Sunday, May 12, 2013

15 characteristics of the Armenian narrative by Tal Buenos*

The idea that the Turks should be excluded from commenting on their own memory, that they are so distrusted as to always be suspected of undermining historical truths, is not only reflective of Turcophobia in the strongest of ways, but its popularity reflects how little awareness there is today of Turcophobia and its meaning. 8 May 2013 /

Following the outpour of media material on April 24 in memory of the dreadful events of 1915, it is important to take a step back and evaluate how this reflects on the Turk.

A recently published chapter by Uğur Ümit Üngör, titled “The Armenian Genocide, 1915,” in “The Holocaust and Other Genocides: An Introduction,” edited by Maria van Haperen et al. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012), is perfect for such an analysis. It does not introduce new aspects to the Armenian narrative of 1915. It unfolds the same story already told by scholars such as Vahakn Dadrian, Richard Hovannisian, Taner Akçam and Peter Balakian. It is not prototypical by any means; rather, it is perfectly typical. It stands out for its typicality, for being representative of the effort to strengthen the familiarity and acceptance of this Armenian narrative. Upon close inspection, one may glean certain overall characteristics of the Armenian narrative. The following 15 main characteristics point to a general theme: Turcophobia.

1) European facilitation. The publication of this literature in Europe is likely not a coincidence and should be considered reflective of Turcophobic and Islamophobic attitudes that are prevalent in Europe. Such anti-Turkish content is not only emblematic of these phobias but may serve as a popular platform for their intensification and dissemination. One particularly troubling type of Turcophobic “literature” in Europe is the drafting of laws in parliament to cater to the anti-Turkish views held by constituencies with political influence.

2) No room for historical debate. The very title of Üngör's chapter shows an attempt to apply a political-legal term to the events of 1915, regardless of the hotly contested aspects of historicity. However, legal determination cannot precede a thorough examination of what actually took place. The unilateral description of the events as genocide shows a great level of distrust in what a committee of established historians of different nationalities may find. Ultimately, it shows intent to destroy Turkey's name. Disregard of Armenian revolutionary committees

3) Little to no mention of the Armenian revolutionary committees. The role played by the Armenian revolutionary committees is typically played down and, at times, as in Üngör's chapter, there is no mention of them at all. The absolute omission of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation from the narrative makes the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) falsely appear to be the sole actor and therefore the sole bearer of responsibility. However, the revolutionary aspect of the events is fundamental to their fair and accurate description. Historically, “rebellion” is the most basic reason why the categorization of political massacres, as in modern-day Syria, is different from those of intended exterminations, as in Auschwitz.

4) Selective reference to Armenian nationalism. There is a tendency to eat the cake and have it too when it comes to Armenian nationalism. In discussions involving Armenian territorial claims post-World War I, there is a strong sense of Armenian nationalism, but it is concealed in the discussion of the years leading to 1915. In his brief recap of the ideological trends leading to the massacres, Üngör fails to mention Armenian nationalism, as if the Young Turks were the only nationalists in Anatolia.

5) The story always begins with Turkish action. The event that is described at the start of a narrative determines the perception of causality all throughout. The Armenian massacres may be put in the context of the 19th century campaign to rid Christian Europe of the Turk, but for Üngör there is no question that it starts with the CUP. For many diaspora Armenians, the narrative does not begin a single day before April 24, 1915. The Armenian narrative needs the Turks to be the cause, for otherwise the Turks cannot be guilty of genocide.

6) The Turks are “revanchists.” This French term describes nations that are warmongering because they seek to reclaim lost territories, and the Armenian narrative pins it only on the CUP after losing land in the Balkans. A narrative that is not Turcophobic would consider Christian revanchism since 1453, and Armenian revanchism since 1890, to be foundational.

7) The Turks wanted war. The distortion of the causes for World War I is a significant aspect of the Armenian narrative. The Ottoman state's preventive strike against Russia, following several threatening indications, is replaced by a claim that the “Young Turks had deliberately engineered an armed confrontation.” Systematic destruction

8) The destruction was systematic. The emphasis on deliberation in the actions of the CUP is especially strong when describing the actual “process of destruction,” which for Üngör was “consistent.” This is claimed because of the desire to accuse Turks of premeditation and of having a plan. Regardless of the evidence, the Armenian narrative draws whimsical comparisons to the Nazi Germans and their level of intent and organization. This is designed to make the Young Turks go down in history as evil.

9) The CUP was homogenously national socialist. As part of the effort to Nazify the Young Turks, the Armenian narrative creates a cursory and simplistic image of Turkification that ignores local aspects as well as Ottomanist and Islamic streams within the CUP.

