The Genocide Against the Armenians by the Turks
Armenian News Network /
January 22, 2022
by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor
LONG ISLAND, NY
We have been asked from time to time by people from all walks of life and levels of university education to offer a clear exposition of those events referred to nowadays as the late Ottoman Genocides. All these individuals already know something about the Armenian genocide and appreciate that it was a genocide but nonetheless feel they would profit by yet another, broader exposition, especially one that is not bound to a supposedly politically correct formula.
After all, we are not young or inexperienced and have spent quite a number of years studying the subject and should be able to give a better modern integrated perspective than many. Maybe so. Maybe not. Whatever the case, by its very nature, this is a brief overview and cannot be definitive.
The prospectus that follows does not emerge from following a structured, written outline. We are the first to acknowledge that the points we have chosen to emphasize here in our necessarily limited perspective could well have varied more than what we finally decided to emphasize. These commentaries are intended to point readers in the right direction, rather than attempt to provide précis of detailed expositions or monographs.
It will be apparent from the outset that we have not dedicated much space to defining the word genocide. Nowadays the word is much overused, but it will be evident that the early definition of genocide as “race extermination” will suffice for the time being. (We will not devote any space to a discussion of the biological concept of ‘race.’ It is now an outmoded concept except when used by those who really know that it is a social construct and that it deserves relegation to the dustbin.) For the sake of accuracy here, we shall say that race is a word that ought to imply genetic diversity.
Years ago, a brilliant biochemist friend who was an inveterate cynic commented with the statement that he had a rather simple explanation of genocide. First, you point out that there are those ‘you’ [meaning the “collective you”] do not like for any of several reasons. You may not like their looks, their demeanor and so on. Then you adopt the strategy that involves ‘othering’ them. That expression “othering” in quotes means that you will draw special attention to their differences and emphasize relentlessly how and why they do not fit in or conform to a desired ‘norm.’ Often this involves religious differences but not necessarily. Coupled with this approach is to clearly label these perceived dissidents as serious threats to the security of the state who therefore must be quelled or otherwise drastically dealt with by such procedures as elimination. People who cannot be controlled readily by government ‘leaders’ are prime targets. Propaganda efforts can take many faces and form the backbone of false narratives. Manufacturing and provoking perceived and brazenly concocted threats is remarkably easy. The public is easily led and are very incurious and complacent about things that do not directly concern them. The final step is to work out and implement strategies to carry out a genocide. The rest is history.
But yet another phase named Denial, has been added in recent years. Denying that the genocide ever happened is the last stage that the perpetrators or their descendants have come up with. It is indeed amazing to us that denial has now become accepted, even ‘normalized.’ This is due in part to a disciplined and repetitive denial.
Readers will admit that this is a clear and simple framework for understanding genocide even though it would probably not be described as very scholarly and professional.
What we have to say about all this is that it is not our intention to reset the course of understanding the late Ottoman Genocides. It would be totally delusional to think that one could even contemplate doing this since what we have to say is at the polar opposite ends of what ‘the Turkish Government’ and their supporters have to say. We view their view as a grotesque distortion of facts. We make no apology for presenting our own version of ‘the truth.’
Some might say that what has devolved on us as writers and interpreters is the task of reporting the ways that the entire matter is covered in scholarly and various popular writings and the newspapers, even though the latter nowadays are rare in their serious coverage of this unpleasant topic. If it is done, what is called credibility assessment is rarely carried out. What emerges then is that “confirmation bias” takes hold and a particular predetermined perspective is doggedly clung to. We know that facts and evidence will not solve any problems of misinformation. All of us are confronted with the consequences of a gigantic corporatization of the news, that is it becomes driven by commercial bias.
We hope our perspective will provide a prism through which readers can obtain a very broad perspective of this general area. Sadly, readers will more than likely conclude that mankind has learned little it seems and appears determined to repeat the same insanity. Complicity in deliberately killing civilians in wartime is only rarely seen as murder.
We believe that the continued study of the Armenian genocide and the awareness of it, or ‘appreciation’ of its reality if we can pervert the word, is important because it sheds light on issues that are not directly dealt with often nowadays but ought to be. We shall see that there are common threads that run through these historical truths and help bring them together. These basic issues are as relevant today as they were then. We shall also point out earlier rather than later, that it is not a matter of “we were the most victimized”, but all who have been victimized by genocide that deserve our interest and recognition in history.
Some Early Background on Armenia
Perhaps a bit of very early history is not out of order. At its zenith, the ancient land of Armenia comprised virtually all of the central elevated part of what once was described by early writers as Hither Asia, or Nearer Asia. But today, the present-day Republic of Armenia is a very small country (around the size of the American state of Maryland - 11,490 square miles or so.) More precisely, Armenia is located southerly in the triangular section of the trans-Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian Seas, and is bordered by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran.
It was only on September 21, 1991, during the period of the impending dissolution of the Soviet Union that the people of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, the smallest of the Soviet Republics, voted secession from the USSR. The Parliament declared two days later that Armenia was a free country.
At the height of its geographical and political influence (around 69 B.C.), Greater Armenia encompassed a region of some 300,000 square miles in Asia Minor, nearly the whole of the territory between longitude 37 and 49 degrees East and latitude 37.
Armenia’s present borders reflect only the northeastern-most part of the historic Fatherland or Motherland.
Its mountains are the birthplace of four great rivers, the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Araxes, and the Kura, and although the tiny remnant of Armenia today is landlocked, the ancient land was no stranger to great waters.
Because of its strategic location as a conduit point and bridge between the Asian and European continents, Armenia became involved in East West and North South trade. By Hellenistic times, especially during the period following the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great of Macedon, fortified settlements in Armenia became linkage points on the ancient “Royal Highway.” Other trade routes, particularly the northern highway which came to be called the “Great Silk Route,” became prominent.
The “Silk Road” is now being resurrected under the name of the “New Silk Road” by politicians seeking to advocate and exploit development in an east-west direction. There are large oil and gas deposits in the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asian regions which were once part of the extensive Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. One can appreciate the zeal with which all this is today contemplated.
As it turns out, these potential cultural and economic advantages for Armenia which could accrue from its strategic location have also ended up turning the country into a political arena where from the very outset of its existence was pre-ordained to be short-lived. The size was simply too small.
All the while, marauding nomadic hordes endlessly struggled and fought for its control. Assyrians, Scythians, and Alani, Bulgars and Huns, Khazars and Georgians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans and Byzantines, Arabs, Tartars, Turks, Franks and Russians all brought their distinctive measure of grief and disaster and tides of invasion and conflicts that all befell Armenia. Indeed, it will come as no surprise that Armenians themselves played no small role in aiding and even abetting these disasters.
The last independent kingdom of Armenia came to an end in 1375 A.D. and its King Levon V died in exile in Paris in 1393.
Armenia and its people, repeatedly conquered but never really subdued, continued to exist as a non-state nation, partitioned among three Imperial powers, Turkey, Russia, and Iran.
The final death knell for any hope of regaining political independence was sounded during World War I when the Young Turk leadership resolved to annihilate all the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire through mass murder, and deportation of the population to the deserts and wastes of Syria.
This first, well-defined large-scale genocide of the twentieth century resulted in the death of some 1.5 million people. That was a huge proportion of the Empire’s Armenian population. Asia Minor was essentially emptied of the Armenian people who had lived there for more than twenty-five hundred years. (We use the term ‘well-defined’ above since the German Colonial enterprise in “Deutsch-Südwestafrika” (1884-1919) massacred some 65,000 of the approximately 80,000 native Hereros and Nama in what is today Namibia, was certainly effective if not comprehensively orchestrated from the outset. See Rachel Anderson (2005) Redressing Colonial Genocide under International Law: The Herero’s cause of action against Germany, California Law Review 93, 1155-1183.).
We have decided not to delve into the details surrounding the reconstitution of an Armenia, albeit a tiny one, in the Caucasus. That story is a miracle in itself. (The first Armenian Republic was formed May 28, 1919, and the second republic after 70 years of Soviet rule on September 23, 1991.)
