An article was written recently by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş (www.al-monitor.com) on a speech made at a Free Syria conference by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. This was presented as a quiet strategy for opening up and resolving the Armenian issue. The title of the article was “Turkey warms to Armenia, slowly” so, there were suggested grounds for optimism.
With respect to the Armenian Genocide he stated “I am not saying that nothing happened in 1915, but I wouldn’t classify the incident as a genocide, and I believe the usage of this term is a personal preference. We need to develop new language regarding this issue. We do not deny their pain. On the contrary, we understand it. Let’s try to sort it out together but not with a one-sided charge sheet against Turkey” He went on to say “Our history does not have a record of ethnic cleansing or ghettoization…You cannot represent the Turks as a murderous race”. This is from a man who has been criticised by fellow Turks as being a crypto-Armenian; so some people would see that he has views sympathetic to Armenians. Even with this predisposition for addressing the Armenian issue his perspective is clouded by many inconvenient truths.
Raphael Lemkin who coined the word Genocide, in 1944, was inspired to do so because “it happened to the Armenians” as well as the Jews. When it comes to deciding whether the term applies we have to look no further than the author for guidance. It was subsequently enshrined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and defined as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” including “killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…” This convention has been used twice; Rwanda, and the Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia. The massacre in Srebrenica of 8000 mainly men and boys was perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs on the Bosnian Muslims and, whilst a terrible crime, was contained to one village and not on the scale of the Armenian Genocide.
Henry Morgenthau in The Red Cross Magazine (March 1918, Vol X111, No. 3) stated “As this massacre of the Armenians, judged both by numbers involved and the methods used, was the greatest single horror ever perpetrated in the history of humanity”. He went on to say “Will the outrageous terrorising – the cruel torturing – the driving of women into harems – the debauchery of innocent girls – the sale of many of them at eighty cents each – the murdering of hundreds of thousands and the deportation to and starvation in the deserts of other hundreds of thousands – the destruction of hundreds of villages and cities. Will the wilful execution of this whole devilish scheme to annihilate the Armenian, Greek and Syrian Christians of Turkey go unpunished?”. Could this ever be considered less horrific, and less focussed on an ethnic grouping than the Srebrenica Genocide? “New language” does not seem necessary.
Davutoglu’s assertion that Turkey has no history of “ethnic cleansing” or are not a “murderous race” seems to be an unfortunate statement when said in the context of Armenians. In the book “Armenian Massacres and Turkish Tyranny (1896)” by Frederick Greene he transcribes a speech by William Gladstone the UK Prime Minister, at the time, where he said “…there is widely entertained a belief that the recent proceedings of the Turkish Government in Armenia particularly, but not in Armenia exclusively, are founded upon deliberate determination to exterminate the Christians in that Empire” Isn’t this what the Nazis did to the Jews in Europe in the 1940’s?
Also in the same book, it documented an appeal from E.J.Dillon to the people of England and the British Government “The Armenian people in Anatolia are being exterminated, root and branch, by Turks, and Kurds – systematically and painfully exterminated by such abominable methods and with such fiendish accompaniments as may well cause the most sluggish blood to boil and seethe with shame and indignation”.
The definition of Genocide contemplates the notion of “inflicting conditions” upon people calculated to bring about their death. There are many references to Armenians being expelled into the desert during the period after 1915 and left to die but, more poignantly from “Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities (1896)” by Reverend Edwin Bliss referring to the earlier massacres. He quotes from a letter in the last paragraph of the book “Do they know that horrible and revolting as was the savagery of the recent massacres, they have been narrow in effect and tame in cruel barbarity compared with the deliberate, malicious and unrelenting, crushing and grinding process to which the remnant of the Armenian people are being subjected? Do these Christian powers comprehend that it is the settled purpose of this (Turkish) Government to prevent these poor people from being properly clothed and fed, and so to make famine and pestilence their executioners in the place of the assassins?”
Allied to these words from Davutoglu, he tries to paint some compromise on the issue of the Genocide by transparently linking it to the “withdrawal from a tiny part of the Azeri land that is occupied by Armenia”, as well as the opening of the mutual border, and the rejuvenation of Yerevan with imports from Turkey. It’s not clear whether the “withdrawal” he refers to is of all Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, or from the surrounding regions, and therefore to what he extent he is advocating more ethnic cleansing from the area.
The notion that a vague acceptance of the Genocide, by using “new language” is dependent on the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh, and the lure of more trade with Yerevan is beyond cynical. It is incomprehensible that these can be connected. No “new language” is required; the word Genocide was created to recognise the actions against the Armenians and if it was in use in the 1890’s the books would use that terminology instead of “massacre”, “extermination”, “annihilation”,“ethnic cleansing” etc. So, Mr Davutoglu, you are right, something did happen between 1896 and 1923, and it was Genocide, without condition, and without verbal obfuscation.
One final thought, in Morgenthau’s article written in 1918, his last paragraph echoes through the decades. “I wonder if 400 million Christians, in full control of all the governments of Europe and America are going to again condone these offences by the Turkish Government! Will they, like Germany, take the bloody hand of the Turk, forgive him and decorate him, as Kaiser Wilhelm has done with the highest orders?” Nothing seems to have changed!