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What are the differences between "Haigagan Hartz" and "Hay Tahd?".

By Khachig Tololyan

The responses which this straightforward query has elicited recently
have often been confused and sometimes oddly heated. I'm prompted to
comment on this and related questions by the nature of the debate and
by the links people have made with other issues, on some of which I
will touch.

"Haigagan Hartz" is not so much an Armenian coinage as it is a
translation of a western diplomatic term, "The Armenian Question" or,
since French used to be the diplomatic lingua franca of the European
powers, La Question Armenienne. In the 1870s, a few years after Abdul
Hamid became Sultan, probably some time between the Berlin Conference
and the establishment of the Hamidiyeh cavalry (so 1878-1881), the
western powers took note of the increasingly immiserated state of the
Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. It became an issue on some
agendas and also in many newspapers.

The involvement of the western powers in sporadic and almost always
ineffective attempts to protect the Armenians prefigures, or offers a
preview, of the difficulties western states encounter when trying to
protect the minority subjects of a predatory state, such as the
Ottoman Empire. Not that all, or even most, western powers were
sincerely interested in doing that - but to the extent that anyone
was, they encountered enormous difficulties; such difficulties
continue to the present day for any western state or international
organization that tries to protect minorities from their "legitimate"
rulers.

At any rate, Armenian newspapers and, after 1887, political parties,
naturally picked up the term, and translated it as "Haigagan Hartz."
That's a literal translation.

"Haigagan Tahd", or Hai Tahd, which translates as "The Armenian Case"
in the legal sense, not the Harvard Business School sense, may have
been used before the Genocide, but became important after it. Soon
after 1918, the ARF's North American daily, Hairenik, began to use the
term sporadically, The same term was in widespread use throughout the
Middle East, and not just by ARF-ers. For example, it was invoked by
Simon Simonian, the pioneering founder of the weekly Spurk [Diaspora]
in 1957 or 1958 - and he was barely on polite terms with the powerful
Beirut ARF. The term gained the currency it now enjoys when the ARF
began to use it systematically in all its media after 1965. Currently,
it's my impression that it is used by all groups, but by the ANC and
its Washington lobby more often than by the Armenian Assembly. Thus,
to the eyes and ears of many, the term cries out "ARF," but nothing
about its content dictates that.

In effect, then, the Armenian Question was the one the western nations
put on their own agenda (with some help from Kherimian Hayrig's
delegation to Berlin) as they tried to protect Armenians and diminish
the grounds for Russian intervention in the Ottoman Empire, to protect
Christians. The Armenian Case involves much more than trampled rights
- it has to do with the lost land, and the Genocide, and identifies an
ARMENIAN effort to place all these issues on the agendas of western
states and media.

On to another issue, which has been linked to the first: the
Suny-Dadrian debate (Armenian Forum, summer 1998). This issue is in
turn linked to a wider debate in Armenia and diaspora that has been
taking ominous shape since 1988, and has involved figures like Vazken
Manoukian, Levon Ter Petrossian, Jirair Libaridian and far lesser
figures.

The genocide-related part of the issue has several elements: (A) to
what extent was something resembling expulsion, total extermination,
and elimination-by-any-means of the Armenians of the Ottoman empire
Turkish state policy? And when did it become that? (B) Can we isolate
the causes or "reasons" for the hatred of Armenians by the state and
by the Kurds and Turks of the Ottoman Empire? Can we say with some
certainty that religion, or ethnic/national feeling, or
class/economics, was/were the "reasons" for hating the Armenian people
to death? (C) Depending on how we establish the timing in question A,
can we say what Armenian actions, if any, were "responsible" for the
adoption of the Turkish state's policy? (D) Was there a particular
organization which, acting in the name of the Armenian Nation but
without, in fact, consulting the nation or being genuinely
representative of it, committed rash acts which led to C, above, and
thence to genocide?

There is a more general question, which is (E) whether any action by a
minority, subject, oppressed people like the Armenians "justifies"
genocide. The moral imbecility of Armenians -- I can use no gentler
word -- who think genocide of a people is justified by any rash
political action performed by some of its members is beneath comment.
But if the word "justifies" is put aside, we can still ask whether
such rash acts occurred, and functioned as a factor in the inexcusable
Turkish decisions.

