Who Among Us Is There Left To Blame?
Punishing the Ghosts of Our Past and Reliving the Transgressions of a Fallen Empire.
A Short Discourse on the Modern Turkish Republic and the Question of Moral Responsibility of Financial Reparations and Territorial Restitution for the Republic of Armenia and its Diaspora.
The sinless newborn is a myth. Every infant is born in tears and stained with the history of everything that came before. Once the child reaches an age of accountability, revenge is plausible. The type of revenge or “punishment” will vary and surely incite social chaos and confusion. The modern Turkish Republic is such a child. She was born with the transgressions of an empire she defeated, and has reached an age of accountability to make right the wrongs of the past. The moral debates of modern Turkey’s responsibility to the Ottoman Armenian losses and claimed ‘genocide’, remain at the forefront of Turkey’s international identity and plague her ability to progress in the minds eye of many. In the words of writer Adrienne Rich, “We are born both innocent and accountable.” The question I wish to pose is how morally accountable are we for the actions of those before us, when there is no one left to blame and the perpetrators are long gone. The empire that once existed has turned to dust and the history it left behind can only be seen in museums and old books. And yet its trangressions still continue to haunt us.
“The War to End All Wars”
During the years of 1915-1918, the Ottoman Empire (1) was in a state of reformism, population exchanges and guerilla warfare as World War 1, the “war to end all wars” was ferociously raging. A pan-Turanism movement (2) that wished to “Turkify” the entirety of the Ottoman Empire revolted against the sultanate – an empire believed to be encompassing too many foreign elements. The “Turkification” was led by the three men who are known in Armenian scholarly circles as the “architects” of the Armenian massacres. (Adalian, 2)
In Rouben Paul Adalian’s essay, “The Armenian Genocide: Context and Legacy,” Adalian asserts that “when World War 1 broke out in 1914, the Jön Türkler or Young Turks Ittihadist movement saw an oppurtunity to “rid” the country of its Armenian population.” The opposition to contention of an Ottoman Armenian genocide and a violent response on the part of the Young Turks Ittihadist Movement (2) is that the Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were “bent on exploiting Turkey’s weakness” resulting from the Ottoman “defeats in the 1912 Balkan War,” as well as aiming “at autonomy and eventual independence through Russian intervention.” Along with the above claim, Dadrian believes that the main genocide “architect,” Mehmet Talat Pasha, made allusion in a “secret memorandum,” “to certain wartime acts of sabotage and atrocities” by a group of “Armenian inhabitants” (Dadrian 124). Despite the denials of Russian aide on the part of the Ottoman Armenians, Russian General Anton Denikin praised Ottoman Armenians for their “wartime loyalty to Russia.” (Arslanian, Nichols 565).
Along with the knowledge acquired that Ottoman Armenian soldiers were fighting on the side of the Russian Empire aided in the pan-Turanism belief that Armenians longed to create a greater Armenia cohesive with the ancient Armenian Kingdom of Urartu or Bianili in Akkadian. An empire of which the most important place was Mt. Ararat or Baris as it was called by the Armenians. The kingdom is said to have included such eastern provincial towns in modern day Turkey as: Erzurum, Erzincan, Siirt, Malatya, Mardin, Diyarbakır, Sivas, Artvin, Harput, Ani, Hopa, Hemşin, Van, Kars, Zeytun, Urfa, Bitlis among others and of course, Musa Dağı or Mt. Ararat, as it is commonly known. They also claim Northern Persia as a part of the ancient Armenian Kingdom. It should be noted that to date, it has been under great deliberation on how territorial reparations can be made by the modern Turkish government. The latest “actions” taken by Turkey, in regards to the Armenian genocide, was in 2005 and 2008. In 2005 then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, went to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, to discuss establishing an Armenian-Turkish “joint study” on the events that transpired under the Ottomans and coming to a mutual conclusion on the course of action to be taken. Armenian officials refused the offer, rightly so, stating there “was nothing left to discuss.”
