The Genocide Against the Armenians by the Turks
Armenian News Network / Groong
August 27, 2022
by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor
LONG ISLAND, NY
On 22 January 2022 an article by Krikorian and Taylor entitled “The Genocide against the Armenians by the Turks” was posted on Groong. See: https://groong.org/orig/ak-20220122-SH-II.html
This posting is a continuum of that article from a slightly different perspective.
We are told by today’s Turkish Government and its supporters that the very idea of an Armenian Genocide having occurred in the Ottoman Empire under cover of World War I is highly contentious. Indeed, ‘the Turks’ say it is a figment of the Armenian imagination. From the Armenian perspective, it represents an unforgivable crime and is an all-too-raw truth. There has been no closure of this festering wound to the Armenian psyche.
One challenge to the Armenian perspective that must be acknowledged openly is that the Genocide is indeed not widely or properly understood or construed by very many. It happened so long ago. After all, the year 2015 marked 100 years from the inauguration of its onset.
One can justifiably ask, “Just who is responsible for this inadequate understanding of the Armenian position?” Admittedly, the Genocide is much too frequently presented in such a way as to do little more than validate one or more of the wide-ranging biases of those people or governments positing that view depending on their views or perceptions.
Nowadays, most people who are even remotely connected with those who survived the Genocides are the descendants of those who might best be described as dispossessed kids. That is not to say that children cannot recall trauma, but a counter argument could be made and has been made that what children remember is a very limited, highly personal experience - not a panoramic one. To add insult to injury, many Armenian children survivors of the Genocides lost their identity, not just their last names, or even their first names. Approximate truths are at best all one is going to retrieve from survivors who were youngsters at the time of the Genocide.
The two of us have taken on the challenge as we see it from the Armenian perspective in a very modest way to give an account of what is meant by the Armenian Genocide for the sake of history if nothing else. We know very well that ‘the Turks’ would prefer to follow a path of universal amnesia or amnesia for all, but the responsibility of those of us who know better should not allow this path of “Chosen Amnesia” to be successful.
We acknowledge what happened to the Assyrians and Greeks was genocide as well, but we will leave it to those who know the exact facts more intimately than we do to expound upon them.
Let it be said at the outset that weaponizing the Internet has become a fine art, and an expensive one. First of all, weaponizing of course inevitably involves skillful targeting of an appropriate audience. More than a few propagandistic articles include the notion that what they have to say is “precedent-setting” – of course ‘everything’ proverbially represents a new approach. What is being said represents a beacon of honesty and truth. In reality, such presentations usually involve a single source for the story.
Let it be said early on that all genocides are preventable, especially nowadays due to the extensive capabilities for near-real-time communication. Few can legitimately say “We did not know genocide was a possibility, or that a genocide was taking place.” If there is a will to stop genocide, there is a way! The major difficulty is that too few want to intervene. The ‘will’ is lacking.
We believe, more rightly than wrongly, that images, when carefully selected, and properly attested and attributed, can be nothing short of determinative in a broad range of matters relating to the Armenian Genocide. Images go far to help construct meaning. They can provide a history lesson.
One very important role photographs and images can play is that they can obliterate nuance. A challenge is however to accurately construct meaning from images. Our work has shown that some incorrectly attested and attributed dramatic photographs from the period of the Genocide were fabricated or deliberately attested, to emphasize the experienced trauma. Actual period photographs are usually lacking because taking pictures during what has come to be designated the Genocide period was officially not permitted or sanctioned.
We have learned through experience that for some, employment of blatantly incorrect pictures poses no problem whatever because they have been found to be so politically valuable and this fosters a steadfast determination not to discard them.
The Turks in response to this ill-adopted path see it as an open invitation to Turks and their supporters to ridicule the Armenian position. They therefore make an enormous and disproportionate outcry, a big deal so to say, out of this admittedly stupid behavior on the part of the Armenians. (We wish to draw attention to the fact that given the way the human brain works, there is a conflation of actions taken by a few Armenians to say “all” Armenians. Likewise, the actions or attitudes of ‘the Turks’ are conflated to include “all Turks.”)
