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 Gwynne Dyer "Turkish 'Falsifiers' and Armenian 'Deceivers': Historiography and the Armenian Massacres" 
in Middle Eastern Studies, XII, 1976, pp. 99-

Reflections by Holdwater are near page bottom

 

 
 

Any historian who has to deal with the last years of the Ottoman Empire will sooner or later find himself wishing desperately that the air could be cleared on the subject of the Ottoman Armenians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and especially the deportations and massacres of 1915. Armenians, the victims of a national trauma comparable in this century only to that of the European Jews, cannot stop remembering, and their conviction that the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians was the unprovoked result of cold-blooded calculation by the Turkish Government is largely accepted in Europe. The almost unanimous Turkish reaction has been to try to forget the whole episode, and when that becomes impossible to seek complete justification for the holocaust in allegations of wholesale disloyalty, treason and revolt by the Ottoman Armenians in the gravest crisis in the history of the Turkish nation allegations wholly true as far as Armenian sentiment went, only partly true in terms of overt acts, and totally insufficient as a justification for what was done. Just in the past few years some Turks have begun to deal fairly openly with the Turkish measures in 1915, and to admit that they were a gravely disproportionate response to the provocation presented. Ahmed Emin Yalman's recent memoirs [Ahmed Emin Yalman, Takin Tarihte Gorduklerim ve Gecirdiklerim, c. I (1888-1918), Istanbul, 1970, 326-34] for example contain a relatively frank and balanced discussion of the events themselves and of faults and responsibilities in them. Likewise the American Armenian historian Richard Hovannisian has succeeded in treating the massacres of 1915 in considerable detail without losing his respect for evidence, and utters the usual charge that they were the fruition of a deep-laid, satanic plot with much less than the usual conviction. [Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918, London, 1967, 40-57] But these are isolated exceptions: the great majority of Turkish and Armenian historians frozen on this issue in the attitudes their predecessors had already adopted by 1916. The succeeding years have provided much diversion to attract public attention elsewhere, but still the barrage of accusations and counter-accusations rolls on, no longer in the foreground of public debate but conducted with undiminished vigour in terms entirely unchanged over half a century. And every once in a while the old bitterness flares again into life, as it did recently in California with the murder of the Turkish Consul and Vice-Consul there by an Armenian, and in France shortly afterwards with the recall of the Turkish ambassador as a 'gesture of disapproval' at the unveiling in Marseilles of a monument to the memory of '1,500,000 Armenians who were victims of a massacre in 1915 under the orders of the Turkish Government'. 

An article which appeared in the September 1970 issue of Purnell's part-work The History of the First World War entitled 'Genocide in Turkey' is probably representative of the information on the Armenian tragedy that reaches the (thoroughly uninterested) European public. In it the author, A. 0. Sarkissian, claims that at least one and a half million Ottoman Armenians lost their lives in the deportations and massacres of 1915-16 as a 'direct result of a carefully-laid plan', and throws in for good measure the customary additional accusation that Hitler had taken this as his model. More usefully Sarkissian's article prompted a lengthy response by Salahl R. Sonyel, one of the younger generation of Turkish historians, in Belleten in January 1972, [Salahi R. Sonyel, "Yeni Belgelerin Isigi altinda ermeni Tehcirleri - Armenian Deportations: A Re-appraisal in the Light of New Documents", Belleten, XXXVI/141, 1972, 31-69 (Turkish and English)] and so provided us with an up-to-date example of the stance of the Turkish historical profession on the issue. 

Salahi Sonyel

Dr. Salahi Sonyel, years later ("Sari Gelin")

Sonyel concedes that there were 'some deportations and mutual Turko-Armenian massacres in Anatolia'. 'A French investigation carried out in 1920', he goes on to state, 'came to the conclusion that the Turkish people and soldiers behaved generally in a correct way towards the deported [Armenians], but that some 500,000 perished as a result of their armed rebellion against the Ottoman state, of the war in which they took part, of privation caused by the war in primitive regions, of sickness, exhaustion following long marches, immediate changes of climate, and of attacks by marauders upon rich convoys . . . The Turks are estimated to have lost over 1,000,000 people owing to similar causes ' ' Both in seizing upon this rather curious report by Commandant Larcher, virtually the only contemporary non-Turkish investigator to exonerate the Turks in the matter, and in dragging in the irrelevant, because subsequent, large-scale slaughter amongst the Muslims of eastern Anatolia, Sonyel is following a well established tradition amongst Turkish apologists. 