In 2008, Turkish president, Abdullah Gül attended an eventful soccer match and met with Armenian president, Serg Sarkissian. Sarkissian had extended an invitation for Gül to visit with him Yerevan. Gül was met with Turkish flags burning and chants of hostility and anger from exasperated and frustrated Armenian youth. Vahakn N. Dadrian’s volume Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict concentrates greatly on the main Armenian belief of the Young Turks decision to “rid the country of its Armenian population” led to massacres of up to one million persons of Armenian Christian heritage, deportations and a final mass exodus into what is now Syria, Lebanon and Iraq (Mesopotamia). This can be an explanation as to the spread out Armenian diaspora from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Russia, Italy, South America and even Glendale, California and Yonkers, New York. Dadrian notes that a “xenophobic nationalism, nurtured by atavistic impulses of Turkism aiming at the elimination of the Armenians as a non-Turkic and discordant minority,” are what inspired Mehmet Talat Pasha, Enver Pasha and Cemal Pasha to incite their followers to commit violence in the name of “Turkism”. Turkism in a sense is a type of xenophobia- one similar to that of Nazism. Inciting fear of and violence against a minority when the majority race “suffers”.
For Dadrian, the act of ethnic cleansing appears as a “draconian method of resolving a lingering conflict.” (3) Talat Pasha right away launches an attack against “separatist tendencies” being fostered in ”the Armenian community.” (Ermeni cemaati) (124) It should also be noted that according to Dadrian’s research, “the partition” (inkisâm) and the “dismemberment” (tecezzi) “of the fatherland,” were of utmost importance, and the “need to preserve and sustain the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire on the one hand, and to prevent foreign involvements on the other, have preoccupied the organs of the State.” (124) Consistent with the Armenian position that the historical events constitute genocide, Adalian adds that “the massacres first targeted able-bodied men for annihilation, thousands of Armenian men conscripted into the Ottoman army were eliminated first. The rest of the adult population was then placed under arrest”, for crimes unknown. Simply being Armenian, I gather. They were then ”taken out of town and killed in remote locations.” (3) According to political science professor of University of Southern California, Eliz Sanasarian, the actions taken against women were different. Many women, children, and the elderly lost lives during transit from heat exhaustion or hunger, younger girls were seized and taken as “slave-brides.” These accounts hark back to something Americans can identity with. Firstly, the intermixing of Turkish and Armenian blooded individuals was common practise in the Ottoman territories. Just as many Americans label themselves, almost proudly, of being “mutt” or “Heinz 57.” Therefore, a concept of a clean or pure race is incorrect when facing the Turkish ideology that they are an untouched race. On the contrary, the average Turkish person has a healthy dollop of Greek, Armenian and other ethnicities of the Ottoman ruled lands. The belief that the ruling party, being of Islamic and a Perso-Turkic origin, could rate human status of importance, reminds me of the slave trade and the forced enslavement of Africans, later brought to the Americas. The female slave girls were often raped and every inch of dignity was confiscated. The denial that a genocide is capable at the hands of the Turks, is ultimately absurd. If the Germans, for example, are considered such an enlightened, noble and modern peoples and yet very much able of acting out genocide and ethnic cleansing, why would the Turks be exempt from this human phenomenon? Many peoples within history have committed violent atrocities, how come we are such late bloomers in regards to political and historical maturity? The historical white-wash and regurgetated diplomacy and outright lies are no longer making the cut.
