The following interview with Prof. Guenter Lewy
appeared in the Turkish newspaper, Zaman.
This is followed by a translation of another interview, appearing in the
Turkish newsweekly, Aksiyon.
of Ottoman Intent to Destroy Armenian Community
by Selcuk Gultasli
Published: Monday, April 24, 2006
Brussels (ZAMAN)- Gunter Lewy, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of
Massachusetts/Amherst, argues in his latest book ‘The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman
Turkey: A Disputed Genocide’ that what happened in 1915-16 was a huge tragedy but
was not genocide as the Ottomans had no intention of exterminating the Armenian race. The
Armenian lobby in the US tried hard to prevent the publication of the book, but Prof. Lewy
does not want to go into details about the Diaspora’s efforts to block his book. Though
Prof. Lewy gives the details of the massacres and accuses some Turkish authorities of
distort history by denying significant massacres, Prof. Lewy has been attacked by Armenian
hardliners as a “denier.” Here are the excerpts from Prof. Lewy’s interview with
Though you reach a figure of 642,000 Armenians killed in 1915-16,
you argue that there was no intention to wipe out the Armenian race. Is lack of intention
on its own sufficient not to call the incidents genocide?
According to Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948, “intent to destroy” is a
precondition of genocide. A large number of dead alone is not sufficient. Thus, for
example, collateral casualties of an aerial bombing do not constitute genocide, no matter
how large the number of victims. There exists no evidence that the Ottoman regime had
intent to destroy the Armenian community.
The Armenian Diaspora claims that you wrote this book with the help
of the Turkish government, implying that you are serving Turkey’s interests. What is
I am a retired professor of Political Science, the author of 10 other books published by
prestigious publishing houses such as Oxford University Press. I wrote this book as I
wrote all of my previous books – with the help of American foundations such as the
American Council of Learned Societies. I also had a travel grant from the German Academic
Exchange Service. I did not receive financial support from the Turkish government or any
other government. I have not seen the allegation you refer to but it is part of the
campaign of vilification Armenians wage against anyone who questions their version of the
tragic events of 1915.
Armenian “genocidier” scholars argue that ‘you are not
even an expert; you do not even speak Turkish’. They also accuse Jewish origin
American scholars of distorting history by denying the so-called genocide.
I came to this topic as part of a planned
comparative study of genocide. I am not a Middle East expert (even though I lived 8
years in the Middle East) and I do not read Ottoman Turkish. However, the archival
materials and other original sources in Western languages are more than adequate to
research this topic. The reports of American, German, Austrian consular officials
who were on the spot in Anatolia, as well as the accounts of foreign missionaries
who witnessed the deportations are richer and better sources than what is contained
in the Turkish archives. A requirement that only persons fluent in the Turkish
language be considered competent to write about this topic would, disqualify most
Armenians who also do not know Turkish. The argument that Jewish scholars deny the
genocide because they are Jewish and want to defend the uniqueness of the Holocaust
is indecent as well as irrelevant. A book has to be judged by its content and not by
the motive of its author.
The West was not at all concerned about the Muslim cleansing
of the Balkans, but charities exist to help Ottoman Armenians all over the Western
world. How do you explain the West’s astonishingly different reaction to the
Muslim atrocities in the Balkans in 1912-1913 and the Armenian atrocities of 1915?
Obviously, all human life should be of equal worth. The West took its time in
reacting to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, but it did
eventually react forcefully and halted these atrocities. Armenian misdeeds during
World War I were often ignored because Armenian propaganda was well orchestrated and
the Western world did not expect Christians to behave this way. The horrendous
events of World War II have since taught us that no nationality, no matter what its
religion or cultural achievements, is immune to outrageous criminal conduct in war.
You quote in your book (pg. 246) that “massacre, outrage and
devastation have always been congenial to Turks.” Do you think this prejudice was
pivotal in the Western attitude to Armenian massacres?