Against the broad background just given, the first major difficulty that needs to be overcome in dealing with such a lengthy history, even superficially, is to select a timeframe against which one can realistically begin focusing on the Genocides. After all, the Byzantine Empire collapsed way back in 1453 A.D. when the Ottoman Turks took control and major changes ensued. Realists might argue that the loss suffered by the Greek Christian Byzantines to the Seljuk Turkish Muslims at the decisive battle of Manzikert in 1071 A.D. should have been read in the context of providing an unmistakable and clear “writing on the wall” for the Christians.
One of the many additional difficulties to be considered is that it is not possible to place an exact time period on the genocidal events that took place more than a hundred years ago. A compromise on the part of some students of the period dates it from 1913 to 1924 with “later and earlier episodes of mass violence and massacres.” Neither is it very easy to define the exact victims of the genocide. The main victims of the Turks were the Christian subjects of the Empire in western Asia such as the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks. Many Kurdish Muslims are also sometimes included as victims, but only later after the Christians had been dispensed with. Jews include themselves when convenient to themselves (see for instance Israel Charny (2021) Israel’s Failed Response to the Armenian Genocide: Denial, state deception, truth versus politicization of history, Academic Studies Press). The Jewish population of Palestine was particularly targeted as a result of the orders from Djemal Pasha, one of the leaders of the Young Turk Triumvirate.
The first victims were the Armenians, who were mainly persecuted between 1914 and 1918.
As we wish to keep things short and to the point, we have not rigorously documented our statements although a few references have been included.
Our commentary starts with the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and hopefully it will become clear why. Our major aim is to paint a broad picture and point out relationships that are apparent even today so far as human behavior is concerned.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II:
No Friend of the Armenians or Christians
Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire was a traditional Oriental despot who ruled his Empire with a mix of intimidation and intrigue. To use a modern turn of phrase, he was an expert at shaping and stubbornly defending his strongly held opinions. Those who might seek to soften any criticism of this “Shadow of God on Earth” might say that he was a thorough “content moderator.” Even today, more than a few Turks and Muslims nominally admire him. It would be a monument to contorted and distorted thinking in our view to explain, much less understand why this is so. He was an ardent promulgator of pan-Islamism. One might even say that he was the prime ‘architect’ of the overall goal of unifying his Empire through Islam. Those who would not conform had to figure out ways to survive. That essentially meant the Christians, Jews and Yezidis were ‘othered’ to one degree or other depending on the circumstances and conditions.
All atrocities committed under the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876 to 1909) were fixed in order to grossly sanitize them for domestic as well as foreign consumption. Nothing was to appear for the sake of what we would today call accuracy. (We implore readers to recall the famous statement of the modern American investigative journalist I.F. Stone (1907-1989) that “governments lie” or “all governments lie!” Even so, Sultan Abdul Hamid II and his henchmen probably took this fact to new heights.)
Prior to Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s coming to throne, a few of his predecessors had made attempts to nominally ‘modernize’ the Ottoman Empire, and to strive towards giving rights to all subjects. The so-called period of the ‘tanzimat’ [literally translating as the ‘reorganization period’ from 1829 to 1876] aimed to do this sincerely according to some commentators. In our opinion, and that of many others, it would be more accurate to say that the enacted legislation sounded better than it was. Some like ourselves would assert that this was the intention. Simply put, it gave a face of equality without actually doing so.
Needless to say, the concept of a human being having a “right to the truth” was not to be on the horizon for some time. Different regimes made little difference.
Turks were certainly not going to appear to the world like barbarians. Absolutely no attempts would be made to “catch the hardness” and ugly reality of the varied massacres and atrocities, and later the Genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks. In today’s day and age of accelerated destruction of much ‘everywhere,’ there is a tendency to play down, even dismiss the horrors of that seemingly distant period. The victims of Turkish maltreatment when reduced to ‘seemingly nonviolent harm’ like abject poverty and despair were not worth a second consideration when compared to what is routinely shown as atrocity nowadays.
The Turks, then and even to this day, elected to define themselves as the beneficent leaders and rulers who were constantly wronged by these minorities. Their implacably hostile perspective on the genocides is not merely a bevy of contentious opinions, they are based on lies! We will not go into any detail on non-Muslims living and surviving in the Ottoman Empire. It was indeed complicated. There was the paramount matter that overstepping the boundaries economically and politically caused jealousies and envy. The Christians in general, and the Armenian merchants in particular, were ‘othered’ as parasites and swindlers. They became spies and saboteurs helping the enemy. We’ll add here that the ensuing genocide could not have been launched without first planting the seeds of misinformation about the Christian minorities. (It would be an interesting, if not frustrating exercise to study how ‘hate’ was initiated and even documented for public Muslim consumption.)
During Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s reign especially, it was a prime feature to display through photographs, and exhibit with considerable pride in shop windows the physical punishment of dissidents as a deterrent. Later, it was deemed sufficient to display threat of punishment as such.
The imagery pertaining to this period is especially rich in what might today be called “trophy photographs.” (These are photographs that commemorate violence, such as posing behind decapitated ‘rebels.’) What is amazing to us is that the use of these seems to be a reflection of the political landscape as much as anything. It may seem strange for us to use a phrase like “political landscape” since there has from the very outset been a great deal of evidence-heavy claims against the Turks. In that context, what is approved and disapproved depends on the perceived ‘needs’ of the moment. Whether the concocted premises are widely accepted or not depends on many things.
The Christian Greeks and Armenians living in the Empire are at best described for the most part as docile and passive. Even though some have tried to emphasize that the minorities enjoyed extraordinary privileges, they knew very well their place as second-class subjects in the Ottoman Empire to say the least. In a word, they were easily terrorized. Sultan Abdul Hamid II knew well how to suppress any interest in dissension on the part of his minorities domestically.
That is essentially why any open signs of dissatisfaction had to be ‘imported’ from sources that were at a comfortable distance.
Advocacy from abroad on behalf of Armenians in Ottoman lands is not a happy chapter in modern Armenian history. The Armenians themselves, from virtually everywhere, certainly at home but most certainly from abroad made foolish, poorly-thought-out decisions based on ill-conceived and misunderstood idealism. The key danger in this latter instance was that those Armenians abroad were too wrapped up in themselves to be very realistic and ended up being very naïve in determining opportunities for their colleagues ‘back home’ to revolt. They were quite unhelpful in seeking relief for their brothers living under Muslim rule. (Cyrus Hamlin wrote a very insightful analysis of the Hamidian massacres for the American Antiquarian Society in 1898 (see The genesis and evolution of the Turkish massacre of Armenian subjects, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society vol. 12, no. 2, pgs. 288-294.)
Readers will recognize the difficulty in assigning a number to those Armenians slain during the Hamidian massacres. A mature perspective is provided with a commentary from Dr. George Washburn, former president of Robert College in Constantinople in his detailed work “Fifty Years in Constantinople” (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, and New York,1909). Washburn estimated that “the great massacre [of 1896] culminated in the death of some 10,000 Armenians in the streets of the city which literally ran with blood.” He continues “Even worse than the killing of so many was the tireless plunder and persecution that went on from 1880 to 1908. Their businesses were destroyed, they were blackmailed and plundered without mercy, they were hunted like wild beasts, they were imprisoned, tortured, killed, deported, fled the country until the Armenian population of the city was reduced by some seventy-five thousand. It was only the palace camarilla and its agents that profited from this.”
It was through the influence of the camarilla that the Sultan approved the massacres, while the better educated, more enlightened class of Turks felt that this plunder and massacre of the Christians was a major political blunder and a great moral wrong, whatever provocation had been given by the Armenian revolutionists in their attempt to attract the attention and secure the support of Europe.” One can still appreciate the usual ‘bottom line’ Muslim position that Christians had no right to lodge any real complaints. Ever! [Islamic anti-Christianism is as old as Islam itself and is not a mere borrowing from non-Islamic authors as is often claimed. Turks especially repeat the idea that “People of the Book” (i.e., followers of all monotheistic religions) are free to practice their own religions and that it is against Islam to force conversion from other religions. Our argument is that what is stated and what is reality are usually two different things. Disproportionate poll taxes, land taxes, exemption taxes all came into being for non-Muslims in Ottoman Turkey.]