Turkish Perspectives Against the Idea of An Armenian Focused Genocide and Some Other Prominent Voices in Turkish Literature
Günay Övünç or Evinch (his “Americanized” surname) is an expert of International Law and Principal Attorney at Law at Saltzman and Evinch and former Fullbright Scholar. He has completed his own extensive research on the Ottoman Armenian Genocide debate and writes in his essay, “The Armenian Cause and the Turkish Awakening,” that during that time period “nearly four million Muslims of Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish and Balkan” ancestry and “600,000 Armenians, 300,000 Greek and 100,000 Ottoman Jews perished in eastern Anatolia alone.” While there is some truth to this, Övünç dilenates the issue of the mass exodus of the Armenians, nor does he attempt to explain how all those Armenians could end up so far from home, all by themselves, with no food, clothing, shelter or experience in desert-like conditions. Övünç goes on to write that the “Armenian revolt is one of many by Christian nationalist groups seeking to create their own nations from the lands of the Ottoman Empire,” and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) had “recruited over 100,000 militants” and in the “spring of 1915, ARF seized the city of Van, and had “spearheaded a Russian invasion of eastern Ottoman Anatolia,” therefore inciting retribution by means of violence. ARF? The Black Panthers anyone? The ARF is nothing new. All oppressed groups will create physically strong leaders who can “kick some ass” on their behalf. Violent atrocities and oppression can only inspire more violence and oppression. Israel and Palestine anyone?
Taner Akçam is the first Turkish historian and writer to acknowledge the event as agenocide. In his book, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, he writes that the justification of violence in the name of the state and the majority group, means that governments can be justified in just about anything under the guise of protecting the majority. Dangerous elixir. Patriot Act anyone?
Turkish fiction writers, Elif Şafak and Orhan Pamuk have been ”accidentally” outspoken about the Armenian Genocide. Both have been put to trial and have served some amount of jail time for this. Pamuk was egged and berated as he walked in hand cuffs and Şafak’s book, The Bastard of Istanbul, was burned in public and lawded as “dangerous” and a “degradation” of the “Turkish race.” Şafak served jail time, although she was later released due to international outcry for both accounts of censorship, while pregnant. Her book explored an Istanbul family’s realization of their Armenian roots. Authors, Turkish presidents, former diplomats and random citizens of Turkey have all grossly assigned the Armenian Genocide as a “scam”, a “lie” or a “myth”. Among those in denial include Kâmuran Gürün, Prof. Enver Zia Karal of Ankara University, Salahi R. Sönyel, a British historian and public activist, Ismail Binark, the Director of Ottoman Archives in Ankara, author Şinasi Orel, Prof. Mim Kemal Öke and Prof. Justin McCarthy. They have all been outspoken characters in opposition of the Ottoman Armenian genocide claims and have developed research in similar accordance with Övünç’s claims of mutual violence and Armenian disloyalty to the Turkish crown. Kâmuran Gürün notes in his book, The Armenian File-the Myth of Innocence Exposed, that “what took place in Van following the rebellion by the Armenians in March 1915 was typical of many towns and villages in eastern Anatolia” …”The stories told by Muslim villagers were all much the same. When the Armenians attacked the Muslims’ (Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Laz, Bosnians and others) own villages or nearby villages, Muslims fled with whatever moveable property they could carry. On the road, Armenian bandits first robbed them, then raped many of the women and killed many of the men. Usually, but not always, a number of women and young children were killed as well. The surviving villagers were then left to travel to safety if they could, without food or adequate clothing. The villagers were unable to defend themselves either in their homes or on the road because most young Muslim males had been conscripted. Only very old and very young males and women were left. Armenian bands, however, were made up of young males who had never been drafted, were deserters from the Ottoman army, or had come from the Caucasus.” (Gurun 196) Naturally, all of history is convulted with truths and biases, and it is not my intention to confuse the reader, but merely to present the two perspectives, or the plethora and contradictions of ideas, theories and even histories – all of which have maintained from those times until the present-day. My intention is to discuss the question of Turkey’s moral responsibility to right the wrongs of the past, the concept of “dirty hands” and the “terrorism” by the Armenian group, Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). Themes of Christianity, Islam, nationalism and ethnocentrism that have played in the demonization of both the Armenian and Turkish individual, on the part of both races, are also important to define.
