Armenians placed their ‘genocide’ claims at the heart of the Armenian identity so well that sometimes their insistence misleads even some Turkish people and cause them to be suspicious of themselves. However, Armenian claims are full of controversial information and contradictions. One of the documents that unfold these contradictions is the speach of an Armenian delegate in Paris Peace Conference (1919).
In accordance with Armenian thoughts, “the Turks tried to annihilate them in 1915 without any political and military reasons”. The claimers have to put forward it like this, since for an incident to be identified as genocide, there should not be any battle or conflict between the parties. For instance, the Israeli massacres against Palestinians are not called as genocide. Moreover, losses of more than half a million, which the US caused during its Iraq intervention is not called as genocide. However, the Jews who were killed by the Nazis had not revolted against Germany. The Jews of Nazi Germany were unarmed. They did not riot but loyal to their State. On the other hand, the Armenian delegate in 1919 Paris Peace Conference clearly stated they were a party during the war and admitted they had a vital role in the Ottoman Empire’s Defeat. Moreover, the Armenians confess that being a citizen of the Ottoman Empire, they had betrayed it and fought against the Ottomans on the side of the occupying Russians before 1915. Some in the modern world think that the word of “betrayal” is so emotional, not scientific concept. Nevertheless, the most important bond between a State and its citizens is still loyalty. If the parties (State and citizen) have some responsibilities, the citizens should be loyal to their country, and the State should protect the rights of its citizens. Betrayers would pay for their treason no matter under which sovereignty they are.
Boghos Nubar Pasha (1851-1930); the head of the Armenian Delegation made the following statement during the Paris Peace Conference (1919):
“…At the beginning of the War the Turkish Government had offered to grant the Armenians a sort of autonomy, asking from them in exchange, and volunteers to rouse the Caucasus against Russia. The Armenians rejected this proposal and placed themselves without hesitation on the side of the Entente Powers from whom they expected liberation.
The Armenians have fought at the side the Allies since the first days of the War, until the signature of the Armistice on all fronts.”
He continues as the following:
“… In Syria and Palestine, in the Legion d’Orient where Armenian Volunteers, in accordance with the invitation made by French Government to the National Delegation in 1916 –when the agreement between the Allied Powers was signed- gathered to the number of five thousand forming more than half the French contingent and took so brilliant a share in great Palestine victory, which liberated Syria, that General Allenby sent them an official congratulation. Lastly, in France, in the Foreign Legion, a crack Corps which has covered itself with glory, Armenian Volunteers gained a special distinction for bravery and endurance. Of 800 recruits at the beginning of the campaign, scarcely 40 have survived. All the rest fell facing the enemy. Military contribution has been officially and warmly appreciated by the Allied Governments and I need not press the matter further.”
After listing their contributions to the Allies and the defeat of the Ottoman State, Mr. Nubar Pasha states that the forced emigration (tehcir) and ‘killing policy’ was due to the Armenian support to the Allied powers. This was, according to the Pasha, one of the main reasons of the Ottoman antagonism against Armenians. However, not finding realistic these claims that are repeated frequently by Turkey in this context, the Armenian lobbies today say that “Armenians were neither at the battlefield nor revolted against Ottomans and it was all the civilians who were killed in this period.” Nevertheless, even the most authorized people in 1919, accept that Armenians had been belligerents during the war against their country –the Ottoman Empire- and cooperated with the enemy (Russia, France, UK and US). Nubar Pasha says that “The Armenians, therefore, have been belligerents.”
Think for a while, what would happen if an ethnic group revolted against the US during the World War II? Or the French had to encounter with an uprising during the World War I? The answer is clear for the US; even though there were many Japanese in the US Army and no sign of revolt, Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps after the Pearl Harbour Raid. Many Japanese lost their property during this forced emigration. Being Japanese were enough to get insulted in this period. What would happen if the Japanese revolted against the US like Armenians did against the Ottoman Empire during the war? Algerians under the French rule is another perfect example. The Algerians gave a clear support to France during the Second World War. They fought against Nazis to save France and the French people. However when they were in war against the Nazi soldiers, the French armies were massacring the Algerian civilians in Algeria. The French rule cost more than 1,5 million Algerian lives. In a speech he delivered at Setif in 2006, Algerian President Bouteflika called on France to recognize the fact that it tortured, killed and destroyed Algerian people between the years of 1830-1962 to eradicate their Algerian, Muslim, Arab and Berber identities, and their culture, history and language. France, which does not respond to Algeria’s calls, manifested a politically biased attitude in 2001 despite Turkey’s warning, and legislated a law that ruled the 1915 incidents as genocide. Now the Algerians ask France to apologize from the Algerian people, yet France, which at every occasion demands Turkey to reconsider its stance concerning the Armenian issue, said such questions remained within the range of historians when it came to the Algerian
Genocide. French Foreign Ministry responded to Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika’s call to France to repent for what France perpetrated in Algeria during the colonial period, by relegating such historical inquiries to historians”. French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jean-Baptist Mattei refraining from commenting on Bouteflika’s call, said the matter would be settled in one way or another. Mattei maintained historians and researchers had to study that subject in an independent way.
