The Armenian Genocide and America's Response.
By Peter Balakian.

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October 19, 2003

'The Burning Tigris': Human Rights Watch


The Armenian Genocide and America's Response.
By Peter Balakian.
Illustrated. 475 pp. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. $26.95.


The 20th century opened with an event that has been considered the template for the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews: the deportation and murder of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Yet while the Holocaust conjures up a host of images in our minds, we have no similar familiarity with the Armenian murders (which most serious observers agree fit the definition of genocide) nor the even less-known massacres of Armenians in the 1890's and in 1909. As Peter Balakian puts it in ''The Burning Tigris,'' they form a ''narrative lost to the public.''

Balakian, an Armenian-American poet who in 1997 published the acclaimed memoir ''Black Dog of Fate,'' a moving portrayal of growing up in the United States with the legacy of the Armenian genocide, seeks in ''The Burning Tigris'' to remind us that this neglect was not always the case. As he shows, the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire generated an enormous humanitarian response. Beginning with the 1894-96 massacres under Sultan Abdul Hamid II, in which 200,000 died, they galvanized American public opinion and sparked a countrywide campaign that would continue through World War I to aid the ''starving Armenians.'' It was spearheaded by prominent suffragists, industrialists and former abolitionists and was aided by a developing sensationalist press that found the massacres ''a compelling story.'' Americans received much of their information from Protestant missionaries who had been active among Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire for years, as well as from diplomats, doctors and relief workers like the Red Cross head Clara Barton.

Balakian sees the aid campaign as setting the stage for the 20th-century development of American human rights relief work, and he spends several chapters portraying its leading participants. Yet the book's real power derives from the eyewitness accounts of the genocide itself. The sheer volume of outsiders' testimony that Balakian compiles, and the horrifying similarity of their observations of men, women and children beaten, tortured, burned to death in churches or sent out into the desert to starve, is an overwhelmingly convincing retort to genocide deniers. Balakian also cites the evidence and confessions gathered in the promising, though quickly abandoned, postwar trials of Turkish officials.

Nevertheless, the Turkish government argues to this day that the deaths resulted not from a systematic campaign of extermination but from civil conflict instigated by rebellious Armenians. And it has used its importance as a strategic ally to make Western leaders complicit in this burial of history. As late as 2000, a resolution by the United States House of Representatives that would have officially labeled the killings ''genocide'' was tabled in the face of Turkish threats to cut access to military bases. Only recently, as Turkey moves to join the European Union, have some Turkish historians begun to question the official story.

The relative dearth of accessible literature on the Armenian genocide, and the growing interest today in questions of international justice and humanitarian intervention, make this book timely and welcome. Disappointingly, however, Balakian fails to weave the various strands of his account -- the genocide, the relief efforts and the wider issue of why the great powers failed to intervene -- into a consistent historical or analytical framework. Instead, he presents a disorganized, largely descriptive narrative that ultimately raises more questions than it answers. His main story, the genocide itself, is an unremitting depiction of irrational barbarism by sociopathic Turkish leaders and a fanatical population against a generally unresisting minority. Yet even the most terrible historical events are rarely this simple, as the countless volumes devoted to every aspect of the Nazi Holocaust attest. Attention to the complexities of causation and context in no way reduces the evil of the genocide or the culpability of the perpetrators.

Balakian agrees with the social psychologist Irwin Staub that ''a progression of changes in a culture and individuals'' is a prerequisite for genocide, but he provides only a superficial sense of the changes in the centuries-old relationship between Turks and Armenians that could unleash such violence. He offers a fascinating but typically all-too-fleeting glimpse of American Protestant missionaries' influence on the Christian Armenians and the tensions it created with the Muslim Turkish community.

As more immediate motives for the violence, Balakian mentions budding nationalism on both sides, Armenian demands for rights, the Ottoman empire's panic at its progressive loss of territory, jealousy of the Armenians' financial success and profits from confiscation of their property, Islamic fundamentalism and the great powers' reluctance to intervene. But he never pulls these factors together into a coherent backdrop. Nor does he provide much insight into the Armenian community in Turkey, leaving the reader to wonder why, as he describes it, Armenians continued to assert their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire even after it became clear that the Turkish aim was annihilation. Why -- as has been asked, and answered, about the European Jews -- was there not more resistance? His sources speak of Turks who opposed what was happening -- who were they, and how numerous were they? As the narration unfolds, such questions inevitably arise, but remain unaddressed.

Despite these weaknesses, ''The Burning Tigris'' does succeed in resurrecting a little-known chapter of American as well as Armenian history. It also underscores a crucial point about humanitarian responses to violations of human rights: outrage and outpourings of sympathy and aid may save some lives, but -- as the 20th century would show time and again -- they have little real impact in the face of state interests that militate against intervention. With ''The Burning Tigris'' Peter Balakian forcefully reminds us that almost a century after the Armenian genocide, the international community has yet to find a means of implementing Charlotte Perkins Gilman's vision, as pertinent today as it was in 1903: ''National crimes demand international law, to restrain, prohibit, punish, best of all, prevent.''

Belinda Cooper is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.



A limited but important look at the Armenian genocide

February 4, 2004

By John Shattuck, Globe Correspondent,

("The Burning Tigris; The Armenian Genocide and America's Response"; By Peter Balakian; HarperCollins; 475 pp. illustrated, $26.95.)

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Review: 'Burning Tigris' fans the flames of discourse

Published October 5, 2003

Stephen Feinstein, Special to the Star Tribune

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The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian

Tangled roots of genocide

By Mark Mazower

26 March 2004

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The forgotten genocide
(Filed: 06/04/2004)

Brendan Simms reviews The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian

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Artikel erschienen am Sa, 6. November 2004

Das geleugnete Verbrechen

Taner Akçam über den türkischen Genozid an den Armeniern

von Huberta von Voss

Taner Akçam: Armenien und der Völkermord. Die Istanbuler Prozesse und die türkische Nationalbewegung. Hamburger Edition. 439 S. 16 EUR.

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Artikel erschienen am Sa, 23. April 2005

Morden und verschweigen

Und sich erinnern: Zum neunzigsten Jahrestag des türkischen Völkermordes an den Armeniern sind mehrere wichtige Bücher erschienen

von Marko Martin

Charles Aznavour: Der einzige Zufall in meinem Leben bin ich. Militzke, Leipzig. 270 S., 18,60 EUR.

Wolfgang Gust (Hg): Der Völkermord an den Armeniern 1915/16. Dokumente aus dem Politischen Archiv des deutschen Auswärtigen Amts. Zu Klampen, Springe. 675 S., 44 EUR.

Rolf Hosfeld: Operation Nemesis. Die Türkei, Deutschland und der Völkermord an den Armeniern. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln. 351 S., 17,60 EUR.

Huberta von Voss (Hg): Porträt einer Hoffnung. Die Armenier. Hans Schiler, Berlin. 415 S., 16,50 EUR.

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The TLS  -- September 17, 2004   N.º 5294

The Definition

Andrew Mango

Peter Balakian


The Armenian Genocide

474 pp. Heinemann

0 434 00816 8

US: Harper Collins. 0 060 19840 0


It is easy to understand the anger and anguish of Armenian nationalists. They gaze at their terra irredenta, historic Armenia which lies almost entirely within the borders of the republic of Turkey, and which is dotted with the ruins of monuments bearing witness to the high culture of Armenian kingdoms before the Turkish  conquest from the eleventh century onward. But there are no irredenti — no unredeemed Armenians — in historic Armenia or elsewhere in Asia Minor. Nor are there any prospects of a reconquista. The population of the small landlocked Armenian republic in the southern Caucasus has fallen from over three million at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union to an estimated two million today. One-fifth of the territory of the neighbouring republic of Azerbaijan, which the Armenians have occupied, lies largely empty after the flight of close on one million of its Azeri inhabitants. There are not enough Armenians to hold un to recent conquests, let alone to people their terra irredenta in Turkey. Why have things come to such a sorry pass?