What I Think?
The illumination and concentration of the Ottoman Armenian losses have been of great debate among theorists who deny the title of genocide for the atrocities committed against the Ottoman Armenians.
By focusing solely on Ottoman Armenian losses during the tumultous time, other groups have been overlooked, I understand this concern. I am aware that during and after World War 1, the deportations and population exchanges were in effect all over Europe coupled with the hosilities harbored throughout wartime allowed for anything to occur in the name of nation building and majority interests. I am also aware that nations with a great propensity to obey are also the most likely to dictate. But how can one explain the bones and mutilated bodies and physical violence against unsuspecting Armenians of the Ottoman Empire? How can one explain this well-documented atrocity against one certain group of people that got passionate about their independence, at perhaps, the “wrong time”? I, as a Turkish woman, strongly believe injustices, massacres and the end result of an Armenian (BIG GASP) Genocide occured against the Ottoman Armenian citizens. I am sure I will incur more cyber-hatred and enemies than friends by supporting this cause, but it is my truth. After a long, disheartening, yet fruitful, research period lasting a year, I have come across substantial evidence that cannot be explained away.
The Armenian Genocide has been titled by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century – it was a chance to learn a lesson, but we also let the Holocaust rage on and copied the Armenian Genocide almost word for word. The term, “never again” has so much more meaning to me now.
In Dadrian’s Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict, he writes of the thousands upon thousands of Balkan Muslims who took refuge in Istanbul, as a Turkish author wrote, “Neither doctors, nor hospitals were able to cope with the unfolding tragedy gripping these multitudes of refugees, thousands of whom were dying and for whom there were neither transport means to remove them nor any space left in the citys cemeteries. The number of cholera victims alone rose to 20,000 in Istanbul.” (145) Later on some of these Balkan Muslims were sent to the Anatolian provinces. These Balkan Muslims were starving and suffering from cholera, upon their arrival they were in desperate conditions, of which the Ottoman Empire, then herself labeled the “sick man of Europe,” was not fully prepared for the sudden influx of people from other parts of the empire.
Dadrian does not deny the suffering of other groups, but none were so brutally and mercilessly targeted than the Armenians. Photographs of emaciated and sickly people have often been overlooked by many Turks who wish to bury a past they know in their heart of hearts is true.
We are nothing without our history. No matter how far we try to run, we will carry the sins of our forefathers until we make reconciliation.
Silence is another deadly sin. Silence, is not a method to stay neutral. Silence is a method of acceptance.
When the brutal crimes are against you or your people, you can be sure that you will suddenly no longer hold yourself neutral.
I know many can say that in the Christian world Christian life is of utmost importance, and to a degree I certainly buy that. We can witness it all throughout Christian literautre, the Turkish identity is dehumanized, demonized and the worst of all, that which I hate so much and continue to fight viciously, the masculinization of the Turkish identity — there are no references to Turkish people being of the female gender. The only references to Turkish women are sexual in nature. For example, in Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of a Turk is a “cruel, hard-hearted man,” or in Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnets of Astrophil and Stella: “whether the Turkish new moon minded be/to fill his horns this year on Christian coast,” or in stanza V111: “forc’d by a tedious proofe that Turkish hardned hart.”
Sure, I buy that the conditioning of anti-Turkishness is abound, however, I can also be a witness to that the overt sexualization and mysognization of Armenian women, in particular, by Turkish men. Turkish men have often regarded Armenian women as “easy,” “sluts,” and “hairy.” There is a saying in Turkish that loosely translated says, “You are Armenian, and without wanting to, you give it (your cunt) up.” Almost insinuating that Armenian women are just asking to be raped or assaulted. There is also another disturbing saying that says, “You are Greek, you put it (a cock) inside and let it remain there.” Both again complete and utter rubbish, but there again institutionalized anti-minority sentiment.
