Open Letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vice-Prime Minister Bülent Arınç

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Taner Akçam is associate professor of history and the Kaloosdian/Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies, at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University (Worcester, MA). This article originally appeared in Turkish for the newspaper Taraf on March 13, 2010. Special thanks to Dr. Akçam for providing this English translation.

There is something I have difficulty understanding.  You, who have put an end to ninety-five years of the “there are no Kurds, they’re just Turks who wander around the mountains” lying policies by the state; who have removed the military’s guardianship over politics, the same military that since the beginning of this Republic has decided who lived and who died and that initiated coups at the drop of a hat; how is it that you who have made such important inroads into this democracy insist on continuing the ninety-five years of denialist policies when it comes to the subject of 1915?

All of us believed that when you signed those protocols with Armenia in October 2009, the ninety-five years of lies surrounding 1915 were coming to an end, just as they had on the Kurdish issue.  Could it be that when you signed those protocols you believed that you were going to come to a resolution while you continued the ninety-five year old policies of denial?  Doesn’t seem possible….Could you have found a way out of the Kurdish problem by continuing to insist that “There are no Kurds, they’re just Turks who wander around mountains”?  If you had stayed loyal to the logic of the problem solving methods of the military when it came to the Kurds, whereby they were equated with terrorist organizations, treating the Kurds as “nails” and the military as the “hammer,” would you have found a way out of the impasse?

Well, it seems to appear that you seriously think you are going to find a resolution to the Armenian problem by continuing the ninety-five year old lie.  Anyone opposing this view on the Armenian issue is the “nail” and you are the “hammer”….trying to intimidate the U.S., posturing like a bully…is this how you’re going to remove a ninety-five year old gangrene?  Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, if it could have been fixed this way, don’t you think it would have been, long ago?  Heck, who even needs you then…Şükrü Elekdağ [the former Turkish ambassador to the U.S.] would have fixed it; Veli Küçük [a retired major general linked to Hrant Dink’s assassination] would have found a neat solution…right?

So, what happens if tomorrow Obama decides it’s time to call your bluff and gives you a taste of your own medicine?  What if he comes out with a statement saying “You want to shut me up or get me to tell a lie by threatening me!  You’re trying to force me to deny what I believe to be true with threats!  Shame on you!  Aren’t you the slightest bit embarrassed to be threatening me like that?  I’m not lying any more….I am going to state what I believe about 1915.  It was genocide.”  What are you going to do then?

When the protocols were signed in Switzerland, we believed that it marked the end of ninety-five years of the policies of lies and that it was the death knell for the Gündüz Aktan [a former member of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission , Şükrü Elekdağ and Yusuf Halaçoğlu [the head of the Turkish Historical Society] era.  Not only was the border going to be opened, but commissions devoted to making recommendations on how to resolve the issues stemming from history were going to be established.  It seems likely that while the Swiss were mediating the agreement, they tried to convince both you and the Armenians by pointing to the “Bergier Commission” which had been established in 1996, as an example of a “Commission of Independent Experts.”  This commission had been formed to research the role that Switzerland had played in the Jewish Holocaust.  After five years of work, it presented a final report in 2001, but during those five years, twenty-five research papers were published covering almost 11,000 pages of information. 

There is, however, a fact that is even more important.  One year before the commission was formed, in 1995, the Swiss government apologized to all Jews in the world for its policies during the Second World War.  In actuality, the commission was formed as a result of that apology.  There is no possible way that you could not have known that one of the conditions for the establishment of the commission was an apology to the Jews.  Even if the Swiss hadn’t mentioned it to you, it was a well known fact and we believed that you signed the protocols with full knowledge of this, and this heralded the beginning of change in ninety-five years of the policy of denial…. “an apology to the Armenians is on its way,” or so we thought.  Apparently, this wasn’t the case; instead you had some “oriental inscrutability” in the works.  You were going to continue the ninety-five year old policy of denial while fabricating a resolution to the problems that have plagued our relationship with Armenia.  This is hard to believe, but it is apparent from everything that you have done thus far.

Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, I ask that you put this bit of information somewhere in the corner of your minds:  you will never resolve the problem of 1915 by repeating a lie that has been memorized over ninety-five years.  If it could have been resolved by rote repetition, there were those before you – who were much louder – who would have already achieved it.  A black stain was smeared on the brow of the Turkish nation in 1915.  The ones who did this were the Unionist murderers.  If you don’t identify that stain and if you don’t put some distance between yourselves and those who placed that stain upon the brow of the Turkish nation, you won’t be able to take a single step forward on this issue.  Don’t even bother trying. 

Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve called what happened in 1938 in Dersim a massacre.  It’s true we don’t know exactly how many were killed, but you are acting like a bully towards those who condemn what happened in 1915, an event that involved at least ten to fifteen times more human beings than those who perished in Dersim.  On the subject of war crimes committed by Israel against the residents of Gaza, you have shown your displeasure and lifted your voice in opposition, with justification.  But when the subject of 1915 comes up, an event that involved killings on a level that can’t even begin to be compared with the violations of human rights in Gaza, you made absurd remarks like “No one can force me to admit that Moslems commit murders.  My forebears were not murderers.”  Don’t you think others are going to look at that and say, “Who is he kidding?”

