There is the argument, that by recognising the events of 1915 as a Genocide, that it somehow reduces the impact of the Holocaust, that events in 1915 while horrific, can’t be compared with the systematic extermination that took place in Europe during the second world war.
Although every historical event is unique, it is said that history often repeats itself. In other words, we can discover patterns in history. These patterns sometimes have a predictive value, but most of the time are merely reminiscent of earlier events. The Holocaust in many ways was absolutely unique, and yet it did share in the character of a genocide. It is that shared character that we turn to in order to see similarities between the Jewish case and the Armenian case.
It is useless to play the invidious game: more of my people died in these terrible events than your people. Therefore my people suffered more. Or, the technological quality of the Holocaust sets it apart from the Armenian Genocide that was carried out in a more primitive fashion. I don’t think that the way people are killed makes much of a difference. It is wrong to kill, especially a whole nation, and that is that. So I have no problem in recognizing the uniqueness of the Holocaust, but I also have no problem in seeing it as a genocide and comparing that aspect with other genocides.
I honor the Jewish dead and Jewish suffering, and I hope that most Jews will honor the Armenian dead and Armenian suffering.
In the aftermath of the war, Turkey tried and executed a number of those involved and expressed regret at the events. Doesn’t that constitute a recognition?
Indeed it does, but recognition by the dying Ottoman government and not by the Turkish Republic. The war crimes trials held after World War I in Turkey, held by the Turks and not the conquering Allies, amassed a great deal of evidence which showed the guilt of many leaders in organizing and directing the Armenian Genocide. Of course it was not called a genocide in those days, since at that time the word had not yet been coined, but it was called the murder of a nation, which is a good description of genocide. But these trials left no question that the central government controlled by the Committee of Union and Progress used all of the facilities of the state to drive out and kill the Christian Armenian subjects of a Muslim state. The Sultan of Turkey, it should be remembered, was Caliph of Islam, the chief religious leader of the Sunni Muslim world.
Furthermore, these trials were carried out by Ottoman elites and not by the Young Turks themselves. Many of the old Ottoman elites were rather progressive, but they could do little to change the narrow attitudes and mores of lower class officials, imams, and certainly not those of the masses. Just as today, it is the imams who rile up the masses to kill. It is a pity that the trials were interrupted, but the evidence amassed was sufficient to condemn Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha, and Jemal Pasha, the chief architects of the Armenian Genocide, in absentia. The Turkish government in the 1940s built a monument to Talaat Pasha and named a major street in Ankara after him, thus indicating in one stroke its approval of the Armenian Genocide in the continuity between the Young Turk government and the present Turkish government.
What are the chief sources we have, that prove a systematic genocide and how reliable are the sources?
It is only people’s ignorance of the plentiful and overwhelming sources which allows some to demand proof. The proof is beyond question. We have eyewitness reports from American consular officials, American missionaries, Armenian survivors, German consular officials, German missionaries, Austrian officials, and business people of various nationalities. We even have photographs that were taken at the time by German nationals. We also have Ambassador Morgenthau’s diary and his book which was written from notes in his diary. He spoke directly to Talaat Pasha on many occasions to plead for the welfare of the Armenians, and Talaat Pasha acknowledged that he was solving the Armenian Question once and for all by killing all of the Armenians.
We also have the evidence accumulated by the investigative committees established by the Turkish parliament and by the Turkish courts martial that was used in the abortive trials. These, for the most part, are official Turkish documents. To add to that, we have the debates in the Turkish parliament in which Arabs and other members spoke out against the genocidal massacres of the Armenians which were taking place.
We also have the evidence that is consequential to the massacres. When Russian, Greek, and French armies marched into Anatolia, they could see the corpses, the bones, the burnt out houses and churches, the destroyed equipment, ravaged places of business. Even today, when I made a tour of Turkey, I saw the ruins of many Armenian churches and could identify even some of the homes of famous Armenians who perished in the genocide.
I can go on and on. But the Turkish government has established doubt about the Armenian Genocide in the minds of people who are ignorant of historical events. By planting doubt, the Turkish government can avoid arguing on substance. I have met with many Turkish scholars who quietly and privately admit that there was an Armenian Genocide, but who refuse to use the word in public lest they find themselves persona non grata in their own country.
On June 9th, 2000, 126 Holocaust scholars published a resolution (as an advertisement) in the New York Times calling on the governments and peoples of the world to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
The recent referendum in Cyprus has brought to the headlines once again the possibility that Turkey will eventually be admitted to the European Union, presuming reforms in relation to Human Rights: do you believe that official recognition of the Armenian Genocide should be a pre-condition for entry to the EU?
Not in a mechanical way, as tit for tat. A country that joins the European Union should be Democratic and adhere to generally accepted standards of European morality. Turkey can never be truly democratic unless it confronts its past with honesty and confesses its mistakes. Furthermore, Turkey must become a truly multireligious and multiethnic state, as the other European states. As it stands now, Christians are still persecuted in any number of ways in Turkey. Thus, to accept Turkey in the European Union before it gets its house in order is to ask for trouble. There are some 65 million Turks, millions of whom would gladly emigrate to Europe in order to seek a higher standard of living. Europe is not ready to accept so many people with a drastically different culture. When Turkey admits to the Armenian Genocide it will be a strong indicator that Turkey has begun seriously to reform itself.
William Dalrymple, the British author, who has written about the plight of Armenians in Turkey, argued in the last issue of Three Monkeys Online, that allowing Turkey into the European Union at this point might provide a healthy signal to the Islamic world at a time when efforts surely need to be made to counter the ”Clash of civilizations’”. Should or shouldn’t present day needs over-ride the recognition of historical events, however important?
I am not one to gamble, particularly for large sums. If Turkey were allowed in the European Union, it would not make much of a difference to the Arabs, who think of Turkey as a renegade friend of Israel and the United States. There are more Muslims in India and Indonesia than in any Arab state. What we see presently is not a clash between the Muslim world and the Western world but rather a clash between radical Muslims and the Western world. So if Turkey were allowed into the European Union, it would probably not placate the Arab world or a good part of the Muslim world. So Europe would be taking a gamble on incorporating Turkey, with very little assurance that anything good would come from it either directly or indirectly.
The assassinations carried out in the 1970’s and 80’s by Armenians against Turkish officials managed to gain worldwide attention for the Genocide. However, did the use of terrorism undermine the cause of recognition?
I don’t think so. It was from the 1970s onward that the world once more began to pay attention to the question of the Armenian Genocide. It is too bad that attention had to be attracted at the price of blood. Once attention was gained, there was no further advantage in killing Turkish officials. I believe the killings stopped just in time. The worldwide Armenian community was beginning to turn against the perpetrators since killing would not ultimately solve the problem