It has been conditioned in many social circles that the Turkish people are barbaric. (Aren’t we all?) A dangerous cyclical hatred is made available to youth who adhere to information given about the Ottoman Empire, particularly those youths in the Armenian Diaspora. Diasporas largely, in what is now known as “Little Armenia” or Glendale, California, or cities like Moscow, Rome, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Paris with large Armenian populations. From such cyclical hatred comes groups like the Orly group, better known as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). ASALA committed acts of terror between 1970-1997, some continue in less dramatic ways, in the name of recognition of the Armenian Genocide throughout Europe, the Middle East and the United States, where 39 ambassadors and diplomats were killed or assasinated by car bombs or other methods and 258 innocents of various nationalities were wounded. (Fiegl)
As Michael Walzer writes in “Torture: An Introduction,” “terror in opposition is just as evil.” I am by no means, justifying the innocent lives taken. But I am trying to make the audience aware that when one feels under attack, it is only natural to incite an attack back, particularly from groups that already feel themselves powerless and tiny in front of the “enemy.” After shedding more innocent blood, the once ”innocent man is no longer innocent.” (62) He has dirtied his hands with human blood, innocent human blood. No one killed had anything to do with the Ottoman Armenian massacres. Then again the Ottoman Armenians had committed no crime except ethnic difference. This is, naturally, a sensitive point of contention. Reparation demands for “repair” of events that have happened hundreds of years before us prove to be rather difficult to practice, “of the legacies of these pasts recall the important lesson, once taught us by Barrington Moore that even liberal democratic socieites were born in fire and blood.” (Torpey 9) Many would counter, however, that coming to terms with ones history is the only way one can move forward, and bringing us one step closer to peace and making us, perhaps, less likely to act in violence or nationalism again.
Some who don’t agree with me, will say this is naïve.
Even after Nazism and Germany’s $60 million in financial reparations given to the Jews, Europe saw Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns, against Bosnians and Albanians, and other Muslim minorities. If the modern Turkish government has no correlation to the Ottoman courts and indeed modern-day Turkey cannot be put to task via war tribunals dictated at The Hague and various international human rights laws cannot be enacted on behalf of the victims against the perpetrators, then who among us is there left to take the blame and punishment? Is there an actual human we can take to trial? Or are we searching for the ghosts of our pasts?
In March 1919, the Istanbul government held Military Tribunals by which to punish the perpetrators and enact justice on behalf of the victims. However, German military had already taken Talat Pasha and Cemal Pasha to Berlin for safe keeping. Some Armenian scholars have even gone on to claim that Germans and Kurds were just as active in the violence inflicted upon Ottoman Armenians. During the tribunals a figure of 800,000 Armenian victims were said to have perished. (Akcam 182) Shortly after these tribunals were held, Mehmet Talat Pasha and Cemal Pasha were assassinated by Armenian youths in Berlin on 21 March, 1921. The German courts acquitted the Armenian youths from any charges and they were set free. In a sense both the workings of ASALA and the assassinations of the perpetrators are at least some acts of revenge. But is it simply violent revenge that will heal these deep wounds?
Of course, we can say that any comment from the Turkish government is mere opinion. One should not feel they have the right to punish others for their opinion, namely the Turkish government, even if it is conflict with their own perception. Many might even add that no one is punishing Putin for Stalin’s transgressions, nor Spanish President Zapatero for the Spanish Inquisition. Or even that the French killed one million Algerians during the riot of colonial power and violence, no one is out for vengence against Sarkozy. It tends to be easier to pick the splinter out of another persons eye, before recognizing the log in your own.
