The centenary of the Armenian question causes a lot of controversy between those who label the events as genocide and those qualify them as insurrection and wartime casualties.
Recently, the pope called the Armenian-Turkish conflict the first genocide of the twentieth century. This was another example of ignorance regarding this issue, since the first genocide of the twentieth century was perpetrated against the Herero people between 1904 and 1907 in German South- West Africa, in present-day Namibia.
Most Turks, on the other hand, are neither ignorant about WWI nor harbor racist feelings toward Armenian nationalist claims, but they object to their presentation as undeniable historical truths. In fact, it should be emphasized the Turkish government for many decades did not teach, or if you like, did not indoctrinate the youth about this issue. However, there is a strong oral tradition in eastern and southeastern Turkey about cruelties against the Turkish population by Armenian irregulars as well as those serving in the Russian army.
For many decades there was basically no discussion about the Armenians. In fact when the first terrorist attack against Turkish diplomats occurred in 1973 in Santa Barbara, California, the Turkish press assumed it must have been the Greeks, with whom they had territorial quarrels over Cyprus.
Since then, more than 30 Turkish diplomats were assassinated in a campaign during the 1970s and 1980s by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide.
Today there is free speech in Turkey, and a minority of intellectuals very much under the influence of Western discourse perceive the Armenian conflict as genocide whereas the majority reject those allegations, pointing out the historical context of the war and occupation of the Turkish homeland by Russia.
In light of this discussion, Rafi Hovannisian’s op-ed on April 11, 2015, contains unfortunate irredentist demands on the territory of modern Turkey including eastern Turkey all the way to the Black Sea region, dubbed “Western Armenia” by Hovannisian.
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This is a racist and irredentist demand with regard to a territory which has never in history had an Armenian majority population.
And these demands are buttressed with genocide claims which in fact deny the very existence of Turkey in its current borders.
In fact such expansionist demands and feelings of racism, hatred toward Turks, glorification of Armenian terrorists and anti-Turkish rhetoric have been admitted and criticized by an Armenian academic, Arman Grigoryan, published in The Washington Post on April 17, 2015.
One problem arises from Western historiography, very much influenced by the biased Christian missionary reports of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as diplomatic correspondence under the influence of anti-Turkish sentiments. The most striking example can be read in American ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s book Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (1918), which contains racist remarks to the effect that Turks are “primitive,” “barbarous”and “ignorant,” and characterizing the Armenians as “intellectually and morally superior” to the Turks.
IT IS ironic that such an Orientalist and outright racist book is presented as the foundational text on Armenian genocide claims, which are based on the Armenian nationalist narrative.
Ignoring Armenian rebellions and cooperation with the occupying Russian army as well as the French army during WWI is another fallacy of the Armenian narrative supported by Western historiography. In fact the Armenian delegate Boghos Nubar Pasha at the Paris Peace conference in 1919 argued that they had been belligerents against the Ottoman Empire and should be awarded accordingly with an independent state.
Against these Orientalist non-academic sources, there are scholars interested in presenting an objective narrative. For instance, Turcophobic ideas were successfully exposed by Justin McCarthy in his Turk in America, where he meticulously documents the negative attitudes toward Turks in mainstream America, and especially the impact of the missionaries in the articulation of the image of “murderous Turk” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Such feelings have been incorporated into Western academic writings on the Armenians, which totally disregard Turkish losses during WWI.
It should be remembered that the eminent historian of Islam and the Middle East Bernard Lewis has stood against genocide claims in the past, arguing that the Armenian question was nothing like the Holocaust and hence cannot be labeled a genocide.
In fact, claims of genocide are not only based on Turcophobic ideas but are also very creative in trying to portray Turkey as a precursor of Nazi Germany. Therefore, most of the publications read more like advocacy pieces than sound, objective works of scholarship.
Substantial differences between the Young Turk government (1908-1918) and Nazi Germany (1933-1945) should be emphasized. The ideological mindset was radically different as anti-Semitism was the critical variable in the Holocaust, whereas there was no similar anti-Armenianism in the Ottoman Empire. In fact, there were rival ideologies of Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkish nationalism as well as Westernism in the empire, in addition to local nationalisms, of course. During its days of opposition the Committee and Union Party cooperated with the Armenian political parties against Sultan Abdulhamid II and after coming to power appointed a number of Armenian ministers, the most important of whom was the Foreign Minister Gabriel Noradugyan.
Another major difference between the two eras was that there was no Jewish uprising or collaboration with Germany’s enemies whereas there was a clear cooperation with Russia and France on the part of the Armenians as readily admitted by the Armenian delegate at Versailles in 1919.
This state of affairs necessitated a relocation of the Armenian population from the war zone to more peaceful areas.
It is high time we stop castigating the Turks because of our own ignorance about their civilian and military losses during WWI or support biased narratives just because they proved hegemonic due to Christian solidarity with the Armenians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.The author is an associate professor in the Department of Humanities of Istanbul Technical University.
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