasion.

WWI and the Armenian Relocations

While the Ottoman regime could have engaged in all-out war against their Armenian population, they did not. They instead chose to relocate them to another part of the Empire. There were two reasons for this.

First, Armenian revolutionaries were fighting a guerrilla war and thus, hiding among the civilian population so that Ottoman military forces could not effectively distinguish between who was a militant and who was not because not all Ottoman Armenians had joined “the cause.” Second, Armenian revolutionaries were committing massacres among the civilian Ottoman Muslim and Jewish population, which caused those civilians to retaliate against Ottoman Armenians in their midst. Armenian revolutionaries were also killing Ottoman Armenians who refused to assist Armenian revolutionaries. Thus began a continuous cycle of “vigilante justice” in which it was mostly the innocent— Muslim, Jewish and Armenian— who suffered. The Ottoman regime also wanted to end this cycle of civilian massacres. The least restrictive national security measure available then was to relocate Ottoman Armenians in eastern Anatolia until WWI ended, which is what they did.

The conditions under which the relocations were undertaken were difficult. The Entente Powers had blockaded the Ottoman Empire and WWI had disrupted all agriculture. There were widespread famines throughout the Empire. Everyone, including Ottoman soldiers, was subject to starvation. There were also widespread epidemics of typhoid and other fatal diseases which caused death indiscriminately among Ottomans of every ethnicity and religion.

In addition, during the relocations, the Ottoman military was engaged on multiple fronts, defending its borders at Gallipoli, in the Holy Lands and the East. The WWI front effectively encircled the entire Empire. Thus, there were few military and security forces available to protect caravans of relocating Armenians from attacks by tribal Kurds, with whom Ottoman Armenians in southeast Anatolia had a troubled history. Security forces that did not defend or allowed such raids to occur were prosecuted by the Ottoman regime, but during WWI, the Ottoman regime’s ability to maintain law and order to protect its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion, was greatly diminished.

It is under these circumstances that Ottoman Armenians, Muslims and Jews in southeastern Anatolia died in large numbers. No one has yet provided an accurate count of all the Ottoman Muslim and Jewish dead due to mass migrations and massacres resulting from Russian invasions into southeastern Anatolia supported by Armenian militants during WWI. Nor has anyone counted the number of dead Ottoman Muslims and Jews due to starvation and raging epidemics. Nor is the number of Ottoman Armenian dead certain, as evidenced by the continually changing numbers put forth since WWI by the Armenian Diaspora without regard to cause of death. Initially, it was 600,000 dead, then 800,000, next 1 million, and now it ranges from 1.5 to 2 million.

So why then has the Armenian genocide questions raged for as long as it has? For a number of reasons.

Forged Documents

As noted above, Anatolia was occupied after WWI.

When the British took control of Istanbul, they were eager to discredit the Ottoman regime and support their efforts to justify division of Ottoman lands as spoils of war. The British thus offered rewards for evidence of war crimes against the Ottoman regime.

In response, a burgeoning trade in forged documents developed and a false history began to be written. The most notorious of these forgeries are the “Andonian” documents or “Talaat Pasha Telegrams.” Andonian, an Armenian, produced what he claimed were telegrams in which Talaat Pasha, one of the three military officers running the Ottoman Empire during WWI, ordered the extermination of the entire Ottoman Armenian population. Although they are proven forgeries, the Armenian Diaspora still relies on these documents and promotes them as proof of their claims.

False Quotes

There are also false quotes attributed to Hitler and Atatürk that Armenians insist are proof of a genocide during WWI. Although the Atatürk and Hitler quotes have been proven false, even by Armenian historians, the Armenian Diaspora continues to rely upon these quotes.


Silence from the Turks and the government of Turkey has also allowed genocide claims to flourish at will.

As Turkish nationalist forces expelled foreign armies from Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk tasked members of the Turkish nationalist forces, including Halide Edip, with documenting atrocities foreign forces occupying Anatolia committed by interviewing survivors. In her memoirs, The Turkish Ordeal, Edip reveals that among the atrocities committed were incidents of massacres, intentional destruction of all agricultural efforts and infrastructure, and mass rape of local women by invading militias.

