Date: Tue, 25 Aug 2009
From: Muharrem Sev

The Armenian section of the Ottoman Archives has been open to all researchers since 1989. Most documents are in Ottoman (Turkish with Arabic characters) with transliterations into current Turkish. As you know, the Turkish language is changing all the time, so the "current" here might be old again for many. The military archives are restricted, but hopefully will be opened soon.

Tales are told by survivors of the 20th century wars everywhere in Turkey. Armenians, Turks, Jews, Kurds, Arabs and others who had lived in eastern Anatolia and found themselves forced to fight against the Russians or the French or each other had stories to tell. Those who fled to safety had stories to tell too. Stories are inherited by younger generations, in the process some stories are diminished in significance and some others are exaggerated in detail. While millions of Muslims were forced out of the Balkans and Caucuses and fled to Anatolia, several hundred thousand Armenians emigrated to the USA, Europe, Russia and elsewhere.

(Lets also recall the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s. All these migrations created more human suffering and created more stories. Anatolian Greeks who were sent to Greece took their Bozuki and Rabetica music with them. They were rejected by the mainland Greeks and in later years their music was banned. Life is full of twists and turns: Today, bozuki is recognized as the national instrument of Greece)

The events of the period we are discussing here cannot be described in anything less than 'tragic' terms for Turks and Armenians. In the late 1880s about 1,600.000 Armenians were living in Anatolia (this figure is the average of numbers available from Ottoman, Armenian, Russian, British, American and French sources). In Europe, the independence movement of nations living under Ottoman rule started with Greeks in 1823 and followed by others: Rumanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Slovenians, etc. By the time Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878, practically every nation that revolted against the Ottomans had gained its independence.

Armenians living in the Ottoman lands received financial, military and political aid from Russia, Britain, France and the USA towards fulfilling their dream for independence. Armenians living in Russia at the time coerced most of the Ottoman Armenians to revolt. Before WWI started, several uprisings took place in Erzurum, Van and other cities in the east and were put down by the Ottoman regulars. Animosities between the Turks and Armenians started with these revolts and killing continued for both sides during the war. About 50000 Ottoman Armenians joined the invading French armies and about 150.000 or more joined the Russians. Some Armenians remained loyal to the Ottomans and even served in the military.

When the Russians invaded the eastern Anatolian provinces in the beginning of WWI, the fighting intensified between the Ottomans, Russians, French and the Armenians. At times the Ottomans had to fight the Russians in the front and the Armenians at the back. In May 1915 the Ottomans decreed forced relocation of about 460.000 Armenians out of the war zone into remote corners of the empire where modern-day Syria is today.

Even under perfect conditions such an ambitious plan might have failed. In May 1915 the Ottomans were fighting at 3 different fronts, had no spare food or other supplies or medicine or suitable transportation or security forces available for this delicate and complex mission. Out of 460.000 Armenians that were moved out, 382.200 reached their destination. In this sad journey about 56.600 perished for a variety of reasons, including brutal treatment by the Ottoman and Kurdish forces in charge.

As a result of this disaster, Talat Pasa (minister of interior) ordered those responsible to be tried and punished: 659 Ottoman officials were tried, 68 received the death sentence and were hanged, 67 received life sentence or forced labor and others received lesser charges or acquitted.

Fighting continued throughout the war, Armenians and Turks killing each other. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 changed the course of events for both sides. Armenians lost Russian support and protection. The nationalist forces under Mustafa Kemal made peace with Lenin and secured the eastern border. The Ottoman lands which the Allied Forces promised to the Armenians remain within the borders of the Turkish Republic today. (see the Sevres Treaty for the promised lands and see the Lousanne Treaty for the Republic's borders). By the time the dust settled and the fighting ended in 1922, 530.000 Turks and 350.000 Armenians were dead.

The irony is that, in 1954 President Celal Bayar and later in 1955 Prime Minister Adnan Menderes officially visited the USA. The Armenian community was highly visible in Washington, DC cheering the Turkish officials. There was no "genocide" claims at the time. In 1963 the Diaspora Armenians (a younger generation) in the USA started their anti-Turkish campaign, charging Turks with 350.000 Armenian deaths. That innocent number has now become 1.5 million !

After so many years, why is it that the Armenian Diaspora maintains a relentless campaign against Turkey for the recognition of "genocide" as if Turkey was the only party doing the killing?