You are the ones who have changed the traditional line that’s been followed on the Kurdish question. You are the ones who have fought to push the military out of political life.  Why are you parroting the same ninety-five year old lies that have been told by this military and this bureaucracy?  Let me give you an example.  You weren’t able to make any progress on the Kurdish and military matter by siding with the ones who called those involved in the Şemdinli event [a bombing of a bookshop in the town of Şemdinli  suspected to be a false flag operation] “our boys.” (2)  You were only able to make progress after so many painful experiences, once you put distance between those “good boys” and yourselves.  The subject of 1915 is no different.

“Our boys” are the ones who continue to deny that Armenians were annihilated in 1915!  They’re the ones forming the Talat Pasha Committees and organizing the memorial meetings for Kemal, the murderous Mayor of Boğazlayan.  And, let’s not forget, they are the same ones who have planned assassinations against you and have tried to overthrow your administration…Don’t you realize that you will never be able to solve anything regarding 1915 by holding onto the same position of those who want to dig your graves?

Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, the answers to the problems that are the legacy of 1915 can’t be found in the denialist policies of Veli Küçük, Doğu Perinçek [leader of the nationalist Workers’ Party], Şükrü Elekdağ and Yusuf Halaçoğlu.  Don’t search for the answers there.  You won’t get anywhere repeating the chorus they’ve been singing for ninety-five years.  They are your adversaries on the issue of 1915, just as they are when it comes to the Kurdish issue and the issue of the military’s place in politics.  You cannot construct your response to 1915 by holding rank with those who want to drag the country into chaos, who murdered Hrant Dink, who have planned massacres against Christians, and who have been plotting coups against you. 

If you are going to respond to 1915, you need to search for that answer in a place that is different than the answers given by Ergenekon [an alleged Kemalist terrorist organization] or by the ones who plotted the coups.  For this, you should follow your Moslem roots in Anatolia that have risen alongside your party and take a closer look at what these roots did during 1915.

Mr. Arınç, these words are for you.  With reason, you were angered by the way the women of CHP in Mersin tore up the Muslim veil. (2)  Do you realize, however, that with the position that you have taken you have torn the deep fabric of Anatolian Islam, have ripped apart the cultural legacy of Anatolian Moslems who can walk head held high for bravely challenging the murders of 1915?  Do you know that when the Unionist gangs were murdering Armenians in 1915, the ones who put up the biggest fight, who challenged them the most were the Moslems of Anatolia?  Did you have any idea that it was the Moslem community of Kastamonu that marched upon the Governor’s office demanding “we won’t stand for our neighbors being murdered”?  Or that it was the Moslems of Yozgat who opposed Killer Kemal of Boğazlayan yelling “there’s no place in the Koran for the murder of innocents!”?  Have you never heard of the important role played in the hanging of Killer Kemal by the written testimony of the Grand Mufti of Boğazlayan, Abdullahzade Mehmed?  Did you know that in opposing the murders being committed by Killer Kemal, this Moslem Mufti said “Allah stands above us all.  I fear his wrath”?

Mr. Arınç, are you aware of the order given by Kamil Pasha of the Third Army in 1915?  He stated, “Who ever tries to hide Armenians in their homes will be executed before his front door and his home will be burned to the ground.”  Despite this order, do you know that Haji Halil, a Moslem from Urfa, hid an Armenian family of eight in the attic of his home, in the market of Urfa for one full year despite the threats of death and burning?  Go to Eastern Anatolia and ask the members of parliament from your own party.  They’ll tell you dozens, hundreds of stories like this. 

I don’t need to make the point that when the Unionists were massacring Armenians in Anatolia, pious Moslems opposed what was happening and saying that the murder of innocents has no place in the Koran.  Whenever I’m talking with Armenians today, they tell me, “If we are alive today, it is without a doubt because of the aid of some Moslems.”  But they’ll also add, “Because of your government’s policy of denial, we can’t talk about it openly.” 

Mr. Arınç, you can’t build a future on the backs of murderers.  You can build a future on the backs of those righteous Moslems in Anatolia who challenged the murderers.  In the same way that you can’t resolve today’s problems by supporting Hrant’s murderers, the “Samats” and the “Veli Küçüks”, you won’t get anywhere supporting the murderers of the Hrants of the past.  The answers to 1915 can’t be found in the answers of Doğu Perinçek or Veli Küçük.  They are members of the Ergenekon gang that killed Hrant Dink; it’s natural that they defend the murderers of the Hrants of the past.  Let the “Veli Küçüks” defend the murderer Samat of today and the murderers Talat, Enver and Kemal of yesterday.  Your place is not at the side of Veli Küçük.  Your duty is to stand by the side of the “Haji Halils,” to stand up for those Moslems who put themselves and their families at risk opposing the massacres.

