Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jews and Armenia

1. One of the more bizarre controversies over the past few weeks has been
over whether or not the Anti-Defamation League, under the helm of Abraham
Fox, should denounce the "genocide" of Armenians by Turkey during World
War I.

At first the ADL was reluctant to denounce the "genocide," but it was
coming under enormous media pressure (see

) for "hypocrisy" when denouncing Holocaust Deniers and their ilk while
refusing to take a clear "moral position" on the mass deaths of Armenians
during WWI.

It started with a billboard campaign by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
to combat bigotry and celebrate diversity ("No Place for Hate"). That
sparked bitter resentment in Watertown, Mass., a Boston suburb whose 8,000
Armenian-Americans make up nearly 25 percent of the population. Local
Armenians did not object to the initiative, but claimed that the ADL and
its director, Abraham Fox, denied the ugly legacy of the World
War I era Armenian "genocide."

A gaggle of Jewish assimilationist liberals then chimed in as an amen
chorus, denouncing the ADL for "hypocrisy." Some suggested the ADL was
being pusillanimous because Israel does not want to upset Turkey. The
rest of the mainstream media joined. Finally the ADL capitulated and
issued a
statement denouncing the "genocide" of the Armenians. Turkey itself
phoned Shimon Peres and asked that Israel persuade the Jewish SWAT teams
attacking Turkey over Armenians to cool it. The ADL fired the regional
director who had triggered the mess

). Ugly comments about Jews being indifferent to the "genocide" of
others filled the web.

The problem is that all those people are demanding that Jews take a "clear
moral" position on a matter that is not morally clear.

Yes, hundreds of thousands of Armenians died during WWI, mostly from

Was that a Holocaust? It certainly was nothing like the Holocaust either
in terms of the dimensions nor in terms of the actual behavior of the
Turks, often bad but not uniformly so (there were also serious Turkish
efforts to provide relief aid to the Armenians).

Since so much pseudo-history has been written about the mass deaths of the
Armenians, I am reprinting here in full the first-rate and indeed the
seminal piece on the fate of the Armenians, which appeared a couple of
years back in Commentary Magazine. Those who believe they know what
happened are invited to read it in full and find some surprises (a bit
long but worth the read!):

The First Genocide of the Twentieth Century?
The following article by Prof. Guenter Lewy appeared in the Dec.
2005 edition of COMMENTARY Magazine, a journal published by the American
Jewish Committee since 1945

The term "genocide," coined in 1944 by the Polish-Jewish .migr. lawyer
Raphael Lemkin, was meant to describe Hitler.s then-ongoing campaign to
exterminate the Jews of Europe. But Lemkin.s interest in this most heinous
of crimes.what he and others would define as the planned effort to destroy
an entire people or ethnic group.long predated the rise of the Nazis.

Raphael Lemkin
The atrocities that first drew him to the issue emerged from a different
world war and a different context. They were the vicious actions not of
Germans against Jews in the early 1940.s but of Ottoman Turks against
Turkey.s Armenian minority in 1915-16.

Today, however, the Armenian case remains controversial in a way that the
Holocaust, outside the fevered confines of the Arab world, does not. Like
every one of its predecessors since the rise of modern Turkey, the current
government in Ankara vehemently rejects the charge of genocide, and has
exerted strong diplomatic pressure against any attempt by outsiders to
place the events of World War I in a class with Hitler.s Final Solution.
In this, the Turks have been seconded not just by pro- Turkish apologists
but by a number of respected historians, including, most notably, Bernard
Lewis, the dean of American Orientalists and an expert on Turkey.

Against this view is the great tide of world opinion, from the official
proclamations of various governments and religious bodies to the declared
consensus of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Indeed,
so strong is sentiment on this question that even now, nearly a century
after the fact, the issue continues to color Turkey.s dealings with other
nations. On September 29, the European parliament in Strasbourg adopted a
resolution demanding that, as a condition of admission to the European
Union, Turkey acknowledge the mass killing of its Armenians during World
War I as an instance of genocide. And even beyond the issue of what
happened in 1915-16 and its relevance to Turkey.s political situation
today, the Armenian case continues to occupy a place of precedence in the
litany of all subsequent instances of mass murder and .ethnic cleansing,.
including most recently the killings in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda in the
1990.s and those in Sudan today.