In his campaigning boo, Peter Balakian seeks to persuade liberal Americans in general, and members of the United States Congress in particular, that the Turks alone are to blame, and that, for reasons of real politik, the Christian West has failed to bring their crimes borne to them. In Balakian’s account, Muslim Turks have always oppressed Christian Armenians. Oppression turned to unprovoked massacre in the 1890s in the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, and peaked in genocide when the Young Turks deported the Armenians from Asia Minor in 1915 during the First World War. It was, he argues, the first genocide of the twentieth century and a model for the Jewish Holocaust. The historical record does not support Balakian’s thesis.

For eight centuries — from 1071 when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert, in historic Armenia, to the congress of Berlin in 1878 when the Armenian Question entered the agenda of international diplomacy —the Armenians lived as a self-governing religious community perfectly integrated into the mosaic of Ottoman society. They provided the Ottoman State with must of its craftsmen — from humble farriers to imperial architects, from potters to jewellers, and in modern times, mechanics, train drivers and dentists. Not only did many, if not most, of them adopt Turkish as their mother tongue, but in a rare linguistic phenomenon, the grammar of the Armenian language was affected by Turkish morphology. The Armenian contribution to Turkish culture was immense: they set up the first modern Turkish theatre, they published books in Turkish, they devised Turkish translations for new Western terms and concepts, they were prominent in Turkish music, both as composers and performers.

Like other non-Muslim communities, the Armenians were among the main beneficiaries of the nineteenth-century Tanzimat reforms which proclaimed the equality of the Sultan’s subjects, regardless of creed. The prosperity which the Tanzimat brought in its train drew the Armenians from their harsh homeland on the eastern Anatolian plateau to the great commercial centres of the Empire — to Trabzon, Istanbul, Izmir and the market towns of Asia Minor, where, together with the Greeks, they accounted for the bulk of a new middle class.

The Armenians had always been renowned as merchants and bankers; under the Tanzimat many became senior civil servants. Right up to 1914 there were Armenian ambassadors and Cabinet ministers serving the Ottoman State. Balakian does not mention them. Of course, the Armenians had grievances, particularly in the mountainous areas of eastern Anatolia, where they were subject to the depredations of Kurdish tribes and of destitute Circassian refugees, not to mention venal Ottoman officials. But most Muslims were much worse off.

As a result of Armenian emigration and the immigration of Muslim refugees fleeing from successive Russian advances in the Caucasus, Muslims carne to outnumber the Armenians by a large margin in historic Armenia. There were prosperous Armenian communities everywhere, but they were not in the majority in a single province. This posed the biggest problem for Armenian nationalists, when they began to agitate for autonomous government. In his celebrated essay, “Minorities”, Elie Kedourie described how ideas originating in the West destroyed the Armenian community in Asia Minor and the Jewish community in Iraq. la the case of the Armenians, these ideas came through two channels — from the Russian Empire where Armenian nationalism was born in the revolutionary ferment -of opposition to the rule of the Tsars, and from American missionaries whose schools produced the unintended effect of alienating the Armenians from their Ottoman environment. Kedourie relates how Armenian nationalist terrorism was the pretext for the anti-Armenian pogroms of the 1890s — the first major inter-communal clash between Muslims and Armenians, who had earlier been known to the Ottomans as “the faithful nation”. Even if one disregards the exaggerated figures put out by Armenian nationalists, and reduces the number of people killed to the more likely figure of 20,000—30,000, the pogroms were bad enough. But worse was to follow.

It was the decision of the Young Turks to enter the Great War on the side of Germany against Russia and the other Allies that sealed the fate of the Armenians. By 1914 there were roughly as many Armenians in the Russian as in the Ottoman Empire. Torn between two warring sides, the Armenians were bound to prefer the Christian Russians. One can argue about the extent of the threat posed by Armenian irregulars to the Ottoman army, which was trying to contain a Russian advance in eastern Anatolia in 1915. In the words of the American military historian Edward Erickson, “It is beyond doubt that the actuality of Armenian revolts in the key cities astride the major eastern roads and rail­roads posed a significant military problem in the real sense”.

But it is hard to argue that the problem justified the decision of Enver Pasha and the other Young Turk leaders to deport almost the entire Armenian population of Asia Minor (outside Izmir and, of course, Istanbul). The Young Turks issued a sheaf of orders and regulations which, in theory, were meant to ensure the humane evacuation and transport of deportees. But as Erickson points out, “Enver Pasha’s plans hinged on non-existent capabilities that guaranteed inevitable failure”. An earlier military historian, Gwynne Dyer, wrote: “1 believe that historians will come to see [the Young Turk leaders] not so much as evil men but as desperate, frightened unsophisticated men struggling to keep their nation afloat in a crisis far graver than they had anticipated, reacting to events rather than creating them, and not fully realizing the extent of the horrors they had set in motion”.

The horrors involved, according to the careful calculations by the American historical demographer Justin McCarthy (whom Balakian does not mention), the loss of some 580,000 Armenian lives from all causes — massacre, starvation and disease. The fact that Muslim losses ere much greater in the same theatre of operations does nothing to detract from the extent of the Armenian tragedy. Was it a genocide? Bernard Lewis was sued in a French court for saying sensibly that it all depends un the definition of genocide. But, whatever the definition, Balakian’s insistent comparison with the Jewish Holocaust is misleading. The Turkish  Armenians perished in the course of “a desperate struggle between two nations for the possession of a single homeland”, in Professor Lewis’s words. For the Turks, Lewis wrote, “the Armenian movement was the deadliest of all threats”; to yield to it “would have meant not the truncation, but the dissolution of the Turkish  state”. The Jews posed no such threat to the Germans, Religious posed no such threat to the Germans. Religious fanaticism was a factor in the Armenian tragedy, racism was not. There is a much closer parallel with the eviction of Circassians and other Muslim mountaineers from Russian Caucasus in the nineteenth century. The figures are of the same order as those relating to the Armenians: some 1.2 million Muslim Caucasians left their Russian-conquered homeland; 800,000 of them lived to settle in Ottoman domains.

The Burning Tigris fits in with the campaign waged by Armenian nationalists to persuade Western parliaments to recognize the Armenian genocide. It is not a work of historical research, but an advocate’s impassioned plea, relying at times on discredited evidence, such as the forged telegrams attributed to the Ottoman interior minister, Talat Pasha, which were produced at the trial of his assassin in Berlin. Some of Balakian’s assertions would make any serious Ottoman historian’s hair stand on end. Like other similar books, it is replete with selective quotations from contemporary observers. Turkish historians have drawn from many of the same sources for material to rebut Armenian accusations. It would be better if, rather than ask parliaments to pass historical judgments, historians from all sides carne together to research the horrors of the war on the Ottomans’ eastern front. But it is better to lobby parliaments than to assassinate Turkish  diplomats, as happened in a previous campaign by genocide-avengers, which Peter Balakian, to his credit, regrets. At present, Armenian nationalists refuse to engage in a dialogue with Turkish  historians unless there is preliminary recognition of their genocide claim. Refusal is in their eyes tantamount to the crime of Holocaust denial. But acceptance would be a denial of the freedom of historical research, not to say of free speech.


