Useful Answers to Frequent Questions on the Armenian Genocide by Dennis R. Papazian
The Armenian Genocide of World War I is sometimes called the forgotten genocide since it happened some 90 years ago, and it has left the public mind. On the other hand, it is still a living issue to the survivors and their progeny, as well as to all right thinking people who believe that all genocides must be accounted for. Many scholars and intellectuals have argued that if the Allies had punished the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide after the war, namely the leaders of the Young Turk party of the then Ottoman Government of Turkey, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis would not have carried out the Jewish Holocaust during World War II. After all, Hitler read about the Armenian Genocide in his contemporary newspapers while he was a corporal in the German army and his bosom friend, Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter was actually one of the hundreds of foreign witnesses to mass killings of Armenians during WWI and notified the German Foreign Office, allies of the Turks, that the Turkish Government was attempting to eradicate the Armenian population of the Empire. It is worth looking into whether other Germans who were in Turkey during the Armenian Genocide later became active in the Nazi Party.
Why is the Armenian Genocide the "forgotten genocide," and the Holocaust so much in the public mind? Just think for a moment what would it be like if all of Turkey had been occupied by the Allies and war crimes trials had been brought to a successful conclusion. The episode would be widely followed, the chief perpetrators punished, and restitution made to the survivors. The survivors would then urge the world to remember their tragedy and seek to prevent such a tragedy from happening ever again.
And just think for a moment if the Nazis survived World War II and there were no Nuremberg trials for the perpetrators of the Jewish Holocaust. The Nazis, just as the Turkish government today, would deny the Holocaust and its memory might fade into history. The Jews of course would demand recognition and attempt to keep their tragedy in the public eye, but most of the public would forget over time and the Holocaust might be known today as the "forgotten Holocaust."
The Turkish government has spent millions of dollars on public relations experts attempting to eradicate from the public mind a memory of the Armenian Genocide or at least to cast doubt in the public mind. This attempt is made easier by the fact that few Americans today know anything about Turkey, Turkish history, and most certainly Turkish geography. The Turkish government does not have to disprove the Armenian Genocide, it merely needs to cast doubt on what happened in 1915-1923.
Their job of propaganda is made easier by the inclination of most Americans not to think evil of anyone and always give the accused the benefit of a doubt. Genocide is so ultimately an evil that there are not two sides to it, and those who perpetrate it, or their legal successor, must face the consequences of their actions. The greatest aid to the denialists are the nice people who don't want to take sides.
Fortunately, there are now persons in Turkey who are speaking out about the Armenian Genocide, but the more these few speak out, the more the reactionaries make outlandish claims. At the time of this writing, early April 2005, there seem to be indications that the Turkish government will make some kind of simple form of confession in the nature of, "Oh, we don't see it as Genocide but you may call it what you will."
I have given below the chief arguments of the Turkish government and its supporters in denying the Armenian Genocide. I have also answered these arguments in brief, below, and in more detail and other of my writings.
Frequent arguments proffered by the Turkish Government are below. The answers follow in plain text.
Genocide is a crime against humanity, and there is no statue of limitations on genocide -- not even one 90 years old. At the time the Armenian Genocide was being carried out, the Allies called it "a crime against humanity and civilization." The term genocide had not yet been created by Rafael Lemkin, but "genocide" means the murder of a nation, a term which the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, used in his report to the U.S. State Department.
The fact that a major crime against humanity takes place 8,000 miles away from the United States makes it no less a crime. Was Hitler justified in killing Jews because he was 5,000 miles away? Should American troops not defend Saudi Arabia because Saddam Hussein was 9,000 miles away?
It was the old Ottoman Empire that committed the crime, but present-day Turkey becomes an accomplice after the fact by its expensive campaign of denial, denial not only for itself but for the old Ottoman Empire. This principle of becoming an accomplice by the cover-up of a crime is part of the rule of law.
America was the first country to recognize the Armenian killings as "the murder of a nation," that was before the word genocide was invented, and continued to recognize it until misguided officials sought favor with the Republic of Turkey by joining in an ugly, and quite unnecessary, distortion of history.