No one, it should be stressed, disputes the extent of Armenian suffering
at the hands of the Turks.

With little or no notice, the Ottoman government forced Armenian men,
women, and children to leave their historic communities; during the
subsequent harrowing trek over mountains and through deserts, large
numbers of them died of starvation and disease, or were murdered. Although
the absence of good statistics on the size of the pre-war Armenian
population in Turkey makes it impossible to establish the true extent of
the loss of life, reliable estimates put the number of deaths at more than
650,000, or around 40 percent of a total Armenian population of 1.75

The historical question at issue is premeditation that is, whether the
Turkish regime intentionally organized the annihilation of its Armenian
minority. According to the Genocide Convention of 1948, such an intent to
destroy a group is a necessary condition of genocide; most other
definitions of this crime of crimes similarly insist upon the centrality
of malicious intent. Hence the crucial problem to be addressed is not the
huge loss of life in and of itself but rather whether the Turkish
government deliberately sought the deaths that we know to have occurred.

The Armenians have lived in the southern Caucasus, between the Black Sea
and the Caspian Sea, since ancient times. In the early 4th century c.e.,
they were the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Much
of their long history, however, has been spent under foreign rule. The
last independent Armenian state (before the present-day, post-Soviet
Republic of Armenia) fell in 1375, and by the early 16th century most
Armenians were subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Under the millet system
instituted by Sultan Mohammed II (1451-1481), they enjoyed religious,
cultural, and social autonomy as a .loyal community,. a status that lasted
well into the 19th century.

Though large numbers of Armenians settled in Constantinople and in other
Ottoman towns, where they prospered as merchants, bankers, and artisans,
the majority continued to live as peasants in eastern Anatolia. During the
autocratic rule of Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909), the lot of the Armenians
deteriorated, and nationalistic sentiment began to emerge. In June 1890,
Armenian students in the Russian-controlled area of the Caucasus organized
the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Demanding the political and
economic emancipation of Turkish Armenia, the Dashnaks (as they were
known) waged guerrilla warfare against Turkish army units, gendarmerie
posts, and Kurdish villages involved in attacks on Armenians. They
operated from bases in the Caucasus and Persia and took advantage of
eastern Anatolia.s mountainous terrain.

When, in 1908, the nationalist, modernizing movement known as the Young
Turks seized power in Constantinople in a bloodless coup, the Dashnaks
declared an end to their fighting. But the truce did not last. With
Turkey.s entry into World War I on the side of Germany and against Russia,
the Armenians. traditional ally, the Dashnaks resumed their armed
resistance. By April 1915, Armenian guerrilla activities had picked up
momentum. Roads and communication lines were cut. Henry Morgenthau, the
American ambassador in Constantinople, reported to Washington on May 25
that nobody put the Armenian guerrillas .at less than 10,000, and 25,000
is probably closer to the truth.. Meanwhile, the Russian branch of the
Dashnaks was organizing volunteers to fight the Turks on the Caucasus

Most of these volunteers.numbering 15,000, according to one Armenian
source.were themselves Russian subjects, exempt from military service, but
some of them were Turkish Armenians who had crossed the border to join the
volunteer units. Offers of help also poured in from the Armenian diaspora,
from as far away as Western Europe and the U.S. In March 1915, the Dashnak
organization in Sofia, Bulgaria, proposed to land 20,000 volunteers on the
Turkish coast in the Armenian stronghold of Cilicia. That same month, the
Boston-based Armenian National Defense Committee of America informed the
British foreign secretary that it was making .preparations for the purpose
of sending volunteers to Cilicia, where a large section of the Armenian
population will unfurl the banner of insurrection against Turkish rule..
It was hoped that the British and French governments would supply them
with ammunition and artillery.