I would like you to recognize one more thing.  Because of the ninety-five years of denialist policies and the defense of murderers, there is, from an international perspective, a second stain on the brow of Turkishness and Islam, next to the one created by 1915.  Because of the policies followed by the Şükrü Elekdağs and the Veli Küçüks, Turks are perceived as a people who enjoy murdering, who defend murders.  We need to rescue Turkishness and Islam from the Talats and the Envers of yesterday and the Samats of today and to not allow the Elekdağs and the Küçüks to define it.  Turkishness and Islam are identities that are too honorable to be left at the hands of murderers and their defenders.  I have an Armenian friend, and he once said to me, “Until yesterday, when I heard Turkish, I felt a hatred for it.  I called it the language of my enemy.  But since getting to know you, I’ve begun to say it’s the sound of my friend, a Turk.” 

We need the honest and honorable cry of Turkishness and Islam.  Let Doğu Perinçek, Veli Küçük and the ones who planned your assassination defend the murderers of yesterday and today.  You must see, by now, that the ones who defended Talat, Enver and Dr. Nazım in the past are the same people who defend Oğün Samat today. 

If we can walk with a shred of self-respect today, head held high, it’s because we can point to Hrant’s killer and call him what he is.  You need to see that once we acknowledge the murderers of the Hrants of 1915, we will walk with our heads held high, self-respect intact.  Nazim Hikmet has the best words for describing what needs to be done in connection with 1915.  I’d like to conclude this letter with him.

Grocer Garabed’s lights are on
He hasn’t forgiven, this Armenian citizen,
The way his father was slaughtered in the Kurdish mountains
But he loves you because you haven’t forgiven either
The stain that’s been drawn on the brows of the Turkish people

Mr. Prime Minister, I know that you like to read poetry.  The Turkish person and the Moslems of the Middle East want to hear these verses from you!

(1) This references an incident where a book store in a Kurdish city was bombed.  Officers in the Turkish military were suspected of having planned and/or executed the deed.  The Chief of the General Staff was quoted as saying the officers were “our good boys”. 

(2) This is in reference to an incident during “International Women’s Day” where women members of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) tore up symbolically a Muslim headscarf. 

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Fahrettin Tahir - 3/27/2010


remember that the Armenians were not a majority even in the regions where they were offered autonomy.

Independance there would have meant the deportation of the moslem majority.

They were demanding independence of the eastern half of Anatolia where they were around 15 - 20 % of the population.

That would have meant the deprtation of the 80 % moslem majority and the end of Turkey since Greece was demanding the secession of the Western half of Turkey.

I remember seeing one book written at around that time which promised that Islam would soon disappear in the deserts whence it had come from.

Our ancestors were being asked to give up their home to Christian minorities which had only survived because their ancestors had been far more tolerant of minorities than the contemporous Spanish empire and go live in the desert, if they could.

The Balkan war 1912 had shown that these people were willing to murder millions of us to get what they wanted.

Can you see anything wrong with that?

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/27/2010

Mr Friedmann,

I am not going to say what you write is wrong.

Just that you fail to condemn the mass extermination of Moslems.

Armenians are presented as the only victims, necessitating remedial.

How about the rest of us? What do we get out of this attempt to correct historical wrongs?

N. Friedman - 3/26/2010


You write: "If you think the Christians were not treated as equals you might name me one state of the 19th century where each and every subject felt equally treated. This is something I hate in western discussions about Turkish history. They are angry that the Ottoman Empire did not fulfil the standards which the European Union hopes to attain in the 23rd century."

My criticism was not to the exclusion of criticism of Europe or America. However, you are correct that there has traditionally be hypocrisy on that count in the criticism of the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim countries.

That said, I am not making a criticism. I was pointing out the driving forces - or, what I think were the driving forces - behind the dispute within the Ottoman Empire with regard to its non-Muslim subjects.

You write: "The CUP after 1908 was a radically liberal party prepared to give them almost everything they asked for. The armenians were offeren autonomy in 1914. That was not enough."

I think that your view is somewhat of a spin on the facts. I think that CUP was reformist. However, they still expected that people of one religion would dominate, perhaps with a less radical division with other religions. Further, the massacres were not limited to the period after 1914. Substantial horrendous massacres also occurred in both the 1894 - 96 period (between 200,000 and 250,000 people massacred)and in 1909 (up to 30,000 people massacred). With that background, whatever was offered in 1914 "was not enough," to quote you.

In any event, none of what the Armenians are accused of is justification for their mass extermination. Perhaps, to were they really to have threatened civil war, they might have been pushed out of the country. That would be a terrible remedy but it beats large scale massacres. However, marching people into the desert and then stoning them to death by the hundreds of thousands is just not right. The same for marching large numbers of people to the sea in large numbers and throwing them down large cliffs to drown or land on rocks. I do not see the justification.

As for the British, the evidence is fairly clear that there were secret talks with the Germans and that the British did not anticipate being thrown out. The Germans had worked for years to replace British influence in the country. I shall plan to examine Churchill's writings on the topic, as you suggest. Thank you.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/26/2010

It is true that Hamid II used Islam for extending his influence over the Moslem populations of European Empires. He was doing this to balance the influence these empires were extending over the Christians of the Ottoman empire. It was about realpolitik and not theology. His mother was an Armenian harem lady and some said his father had been the Armenian gardener of the palace. He was dealing with people he understood better that you or me.

If you think the Christians were not treated as equals you might name me one state of the 19th century where each and every subject felt equally treated. This is something I hate in western discussions about Turkish history. They are angry that the Ottoman Empire did not fulfil the standards which the European Union hopes to attain in the 23rd century.

