because I am removed from the immediate passions that would have thus
arisen, however, I hope to be able to view what happened with a more
dispassionate, and therefore accurate, perspective," says Michael
Gunter... in the following excerpts, from a 1986 book
entitled, "Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People": A Study of
Contemporary Armenian Terrorism (Contributions in Political Science,
Number 152, Greenwood Press.).
Pursuing the Just Cause of Their
Armenian claim that they were victims of a premeditated genocide does not ring true
The growth of the incidence and importance of terrorism in the contemporary
international system has been mirrored by a prodigious outpouring of literature on the
subject. Precious little, however, has appeared about the Armenian terrorist attacks
against Turkish diplomats and property, a campaign recently termed by United States Under
Secretary of Defense for Policy Fred Ikle as "one of the most dangerous and most
neglected of all terrorist movements…" and by a journalist who interviewed one
of the terrorist leaders as "the most mysterious and best-organized armed formation
operating in the Middle East and Europe."
Outraged over the alleged genocide of some 1 1/2 million Armenians
by the Turks during World War I and the resulting loss of their ancestral homeland, Armenian
terrorists in the past decade have murdered 30 Turkish diplomats or members of their
immediate families, including 4 in the United States. In addition, some 34
non-Turks have been murdered and over 300 wounded because they happened to be in the
terrorists' line of fire.
It was as if a particular poison had entered the Armenian system
several generations back, and had remained within it...
When the terrorists have been apprehended, however, some
Armenian apologists have implied that the terrorists have a right to murder and should
not be prosecuted. After Hampig Sassounian was found guilty of assassinating Kemal
Arikan, the Turkish consul general in Los Angeles in 1982, for example, some Armenians
in Boston announced: "What occurred throughout Hampig's trial was a mockery of
justice, an attempt to stop the Armenian people from actively pursuing their cause…
We are outraged by the…guilty verdict…"
"Armenians protest misuse of judicial
system," proclaimed another article in the same Armenian-American newspaper.
Referring to the trial of two other Armenian terrorists, who had murdered the Turkish
ambassador to Yugoslavia in March 1983, the same publication declared: "To
consider it a criminal act distorts the selfless struggles of the Armenian Youth, who
are pursuing the just cause of their people."
Embassies of Turkey in such disparate locations
as Athens, Beirut, Belgrade, Berne, Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid, Ottawa, Paris, The
Hague, and Vienna, as well as the Turkish delegation to the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Turkish Center at the United Nations also
have come under attack. The Turkish Consulate in Geneva has been bombed on two
separate occasions, the consulates in Los Angeles and Lyons once, and the Paris
Consulate seized and occupied.
quality of McCarthy's work compared to others, his figure (of 600,000 Armenian dead) is
probably the most accurate accounting we have.
The Turkish Airlines (THY) offices in Amsterdam, Copenhagen,
Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Milan, Paris, and Rome have been bombed too, making good a
terrorist threat against "any Turkish institution that lies within its striking
limits." Foreign governments have been cautioned to "lift the protection thus
far accorded" to Turks and Turkish property or else be "held responsible for the
innocent victims within their own personnel [sic]," while travelers have been advised
against using any form of Turkish transportation "because they might become the
innocent victims of our rage."
Furthermore, non-Turkish air-lines or their offices, such as Air
France, Alitalia, British Airways, El Al, KLM, Lufthansa, Pan Am, Sabena, Swissair, and
TWA, have been hit because of their commercial relations with Turkey.
Indeed, even foreign governments such as Canada, France, Italy,
Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland have been threatened because they tried to apprehend
Armenian terrorists within their jurisdictions. After seriously wounding Kani Gungor, the
Turkish commercial attache in Ottawa, Canada, for example, a message from ASALA menacingly
declared: "We warn the Canadian authorities against all initiatives against our
compatriots as well as the utilization of any kind of force or violence against
them." In another overt threat, this time to French authorities, ASALA warned that
unless political asylum was granted to four terrorists who seized and occupied the Turkish
Consulate in Paris, "there is no doubt there will be a confrontation between them and
us."' ASALA also threatened to attack "all Swiss diplomats throughout the
world" unless that government released two Armenians held after a bomb they were
preparing exploded prematurely in their hotel room in Geneva. Lufthansa offices in Rome
were bombed "as a punishment for the German government which helps Turkish
fascism." Even the Vatican and the Pope specifically have been threatened with a
"hit" because of their support of Ansha, an affiliate of the World Council of
Churches that helps Armenians emigrate from Soviet Armenia and thus, in the words of ASALA,
aids in "the traffic of Armenian emigrants."