Turk governments have been desperate to prevent any political introspection by the Turk populace, or admission of wrongdoing on the part of their ancestors. They continue to disseminate their own equally bad if not worse brand of disinformation, and struggle to get alternative words into any discussion so as to obfuscate matters - whether related or virtually unrelated to the topic.
Phrases like “ethnic cleansing” are detestable in our view. They do nothing but skirt, more precisely suppress dishonorably, the reality of the issue. ‘The Turks’ and their supporters do everything possible to keep a very safe distance from the truth so far as the Genocides are concerned and clutch at any straw they can. For example, it is well known that the expression “Armenia” was for many years exclusively an ethnological expression, not a bona fide geographical name of a country in Asia Minor or western Asia. But it was surely a non-state nation. This was especially so in the period of the Ottoman Empire and the time of the Genocide against the Armenians. The fact does not matter that “Armenia” can be found on countless maps dating from the remotest times, and that Turkish Empire maps included labels for sections where Armenians lived, albeit not necessarily as a majority population. No Armenia, no Armenian genocide. Simple?
We have chosen to insert here an interesting yet complex map that provides a very interesting perspective on how the Ottoman Empire came into being. Its constituent nations are emphasized nicely we believe. The map, published in 1896, was produced by an Australian-born scholar in Britain while he taught at King’s College, London. The dimensions of this now rare map are 26 X 30 inches; it is described as ‘folded in cover.’ To enable a closer examination of the map’s components, we have presented it in sections. British Library and National Library of Scotland copies are the most accessible to would-be viewers.
See next 2 panels for enlargement of this timeline scheme.
To be brutally honest, the best that Armenians seem to be able to do is to repetitively provide a series of random observations and thoughts on the Armenian Genocide. Few accounts are really definitive. The Turks insist there was no pre-supposed plan to exterminate or liquidate the Armenians. To support this willfully erroneous contention, research efforts by the Turkish Government and its supporters design and carry out their research to verify their pre-supposed narrative. In a word, the research is pre-ordained in both intent and outcome.
Basically inconsequential, self-appointed “experts” never seem to hesitate to write nominally authoritative accounts. These accounts are advertised as “authoritative” by those who produce them. The Turks have done, be it admitted, a good job at what has recently come to be known as “post-truth politics.” To be successful, all it takes is an ignorant population. This is something that is not in short supply today.
Let us use one example to expand on this. The views and research of the late, authoritative, outstanding reporter and writer Dr. Robert Fisk has been attacked by Jeremy Salt in an article published as recently as April 2021 in an Istanbul University Press Turkish journal - nominally an International Journal of History- called History Journal. The article makes so many inaccurate statements it would take an article of at least equal length to refute it point by point. Robert Fisk died in October 2020 and therefore could not defend himself. One might ask why it was only after Robert Fisk was dead that the essentials of his work published years earlier was contested by Salt? The answer is of course that Salt’s intent was to undermine the reputation of a sterling reporter with whom he could not legitimately compete.
We diplomatically said many years ago that Jeremy Salt doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Admittedly, some might credit him with a very fertile imagination - a vague ‘compliment’ indeed. Cherry picking is his specialty and he is not even very good at that. Salt’s essay “History, Journalism and Propaganda: Robert Fisk and the “Armenian Question.” History Studies, vol. 13/2, pgs. 341-370 (2021) is in our opinion, a disgrace to the phrase publishable scholarship.
We would ask, “Did Dr. Salt ever contemplate referring, for example, to Roxana Fertillini and Alexandra Croft’s paper “The Case of an Armenian Mass Grave” published in Journal of Human Rights 8, pgs. 829-244 (2009)?” Did Professor Salt ever air anywhere his ‘academic’ wrath and vent his ‘expert’ criticism against Dr. Fisk for his report communicating dug the bones and skulls of massacred Armenians out of the Syrian Desert with my own hands” published on April 19, 2015 in Horizon Weekly.ca (published weekly in Canada’ see https://horizonweekly.ca/en/65999-2/)?
To get on with our relevant impressions and random rants about the age of manufactured ignorance, we now pick up briefly the initially voiced thread on our views about imagery. In the very least, good, relevant photographs help in visualizing history. How they are selected by the user is dependent on the intention and indeed the impact response wanted or anticipated. A major problem is that in predominantly Muslim societies, often (inevitably?) run by autocratic rulers, there is a fundamental well-understood fact that the Muslim rules over non-Muslims. Any and all rights allowed for the Christians, for instance, were and are really only more or less quietly unenumerated despite the public and nominally legal position that they have long had equal or equivalent rights. The Turks ripped the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks of their full humanity and rights as human beings. So far as the Genocide committed against the Armenians is concerned, the most one can say about Muslims is that the mass violence was tolerated for the most part if not openly supported. The majority of Muslims did what they were told by the authorities. That does not mean that there were no “good Turks.” There were more than a few. What motivated them is another matter.
In this day and age, none of this reality ought to matter much since there is so much disinformation out there that no extra concern probably needs to be voiced. Indeed, all this matters very little if one is dealing with people who ruthlessly and jealously guard their ignorance. Lying has become a sport or honored tradition.
Nowadays, there is virtually no responsibility for ethics in many places, especially places like Washington, D.C. or any of the capitals of the World. The Turkish government has long since abandoned journalistic principles in telling their narrative of the late Ottoman Genocides - way earlier than anyone had access to the Internet. Ethical principles ‘went out the window’ years ago.
We today have a whole class of people, some of whom define themselves as professional journalists who are very adept at lying. Such behavior allows the Turkish Government to step away from any responsibility vis a vis the role played by its predecessor Empire in the various Christian Genocides. Modern Turks are not the naïve observers they would have you believe. It has been voiced by foreign journalists that if there is any point of history that virtually all Turks are unified on, it is that there was no Armenian Genocide!
On occasion, the excuse is used that intended precision in the ‘official’ narrative is lost in foreign languages. On this view, translations get it all wrong. We agree that one may indeed become tangled in the idiom of another language, but it is really rare that one ends up losing the true intended gist. Some writers are very good at coming up with creative excuses.
Another point worth mentioning is that pictures of personalities rarely give insight into personality and motives behind behavior.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II is a perfect example for us to contemplate. Some who nominally knew him well personally said he was a very timid, refined gentleman. Lew Wallace (1827-1905), an American lawyer and military man and indeed man of many talents claimed to know and love Sultan Abdul II and was in fact his confidant. Lew Wallace was perhaps best known as the author of the well-known novel Ben Hur. A Tale of Christ which was published back in 1880 and translated into 11 languages. Wallace became the American Plenipotentiary in Constantinople from 1881 to 1885 and was quickly befriended by the Sultan who often sought his advice. Lew Wallace personally found it difficult to attribute the Armenian massacres to this timid, gentle soul who was admittedly very astute but lacked courage in Wallace’s view. He believed that the massacres must have been grossly exaggerated (see https://www.ben-hur.com/meet-lew-wallace/diplomat/ and also Ben-Hur: the original blockbuster by Jon Solomon, Edinburgh University Press, 2016, pgs. 158-159.)
The Chicago Tribune newspaper of Friday 22 February 1895 pg. 11 printed an article entitled “Armenians Hiss Gen. Wallace.”. In it we read,
“The audience was large and many Armenians were present who expected to hear an attack on the Turks and the Sultan. They went there to listen to another story of the Armenian atrocities. In this they were disappointed. The gist of the lecture was a defense of the Turk, and Gen. Wallace said in a few introductory remarks he believed the tales of horror had been much exaggerated. He eulogized that the Sultan, who he said he had learned to love and respect as a personal friend. He praised the personal peculiarities of the Turks as a people and asked the people to suspend judgement in the stories of massacre by the Turks and Kurds until the report of the international commission is received. He said it is only a new phase of an old story of a religious feud. Several times hisses were heard. Gen. Wallace also praised the Armenians as brave and peaceful people.” The article ends with “The Armenians say they will prepare an answer to Gen. Wallace’s address.”