 


 

His principal argument is also familiar. He quotes a careful selection of documents from various provenances to prove that a general rising of the Armenians was planned for 1915 (the Turkish equivalent of the standard Armenian accusation of a premeditated Turkish plot for genocide). Some of these documents, especially those from British sources, are published for the first time by Sonyel, and are quite interesting. All they prove, however, is that numbers of Armenians, especially abroad, were actively disloyal and seeking the support of the Allies (unsuccessfully) for a general rising at an appropriate moment, and that certain specific Ottoman Armenian deputies in the Meclis and the representatives of certain specific localities (especially Zeytun) were in communication with the Russians and planning a revolt. Sonyel with some justice attributes the proclamation of the Deportation Laws to Ottoman alarm over Armenian outbreaks although except for Van these were few and small and again, in my opinion, rightly points out that there was at that stage no intention of genocide. He adduces as proof of the latter an Ottoman Government document dated April 28, 1915 (captured by the British in Palestine in 1918) ordering the arrest of active members of Dashnak and Hunchak committees and the closing down of these organizations, but specifically cautioning against applying the order in 'a form which might result in mutual massacre of Moslem and Armenian elements'. But he neglects to quote any of the other documents from the same British haul which show the later development of Ottoman Government intentions through 1915 towards a policy of extermination. The people to blame for the Armenian losses which did occur, according to Sonyel, were convicts released from prison to escort the Armenian convoys, because of a shortage of military manpower, and the local Kurds. 

The 1915 unpleasantness thus explained, the writer passes on rapidly to the more salubrious ground of 1918-20. In examining the mutual and reciprocal massacres of Turks and Armenians which took place in the Transcaucasus in these years, his general pattern is to seek to disprove, with documents where possible, allegations of Turkish massacres of Armenians, but to accept instantly claims of Armenian outrages against Muslims, 'substantiating' them often by quoting the protests of the aggrieved Muslim party. Thereafter he loses even his manner of scholarly detachment, quoting with approval a selection of American relief experts who had low opinions of the Armenians, one describing them as 'robbers, deceivers and fools' and another as 'professional beggars, thieves and liars ... utterly debased, incapable of helping themselves, unwilling to help another, and entirely lacking in gratitude'. 

Sonyel's extreme partisan stance is more obtrusive in his use of language than of facts. His conclusion, though offensively phrased, is partly defensible at least in essence, as far as it goes: 'Despite the so many shortcomings of the Armenian people ... they had enjoyed the best fruits of Ottoman society until a minority of alien, self-seeking, sanguinary and adventurist terrorist leaders decided to convert them into pawns in the power game, by allowing their wires to be pulled by foreign powers for their own ulterior purposes ... Nevertheless to hold all the Turkish nation responsible for the Armenian tragedy, and to overlook the irresponsible actions of these powers, and of certain Armenian leaders, who were the chief culprits, is a travesty of justice.' He at least understands historians' methods, and makes use of them where it is to his advantage. 

One finds little as scholarly even as Sonyel in the general run of Armenian historiography on the subject. Representative,of American Armenian 'scholarship' (with a very few honourable exceptions) we may take two articles from the many on the topic which appear in the Armenian Review. [Navasard Deyrmendjian, "An Important Turkish Document on the 'Exterminate Armenians' Plan", Armenian Review, XIV/3, 1961, 53-55; and Haigaz K. Kazarian, "Minutes of Secret Meetings Organizing the Turkish Genocide of Armenians", Armenian Review, XVIII/3, 1965, 18-40. I have selected these articles to discuss as they are cited by Ulrich Trumpener in Germany and the Ottoman Empire 1914-1918, Princeton, 1968, 203, note 11, in support of Armenian claims, which he largely accepts, that the exterminations of the Armenians in the eastern vilayets was an unprovoked and preplanned measure of the Turkish government.] They sound scholarly, but are capering caricatures of the historical method, complete with footnotes giving the author's disbelief of some claim as conclusive proof of its falsehood. There is scarcely ever any adequate provenance given for 'documents' - they are often taken from some Armenian newspaper published in the 1920's or 1930's, which in turn attributes them at one or two further removes to some reliable source, such as 'Armenian officers in the Turkish Army'. The deafening drumbeat of the propaganda, and the sheer lack of sophistication in argument which comes from preaching decade after decade to a convinced and emotionally committed audience, are the major handicaps of Armenian historiography of the diaspora today. 

The longer article of these two, for example, is mostly based on the highly improbable anti-CUP tract written in exile by the opposition journalist Mevlanzade Rifat, Turk Inkilabinin Ic Yuzu (Aleppo, 1929). [For information on this Kurdish intriguer and on the origins of his frequently-quoted book (which appears to have been partly sponsored by Dashnaktsutiun) see my reply to Mr. C. J. Walker in the correspondence section of Middle Eastern Studies, IX/3, 1973, 379-82.] Rifat, who is continually referred to by Kazarian as Melvan Zade and advertised as a member of the CUP 'General Council', included in his book the minutes of supposed secret meetings of the Unionist leadership in 1915, and a translation of these makes up the bulk of Kazarian's article. Though the subject of these meetings is purportedly the organization by Enver, Talat and their colleagues of murder gangs to carry out the massacres, and would be grim if in the least believable, it is in fact a hilarious article thanks to the combination of Mevlanzade Rifat's melodramatic imagination and Kazarian's atrocious translation. At one point in the 'transcript' Hasan Fehmi is made to interrupt the discussion to state: 'Being transported unto Almighty God, I would like to introduce a few beautiful principles of my own. The law of the Shariyat permits the extermination of the malignant.. . I say that, since we have seen nothing but harm from the Armenians ... without further piddling, the killing of Armenians, provided not one of them shall be left alive, is a religious duty...'. Kara Kemal (whose principal contribution to the conversation hitherto has been repeated ejaculations of 'Perish them all') bursts out in approval: 'Long live, long live, Khodja Effendi. Do you see, brethren, our most worthy Sheikh-ul-Islam?'. 