The TLS n.º 5296, October 1, 2004


The history of Armenia

Sir, - Andrew Mango’s review of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide (September 17) misrepresents my book and uses a review as an occasion to launch a falsification of the history of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire. It would seem that a reviewer’s first obligation is to explain to the reader what a book is about. Instead, Mr. Mango puts forth a view of the Armenian Genocide that is similar to the kind of propaganda the Turkish government has been issuing for decades. Mango claims that my book is not a work of historical research. Yet I make use of a wide range of US State Department documents, British Foreign Office Records, German and Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office records, and numerous eyewitness accounts from diplomats, relief workers, missionaries, and survivors. I also use a variety of Turkish sources (in translation) and in particular the Ottoman Parliamentary Gazette, in which many high-ranking Ottoman officials confessed to their crimes of government-planned race extermination. These sources constitute some of the more than 1,100 footnotes in a twenty-eight-chapter book with an extensive bibliography.

Because Mango has refused to inform the reader what my book is about, let me briefly note that I have written a history of the Armenian Massacre of the 1890s and the Armenian Genocide of 1915; and half of my book explores how and why the movement to save the Armenian people from annihilation at the hands of the Ottoman government became the first international human rights movement in the US. I also write about some of the major British figures – James Bryce, Lady Henry Somerset, Bertrand Russell, and Prime Ministers Gladstone and David Lloyd George – who spoke out against the Turkish massacres of the Armenians.

Mr Mango spends most of the space allotted to a review of my book trying to give the reader a version of candy-coated, consensus Ottoman history of a kind practised by many Ottoman history of a kind practised by many Ottoman historians of his generation  (Mango was born in 1926, in Istanbul). Such history is reminiscent of the kind apologists for American slavery wrote in the early part of the last century. He portrays the Armenians as a happy, prosperous minority that was in the end ungrateful to the magnanimity of their Ottoman rulers. Such a view reveals how little serious social history Ottoman historians of Mango’s generation have done and how little scholarship such historians have undertaken on the minority cultures of the Ottoman Empire. The fact that Bernard Lewis, for example, allots two paragraphs to the fate of the Armenian people in 1915 in his The Emergence of Modern Turkey tells one something about how much research he had done on the subject and how much importance he accords it.

Mango also refuses to acknowledge my presentation of how meticulously the Young Turk government (the Committee of Union and Progress) in 1915 implemented the empire-wide deportation and massacre of the Armenian people – a defenceless, minority population designated as “Christian infidels” under Ottoman law. It was done through high-level burocraticg planning, emergency executive legislation, the mobilization of killing squads that included some 30.000 convicts released from prisons, and an ingenious use of technology (the railway system and the telegraph). Although dozens of scholars have noted that the Armenian Genocide was a precursor to the Holocaust, Mr Mango claims there is no relationship between those two genocides. He might start by reading what the Holocaust scholars Yehuda Bauer, Sir Martin Gilbert, Deborah Dwork, Robert Jan van Pelt, Yair Auron, Israel Charney and others have written about the Armenian Genocide, and he might want to read Robert Melson’s Revolution and Genocide: On the origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. The good news is that a new generation of Turkish scholars, among them Taner Akçam, whose work I have used in my book, have also begun to write honestly and with proper sources about the Armenian Genocide.

Andrew Mango claims that my book is campaigning in some kind of nationalist way to get Western governments to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Yet if he had read it carefully he would know that, except for reporting the facts of Turkey’s contemporary campaign to silence the history of the Armenian Genocide in a few pages of my epilogue and a couple of paragraphs in my preface, I have written a straight history that deals with the period 1894-1922. As a scholar who has worked in the fields of peace studies and human rights as well as in literary and cultural studies, I have no identification with nationalisms. Rather, in blaming the Armenians for their fate and blaming the Armenian Genocide on everything from Russian nationalism to the migration of Muslim refugees into eastern Turkey, Mango reveals his own nationalist viewpoints.

Lastly, Mr Mango scoffs as the idea of perpetrators and scholars denying genocide. But scholars who write about genocide agree that denial is the final stage of genocide because it seeks to demonize the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators. The International Association of Genocide Scholars agrees that the Armenian case conforms to every aspect of the United Nations definition of genocide and that more than a million Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government. Andrew Mango might also recall that Raphael Lemkin, the legal scholar who coined the word and concept “genocide”, did so in large part on the basis of what had happened to the Armenians in 1915.


Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton

New York, 13346


Sir, - At the risk of revising a well-trodden landscape, can I query Andrew Mango’s endorsement of Elie Kedourie’s view that the sense of Armenian national identity – seen as fatal – within the Ottoman Empire came either from the bogeymen of the American missionaries or from the Revolutionaries in tsarist Russia? Armenians knew they were different on account of Church, language and customs; Grigor Tatevatsi (1346-1409) had written: A nation is divided from other nation by region, by language and by canon law”. His text was printed in Constantinople in 1729. In the nineteenth century the community was strengthened by clerics of their own stamp (such as Khrimian Hayrik)  and by educators such as the man who who set up a school in Van open to members of all Ottoman communities.

The main problem was that the rule of law did not exist for Turkish Armenians. (It did for Russian Armenians.) Even the most pacific activities for Armenians resulted in destruction, rape and death, years before any Armenians took up weapons to defend themselves. Amid the deprivation and violent atmosphere fostered either by local non-Armenian magnates or the Ottoman government (or both), the Armenians strove in the first place to create a rational and law-abiding future for themselves. When that failed, some of them took up arms.

As for Mango’s agreement with Bernard Lewis’s claim that the “Turkish-Armenian” struggle of 1915 was a fight for the survival of Turkey: the Thurs were fighting the Russians, not the Armenians, in the First World War. They disarmed and killed their own Armenian soldiers, thereby weakening the Ottoman army’s capacity to fight Yudenich. And if we accept the Lewis thesis, isn’t it a bit odd that, although western Armenia had not been incorporated into the Ottoman state until 1555, more than a century after the conquest of Constantinople, there had been no hint in the interim of the empire’s eminent collapse?


62 Bolingbroke Road, London W14



 The TLS n.º 5297, October 8, 2004

Armenia in history


Sir, - Andrew Mango (September 17) calls on historians from all sides “to research the horrors of the war on the Ottomans’ eastern front”. I have done exactly that. Germany was the Ottoman Turks’ dominant ally, influencing its military operations and enjoying access to Turkey’s internal affairs.  I have studied the official and private papers of three German First World War intelligence officers, posted to the Ottomans’ eastern front between 1914 and 1916. They are all personal witnesses and reporters of genocide. Among their conclusions we find:


“It was military nonsense to strip entire regions of an industrious population in wartime. The truth was they used this world war to radically clear out their internal enemies, the native Christians.”

“There was absolutely no evidence for a generally planned and prepared Armenian rebellion”.

“These measures by the government were carried out in such a way that they meant the absolute extermination of the Armenians… I do not believe that it is possible in any other way to destroy a culture that is older and much higher than that of the Turks… the Armenians seem to me to be very resilient as a race, just like the Jews… only a violent extermination policy, a forcible destruction of a whole people, could lead the Turkish government… to its longed-for goal, to a “solution” of the Armenian question”.

“Of 1.8 million Armenians, at most there survived only four hundred thaousand”.


What became of these witnesses to genocide? One (Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter) became a close associate of Adolf Hitler and founder of the Nazi Party. Another (Paul Leverkuehn) became a close associate of Konrad Adenauer and founder of the European Union – indeed a radical divergence of careers. But on this matter, they agree entirely: that there was a planned mass extermination (termed “genocide” since 1944) and it was committed by Germany’s ally, the Ottoman Turks.