Here is an explanation by legal scholar Bruce Fein:

The "Armenian Genocide" narrative is an existential narrative for the Armenian Diaspora. It has become the glue that bonds the community across social, economic and political lines. Perpetuating this narrative and activating the community around legislative, educational, philanthropic and political endeavors has become the lifeline for Armenian Diaspora organizations, including the Armenian Church. Hatred against modern day Turks and Turkey has become an identity strengthening tool, particularly employed toward young Armenians, and examples of this hateful behavior against ordinary Turks abound.

It is in this area where Turkish analysis about the Armenian Diaspora's state of mind, its wide-reaching agenda and impact seems to be most deficient. The benefits that Turkey expects from rapprochement with Armenia can not be achieved as long as the Armenian Diaspora's realities are ignored. Unless Armenia and other interested parties can engage the Armenian Diaspora in this process and help bring about fundamental changes in the community, the "genocide" issue will remain at the center of their agenda. Consequently, Turkey's outreach to Armenia will have no effect on the Armenian Diaspora and its international agenda against Turkey, including its lobbying of the U.S. Congress and the Administration.

Bringing about change in the attitudes of the Armenian Diaspora needs to focus on:

* Stopping hate: It is clear to everyone who follows the Armenian Diaspora that the pursuit of genocide recognition has turned into a campaign of hate against Turkey and modern day Turks. This hatred has been manifested in worldwide terrorism and the murder of 40 Turkish diplomats; the continuing adoration of these killers, as well as ongoing harassment and intimidation of Turkish Americans. More troubling, is the fact that hate against Turkey seems to grow among many young Armenian adults who hold more severely hateful perceptions of Turks.

* Defending academic freedom and stopping intimidation and harassment of scholars: The Armenian Diaspora has successfully created an aura of intimidation in academia through their consistent vilification of scholars, who do not agree with the Armenian narrative of history. By slandering any scholar who deviates from the Armenian narrative as a "genocide denier" and attempting to deny such scholars access to academic and public platforms, the Armenian lobby is effectively stifling more research and debate on this history.

* Exposing Armenian "buy-out" of scholars: Armenian foundations and wealthy Armenian Americans are pouring money into American universities to support scholars, including Turkish ones, whose positions corroborate the Armenian narrative. The existence of "Armenian Genocide" study centers at leading U.S. universities rests on the largesse of such Armenian donations. Research in this area has effectively been turned into an Armenian funded cottage industry.

* Advocating the opening of Armenian Archives: Opening all Armenian archives to independent scholarly review will unearth the complete narrative of Ottoman-Armenian history, including the Armenian independence movement and revolt.

* Stopping foul play: Armenian Diaspora groups must be held accountable to stick to the same rules that apply to all advocacy groups. Many of them have not. The best example of such foul play is the Armenian National Committee of America, which is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible violations of its legal status and other U.S. laws governing lobbying.

* Exposing the futility of political lobbying: The Armenian Diaspora lobbyists have invested much stock and capital in lobbying efforts to legislate history. Turkey must unequivocally state that it is an Armenian Diaspora illusion that such third country political pressures can force Turkey to accept their narrative and issue an "apology," opening the way for other demands by the Armenian Diaspora such as reparations or territorial claims.

* Looking forward: The Armenian community can gain tremendously by looking forward and reaching out to Turkey as their heritage country. Turkey and Turkish civil society should extend a hand of friendship toward the Armenian Diaspora. Turks, by and large, hold no animosity toward Armenians and will embrace Diaspora Armenians warmly. The rich Armenian culture continues to be part of Turkey's culture, its music, art, architecture, folklore and cuisine. These common bonds can be revived and the Armenian Diaspora, not Armenia, can herald this revival.

* Ending Armenia's isolation: The Armenian Diaspora has played a significant role for Armenia. However, the Armenian Diaspora's efforts cannot replace the economic and political benefits of normalizing Armenia's relations with its neighbors, particularly Azerbaijan, and integrating the country into the economic and strategic regional framework. The Armenian Diaspora in the United States, in particular, should be the advocate of moving Armenia away from Russia and Iran and closer to Turkey and the U.S.

* Believing in dialogue: The current Turkish government has long extended a hand of friendship and reconciliation toward the Armenian Diaspora and Armenia in its invitation to form an international historical commission. Turkey's invitation and willingness to support such a comprehensive effort and to accept its findings may not remain valid forever. The Armenian Diaspora should unclench its fist and take this hand, as it is the only way for peace and reconciliation.