Early on, Sultan Abdul Hamid II was astute enough to inaugurate a program of not only how ‘the news’ of his Empire was to be covered, but how it was to be distributed. He knew that the elite of his people could not face or chose not to face facts. That was completely out of the question. State-sponsored rhetoric therefore rose to the surface. This approach found firm footing and the ‘largely parroted talking points’ held sway. Americans were naïve and thought that their seemingly (to themselves at least) self-less ways had endeared themselves to the Turks. The reality was that in the pursuit of its nationalizing policy, the Turks imposed legislation that made it virtually impossible for foreign nationals to work freely in Turkey. These nationals failed to understand that the Christian communities were either murdered or driven from Asia Minor for that very reason
By the late 19th century, Britain’s traditional cordial relationship with Turkey cooled. It began to change in the 1870s. As a consequence, the rising power of Imperial Germany, eager for allies, held out the hand of friendship to Sultan Abul Hamid II. Germany’s ambitions received an unexpected boost in the eyes of the Sultan when Britain, Russia and France, genuinely horrified by the brutal massacre of the Christian Armenian subjects in 1896, headed an attempt to force reforms on the Sultan.
When that happened, Sultan Abdul Hamid II became convinced that the German Kaiser Wilhelm II’s hand seemed well-worth grasping. The Sultan invited Germany to help train the Ottoman army and to build a railway eastward from Constantinople to Baghdad – this was the so-called Berlin-Baghdad Bahn. The forces that would lead in due course to the opening of an Arab revolt were also gathering.
The Sultan was dependent on a corps of spies and agents provocateurs, rumored to be at least 30,000, among his 22 million subjects i.e., some 1.3 percent of the entire population.
Attempts to resurrect what dregs have today remained of Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s ‘glorified reputation’ are based exclusively on what we now might call “sketchy opposition research.” This type of research is invariably aimed at feeding like-minded consumer audiences with information they wish to hear and believe. It is largely based on principle-free hedge statements, and on stubborn attempts to rely completely on personality-driven propaganda. In all of this of course, any real facts are completely ignored. This may sound like a bit of an invective, but the truth should not be distorted by euphemisms.
This technique is well-tested and given the reality of the ‘short-memory syndrome’ that is so widespread everywhere, it readily finds traction. Today, more than ever, we are immersed in identity politics and narratives that have little or no grounding in facts. We ask, “Will truth ever get to its feet?” Being held to account is crucial to a democratic society. We are of course aware that as in all human endeavors, there is an inevitable subtle interplay between identity, ideology, and reality.
Even so, for the most part, there is an overall degradation of language. Fake news, which is totally dependent on it, inevitably leads to fake history. (A rather new usage of many words and vocabulary has emerged in this connection.) Impeccably honest writers like Alfred de Zayas have long stated that individuals have a right to the truth (see de Zayas, 2001 and his Petitioning the United Nations. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) vol. 95, pgs. 82-86, and de Zayas, 2010, The Genocide against the Armenians 1915-1923 and the Relevance of the 1948 Genocide Convention, Haigazian University, Beirut.)
We recognize that there is room for honest discussion around what happened after the forced abdication of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1909 and the tragic evolution of the status of Christian minorities under the Young Turks.
An Australian friend (of Armenian heritage) admitted to us years ago that it was an alarming eye-opener for her to come to the conclusion, from her own critical reading of the history of the period, that the nominally and inevitably ‘poor suppressed and persecuted’ Armenians could wear a heavy boot as well. In plain English, the Armenians could ‘dish it out’ as well as they could ‘take it.’ Thus, members of the Dashnag political party (one of the four main Armenian Christian parties) often boasted about the successful terrorization of Muslims that its members were able to inflict on the Muslim populations in eastern Armenia. Those who seek to clarify the whole however, emphasize that retaliation for atrocities with atrocities is different from initiating them. (All this is reminiscent of Israeli treatment of today’s Palestinians.)
A few Armenian-American academics have taken the stance that the malfeasances and wrongs of Armenian militias and volunteers against Muslims can have what we might refer to today as a ‘silver lining.’ This attitude when encountered in print attracted the attention of scholar-writer Mary Kilbourne Matossian. She couldn’t fail to note utterances like “As reprehensible as this terrible behavior towards Muslims was from a moral point of view, nevertheless it shifted the demographic balance of the region around Erivan [today spelled Yerevan] in favor of the Armenians.” To Kilbourne Matossian, this sounded very much like saying the equivalent of what a Turk or a supporter of Turks might say today. “The deportation of Armenians from Turkey as reprehensible as it was from a moral point of view, nevertheless shifted the demographic balance in the eastern vilayets in favor of the Muslims.”