 

 

During the 1960's it became possible at last for Soviet Armenian historians to discuss the subject of the Armenian massacres with some freedom, but the results have been depressingly similar. [For a full bibliography of Soviet publications on the subject in the 1960's see Richard G. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia, I, 1918-1919, Berkeley, 1971, 13, note 21.] In English the outstanding exemplar of the new Soviet work is E. K. Sarkisian and R. G. Sahakian, Vital Issues in Modern -Armenian History: A Documented Expose Of Misrepresentations in> Turkish Historiography (Watertown, Mass., 1965); the fact that it has been translated by American Armenians and published by Armenian Studies will give an indication of its approach. It has all the weaknesses of Soviet historiography in overflowing measure and none of its strengths - one would have to go far to find a richer blend of polemic, distortion, ideological cant, exaggeration, vituperation and illogic. It no more merits serious historical criticism than the propaganda flysheet one is handed on the street corner. 

The fact that hardly any historians other than Turks and Armenians busy themselves with work on the origins and development of the Turkish-Armenian enmity and its ghastly outcome in 1915, given that neither the Turks nor the Armenians approach the subject as historians, has led to a curious situation. There have been perhaps as many as a thousand books and articles published on the subject (most of them admittedly in the first decade after the event) and new contributions continue to appear very frequently, but there has been little new and respectable research which serves in any way to illuminate the many unlit comers of the issue since the few useful document collections published in that first decade. The inspiration for this reflection, and for this review, is two recent books by Armenians on this bitter subject, both dealing primarily with the years 1915-1922. 

To be fair, Abraham Hartunian's book [ Abraham H. Hartunian, Neither to Laugh nor to Weep: a Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, transl by Vartan Hartunian, Boston, Beacon Press, 1968.] is not a history but a memoir. Though the author and his entire immediate family came through it all unharmed, they lived in Maras in 1915 and saw (in his case experienced) the horror of the deportations at first hand. Having spent the rest of the war in precarious hiding, Hartunian was then present for the Nationalist rising in Maras in 1920 and, having survived that, escaped with his family to Izmir only to be caught there by the entry of the victorious Nationalist army and the subsequent burning of the city. It is therefore unsurprising that he should be a bitter and unforgiving man. 

Hartunian's book is a valuable document, revealing equally in its matter-of fact account of his experiences, and in its display of that quality of blind self-righteousness, raised almost to the level of an art form, which was as fatal to the Ottoman Armenians as the meddling of the European Powers and the enmity of the Turks. In his account of the events of March-August 1915 leading up to the deportations from Maras, for example, he recounts the mass resistance to conscription of the Armenians of Zeytun (now Suleymaniye, then overwhelmingly an Armenian town and area) in March of 1915, the armed resistance to the Turkish Army by some of the young men of the town, and the clashes, killings and deportations there through April, May and June. He himself, the pastor of the small but influential Protestant Armenian community of Maras, had to destroy some of his private papers hurriedly when Ottoman soldiers came to search his house in this period. He wrings much irony from the fact that among the papers he had to destroy because the Turks might have found them to be 'just' causes for suspicion were a photograph showing the leaders of the Armenian resistance at Zeytun in military garb and a long printed poem he had written extolling their victories over the Turks. I must say that they seem to me just cause for suspicion in a country at war.


One is sick with pity at the fate of the helpless, harmless columns of Armenians being driven savagely to their deaths through the latter part of 1915, and Hartunian's, descriptions are shockingly vivid. But one is naggingly aware at the same time that he would not be greatly troubled if it were Muslim refugees suffering this fate. For example, in referring to the prolonged resistance of Armenian guerrillas in the village of Fundejak, containing about 1,500 Armenians, after the Zeytun deportations had been accomplished, he mentions casually and without any hint of disapproval that in preparing for resistance to the Ottoman Army the Armenian military leaders 'disposed of about sixty Turks living in the village' (p. 58). Throughout he displays a complete unwillingness ever to see Armenian actions as provocative, or Armenians as anything but wholly innocent victims. 