10) Muslims killed Christians, but not vice versa. The bilateral damage incurred by Muslim and Christian communities during this period of rising national claims for self-determination in the Balkans and Anatolia is presented in the Armenian narrative as unilateral. Only the massacres of Christians have a place in the narrative. Reading Üngör's work, one would conclude that the killings, dispossessions and deportations of Muslims in the Balkans never happened or have nothing to do with the Armenian issue. This is an extension of the Turcophobic elements found in the British narration of events in the 19th century, which highlighted the killings of Christians in Bulgaria during the local insurgency but understated the deportations and massacres of Muslims in Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War.

11) Propaganda and memoirs are presented as historical evidence and used selectively. Even Turkish propaganda is cleverly employed to present a Turcophobic narrative. Considering that Üngör does not discuss Armenian rebellion at all, his brief discussion of Turkish “manipulated photographs of alleged Armenian ‘terrorists'” gives an impression that the Armenian rebellion was altogether a Turkish invention that did not exist beyond the bogus images. Additionally, Russian propaganda is presented without question of authenticity or context. The central role played by Britain's wartime propaganda, known as the Blue Book, and its author, James Bryce, who had called for Armenian rebellion since the 1870s, in constructing the Armenian narrative is a prime example of this characteristic. A recent example would be Akçam's use of forged documents to promote Sarkis Torossian's story.

12) Slanted presentation of great-power involvement. The Armenian narrative is selectively critical of the politics of the international powers. Üngör says that the great powers were “driven by self-interest” when after the war was over “the Americans, French and British forgot their Armenian business partners,” yet to him they were anything but self-interested when they encouraged Armenians to rebel before World War I and supported national self-determination for Christians in Ottoman territory. This is based on a Turcophobic conviction that cooperation with the Armenians is morally sound but cooperation with the Turks is political.

13) The massacres were religious or racial in nature. The Armenian narrative shows the massacres as either religious, to rally Christian support, or racial, to provoke Nazi connotations. Being that there were no deportations of Armenians in certain areas and that there were no massacres prior to Armenian rebellion, it would be reasonable to consider that political reasons and security concerns caused the change. However, the Armenian narrative looks away from these historical aspects, possibly because the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide does not recognize political massacres as genocide. Turkish diplomats' assassination rationalized

14) The assassinations of Turkish diplomats are rationalized. In order to protect its perceived moral leverage from suffering as a result of the violent assassinations of innocent Turks and non-Turks, the Armenian narrative seeks to rationalize these terrible actions. Üngör offers no mention or detailed discussion of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, but, instead, conveniently explains the assassinations by saying that “surviving family members of the victims felt deeply insulted by these politics of denial, which prompted a violent response from Armenian nationalists in the 1970s.” The idea that somehow there is an element of good reason in the assassinations, or that they were caused by Turkish politics, is Turcophobic.

15) The Turks are denialists. This is the most telling of the characteristics. The idea is to liken Turks to Holocaust deniers. There is a growing number of Turks who are willing to succumb to this pressure because they have been convinced that that is the responsible thing to do. However, denial is about refusal to believe, and the Turks who are at odds with the Armenian narrative are actually more eager than anybody else to tell the narrative of the events as they truly unfolded and without ignoring any aspect of Armenian loss.

The idea that the Turks should be excluded from commenting on their own memory, that they are so distrusted so as to always be suspected of undermining historical truths, is not only reflective of Turcophobia in the strongest of ways, but its popularity reflects how little awareness there is today of Turcophobia and its meaning. Turcophobia is so widely ignored that even Microsoft's spellchecker does not recognize it as a word.

How long will Turks suffer from accusations of denialism? Is the only way forward to disregard history and accept how the Turk is described in biased Western historiography, of which the Armenian narrative is only an extension? The modern Armenian narrative in the West was initiated by Bryce, who, since 1877, repeatedly stated in writing that Armenian nationalist endeavors should be supported because the Armenians are racially and religiously superior to Turks. To accept this aspect of Western historiography is to accept the Turcophobic beliefs that the Turk is inherently immoral and corrupt, excluded or looked down upon for not being of a European race and for not being of a European religion. To accept this false narrative because of current calls of denialism is to accept the Turk's position as the “other” who has no access to a Christian European tale. Turks have the right to explain that they are not in denial of Armenian suffering but that they are most certainly resolved to deny and weed out the Turcophobic roots of the current Armenian narrative.

History is filled with cruelty. Turcophobia, however, is the main reason why genocidal claims are still being made against Turks in the name of Christian Europe, Western historiography and Armenian nationalism. Where would one find similar genocide-related pressure over the bloody “Christian” crimes against Africans, Jews, Indians and Native Americans known as Indians?

It is time for the Turkish narrative on the history of European Turcophobia to emerge. The current accusation of denial is one chapter in this narrative, for it shows how the Turks are treated as outsiders who are told to shut up and accept the terrible things that are said about them, and are condemned when they vocalize their view of the past. It is time for Turks to be insiders, authors of their own narrative and masters of their own history.

*Tal Buenos has a master of theological studies from Harvard Divinity School (2005).

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