Antranik Toros Ozanian
Turkish fears of an internal revolt were exacerbated the following month
by an uprising that took place in the city of Van. Close to the Russian
border and in the heartland of historic Armenia, Van had long been a
center of nationalist agitation. On April 24, 1915, the Turkish governor
reported that 4,000 Armenian fighters had opened fire on the police
stations, burned down Muslim houses, and barricaded themselves in the
Armenian quarter. About 15,000 refugees from the countryside eventually
joined the now-besieged rebels. Less than a month later, the insurgents
were saved by the advancing Russian army, forcing the Turkish garrison to
retreat. Whether the Van uprising was a rebellion designed and timed to
facilitate the advance of the Russians or a defensive action aimed at
preventing the already planned deportation of the Armenian community
remains one of the points of fierce contention in the historiography of
the time. [48] Commentary December 2005 When not tying down Turkish army
units, the Dashnaks were of significant help to the Russian army itself
(leaving aside the 150,000 Armenian subjects of the czar who served in its
ranks). Deeply familiar with the rugged mountains of eastern Anatolia, the
Armenian volunteers were invaluable scouts and guides. In one famous
episode, the legendary Armenian military leader Andranik Ozanian met with
General Mishlayevsky, commander of the czar.s forces in the Caucasus, late
in the summer of 1914, pointing out the routes through which the Russian
army could advance on Turkey.

Thus, as the Turks saw it, the Armenian people the world over had thrown
in their lot with the Allied cause and were arrayed against them in a
fateful struggle. Having come to consider the Armenians a fifth column,
the Ottoman regime decided to take decisive measures to put an end to
their treasonable actions. As Morgenthau reported to Washington in July
1915: .[B]ecause Armenian volunteers, many of them Russian subjects, have
joined the Russian army in the Caucasus and because some have been
implicated in armed revolutionary movements and others have been helpful
to Russians in their invasion of the Van district, terrible vengeance is
being taken.. In the eyes of the Young Turks, however, the issue was not
so much vengeance as national survival in a situation of extreme danger
caused by serious military setbacks. The British had taken Basra in
Mesopotamia and were moving toward Baghdad. The Allies had launched their
assaults on the Dardanelles. Fearing the fall of the capital, the Turks
were making preparations to evacuate the sultan and the treasury from
Constantinople. Meanwhile, Russian troops were advancing into eastern
Anatolia, and Armenian guerrillas were active in the rear of the Turkish
army, threatening the very lifelines of the empire. Even if only a limited
number of Armenians had actually taken up arms, the authorities in
Constantinople understood themselves to be dealing with a population of

Boghos Nubar
Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the war and at the Paris peace
conference in 1919, the Armenians would make no bones about their
contribution to the Allied victory. To the contrary: Boghos Nubar, the
head of the Armenian delegation, asserted in late October 1918 that his
people had in fact been belligerents, fighting alongside the Allies on all
fronts; in particular, he wrote to the French foreign minister, 150,000
Armenians had fought in the Russian army and had held the front in the
Caucasus after the Russians dropped out of the war in 1917. As Nubar would
tell the peace conference on March 8, 1919, the Turks had devastated the
Armenians .in retaliation for our unflagging devotion to the cause of the
Allies.. By means of such rhetoric Nubar was obviously hoping to win the
support of the peace conference for an independent Armenia. But, the
essential facts were correct as he stated them: the Armenians had indeed
supported the Allies in a variety of ways. Ignoring warnings from many
quarters, large numbers of them had fought the Turks, and the government,
with its back to the wall, reacted resolutely and viciously. Although none
of this can serve to justify what the Turks did to them, it provides
indispensable historical context for the human catastrophe that ensued.