Hartunian, as befits a man of his time and background, wrote in an antique missionary style, with Biblical quotations and prayers on every page. To the extent that he was representative of the Ottoman Armenian leadership of the time it is most significant that he was aggressively Christian and determinedly ignorant of Islam and of his Muslim fellow-countrymen. He writes of 'bloodthirsty and savage Moslems' moved 'who knows with what satanic superstition'. 'The Turk', he says, 'does not know the meaning of compassion, love, pity'. Writing of the immediate aftermath of the World War in Maras, when some few Muslims had announced their conversion to Christianity, presumably to curry favour with the occupying power, he claims that 'the hour for the Christianization of the Turks had arrived', had it not been for the treacherous behaviour of the Christian nations of the world (p. 127). And finally, like many men who try to dignify the disasters that befall them and their works by attributing them to malevolence rather than incompetence or chance, he lapses into utter absurdity: 'I believe the French army came to Turkey to camouflage the annihilation of the . Armenians by the Turks' (p. 140). 

Hartunian's memoirs have a certain value, as a sampler of the opinions and attitudes of a leader of a small but very important portion of the Ottoman Armenian population. They have been published apparently with a much simpler aim: the furtherance of the propaganda war against Turkey. The publisher's blurb proclaims: 'The premeditated, ruthless, official campaign by the Turkish government and army to exterminate Turkey's Armenian minority which began in 1895 - ground relentlessly through twenty-seven years and 2,000,000 deaths', etc. 

 


Marjorie Housepian in Smyrna 1922 [Marjorie Housepian, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City, London, 1972; the publishers unhappily are guilty of contributing to the spread of a most undesirable fashion whereby references are not only hidden safely away in a cingle clump at the end of the book, but worse are identified only by a page number and a half-line of quoted text. In reading the text one has no idea whether a statement is being supported or not.] has set out to write a history of the destruction of Izmir (Smyrna), and has achieved both more and less than this. In her use of American consular records and Admiral Bristol's private papers she reveals quite a lot that is new, at least in detail, about the activities and attitudes of Bristol and the government he represented in Turkey during the whole of the occupation period. But since the great bulk of her sources are American or Armenian the treatment of the central topic the destruction of Izmir narrows down rapidly to an account of the experiences of the Armenian minority in the city, and of the efforts, often praiseworthy, of American consular and military personnel there as contrasted with the 'malevolent' Bristol. 

Long before that, systematic prejudice has begun to affect the usefulness of the book. Consistently, in its treatment of the Greek Anatolian adventure, the emotional tone of the book entirely overlooks whose country had been invaded, and who were the minorities who had cooperated with the invader wholeheartedly. Housepian seems almost completely without understanding of the origins and purposes of the leadership of the Nationalist movement: she speaks of the British Colonel 'Rawlinson's admiration for the old fellow' (Kazim Karabekir!)) as though he were some grizzled and ageing bandit and not a thirty-six-year-old staff officer. Her attitude to the Nationalist movement as a whole is one of regret that the petty concerns of the Entente powers prevented them from stamping it out as they should have done. 

Housepian begins with the seemingly obligatory quick gallop through the history of Anatolia from the dawn of time to 1914, ending with the Young Turks resolved to do away with the Armenians and to confiscate their properties. More disciplined and better organized than their predecessors, they were content to wait for the opportune moment to present itself . . .' One is then offered the standard Armenian account of the deportations and massacres and a somewhat garbled summary of the period 1915-1919 before reaching the meat of the book. The author is on unfamiliar ground in this part of the book, and it shows on every page. Not just facts, but even names come out wrong: at the outbreak of the First World War, we are informed, the oil interests, whose agents scurried around the Mosul, were a mixed crew that included the British government, the German Deutsche-Bank, and the Royal Dutch Schell' (sic). 

The quality of the book improves somewhat hereafter, though the errors persist. Housepian gives an extended account of Admiral Bristol's activities as the American High Commissioner in Turkey, and interprets his 'pro-Turkism' as motivated solely by a powerful desire to secure openings for American investment, especially oil (with which industry he had extensive contacts), and to guarantee these investments by obtaining an American mandate for all of Turkey. Hence he was anti-British, anti-Armenian, anti-Greek. The portrait, based on the Admiral's own papers, is perhaps a bit overdrawn, but fundamentally it rings true. Having thus set the stage for her explanation of the Izmir events, the writers then brings us rapidly up to the actual catastrophe in the city. 

The last half of the book is taken up with a very detailed account of the destruction of the city by fire, and is given form and colour by the extensive use of eye-witness accounts (including that of Hartunian, above) and interviews with Armenians and American servicemen who were there. Housepian makes a convincing case for the involvement of Turkish regular soldiers in the fairly wholesale massacre which took place in the Armenian quarter in the days after the Turkish army entered the city, and in setting the fires there which spread to consume the entire central area. What is not proved, though Housepian assumes it without a shred of evidence, is that this was Turkish policy and not just disorderly soldiery. My guess only that is that there was a clear determination on the part of the Turks to clear the minorities out of Izmir, as indeed out of all Turkey as far as possible; that there was probably not an intention of massacre but rather a deliberately loose rein on the troops, who were understandably aggrieved by what they had seen on the way to Izmir, and for the most part peasant boys in a city for the first time, bound to loot unless under the most stringent control; finally, that the aim of the loose rein was to provide pressure to hasten along an evacuation of the minorities by the Entente powers whose ships were in the harbour. This would have provided a neat solution to the situation, the Turks not even having to make a formal demand for the removal of people who were after all Ottoman subjects. But the Entente powers for their various reasons would not cooperate; nor would Admiral Bristol for his. Even so it is almost impossible to accept without documentary evidence the writer's claim that there was an official Turkish intention to burn their own second largest city to the ground. 