            MIKE JOSEPH

            c/o Theatr Gwaun, West Street, Fishguard


The TLS n.º 5298 OCTOBER 15, 2004


Sir, - In response to Andrew Mango’s review, Peter Balkanian (Letters, October 1) apparently regards his book on the Armenian massacres as a masterpiece of scholarship: “I make use of a wide range of US State Department documents, British Foreign Office Records, German and Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office records… More than 1.100 footnotes in a twenty-eight chapter book with an extensive bibliography”. Have I been reading the same book?

There are very few references to German and Austro-Hungarian records, and the references are second-hand, ie, lifted from another author; even the spelling of proper names is defective (for example, page 412: “Der Zusammenbruch des Ottomaschen Reiches” or, page 167: “Maj. Gen. Fritz Bonssart von Schnellendorf” and, page 207, the Austrian rank of FMLt – a divisional commander – absurdly rendered “Vice-Field-Marshall”). As to British archives, I count eleven uses of them and two of these are quoted from another source. There are rather more American archival references, but not many. The vast bulk of the vastly bulky references consist of English-language secondary sources and, as Mr Balakian disarmingly confesses, he has had to use, for his book on the late Ottoman history, Turkish (and Armenian) documents “in translation”. One result of this is that his list of sources is extraordinary one-sided. The reader could hardly work out from it why such authorities as Bernard Lewis from Princeton or Gilles Veinstein from the Collège of France or the late Elie Kedourie of the LSE did not accept Armenian nationalist claims that a “genocide” as classically defined had taken place. Veinstein’s very short essay in L’Histoire of April 1995 is an admirably fair-minded summary of what the debate is about.

But Balakian is also extraordinarily inaccurate in matters major and minor. Here are some instances, among many more: “Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli” was not around “when the Russians went to war in 1853 in the Crimea”; “Bosnia and Herzegovina” were not “seeking independence in 1876”: Byron did not die “fighting  at Missolonghi in 1824 for the cause of Greek freedom” (he died of disease, perhaps demoralized by a gold-digging page, one Loukas); p 160: “Within decades after ottoman troops led by Soultan Mohammad II captured Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans had conquered south-eastern Europe – Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and pieces of Poland and the Ukraine” is a grand misstatement, containing four mistakes, indicating such a profound misunderstanding of early Ottoman history that a critic does not know where to begin – the Turks took Constantinople and, later, much of Anatolia from a Christian and Balkan base, not vice versa and if you do not understand that, the whole relationship of the Ottomans to their Christian subjects degenerates into the caricature of oppressiveness that Balakian conveys; p 162: “The Armenian Reform Agreement of February 1914” was not signed as international law in Constantinople” – it was never ratified; p 212: “Selimiye” is not “a town on Constantinople’s Asiatic side” – it is a barracks; p 320: the Provisional government of 1917 did not “immediately beg[i]n to disengage Russia from the war” nor did it “urge” the Armenians or the Ukrainians “to seek independence”, nor did Russian troops evacuate “Turkish Armenians” in “spring of 1917” nor (p 321) were Kars, Batum and Ardahan “heavily Armenian” nor were they ceded (as distinct from occupied by) the Ottoman empire by the “Brest-Litovsk Treaty” – all of this indicating unfamiliarity with even the most elementary accounts of the Russian Revolution; Greeks did not in 1914 make up “the vast majority of Izmir population”

There is one mistake which really blows Balakian’s effort sky high. He relies on a forgery that was exposed as such over eighty years ago, the “Naim-Andonian documents”. Here he goes, on p 344: the British in the summer of 1921 “released forth-three Turkish prisoners who were accused of perpetrating the Armenian massacres”; he suggest that that this happened because the nationalist Turks had captured British officers. But the fact is that the Law Officers advised that there was no case against these Turks (interned on Malta). Some documents incriminating them had turned up, peddled by one Andonian, on the basis of alleged confessions by one Naim (“massacre the lot but keep it secret”, was the general tenor, and on page 346 Balakian reproduce some of this). But the lawyers discarded the documents as a forgery, and German lawyers at the trial of Talaat Pasha’s assassin in 1921 also waved Andonian aside (preferring, rather bizarrely, hearsay testimony from a clergyman named, as it happens, Balakian). Taner Akçam, in Türk Ulusual Kimligi ve Remeni Sorunu (fifth ed., 2001), discusses the matter. Balakian’s own note 29 (P371) refers to Dr Akçam, but self-confessedly he cannot read Turkish and a related footnote (66, p 427) shows no consciousness at all that the documents are forgeries.

One particularly irritating habit is to stray into comparisons with the Nazis that Mr Balakian is simply not competent to make. Thus, p 163, “Not unlike Hitler’s… nazification programs for German youth, exemplified in the Hitlerjugend, the Young Turks now launched a program of nationalist indoctrination and paramilitary training for Turkish youth” – a grotesque statement because they had in mind Baden-Powell, and legalized football, hitherto frowned upon because religion disapproved of bare male legs – or “… pan – Turkism was … influenced by the German nationalism of Herder and Wagner, who were also key influences on Nazi Aryan ideology”: Herde, the most Enlightened of men! Is Balakian somehow confusing him with Hegel, while being entirely unfamiliar with both? Or, again, p 181: Like its Nazi counterpart after 1933, the [Ottoman] Ministry of the Interior was the key to orchestrating … genocide” – this is a nonsense, again revealing total unfamiliarity with the subject. The famous Wansee conference of 1942 was summoned so that the SS and Gestapo machine could overcome possible legalistic objections from the Ministry of the Interior, and a simple glance at Ian Kershaw’s classic work on Hitler would have shown Balakian what was what. There is just no comparison possible between the Holocaust and the Armenian massacres of 1915. What happened was a tragedy for Turks and Armenians alike, and it deserves a decent book. Peter Balakian is simply way out of his depth. There is a classical fictional account, Franz Werfel’s Forty days of Musa Dagh. It is not altogether accurate, historically, but is brilliantly written. The Armenians often cite it, and rightly. But they might remember that Werfel wrote on his manuscript “nicht gegen Türken polemisieren” (“not to be used as a polemic against the Turks”). He understood that the Turkish Republic was doing a great deal for civilization in an exceptionally difficult part of the world, and amen to that. I have yet to meet an Armenian, ex-Soviet or Turkish or for that matter in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, who would disagree.


Department of International Relations,

The University, Bilkent 06533, Ankara.


 The TLS n.º 5300, October 29, 2004 

Armenia in history

Sir, - Norman Stone should be commended for uncovering a number of typos in Peter Balakian’s book, The Burning Tigris (Letters, October 15). He deserves further recognition for exposing an error in grading a military rank: the American corresponding military rank of Feldmarschalleutnant Pomiankowski, the wartime Austrian Military Plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Empire, is not Vice-Marshal, the rank used by Balakian, but Major-General, ie, two or three grades lower. Using the discovery of these great sins as a launching pad, Professor Stone then proceeds to unleash a cascade of hyperbolic denunciations against Balakian’s book which are punctuated by such expressions as “absurd”, “defective”, extraordinarily inaccurate in matters major and minor”, “a grand misstatement”, “profound misunderstanding”, etc. Can this be a genuine display of detached scholarship or something else? The effort below to scrutinize the elements of accuracy of several of Stone’s contentious arguments may illuminate the matter.

Stone claims that Selimiye is not a town but only the name of a barracks. But according to a Turkish source, it is both (Bayrak, Guide to Historical Sites in Turkey – in Turkish – 1979, page 336). Contrary to Stone’s assertion, Kars, Batum and Ardahan were indeed ceded to the Ottoman Empire. According to one specialist, they were “granted to the Ottoman Empire at the Brest Litowsk Peace Conference” (Ronald G. Suny. The Baku Commune, p 287). A second expert refers to “Russia’s renunciation”, and to “Russia’s surrender of them to Turkey” (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The struggle for Transcaucasia, 1951, p 91). A third specialist speaks of these provinces’ “cession by Russia to Turkey” (Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russian Azerbaijan, 1985, p 122).