In the United States the Turkish State Folk Dance Ensemble
performances in California were canceled because of threats and a bombing, the Ataturk
Centennial night organized by the American-Turkish Association of Houston was disrupted,
and in January 1982 Armenian extremists broke up a Turkish history class at the University
of California - Los Angeles being conducted by Stanford J. Shaw, a prominent professor of
Ottoman studies. In addition, Professor Shaw's home was bombed, his office at the
university broken into and ransacked, and frequent verbal and written threats of violence
hurled at him. Finally, he was forced to cancel his regularly scheduled classes and go
into hiding. The apparent reason for this harassment was the pro-Turkish views he
expressed in his History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, 1977. Replying to an
inquiry concerning this matter, William D. Schaefer, the executive vice chancellor at
UCLA, wrote: "Because an international terrorist organization is involved, the
University's power to remedy the situation is limited."
On August 7, 1982, striking for maybe the first time on Turkish soil
itself, Armenian terrorists indiscriminately slew ten passengers at the Ankara (Esenboga)
International Airport, while wounding seventy-one others. Illustrative of the hatred
motivating them, Levon Ekmekjian, one of the terrorists captured during the Ankara raid,
declared, "It wasn't enough," when police told him how many had been killed and
wounded. In reference to the massacres of Armenians by the Turks in 1915, one of the
gunmen yelled, as he fired at his victims: "More than a million of us died! What's
the difference if 25 of you die?"" As Michael J. Arlen, Jr., a measured Armenian
critic of the present terrorist campaign has explained elsewhere: "It was as if a
particular poison had entered the Armenian system several generations back, and had
remained within it: a poison that one might up to a point live with but that caused the
limbs suddenly to twitch, or the mouth-perhaps in mid-sentence to grimace
Although their present terrorist activities began only in the 1970s,
Armenian terrorism itself is nothing new. Neither is the strategy behind it or even the
international support it has elicited. To decipher the roots of the current Armenian
terrorist movement, it is necessary to analyze briefly its historical origins in the
nineteenth century as the "Armenian Question" and the deportations and massacres
that the Armenians suffered during World War 1.
Then, with this necessary background understanding, the main
analysis can commence. Specific attention will be given to the beginnings, in the 1970s,
of the current terrorism, the terrorist ogranizations involved, their modus operandi,
transnational connections, the question of Turkish harassment and counterterror, and
finally the conclusions that can be drawn and the recommendations that can be made for
terminating the terrorism. It is hoped that what follows will help everyone to better
understand objectively an issue which has for too long been wrapped in subjective
An unpopular minority
whom the Muslim majority considered traitors, the Armenians received little sympathy
from the local population, which itself was suffering grievously from the wartime
THE ARMENIAN QUESTION
Can these two diametrically opposed
interpretations be reconciled? Given the understandable passions they stiff evoke
and the ossification of positions that has occurred, it will be very difficult.
Gwynne Dyer, for example, concluded that most Turkish and Armenian scholars are
unable to be objective on this issue and described the situation as one of "Turkish falsifiers and
The disparity in the number of Armenians who
died during the years in question is only one example. As cited above, the Turks
would have us believe that only "some 100,000 Armenians may have died,"
while the figure of 1,500,000 is the one most frequently given by the Armenians.
Both are probably gross exaggerations. After a careful study and necessary
adjustment of Ottoman census statistics, plus a consideration of the number of
Ottoman Armenians who safely reached exile, Justin McCarthy has concluded that
approximately 600,000, or 40 percent, of the Ottoman Armenians perished due to
starvation, disease, and outright murder. Given the quality of McCarthy's work
compared to others, his figure is probably the most accurate accounting we have.