Of course, no violation against the State legitimizes attacks against civilians. Besides it is not the objective of this article to cleanse the ‘sins of the Ottoman Empire’. However, it is important to state that the officials who neglected of their duties during the Armenian Relocation Campaign (tehcir) were judged and punished and many of them even executed by the Ottoman Empire. In a way, the executions went too far and a significant number of innocent people were executed too. Also, the number of executed people in the Ottoman Courts regarding the Armenian relocation exceeds the number of people who were sentenced to death aftermath of the Nazi Germany during the Nurnberg Court. Moreover, there are examples like a soldier who was executed by shooting since he had stolen the watch of an Armenian immigrant. While many Ottoman Turkish officials were punished and even executed since they had given someway damage to Armenian people, none of the Armenians who damaged Turks punished or condemned in last two centuries. Even ASALA terrorists who killed the innocent Turkish diplomats during the 1970s and 1980s were seen as heroes.
The Ottoman Empire had made many mistakes and causing the death of many Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish civilians is among these. However, the Ottoman Empire did not know any concept like genocide or racism. The main reason of the deaths was the weakness of the State and it could not establish the domestic authority during one of the bloodiest wars in the human history, First World War. Short sighted leaders caused harm for Armenian citizens like they did the same for the Turks and the Kurds. Adventurous leaders of the Union and Progress Party (Ittihat ve Terakki) had taken over an Empire and turned it into ashes. They paid for this and made the people pay too. However no one can accuse the Ottoman leaders commiting genocide. Another side of the story is the Armenian sins too. A poor State under the severe attacks from abroad cannot accept any treason from its own citizens. Citizens have to be loyal to their own State at any circumstances. However the Armenian leaders clearly decalered a war against their own State. The 1919 Paris Peace Conference gives all the proof for that. Similarly the Armenian delegation wanted to join the Lausanne Peace Conference claiming they were part of the Allies against the Ottomans. Here, our aim is just to show the other side of the story. The Turkish people would benefit from questioning their history, but the Armenians have to question their past as well.
* How Many Armenians Died; How Many of Them Survived?
According to people who call the 1915 Relocation as “genocide”, primarily from the eastern and southeastern parts of Anatolia 2 millions of people were forced to emigration and sent to Syria and other provinces of the country. They claim that this was only a cover and part of a ‘dirty game’; the Ottomans, according to the Armenian claimers, knew that the Armenians would lose their life on the road, moreover, the Ottoman soldiers killed the people who were left behind and in the end the number of total Armenian losses reached to 1.5 million. Some increases this figure to 2, even 2,5 million. In other words, except Istanbul, no Armenians remained in Anatolia if we accept the Armenian allegations. Being forced to emigration or killed, they lost their homeland. However, Boghos Nubar Pasha -the head of the Armenian delegation- totally refutes these current Armenian claims. He says that in 1919 (4 years after the 1915 Incidents) the Armenians exceeded the number of Turkish people in certain parts of Anatolia; “If it is admitted that the Turkish population has at least sustained equally heavy losses, Armenians are still in the majority after the war, as they were before it.”
How is it possible that the majority was Armenian after the war in Anatolia, if Turks massacred all of the Armenians and made genocide?
According to Turkish history, Armenians have never been majority in eastern Anatolia. However, it is hard to understand how Armenians misinterpret their history and comes up with such contradictory claims.
* The Ones Who Returned to Anatolia
Another crucial subject in the Armenian Issue that Armenian historians especially do not want to mention is the Armenians who returned to Anatolia after the 1915 Relocation Campaign. Some of those who were forced to emigrate just returned back to their homes when they were on the road. Turkish historians say that this number was more than 500.000. Even relatively independent historians say that this number was not below 350.000. Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was also saying the number is about 300-350.000. However, in current discussions nobody mentions this, particularly the Armenian historians. If the Turks made genocide, how it is possible that families or friends of these people who were murdered or tortured could turn back to Anatolia and under the Turkish rule again? Any of the Jews did turn back to Nazi Germany while the genocide was going on during the Second World War?
Not only after the 1915, but also later Armenians turned back to their homes in Anatolia. Even many of them did not emigrate. For this reason, we witness the migration of Armenians from Turkey to other countries during the 1920s too. Armenians migrated to Lebanon, Syria and European countries during the WW I and after it, since some of the Armenians were afraid of the possibility that the newly established State or people could take revenge from them. For instance in Cukurova (Cilicia) many Armenians immigrated to Syria after the Turkish Independence War although there was no single attack against the Armenians. Even the French diplomats wanted to prevent this Armenian immigration and the Turkish Government declared that there is nothing to be afraid. The problem was that many Armenians took part in French occupation after the First World War and the relations between Armenians and Turkish people had been damaged during that occupation. Despite all of the immigrations, it is so meaningful that more than 100.000 Armenians stayed in Turkey peacefully and they are among the richest people in the country.
It is beneficial to discuss the history. Every country should face its mistakes. Turks also have many mistakes, and facing them would contribute to current Turkish society. However, not only for Turkey but also it is necessary to face it for every country too, including Armenia and Armenians in diaspora. We should note one more thing; historical debates should stay in the boundaries of fairness.
20 February 2007
Translated by Hasan Selim OZERTEM (USAK)
USAK (International Strategic Research Organization)
Ankara-based Turkish Think Tank