Matossian cogently and responsibly argues that “this kind of thinking tends to perpetuate the injustices and violence which gave rise to it in the first place.”
After Kemal Ataturk came into power there was a fortuitous bit of happenstance that helped the Turkish miscasting of history that crept in as well. (Ataturk was the first president of the Republic of Turkey 24 April 1919 to 1938.)
No doubt Ataturk wanted to modernize Turkey. Dropping the old Arabic script and replacing it with a new Latinized form went a long way to create indifference about the late Ottoman Genocides. Fewer scholars were able to read documents in the old Arabo-Turkish script. After all, who wanted to spend time learning an antiquated form of writing?
The least we can do is to try to put the reality of the Armenian genocide on record. We are adamant about using the proper word for what it was, and of course still is, Genocide! We do not have to dodge the issue by talking obtusely about such crimes as genocide and digging up new terms which are supposedly more palatable to the perpetrators and/or their descendants than “genocide.” One example that we are impressed by is the descriptor “Slavery by Another Name.” We feel no compunction about talking about brute force to kill. We are well aware, of course, that the word ‘genocide’ was not yet invented during the period of the late Ottoman Genocides. That does not mean that one should be driven to use out of touch ‘catch phrases.’
We should emphasize that there are scholarly attempts to describe and analyze in depth “the style of violence” undertaken during that period. These analyses have given those who would gladly abandon the unadorned genocide concept and the word, and anything remotely connected with it, ammunition to find other words to ameliorate the bare facts. The search for alternative words has led to an effort to adopt, or at least include the option when referring to the genocide of the Armenians of using the Armenian language phrase Meds vojire (“The great crime”) in its stead (see for instance coverage by Marc Nishanian, 1985, The style of violence, The Armenian Review vol. 38, No. I-149, pgs. 1-26). We ourselves have failed to appreciate the use of the ‘learned’ Armenian phrase Meds vojire. We never heard it being used by either literate or illiterate lay folk who personally experienced or witnessed and survived the genocide. We ourselves have attempted to point out at every opportunity, as we do here and now, that use of the phrase Meds vojire is little more than a ‘dodge tactic’ or device. To us this is especially offensive when non-Armenian language speakers use the phrase – especially in ‘official’ or ‘semi-official’ communiques. Such usage merely keeps ‘their skirts clean.’
How many Armenians even know the meaning of the phrase “Meds vojire?” We venture to guess very few. Why then does one venture to say, even go so far as to emphasize, that indiscriminate use of “Meds vojire” is in any sense quite justified? The expression ‘throw the dog a bone” was widely used by the village Armenians. One of us (ADK) recalls hearing it frequently as a kid growing up in a largely Genocide-survivor immigrant Armenian community. It vividly underscored any attempt to rationalize or placate an unpalatable situation that justified rapid resolution. Throwing a bone was sufficient to quiet the ‘dog’ even though it did not really resolve the issue.
Some have accused Armenians of being unable to move forward. They are accused of failing to get over issues that have been around since World War I. Perhaps some on the Armenian ‘side’ do over-focus on human rights. But we would argue that no Armenian that we have encountered has ever wanted to present himself or herself as victimized. There is a substantial legacy of self-respect and pride that is not about to disappear.
Indeed, one would gladly ‘get on with it’ if the perpetrators or their descendants admitted to any wrongdoing. It makes a big difference to know that one’s valid claims are not diligently denied.
The Turkish government, theTurks and their supporters may have a deep aversion to the word genocide, but for us that is simply too bad for the Turks. The man who coined the word, Raphael Lemkin, associated very strongly with what happened to the Armenians as underpinning his views of genocide (see Taylor, Eugene L. and Abraham D. Krikorian, 2011, Educating the public and mustering support for the ratification of the Genocide Convention: Transcript of United Nations Casebook Chapter XXI: Genocide, a 13 February 1949 Television Broadcast Hosted by Quincy Howe with Raphael Lemkin, Emmanuel Celler and Ivan Kerno.’ War Crimes, Genocide & Crimes against Humanity (Altoona, Pa.) vol. 5, 91-124.).
