Dr. Gwynne Dyer is back! All
truth-seekers owe this marvelous Canadian academician a debt of gratitude, for
attempting perhaps the first analysis of this hot button topic by going
straight down the middle. (That would be his classic 1973 essay, "Turkish Falsifiers and
Armenian Deceivers." Such an examination is extremely difficult,
since the discussion has become so highly polarized (not to mention the fact
that the pro-Armenian sources are so tainted and unreliable; when one goes
down the middle, one is forced to refer to biased sources such as
missionaries, consuls and genocide scholars). To my knowledge, it would not be
until the 2005 authorship of Dr. Guenter Lewy's "The Armenian
Massacres in Turkey — A Disputed Genocide" before another honest,
"down the middle" objective effort would be made.
I guess Dr. Dyer's some thirty year
absence from this Armenian genocide insanity has to be explained by the fact
that there are many more pressing issues in life to be explored, and one can
see how diverse Dr. Dyer has been in tackling many of these (from his own site); in addition, I'd
guess Dr. Dyer got the idea that sticking around this minefield is not the
healthiest practice for one's career or even health, as those not 100% in line
with pro-Armenian views have been quick to discover.
Nevertheless, it's exciting that Dr.
Dyer has returned to the fold, at least temporarily, with the following essay
which appeared in December 2005. Thank you, Dr. Dyer, for your honesty, and
A Question of Genocide in Turkey
Gwynne Dyer, Arab News
“Thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody
but me dares to talk about it,” said the celebrated Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, during
an interview with a Swiss newspaper last February. He was charged with “public
denigration of Turkish identity” by an Istanbul public prosecutor, and his trial opened
on Friday. He could face up to three years in jail.
The prosecutor’s game is fairly obvious. The Turkish judiciary is not short of
conservative nationalists who detest the wave of liberal reforms carried out by Prime
Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s government in order to qualify for membership in the
European Union. It was they who smuggled in the new law under which Pamuk has been charged
at the very time when the Turkish legal code was being purged of many other elements (like
the death penalty) that were incompatible with EU legal norms.
Their purpose in going after Pamuk was not simply to stifle the debate over the Armenian
massacres of 1915-16 that is finally opening up in Turkey. They chose such a high-profile
target because they wanted to stimulate an anti-Turkish backlash in the EU, reasoning that
if enough foreigners criticize Turkey, a nationalist backlash will shut down the whole
debate about the Armenians in Turkey, and maybe even derail the entire project for EU
The European Parliament has already obliged by passing a resolution demanding that Turkey
acknowledge the Armenian “genocide” before it can join the EU. The parliament does not
actually have a veto on new EU members, but its action helps to whip up anti-EU resentment
in Turkey. And a public trial of Pamuk, even if it fails to convict, should create lots of
further opportunities for Western-Turkish misunderstanding.
"...What happened to the Armenians probably does not
qualify, in the strict definition of the word, as a genocide."
The debate will not be shut down, however, not even in Turkey. The new generation of
Turks have a long distance to travel and the journey will be an emotionally
wrenching one, but before the end the Armenians are going to have to cover some
distance, too. Because what happened to the Armenians probably does not qualify, in
the strict definition of the word, as a genocide.
As the respected American historian Guenter Lewy writes in this month’s “Commentary”:
“The historical question at issue is premeditation — that is, whether the
Turkish regime intentionally organized the annihilation of its Armenian minority.
According to the Genocide Convention of 1948, such an intent to destroy a group is a
necessary condition of genocide....Hence the crucial problem to be addressed is not
the huge loss of life in and of itself but rather whether the Turkish government
deliberately sought the deaths that we know to have occurred.”
At least 600,000 people, and perhaps as many as a million, died in the mass
deportation of Armenians from their eastern Anatolian homeland south to the Ottoman
province of Syria in 1915-16. Many were robbed and murdered by the Kurdish irregular
soldiers who escorted the columns of deportees in their terrible journey; many more
died of hunger or exposure. And they never went home again: Anatolia today has
almost no Armenian population.
Armenians have never forgiven what happened, while the Turkish republic that emerged
from the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s has never acknowledged it. Now the Turks are
beginning to struggle with this terrible heritage, and not only to advance their EU
candidacy. As Pamuk said in October: “We are confronted with an immense human
tragedy and immense human suffering we did not learn about at school. So it is a
sensitive subject...(but) it is obvious, even in Turkey, that there was an immense
hidden pain which we now have to face.” However, Pamuk never uses the word “genocide”
— nor, significantly, does the state of Israel, the informal custodian of the
word, when called upon to comment on the Armenian issue.
What happened to the Armenians was dreadful, but as Lewy documents in his new book
“The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide,” which will most
likely become the standard work on the subject, both premeditation and an intention
to annihilate, two preconditions for genocide, were either absent or at least open
to considerable dispute.
The mass deportations were ordered during a big Russian Army
attack into eastern Anatolia in 1915 that was supported by Armenian uprisings behind
the Turkish lines. Huge numbers of Armenians died in these forced marches, which
crossed high mountains in winter, and the government in Istanbul did little to curb
the murder of many deportees by their guards and hostile villagers in the areas they
passed through. But Armenians living in areas served by the railway could buy
tickets and travel safely, there were no further attacks on Armenians who reached
Syria — and Armenians living in Istanbul and other Turkish cities far from the war
zone were left undisturbed.
Does one word matter all that much? Armenians think so, feeling that their tragedy
is being played down unfairly if they are denied the word “genocide.” Turks
think so too, believing that there is no legitimate comparison between the crimes
committed by their ancestors during the First World War and the cold-blooded
atrocity of Hitler’s Holocaust. But after three generations of what one observer
called “fossilized venom” on both sides, the argument is at last coming out into