Friday, April 24, 2015

Ottoman Sources on Armenian Genocide

The mass killings of Armenians during World War I constitute a genocide.  There is no way around this unless one asserts that to qualify as a genocide an event must be like the Holocaust, in which case there is only one genocide.  If we use the main text of international law, however, then we need only have "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group," by which means the Armenian Genocide counts, as does the earlier Herero Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, and several others.

A book which should remove all doubt on this matter is Taner Akcam's The Young Turks' Crime Against Humanity, which performs the service of demonstrating to any reasonable satisfaction that a genocide was committed using entirely Ottoman accounts, including from Turkish archives which have become much more open over the last decade.  Although there have been several waves of cleansing, detritus revealing what happened still remains, especially in some of the provincial archives which were less thoroughly vetted.

To follow one thread Akcam puts together, the records of the Ottoman Parliament show that one MP who briefly served in the Cabinet told of a two-track method of giving orders regarding the Armenians, where deportation orders would be officially circulated, followed by specially delivered orders, often oral, to liquidate the deported populations.  There is ample evidence the second types of orders were given.  Two provincial governors offered a refusal to implement secret orders as their reason for resigning.  Several others insisted on having the orders in writing so that they could use them if they were ever called to account.

Many Ottoman government documents discussing Armenian deportations clearly lapse into expectations that the deportees will actually die, as with a reference to the fact their children are "soon to be orphans."  In one cable to a governor, Talaat Pasha, who as interior minister was responsible for implementing the genocide wrote, "The Armenian question in the eastern provinces has been resolved.  There is no need to sully the nation and the government's honor with further atrocities."  This clearly indicates an awareness that atrocities had been committed.  There are also orders not to kill members of other Christian groups because they are not Armenians, which suggests the orders would have been different if they were.

In carrying out the genocide, the Young Turk government was implementing a "Five to Ten Percent Policy" according to which no region of Anatolia should have more than that percentage of Christians.  As nationalist movements broke up the Ottoman state during the 1800's, the new Balkan states became avowedly Christian, and began the outbursts of ethnic cleansing that would continue until the end of the 20th century.  Although thanks to the Sochi Olympics the Circassian Genocide in 1860's Russia is the best known, hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed or driven out of the Balkans, as well, during the half century before World War I.

A characteristic of nationalism is an emphasis on cultural homogeneity, and so the Young Turks' were concerned in part to make Anatolia as homogenous as possible.  Muslims, it was thought, could be Turkified, and so they were, with forced Turkification the policy toward the Kurds even under the Turkish Republic.  Christians, however, were seen as a minority population which would always be set apart by religion, and so would also pose a risk of fracturing what remained of the state.  This was the reason the Young Turks' began their own ethnic cleansing campaign to reduce the population to their desired percentage.  Some populations, notably the Greeks, could simple be pushed into another state.  There was no Armenian state, however, and so annihilation became what was variously referred to as a "fundamental and permanent solution" or one that was "comprehensive and absolute."

There was much suffering among all ethnic groups of the declining Ottoman Empire, and still is today as its former territories continue to see a loss of once rich diversity.  The Armenian Genocide, however, was unique in the region, beyond an ethnic cleansing, and apparently an atrocity even to the man who supervised it.

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