The Armenian Genocide was witnessed by hundreds of American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire who worked among the Armenians for nearly 100 years. They have testified to the destruction of the Armenians by the Young Turk controlled Ottoman government
The Genocide was also witnessed by American consular officials, stationed in the areas inhabited by the Armenians, who reported it to the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Henry Morgenthau.
American Ambassador Morgenthau confronted the Young Turk leaders, trying to persuade them to cease and desist, and then he telegraphed the American Secretary of State calling the Turkish action an attempt at "racial extermination," another synonym for genocide.
The American Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, wired U.S. Ambassador Morgenthau to continue the strongest possible protests to the Ottoman government on behalf of the Armenians.
The Armenian Genocide was well-reported in the American press, such as the New York Times, and in dozens of weekly and monthly journals such as were read by the American public before the spread of radio and television. Furthermore, the U.S. Senate held contemporary hearings which affirmed its reality.
President Woodrow Wilson agreed to draw the boundaries of a free Armenia and sent a message to Congress asking for permission to establish a U.S. mandate over the new state.
I ask this] "Not only because it [the mandate] embodied my own convictions and feeling with regard to Armenia and its people, but also, and more particularly, because it seemed to me to be the voice of the American people expressing their deep sympathies. At their hearts, this great and generous people [the Americans] have made the case of Armenia their own.
The American people raised millions of dollars to aid the victims of the Genocide. Our older citizens will remember aid to the "starving Armenians.
President Herbert Hoover wrote in his Memoirs:
Probably Armenia was known to the American school child in 1919 only a little less than England ... of the staunch Christians who were massacred periodically by the Mohammedan [sic.] Turk, and the Sunday School collections of over fifty years for alleviating their miseries. . . .
There was no reason for the Americans to lie. America was a neutral power during the time of the Armenian Genocide. In fact America never did go to war against Turkey but kept up diplomatic relations so that it could retain missionary property, try and gain economic concessions, and give relief to those Armenians who survived, mostly children.
Anyway, who are these Turkish propagandists and their fellow travelers to accuse the Americans of lying? The Turkish state is far from having a clean record in this regard.
The Turkish government and its supporters have adopted the line of "leave Armenian history to the historians" because they do not have objective scholarship supporting their allegations and have resorted to propaganda. Currently, they are losing their propaganda battle. The issue of the Armenian Genocide is not a question of historical truth; that has been settled by historians. It is rather an issue of morality, legality and the acceptance of the truth.
History is too important to leave to historians. By leaving the Armenian injustice of World War I uncorrected, the stage was set for the Holocaust of World War II. The abandonment of the Armenians was not lost on Hitler. Hitler said before sending his troops into Poland, "Go, go kill without mercy. Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?"
America is the moral leader of the world. We must set the record straight, to rehabilitate America's innocence, extricate the U.S. from an ugly distortion of history, and restore America's respectability in the eyes of our European allies who, accepting the truth, are amazed at America's hypocrisy.
No principled Turk should be offended by the truth. After all, a large number of Armenian survivors of the Genocide owe their lives to devout Muslim Turks, Kurds, and Arabs. To be a patriotic Turk does not require hating Armenians or distorting history. In fact, there are Turkish scholars who recognize the Genocide and urge their government to come to terms with Turkish history. A few, including Taner Akcam, have published books on the Armenian Genocide
Truth is not divisible by two. Is there another side about Hitler who gassed Jews, about Stalin who starved Ukrainians, or about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge who massacred Cambodians? Of course not. Genocide is so blatant an evil that it has no other side to the story.
The Turkish government has confessed in earlier times. Prime Minister Damat Ferid Pasha placed the blame squarely on the Young Turk Party and held war crime trials in which the chief perpetrators were condemned to death.