At Talaat Pasha’s murder trial in Berlin in 1921, the lawyers for both prosecution and defence agreed to dispense with the introduction of Talaat’s cipher telegrams not because they were “forgeries”, as claimed by Stone, but because Dr Lehmberg, the President of Berlin’s Criminal Court n.º 3, declared that the jurors hearing the case “believed that the defendant committed the murder because of his conviction that the victim, Interior Minister Talaat, was in fact responsible for the massacres against the Armenians”. Thus, there was no need to prove it through the telegrams at hand (Der Prozess Talaat Pascha, Berlin, 1921, p 132, note 10). Bishop Balakian was one of the rare survivors of the 1915 cataclysm. His trenchant testimony at the trial (pp 63-68) and his subsequent detailed eyewitness accounts in his monumental Armenian Golgotha, Vienna, 1922 (in Armenian), is one of the scant primary sources, a narrative of heart-rending personal sagas. Stone’s cavalier dismissal of them as mere “hearsay” speaks volumes about his agenda.

Perhaps one of the most blatant distortions under review here is his description and characterization of the release of the forty-three Turkish prisoners by the British in Malta. That release had less to do with “legal” considerations, eg, the argument of “no case”, but rather with domestic British politics. Pressured, on the one hand, by Lord Rawlinson, Commander-in-Chief in India, whose brother Lieut. Col. Alfred Rawlinson was being held hostage by the Kemalists in Turkey and, on the other, by General Campbell, whose son, an army captain, had likewise been made hostage, the British government reluctantly agreed to effect the release in question. The dean of Turkish political scientists, Tarik Zafer Tunaya, confirmed this fact when he write that these hostages “played a decisive role” in the decision to effect the release through an exchange (Tunaya, Political Parties in Turkey, Volume Two, p 25).

Even more revealing are the statements the British made in this connection, Captain Campbell, for example, declared, “I am more valuable than any of these miserable Turks” (Foreign Office Archives, Kew. 371/6509/E8562, folio 16). For his part, Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon had this to say: “The less we say about these people the better… The staunch belief among  MP’s is that one British prisoner is worth a shipload of Turks, and so the exchange was excused” (FO371/7882/E4425, folio 182).

Moreover, Balakian’s indication that the Young Turks in the pre-First World War period embarked upon “nationalist indoctrination and paramilitary training” of youth is disparaged as “grotesque”. But to refer back to him, Tunaya describes the Society for Turkish Power (Türk Gücü) as an outfit then operating under the banner of Turkish Race (Türk Irki) promoting, besides sports,  the cultivation of “warrior types” and “military training” (Volume Three, p 296). Stone dismisses as “nonsense” the depiction of Talaat as the arch-organizer of the Armenian Genocide. Not only did Talaat himself acknowledge this fact to Henry Morgenthau, the wartime American Ambassador to Turkey, but the Turkish Military Tribunal, court-martialling him in 1919, sentenced him to death – in absentia because he had fled Turkey precipitously  at the end of the War. What is most significant about this verdict is its having being grounded on an array of authenticated wartime official documents the Tribunal was able to secure.

Finally, Norman Stone categorically denies any “comparison possible” between the Armenian and Jewish cases of genocide. That possibility is affirmed and most solemnly broadcast to the world by embracing Hitler’s defiant statement “who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians”. It is inscribed in block letters on a granite wall of the Exhibition Hall of the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.



2 Dawn Drive, PO Box 438 Newtonville.

New York 12128.



 The TLS n.º 5301, November 5, 2004 

Armenia in history


Sir, - Murat Acemoglu (Letters, October 29) waves aside my criticism of Peter Balakian’s many mistakes in his book on the Armenian massacres – “typos”, he says. I do not think that the Letters editor would waste 1,500 words of his space on trivialities, and Balakian’s mistakes as regards sources and facts go to the heart of the matter – almost as if some book on American history asserted that Theodore Roosevelt introduced the New Deal or Woodrow Wilson annexed Cuba or President Jefferson led the South in the Civil War. In an effort to rebut one or two of my allegations, Mr. Acemoglu asserts, on the basis of three or four secondary sources in English, that the relevant areas of eastern Anatolia were ceded to Turkey at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. They were not, and Article Four, Paragraph III, of that Treaty refers. You can find it in the internet.

There are two parts to Mr. Acemoglu’s letter. The first has to do with a forgery, the “Naim-Andonian documents” that Balakian uses as proper coin. I wrote that British and German lawyers had, at the time, discarded them. My sources were sound enough – Stanford Shaw’s From Empire to Republic (Istanbul 2000) Volume One pp 341 f. and the transcript of the German court case in question, from the internet. Acemoglu may be right or wrong as to the lawyers’ motives, but it does not really matter: he does not contest that the documents in question are fake. Why, then, defend Balakian? Or is his use of a notorious forgery just another “typo”?

Then Mr. Acemoglu gets very angry at me for saying categorically that there can be no comparison of the Armenian massacres and the Holocaust. Two ancient pieces of evidence are brought in – Hitler’s speech of 1939 asking “who remembers the Armenians?”, and the memoirs of Ambassador Mogenthau, saying that the Turkish Minister responsible, Talaat Pasha, had confessed to extermination of the Armenians. But there is at the very least a prima facie case to the effect that both documents are not what they seem. Professor Heath Lowry of Princeton examined the alleged text of that Hitler speech, and asserted, with solid evidence, that Hitler never made that remark (the article in question is in the journal Political Communication and Persuasion, 1985, Volume 3, n.º 2). In a later book (The Story Behind Ambassador Morgenthau’s Memoirs, Istanbul 2000) he examined the text of the Morgenthau memoirs and found that it had been tampered with. I cannot say whether Professor Lowry is right or wrong, but there is a strong enough case to deserve an answer before self-appointed diaspora spokesmen sound off again on the subject. As I was examining the German court case, I came across an article written in 1921 by the German chief of staff of the Ottoman army, Bronsart von Schellendorf (Balakian’s “Bronssart von Schellendorf”). He knew Talaat very well indeed, and bore out the Turkish version of what had happened – no intention of extermination, but certainly of deportation of a potentially hostile population from a war zone threatened by savage Armenian semi-regular troops. Bronsart says that order broke down and there were murderous raids by wild tribes. There is support for this in the Russian archives. Professor Lowry seems therefore, at the least, to have a good prima facies case, and he may also be right about the Hitler speech. The directors of the Holocaust Museum in Washington might consider examining the matter in greater depth, because their monument should of course not be defaced by a false ascription.

The fact is that we do not have a document showing the genocidal intention of the Ottoman government, even if Bernard Lewis – Bernard Lewis! – was arraigned by a French court for “genocide denial” when he said has much. What is now needed is an account of the Armenian tragedy by a historian competent in the sources. They are not at all easy, and so perhaps we can forgive diaspora spokesmen such as Murat Acemoglu for swimming around endlessly in the same stagnant little self-referential pool of “ibids” and “cited ins”. Until we do have a proper account, I myself remain neutral, only reserving my  right to say that a bad book is a bad book.



Department of International Relations,

The University, Bilkent 06533, Ankara.


 The TLS n.º 5302, November 12, 2004 



Sir, – Norman Stone (Letters, November 5), in responding to Murat Acemoglu (October 29), begins at last to move away from quibbling about spelling mistakes, and makes two points of substance. First, he claims that the Naim Andonian documents are “forgeries”, without even attempting to counter Vahakn Dadrian’s refutation of this charge.