Of course, to decide this requires that we understand what the Ottoman
leadership thought, and when it thought it, and that in turn requires
a full knowledge of sources in Turkish archives (internal memos,
etc). For example, did the Macedonian uprising of 1903 lead the Young
Turks, not yet in power, frustrated, and heavily concentrated in the
Balkan provinces of the Empire, to think of genocide? We don't know,
but it's plausible that it might have done so. Did the loss of most of
the Balkans after 1912-3 lead the Ittihad to focus any genocidal
thoughts they might already have developed vis a vis the Macedonians -
again, for example - on the Armenians? Or to develop the genocidal
thoughts right then and there? Quite likely, but these are only
plausible educated guesses.

Most massive actions like genocide require the existence and build-up,
over time, of (1) enabling conditions and structures, (2) the
incubation of hateful attitudes and poisonous ideologies, (3) a
contingent, triggering event; (4) a profit motive - the seizure of
Armenian or Jewish wealth - never hurts, either. Another usual
precondition is that (5) the the state's legal power be concentrated,
not diffusely and broadly held.  It must be held by a small political
party that seizes the levers of the state - whether in Cambodia or the
Ottoman Empire - and then hands them to a few people capable of taking
a decision and implementing it through the rest of the party, the
state appararatus and the populace at large.  Usually, the murderous
elites move towards a decision over time, in internal debate within
their narrow circle. Did the Young Turks move in this direction even
before they attained power, or after the disturbances of 1909, or the
defeats of 1912-3, or the defeat of the winter of 1914?

There is some evidence for several of these points of view, but no
decisive documentation; to the best of my knowledge, even the
knowledgeable Professor Dadrian hasn't seen such original documents;
Professor Suny couldn't read them by himself if he saw them, since he
doesn't read Ottoman Turkish. This doesn't incapacitate either from
engaging in debate - because there are fragmentary and not always
reliable statements by participants about how decisions were taken,
and because both Professors Suny and Dadrian know how to think about
cataclysmic events, such as revolution and genocide. My point is that
even these two learned men aren't in a position to argue the issue to
its limits, though of course they are in a better position than we
are. They can argue persuasively or not, depending on the formulations
they use and the inclinations of their diverse audience. They can't
argue conclusively - they haven't the evidence. No one does, except
perhaps the keepers of the archives. But I wouldn't be too sure. Mass
murderers don't write everything down.

The more important issue is that this question dates back some ninety
years, and has been revived recently in Armenia. Here's how.

When the Hunchaks and Tashnags or ARF were established (1887 and
1890), most Armenians were at first indifferent to them, and the old
elites - wealthy, religious, jealous of their status and justifiably
cautious in Istanbul, were hostile. The young who welcomed these
organizations and joined them pointed out that since the Turks had
arrived centuries ago, or at least since the accession of Abdul Hamid
to the throne, Armenians were being killed with impunity, so it was
time to start some form of self defense, protest, armed action. The
Armenian traditional elites said "No, we're not powerful enough,
things will get worse if you act", and they did, as 1894-96
showed. From that point on, we know that the more cautious Armenians
grumbled about the new political parties.

How do we know? Some indications are in the nineteenth century press
which I know a little and Vahe Oshagan has actually read, volume after
dusty volume. Mind you, these condemnations - "don't get rash, they'll
kill us" - have to be read "between the lines," because the Sultan's
censors didn't actually allow an Armenian paper in Istanbul to say
"100 Armenians massacred in Van after ARF or Hunchak assassins shot
extortionate tax collector." They'd have to say something like "after
terrorist provocation, unfortunate bloodshed occurred at X." The point
is that we can't DIRECTLY tell whether these were the formulae the
censors allowed, or actually reflect the feelings of the Armenian
elite as well.

It is not out of the question that the Armenian elite, who felt their
grip on ordinary people slip away, and resented the new parties for
it, may have felt what their Ottoman overlords wanted them to feel. As
Ara Baliozian, the much-quoted sage of Kitchener, rightly points out,
the Ottomans had instilled a "sick" mentality among many Armenians -
though I think he sometimes misdiagnoses the nature of that
mentality. Be that as it may, there is, I would argue, a LOT of
literary evidence that shows that the Armenian conservative elite was
willing to condemn the Armenian political parties; there are a number
of fictional characters, in works like Garmir Jamoots or Raffi's
several novels, who are clearly veiled references to actual
contemporary feelings.

After 1908, and definitely after 1920, the Armenian organizations that
would eventually form the core of the Sahmanatragans and the Ramgavar
party criticized the ARF - by then, the Hunchaks had been marginalized
- as THE group responsible for provoking the Ottoman state. However,
and this is a big however, I can't tell you when these statements were
first uttered. I grew up in the offices of several Armenian newspapers
my father edited, and I overheard the post-deadline conversations over
coffee and cigarettes he had with friends, conversations in which the
names of those who said such and such in ephemeral newspapers decades
ago were muttered.  But I have no recall of the specifics.