Edip notes in her book, that as she interviewed peasants to document atrocities, survivors told her they did not care to revisit the past, but wanted instead to tell their new leaders what they needed to rebuild their lives. They needed seed to plant, equipment to farm and to rebuild their homes before winter snows. They saw no benefit in her assigned task of revisiting and reliving recent horrors. They wanted to move forward and reclaim their lives, not live in the past and languish in misery.

Rebuilding the Future

There is another reason Turks did not want to remain buried in the past that no one discusses. Mass rapes have a predictable end result: children. Many of the women who suffered the unimaginable atrocity of mass rape later gave birth to children that they and their villages raised without revealing the truth about how they were conceived. To dwell on such atrocities would not remove the trauma or result in the conviction of the perpetrators. It would only stain and stigmatize the women and their children—victims victimized again. Just as there is silence today concerning the mass rapes and the children born of that heinous crime during the break up of the former Yugoslavia, the people of Anatolia chose to pursue their future, rather than vengeance for the past.

In light of the spurious genocide claims against Turkey which seem to be all the rage today, was that the right thing to do? Without a doubt, yes.

After the foreign occupying forces had their way with her, Anatolia was almost uniformly left in ruins. The Nationalists that formed the Republic of Turkey were left to build a country and society from scratch, which they did. Only 85 years later, the Republic of Turkey today is an applicant for EU membership, is participating in all sectors of the global economy and flourishing. In contrast, Armenia, which has chosen to pursue vengeance for a history of its own distortion, has not done as well. The innate desire of Anatolians to focus on the future and their resilience enabled them to successfully raise the modern, independent and free Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of a fallen empire.

It is clear that the citizens of the Republic of Turkey chose the most productive path for themselves and, most importantly, for the welfare of their children.

Self-Defense is not Genocide

As for genocide claims, the truth is slowly coming out. As Turks now turn their attention to the global political arena and their image abroad, people will learn and know that Turks will never concede that defending one’s land from foreign invasion is genocide.

If anyone is to blame or should apologize for what happened to Ottoman Armenians, it is England, France, Russia and the U.S. They encouraged, supported and armed Ottoman Armenian militants, and then abandoned them when it became clear Armenian militias could not defeat Turkish Nationalist forces who were defending their lands, and fighting for their lives, their independence and freedom from occupation.

Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, The Great Speech (Atatürk Research Center 2005).

Hratch Dasnabedian, History of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation: Dashnaktsutiun 1890-1924 (Grafiche Editoriali Ambrosiane/Milan 1990).

Halide Edib, The Turkish Ordeal: Being the Further Memoirs of Halide Edib (The Century Co. 1928).

Hovhannes Katchaznouni, Dashnagtzoutium Has Nothing to do Anymore: The Manifesto of Hovhannes Katchaznouni, First Prime Minister of the Independent Armenian Republic (Armenian Information Services 1955).

Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Population 1830-1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics (Univ. of Wisconsin Press 1985).

Guenter Lewy, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide (University of Utah Press 1995).

Heath W. Lowry, “The U.S. Congress and Adolf Hitler on the Armenians”, Political Communication and Persuasion, New York, III/2 (1985), pp. 111-140.

Andrew Mango, Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Overlook Press 1999).

Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922 (Darwin Press 1995).

Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement (University of California Press 1963).

Garegin Pasdermadjian, Why Armenia Should be Free: Armenia’s Role in the Present War (Hairenik Publishing Co. 1918).

Stanford J. Shaw & Ezel Kural Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume II: Reform, Revolution and Republic; The Rise of Modern Turkey 1808-1975 (Cambridge University Press 1977).

Salahi Ramsdam Sonyel, The Ottoman Armenians: Victims of Great Power Diplomacy (K. Rustem & Brother 1987).

James H. Tashjian, “On a ‘Statement’ Condemning the Armenian Genocide of 1915-18 Attributed in Error to Mustafa Kemal, Later ‘The Atatürk’”, Armenian Review, Vol. 35 (3), 1982, pp. 227-244.

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