Secondly, he prays in aid Heath Lowry, without, for some reason, mentioning that Lowry vacated a chair at Princeton when it was shown that it had been endowed by the Turkish government.

In any case, and much more importantly, he says that the fact of genocide would depend on the existence of “a document showing genocidal intention of the Ottoman government”. Not so: the 1948 Genocide Convention is transparently clear on this. The crime includes conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to genocide, attempt to commit genocide, or complicity in genocide (Article III), whether those responsible are constitutional rulers, public officials, or private individuals (Article IV). Perhaps Professor Stone can tell us why none of these applies to the massacres of the Armenians. His “no blueprint” argument has been dealt with exhaustively by Donald Bloxham (Past and Present, November 2003, pp 141–192), who concludes that “every aspect of the United Nations’ definition of the crime is applicable”.



6 Gransden Road, London W12


Armenia in history


The TLS n.º 5303   November 19, 2004


Sir, – The seemingly persistent attempts of Norman Stone from Ankara’s Bilkent University to question the historical reality of the Armenian genocide during the First World War are dismaying indeed (Letters, October 15, November 5). A cursory examination of his use of source materials may in part explain the nature of the problem. Professor Stone insists, for example, that the provinces of Ardahan, Kars and Batum “were not ceded to Turkey”. In the text of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, however, Article Four, paragraph iii, reads: “Russia will do all within her power to insure the immediate evacuation of the provinces of eastern
Anatolia . . . . The districts of Ardahan, Kars, and Batum will without delay be cleared of Russian troops . . . ”. This can be interpreted only as Russia ceding control over these areas (Jane Degras, ed, Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy, Volume One, 1917–24; 1951, p53).

Stone likewise keeps insisting that, according to “the transcript of the German court case”, the Naim-Andonian documents were “discarded”. But on more careful reading he may recognize the critical difference between a conscious decision not to question the central message of the documents, on the one hand, and a decision to “discard” them, on the other. (Tessa Hofmann, Der Völkermord an den Armeniern vor Gericht: Der Prozess Talaat Pasha, 1985).

Moreover, Robert Kempner, a prominent German jurist who served as Deputy to Justice Jackson – the chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, and who as a young law student had attended the Talât Pasha murder trial in Berlin, in a noted law journal identified the jury’s verdict as a recognition and condemnation of the “gross human rights violations caused by a government, especially genocide perpetrated against the Armenians” (“Sixty Years Ago – A German Jury Trial: The Genocide of the Armenians” [in German], Recht und Politik, Volume Three, 1980, p167).

Professor Stone persists in questioning the veracity of the 1939 statement, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”, attributed to Hitler, by discounting evidence that is compelling. After some meticulous research, the author Edouard Calic established the fact that, already eight years earlier, Hitler twice had spoken in the same sense (Unmasked: Two confidential interviews with Hitler in 1931, 1971, p154).

Perhaps the most authoritative validation in this respect issues from University of North Carolina’s Gerhard L. Weinberg. Following his extensive research in the archives of the British Foreign Office and the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich in 1968 and 1971, Professor Weinberg, in his book The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany, and subsequently in the New York Times (“Hitler’s Remark on Armenians Reported in 1939”, June 18, 1985), gave credence to the authenticity of the document containing Hitler’s statement. He found it in the secret notes Admiral Canaris, the head of German counter-intelligence, had taken during Hitler’s August 22, 1939, speech, delivered to the German generals in Obersalzberg. As to Professor Heath Lowry, Stone’s principal source for disputing much of the Armenian genocide, he, Lowry, characterizes American Ambassador Morgenthau’s “wartime dispatches and written reports . . . submitted to the US State Department” as “the real”, ie authentic material – as compared to his subsequently published book (The Story behind Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Istanbul, 1990–91).

Well, here is then “a proper account” Stone stipulated as a condition for conceding the Armenian genocide. In a nine-page “Private and Confidential” letter Morgenthau sent to the US Secretary of State Robert Lansing on November 18, 1915, he wrote, “I am firmly convinced that this is the greatest crime of all ages . . . . The war was a great opportunity to put into effect their long cherished plan of exterminating the Armenian race . . . ” (US National Archives, R.G.59.876.00/798 1/2, pp7–8).

All this casts in stark relief Norman Stone’s purported “neutrality” on the subject. Should he need to overcome this, he might obtain special inspiration from the 126 Holocaust scholars, including the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who at the thirtieth anniversary of the Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches held in Philadelphia, issued a declaration. That statement, published in the June 8, 2000, issue of the New York Times, and subsequently in the Jerusalem Post, declared that: “The Armenian genocide is an Incontestable historical Fact”.


Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies,
University of Minnesota, 100 Nolte Hall West, 315 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis,
Minnesota 55455.


Armenia in history


The TLS n.º 5304   November 26, 2004


Sir, - Vahakn Dadrian and Stephen Feinstein have a go at me (Letters, November 19) for saying that at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Russia did not cede Kars and Ardahan to Turkey, and then quote the text, showing me right. To be ceded is not the same as to be occupied. They also throw up a smokescreen about a German trial to conceal the fact that a major piece of alleged evidence of Ottoman genocide was a forgery – the “Naim-Andonian documents” not used in the German Court. An earlier letter in this sequence also made play of Professor Dadrian’s upholding of them as genuine, and attacked me accordingly. However, the chief Turkish ally of the Armenian diaspora historians, Taner Akçam, remarks that “there are important grounds for considering these documents fake” (see his Turkish National Identity and the Armenian Question, note 8, p 119, Istanbul, 1992). There are, too: the paper, the dating, the calligraphy, the signature of the governor, the absence of any back-up copies in the archives, and the refusal of British and German lawyers to use them. Dadrian had a wonderful time trying to salvage the documents, and I vastly admired the prestidigitation involved – for instance, if the paper was of the type used in French schools, and not the type used in government offices, this can be explained by the paper shortage, he says. But if he cannot convince his major ally, who knows the Ottoman documents, well, there we are.

As regards hard evidence of genocidal intention we are still really left with circumstantial stuff, and it is as well to remain neutral until someone writes a proper book. I take it from Vahakn Dadrian’s silence concerning Peter Balakian’s book (where he is effusively thanked) that he does not regard it as such.



Department of International Relations,

The University, Bilkent 06533, Ankara.


Armenia in history

The TLS n.º 5306,   December 10, 2004

Sir, – Norman Stone (Letters, November 5), in his effort to discredit Murat Acemoglu’s use of sources, writes that Mr Acemoglu “asserts, on the basis of three or four secondary sources in English, that the relevant areas of eastern Anatolia were ceded to Turkey at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. They were not, and Article Four, Paragraph III, of that Treaty refers”.

Following Professor Stone’s suggestion, I have looked up the Treaty (March 3, 1918) on the internet ( I find that his refutation of Acemoglu is disingenuous. This paragraph of the Treaty reads: “The districts of Erdehan, Kars, and Batum will likewise and without delay be cleared of Russian troops. Russia will not interfere in the reorganization of the national and international relations of these districts, but leave it to the population of these districts, to carry out this reorganization in agreement with the neighbouring States, especially with Turkey”.

While it is strictly correct to say these areas were not legally “ceded” to Turkey, the Treaty obliges Russia to withdraw and, in diplomatic language, clearly gives Turkey paramountcy over them in the future. In fact, Turkey occupied Batum on April 13, 1918, and captured Kars on April 27. Had Turkey ended up on the victorious side in the war it seems inevitable that these areas would have become legally Turkish.



1029 Carling Avenue, #8, Ottawa, Ontario.






from the book

The Armenian Genocide and America's Response.
by Peter Balakian.