The allegation often made by Armenians that Turks love massacres and devastation
because of their national character was indeed shared by many in the West who
likewise condemned the “terrible Turk.”
Can you compare and contrast Shoah and the Armenian massacres?
Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish Question – the Holocaust or Shoah –
aimed at the total destruction of the Jewish people. The Armenian massacres of World
War I were not committed at the behest of the Ottoman government, and that fact
alone makes a crucial difference. The fact that the large Armenian communities of
Istanbul, Izmir and Aleppo were exempted from the deportation is another important
indication that the Young Turks had no genocidal designs against the Armenian
minority of their country.
You argue that Salahi Sonyel put the number of Armenians deported at
800,000, Kevorkian at 870,000, Bogos Nubar Pasha at 600,000-700,000. How is it possible
that Armenian scholars reach a figure of 1,500,000 killed (not even deported) and that the
West seems to agree with this number?
Unfortunately many Western scholars and parliamentary bodies simply repeat the Armenian
allegations without critical examination as to their veracity.
Why do you think Armenians waited until 1965 to call what happened
in 1915 genocide?
I am not sure why the Armenians waited until 1965 before they alleged genocide. It is said
that the impact of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 was deeply demoralizing. Also, the early
1960s brought a lot of scholarship on the Jewish Holocaust of World War II, and the
Armenians may have sensed an opportunity to cash in on this aroused humanitarian
What is the West and Russia’s share of the responsibility in the
Western governments and Russia had often made promises of Armenian autonomy or even
independence. These promises undoubtedly encouraged Armenian revolutionaries to go on the
attack, cause large casualties among the innocent, and thus provoke Western or Russian
intervention on their behalf. By making promises that were not kept the West probably
shares some of the responsibility for the events of 1915-16.
In more than several pages you accuse Dadrian, a renowned scholar on
the Armenian ‘genocide,’ of either of exaggerating the facts or excluding documents.
How widespread and ingrained is this attitude among Armenian origin scholars in terms of
Many Armenian scholars use selective evidence or otherwise distort the historical record,
but V. N. Dadrian is in a class by himself. His violations of scholarly ethics, which I
document in my book, are so numerous as to destroy his scholarly credentials.
Do you think the Armenian Diaspora’s tactics, i.e. making as many
countries as possible recognize the 1915 incidents as genocide, will have any affect on
Turkey to recognize it as a “genocide” without a court ruling?
It is the business of legislatures to legislate and not to decide contested historical
questions. Turkey should insist on this principle and not give in to outside pressure with
regard to the alleged Armenian genocide.
What is the way out? You argue that there are some Armenians
who will be satisfied “with an official statement by the Turkish government that
it deeply regrets the great suffering of the Armenians during World War I” (pg
269) How plausible is this argument?
Since writing the book and expressing in it some optimism about Turkish-Armenian
reconciliation I have been to Turkey, and I am now more pessimistic in this regard.
European pressure has caused a nationalistic backlash among many Turkish
intellectuals, and I think it extremely unlikely that the Turkish government will be
willing to make a statement of regret of the kind that has been proposed. The
Armenian Diaspora, too, appears to be getting more demanding and extreme.
How shall Turkey approach the issue? Should Turkey do more,
other than offer to establish a joint commission, which was immediately refused by
The idea of a joint historical commission is a good one. In order to be credible, it
will be important for the Turkish historical scholars to do better than the work of
the Turkish Historical Society has done so far. The fact that the president of this
society, Yusuf Halacoglu, is a person who does not even read English is a scandal.
|Genocide Allegations Are Baseless
Interview in "Aksiyon"
Another interview with Prof. Lewy (in Turkish) has
appeared in the publication Aksiyon. (aksiyon.com.tr/detay.php?id=22917) With thanks to
reader Fatih Ipek for the translation, here is the English version:
Guenter Lewy, a historian who specializes in historical genocide, made important
allegations regarding the events of 1915. “Genocide legislations are not legally
binding,” According to Lewy, let alone committing genocide, the Ottoman Empire did
not even have the intention of genocide. He said that history will be written by
historians, not by parliaments. Lewy suggests that the goal of recent ‘genocide’
legislations by some parliaments is to provoke Turkish nationalism.