Fact is by the end of the 19th century the Christians of the empire were under protection of the imperialist powers, living almost as diplomatic personnel. Ottoman justice could not reach them, they did not military service nor paid taxes. The CUP after 1908 was a radically liberal party prepared to give them almost everything they asked for. The armenians were offeren autonomy in 1914. That was not enough.

They asked for the end of the Turk. This was the era where the white skinned christians were together the master race, the rest of us sub humans and the Armenians were not willing to accept living in peace as a minority among sub humans. It was like asking them to live in a cage as a minority among monkeys. How could they dream of equality with monkeys?

That was the problem. After 150 years of continuous civil war caused by the Christians it was made clear to the Turks that there would either be Turks or Christians in Anatolia, but not both.

What annoys me is that instead of entering a discussion comes the moralizing stuff: it is always wrong to kill people. Why is that not valid for the other side, which started the killing? Most of the air raids on Germany and Japan in WW 2 were nothing but unnecessary killing. Would you advance that point?

You do advance the point that the Ottomans made a mistake by letting the Christians keep their faith, more they were proud to guarantee their freedom of religion. In 1915 they realized that.

It was not the Ottomans who threw out the British. It was the British who made it clear in the Balkan war that their support of Turkey had ended. The alliance with germany against Russia was a succesful change of policy. We are not talking about Hitler’s Germany but the Kaiser’s which was no better and no worse than Britain or the US. Without reacting to Britains policy change the Armenians would have survived but not the Turks.

We are talking about a point in history where only powerful empires survived. Smaller states were all made part of one empire or another. A Turkey of the Turks alone would not have been allowed tosurvive as indedd was planned that she disppear. Under those circumstances targeting the liberation of the Turkish speaking regions of the Romanov empire was alogical and legitimate policy. At that point these countries had had a common written language for 1000 years. It was as lagitimate as say the Italian, German or Zionist nationalist projects.

For the British view read:Winston Churchill the world crisis 1911-1918. He is quite honest about Ottoman motivations.

I am not angry with the US. I think they are blundering they way into disaster.

N. Friedman - 3/25/2010


Before addressing your comment's substance, I want to address one sentence. You write: "Just to remind you: we still exist. The strategy was succesful."

I am not sure the reason for this comment. I am not your enemy. We are having a polite discussion - as we always do. You are always a perfect gentleman and I believe I am as well. I have no strategy of empire. I do not support empire. I do understand that empire is something that has existed. I might add: my country, the US, sided with your country in many instances during the 19th Century, viewing the British, etc., as meddling in matters which were not their affair. In the 20th Century, the US, while it was at war with Germany and its allies, excluded your country and never made war against it. The US, moreover, is responsible for the first modern type universities to exist in the Ottoman Empire. So, referring to the West as a block is not appropriate.

Returning to your comments. The Ottoman Empire did enact the Tanzimet reforms. However, they were not enforced in large swaths of the Empire and they were bitterly opposed. So, to assume that religion was removed from the mix - most especially during the fateful reign of Abdul Hamid II, is a major exaggeration. The issue for non-Muslims was the theocratic nature of the empire because such people were not treated as equals in an atmosphere where people believed they should be, as a matter of fundamental right.

As for the manner of conquest, you have a point although, again, I think you push it too far. A brilliant - and this is in the good sense, not just the tactical sense - thing about the Arab conquerors is that the people they conquered often came to view themselves as part of the Arab narrative. And, they adopted - and, in part, transformed - the Arab culture and, given the social disabilities they faced, came to adopt Islam (and, in the early days before the matter was worked out, demanded to adopt) Islam. So, the conquest was very successful. I recall Art pointing out that in some instances, the descendants of people conquered by Muslim armies - I do not think it was Arabs in this case - side against their ancestors and with the conquerors. Such is the great strength of imperial activity in the name of Islam. That is, I think, something to be proud of.

Of the Muslim empires, the one in which non-Muslim peoples held out longer was the Ottoman Empire. Had the Empire been more successful in pushing the Arab approach, maybe the problems which later faced the Empire might have been avoided. However, the fact is that the Christian parts of the empire were not happy with life in the Empire and, given that the idea of equality was in the air, the Empire dealt with the problem insufficiently.

You are correct that the governing party in the early 20th century was secular, and not just in name. However, that did not eliminate favoritism towards the dominant religion. That problem came from below - from the people. And, the empire did not cease being a theocracy.

Again, the underlying problem for the empire was to be both multi-religious and dominated by people of one religion. That problem killed the empire.

I do not doubt that the empire had major losses. I do not doubt that they played a major role in the attitudes of the elite of the country and the average person. I do not doubt that at all.

The issue is how these problems were addressed. Again: in WWI, the leaders of the country thought that by throwing out the British and siding with the Germans, the problems of re-vitalizing the empire and reclaiming lost lands could be solved. That strategy was advanced. It led to improvements, early on, as predicted. Notwithstanding these advances, the country's leadership decided to solve the problem of being a multi-religious country by ridding itself of Christians, most particularly Armenian Christians. This was not a necessary thing. And, it resulted in horrific massacres aimed at eliminating, by killing off, the Armenian population permanently.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/24/2010

I would like to add two points.