There is no denying the dimensions of that catastrophe. The harsher
methods employed by the Young Turks included the killing of Armenian
notables in Constantinople and the eastern provinces. As for Armenian
civilians, perhaps as many as 1 million were turned out of their homes. On
a journey through the most inhospitable terrain, they routinely lacked
shelter and food and were often subjected to the murderous violence of
their government-provided escorts and the Kurdish tribesmen who occupied
the route southward to Ottoman-controlled Syria. Massive numbers died
along the way. Can we account for this tragedy without the hypothesis of a
genocidal plan on the part of the Young Turks? Most authors supporting the
Armenian cause answer in the negative. They cite foreign diplomats on the
scene who, in the face of the large number of deaths, concluded that so
terrible a loss of life could only be an intended outcome of the
deportations. And yet such a conclusion once again ignores the immediate
backdrop against which this horrific episode must be seen.

If one of the main causes of the Armenian disaster was starvation, the
Armenians were hardly alone in experiencing such deprivation. Severe food
shortages were endemic to Turkey at the time. The military mobilization of
large numbers of peasants in 1914, as well as the reckless requisitioning
of their horses, oxen, and carriages, had made it impossible to bring in
the harvest and left many fields untilled for the following year.s crop.
In the spring of 1915, Ambassador Morgenthau told Washington that the
empire.s whole domestic situation was .deplorable,. with .thousands of the
populace . . . daily dying of starvation.. In the late [49] The First
Genocide of the 20th Century? spring and summer of 1915, the Ottoman
provinces of Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria were devastated by a plague of
locusts, creating famine conditions. To exacerbate matters, Allied
warships had blockaded the coast of Syria and Lebanon, thus preventing the
import of food from Egypt.

Moreover, the food that was available in Turkey often could not be
distributed. The country.s few existing one-track railroads were
overburdened, and shortages of coal and wood frequently rendered
locomotives unusable. A crucial tunnel on the line toward Syria.the famous
Baghdad railway.remained unfinished until late in the war. The resulting
scarcities afflicted even the Turkish army, whose troops, as one German
officer reported, received a maximum of one third of their allotted
rations. In circumstances where soldiers in the Turkish army were dying of
undernourishment, it is not so surprising that little if any food was made
available to the deported Armenians. Indeed, the mistreatment of common
Turkish soldiers, the subject of many comments by contemporaries, makes an
instructive comparison with the wretched lot of the Armenians. Although
.provisions and clothing had been confiscated to supply the army,. wrote
an American missionary in Van, .the soldiers profited very little by this.
They were poorly fed and poorly clothed when fed or clothed at all.. The
Danish missionary Maria Jacobsen noted in her diary on February 7, 1915:
.The officers are filling their pockets, while the soldiers die of
starvation, lack of hygiene, and illness..

Many had neither boots nor socks, and were dressed in rags. The treatment
of Turkish soldiers who were wounded or sick was especially appalling.
Those who managed to reach hospitals.many never did.perished in large
numbers because of unsanitary conditions and a lack of basic supplies.
Patients shared beds or simply lay next to each other on the floor in
facilities that often lacked running water and electricity. Typhus,
cholera, dysentery, and other infectious diseases spread rapidly. As Maria
Jacobsen noted on May 24, 1916, a cholera outbreak in the city of Malatia
was killing 100 soldiers a day. .The army there,. she wrote, .will soon be
wiped out without a war.. The Turks experienced some 244,000 combat deaths
during World War I. As against this, some 68,000 soldiers died of their
wounds and almost a half-million of disease.a ratio of non-combat to
combat deaths almost certainly unmatched by any of the other warring
nations. This terrible toll obviously does not excuse the treatment of the
Armenians, but neither can it be simply ignored in any assessment of the
general conditions against which they met their fate. Many of the Turkish
deaths could have been prevented by better sanitary conditions and medical
care. A government so callous about the suffering of its own soldiers was
hardly about to show concern for the terrible human misery that would
result from deporting a minority population rightly or wrongly suspected
of treason. One of the problems bedeviling the Armenian side in this
controversy is that no authentic documentary evidence exists to prove the
culpability of the central government of Turkey for the massacre of
1915-16. In the face of this lack, Armenians have relied upon materials of
questionable authenticity like The Memoirs of Naim Bey by Aram Andonian.
The English edition of this book, first published in 1920, offers in
evidence 30 alleged telegrams by Talaat Pasha, Turkey.s minister of the
interior, some of which order the killing of all Armenians irrespective of
sex or age. But the book is considered a forgery not only by Turkish
historians but by practically every Western student of Ottoman history.