Many scholars fail to appreciate that use of terms like ethnically cleanse do little more than underscore the immoral concept of those who seek to ameliorate the basics of genocide by showing no awareness of any morality, whatever. We have always toyed with the idea of making a survey of an indifferent world. Surely only some are to blame but all are accountable. The fact is that “denialists” have what amounts to a corporate interest in historical amnesia.
Positing facts of the genocide are not like rehearsing
and polishing and repeating what various nominal supporters of either
perspective, pro or con, have long stated. Many of these self-appointed
scholars use perspectives and formulations from which particular situations are
supposedly derived. They do pretzel thinking to twist words to become
supposedly less offensive. Indeed, less offensive but very inaccurate. What is
wrong with the word genocide we might or indeed should ask? But all this
merely provides the ‘ambitious’ with options for revision. A given perspective
on any genocide is thus made into an “industry” [a term coined expressly for
the Jews, i.e. “a holocaust industry”] to borrow a
phrase from Dr. Norman Finkelstein. (See The Holocaust Industry: reflections
on the exploitation of Jewish Suffering by Norman Finkelstein, 2003, 2nd
edition. Verso, London.) Yet another way of framing it is that
The real shame of it is that there are more than a few partners in this cooperation/conspiracy with intent to deny. Many attempts have been made to analyze and understand why they do it. It really means that what is called evidentiary hearing of the facts becomes degraded to second phase politics. There are so many advocates on so many levels. One suspects that there has to be a range of reasons and justifications for denial because the strategy is used by such a huge range of people. It would be hard to believe that there is only one reason behind it all.
(We believe that this is a very good point, and a place to point out that governments have had various incentives to downplay the Armenian genocide: the US, because of Turkey’s NATO membership and the need for access to Turkish air bases near Iraq, the Germans because of the 3 million Turks in the country and liable to blackmail by Turkish President Recep Erdoğan in the migrant crisis etc.)
All this goes to prove that the Turkish government and its people are determined to deny and reposition the narrative concerning the Armenian genocide. This all goes towards making the victim “the problem.” It depends, they say, on how the ‘true history’ is told. Rarely is it mentioned that everything is preplanned and thought through pretty thoroughly. After all, we sceptics would say, practice makes perfect. It would be amusing to carry out a “compare and contrast” exercise. It is not just a matter of sanitizing for public consumption.
We are told that facts do not lie. The difficulty of course is to establish what we call ‘the facts.’ Individuals like ADK do not find it difficult to establish what the facts are. Likewise, all those with Armenian connections everywhere will have had or continue to have associations with those who experienced it all. We admit that many have not had the ‘advantage,’ if one can pervert the word, to have heard a first-hand accounting. That means they are victims of the narrative of the state which is certainly not compatible with the stated policy of “fair and balanced.” Their claims are little more than going against the evidence.
The weakest part of it all to us is that it remains a problem to understand fully the conditions that made the genocide possible. The notion that the Turks stumbled, so to say, into perpetrating the genocide is fraught with many weaknesses. Nothing so massive ever happens without considerable planning. Few other than some willfully ignorant Americans subscribe to that indefensible premise.
Not surprisingly, cartoons drawn and presented well before and at the time of the Late Ottoman Genocides have ended up in our view as being a very efficient means of directing, implementing, and educating viewers and readers about stripping all the ‘window dressing’ about persecutions and genocides. The cartoonists, especially the French cartoonists who drew and designed the essentials of the persecutions and genocides on a single page, or fraction thereof, got their points across. Very little if any imagination was needed to see what the perpetrators of genocide were up to. This was one way of achieving what was often referred to as direct action by use of ill-humored presentations featuring what was called “direct action” in thinking about the Armenian and other genocides.
Cartoons do have an ability to lay bare various unpalatable facts. Those who think that cartoons go too far seem to be unaware of or unwilling to admit that there are different ways to reach different people. For our part, we love well-executed cartoons that are based on truth and facts. Turks and their supporters may well believe that these cartoons are invariably geared towards demonizing Turks. Supporters of the facts of the Armenian Genocide are not revenge-hungry wicked troublemakers. A less generous response might be, “If the shoe fits, wear it!”
