Date: Tue, 25 Aug 2009
From: Muharrem Sev
The Armenian section of the Ottoman Archives has been open to all
researchers since 1989. Most documents are in Ottoman (Turkish with
Arabic characters) with transliterations into current Turkish. As you
know, the Turkish language is changing all the time, so the "current"
here might be old again for many. The military archives are restricted,
but hopefully will be opened soon.
Tales are told by survivors of the 20th century wars everywhere in
Turkey. Armenians, Turks, Jews, Kurds, Arabs and others who had lived in
eastern Anatolia and found themselves forced to fight against the
Russians or the French or each other had stories to tell. Those who fled
to safety had stories to tell too. Stories are inherited by younger
generations, in the process some stories are diminished in significance
and some others are exaggerated in detail. While millions of Muslims were
forced out of the Balkans and Caucuses and fled to Anatolia, several
hundred thousand Armenians emigrated to the USA, Europe, Russia and
(Lets also recall the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in
the 1920s. All these migrations created more human suffering and created
more stories. Anatolian Greeks who were sent to Greece took their Bozuki
and Rabetica music with them. They were rejected by the mainland Greeks
and in later years their music was banned. Life is full of twists and
turns: Today, bozuki is recognized as the national instrument of Greece)
The events of the period we are discussing here cannot be described in
anything less than 'tragic' terms for Turks and Armenians. In the late
1880s about 1,600.000 Armenians were living in Anatolia (this figure is
the average of numbers available from Ottoman, Armenian, Russian,
British, American and French sources). In Europe, the independence
movement of nations living under Ottoman rule started with Greeks in 1823
and followed by others: Rumanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Slovenians,
etc. By the time Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878, practically every
nation that revolted against the Ottomans had gained its independence.
Armenians living in the Ottoman lands received financial, military and
political aid from Russia, Britain, France and the USA towards fulfilling
their dream for independence. Armenians living in Russia at the time
coerced most of the Ottoman Armenians to revolt. Before WWI started,
several uprisings took place in Erzurum, Van and other cities in the east
and were put down by the Ottoman regulars. Animosities between the Turks
and Armenians started with these revolts and killing continued for both
sides during the war. About 50000 Ottoman Armenians joined the invading
French armies and about 150.000 or more joined the Russians. Some
Armenians remained loyal to the Ottomans and even served in the military.
When the Russians invaded the eastern Anatolian provinces in the
beginning of WWI, the fighting intensified between the Ottomans,
Russians, French and the Armenians. At times the Ottomans had to fight
the Russians in the front and the Armenians at the back. In May 1915 the
Ottomans decreed forced relocation of about 460.000 Armenians out of the
war zone into remote corners of the empire where modern-day Syria is
Even under perfect conditions such an ambitious plan might have failed.
In May 1915 the Ottomans were fighting at 3 different fronts, had no
spare food or other supplies or medicine or suitable transportation or
security forces available for this delicate and complex mission. Out of
460.000 Armenians that were moved out, 382.200 reached their destination.
In this sad journey about 56.600 perished for a variety of reasons,
including brutal treatment by the Ottoman and Kurdish forces in charge.
As a result of this disaster, Talat Pasa (minister of interior) ordered
those responsible to be tried and punished: 659 Ottoman officials were
tried, 68 received the death sentence and were hanged, 67 received life
sentence or forced labor and others received lesser charges or acquitted.
Fighting continued throughout the war, Armenians and Turks killing each
other. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 changed the course of events for
both sides. Armenians lost Russian support and protection. The
nationalist forces under Mustafa Kemal made peace with Lenin and secured
the eastern border. The Ottoman lands which the Allied Forces promised to
the Armenians remain within the borders of the Turkish Republic today.
(see the Sevres Treaty for the promised lands and see the Lousanne Treaty
for the Republic's borders). By the time the dust settled and the
fighting ended in 1922, 530.000 Turks and 350.000 Armenians were dead.
The irony is that, in 1954 President Celal Bayar and later in 1955 Prime
Minister Adnan Menderes officially visited the USA. The Armenian
community was highly visible in Washington, DC cheering the Turkish
officials. There was no "genocide" claims at the time. In 1963 the
Diaspora Armenians (a younger generation) in the USA started their
anti-Turkish campaign, charging Turks with 350.000 Armenian deaths. That
innocent number has now become 1.5 million !
After so many years, why is it that the Armenian Diaspora maintains a
relentless campaign against Turkey for the recognition of "genocide" as
if Turkey was the only party doing the killing?