Similarly unreliable are the verdicts of Turkish military tribunals that
in 1919-20 found the top leadership of the Young Turk regime, together
with a special-forces outfit called Teskilat-i Mahsusa, responsible for
the massacres of the Armenians. These trials suffered from serious
deficiencies of due process; more importantly, all of the original trial
documents are lost, leaving nothing but copies of some documents that were
printed in the government gazette and the press.

It is true that no written record of Hitler.s order for the Final Solution
of the .Jewish question. has been found, either. But the major elements of
the decision-making process leading up to the annihilation of the Jews of
Europe can be reconstructed from events, court testimony, and a rich store
of authentic documents. It is doubtful that the Nuremberg trials would
ever have achieved their tremendous significance in authenticating the
crimes of the Nazi regime if they had had to rely on a few copies instead
of on the thousands of original documents preserved in archives. Barring
the unlikely discovery of sensational new documents in the Turkish
archives, it is safe to say that no similar evidence exists for the tragic
events of 1915-16. At the same time, a number of facts about the
deportations argue against the thesis that they constituted a premeditated
program for exterminating the Armenians of Turkey. For one thing, the
large [50] Commentary December 2005 Armenian communities of
Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo were spared deportation and, apart from
tribulations that also afflicted the Muslim populations of these cities,
survived the war largely intact. This would be analogous to Hitler.s
failing to include the Jews of Berlin, Cologne, and Munich in the Final
Solution. Moreover, the trek on foot that took so many lives was imposed
only on the Armenians of eastern and central Anatolia, a part of the
country that had no railroads. Elsewhere, and despite the fact that the
one-spur Baghdad line was overburdened with the transport of troops and
supplies, Armenian deportees were allowed to purchase rail tickets and
were thus spared at least some of the trials of the deportation process.
If, as is often alleged, the intent was to subject the exiles to a forced
march until they died of exhaustion, why was this punishment not imposed
on all? Similar variation can be found in the fortunes of other parts of
the Armenian population. While many of the exiles were left to fend for
themselves and often died of starvation, others were given food here and
there. Some gendarmes accompanying the convoys sold their charges to Kurds
who pillaged and murdered them, but other gendarmes were protective. In
some places all Armenians, irrespective of creed, were sent away, while in
others Protestant and Catholic (as opposed to Gregorian) Armenians were
exempted. Many of the deportees succumbed to the harsh conditions in their
places of resettlement, but others were able to survive by making
themselves useful as artisans or traders. In some locations, not even
conversion to Islam could purchase exemption from deportation; in others,
large numbers of Armenians were allowed, or forced, to convert and were
saved. All of these differences, of both treatment and outcome, are
difficult to reconcile with a premeditated program of total annihilation.
How, then, to explain the events of 1915-16? What accounts for the
enormous loss of life? The documentary evidence suggests that the Ottoman
government wanted to arrange an orderly process of deportation.even a
relatively humane one, to gauge by the many decrees commanding protection
and compassionate treatment of the deportees. But, leaving aside the
justice of the expulsion order itself, the deportation and resettlement of
the Armenians took place, as we have seen, at a time of great insecurity
and dislocation throughout the country and in conditions of widespread
suffering and deprivation among Turkish civilians and military personnel.
The job of relocating several hundred thousand people in a short span of
time and over a highly primitive system of transportation was simply
beyond the ability of the Turkish bureaucracy. Many observers on the
scene, indeed, saw the tragedy in this light, constantly citing the
incompetence and inefficiency of the Ottoman bureaucracy. .The lack of
proper transportation facilities,. wrote the American consul in Mersina in
September 1915, .is the most important factor in causing the misery.. The
German consul in Aleppo told his ambassador around the same time that the
majority of Armenian exiles were starving to death because the Turks were
.incapable of solving the organizational task of mass feeding.. A lengthy
memorandum on the Armenian question drawn up in 1916 by Alexander von
Hoesch, an official in the German embassy, pointed to a basic lack of
accountability: some local officials had sought to alleviate the hardships
of the exiles, but others were extremely hostile to the Armenians and, in
defiance of Constantinople, had abandoned them to the violence of Kurds or

