Articles in Turkish media
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- Published: 13 July 2008
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Part III: A German scholar has decided that the Ottomans reported and killed Armenians so that they would have space in which to settle the Turkish refugees from the Balkan Wars. Those with some knowledge of Ottoman history know that the Balkan refugees were almost all settled in Western Anatolia and Ottoman Europe, not in the East, and that the refugees were all settled before the World War I Armenian troubles began. Nationalist apologists first decide that the Turks are guilty, then look for evidence that will show they are correct ... The enemy of the nationalist apologists is the truth. They have thrown false telegrams, spurious statistics, sham courts and anything else they could find, but the truth has advanced Campaigns were organized to silence historians. One professor was mercilessly attacked in the press because he advised the Turkish ambassador on responding to questions about the Ottoman Armenians. No one questioned the probity of the American Armenian scholar who became the chief advisor of the president of the Armenian Republic or doubted the veracity of the American Armenian professor whose son became the Armenian Foreign Minister Fewer and fewer historians are willing to write on this history. A very senior and respected scholar of Ottoman history, Bernard Lewis, was brought to court in France for his denial of the Armenian genocide. After a long and successful career, Professor Lewis could afford to confront those who accused him. Could a junior scholar afford to do the same? Applying the principles of history, we can see that what occurred was, in fact a long history of imperialism, nationalist revolt, and ethnic conflict. The result was horrible mortality on all sides. There is an explainable, understandable history of a two-sided conflict. It was not genocide.
A recent find of the nationalist is the Teskilat-I Mahsusa, the secret organization that operated under orders of the Committee of Union and Progress. We are told that the Teskilat must have organized Armenian massacres. The justification for this would astonish any logician: It is alleged that because a secret organization existed it must have been intended to do evil, including the genocide of the Armenians. As further "proof", it is noted that officers of the Teskilat were present in areas where Armenians died. Since Teskilat officers were all over Anatolia, this should surprise no one. By this dubious logic Teskilat members must also have been responsible for the deaths of Muslims because they were also present in areas where Muslims died. Does this prove that no Teskilat members killed or even massacred Armenians? It does not. It would be odd if during wartime no members of a large organization had not committed such actions, and they undoubtedly did so. What it in no way proves is that the Teskilat was ordered to commit genocide.
A German scholar has decided that the Ottomans reported and killed Armenians so that they would have space in which to settle the Turkish refugees from the Balkan Wars. For those who do not know Ottoman history, this might seem like a reasonable explanation. Those with some knowledge of Ottoman history know that the Balkan refugees were almost all settled in Western Anatolia and Ottoman Europe, not in the East, and that the refugees were all settled before the World War I Armenian troubles began.
Such assertions are the result of the methods used. Nationalist apologists first decide that the Turks are guilty, then look for evidence that will show they are correct. They are like a man in a closed room fighting against a stronger enemy. As the enemy advances the man picks up a book, a lamp, an ashtray, a chair -- whatever he can find -- and throws it in the vain hope of stopping the enemy's advance. But the enemy continues on. Eventually the man runs out of things to throw, and he is beaten. The enemy of the nationalist apologists is the truth. They have thrown false telegrams, spurious statistics, sham courts, and anything else they could find, but the truth has advanced.
Some tactics have been all too successful in reducing the number of scholars who study the Armenian Question. When the fabrications and distortions failed, there were outright threats. When the historians could not be convinced, the next best thing was to silence them. One professor's house was bombed. Others were threatened with similar violence. Campaigns were organized to silence historians. One professor was mercilessly attacked in the press because he advised the Turkish ambassador on responding to questions about the Ottoman Armenians. It is worth noting that no one questioned the probity of the American Armenian scholar who became the chief advisor of the president of the Armenian Republic or doubted the veracity of the American Armenian professor whose son became the Armenian foreign minister. No one questioned the objectivity of these scholars or attacked them, nor should they. The only proper question is, "What is the truth!". No matter who pays the bills, no matter the nationality of the author, no matter if he writes to ambassadors, no matter his religion, his voting record, his credit status, or his personal life, his views on history should be closely analyzed and, if true, accepted. The only question is the truth.
Such attacks have had their intended effect. Fewer and fewer historians are willing to write on this history. A very senior and respected scholar of Ottoman history, Bernard Lewis, was brought to court in France for his denial of the Armenian genocide. After a long and successful career, Professor Lewis could afford to confront those who accused him. He also could afford to hire the lawyers who defended him. Could a junior scholar afford to do the same? Could someone who depended on university rectors, who worry about funding, afford to take up such a dangerous topic? Could someone without Professor Lewis's financial resources afford the lawyers who defended both his free speech and his good name?
I myself was the target of a campaign, instigated by an Armenian newspaper, that attempted to have me fired from my university. Letters and telephone calls from all over the United States came to the president of my university, demanding my dismissal because I denied the "Armenian Genocide". We have the tenure system in the United States, a system that guarantees that senior professors cannot be fired for what they teach and write, and my university president defended my rights. But a younger professor might understandably be afraid to write on the Armenians if he knew he faced the sort of ordeal that has been faced by others.
To me, the worst of all is being accused of being the kind of politicized nationalist scholar I so detest. False reasons are invented to explain why I say this -- my mother is a Turk, my wife is a Turk, I am paid large sums by the Turkish government. None of these things is true, but it would not affect my writings one bit if they were. The way to challenge a scholar's work is to read his writings and respond to them with your own scholarship, not to attack his character.