The Turkish government has further maintained: "The territory in which the
Armenians lived together for a time never was ruled by them as an independent,
sovereign state. The fact of the matter is, of course, the Armenians lived in their
historic homeland "for a time" that lasted more than 2500 years, until
they were virtually eliminated during the tragic events of World War I. Furthermore,
although the Armenians spent much of their history as a buffer or subjected nation,
it is simply not true that the land they lived in "never was ruled by them as
an independent . . . state."
In the course of their 2500-year history, independent Armenian states existed in one
form or another for several hundred years, ranging in size from the Armenian Empire
of Tigranes the Great (c. 94-55 B.C.) through the eras of the Arsacids (A.D.
53-429), the Bagratids of Ani (886-1045), and the Artsruni principate of Van in the
ninth century, among others. After the arrival of the Turks, a New (Cilician)
Armenia lasted for nearly three centuries (1080-1375). Indeed, under the provisions
of the aborted Treaty of Sevres, Turkey itself initially recognized the short-lived
Armenian Republic (1918-20) immediately after World War I.
are virtually alone when they attempt to compare (Ataturk), honored for his courage
and wisdom by practically the entire world, with Adolf Hitler
On the other hand, there are Armenian
publications that similarly fail to muster the requirements of historical accuracy
— for example, those that explain how, "out of the East came a foe unequalled
in his barbarity-the slit-eyed, bow-legged Turkic nomads. . . . The Seljuks and
Ottomans with their ferocious customs were determined to annihilate the whole
Armenian race,"' or vilify "the Mongol Turk terroristic state which
acquired Armenia's ancient land by genocide. Such racist slanders stereotype an
entire nation that even at its worst has usually been respected by its most bitter
foes as tough, but honorable. The grudging respect the West granted Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)
during the famous Gallipoli campaign in 1915 is an example. Armenians are virtually
alone when they attempt to compare the founder of modern Turkey and statesman,
honored for his courage and wisdom by practically the entire world, with Adolf
What is more, Armenian diatribes against the Turks totally ignore the fact that this
so-called "Mongol Turk terroristic state" allowed the Armenians and other
Christian minorities to exist and even flourish for hundreds of years within a
multinational empire, and that for much of its history the Ottoman Empire was also a
haven for Europe's persecuted minorities such as the Jews. Even today the fact that
there is a Greek Christian majority on the island of Cyprus, which the Ottomans
ruled for 300 years until 1878, illustrates the racial and religious tolerance
manifested by them throughout most of their history. What, however, happened to the
Muslims in Spain once the Christians reconquered the peninsula? Or for that matter,
what happened to the large Muslim minorities that inhabited the Balkans into the
nineteenth century? When we ponder such questions, it is not always clear who was
"determined to annihilate whom."
Where then lies the truth in this ancient and bitter dispute? Is the truth even
possible to locate after all these years and so many previous attempts? While
recognizing the inherent difficulties, even impossibilities, here, I feel I have an
obligation to offer, at least, my tentative judgments. Admittedly, I have not
experienced these events firsthand, as have the Turks and Armenians. Precisely
because I am removed from the immediate passions that would have thus arisen,
however, I hope to be able to view what happened with a more dispassionate, and
therefore accurate, perspective. Without claiming a monopoly on definitive wisdom,
based on the above, I see the truth as situated somewhere between the diametrically
opposed positions of the two antagonists.
of the Armenians who were killed during this era died because the Armenians waged war
against practically every nation they were physically able to come in contact with
First of all, there is no doubt the Armenians suffered a great
wrong. No matter what the Turkish apologists argue, the fact remains that the Turkish
Armenians virtually ceased to exist in their ancient homeland after World War I. Although
the numbers of Armenians who died at this time are greatly exaggerated by the Armenians -
and, in addition, many of the Armenians who were killed during this era died because the
Armenians waged war against practically every nation they were physically able to come in
contact with, including not only the Turks but also, after 1918, the Russians, Georgians,
and Azerbaijanis - there is still no doubt that several hundred thousand Armenians
perished during 1915. That even more Turks also died during World War I is both true, but
largely irrelevant to the argument here because most of the many Turkish deaths resulted
from hostilities against the Allies, not the
Armenians. Gallipoli, the Russian invasion in the East, the English drive from the
South, and the starvation and disease resulting from wartime conditions in general were
the main factors contributing to the Turkish deaths.