October 19, 2003


'The Burning Tigris'




The light in New England in late fall is austere and clean and rinses the white steeples of Boston's Congregational and Unitarian churches, the red brick of the State House, and the gray stone of the Back Bay town houses. Even the gold dome on the white cupola of Faneuil Hall reflects its luster. It's November 26, 1894, the Monday before Thanksgiving, a windy and clear evening, as men and women file into Faneuil Hall from all over Boston and from the suburbs of Cambridge, Watertown, Winchester, and as far out as Quincy and Andover. They have come to this public meeting place near the harbor to talk about the most pressing international human rights issue of the day.

Schooners and sloops and oyster scows make a grid of rigging that glows in the sunset. The sound of squawking gulls. Buckets of cod and haddock on the docks. The outline of the giant masts of the USS Constitution fading in the twilight of the Charlestown Naval Yard. Across the street the stalls of Quincy Market are closed, the awnings rolled up for the night.

Faneuil Hall was known as the Cradle of Liberty because Samuel Adams and James Otis and the Sons of Liberty had met here in the decade before the American Revolution to form their opposition to the sugar tax, the stamp tax, and other forms of British oppression. The Boston Tea Party was conceived here. The space itself was made even more dramatic when the architect Charles Bulfinch redesigned it in 1805. Even after government by town meeting ended in Boston in 1822, the hall continued to be the main forum for political and social debate. Here in the 1840s William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Frederick Douglass gave some of their most important antislavery speeches to overflowing crowds.

By 1873 women were speaking from the podium, and suffragists Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe were among the first to address the movement for woman suffrage on that stage beneath George A. Healy's dramatic painting of Daniel Webster exhorting, "Liberty and union, now and forever" on the Senate floor. In keeping with that spirit of reform, a group of prominent New Englanders filled Faneuil Hall on that blustery late-November evening.

All that summer and fall, news of the massacres of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks in the Ottoman Empire reached Americans through news reports and bold headlines in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and in the nation's leading magazines-The Nation, The Century, and Harper's. The news came from American missionaries who were teaching Christians at missionary colleges all across the Anatolian plain of central and eastern Turkey; it came from American and British diplomats stationed in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, from European and American journalists, and from Armenian survivors and refugees. And recently it came by way of a new invention - the wireless telegraph.

The outrage over the Armenian massacres emerged in a culture that was just beginning to look outward to the international arena in which the United States would define a global identity in the coming decade. In the first years of the 1890s, there had been a near war with Chile over the killing of two American sailors in Valparaiso, and U.S. involvement in a border dispute between British Guiana and Venezuela that brought jingoism to a new level. Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt began to broadcast their feeling that the country needed a war. The question of annexing the Hawaiian Islands dominated a tug-of-war between the imperialists and anti-imperialists that lasted throughout the decade.

Americans also expressed great sympathy for the Cubans in their struggle for independence from Spain. By 1895, when Cuban rebels rose up against the deplorable conditions to which they were subjected by their Spanish rulers, the Cuban crisis became a Western Hemisphere liberation cause for Americans. By 1898 the Cuban struggle would lead to the Spanish-American War - the war that consummated the jingoist spirit and launched the United States as a colonial force in the world. With the defeat of Spain, in a war that lasted ten weeks and gave Cuba its independence, the United States acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, giving the nation a rising sense of global power.

The 1890s were a transformative time for U.S. foreign policy - a decade in which it would embrace imperialism and assert itself, at times, with a rhetoric of Protestant Anglo-Saxon superiority over the "backward" peoples of the world. The Armenian Question emerged, in some ways uniquely, as a humanitarian project at a time when imperialist designs were governing most American international interventions.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Turkish caliph, had begun to implement his solution to what was now internationally known as the Armenian Question. In short, the Armenian Question revolved around the issue of much-needed reform for the oppressed Armenians - the largest Christian minority living under Ottoman Turkish rule in Anatolia. As the British journalist and longtime resident of Constantinople - Sir Edwin Pears - put it, all the Armenians "desired was security for life, honour, and property." But, the sultan's lifetime friend and confidant, the Hungarian scholar Arminius Vambery, wrote, the sultan had decided that the only way to eliminate the Armenian Question was to eliminate the Armenians themselves. The means would be government-sanctioned mass murder on a scale never before seen.

The Turkish massacres of some fifteen thousand Bulgarians in 1876 (a response to the Bulgarian uprising for independence) had been an unprecedented act of state-sponsored mass murder that riveted Europe and the United States ...



Source: revue "L'HISTOIRE", n°187, AVRIL 1995


Les réflexions critiques d'un spécialiste de l'Empire ottoman sur la façon dont on a écrit l'histoire du massacre des Arméniens.

    Rien de plus faux, pour commencer, que ce présupposé tenace selon lequel Turcs et Arméniens auraient été des ennemis héréditaires au cours des siècles. Le passage sous domination ottomane d'une partie d'un peuple qui avait connu bien d'autres dominations étrangères avait signifié l'insertion dans un empire pluriconfessionnel et pluriethnique. Certes cet empire était dominé par une classe dirigeante musulmane d'ailleurs très cosmopolite, mais les sujets chrétiens et juifs y bénéficiaient du statut de dhimmi ("infidèles protégés"). Les Arméniens ne firent aucunement exception à cette situation générale. Toute notion de racisme était absente dans les relations des gouvernants avec leurs dhimmi, tant il est vrai que si l'un d'eux se convertissait à I'islam, plus rien ne le distinguait des autres musulmans.

    Des oppositions irréductibles n'en surgiront pas moins, mais elles seront d'ordre national, ce qui implique d'ailleurs que l'hostilité qui se développera alors, par nature, ne sera pas unilatérale mais réciproque. Au demeurant, cet antagonisme ne se manifestera que tardivement : alors que les autres peuples chrétiens de l'empire commencent à se révolter dès le XVIIème siècle, les Arméniens restent pendant ce temps pour les Ottomans la communauté "fidèle" par excellence : ils seront les derniers sujets chrétiens du sultan à se lancer dans la lutte nationale, mais ils le feront à un moment, la fin des années 1870, où la perte des possessions européennes, à la suite du traité de Berlin (1878) et de ses prolongements, est déjà largement avancée et où, par conséquent, les territoires asiatiques font de plus en plus figure de dernier refuge de la puissance ottomane. Or c'est sur une partie substantielle de ce "sanctuaire" que portent les revendications du jeune nationalisme arménien. Et si, au départ, la volonté d'indépendance n'est pas toujours expressément avouée (on parle de "réformes" et surtout d'autonomie), c'est évidemment de cela qu'il s'agit en fin de compte.

    Cette revendication s'applique aux six vilayet du Nord-Est de l'Asie mineure correspondant à la "Grande Arménie" historique, ainsi qu'à la Cilicie ou "Petite Arménie". Sans doute ces régions conservent-elles de nombreux paysans Arméniens, présents de temps immémorial, mais nulle part dans l'Anatolie de cette époque, les Arméniens ne sont restés démographiquement majoritaires. IIs coexistent avec des musulmans en nombre supérieur : Turcs, Kurdes ou réfugiés, amenés par l'avance russe dans le Caucase ou le retrait ottoman dans les Balkans. Et lorsque cette revendication nationale s'exprima sous la forme du terrorisme, elle creusa le fossé entre les deux communautés (1).


    Le 1er juin 1915, le gouvernement ottoman, qui relevait alors du Comité Union et Progrès (CUP), porté au pouvoir par la révolution "jeune-turque" de 1908, ordonna le transfert des Arméniens d'Anatolie centrale et orientale vers la Syrie, encore possession ottomane à cette époque. Tous les Arméniens ottomans n'étaient pas compris dans la mesure : ceux d'Istanbul et d'Izmir en étaient exclus, de même, bien entendu, que ceux de Syrie. Le gouvernement "jeune-turc" était alors plongé dans la Première Guerre mondiale ; et il se trouvait en très mauvaise posture. Les Arméniens avaient formé sept unités de volontaires Arméniens aux côtés de l'armée russe. En outre, des populations arméniennes s'étaient soulevées en Anatolie, notamment à Van, au Nord-Est, et à Zeïtoun en Cilicie (2).