When, despite the best efforts of the nationalist apologists, some still speak out against the distortion of history, the final answer is political: Politicians are enlisted to rewrite history. Parliaments are enlisted to convince their people that there was a genocide. In America, the Armenian nationalists lobby a Congress which refuses to even consider an apology for slavery to demand an apology from Turks for something the Turks did not do.
In France, the Armenia nationalists lobby a Parliament which will not address the horrors perpetrated by the French in Algeria, which they know well took place, to declare there were horrors in Turkey, about which they know almost nothing. The people of many nations are then told that the genocide must have taken place because their representatives have recognized it.
The Turks are accused of "genocide", but what does that appalling word mean? The most quoted definition is that of the United Nations: actions "committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, radical, or religious group as such". Raphael Lemkin who invented the word genocide, included cultural, social, economic, and political destruction of groups as genocide. Leo Kuper included as genocide attacks on subgroups that are not ethnic, such as economic classes, collective groups and various social categories. By these standards Turks were indeed guilty of genocide. So were Armenians, Russians, Greeks, Americans, British and almost every people that has ever existed. In World War I in Anatolia there were many such "genocides".
So many groups attacked other groups that the use of the word genocide is meaningless. Why, then, is such a hollow term used against the Turks? It is used because those who hear the term do not think of the academic definitions. They think of Hitler and of what he did to the Jews. The intent behind the use of the word genocide is not to foster understanding. The intent is to foster a negative image of the Turks by associating them with great evil. The intent is political. What must be considered by the serious historian is a simple question, "Did the Ottoman Government carry out a plan to exterminate the Armenians?" In answering this question it is important not to copy the Armenian apologists. When they declare that Armenians did no wrong, the answer is not to reply that the Turks did no wrong. The answer must be honest history. What cannot and should not be denied is that many Anatolian Muslims did commit crimes against Armenians. Some of those who committed crimes were Ottoman officials. Actions were taken in revenge, out of hatred or for political reasons. In total war men do evil acts. This again is a sad but real historical principle. The Ottoman government recognized this and tried more than 1,000 Muslims for war crimes, including crimes against Armenians, hanging some criminals.
Applying the principles of history, we can see that what occurred was in fact a long history of imperialism, nationalist revolt and ethnic conflict. The result was horrible mortality on all sides. There is an explainable, understandable history of a two-sided conflict. It was not genocide. Throughout that history, both sides killed and were killed. It was not genocide.
Much archival evidence shows Ottoman government concern that Armenians survive. Also, it must be said that much evidence shows poor planning, government weakness and in some places criminal acts and negligence. Some officials were murderous, but a sincere effort was made to punish them. It was not genocide.
The majority of those who were deported survived, even though those Armenians were completely at the mercy of the Ottomans. It was not genocide.
The Armenians most under Ottoman control, the Armenian residents of Istanbul, Izmir, Edirne and other regions of greatest governmental power were neither deported not attacked. It was not genocide.
Why are the Turks accused of a hideous crime they did not commit? The answer is both emotional and political. Many Armenians feel in their hearts that Turks were guilty. They have only heard of the deaths of their ancestors, not the deaths of the Turks. They have been told only a small part of a complicated story for so long that they believe it to be unquestionable truth. Their anger is understandable. The beliefs of those in Europe and America who have never heard the truth, which sadly is the majority, are also understandable. It is the actions of those who use the claim of genocide for nationalist political motives that are inexcusable.
Does any rational analyst deny that the ultimate intent of the Armenian nationalists is to first gain "reparations" then claim Eastern Anatolia as their own?
Finally, what is to be done? As might be expected from all I have said here today, I believe the only answer to false allegations of genocide is to study and proclaim the truths of history. Political actions such as the resolution recently passed by the French Parliament naturally and properly draw corresponding political actions from Turks, but political actions will never convince the world that Turks did not commit genocide. What is needed to convince the world that Turks did not commit genocide? What is needed to convince the world is a great increase in scholarship. Archives must remain open and be easy to use for both Turks and foreigners. Graduate students should be encouraged to study the Armenian question. No student's advisers should tell him to avoid this subject because it is "too political" something I have heard in America and, unfortunately, in Turkey as well.
I suggest, as I have suggested before, that the Turkish Republic propose to the Armenian Republic that a joint commission be established, its members selected by scholarly academies in both countries. All archives should be opened to the commission -- not only the Ottoman Archives, but the archives of Armenia and of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. (The call is often made for the Turkish Archives to be opened completely. It is time to demand that Armenians do likewise.) I have been told that the Armenians will never agree to this, but how can anyone know unless they try? In any case, refusal to fairly and honestly consider this question would in itself be evidence that the accusations against the Turks are political, not scholarly.
Whether or not such a commission is ever named, the study of the Armenian question must be continued. This is true not only because it is always right to discover accurate history. It is true because honor demands it. Honor is a word that is not often heard today, but a concept of honor is nonetheless sorely needed. I have been told by many that the Turks should adopt a political strategy to deal with the Armenian problem. This strategy would have the Turkish government lie about the past for present political gain.
The government would state that the Ottomans committed genocide, but that modern Turkey cannot be blamed because it is a different government. This, I have been told, would cause the world to think more kindly of the Turks. I do not believe this ultimately would satisfy anyone. I believe that calls for reparations and land would quickly follow such a statement. But that is not the reason to reject such easy political lies. They should be rejected purely because they are wrong. Even if the lies would bring great gains, they should be rejected because they are wrong. I believe the Turks are still men and women of honor. They know that it can never be honorable to accept lies told of their ancestors, no matter the benefits. I also believe that someday, perhaps soon, perhaps far in the future, the truth will be recognized by the world. I believe that the accurate study of history and the honor of the Turks will bring this to pass.
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