Today, the stakes in this historical controversy remain high, and both
sides continue to use heavyhanded tactics to advance their views. The
Turkish government regularly threatens retaliation against anyone calling
into question its own version of events, a threat made good most recently
by its cancellation of an order for a $149-million French spy satellite
after the French national assembly declared in 2001 that the killing of
the Armenians during World War I was a case of genocide. For their part,
the Armenians have also played hardball. When Bernard Lewis, in a 1994
letter to Le Monde, questioned on scholarly grounds the existence of a
plan of extermination on the part of the Ottoman government, a
French-Armenian organization brought suit and a French court convicted
Lewis of causing .grievous prejudice to truthful memory.. But there are
also more hopeful signs, at least on the academic front. In the last
several years, a number of conferences have brought together Turkish and
Armenian scholars willing to discuss the events of 1915-16 without a
political agenda. Turkish historical scholarship has shown signs of a
post-nationalist phase, while some scholars on the Armenian side, too, now
engage in research free of propagandistic rhetoric.

Needless to say, such efforts have brought down accusations of betrayal,
even treason, upon the heads of the offending historians; it would be
foolish to expect genuine reconciliation any time soon. [51] The First
Genocide of the 20th Century? All of which raises deeply troubling
questions, not least about the role played by the Notion of genocide
itself in perpetuating the almost century-old impasse between Turks and
Armenians. For, once this charge is on the table, any sort of mutually
acceptable resolution becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to
achieve. As the Turkish historian Selim Deringil has written, both sides
need to .step back from the was-it-genocide-or-not dialogue of the deaf.
and instead seek a .common project of knowledge.. If, then, we were to
follow this advice, how best should we judge the Armenian tragedy? The
primary intent of the deportation order was undoubtedly not to eradicate
an entire people but to deny support to the Armenian guerrilla bands and
to remove the Armenians from war zones and other strategic locations. For
the Ottomans, painful experience with other Christian minorities during
the Balkan wars (1912-13) had created extreme sensitivity to rebellion and
territorial loss. Talaat Pasha, the minister of the interior, is supposed
to have told the cabinet in 1915, .We have to create a Turkish bloc, free
of foreign elements, which in the future will never again give the
Europeans the opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of Turkey..
Ambassador Morgenthau reported being told on several occasions by Enver
Pasha, the Turkish minister of war, that the government had to act
forcefully against any community, however small, that was bent upon
independence and was acting directly against the interests of the empire.
For the human disaster subsequently endured by its Armenian population,
the Ottoman regime certainly bears its due measure of responsibility, just
as it does for general corruption, bungling misrule, and indifference to
the suffering of its own population during World War I. And one can go
further: with the benefit of hindsight, it is also possible to question
whether the severity of the threat posed by Armenian revolutionaries
justified the drastic remedy of even partial deportation. The Canadian
researcher Gwynne Dyer may have put the case most appropriately in writing
that, although Turkish allegations of wholesale disloyalty, treason, and
revolt on the part of the Ottoman Armenians were .wholly true as far as
Armenian sentiment went,. they were .only partly true in terms of overt
acts, and totally insufficient as a justification for what was done. to
the Armenians. If both Armenians and Turks could accept this appraisal,
even as a starting point for further discussion, they would reach an
important milestone toward settling one of modern history.s most bitter
and longstanding conflicts. [52]

And see also

2. Look how upset I got the Moonbats:
"Arab" Jebusites and all!

3. Treason Chic:

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