Here is an explanation by legal scholar Bruce Fein:
The "Armenian Genocide" narrative is an existential narrative for the
Armenian Diaspora. It has become the glue that bonds the community
across social, economic and political lines. Perpetuating this
narrative and activating the community around legislative,
educational, philanthropic and political endeavors has become the
lifeline for Armenian Diaspora organizations, including the Armenian
Church. Hatred against modern day Turks and Turkey has become an
identity strengthening tool, particularly employed toward young
Armenians, and examples of this hateful behavior against ordinary Turks
It is in this area where Turkish analysis about the Armenian
Diaspora's state of mind, its wide-reaching agenda and impact seems
to be most deficient. The benefits that Turkey expects from
rapprochement with Armenia can not be achieved as long as the
Armenian Diaspora's realities are ignored. Unless Armenia and other
interested parties can engage the Armenian Diaspora in this process
and help bring about fundamental changes in the community, the
"genocide" issue will remain at the center of their agenda.
Consequently, Turkey's outreach to Armenia will have no effect on the
Armenian Diaspora and its international agenda against Turkey,
including its lobbying of the U.S. Congress and the Administration.
Bringing about change in the attitudes of the Armenian Diaspora needs
to focus on:
* Stopping hate: It is clear to everyone who follows the Armenian
Diaspora that the pursuit of genocide recognition has turned into a
campaign of hate against Turkey and modern day Turks. This hatred has
been manifested in worldwide terrorism and the murder of 40 Turkish
diplomats; the continuing adoration of these killers, as well as
ongoing harassment and intimidation of Turkish Americans. More
troubling, is the fact that hate against Turkey seems to grow among
many young Armenian adults who hold more severely hateful perceptions of
* Defending academic freedom and stopping intimidation and harassment
of scholars: The Armenian Diaspora has successfully created an aura
of intimidation in academia through their consistent vilification of
scholars, who do not agree with the Armenian narrative of history. By
slandering any scholar who deviates from the Armenian narrative as a
"genocide denier" and attempting to deny such scholars access to
academic and public platforms, the Armenian lobby is effectively
stifling more research and debate on this history.
* Exposing Armenian "buy-out" of scholars: Armenian foundations and
wealthy Armenian Americans are pouring money into American
universities to support scholars, including Turkish ones, whose
positions corroborate the Armenian narrative. The existence of
"Armenian Genocide" study centers at leading U.S. universities rests
on the largesse of such Armenian donations. Research in this area has
effectively been turned into an Armenian funded cottage industry.
* Advocating the opening of Armenian Archives: Opening all Armenian
archives to independent scholarly review will unearth the complete
narrative of Ottoman-Armenian history, including the Armenian
independence movement and revolt.
* Stopping foul play: Armenian Diaspora groups must be held
accountable to stick to the same rules that apply to all advocacy
groups. Many of them have not. The best example of such foul play is
the Armenian National Committee of America, which is currently under
investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible
violations of its legal status and other U.S. laws governing lobbying.
* Exposing the futility of political lobbying: The Armenian Diaspora
lobbyists have invested much stock and capital in lobbying efforts to
legislate history. Turkey must unequivocally state that it is an
Armenian Diaspora illusion that such third country political
pressures can force Turkey to accept their narrative and issue an
"apology," opening the way for other demands by the Armenian Diaspora
such as reparations or territorial claims.
* Looking forward: The Armenian community can gain tremendously by
looking forward and reaching out to Turkey as their heritage country.
Turkey and Turkish civil society should extend a hand of friendship
toward the Armenian Diaspora. Turks, by and large, hold no animosity
toward Armenians and will embrace Diaspora Armenians warmly. The rich
Armenian culture continues to be part of Turkey's culture, its music,
art, architecture, folklore and cuisine. These common bonds can be
revived and the Armenian Diaspora, not Armenia, can herald this revival.
* Ending Armenia's isolation: The Armenian Diaspora has played a
significant role for Armenia. However, the Armenian Diaspora's
efforts cannot replace the economic and political benefits of
normalizing Armenia's relations with its neighbors, particularly
Azerbaijan, and integrating the country into the economic and
strategic regional framework. The Armenian Diaspora in the United
States, in particular, should be the advocate of moving Armenia away
from Russia and Iran and closer to Turkey and the U.S.
* Believing in dialogue: The current Turkish government has long
extended a hand of friendship and reconciliation toward the Armenian
Diaspora and Armenia in its invitation to form an international
historical commission. Turkey's invitation and willingness to support
such a comprehensive effort and to accept its findings may not remain
valid forever. The Armenian Diaspora should unclench its fist and
take this hand, as it is the only way for peace and reconciliation.