PrinceAbdul Mecid, the heir apparent to the Ottoman Throne, said during an interview: "I refer to those awful massacres. They are the greatest stain that has ever disgraced our nation and race. They were entirely the work of Talat and Enver. I heard some days before they began that they were intended. I went to Istanbul and insisted on seeing Enver. I asked him if it was true and they intended to recommence the massacres that had been our shame and disgrace under Abdul Hamid. The only reply I could get from his was: 'It is decided. It is the program.'"
Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later surnamed "Ataturk") said in a 1926 interview with a Swiss reporter that "these holdovers from the Young Turkey [sic.] Party should be made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred. . . ."
And, of course, Hitler knew and drew a lesson from it. As he sent his Death Heads troops into Poland to start World War II, he said: "Go. Kill without pity. Who nowadays remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?"
It is doubtful that three million Turks died in World War I. Turkish propagandists sometimes use the more correct, but still deceptive, expression "three million Muslims." Yes, three million Muslims probably did die in WW I, but so did twenty million Christians. What has that got to do with the Armenian Genocide?
The Turks died, unfortunately, because their own government led them into World War I against the European Allies. Many Turkish Muslims also died fighting Arab Muslims, who were seeking their freedom from Ottoman oppression, and Indian Muslims who were with the British Middle East army in Mesopotamia. All this Muslim blood, then, is on the head of the Ottoman Turkish government and not on the victimized and helpless Armenians.
There were at most around three million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, most of them old men, women, and children, and they can hardly be blamed for the death of three million "Turks or Muslims." That is absurd.
When the armed government of 25 million people turns on and attempts to exterminate an unarmed minority of three million old men, women, and children, it is hardly an "intercommunal struggle," "an ethnic feud," or "civil war"; it is nothing more or less than genocide. The Turkish government had a bureaucracy, tax money, an army, irregular troops, the local police, and special killing squads to carry out its mission. What did the Armenians have?
If it was a feud between Turks and Armenians, what explains the genocide carried out by Turkey against the Christian Assyrians at the same time?
Furthermore, Turkish armies invaded the fledging Armenian Republic in the Caucasus inhabited by indigenous Armenians in order to wipe out not only Armenians in the Ottoman Empire but also Armenians who lived elsewhere.
Since when do model countries deny their citizens human rights and religious freedom?
Turkey's thinly veiled military dictatorship with its long history of human rights abuses, its repression of the legitimate aspiration of the Kurds for cultural autonomy, its historic antagonism towards the Arabs, its invasion of Cyprus, and its current denial of freedom to Armenian and Greek institutions in Turkey hardly make Turkey a "model modern Moslem country."
If the Turks as a group are disliked and feared by most Europeans, the Kurds, the Arabs, the Greeks, and the Armenians, perhaps there is some reason. The Turkish people ought to demand that their government throw off its atavistic ghazi mentality, modernize its feudal agrarian economy, outgrow its penchant for military government, and end the abuse of human rights and persecution of minorities. Many Turks want this change and should be encouraged.
The Turkish archives covering the period of the Armenian Genocide are not opened to the public. They are only open to Turkish scholars and persons friendly to Turkey.
The Turkish archives have been closed so long that scholars have no idea of what is being, or has been, purged. Furthermore, the work of the Genocide was done under the aegis of the Committee of Union and Progress, a shadow government similar to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and in particular by its Special Organization (Teshkilat-i Mahsusa) under the notorious Dr. Behaettin Shakir who was sentenced to death in absentia by a Turkish court-martial following World War I. Will their records be opened? There is no talk of that.
What could possibly be of interest to the Turkish government, relevant to the Armenian Genocide, in the Armenian archives? Armenia was not even reestablished until 1918 after the Genocide has been effectively completed. Rather we already have the American archives, the American missionary archives, the British archives, the Russian archives, the Italian archives, and even the archives of the Germans and Austrians, the allies of the Turks.
Ambassador Morgenthau, who informed the world about the Armenian Genocide, was there when it happened. Admiral Mark Bristol, who became U.S. High Commissioner in Turkey after World War I, did not even arrive in Turkey until 1920. Since Bristol was not in Turkey during the Genocide, and the Armenians had already been killed, he had to ask the Turks what happened. Bristol could only talk to the executioners of the Armenians, the Turks. The Turks are hardly creditable witnesses to deny their own crime.
