The controversy surrounding the so-called Armenian genocide has again been stirred up by no less an important individual than the Catholic Pope Francis himself when he called it "the first genocide of the 20th century". The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has vehemently criticized the pope's remark. "The pope's statement, which is far from the legal and historical reality, cannot be accepted," he tweeted on Sunday.
Much to Pope Francis's willful distortion of facts or appalling ignorance, if we are looking for the first genocide of the 20th century, it is Namibia where imperial Germany unleashed genocide a decade earlier against the Herero and Nama, two ethnic groups who lived in the former colony of South West Africa (modern Namibia). In the Namibian genocide (1904-1909) 80% of the Herero people and 50% of the Nama were exterminated systematically as a result of the work both of German soldiers and colonial administrators; banal, desk-bound killers. The most reliable figures estimate 90,000 people were killed.
In the case of the Herero, an official, written order - the extermination order - was issued by the German commander, explicitly condemning the entire people to annihilation. As noted by researchers David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen (authors of "The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism"), "After military attempts to bring this about had been thwarted, the liquidation of the surviving Herero, along with the Nama people, was continued in concentration camps, a term that was used at the time for the archipelago of facilities the Germans built across Namibia. Some of the victims of the Namibian genocide were transported to those camps in cattle trucks and the bodies of some of the victims were subjected to pseudoscientific racial examinations and dissections."
The Namibian genocide is now well known and widely accepted in Africa and even in Germany. However, the Christian West has always tried to hide this fact and as it continues to do so with the forced famine of Bengal in 1769-1773.
But what about the Armenians that lived in Turkey in the early twentieth century? Were they victims of genocide, too?
As I have noted earlier, the history of the Armenian-Turkish conflict is a complicated and contentious one. Professor Justin McCarthy of Louisville University, an American historian who is a foremost expert on late Ottoman era history, believes that orthodox Western histories of the declining Ottoman Empire are biased, since they are based on the testimonies of biased observers: Christian missionaries, and officials of (Christian) nations who were at war with the Ottomans during World War I.
A little bit of history may help us here to understand the issue better. According to Prof. McCarthy, "Ethnic conflict between Turks and Armenians actually began more than 100 years before World War I. Actions of the Russian Empire precipitated the conflict. In 1800, Armenians were scattered within and beyond a region that now encompasses Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Eastern Turkey. In all but small districts, Armenians were a minority which had been under Muslim, primarily Turkish, rule for 700 years. The Russian Empire had begun the imperial conquests of the Muslim lands south of the Caucasus Mountains. One of their main weapons was the transfer of populations - deportation. They ruthlessly expelled whole Muslim populations, replacing them with Christians whom they felt would be loyal to a Christian government. Armenians were a major instrument of this policy. Like others in the Middle East, the primary loyalty of Armenians was religious. Many Armenians resented being under Muslim rule, and they were drawn to a Christian State and to offers of free land (land which had been seized from Turks and other Muslims). A major population exchange began. In Erivan Province (today the Armenian Republic) a Turkish majority was replaced by Armenians. In other regions such as coastal Georgia, Circassia, and the Crimea, other Christian groups were brought in to replace expelled Muslims. There was massive Muslim mortality; in some cases up to one third of the Muslims died."
From 1827 to 1878 Imperial Russian expelled 1.3 million Muslims. One result of this forced deportation, serving the purposes of the Russians, was the development of ethnic hatred and ethnic conflict between Armenians and Muslims. Christian Armenians were exploited by Imperial Russia to spy on and do sabotage acts inside the Ottoman Empire. The situation simply worsened with rebellions of Armenian revolutionaries in the 1890s in which cities in Eastern Anatolia were seized and many Muslims and Armenians were killed. Inter-communal warfare between Turks and Armenians in Azerbaijan during the Russian Revolution of 1905 added to the peoples' distrust of each other.
The New York Times quoted a Turkish embassy gazette in 1896 that stated: "It wasn't the Porte that caused the massacres in Armenia, but the Christian propaganda in Asia Minor where their cry, "Down with Islam," initiated the war of the crescent against the cross."
Even after 1905 the Russian authorities continued to exploit the Armenian terrorist groups to create ethnic conflict within the Ottoman Empire. General Mayewski who was the Russian Consul General in Bitlis and Van in December 1912 wrote, "The Dashnak revolutionary society is working to stir up a situation in which Muslims and Armenians will attack each other, and thus pave the way for Russian intervention."