We would be the first to accept the view that using a single cartoon to portray an entire country would justify its being termed “scandalous!” We ourselves have never seen the use of a single cartoon to tell it all. And, we would add, that we are not very good at shedding crocodile tears.
No matter how much deniers want to bury or ‘re-interpret’ the truth be it presented in cartoons or not, and despite the widespread and willful ignorance even on the level of presidents and world political leaders on the details of the various genocides in many countries aside, the truth will eventually surface.
It is a sad fact of life that many world leaders do not have the intellectual or moral depth to see, and to respond appropriately to the matter of genocide.
History has shown that the truth eventually surfaces. It may be late in many cases, but perhaps the statement ‘better late than never? will be helpful here.
We maintain that the skillful use of deniability by the Turks and their supporters, cannot last forever. We will admit however, that there is a new discipline that might be referred to as a new political information ecosystem. It is strengthened by the arrogance, vanity and projection of self-importance of the few in a quite ‘noisy’ minority. In past times of responsible journalism and scholarship, one might say that this approach really was doomed from the start. It has to be a matter of failed leadership. None of this would gain any traction without incredibly ignorant masses. Self-selection of the heroes who linger in the offing and pretend to be supporters of the truth lose any political narrative if one takes the trouble to check their narrative. One cannot whitewash something that cannot be covered up.
We ourselves have devoted considerable effort in identifying the accuracy of captions to what we broadly refer to as ‘Armenian Genocide images and photographs.” See URL on Witnesses etc. https://www.groong.com/orig/Probing-the-Photographic-Record.html
Our stated objective is based on the long-established identification of photographs and images that are rather error prone. The sad fact is that even if errors are found out and criticized, there is a reluctance to give up using them. To be direct, it is profitable to do so. One perhaps less “in your face” disclosure is the use of dodge statements such as photos inspired by real events.
Valid criticisms that abuses such as the use of unverified film footage of supposed events and atrocities, use of yet to be clarified incidents, and use of quickly presented or glossed over images and the like, all strengthen the deniers’ stance. This denial has now become sort of emblematic of the Turks and Turkish point of view.
Turks complain that there are those who wish to criminalize denial of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. They are supposedly very against this misguided stance since it defiles human rights and free speech, not because the Jews were not victims of the Nazis.
Yet, in Turkey the government has taken many measures to criminalize those who might even get close to admitting there was a genocide. The state seeks to keep these people in ignorance –it is an effort to deliberately keep people ignorant. No one is going to do an audit or “fact check” so to speak. We all know that the objective of deniers is to get rid of any blame or culpability. One of many time-honored strategies used by Turks and their supporters has been to insist that any coverage other than the Turkish official version which is based supposedly on their sacrosanct ‘Archival” materials, is automatically neither comprehensive nor encyclopedic.
Outright denial has slowly but surely evolved from outright to a subtle form of revisionism. Perverted murderers have all but disappeared. There is virtually no sign of remorse. For us this is tantamount to being devoid of any shred of humanity. Multiple perspectives are presented, and the lessons put forward even extend to the armamentarium of Holocaust deniers.
Frequently, the added factor of national security creeps into the argument. If something is so sensitive in terms of national security, certainly we cannot talk about it. One merely walks it back.
We must try to avoid carefully what might be interpreted by critics as contradiction. This is not at all easy and is a major challenge. Many situations are much easier to deal with. When lies are exposed, perpetrators just tell other lies. There is no limit to the extent which some might go through to deny and/or set limits that make no sense.
Those who wish to promulgate the Armenian point of view on the other hand, argue that telling the story of the Armenian Genocide will at least have a tiny effect on the present. It is important to get the facts correct.
The Armenian reckoning of the Armenian Genocide leaves very little room for altering facts.
Some supporters of the ‘Turkish Point of View’ may find it disturbing, and that the stain of the word “Genocide” is not ‘deserved’ by current-day Turks. But as more and more comes out, it becomes very difficult to keep secrets or change the narrative. This is true of course for anyone rational, but it is a view that is closed to those who are determined not to accept any of it.
The honest, unadorned analysis of the Armenian Genocide provides a scenario in which refutation of commonly used denial points and strategies are necessarily at the fore.
This we have attempted to do.
We sincerely thank various friends for helpful suggestions.
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