The first is that the tanzimat reforms were enacted, even if not loved by all. Some of them, the abolishment of slavery in 1847, equal status for all subjects irrespective of religion in 1863, the abolishment of capital punishment for changing religion and homosexuality were definitely in contradiction with Islamic law. Democracy at communal level started in the 1850ies. 160 years later other countries are still discussing whether islam is compatible with democracy.

So we can after the 1850ies no longer call Islamic law the problem. At latest in 1908 the secularists were in power and everybody knew that.

Second point:
Mussolini said the British had grown soft and would soon lose their empire. In hisown brutality he saw whatthey had been doing when they built their empires. Soon after, the British did lose their empire.

Of course there were empires before the west used ist technology to enslave virtually the entire rest of mankind. Of course they could be brutal. The difference is the Roman or the Ottoman or the Chinese or the Mogul Empires treated their provinces as their provinces. The Ottoman empire knew no priviliged region like say the British or French Empires. They did not differentiate between Homeland and colonies. None of them developed the kind of destructivity which has turned South America into Latin America by destroying the cultures which had been there before them. This was also done to Turkey in Europe which was but today is no longer Turkey in Europe. Mass muder and deportations as well as the destruction fo the architectural heritage have made her disappear in a way the christian cultures of the Ottoman Empire did not before the 20th century.

In 1912 Ottoman Macedonia was devastated. The people of the governing party union and progress were all from this region. It was their homes that was devastated, their families and friends killed. They could read in the newspapers that Anatolia was next. They the government would be the last government their people were ever to have. If a reaction, even a very brutal one, is not reacting in self defence, I do not know what you would call self defence.

Just to remind you: we still exist. The strategy was succesful.

N. Friedman - 3/23/2010


I was saying that blame - not all of it but much of it - goes to the fact that the Ottoman Empire was a theocracy, one which operated in accordance with, by then, outdated religious views that, in fact, came from Islam. Were outdated views from Christianity to have been the basis for that theocracy, it too would have difficulties in regard to non-Christians living as infidel - and, unlike in Islam, not necessarily "tolerated" infidel - under Christian theocratic rule.

How a Christian Ottoman Empire would have played out its disputes is anyone's guess and I do not venture one on that hypothetical. The real point here is that we are talking about the Ottoman Empire which, in fact, was a theocracy based on Islam. So, Islam is part of the mix in understanding the events.

In the Ottoman Empire, social status was determined by religious confession, with Islam getting top position because the rulers were Muslim and organized the country in accordance with Islamic legal principles. And, all involved knew that there was a divide in the country, by religion, which had impact on a great many things including a variety of legal disabilities for infidels living in the country. And, everyone knew that such division was in accordance with religious precepts drawn from Islam.

That much is undeniable fact. And, to weed out of the issue the fact that the fundamental divide in the country was drawn by religious confession and that the justification for the divide was found in Islamic legal and theological writings is to avoid a considerable portion of - albeit not the entire - issue.

Note my view of Islamic rule: in that Islam is a religion of laws, that has both a good and a bad side. The good side is, as with legal systems, whatever rights and privileges are afforded by those laws tend to have a limiting factor on the evil that may occur. In the context of the pre-modern world, Islamic law was, in many ways, very just so that was a good thing. The bad side is that religious law tends to be static and, hence, is difficult to reform. Laws that created disabilities for non-Muslims alienated non-Muslims, most especially when they were in possession of European ideologies which, in theory, eliminated such distinctions and claimed to provide the same rights to all of mankind. [Note: I am not saying that Europeans did what their ideology provided only that they put revolutionary ideas into the air for all to learn.] So, conflict was important and, since the focal point was religion, Islam is an important piece of the tension. Of course, European ideas were also a cause of tension, because they called the order of things into question.

Now, the West has its own problems, some of which stem from religion and some from secularism. You are, I think, correct that the West views itself as the universal way of life, at times using that as a pretext to conquer and as a force supporting the view of bringing civilization to others.

I am not sure I would tie totalitarian ideologies such as Nazism to everything that West has done. That, to me, is a pretty big exaggeration, if that is what you are saying. The main reason the West lorded it over other parts of the world is that the scientific revolution took place in Europe. Hence, European technology was such that it could conquer and, like all people who can conquer, they conquered, using a variety of ideologies as pretext or driving force (e.g. spreading civilization). I suppose the Marxists would say that there was a need for foreign markets to solve economic problems. Either way, without the scientific and technical wherewithal, there would not have been much conquest.

As I noted earlier, the Ottoman Empire was in turmoil during the 19th Century. This was, if we go by Professor Lewis' book, due to a host of factors including the failure to implement a scientific way of thinking among a sufficient segment of society, lost battles, increasingly tyrannical-type rule from the Sultans, the inherent problem of modern ideologies at war with a theocracy, etc., etc. These are the big causes of what happened to the the Empire.

However, the trigger against the Armenians was pulled by people in the dying Ottoman Empire, at a time when, as I noted, the Empire thought it was beginning to solve its problems by siding with the Germans. So, it is too simple to say that it was all defensive, occurring within a dispute. It was, instead, unnecessary and cruel.