Housepian's account of the eventual grudging Allied agreement after the fire to an evacuation of the minorities (except the men of military age, whom the Turks kept as prisoners and marched into the interior, whence fewer that ever returned), and of the subsequent politicking over the appropriate degree of outrage to express at the events in Izmir, is perhaps her strongest and original work. Her thesis is that the majority of the senior American officials under Bristol's influence, deliberately avoided rousing Turkish hostility to America by first pretending that the savage events at Izmir were not taking place, and afterwards by maintaining that they had not been of any large scope, while only Consul Horton, on whom she relies most heavily, struggled against them. It is probably true: surely the loss of life was far greater than Bristol's reported 2,000 dead, though probably not as high as the 100,000 Housepian accepts'. 

 


 There is throughout the work an unpleasantly dualistic approach to massacre: Muslim massacres of Christians are a heinous and inexcusable outrage; Christian massacres of Muslims are, well, understandable and forgivable. Referring to the killings of Turks in the villages round Izmir at the time of the Greek landings, Housepian can only praise the Greek community leaders who went about counselling restraint: 'That [order] could be so restored was nothing less than a miracle when one considers the persecutions which the Greeks had so recently suffered.' The trail of death and devastation left by the Greek armies and refugees in their flight to the coast in 1922 is dismissed in a single sentence: 'Now the defeated Greeks, in their panicked flight through a detested land, set the torch to their own villages, killed and maimed some of the Turkish inhabitants, and took to the roads.' 

Gwynne Dyer

 Dr. Gwynne Dyer

There is some useful scholarship in parts of this book, though the author could have done much more with British and French sources, if not Greek and Turkish. Furthermore the standard Armenian prejudice is visibly at work, though not blatantly, throughout the book, filling the logical gap in a train of argument and making the provision of proof for a claim seem unnecessary to the author, putting the reader off what may be a perfectly reasonable statement by the use of emotional language. At the end the old exhortations of hatred are brought out uncloaked. The author makes a passionate appeal not only against the verdict of history on Izmir, but against the fact that 'most British and American experts on modern Turkish history continue to overlook the shortcomings and to extoll the virtues of Turkey's emergent nationalism under the Young Turks and Mustafa Kemal', who is compared obliquely with Hitler. She explicitly inveighs against the defeat of the missionary and liberal 'Gladstonian idea that the Turks were just a scandal who ought to be liquidated', and its replacement by a more balanced view less governed by traditional Christian loyalties, the sort of conversion A. J. Toynbee confessed to in The Western Question in Greece and Turkey after he had spent some time with the Turkish Red Crescent and seen the other side of the atrocity story. Hatred of this sort is a luxury that an historian simply cannot afford. 

Why go on at such length, and in such a wealth of negative detail, merely to demonstrate something so obvious as that Armenians and Turks are incapable of approaching the subject of their mutual clashes dispassionately even at this remove? Because the great majority of those dealing with the subject are and will continue to be either Turkish or Armenian, due to the language demands, and, more importantly, the sheer disinclination of historians of other nationalities to become entangled in the question with the accompanying danger of annoying one of the parties and losing access to historical sources. One consequence of this is that most of the historiography which is being produced on Turkish-Armenian clashes is biased and unreliable; another is that it is almost entirely derivative. 

The protagonists have long since fixed on the outlines of the arguments most favourable to their respective positions of injured innocence, and quite rightly the partisans on both sides see little advantage in pushing original investigations further. There are partial exceptions like Sonyel and Hovannisian, but the more usual product is a restatement of the same tired arguments, spiced perhaps with fresh invective but based on a selection from the same common stock of widely variant statistics and bald assertions of fact a selection infrequently made with an attempt at balance and assessment, but more normally by both sides with malicious forethought. When has there last appeared a serious and innovating discussion of the development of the Armenian-Turkish conflict to the end of 1915, let alone a full-length study using the documentary sources (especially Turkish or Armenian) which have become available since the original compilations? 

I have criticised many more Armenians than Turks in this review, mostly because the Armenians, being the more injured party, and more conscious of their injury, write a great deal more about it. But it is the Turks, controlling most of the unexploited sources from which the history of the conflict could be written, who have the greater responsibility for writing it. In doing so they will have to admit to themselves that things got very badly out of hand in the East in 1915, that the government subsequently took an utterly reprehensible decision to compound the crime rather than live with the consequences, and that a great wrong was done. Armenians, too, if they are to begin writing a truer history of the tragedy, will have to give up some cherished and sustaining myths. Although I must admit that there are precious few signs to hand that indicate that these transformations are occurring, sooner or later the time must come. In the meantime the surprisingly widespread assumption that the Armenian massacres of 1915 and their near and distant origins have been 'done', as least insofar as the broad canvas is concerned (though there may remain some detail to be filled in here and there), ought to be abandoned. On closer inspection the foundations of this assumption turn out to be composed largely of rubbish. 

