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Submitted by George Callaghan…
It inspired Hitler. As the Nazi supremo said, ‘Who know remembers the Armenians?’. Der Fuhrer believed that as a large scale genocide had been committed and the perpetrators had gotten away it with the crime all but forgotten then he too could do likewise.
It is the one genocide that is consistently denied by a government. What happened in the Armenian Genocide?
From 1915 up to the early 1920s at least hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. Some were killed directly and some were killed indirectly. Nor was this the first time such a huge scale atrocity had been carried out by the Ottoman State against its beleaguered Armenian minority.
We know all this because the Ottomans happily recorded it. Their German and Austro-Hungarian confederates also recorded it. Some German officers and bureaucrats were aghast at these acts of barbarity. Others heartily approved. But none disputed that it was happening.
The United States was neutral in the First World War until 1917. US diplomats were well apprised of these crimes against humanity. Even after 1917 the US and the Sublime Porte never proclaimed war on each other. American diplomats roamed freely and gathered superabundant evidence of the enormous crimes against the Armenians.
Other neutral nations such as Sweden had diplomats in Turkey who attested to the genocide. The Ottoman authorities did not attempt to conceal the truth. They were unabashed about what they had been doing.
Who carried out the killing? Not all the killers were Turks. The Ottoman Empire was a polyglot and multiethnic smorgasbord. Some of those who killed Armenians were Kurdish. This did not save the Kurds 60 years later. Who was a Turk anyway? That was a very vexed question. Many people even in Anatolia were ethnic minority people and spoke languages other than Turkish.
Istanbul even had the cheek to apply to an American life insurance after the war to claim payouts for the deaths of Armenians whom it had murdered. Should the payments not go to the next of kin? No, no said the Ottoman State – all the relatives were dead so the Ottoman State was the beneficiary. There can be no clearer evidence of the state directing the mass murder.
There were trials in Turkey after the Armenian Genocide. A few people who committed crimes against the Armenian civil population were punished. Why? Was this a mere PR exercise to sate the Allies desire for justice?
It ought to go without saying that no one should be mistreated for his ethnicity or faith. This goes for Armenians, Turks and Christians and Muslims and all people. This article is not in the least bit Turkophobic. Anti-Turkish prejudice is as detestable as anti-Armenian prejudice. No one alive in Turkey today was involved in the Armenian Genocide. However, there are many people in Turkey today who claim that such a gargantuan crime against humanity did not occur.
Armenians were sent on forced marches into Syria. Many fell by the wayside. Some found sanctuary in Syria. A few managed to make it to Cyprus which was then beneath the aegis of Britannia. There the Armenians found succour and some have made it their domicile to this day.
There are Turks who come out well from this sage of woe. A small number of Turks valiantly sheltered their Armenians neighbours. These righteous Turks ought to be hailed for their heroism just as Germany honours the glorious memory of those Germans who, actuated by principles of humanity, saved Jews and other would be victims from slaughter at the hands of the Third Reich. Morality knows no ethnicity nor does immorality. There are brave souls in Turkey today with the moral courage to publicly state their people of their nationality carried out these barbarous crimes on a huge scale in 1915 and for a few years thereafter. It takes magnanimity to acknowledge that their compatriots did so.
What is the case for the defence? Turkish ultranationalists – which is a large percentage of Turkey’s population – will try to divert attention from this. These hardline nationalists say that recounting the historical fact is anti-Turanist. They will say that many Turks and other Muslims were butchered in the region during and after the First World War. That is true though the numbers cited might be inflated. Crimes committed against Turks are worthy of study. Turkish people who were victims deserve sympathy too. None of this brings the Armenian Genocide within a million miles of acceptable. The attempts to defend the Ottoman Empire on this issue are exercises in polishing a turd.