What is indisputable is that the charge of Hunchak and especially
Tashnag rashness, irresponsibility, and political myopia has been part
of the innuendo against the ARF for several decades (yes, Virginia,
there was debate before the Internet) and that this was picked up in
Armenia before and especially after 1995.

Before 1995, Vazken Manoukian, Jirair Libaridian and Levon Ter
Petrossian were variously concerned to emphasize that Armenia had no
permanent friends or enemies. To Manoukian and Ter Petrossian, it
seemed necessary to move Armenians to independence in 1988-1991, and
Manoukian was especially insistent that Turkey could some day be a
friend to Armenia (as Russia, he implied, was already an enemy, no
longer a friend, if ever it had been). This necessitated, eventually,
a revisionary view of the Genocide. EITHER the interests and attitudes
that created 1915 still persisted in 1988, and Armenia was still in
danger from Turkey, and so must stick close to the USSR, which
Manoukian did not want, OR the motives that led the Ottoman State to
genocide were contingent, and belonged to 1915, not to the
present. This is a false dichotomy - it was the result of rhetorical
and political necessity. Unfortunately, it obscured the CENTRAL
question of the interests of the Ottoman state then, of the embryonic
Turkish state, and of that state now - but that would lead me to a
whole other piece.

The heated and dangerous simplifications of 1988-1991 bring us to
1995.  During the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Genocide,
which was organized by the Armenian State and the Zoryan Institute
(and in the planning of which I had some involvement), it began to be
clear that the hardening of HHSH's and LTP's anti-ARF position
(whatever its other dimensions) was beginning to extend to discussions
of responsibility for the Genocide.

The debate was really about Karabagh, of course: namely, is it rash to
insist on K's staying outside Azerbaijani sovereignty, as many LTP
opponents including the ARF did? Is doing so a way of only delaying
the inevitable eventual loss of that independence, which the
international community will never tolerate? And will that, in turn,
result in the useless suffering and impoverishment of Armenia, to no
gain? That was LTP's position, and a true and free public debate on
the issue would have been worthwhile. It would have enabled many
Armenians - the ordinary ones who were and still are asked to bear the
pain of blockade and underdevelopment - to SAY how they felt about
blood, sweat and tears.  Sadly, the leaders of the people did not want
to know what the people thought - LTP, because he might have found
out, as I did, that a lot of people were willing to bear the burden;
the ARF and others, because they were equally afraid to find out that
many people were NOT willing to do so.

In the meanwhile, a classic displacement happened. The debate about
Karabagh was projected backward by LTP himself. Sadly, he decided to
pour gasoline over the flames, by implying that of course the ARF was
wrong about Karabagh, as it had been wrong before 1915. In both cases,
he implied, it was rashly fanning popular passions for an unachievable
cause, in a way that would lead ordinary people to die in thousands
and suffer in millions. And, LTP averred, the ARF was doing so while
its leadership was relatively safe overseas, or at any rate, if in
Armenia, unrepresentative of the population, whereas he had won 85% of
the vote and could represent the Nation. Combatting the ARF stance in
Karabagh was important to LTP, a cause, a passion - he would be
rational where the ARF leadership had not been, from Banque Ottomane
on to Sevres and Stepanakert. I believe this was not just political
posturing on LTP's part - it was that, but also a sincere belief he
and Libaridian both held. I repeat, this is my belief.

To return to the debate over the past that this rift over the present
caused: neither LTP, nor Suny, nor Dadrian, nor I can argue in any
definitive way about when the decision was made to exterminate the
Armenians, and to what extent, if any, the ARF's actions were a factor
in Turkish decision making. The young historian Armen Aivazian, who
had a middle level position in LTP's government, has argued in writing
that when Tavit Beg's uprising in Syunik defeated the Muslim forces in
the 1720s (Tatars, Persians, Turks), the Ottoman State consciously
adopted a policy of local, regional extermination, and never let go of
that option afterwards. Given such points of view, and the absence of
crucial documents, the debate itself can be interesting but not
conclusive, and should be engaged in by all of us with the knowledge
that we are engaged in educated guesswork - the full evidence just
isn't there -- though of course courts can sometimes decide cases on
partial evidence....

This issue is too long-lived, too complicated, and too serious and
consequential for us all, to be settled by calling each other names in
public forae or elsewhere, say in the english-language Armenian
newspapers.


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Prof. Khachig Tololyan is the Editor of DIASPORA: A JOURNAL OF
TRANSNATIONAL STUDIES, and a professor of comparative literature at
Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

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