European historians, certainly, would now mostly agree on the wide extent of Armenian disloyalty to the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, and also on the relatively narrow compass of the overt acts of treason and revolt. They are perhaps rather less united in shedding the old propagandistic view of the CUP leaders as savage dictators ruthlessly exploiting a long sought opportunity for a much desired genocide. Closer to the truth, I think, is that there was a genuine, though mistaken, belief among the Ottoman leaders in Istanbul that there was a deliberate and coordinated Armenian uprising in the East, with Empire-wide ramifications. Further, that this belief originated in such unrelated events as the formation of Armenian volunteer corps in the Russian Army and the participation in them of Ottoman Armenians; the insistence by the Ottoman government on the application of conscription to the Armenian community, which until recently had been exempt, and the passive and eventually the armed Armenian resistance to this in some areas, especially Zeytun in 'Cilicia'; the casual savageries inflicted by Kurdish tribesmen or Armenian bandits in the course of robberies, which not only rose in numbers in the conditions of insecurity in a war zone, but also gained a new communal significance in the tense atmosphere; and, finally, the inexcusable but probably unsanctioned tyranny of Cevdet Bey, the Vali of Van, which drove the Armenians of that city to revolt. All this occurred before Istanbul made any move. 

When more work is completed on the period I believe that historians will come to see Talat, Enver and their associates not so much as evil men but as desperate, frightened, unsophisticated men struggling to keep their nation afloat in a crisis far graver than they had anticipated when they first entered the war (the Armenian decisions were taken at the height of the crisis of the Dardanelles), reacting to events rather than creating them, and not fully realizing the "tent of the horrors they had set in motion in 'Turkish Armenia' until they were too deeply committed to withdraw. As for the complicity of ordinary Turks with their leaders, hatred and revenge and blind panic were the motives for the behaviour of the Ottoman army and the Muslim Population of eastern Anatolia in the Armenian massacres, scarcely creditable motives, nor ones an Armenian is likely to forgive, but common enough in all nations and even understandable in the Turkish situation in the East in 1915. The 'final solution' attempted by the Ottoman government at the end of 1915, and all the succeeding bouts of mutual slaughter between Turks and Armenians down to 1922. grew out of those original decisions in early 1915, the history of which is yet to be written. 

 

 

Reflections by Holdwater

 

Thanks to Gwynne Dyer for trying his hand at this minefield, and for keeping a balanced mind. He is right... too few historians of non-Turkish or Armenian origin have examined the Armenian "Genocide" issue, and that is frustrating. The reasons are understandable: few Western historians wish to bother with the pro-Armenian side, as there is a googol of material written by the Armenians... which are accepted at face value, and it would be the rare Armenophile who would think these sources could be improved upon. And any Western historian who wishes to look at these events in an impartial way (since none will have as an incentive a love for Turks, given the anti-Turkish propaganda we in the West have all been exposed to) would think ytwice before daring to criticize the Armenians and Greeks, given these groups' fanatical record of attempting to destroy the reputations and even lives of those who dare offer an opposing viewpoint.

With that said, I'd like to offer my opinion on several points made by Dr. Dyer. (If you want to go back to the article and locate where these passages are from, scroll up and look for the highlighted lines.)

 

" The almost unanimous Turkish reaction has been to try to forget the whole episode, and when that becomes impossible to seek complete justification for the holocaust in allegations of wholesale disloyalty, treason and revolt by the Ottoman Armenians in the gravest crisis in the history of the Turkish nation allegations wholly true as far as Armenian sentiment went, only partly true in terms of overt acts, and totally insufficient as a justification for what was done."

Totally insufficient as a justification?  It's easy to look at this issue in hindsight, and have the luxury of saying, "Tsk-tsk. What an overreaction by those nasty Turks." Very true, it's horrible that many innocent Armenians had their fates affected thanks to the treacherous decisions their leaders made. (As Prof. Sonyel himself says in the article,  "...a minority of alien, self-seeking, sanguinary and adventurist terrorist leaders decided to convert them into pawns in the power game, by allowing their wires to be pulled by foreign powers for their own ulterior purposes.") But let's look at the end result: the desperate Ottoman Empire is in a fight for its life, especially with her mortal enemy mighty Russia at the gates. (Ever look at the long list of the Russo-Turkish wars, and determine who the usual aggressor was?) The Armenians begin their armed rebellion as early as 1914, displaying no end of "overt acts" and a disloyalty demonstrated since the days of Peter the Great . Most of the Ottoman Armenian community is fully in support of the Armenian decision to revolt. (Otherwise, their fifth column treachery, hitting their nation's army from the back and sides, could not have been the serious enterprise it came to being.) The Ottoman Empire doesn't have the time or the resources to separate the Armenian wheat from the chaff during this desperate time... when the nation's very life is at stake. What would any nation have done, under these circumstances?