This, as noted, does not take anything away from the cruelty of Europeans towards the Ottoman Empire. But, that does not excuse what the Ottoman Empire did to the Armenians, which was not wholly or even mostly self-defense.

One last point. One of the problems in the Empire was the unwillingness of many in the country to accept the Tanzimet reforms. They were hated, since they meant a loss of privilege, privilege that had justification in religion. And, to note: human beings rarely give up privileges voluntarily so adding religion - any religion - into the mix as the justification for the privilege creates difficulties.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/22/2010

Mr Friedman,

I share your view that secularism was necessary. If you look at the development of Ottoman law, the Tanziamt reforms had started introducing secularism and the CUP, running Turkey after 1908 was a secularist party. If Turkey had not lost WW1 they would have remained in power and done more or less the same reforms as Ataturk. The secularist model employed here was that of France which was introduce in 1905. Turkey was very quick to follow. Before that such a state did not exist.

I do not share the view that Islam was the main problem. This is post 9-11 ideology.

After around1800 christian countries populated by white skinned people developed the idea that they were in some way superior to the rest of mankind. We are forgetting this basic ideology which was discredited by Hitler and forgotten because if white christians had continued to think they were superior they would have lost the cold war.

Based on this ideology the master races colonized the world. They killed most american indians to make place for themselves. They started to kill the moslems of europe to give their countries to themselves. This is the reason why the moslem majority areas on europe 1800 are now christian majority areas. The driving force was Romanov Russia.

During the 19th century Britain and France supported Turkey to a certain extent against Russia. Not for what Tukrey was but for what Russia would become if she annected Turkey, as Karl Marx put it.

With Germany’s rise Britain and France allied with Russia. The Russians price was Turkey. In the Balkan war 1912 what had been left of European Turkey, todays Northern Greece, Souther Yugoslavia, parts of Bulgaria were invaded, hundreds of thousands of moslems killed, milliond deported. There is a book on this war by Leo Trotzki, who was working as a war corespondent. He reports that happily the powers had agreed on the partition of Anatolia. That is what is left as Turkey today. One of the targets the allies had in WW 1 was the elimination of the Turkish people.

In this situation joining the other side to knock out Romanov Russia was a strategy which historically did work, Turkey is still there.

There might be recriminations to be made for all the killing. At present they come from people who tried to exterminate the Turkish people and did kill 5 million Turks. That episode has been erased from western historiography, there remain only Armenians to be remembered.

That is not acceptable.

N. Friedman - 3/19/2010


You are certainly correct that the Nazis had choices. And, they did not have any good reason to choose to turn on their Jewish population.

I am not so sure that I agree at all with your view of their being a lack of available choices for the Ottoman Empire regarding its Armenian and Greek Christians. Certainly, the Empire faced conflict with all the non-Muslim populations it ruled once European sponsored ideas of equality found their way into the thinking of the country's non-Muslim population. Those ideas were very powerful and have brought demands for equality pretty much everywhere they have reached, all across the world. And, certainly, the European powers used such ideas as a pretext to demand changes based on notions of equality for people of all faiths and used the lack of equality as justification to intervene in the Empire's internal affairs (e.g., the French gaining a foothold in Lebanon to protect the Maronite Christian population).

At the same time - and I think you underestimate this -, there were important parties among the ruling elite of the Empire who also wanted reform along the lines of European development. The problem, however, was that the Ottoman Empire was a vast, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Empire that, on paper and, frankly, not only on paper, was a theocracy, one that had rulers from one religion and tolerated infidels with negotiated privileges who, at the time, wanted equality with those of the ruling religious group.

There were, as you surely know, proposals to create a form of Ottoman citizenry. This might have reconciled those of other religions, had it been thought fully through and implemented. There were other proposals to shrink the country into a Turkish Asian Empire and to cede the vast, primarily Christian, regions. There were a lot of other proposals tried as well. The latter idea, of course, was a problem for Armenians, given their homeland in Asia and between Turkey and other Turkish peoples.

Conservatism won out until the Empire collapsed. The Tanzimet reforms, while in place, were not fully embraced. The Christian groups which wanted equality were not getting it and, as such, they were being forced to consider options other than loyalty to the Empire. Yes, not all Christians were openly looking to get out. The handwriting, however, was on the wall, so to speak, so there were going to be more and more demands for equality.

Groups such as displaced Italians, of course, might not look for independence since they had no national home within the Empire. Greeks and Armenians did. Jews did as well but not inside of what is now Modern Turkey or Greece where most Ottoman Jews lived.

My gut reaction is that the ultimate problem for the Empire was that it was a theocracy. The leadership's position and privileges could only make sense and be maintained by justification of serving the needs of the religion. That form of political organization was, by then, no longer viable, given the ongoing triumph of European ideas of equality. So, the theocratic nature of the Empire is an important part of what led to fateful decisions to reject, among other ideas, a nation based on Ottoman citizenship. [Note: I supposed it might be said that the Greek Christian population came to reject the idea of Ottoman citizenry as well because, by the time the idea arose, it was, for them at least, too little, too late.]

Of course, the idea of a secular state was later adopted. The idea adopted by Attaturk - truly one of the 20th Century's giants - of a Turkish secular state, had it been adopted earlier, might have avoided the the centrifugal forces that made Christians so dissatisfied with the Empire.