There are people in the Turkish Republic who acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died as a result of the war. They are brave enough to admit that some of the Armenians will killed outright such as being shot. They also note that other Armenians were killed through forced marches and malnutrition. However, they blanche at dubbing this genocide. They claim that it was not large enough scale or that the slaying was not centrally directed. If one person is killed for his ethnicity this is not genocide though it is a racist murder. How many people have to be slain for it to meet the number requisite to qualify for the term genocide? Is it 100 or 1 000 or 100 000? If it is a million the it surely qualifies. The figure for the victims is in the high hundreds of thousands by even the most conservative estimate of any scholar worth the name.
There are others who state that whilst the Ottoman Empire slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Armenian civilians this was an act of virtue. The depravity of such a stance is beyond comprehension.
The Republic of Turkey has a pernicious law on the statute book. It states that ‘insulting Turkishness’ is a crime. ‘Insulting Turkishness’ is what most people called ‘telling the truth’ when it comes to the Armenian Genocide. The Erdogan Administration has been especially stringent in enforcing this law. The law states that criticising Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is permitted but that dishonouring him is not. In effect any critique of Ataturk is treated as dishonouring his memory. Ataturk was the founder of the Turkish Republic. His status in Turkey is legendary. Every town, no matter how inconsiderable, has a public place named after him. All this adulation covers up the fact that Ataturk was not ethnically Turkish and he was not born in modern day Turkey. He was born in Thessaloniki which is in Greece and had only a minority of Turks at the time. Leaders should be held to account and sometimes excoriated. This goes for leaders such as de Valera and Churchill.
Western countries have generally fought shy of calling the Armenian Genocide by its proper name. This is because Turkey is a NATO country. They are chary about upsetting their friends in Ankara lest the Turks get the hump and quit NATO. There are 90 000 000 Turks and only 3 000 000 Armenians. It s not hard to figure out who carries more weight in realpolitik. The Turks have their kith and kin in several Turkic states in Central Asia. There is an Armenian diaspora but it is tiny in comparison to the 60 000 000 or more Turkic people outside Turkey.
France is one of few Occidental nations to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. This is partly due to the presence of a significant Armenian community in France.
The United States has taken pains to avoid treading on Ankara’s toes. This is a very sensitive issue for the Turks.
This article does not advocate that legislatures recognise or dispute any genocide or alleged genocide. This should not be politicised. The question is one for historians and not for public representatives. However, once France’s National Assembly voted in 2011 to declare that what happened to the Armenians was genocide then the Turkish Government threw the toys out of the pram. They cancelled many contracts with the French. They also accused France of genocide in Algeria in the 1950s. Counterinsurgent campaigns are never immaculate. Civilians are inevitably killed. Security forces often break their own ethical rules. The conduct of French forces in Algeria was often bad. Sometimes it was deplorable. Was this genocide? It is a moot point. I suspect that it does not meet the standard – not enough civilians were killed to count as that. Further, the French Government did not order its men to slay civilians. Indeed there were plenty of Algerians in the French Army at the time. But even if France is also guilty of genocide two wrongs do not make a right. No more with this what aboutery.
People may hurl a branding reproach at me. ‘You are Irish: your people took part in genocide against Native Americans, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, you butchered people in India when your men served in the British Army’ and so on. All this is true. This article does not deny the grave wrongdoing by people from the British Isles. I do not try to say that any nation is better or worse than another. If you wish to talk about monstrous crimes committed by people from the British Isles then let’s talk about them.
Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire. But the Erdogan Government is keen to lay claim to its Ottoman patrimony. The cult of neo-Ottomanism is worrisome. All empires had their credit and debit side. But the Ottoman Empire’s credit column is decidedly thin. It has but a paltry claim on the gratitude of any of its onetime subject peoples. What did it have to recommend it? Its culinary creations or architecture? It had few scientific or technological advances to its name. Further, it can never be said to have furthered the cause of liberty. It was quite the reverse. There would be less need for Ankara to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide if it did not embrace its Ottoman past with such perfervid relish.
What is to be done? Ankara could come clean about the manifold wrongs it predecessor committed against the Armenian people. That would be the way to reconciliation. An apology would not hurt. May peace and amity reign between the Armenian and Turkish people.