If you're an American, just substitute "America" for "The Ottoman Empire" (or your own country), and then see if you will still maintain the luxury of sitting back in your easy chair and going, "tsk-tsk." If you read this other scenario imagining what the United States would have ALMOST CERTAINLY done (at least in 1923, when the article was written) if the Americans doing the rebelling were the nation's blacks, how the Turks handled the situation was actually amazingly honorable. The crimes and tragedies that occurred were a result of a shortage of manpower and resources, and widespread famine and disease that affected most citizens of the decaying empire... as Ambassador "Holier-than-Thou" Morgenthau himself laid witness to, in his phony, ghostwritten book: "thousands of Turks were dying daily."

 

" Likewise the American Armenian historian Richard Hovannisian has succeeded in treating the massacres of 1915 in considerable detail without losing his respect for evidence."

I found ironic that out of all the Armenian historians, Dr.. Dyer cited the especially partial Professor Hovannisian . However, perhaps he is the lesser of all evils... does an Armenian historian exist who looks at this subject objectively?

Ironically, the Turkish professor cited at length here, Professor Sonyel, had this to say (in 1990) to his "scholarly" counterpart:

"I personally asked Prof. Hovannisian (in 1984), why don't we come together," "I said to him and set up a sort of organization to study the Turkish-Armenian relations, and let's publish papers together. I will help you come into the Turkish archives, you help me go into the Armenian archives, we put our heads together, and we'll try to get at the root of the problem. All I received from him was a grin and a hand shake. The offer still stands."

Yep, that good old Professor Hovannisian, who gives such value to integrity and truth, did not waste any time to jump at the offer. He evidently didn't even bother to reply to the invitation by the 11th Turkish history Congress to debate the genocide topic (where the aforementioned quotation is from), when such a forum was served to him on a platter... and he didn't have to go through the trouble of initiating a similar meeting of diverse minds. If he really was that convinced of his "evidence," wouldn't he have jumped at the chance to attend? To see if he could right the awful wrongs committed against his people, by countering the "enemy"? Instead, he only appears to speak at seminars presented and attended mainly by those who hold his convictions. That's no way to hold a debate.

I guess he has learned early on that his arguments are simply too full of holes... as he displayed in a rare, early TV debate, when he matched wits against a team featuring Professor Justin McCarthy. (The writer of the article observed: "Hovannisian was visibly uncomfortable with dialogue. Monologue seems to be his forte.")

ADDENDUM: Let's bear in mind this piece was written in 1973, and Hovannisian was somewhat reasonable shortly before this time, as with his 1967 book, "Armenia On the Road to Independence." Dyer might be of a different opinion today, taking into account the hardcore Hovannisian, of recent years.

 

" ...Every once in a while the old bitterness flares again into life, as it did recently in California with the murder of the Turkish Consul and Vice-Consul there by an Armenian."

Dr. Dyer is referring to the murders of Mehmet Baydar and Bahadir Demir that took place on January 27, 1973 by a 78-year-old American Armenian named Gurgen (Karakin) Yanikian... who only served eleven years for the taking of not one but two obviously-not-all-that-important lives. (Hey, they were only Turks.) These assassinations marked the beginning of Armenian assaults against Turkish citizens, which would grow to be more than "every once in a while"... as more than seventy Turkish diplomats and their family members would ultimately lose their lives (not to mention the scores of non-Turkish lives affected) until Armenians became aware the association of the word "terrorist" with "Armenian" was becoming counter-productive.... and they called a halt to their murder campaign. The few who got caught in their terror spree served similarly lenient sentences, for the most part.

 

"Both in seizing upon this rather curious report by Commandant Larcher, virtually the only contemporary non-Turkish investigator to exonerate the Turks in the matter"

With the preparation of this web site, and having the Armenian "Genocide" coming out of my ears, at the point of this writing... I've never heard of this Commandant Larcher. Now I have to find out more about the monsieur, and add what he had to say to these pages!

(A subsequent addition: the commandant wrote a book entitled, "La Guerre Turque dans la Guerre Mondiale," Paris, 1926; here's a small quote.)

Certainly, Gwynne Dyer wrote his balanced report over a quarter-century ago, and couldn't have had the luxury to look at the evidence in the pages of this site... but there are plenty of Western investigators who put a huge damper on the Armenians' false claims. It would be rare to find anyone to "exonerate" the Turks.... it's not like the Turks were completely blameless, since massacres did occur. The main issue is, did a state-sponsored genocide occur, and where is the evidence showing intent. Unfortunately, the Turks are in the unenviable position of needing to prove a negative, as with attempting to prove the existence of God (the burden of proof should, in a fair world, lie with the accusers, and it's the accusers who need to come up with conclusive evidence, and not hearsay and hogwash. Shouldn't a party be presumed innocent until proven guilty?)