A couple of days later, February 25, 1895, a letter was published on pg. 10 entitled “Sultan in New Guise. Chicago Armenian takes issue with Gen. Lew Wallace.” This response merits reproduction here in full because it is a dignified letter and contains much insight and many details. To facilitate reading, the letter from the Armenians is broken into 5 sequential parts.
From page 10 February 1895 of the Chicago Tribune.
From page 10 February 1895 of the Chicago Tribune.
From page 10 February 1895 of the Chicago Tribune.
From page 10 February 1895 of the Chicago Tribune.
From page 10 February 1895 of the Chicago Tribune.
Several years ago, we visited the Ben Hur Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Our intention was to see just what might be available there in terms of photographs of Sultan Abdul Hamid that might have derived from the period of service spent in Constantinople by Lew Wallace. The Museum is quite an interesting place but there were only a few photographic items, and they were unfortunately faded and time damaged.
The Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana has several items that Lew Wallace acquired while in Constantinople including a very early sketch which he made on site of the Sultan. The sketch of the Sultan shows him as being more than a bit fuller in the face than those of him provided earlier.
Sketch of Sultan Abdul Hamid II by Lew Wallace.
The sketch is undated but has to have dated from between 1881 to 1885,
when Lew Wallace served in Constantinople.
It might be appropriate to say here that images presented as “illustrations” of personalities give the viewer little information beyond what the observer may be able to observe or conclude for himself or herself based on the topic of the respective paper or book.
Over the years, there has amounted to what might be called a “ dynamic sealing of genocide.” This means that what qualifies to be called a genocide depends on opinion - hence use of the adjective “dynamic.” This position is food for academics and self-appointed pundits [the term pandit has been borrowed from Sanskrit meaning ‘learned.’]. Some have become very good at creating a brand which is very different from reality. They are very good at concocting an overarching narrative. The fact that “genocide” has been defined legally in International Law seems to matter little.
For us, the bottom line has been more or less satisfactorily resolved for the time being at least by conceding the following.
The time has long since passed when everyone starts asking more relevant and pertinent questions about the complex, nuanced, interconnected matters that provide the crux of getting the story quite right. That means that the ‘ball is in our court,’ or the responsibility is ours. If we do not do it, who will?
It has remained foremost in our minds that there are often differences in desires or orders, and their execution. Perhaps that is a factor that has not been sufficiently examined. One argument put forth in defense of the ‘Turkish’ perspective is that the evidence is clear that ‘all’ Armenians were not exterminated. That is of course based on the view that genocide intends to eliminate all of the target population. We won’t bother to argue that.
It may be instructive to read the views on that topic by William Wheelock Peet (1851-1942), a man with wide experience and an impeccable reputation who had overseen American Missionary interests in Turkey since 1881. He put it quite directly and uncharacteristically bluntly when he wrote the following in 1918.
[Peet, W.W. 1918. Effective distribution of relief funds in Turkey. The World Court (New York) vol. 4, no. 11, pgs. 583-585; especially at pg. 585.]
“It is characteristic of Turkish methods, be they good or bad in their aims, that continuity of action is seldom practiced. To one acquainted therefore with the Turkish character it is not surprising that a movement which appeared at the outset for its purpose the extermination of an entire people, would later lose its fury, and indifference and even toleration be displayed by the Central authorities, and especially by the local officials, towards the efforts taken to ameliorate the condition of the victims of their hatred. The war in its progress brought a host of measures of more engrossing importance than the pursuit of work of full extermination of peoples already “reduced” and so it came to pass that those engaged in the distribution of relief have been allowed an increasing degree of freedom in their approach to the suffering people and in their efforts to relieve their necessities. Each local committee is still within reach of the Central agency at Constantinople through the medium of the bans and other methods of financial exchange and that the funds sent to Constantinople can be forwarded to the local committees. However distant, and although diplomatic relations with Turkey have been severed by the action of the Turkish Government, the Committee in New York is still able through the considerate action of the State Department and the War Trade Board, to forward its funds to the Central Agency at Constantinople.”