When Turkey entered World War I as an ally of Germany against Russia, inter-communal war erupted between Turks and the Armenians. According to Prof. McCarthy, "Armenian revolutionaries, many trained in Russia attempted to seize main Ottoman cities in Eastern Anatolia. They took the city of Van and held it until Russia invaders arrived, killing all but a few of the Muslims of the city and surrounding villages."
The German General Bronsart von Schellendorf, an eyewitness during the WW I, said, "Since all the able Moslem men were in the army, it was easy for the Armenians to begin a horrible slaughter of the defenseless Moslem inhabitants in the area. They ... simply cleaned out the Moslem inhabitants in those areas. They performed gruesome deeds, of which I, as an eye witness honestly say that they were much worse than what Turks have been accused of as an Armenian atrocity."
In his testimony in front of the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives in May 1996, Dr. McCarthy stated, "I do not believe the Ottoman government ever intended genocide of Armenians. This conclusion is based on both evidence and logic: Of the masses of secret deportation orders seen to date not one orders murder. Instead, they order Ottoman officials to protect deported Armenians... Large Armenian populations, such as those of Istanbul and other major cities, remained throughout the war. These were areas where Ottoman power was greatest and genocide would have been easiest. To decide whether genocide was intended, it is instructive to compare this to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. The Jews of Berlin were killed, their synagogues defiled. The Armenians of Istanbul lived through the war, their churches open. Another telling argument against genocide is that hundreds of thousands of Armenians survived deportation to the Arab World. If genocide were intended, it must be believed that the Ottomans could not manage to kill them, even though these Armenians were completely under Ottoman control for three years. This is not believable. It was in fact in the regions where Ottoman control was weakest that columns of Armenian deportees suffered most. The stories of the time give many examples of columns of hundreds of Armenians guarded by perhaps two government guards. When the columns were attacked by tribesmen or bandits, Armenians were robbed and killed. It must be remembered that these tribes were those who had themselves suffered greatly at the hands of Armenians and Russians. Were the Ottomans guilty? They were guilty of not properly protecting their citizens. Given the situation of the time, with Turks and Kurds fighting for their lives against Russians and Armenians, this is understandable, although it is never excusable for a government not to protect its people... While Ottoman weakness should be censured. should we not also ask how well Armenians and Russians protected the Turks and Kurds who fell under their control? The answer is that in provinces such as Van, where inter-communal fighting was fiercest, Muslims who could not escape from Armenian bands were killed. Virtually the entire Muslim population of southeast and far eastern Anatolia either became refugees or died. Like the deportation of Armenians, this too was a deportation with great mortality. It should also be recorded when the evils of deportation are considered."
Prof. McCarthy continued, "Assuming one-sided evil has led to an unfortunate approach to the history of the Armenians and the Turks. Instead of investigating the history of the time without prejudice, all the guilt has been attached to one side. Once the Turks were assumed to be guilty, the search was on to find proof. The process has been one of assertion and refutation. It was asserted that Talat Pasha, the Ottoman Interior Minister, had written telegrams ordering the murder of Armenians, but these proved to be forgeries. It was asserted that statistics supposedly 'from the Armenian Patriarchate' proved that Armenians were a majority in Eastern Anatolia, but these statistics were found to have been created, without reference to any actual records, by a writer in Paris. It was asserted that letters published during World War I by the British Propaganda Office showed Turkish guilt, but these have proven to have been sent by missionaries and Armenian revolutionaries, both of whom were less than neutral sources. It was asserted that courts martial by a post war Turkish government proved that Turks had engaged in genocide, although careful examination of the records shows that the charges were included among long lists of crimes brought by a government under control of British occupiers -- lists that include all sorts of actions that are demonstrably false and include anything that would please the conquerors.
"The problem with these assertions is that the accusations have been given wide distribution, while the refutations have been generally known only to historians. For example, so few have seen actual population statistics that it is commonly believed that Armenians were a majority in what is still called Armenia, even though Muslims actually outnumbered Armenians three to one. The British propaganda descriptions of Armenian deaths, all of them from anonymous sources, have often been reprinted, with no mention that the Armenian revolutionary parties were a source. Nor is it mentioned that historians have proven that the British propagandists routinely invented their "evidence." Those who speak of supposed evidence from the period when the British occupied Istanbul neglect to mention that the British themselves, who had complete control over all Ottoman official records, were forced at the time to admit that they could find no evidence of an organized genocide against Armenians."