One of the most renowned historians in the
field of historical genocide, Dr. Lewy demonstrated in his book “The Armenian
Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide” that the Armenian
allegations of genocide are based on fabricated documents. He did this at a time
when the parliaments of 17 different countries which are led by European countries
and the US, made announcements that the genocide should be recognized. Guenter Lewy
has not just recently become interested in what happened in 1915, he has devoted 52
years of his life to historical genocide. His fact driven views on the alleged
Armenian genocide have just begun being discussed in different platforms. His
findings on the alleged genocide will be discussed by Armenian Diaspora and other
historians. As he stated, “History will be written by historians and by facts, not
by parliaments.” We talked to Lewy about his book and the alleged genocide claims
in Ankara at Estergon castle. This is the second time he has been to Turkey and he
was invited to Turkey by Gazi University and Avrasya Bir Vakfi which is a non-profit
Q: What is the main claim in your book?
A: It does not matter what genocide means or what genocide does not mean. My goal is
to try to find out what happened in 1915 and how and why without the question
without focusing on whether it was genocide or not. This will enable us to
understand the tragic events of 1915 better.
Q: Instead of focusing on whether there was genocide, you
recommend focusing on the reasons for the events and deaths. Why?
A: To categorize the events is the biggest mistake. Instead of categorizing it, we
need to understand what happened. Why and how? Before answering these questions, you
cannot categorize the events. The term genocide does not really help us to
understand what actually happened. On the contrary, it prevents the exchange of
ideas and face to face communication. Because everyone who is fixated on genocide
does not focus on why and how the events took place, which are the most important
aspects in understanding what happened. In other words, the concept of genocide is
the biggest reason why we cannot understand what happened in 1915. If we treat what
happened in 1915 as historical events, this would result in a better understanding
of each other among Armenians and Turks and a better understanding of what happened
Q: Which countries' archives were you able to research?
A: American, Turkish, German, Russian and British. I would like to have access to
Armenian archives as well. Dashnaks’ archives are very important. Historical
research cannot be based on one document, different documents from varied sources
need to be analyzed and compared.
Q: You state in your articles that Armenian deaths in the
First World War were not planned massacres by the Ottoman Empire. What are the facts
and documents that support this theory?
A: There is concrete evidence proving that mandatory relocation was not genocide.
The first piece of evidence is that nothing happened to Armenians who were living in
Istanbul, Izmir and Halep. This would be akin to Hitler leaving alone the Jews who
lived in Munich or Berlin. Could this have happened under the Nazi rule in Germany?
If it were genocide in 1915, the Armenians living in Istanbul, Izmir and Aleppo
would have been killed as well. Secondly, the claims that the Ottomans took
Armenians on a death trip are being debated by Armenians. The relocation was tough
and the circumstances were hard. There were not a lot of transportation choices and
The Ottoman government allowed more affluent Armenians use the railroad. Thus, the
goal was not to kill the Armenians. If it were, the Ottoman government would not
have allowed some Armenians to take the railroad.
Q: Is there any other evidence?
A: Another piece of evidence that proves that 1915 events were not planned is that
the gendarmes were assigned to protect Armenians who had to relocate. In some cases,
some gendarmes were very aggressive because of orders from commanding officers.
Circassians and Kurds attacked convoys of Armenians who were relocating and in some
cases Circassians and Kurds were partnering with the gendarmes. This proves that the
Ottoman government did not have a master genocide plan, but Armenians were treated
differently depending on the location where they were. All the facts prove that
there was no intention of genocide.
Q: When debating mandatory relocation or alleged genocide,
numbers of casualties are thrown out. In your view, how many people were killed in
the events of 1915?