If one is to take the views just expressed into account, a fair amount of hitherto lacking perspective is provided on the Genocide. It certainly challenges the standard perspective of the typical ‘Turk’ like that expressed in “The Diary of a Turk” by Halil Halid (A. and C. Black, London, 1903). On pg. 127 Halid wrote:-
“Yes, people in this country [Britain] heard much about the massacres. Doubtless they were abominable, and doubtless many innocent persons were slaughtered. But it is only common justice that one should try to find out what were the reasons for attacking Armenians before one judges, and condemns those who did so. It is a fact that there never was such an outburst of enmity to the Armenians before; if there had been, there would not be over two million living in the Ottoman empire now.”
The fact that all Armenians were not massacred is hardly justification for massacres being an accepted way of imperial administration.
The main reason we believe ‘the Turks’ do not wish to admit the reality of the genocide committed by their ancestors is economic liability. Recall the truism “Follow the money trail.” The post-Ottoman Empire Turkish governments have always feared that reparation would be sought by descendants of the murdered and displaced Armenians, not to mention the Assyrians and Greeks who also suffered genocide. It is not, we maintain, a matter of ‘appreciating’ justice and what is principled. Most of the survivors of the Genocide ended up living impaired and disrupted lives for the rest of their lives. How does one come to grips with that or even begin to achieve monetary compensation?
Ignorance, fear and laziness prevent the descendants of those who carried out the genocide from exerting sufficient effort to learn the truth about their past. Was what happened preemptive mass slaughter, was it what is sometimes called revanchist genocide, that is a ‘reactionary genocide’ or what? Was the real motive to destroy any semblance of an independent people in the Ottoman Empire called Armenians? Was the furor unleashed by the Young Turks against their Empire’s Armenians a sign of their behaving like blood thirsty brutes and unmitigated barbarians? Is it enough for their descendants to admit that the language of “botched deportation” or “relocation” was accurate and not a non-committal word intended to hide the horrors? The Turkish government of today is caught in the trap of trying to sustain their lies. Everything of necessity has had to be and continues to be embedded in the narrative they wish to promote.
Censorship thus becomes normalized. It ends up being a sort of selective “curation” of ‘reality.’ One ends up stoking any controversy with lies. The system becomes a victim of erasure. Fake news generates fake history. It ends up being yet one more example of post-war myth making. What’s more, falsehoods from nominally authoritative ‘academic’ sources enable leaders to ignore facts. They end up relying on the apathy of the general disinterested public. After all, as mentioned early on, it was in the distant past that ‘we’ are talking about. The last thing they want to do is to properly construct history. It is a lot easier to punch holes into any narrative that challenges their views.
Many Armenians on the other hand, react by pretending to be politically righteous. One could even make a case for defending their use of ridiculously wrong and concocted images. At the same time, it is hard for individuals like us to believe that serious people would make such nonsensical claims. One possible explanation, but not a justification, is that what one calls “media optics” seems to be what matters most in this day and age. Facts be damned, if necessary or expedient.
Fictionalized versions of true events provide yet another avenue for telling a distorted story. All this amounts to a symbolic manifestation of what genocide should be all about. Should one call this “narrative warfare?” Why not simply call it a distorted and warped version of the truth? After all, denial of the late Ottoman Genocides means that the present ‘leaders’ are not obliged to acknowledge or make repairs for the massive thefts that took place
A fair amount has been written and said about how nations that are tied to Genocides in their past can learn to deal with their past. It is not easy and there is much resistance to this admission. In the case of Turkey today, their adamant refusal to entertain even a modicum of responsibility or association with responsibility, or even a very remote identity with a criminal deliberate Genocidal past, renders any ‘advice’ virtually useless.
What to do?