March 9, 2010

THE NORMAL PROCESSES OF NATIONALIZING:

Bad things happen when empires fall apart: Harking back to Armenia in 1915 will only drive modern Turkey into China’s arms (Norman Stone, 3/08/10, Times of London)

The best thing said about the Armenian tragedy was a sermon delivered in the main church in Constantinople in 1894, more than 20 years before it happened. Patriarch Ashikyan had this to say: “We have lived with the Turks for a thousand years, have greatly flourished, are nowhere in this empire in a majority of the population. If the nationalists go on like this [they had started a terrorist campaign] they will ruin the nation.”

That Patriarch was quite right, and the nationalists shot him (and many other notables who were saying the same thing).

Now a US Congressional committee has had its say, by voting to recognise as “genocide” the mass killing of Armenians by Turkish forces that began in 1915, during the First World War.

Is the committee right? When the First World War broke out there were Armenian uprisings and the Patriarch’s fears were realised. The population in much of the territory of today’s Turkey was deported in cruel circumstances that led to much murder and pillage.

But genocide? No, if by that you mean the sort of thing Hitler did. The Armenian leader was offered a job in the government in October 1914 to sort things out (he refused on the ground that his Turkish was not up to it). The Turks themselves put 1,600 men on trial for what had happened and executed a governor. The British had the run of the Turkish archives for four years after 1918 and failed to find incriminating documents. Armenians in the main cities were not touched. Documents did indeed turn up in 1920, but they turned out to be preposterous forgeries, written on the stationery of a French school.

You cannot really describe this as genocide. Horrors, of course, happened but these same horrors were visited upon millions of Muslims (and Jews) as the Ottoman Empire receded in the Caucasus and the Balkans. Half of its urban population came from those regions and, in many cases, the disasters of their families occurred at Armenian hands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 9, 2010 6:49 AM
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