None of that occurred, of course. Were it the case that the Empire merely pushed out its Armenian population, with some comparatively small number of people being killed, your theory might be an adequate explanation. However, the scale of the killing, the repetition of the killing, beginning in 1894-96, then in 1908 and then during WWI, are hard to explain by the pressure under which the Empire lived with an unruly population.

There is one other point. When the Empire kicked out the British and sided with the Germans, the rulers of the country expressed, by all accounts I have read, the view that they had found a way to solve their problems and reclaim lost lands. They were in good spirits, by all reports I read, for the early period of the war. Still, the massacres began, notwithstanding the fact that the Ottomans were winning battles and driving back, for example, the British. That is not consistent with the view that the Empire had no choice but to act against its Armenian population. It is consistent with using a bubble of opportunity, during WWI, to rid itself of a nuisance population by any and all means available.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/19/2010

To conclude:
germany leaving the Jews in peace would have won the war, Turkey letting the Armenians do their thing woudl have ceazed to exist.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/19/2010

My point would be: The Nazis did have the option of simply leaving the Jews live in peace. The Jews would have remained loyal citizens of Germany and Germany would probably have won the war with their support. Let us remember WW 1. It was a German Jewish scientist who invented posion gas to serve his fatherland. In Germany you can hear the view from apologists that Jews had been greedy and making money out of speculation business during WW1 and this was what the Nazis were trying prevent.

Turkey on the other side was dealing with a revolt of her christian subjects since around 1774. She was kept in a continuous state of war by the Russians who were inciting the Christians to revolt. For around 150 years the Ottoman government tried to win the christians by giving them priviliges. The only result this had was further weakening the Moslems and making the Christians richer and more convinced of their own racial superiority, this led to daily increasing atrocities against the Moslems.

What is not known in the west. The Ottoman empire started an industrialisation effort in 1840. This did not work because the revolts were draining the treasury as was intended by Russia which was starting them.

In fact in the 1970ies you could hear the slogan make one make ten make a hundred viet nams. The communinsts were trying to drain the resources of the US in guerilla wars. A hundred years before that Russia was following exactly the same policy in the Ottoman empire.

This is the situation in which Greek and Armenian Christians became hated. Thatit was not a general aggressiveness against minorities is demonstrated by the fact that catholics and jews could continue to live in peace. At that point Turkey has an enormous Italian minority which had been living there since the middle ages. Some of them are still there.

After WW1 the British invaded istanbul and looked for a genocide order in the Ottoman archives. There was none. In some places the Armenians were deported without many atrocities, in others brutally killed by angry people who had the chance.

There is a book about the Balkan war 1912 by Leo Trotzki. He quotes an Armenian protesting to the queen of Bulgaria about how the Bulgarians were treating the Turks in places they occupied. His worry is that Turks will do the same to the Armenians. The queen consoles him, saying that Armenians might first suffer but theh they too wil be able to finish off the Turks, like the Bulgarians were doing.

Let us remember: in 1876 Ottoman Bulgaria had been populated by Turks and Slavs for 1500 years and had a 2/3 Moslem majority.

Today only 1/10th is Moslem.

That was the model for Armenia. The hope of one side the fear of the other.

N. Friedman - 3/18/2010


I do not think that anyone would deny that what happened to the Armenians had no history which led the Ottoman government to turn towards eliminating the Armenian population. That was the case for the Nazis and other groups which have committed terrible massacres, whether called genocide or not.

The Nazis, after all, had suffered the humiliation of losing WWI, the humiliating Versailles Treaty at the end of that war, with its requirements that Germans pay large sums of money to other countries and demilitarize, etc. The Nazi faction blamed Jews for what happened.

In the Ottoman Empire, there was, as you note, the decline of the Empire with its loss of territory and large scale casualties and massacres. There was the influence of foreign powers in the Empire, most especially the intrusive and arrogant British who had substantial influence over the Empire. There were the demands, met in part, that the Empire afford greater equality to its non-Muslim subjects. There were the constant wars that were mostly lost by the Empire.

So, there was certainly a context for the Empire to turn on the Armenians - a tolerated national group of the wrong religion. In 1894-96, there were terrible massacres, with more than 200,000 Armenians killed. They were accused with siding with the Empire's enemies - technically, the allegation was that the Armenians breached the dhimma by means of support for the Russians.

Be that as it may, the point is that terrible massacres always have a context, real or imagined. My understanding is that while there were at least some Armenians who sided with the Russians, such was not the norm. There were, also, Armenians who did want independence, no doubt and, at the very least, far greater equality - which certainly aroused opposition from those who had privileges and did not want to lose them.

Which is to say, I do not think that the context argument alters how the Armenians were treated.

At the same time, you do make a very good and important point that historians often tend to ignore how the Empire was treated. That is, I think, a very reasonable and strong point.

That point just does not alter my interpretation of what occurred to the Armenians although, clearly, it does alter my interpretation of what happened to Ottoman Muslims - which was, as you note, pretty terrible.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/18/2010

Living in western countries, I am always surprized by how hated the Turks are.

It started in the 6th grade of an American school. The pupils were being told that the Moslem prophet was insane and believed himself to be talking to God.

Wheras ours was insane, their own prophet was of course the son of God. Less would not have done it.

The crusades had been necessary because the barbaric Turks had been prosecuting the poor Christians. They could not see the whole affairs as the senseless killing of 1000 years ago.

And so on.

Among such people there is market for anti Turkish propaganda done by Turks. You can make money and become famous by distorting historic truth to incite people to hatred against Turks.

One such person is Nobel laurate Orhan Pamuk. Nobody actually reads his books becaus ethey are badly written. His most notorious work snow is about a group of theater pactors actually making a coup in Kars. On every page of the book he claims that Kars is an Armenian town appearently because some of the architects building houses during the Russian occupation were Armenians.

He was given a Nobel prize so that everybody reads this nonsense to discover that Kars is an Armenians town to be given to Armenai at earliest possible date. Good money he made there.

Mr Akcam is another such hero.

Has anybody ever heard of any real historical work he ever did, before becoming famous as an Armenian nationalist mouthpiece?

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/18/2010

Dogu Perincek

Mr Akcam call Dr Perincek the leader of the Nationalist Labor Party.

In fact the gentleman is the leader of the Maoist Labor Party. He has dedicated his life to hating the US. He also hates the Islamist government, which is why the government put him in jail.

As they put him in jail the Islmaist press wrote he had been betraying Turkish military secrets to the USA and the Israeli Mossad.

They did not say why a man who has dedicated his life to hating the US should actually betray military secrets the the US.

They did not say where Dr. Perincek was supposed to get any military secrets to betray.

They also did not say why the Israelis would need the leader of a Maoist party if they wanted any spying to be done.

He has now been in jail for two years on amorphous terrorism charges. Until now he has not been found guilty of anything, except his somewhat outdated love for the great chairman.

This is how the Islamist government people like Mr Akcam love for its actions against the Turkish military operates.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/18/2010

The political question to be answered is what is the Armenian problem and what woudl be the solution.

Since nobody s denying the mass killings of Armenians, one possible solution is that the Christian powers recognize tha mass killing of Moslems which led to that mass killing of Armenians.

Before 1915 was 1912 when European Turkey, present day northern Greece and the southern half of Yugoslavia was invaded, hundreds of thousands of Moslems killed and millions deported. In 1915 Armenian nationalists were trying to do the same in Eastern Anatolia.

One of the targets of the allies in WW 1 was the annihilation of the Turk. We survived because the Russian revolution broke the Romanov empire.

This could lead to mutual apologies and a common future.

Turkish nationalist leader Alpaslan Turkes proposed this solution in 1991 but it was not what Armenians were looking for.

They are trying to get a genocide internationally recognized to delegitimate the borders of Turkey. After that they hope the Christian powers will decide to take away a large part of Eastern Anatolia and give that to Armenia.

The protocoll Mr Akcam talks about have three major points.

One: Armenian recognizes the borders with Turkey as they stand today.

Two: an international historicians commission analyses the events of 1915 to decide whether they constiture genocide or not.

Three. The border betweenm the two states is opened.

After the protocolls were signed the Armenian supreme court decided:

One: Armenian constitution declares Eastern Anatolia to be Armenia therefore Armenia is not allowed to recognize the border.

Two: Calling 1915 a genocide is given by the Armenian constitution therefore historicians can not be allowed to discuss what actulaly happened.

They will know why they refuse a serious analysis of what did happen.

Three they do graciously allow the Turks to open the border, which was closed after Armenia invaded 20 % of the territory of neighboring Azerbaijan and forced over 1 million people out of their homes into exile.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/18/2010

Mr Akcam proposes the notion that recognizing his facts is the solution of the Armenian and Kurdish problems.

The recognition of the reality that Kurds live in Eastern Anatolia has brough to solution. It has made the “Kurdish National Movement”, as they call themselves, more assertive.

They demand that “Kurdestan” is given an autonomy status which is practically that of an independant state. It would not be an independant state because the region has a pro capita income of around 1000 $, wheras provinces of Turkey proper have an income per capita of 10 – 15 000 $. They expect Turkey to finance their economic development before they break away.

The Kurdish provinces are so poor because people have not been investing their money in the region where the Kurdish National Movement has been waging a terrorist war for 25 years. They missed out the ebst years of economic boom.

Further more they dmeand cultural autonomy for the Kurds living in Turkey proper. They would be getting their own school etc.

Let us remember the US civil war was fought out over the question of whether some parts of the country have a right to secede.

Most states would answer no.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/18/2010

Genocide or not

Nobody is denying that there has been a mass killing of Armenians and Moslems in Anatolia during WW1.

To the best of our knowledge around 2,5 Million moslem non-combatants and several hundred thousand Armenians died, a lot of them during the deportation.

There was a mass killing of Moslem civilians in Bosnia during the 1990ies. The Bosnian Moslems tried to get this recognized as genocide but the court in den Haag decided that not every mass killing at wartime is a genocide. This also applies to 1915 when the Armenians were openly collaborating with Romanov Russia to annihilate the Moslem majority of the part of Anatolia they wanted to have as independent Armenia.

Fahrettin Tahir - 3/18/2010