I have come to believe that reparations and restitution today for the modern states of Armenia and Turkey proper include a multitude of problems. However, I do not believe that an apology alone is all that can suffice for the victims. Indeed with an apology comes monetary or territorial compensation. “Talk is cheap,” as we have heard so many times before. (Torpey 23)
If Turkey were to cede lands historically believed to be ancient Armenia, Turkey would be left with no buffer zone. Better yet Europe would be left with no buffer zone. I do not believe that this is something the Europeans or even the United States would want to happen, needless to say the Turkish government; this lack of a buffer zone to “protect” not only western Turkish provinces but also to “protect” Europe from the Middle East. The European Union and the United States need a country with the military power and long lived friendship and diplomatic ties that Turkey has with both. Turkey has one of the largest and most powerful militaries in the world. Imagine for a moment that Turkey did not exist on the map, Greece would meet Iraq, Iran and Syria. Eastern Turkey is somewhat of an expendable battleground. I would also add that the eastern provinces are largely populated by Kurdish peoples, the lands revered by some as Armenia’s historic homeland, are the same ones considered by many Kurds as the dreamed of Kurdistan. To cede the lands on which the Kurds are (barely) living on today, would incite civil war in eastern Turkey. This chaotic atmosphere would not bode well for an already disastrous Iraq war, in which the Kurdish “question” plays a significant role. Another long story for another long blog post.
Turkey is a nation of multi-ethnicities and religions (to date 47), some of which have been violently and silently eradicated, pushed out or forced into migration through radical nationalism that claims we are “one race” and that “Turkey is for the Turks” (at times these ideologies remind me of radical Americanism).
Some say that there is no way to lay appropriate blame, and maybe they are right. It would be like shooting to kill while blindfolded in a dark room full of people. But we can still admit to our pasts, histories and remind ourselves that we cannot erase history or who we once were. We are nothing without our histories.
1/ The Ottoman Empire was formed by the Turkic tribe of the Osmanli people that originally came from the Central Asian steppe, later re-establishing themselves in ancient Persia. Ottoman sultanate reign existed from the gates of Vienna to Mecca from the 16th to early 20th centuries, leaving their mark on all cultures in between through music, ethnic dress, food and even language. The Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany in World War 1. According to Dr. Herbert Adams Gibbons (1915) Great Britain and France aided the Young Turks by lending them money and weaponry, “to establish a new regime.”
2/ The Jön Türkler or Young Turks Ittihadist Movement longed to “Turkify” the Ottoman Empire. They have been revered in some nationalist groups within modern day Turkey as “war heros.”
3/ After and during World War 1, ethnic cleansing campaigns were rampant and common practise. They were often called repatriation or population exchanges. Similar to the Indian Removal Act or the African Repatriation in the Americas. For example, 1.5 million Greek from Turkey, 400,000 Turks from Greece (of which my family were apart of), 102,000 Bulgarians from Greece, 35,000 Greeks from Bulgaria, 67,000 Turks from Bulgaria. 800,000-3 million Armenians from Turkey. After and during World War 2, 110,000 Romanians cleansed from Bulgaria, 62,000 Bulgarias from Romania, 1.2 million Poles taken from areas of the German Reich, 700,000 Germans cleansed from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Yugoslavia and Italy, 6 million Jews exterminated, 600,000 Soviet citizens of Chechen, Tatar and Pontic Greek heritage banished to the Urals, 14 million Germans cleansed from Poland, then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, then Yugoslavia and Romania. 140,000 Italians cleansed from Yugoslavia, 31,000 Hungarians cleansed from Czechoslovakia, 33,000 Slovaks taken from Hungary. Since 1948, 45,000 Turkish Cypriots were cleansed from Greek Cyprus, 160,000 Greek Cypriots cleansed from Turkish Cyprus. 30,000 ethnic Turks cleansed from Bulgaria. 2.5 million displaced persons over result of conflict in former Yugoslavia. This does not even include those persons from Africa, Asia, South America etc. (Jackson Preece)
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Akcam, Taner. A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.
Akcam, Taner. Insan Haklari ve Ermeni Sorunu: Ittihat ve Terraki’den Kurtulus Savasina. Ankara: IMGE Kitabevi, 1999.
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