Bristol, a stern military man, liked the military junta ruling the post-World War I Turkey, and he eagerly talked about the "bad qualities" of the Armenians and Greeks. Do "bad qualities" justify genocide? If so, that might put even many Turks and Americans at risk.
What concerns the Europeans is not the religion of the Turks, but rather their values. Judeo-Christian culture, which characterizes the Western world, is dedicated to developing a moral society with civic institutions. Democracy and faith in the beneficent value of truth is the current manifestation of this aspiration. If the Turks were to thirst after justice and righteousness, values to which we in the West aspire, they would most certainly be welcomed in any society. As I said earlier, many Turks do, but they are hindered by their government.
The first sign of this new morality would appropriately be for present-day Turkey to acknowledge the Ottoman genocide of the Armenians.
The Hitler statement, which Turkish propagandists have questioned, was authenticated by Dr. K.B. Bardakjian, at Harvard in 1985 from secret notes taken by German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris during Hitler's speech. (See K.B. Bardakjian, Hitler and the Armenian Genocide[Cambridge, MA: Zoryan Institute, 1985]).
The assassinations of Turkish officials which began by two small clandestine groups in 1973 were stopped in 1985 by Armenian public opinion. Armenians do not need terrorists, because people of good will, having studied the Armenian case, now have greater understanding and sympathy. There is no Armenian terrorism today, and the Armenian public has sympathetic feelings toward those who were killed.
The Turkish apologists play with numbers in a grotesque way. They argue that only 600,000 Armenians were killed not 1.5 million. Would this change the basic truth that a genocidal massacre occurred in 1915-1923? Almost the entire Armenian population of Turkey was wiped out by its own government, the Turkish government. Does it really make the actions of Turkey better if they succeeded in killing only 600,000 Armenians and not 1.5 million? In any case, it was genocide.
The Turkish apologists insist that Armenians were also killing Turks. It is true that scores of Armenians fought back successfully. But how can you compare pockets of self-defense with murder by a government? The Armenians were killed by their own government, the Turkish government; they sometimes fought back to protect themselves.
Armenians all over Anatolia, not just on the eastern war front, were wiped out. The cities of Yozgad, Sivas, Caeserea, Hadjin, Marash, Adana, and Ankara -- just to name a few -- are hardly in the east. One needs but to look at a map of Turkey to see this. Turkish apologists depend on American ignorance of geography to make such foolish claims
Both the Turks and the Russians offered the Armenians autonomy. Neither promise could be trusted. Truth is the first victim of war. Neither the Turks nor the Russians had a history of granting their subjects freedom. The last tsar, Nicholas II, would not even share power with his own Russian people, which prompted the Russian revolution during World War I. Russia even forbade Armenian refugees, who had managed to flee the Genocide, from returning to their ancestral lands, which the Russian armies had overrun during the war. Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky, foreign minister of Russia in 1895, summed up Russia's traditional stance by saying, "Yes, Russia wants Armenia, but without the Armenians."
The question is not that of individual Turks and individual Armenians. Historically, many Armenians and Turks have developed close friendships, and I for one have many Turkish friends. The issue is the stance of the Turkish government toward the Armenian Genocide and indeed of the Turkish government's current repression of minorities. When the Turkish government faces reality and changes its backward policies, then individual friendships between Turks and Armenians can extend to a comparable relationship between the Armenian Republic and the Turkish Republic. One first sign of Turkish change would be to lift the embargo which it has presently in place between Turkey and Armenia.
The above document comprises pages 27-31(revised and updated) of the booklet What Every Armenian Should Know ©, which was written by Dr. Dennis R. Papazian and published by the Armenian Research Center in 1991. The booklet is still available for purchase from the Armenian Research Center for $5, postage included, Armenian Research Center, The University of Michigan-Dearborn, 4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn, MI 48128-1491.