Monday, March 08, 2010

Armenian genocide denial

The Southern Poverty Law Center two years ago (summer 2008) reported on the Turkish propaganda campaign in the United States to deny the Armenian genocide. The Turkish government has spent millions of dollars supporting scholars and members of Congress alike to "prove" that the genocide did not occur during WWI.
Early this year [2008], the Toronto District School Board voted to require all public high school students in Canada's largest city to complete a new course titled "Genocide: Historical and Contemporary Implications." It includes a unit on the Armenian genocide, in which more than a million Armenians perished in a methodical and premeditated scheme of annihilation orchestrated by the rulers of Turkey during and just after World War I.

The school board members each soon received a letter from Guenter Lewy, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, rebuking them for classifying the Armenian genocide in the same category as the Holocaust. "The tragic fate of the Armenian community during World War I," Lewy wrote, is best understood as "a badly mismanaged war-time security measure," rather than a carefully plotted genocide.

Lewy is one of the most active members of a network of American scholars, influence peddlers and website operators, financed by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the government of Turkey, who promote the denial of the Armenian genocide — a network so influential that it was able last fall to defy both historical truth and enormous political pressure to convince America's lawmakers and even its president to reverse long-held policy positions.

And the same thing has just happened this year. The House Foreign Relations Committee just passed a resolution by a 23-22 vote declaring that the killing of Armenians was genocide. This resolution was opposed by the Obama administration even though both Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama supported such a resolution when they were Senators.

In 2007, Clinton was co-sponsor with Senator Harry Reid of a Senate resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. A press release of 4/18/2007 from the Armenian National Committee of America also refers to Obama's position:
Last week, during remarks at a Washington, DC breakfast for Illinois constituents, Senator Barak Obama, fielded a question from ANCA Eastern U.S. Executive Director Karine Birazian about his support for the Armenian Genocide Resolution. In his response, he explained to the audience the basic facts about the Genocide and promised to give careful consideration to cosponsoring the measure.
See Harry's Place for a longer discussion of this issue - Obama's failure to acknowledge Armenian genocide.

See also a good discussion by David Schraub on Jewish American lobbyists who in 2007 lobbied on the Turkish side against the genocide resolution: Genocide Denial. (Guenter Lewy, mentioned above in the SPLC report, is Jewish - he was born in Germany in 1923 and fled with his family to Palestine in 1939).


  1. I recall reading a debate between Lewy and the renowned historian of the Armenian genocide, Vahakn Dadrian. I think the gist of arguments such as his is that there is a context in which the massacres occurred, which is no doubt true as far as it goes.

    That approach, however, does not explain people being marched in large numbers into the desert to die, women being tossed up in the air to land on spiked spears, people being marched to the sea and thrown in the water to drown and pogrom style massacres on a large scale. It does not explain people leaving mosque, after public officials would come to explain supposed Armenian perfidy, shouting Allahu Akbar and then going on killing sprees, etc., etc.

    Dadrian has written a number of books on the genocide, the most famous being the History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus. Whatever minor points Lewy scores - and, in my view, they are rather minor -, History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus is a seminal book on the topic and leaves little doubt about the causes of the genocide and the long standing interest in committing genocide against Armenians.

    I might also suggest a number of other books on the topic, for anyone interested. I note, in particular, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response, by Peter Balakian. This is a more descriptive book than Dadrian's noted book. Balakian describes the massacres. Dadrian focuses primarily on finding the causes.

    Another descriptive book - a first hand source written at the time of the genocide and chocked full of first hand accounts -, one that can be read online, is Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, by Henry Morgenthau, Sr. Morgenthau is the grandfather of renowned historian Barbara Tuchman and father of the Secretary of the Treasury under FDR.

    I shall post one interesting part from Balakian's book, showing just how religion can allow seemingly kind people to do ghastly things while sleeping quite well.

  2. What follows is from pages 337 - 339 of Peter Balakian's book, The Burning Tigris, The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. The Balakian referred to below is not Peter Balakian and, if I recall correctly, is not his relative either. I should also note that even more than in Balakian's account quoted below, Dadrian's book places religious insanity as the central reason (among a number of other causes) for the genocide. The rest of the post is the noted passage from Peter Balakian's book:

    In the chapter "The Confessions of a Slayer Captain," about the Yozgat massacres, in his memoir Armenian Golgotha, Krikoris Balakian echoes and corroborates what was confessed at the Yozgat hearings. About a year after his arrest on April 24, 1915, in Constantinople, Balakian found himself on a deportation trail that had taken him from the prison at Chankiri, east to Chorum, and then south to Yozgat. On the road to Yozgat, Balakian became friendly with a Turkish captain named Shükri, with whom he rode for a couple of hours on horseback. Shükri, feeling certain that Balakian would soon be killed, answered the priest's questions candidly and even with a bit of braggadocio.

    When Balakian asked Captain Shükri where "all these human bones along this road of ours" had come from, the captain replied: "These are the bones of the Armenians who were massacred" during August and September 1915. He went on to explain that Talaat Pasha ordered the bodies to be gathered and buried immediately, but that winter floods had washed up the corpses from their shallow graves and scattered them everywhere. When the priest asked him if the remains were of the local Armenian population or of Armenians from far away, Shükri told him that they were all from the local region.

    He went on to say that "this order was carried out most severely by district governor Kemal." Balakian kept bantering with the Turkish captain, pretending to be an opponent of Armenian "extremists" and a Turcophile, and in this way kept the conversation going.

    When Balakian asked Captain Shükri if the women were also massacred (because he thought the young ones might be spared and sent to harems), he was told that Kemal (the kaymakam of Boghazlyan) had the women and children massacred, including infants. Kemal even told the captain that he had "made a vow on the honor of the prophet: I shall not leave a single Armenian alive in the sanjak of Yozgat," a statement that was confirmed at the fifth sitting of the trial on February 12 by Maj. Memhet Salim, the military commandant of Yozgat.

    Shükri went on to tell Balakian how he and District Governor Kemal lured the Armenian women, children, and elderly on to the death march by having the town crier announce that they would be going to meet their husbands in Aleppo and ordering them to bring as much of their valuables and possessions as possible. The naive women even made baklavas and coffee cakes to celebrate the reunion with their husbands. About sixty-four hundred women and children were sent out on foot or in carriages or oxcarts and taken on a five-hour journey to a place known as Three Mills, where they were fleeced of all their valuables by a group of Turkish women, who were sent in to find all the gold and jewels they had hid on and in their bodies. The women were then massacred with "axes, hatchets, scythes, sickles, clubs, pickaxes, and shovels," Captain Shükri admitted, "in the name of holy jihad" and by "order of the government."

  3. Continued:

    As a priest Balakian was particularly interested in the role of religion in the massacres and asked Captain Shükri how a religious Muslim could order the murder of innocent women and not be accountable to God and his conscience. The Turkish captain told him that "a Jihad was proclaimed . . . the Sheikh-ul-Islam had issued a fatwa to annihilate the Armenians as traitors to our state, and the Caliph ratified the fatwa." When the Armenian priest continued by asking him how he would "atone for his sins" in the "other world," the captain answered: "I have already atoned for them as I've always done after such killings. . . . I spread out my prayer rug and pray, giving glory to Allah and the Prophet who made me worthy of personally participating in the holy jihad in these days of my old age." The captain's confessions not only corroborate the testimony given at the Yozgat trials, but also disclose something profound about how deeply the ideology of Islamic jihad was part of the psychology of the Turkish extermination program for the Armenians, as well as for the Greeks, Assyrians, and other Christians in the empire.