Professor Michael Gunter
The Armenian claim that they were victims of a premeditated genocide
does not ring true, however. Rather, what appears more likely is that there was an honest,
though inaccurate belief among the Turkish leaders that they were faced with a widespread
and coordinated Armenian uprising from within at the very time their state was in mortal
danger from without. Decades of what the Turks saw as Armenian provocations and even
treason during previous wars, armed revolutionary activity between the wars, the creation
of Russian-Armenian guerrilla groups in the invading Russian army during the present war,
the defection of certain Ottoman Armenians to the enemy, the armed resistance to
conscription on the part of Armenians in Zeytun, incidents of revolutionary acts and
sabotage in the countryside, and the Armenian uprising in Van in reaction to the
unjustified but probably unofficial policies of the local governor-all led the Turks to
conclude they were in real danger from a fifth column. (Similarly, a much better organized
U.S. government unjustly interned its citizens of Japanese descent at the start of World
Indicative of the Turkish confusion here is a report at the start of the war in 1914 that
"the Russians have provoked Armenians living in our country, by promises that they
will be granted independence in territories to be annexed from Ottoman land…that they
have stored arms and ammunition in many places to be distributed to Armenians and
moreover, the…Russian General Loris-Melikov went to the Van region for the same
purpose." Turkish fear of the famous Russian-Armenian commander in the War of 1877-78
is understandable but misplaced, since he had been dead since 1888.
Could anyone conceive of Hitler allowing the Jews to continue
living in Berlin while he implemented his genocide against them elsewhere?
In addition, of course, the Ottoman Empire in
1915 was a badly decaying institution nearing the end of its long existence. In the
throes of fighting a losing war, it was pushed beyond its capacities and lost
control of the situation. Much of the gendarmerie who implemented the deportation
orders, for example, were simply poorly trained substitutes for the original force,
which was now enrolled in the regular army. Indeed, some of these replacements were
probably nothing more than brigands themselves. Discipline among them was certainly
lax. Furthermore, under such widespread conditions of wartime disorganization, the
nomadic Kurds were able to attack the deportation columns with relative impunity or
even connivance on the part of the gendarmerie. An unpopular minority whom the
Muslim majority considered traitors, the Armenians received little sympathy from the
local population, which itself was suffering grievously from the wartime conditions.
Given such circumstances, then, it is understandable how the deportations led to
widespread massacres, disease, and starvation, all of which together cost the lives
of several hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
In Constantinople, however, where the government's capacities were stronger, the
vast majority of the Armenian population continued to exist throughout the war. In
fact, their descendants still live in Istanbul today. Could anyone conceive of
Hitler allowing the Jews to continue living in Berlin while he implemented his
genocide against them elsewhere?
the Turks do indicates their guilt
For those determined to "prove" genocide, of course,
anything the Turks do indicates their guilt. In this case, it is argued that the Armenians
in Constantinople were not killed, since too many foreigners lived in the Ottoman capital,
and thus there would be witnesses. Therefore, the survival of the Armenians here also
"proves" the overall genocidal intentions elsewhere.
Certainly, however, it should be clear from the above analysis that there have been two
sides to the question, and we in the West have largely heard only the Armenian. Attempts
to demonstrate the Turks committed premeditated genocide have proven either likely
forgeries (such as the oft-cited Andonian telegrams and the apocryphal quote by Hitler,
"Who remembers the Armenians?" when he allegedly assured his associates their
genocidal assault on the Jews would not one day bring down retribution on them) or
declarations based on mere faith. To accuse the Turks of genocide in 1915 and a cover-up
in the 1980s is to ignore these elementary facts. Even more, to justify today the murder
of Turks and the dismemberment of their country in the name of a one-sided version of
history -as do the contemporary Armenian terrorists and implicitly many from the broader,
transnational Armenian community- is to make a shambles out of the very justice the
Armenians claim they seek. Although in no way excusing the massacres that did occur, these
facts put the events of World War I in their proper context.
Holdwater: Professor Michael Gunter
has been with the Tennessee Technological University since 1972; the second book he
wrote was also on the Armenians, but the last half-dozen (since 1990) have all been
on the Kurds.