A: We cannot determine the exact number for the population of Armenians before the
war. From my own research and from the documents that I have read, I think the
Armenian population was 1.6 million before the war. 40% of the Armenian population
died because of different causes. The majority of deaths was caused by illnesses,
followed by killings and hunger. As a result of the 3 reasons that I stated, six
hundred thousand people died. Either the deaths were definitively the result of
genocide or there is no evidence that genocide was committed.
Q: You are making these unusual scientific assertions in the
US where the Armenian lobby is very strong. What did people think of your findings?
A: The biggest problem in the US is to find people who would listen to me. I cannot
find people or platforms where I can voice my findings because my findings conflict
the generally accepted version of events. I am saying that there was no genocide. At
first, I could not find a publishing company to publish my book. Finally, the
University of Utah decided to publish my book.
Q: Are you receiving any kinds of death threats because you
said there was no genocide. Are you afraid of radical Armenians?
A: No, I am not afraid. In the 1980s, Turkish diplomats were attacked with guns by
radical Armenians. That is true, but these days they are using writing tools instead
of guns (he’s smiling), so there is not a problem. I am a scientist and I
do my job.
Q: The European Parliament passed a legislation which writes
that Turkey needs to recognize the genocide before she can be a member of the
European Union. What do you think of the European Parliament’s legislation and
similar legislation approved by other parliaments? Do they have any legal bindings?
A: In my mind, this is a historical event. This is not the business of parliaments
to comment on historical events. The European Parliament’s legislation has no
legal binding. Parliaments need to avoid making assertions on historical issues.
History should be written by historians, not by parliaments.
Q: The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
proposed to form a committee of historians from both countries, but there was not a
positive response from Yerevan. What do you think of the proposal and the fact that
it was not accepted by Yerevan?
A: This is a very interesting proposal. In my opinion, this is a good attempt. The
fact that there was not a positive response from Armenians is not surprising. I can
understand why the Armenian Diaspora did not like this offer. According to them, for
any debate to take place, The Turks need to recognize the alleged genocide and it is
hard for the Turkish side to recognize the alleged genocide. Both sides need to
exchange ideas on historical events. Both sides do not have the luxury of avoiding
the exchange of ideas.
Q: Although the diplomatic relations between Ankara and
Yerevan are frozen, $50 million of bilateral trade is taking place between the two
nations. What do you think of the actions that are taken by business men and non
A: It is very nice that business men to business men, non governmental organizations
to non governmental organizations and trade relations exist. I hope politicians and
historians follow suit.
Q: What do you think of the problems between Armenian people
and Turkish people? When and how will they be solved?
A: I do not have a good answer for this question. I was more optimistic on my way to
Ankara, but I do not think it’s going to be easy to solve the problems.
Nationalist feelings in Turkey are on the rise as a result of the European
Parliament’s legislation and the rejection of Erdogan’s proposal by the Armenian
Diaspora. Armenians need to think about this issue. In order to open doors and to
continue the relations between the two nations, The Armenians need to accept Erdogan’s
(The interview appears to have been conducted by Fatih Ugur.)
Who Is Guenter Lewy?
He was born in Germany in 1923. When Nazis were in power, he was 10 years old. As a
result of Nazi’s oppression of the Jewish people, he and his family moved to
Palestine in 1939. Then his family moved to the USA. He lost his relatives during
the Jewish genocide. In 1953, he started his academic career at Columbia University.
In his own words “All the painful memories of the past pushed him to become a
historian”. He worked on a lot of books, articles and did a lot of research to
uncover what happened in Spain and Germany under Hitler’s rule. His last book is
the one which proves that alleged Armenian claims are not based on any evidence. He
is still working as a professor of political science at Columbia University.
Lewy-Related Articles on TAT:
Revisiting the Armenian
First Genocide of the Twentieth Century?
Vahakn Dadrian Objects to Guenter Lewy
Guenter Lewy Responds to the Genocide Pros
Guenter Lewy Responds