A hidden holocaust – The Turkish state has never had to answer for t

A hidden holocaust – The Turkish state has never had to answer for the
genocide of its Armenian minority nearly 100 years ago

Irish Times;
May 29, 2004

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide By Peter Balakian Heinemann,
329pp. (pounds) 18.99

That history is a form of advocacy is nowhere more clearly illustrated
than in the continuing controversies, and silences, surrounding the
destruction of the Armenian presence in the Ottoman Empire. It is
not in dispute that over 100,000 Armenians died in the nationwide
massacres of 1894-96 and the Cilician massacres of 1909. Nor is
it disputed that mass deportations and killings carried out in 1915
under the Young Turk government – wartime measures undertaken to solve
finally the problem of an alien, potentially unreliable minority –
led to the Armenian population in Turkey falling from 1.5 million in
1914 to 100,000 in 1923. The contentious issue is the precise legal
and moral character of this apocalypse; specifically, whether the
Armenians fell prey to a deliberate attempt to exterminate them as
a race. Were they, in other words, the victims of genocide?

Even to state this question, in the view of Peter Balakian, is to risk
collusion in mass murder. The argument against genocide – kept alive
by ‘the Turkish government and a small group of its sympathizers’,
who characterise the fate of the Turkish Armenians as essentially
disastrous rather than genocidal – is, according to Balakian, so
plainly made in bad faith and so obviously meritless that it is
‘morally wrong to privilege the deniers by according them space in
the . . . media’. For the avoidance of doubt and personal culpability,
then, I should perhaps make the following clear: even if you disregard
every shred of survivor testimony, the Armenian genocide in 1915 is
an open-and-shut case. The extraordinarily detailed contemporaneous
accounts of Western bystanders (diplomats, missionaries, businessmen
and other eyewitnesses) and the testimonies forthcoming at the Ottoman
courts martial in 1919, can leave no intellectually conscientious
person in any reasonable doubt that probably more than a million
(exact numbers are inevitably hard to compute) Armenians were
systematically and intentionally put to death as part of a scheme
of racial elimination. Why, though, has this crime not received
the general and profound acceptance afforded to, say the Jewish
holocaust? Why, for example, have successive American (and indeed
Israeli) administrations refused to acknowledge the genocide?

In The Burning Tigris, Balakian approaches these questions – and the
evidence of genocide – by chronicling the American response to the
lot of the Armenians. The story begins in the 1890s, when news of the
atrocities authorised by Sultan Abdul Hamid II began to filter back
from the many American missionaries posted in eastern Turkey. Thanks
to such remarkable women as Clara Barton (the first president of the
American Red Cross) and Julia Ward Howe (the famous suffragist and
abolitionist), the fate of the Armenians – an ancient Christian nation
threatened by the heinous Turk – became a burning public issue. Acting
to safeguard ‘the spirit of civilization, the sense of Christendom,
the heart of humanity’ (Howe’s words), huge charitable sums were
donated by the American public. This effort, Balakian notes, marked
the beginning of the modern era of American international human rights
relief, in which specialised relief teams were sent to the site of the
disaster. For nearly three decades, American humanitarian sentiment
and the ‘starving Armenians’ were practically synonymous.

Then comes the terrible meat of the book – the Turkish campaign to
wipe out the Armenians in 1915. By chance, a cadre of literate and
scrupulous Americans was on hand to see or hear about most of it,
and rose to the occasion. In particular, Henry Morgenthau, the US
ambassador in Istanbul, received a flood of dispatches from all
sectors of Turkey describing unimaginable horrors. Balakian most
effectively collates and summarises these, and the picture that
emerges – ravines filled with corpses, freight trains packed with
deportees, emaciated naked women and children filing into Aleppo,
deportees dying in typhus-stricken encampments in the Syrian desert –
is utterly clear and utterly damning. Morgenthau heroically did his
best to ameliorate matters, but Washington refused to act. Once again,
though, the American public reacted with enormous generosity. After
the war, public sentiment relating to the Armenians gradually fizzled
out. As US-Turkish relations improved, few chose to dwell on what
happened to the Armenians. To this day, the Turkish state remains
bitterly hostile to any recognition of the genocide and, because of
its importance as a NATO member and bulwark of moderate secularism
in the Muslim world, is allowed to get away with it.

The Burning Tigris is a scorching and essential book, but not always
circumspect. Little attempt is made to explain the sense of religious
and national imperilment that turned ordinary, peaceable Turks into
butchers of women and children. (‘Nothing is so cruel as fear,’ noted
the British vice-consul, Maj Doughty-Wylie, whose superb account
of the 1909 Adana inter-communal massacres Balakian heavily relies
on without making reference to those parts that mitigate Turkish
culpability.) This does not substantially detract, however, from
the overwhelming power of the case Balakian presents. We are left,
nonetheless, with at least two dismaying conclusions. First, that even
in questions of genocide our capacity for sympathy is closely related
to our self-interest; second, that advocacy such as Peter Balakian’s,
however brilliant, is only as effective as the fairness of the hearing
afforded it.

Joseph O’Neill is the author of two novels and, most recently,
Blood-Dark Track: A Family History

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS