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The Armenian Cause: A Century after the Genocide

On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman authorities placed 235 Armenian community leaders and intellectuals under arrest and later executed them in public squares. This barbaric act marked the beginning of the final stage of the genocide that would wipe out the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population and remove them from their historical homeland.





However, the mass slaughter began earlier, specifically during the period from 1894-1896 when the Hamidian massacres – attributed to Sultan Abdul Hamid – took place, resulting in more than 300 000 Armenians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Greeks killed on religious and racist grounds.  Two and a half million Christians were exterminated as a result of the genocide. Out of that number, 1 million and 500 000 were Armenians, while the remaining victims were Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean and Greek Christians, which implies that Christians in the Ottoman Empire were target of ethnic cleansing. Historians estimate that the number of Armenians who used to live in the Ottoman Empire, have they been allowed to remain, would have currently amounted to 19 million. It should be noted that the current Armenian population worldwide is estimated at ten millions.


Over the course of last century, the Turkish State has strived to blur and conceal the effects of the horrendous crimes of the former Ottoman state. The current state has done its best to erase the Armenian identity through a systematic Turkizing Of Armenian land, real estate, assets and the cultural relics of this majestic people who have inhabited this land for nearly 3000 years. Furthermore, it issued several laws in an attempt to validate those transgressions, seeking to erase this period from Turkish memory and to criminalize any reference to the Armenian genocide. The Turkish state resorted to a number of evasive ploys to obscure and confuse the issue, and below are a few examples of these pretexts:


I. Historical Controversy


For a number of decades now, the Turkish State has often proposed to form a committee of impartial experts to find the truth about the events in question. However, these efforts are futile attempts to sidetrack the issue by playing the historical controversy card.  There is no need to prove today what has already been proven in the past, and there are hundreds of published documents penned by Western diplomats who chronicled in detail the events of the genocide as they happened. These diplomatic accounts arrived at the diplomats’ homelands, including Britain, Germany, the United States, Austria, France and Russia. The evidence in these documents was irrefutable to the point that the British government issued a "Blue Book" in August 1916 on the genocide. The document contained a preface by renowned Historian Arnold Toynbee and included eyewitness testimonies of the massacres. As renowned historian Arnold Toynbee stated “The plan’s aim was to exterminate the Christian population living within the Ottoman borders." Separately, US ambassador to Istanbul, Henry Morgenthau, published a book containing his memoirs under the title "Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story”, which provided a detailed account of the period from 1913-1916. These examples of research on the genocide demonstrate early eyewitness accounts can amply prove the genocide far better than the Turkish State’s proposed committee. 


In 2005, the German Parliament formally recognized the genocide, citing documents in its possession as well as historical research indicating that there had been over 1.5 million victims. German historian Hilmar Kaiser also discovered 350 documents in the Ottoman Empire’s archive from 1915-1916 proving that the Ottoman government had formally decided to annihilate the Armenian people. The scholar was later expelled from Turkey before completing his archival research.


In 2008, Turkish historian Murat Bardakci published the black record of Talaat Pasha in a book entitled The Abandoned Documents of Talaat Pasha.  Bardakci based his work on documents he acquired from Talaat Pasha’s widow in 1982, although he was unable to publish them until 2008. These documents prove beyond reasonable doubt that the genocide was a planned, systematic and deliberate process. Talaat Pasha had reportedly said that he has accomplished more toward solving the Armenian problem in three months than Abdul Hamid II had accomplished in thirty years! The book includes a detailed account of those killed in the six provinces and the various cities inhabited by Armenians, as well as lengthy details about the murders and mass deportations that led to the death of the deportees from hunger and thirst in the desert.


In 1997, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) determined that the acts perpetrated on the Armenian people represent the first genocide of the twentieth century. In 2007, it also acknowledged that the broader acts against Syriac, Assyrian, Greek and Armenian Christians constituted a crime of genocide.  Elie Wiesel, a US professor, political activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, supported IAGS resolution on Armenian genocide through a statement backing the resolution and signed it along with 53 other Nobel Prize winners.


Turkey’s Grand Vizier at that time, Kucuk Said Pasha, had once stated that total annihilation of Armenians is the only solution to the Armenian problem. Furthermore, Ottoman authorities announced that they would impose severe penalties on Muslims or non-Muslims who offered refuge to Armenians. A 1915 telegram from Minister of Interior Talaat Pasha addressed to the prefecture of Aleppo states that “You have already been advised that the Government, by order of the Djemiet, has decided to destroy completely all the indicated persons [Armenians] living in Turkey. All who oppose this decision and command cannot remain on the official staff of the empire. Their existence must come to an end, however tragic the means may be; and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to conscientious scruples."


In his book The Murder of a Nation, US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1913-1916) Henry Morgenthau explained that in the spring of 1914, Turks made a plan to exterminate the Armenian people; they criticized their ancestors for not getting rid of Christians or failing to convert them to Islam from the beginning. Morgenthau added,  "When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race. I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”


In addition to eyewitness accounts, there are major statements from former public figures and heads of state.  For example, Prime Minister of Britain Winston Churchill noted “In 1915, the Turkish government began and ruthlessly carried the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor. This clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be.” Former French President Francois Mitterrand commented on January 6, 1984: "It is impossible to erase the marks of the genocide with which you were struck. This must be inscribed in the memory of mankind and this sacrifice must simultaneously serve as a lesson to the young and as the will to survive." Even Adolf Hitler recognized the Armenian genocide and believed it proved the feebleness of human memory, a factor that he believed would serve him well as he planned the Holocaust. In a speech given on August 22, 1939, he said "I have issued the command…I have placed my death-head formations in readiness, with orders to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"


On October 7, 1915, the New York Times published a memorable picture of the tragic Armenian genocide throughout the forced deportation from Turkey. On December 15 of that year, the NY Times edition also featured the headline “Nearly one million Armenians were killed or exiled at the hands of Turks.” There are millions of valid documents and hundreds of books recording these crimes.  Above  all, the genocide is forever etched in Armenian memory and Turkey’s denial continues to haunt the Armenian community. Therefore, the Turkish suggestion of opening a new historical investigation is an appalling procrastination on Turkey’s part. There is no need now for a historical examination but rather a political one.


II. Debatable Numbers


Turkey has also been trying create about a sense of debate surrounding the numbers of deported and dead Armenians. At times, it is 300 000 and at other times it is more like 600 000 deported, but the one constant is its denial of Armenian claims in that regard. Yet, primary documents with authentic numbers easily refute Turkish claims of an unclear death toll. Historian Arnold Toynbee places Armenian numbers at  2.1 million before the genocide whilethe Armenian Church estimates that there were 2.4 Armenians. Talaat Pasha’s documents record a slightly lower figure of 1.7 million. Based on the known total of 700,000 survivors who fled to Russian Armenia,   the number of those who perished can be safely estimated at 1.7 million according to the Church’s estimates, 1.4 million according to Toynbee, or one million according to the number stated in the documents of Talaat Pasha. In any case, these numbers far surpass the current estimates of the Turkish State and criminal mass deportation in conditions that lead to death and destruction.


III. Claims of an Armenian Threat


Aside from attempting to muddle the facts in other ways, the Turkish state has attempted to rationalize and justify the massacres by claiming that Armenian rebels were a threat to the Ottoman Empire.  Like other state views,  most reliable historians deny this claim. On one hand, the number of Armenian rebels who did fight against the Ottoman Empire was not significant enough to pose a serious threat. On the other hand, the sole focus of Armenian requests in the 19th and early 20th century was achieving justice and equality for Armenians and improving their status within the state, not attempting to leave it. The issue of an Armenian State was only raised in 1918 after the actual emergence of the Armenian State, but there was no talk of independence prior to that time.


As for the accusation that Armenians had betrayed the Ottomans by joining the Russian enemy, this is a similarly unconvincing charge. Armenians were spread between Russia and the Ottoman Empire and joined both armies depending on their residence.  As Russian citizens, it was natural for the Armenians to fight against the Ottoman Empire. Even if Turkish claims that Armenians sought independence held weight, this would suggest a natural appeal to the concept of Nation Statehood that defined the early 20th century and certainly is no excuse for the Ottomans’ systematic annihilation of the Armenians and the appropriation of their land.


IV. We Have Also Suffered


The Turkish state claims that Turks also suffered deportation from the Caucasus and Balkans in an attempt to negate any special responsibility for the deaths of Armenians and Christians in the early 20th century. However, these statements have perhaps served to escape accepting responsibility. Turkish deportation from the Caucasus was the result of a fierce war with Russia, and deportation from the Balkans was the result of the region's nations revolting against Turkish colonization of these countries. The crimes committed by the Ottoman Caliphate could fill volumes of black books, and it was right and natural that liberation movements would rise in those nations to drive the colonist Ottomans away and back to their country. How can that possibly compare to genocide and land appropriation?


Unforgettable Horrors


The details of human tragedies, such as the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, are painful beyond words and almost unbearable to read. What we now know about the Armenian massacres is truly chilling, and the historical documents offer a glimpse of the horror they suffered. Children were killed in front of their parents; corpses left outside to the mercy of  birds of prey and wild dogs; 30 thousand children abducted; thousands of women raped; Western missionaries prevented from dispensing food and water to the deportees in the desert until they perished; a father pleading in the street that they take his fifteen-year-old daughter because he cannot protect her from the agony she was suffering; a mother bitterly crying next to the bodies of her two sons; Women in labor forced to remain on the road until they perished along with their newborn babies; a mother being forced to give up her newborn twins and falling dead because of the emotional torment; dismembered bodies and removed or mutilated genitals; women’s bodies sliced open with their entrails missing; a countless number of children left behind on the road. Sultan Abdul Hamid forced almost 250 000 Armenians to convert to Islam, while Talaat Pasha and Anwar Pasha sought cleansing, murder and deportation instead of converts; 30 thousand young women and children were sold to local villagers or abducted by tribes.  These unspeakable horrors left a hideous mark on human history. With that in mind, it seems that when Talaat Pasha told the US ambassador that he was aware the Ottoman State had made mistakes in dealing with the Armenians but refused to have regrets has become one of the core tenants guiding the Turkish state’s approach to the Armenian Genocide then and now.


So, what is ultimately required?


1. A prompt recognition of the Armenian genocide by all countries, particularly by Islamic countries, given that no Islamic country has ever acknowledged the Armenian genocide or the Holocaust.


2. A UN resolution calling on Turkey to recognize its responsibility for the genocide, and the ensuing implications.


3. International efforts focused on initiating genuine negotiations between Armenia and Turkey on the basis of the Treaty of Sevres signed on August 10, 1920. To quote Dr. Ahlam Beydoun, Professor of International Law at the Lebanese University, "If the Soviet bisector of Armenia has found the opportunity to declare independence in 1991, the Turkish part has achieved no such independence, and the multifaceted Armenian problem is yet to be resolved.. The prosecution of the crime of genocide and ensuring that the guilty are punished is of paramount importance for humanity in general and for Armenians in particular. It would denote recognition of their legitimate rights in the homeland they have been forced to abandon, and would be a form of restitution for the horror they endured.”


4. In the United States, forty-two states have recognized the Armenian genocide.  However, there continues to be no such recognition from federal government, which is a serious failing on the part of a country known globally as a champion for human rights. It is equally regrettable that Israel has not recognized the genocide despite the fact that the Armenian tragedy was a precursor to the Holocaust.


5. The nascent Kurdish State should apologize for the criminal acts perpetrated by Kurds against the Armenian population at the instigation of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The Turkish Sultan had formed "The Hamidiya Cohorts" made up of Kurdish tribal and religious fanatics who played a part in the Armenian massacres, and abused the defenseless Armenian deportees.


6. The European Union ought to add the recognition of the genocide and its repercussions as a new condition to the terms of Turkey’s accession to the EU.


Turkey’s seizure of land from indigenous populations is unacceptable. Currently, the total area of Armenia is 30,000 sq km, about 8% of the 350,000 sq. km area delineated in the Treaty of Sevres, the internationally recognized post-Second World War treaty that was supposed to govern the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps sometime in the near future the Kurdish south-east will be restored to the Kurds and join with other Kurdish components. In the meantime, tribute must be made to the indigenous inhabitants of the historical Armenian state.




The writer is an Egyptian intellectual, human rights activist.


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Coptic Solidarity is a U.S. public charity organization under section 501 (C) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions are deductible under Section 170 of the Code.



Sixth Annual Conference

Coptic Solidarity 2015 Conference

The Annual Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on June 11-13, 2015.


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