We can only put together the pieces to determine where the truth lies. There is no time machine to take us back to 1915 to decidedly exonerate or blame until impartial historians hopefully settle the issue one day. And that day will arrive, since the information war has only just begun... the Turks' adding their voice to the debate only took place in force beginning with the early-to-mid1980s. The truth will ultimately triumph, as in the case of the American Indians... but the struggle will go on for a long time, to undo the anti-Turkish brainwashing of over a century, and beyond.

 

" ...The other documents from the same British haul which show(ed) the later development of Ottoman Government intentions through 1915 towards a policy of extermination."

This is the one part of Dr. Dyer's essay I had serious trouble with. Exactly what is he referring to? I hope he's not talking about the documents discovered by British forces commanded by General Allenby, when they captured Aleppo in 1918... which the forger Aram Andonian clamed is where he got his fake Talat Pasha  telegrams from, expounding on an Ottoman policy to massacre its Armenian population (see below); surely Dr. Dyer must have been aware these telegrams were faked? Well... I guess it sounds like he believed they were real. Perhaps in 1976, this fact was not yet clear... but Andonian himself wrote his forgeries were meant as propaganda, in a 1937 letter to an Armenian in Switzerland. (Not that it prevents Armenian "scholars" from still vouching for their authenticity, as in Dr. Gerard Libaridian's case... which is where we get the expression, the "Armenian AND? Anthem" from.) 

However, Dr. Dyer refers to documents captured in Palestine, and not Aleppo (Syria), so he might be referring to something else. (Although I have a feeling he's not.) Whatever these documents captured by the British in 1918 were, if otherwise, they could not have been significant... since the British (who wanted to wipe Turkey off the face of the map) looked under every rock, and as far as the shores of the United States, for two-and-one-half years, with every document available to them under their occupation of Istanbul... and with plenty of Armenians doing the researching....  in order to desperately prove the case for genocide at the Malta Tribunal... beginning in the following year, early 1919.

If anything should come close to exonerating the Turks, it would be the Malta Tribunal... so conspicuously ignored by Armenians and their supporters within this debate.

Incidentally, I was struck with the irony of the author's writing that the Turkish professor's examples of Armenian outbreaks were not that much to prove the Armenians were seriously revolting in early 1915 ("All they prove, however, is that numbers of Armenians, especially abroad...")... and when he moves on to cite one of the two Armenian books, in that very book was testimony to the effect of the Armenians fighting against their country in the same period of early 1915. ("Mass resistance to conscription" ... "armed resistance to the Turkish Army.") Perhaps Dr. Dyer has come across other evidence in the years since he has written his fine article, that makes him less resistant to the idea.



Further light on those captured documents, according to a
Turkish source:

Armenian propaganda claiming that massacres were an Ottoman government policy requires proof that such a decision was in fact made. For this purpose the Armenians reduced a number of telegrams attributed to Talat Pasha supposedly found by British forces commanded by General Allenby when they captured Aleppo in 1918. It was claimed that they were found in the office of an Ottoman official named Naim Bey, and that they were not destroyed only because the British occupation came with unexpected speed. Samples of these telegrams were published in Paris in l920 by an Armenian author named Aram Andonian, (38) and they also were presented at the Berlin trial of the Armenian terrorist Tehlirian, who killed Talat Pasha. Nevertheless, the court neither considered these documents as "evidence" nor was involved in any decision claiming the authenticity of them.

These documents were, however, entirely fabricated, and the claims deriving from them therefore cannot be sustained. They were in fact published by the Daily Telegraph of London in 1922, (39) which also attributed them to a discovery made by Allenby's army. But when the British Foreign Office enquired about them at the War Office, and with Allenby himself, it was discovered that they had not been discovered by the British army but, rather, had been produced by an Armenian group in Paris. In addition, examination of the photographs provided in the Andonian volume shows clearly that neither in form, script or phraseology did they resemble normal Ottoman administrative documents, and that they were, therefore, rather crude forgeries.

 


Dr. Gwynne Dyer is a Canadian journalist, syndicated columnist, historian and military analyst. He is best known for his documentary television series, War, one episode of which, 'The Profession of Arms," was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985.

 

ADDENDUM: If I sounded critical of Dr. Dyer above, I did not mean to be. I just wanted to point out some discrepancies. Subsequently, I've learned more of Dr. Dyer, and his fabulous research into this area, from the 1970s. Since he's not a "one-note" scholar, he has concentrated on other areas since this piece was written. (He also might not have wanted to be targeted by what appeared to be an increasingly dangerous element.) But it is now early 2006, and Dr. Dyer has returned to the fold (not that he did not turn out the occasional "genocide" article in years past), in an essay featured on TAT. (See link below.) We must be grateful for the rare scholars like Gwynne Dyer who don't take sides, when it comes to this genocide topic, and who honestly try to travel down the middle, in an objective fashion.

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