It should be pointed out that Dr. McCarthy is not alone in pointing out the fallacy of the Armenian Genocide. There are many other historians who state that the conclusions reached toward genocide are highly biased. These include: (late) Bernard Lewis (Princeton), Enver Zia Karal (Ankara University), Salahi R. Sonyel (British historian and public activist), Ismail Binark (Director of Ottoman archives, Ankara), Sinasi Orel (director of a much publicized project on declassifying documents on Ottoman Armenians), Kamuran Gurun (former diplomat), and Mim Kemal Oke. These and others have told that the "Blue Book" (The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916) by James Bryce and Arnold J. Toynbee lacks credibility. The latter book was all part of a propaganda campaign, based on false information supplied by British and French Intelligence units, to smear Turkey's image, and to justify their own colonization of much of the defeated empire's territories at the end of World War I.
Forgotten in all such bloated and libelous claims against Turkey is the Muslim casualty. According to the Ottoman Archives, 517,955 Muslim civilians were massacred in this era by Armenian irregular units and Armenian revolutionary groups, in addition to the French Armenian Legion and the British and Russian backed Armenian volunteer units. To quote Mehmet Avdjier, Head of the Center of Studies of Anatolian history, "At that time Armenian gangs in cooperation with Russian troops committed genocide against Muslim Turks. In these years Russian and Englishmen drew an Armenian map in Eastern Anatolia. Filled with dreams about this map, under support of the occupational forces the gangs killed 215,000 Turks in Van, 45,000 in Kars and its suburbs, 68,000 in Bitlis and suburbs, 30,000 in Erzirum and suburbs, 21,000 in Mush and suburbs, 14,000 in Agri. In other words, 517,955 Muslim Turks were killed and buried." A comparison of numbers from reliable sources does show plainly that more Muslims were killed by the Armenians than the other way around.
In the Proceedings of Symposium on International Terrorism, Prof. McCarthy wrote, "We now know that, like the infamous Hitler Quote, the so-called extermination orders of Talat Pasha were forgeries. The only relevant Ottoman documents that have come to light indicate a generally solicitous attitude toward deported Armenians."
The overwhelming verdict by unbiased historians is that what happened with Armenians in 1915 was not genocide. Not only was there any government policy towards intent to eliminate Armenians the total number of victims who died during relocation or resettlement was a small fraction of the number claimed.
The sad fact is propaganda matters and genocide nowadays, thanks to the Zionists, has become a big industry. As such, in certain countries anyone doubting or questioning genocide can be persecuted. Argentina, Switzerland and Uruguay have adopted laws that punish genocide denial. The European Union has ratified a law "banning incitement to or denial of genocide" (both the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide).
In their zealotry to falsely accuse others, sadly, the western countries -- all colonial enterprises at one time -- duck their own shameful history of genocide in their former colonies. Conveniently forgotten by the French government, e.g., is its own genocidal campaign in Algeria during the colonial days which between 1954 and 1962 killed more than a million freedom-loving Algerians. As noted earlier, the English East India Company killed 15 million Bengalis in one of the worst genocidal campaigns in history. And as to the calculated massacre and murder of tens of millions of other colored peoples in Asia, Africa and Latin America - including the Native Americans, the aborigines of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania in the past centuries and the Chechens, Afghans and Iraqis in our time - the least said the better!
In our time, much like the 'Jewish Holocaust' issue, the Armenian issue is exploited not only by the Christian evangelicals and bigots but also by crafty politicians in the West for political expediency, which may include (but not limited to) gaining support within the rich and powerful Armenian community living there, and amongst the rabid anti-Muslim homegrown zealots that want to take the post-9/11 war to newer frontiers. Turkey's recent economic miracles and ascendancy in the world scene, let alone the serious disagreement with the war criminals in Israel, are ostracized by most 'Israel-firsters', e.g., the 'Amen Corner' within the Capitol Hill and the far-right in the Christian Europe that is opposed to Turkey's inclusion in the European Union. Some of the bills passed in recent years in the USA and Europe reflect that attitude of embarrassing Turkey undeservedly.
The death of those Armenians remains a highly controversial subject and thus, should remain a matter of inquiry for researchers and not gagging or silencing. It is sad to see how some important political and religious figures continue to exploit sensitive issues for ignoble motives.
Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.
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