    C'est au cours de ces opérations de transfert que périrent un nombre immense d'Arméniens. Cette tragédie fut la résultante d'une multiplicité d'événements qui se déroulèrent dans différents lieux en 1915 et 1916, et dans lesquels l'horreur prit des formes très diverses. Les épreuves, la malnutrition, les conditions d'hygiène, les épidémies rendent compte d'une partie des décès (3), mais il faut faire également leur part aux massacres qui constituent des crimes contre l'humanité caractérisés. Ceux-ci étaient dus à des règlements de compte intercommunautaires dans lesquels il faut signaler une part active des Kurdes et pas seulement des Turcs ; à des opérations de pillage lancées contre les convois, mais aussi aux agissements des militaires chargés de l'encadrement ; en outre, il est incontestable, dans certains cas au moins, que les crimes étaient perpétrés avec la coopération ouverte ou tacite des autorités locales.

    La réalité des massacres, et même leur ampleur ne sont mis en question par personne, y compris en Turquie. En fait, la controverse porte sur trois points principaux, de nature fort différente. En premier lieu, le chiffre d'un million et demi de victimes qui figure sur le monument commémoratif de Marseille, et qui est rituellement répété, est aujourd'hui rejeté par de nombreux historiens, proches ou non des thèses officielles turques. Loin d'être le plus minimaliste, le démographe américain Justin McCarthy, par exemple, estime que l'ensemble des Arméniens d'Anatolie ne dépassait pas un million et demi de personnes à la veille du conflit mondial, et que, compte tenu du chiffre des rescapés, environ 600 000 Arméniens auraient péri en Anatolie en 1915, soit près de la moitié de la communauté (4).

    Deuxième point : il y eut aussi de très nombreuses victimes parmi les musulmans tout au long de la guerre, du fait des combats mais aussi des actions menées contre eux par des Arméniens, dans un contexte de rivalité ethnique et nationale (5). S'il y a des victimes oubliées, ce sont bien celles-là, et les Turcs d'aujourd'hui sont en droit de dénoncer la partialité de l'opinion occidentale à cet égard. Est-ce parce qu'il ne s'agissait que de musulmans qu'on les néglige, ou bien parce qu'on estimerait implicitement que le succès final de leurs congénères les prive du statut de martyrs ? Quel regard porterions-nous donc sur les mêmes faits, si les choses avaient tourné autrement, si les Arméniens avaient finalement fondé, sur les décombres ottomanes, un Etat durable en Anatolie ?

    Mais le dernier point, crucial, du débat, par ses implications juridiques et politiques, est de savoir si les massacres perpétrés contre les Arméniens le furent sur ordre du gouvernement jeune-turc, si les transferts n'ont été qu'un leurre pour une entreprise systématique d'extermination, mise en oeuvre selon des modalités diverses, mais décidée, planifiée, téléguidée au niveau gouvernemental, ou si les Jeunes-Turcs furent seulement coupables d'avoir imprudemment déclenché des déplacements qui finirent en hécatombes. Le seul fait de poser la question peut sembler absurde et scandaleux. Il est vrai que l'implication étatique est un préalable à la pleine application à la tragédie arménienne du terme de génocide, tel qu'il a été forgé en 1944 et défini par le procès de Nuremberg et la convention des Nations Unies de 1948.

    Il faut pourtant admettre qu'on ne dispose pas jusqu'à présent de preuve de cette implication gouvernementale. Les documents produits par les Arméniens, des ordres de Talaat Pacha, ministre de l'Intérieur, et d'autres hauts officiels ottomans ordonnant explicitement le massacre des hommes, des femmes, et des enfants arméniens, désignés comme "documents Andonian", du nom de leur éditeur, n'étaient que des faux, comme la critique historique l'a prouvé par la suite (6). Sans doute trouve-t-on dans le réquisitoire de la cour martiale chargée de juger les gouvernants jeunes-turcs après leur chute, à Istanbul en 1919, des accusations accablantes contre leurs "formations spéciales" dont les Arméniens n'auraient d'ailleurs été que des victimes parmi d'autres, y compris chez les Turcs eux-mêmes. On ne peut ignorer ces dénonciations précises, ni les prendre non plus comme argent comptant, eu égard au caractère éminemment politique de ce procès : il était intenté contre un gouvernement révolutionnaire qui avait conduit le pays au désastre, par ses adversaires lui succédant au pouvoir et, qui plus est, sous la coupe des Alliés (7). McCarthy parle de deux millions et demi de victimes musulmanes (principalement turques) pour l'ensemble de la guerre en Anatolie de 1914 à 1922, dont un million pour la seule zone des "vilayet arméniens".

    Faute de preuve décisive, les historiens défenseurs des thèses arméniennes mettent en avant plusieurs témoignages contemporains, émanant de rescapés, de diplomates et de missionnaires étrangers de diverses origines. Ceux-ci sont loin d'être négligeables et sont même dans les meilleurs cas irremplaçables. Pour autant, tout historien rigoureux connaît les limites d'un témoignage - d'autant plus susceptible d'exprimer un point de vue ''engagé" dans un contexte de conflit généralisé (8).


    Au demeurant, quels que soient les indices qu'on estimera pouvoir en tirer en faveur d'une implication du gouvernement ottoman, il restera à expliquer comment dans le même temps les autorités d'Istanbul dénonçaient les exactions commises contre les Arméniens, en interdisaient le renouvellement, traînaient les coupables devant des cours martiales. On a ainsi connaissance de 1 397 cas de condamnations d'agents ottomans pour crimes contre les Arméniens, dont des condamnations à mort (9). Dans la région de Harput en particulier, où de terribles violences contre les Arméniens étaient commises, selon le témoignage du consul américain Leslie A. Davis, avec l'accord du gouverneur qui affirmait agir sur ordre de la capitale (10), 233 procès en cour martiale furent intentés contre des officiels ottomans accusés de crimes contre les Arméniens, suivis de condamnations (11). L'historien hollandais Erik Zürcher propose pour sa part une explication à ces apparentes contradictions : s'il est intimement convaincu de l'implication non du gouvernement mais d'un cercle interne au sein du CUP dans l'extermination, il constate néanmoins qu'il est difficile, sinon impossible de le prouver "au-delà de tout doute" (12).

    Un historien ne peut que souligner la tendance constante des avocats de la cause arménienne à isoler le drame dont ils défendent la mémoire de l'ensemble de son contexte historique, à le désincarner, pour en faire, non ce qu'il fut - une catastrophe historique relevant de responsabilités multiples - , mais une scène mythologique, un assaut des forces du mal contre les forces du bien, hors de tout temps et de tout espace. Ce schéma est reçu tel quel, sans esprit critique, par la plupart de nos concitoyens, y compris dans les médias et la classe politique, souvent à mille lieues des réalités historiques et géographiques, assurément assez compliquées et lointaines, dont il a été coupé. Se greffant sur des ignorances et des préjugés séculaires, ce schéma est générateur d'un authentique racisme antiturc, aussi inadmissible (faut-il le préciser?) que tout autre racisme.

Directeur d'études à l'EHESS et historien, il a consacré de nombreux livres et articles à l'histoire ancienne de l'Empire ottoman (XVème-XVIIIème siècle). Notamment Etat et société dans l'Empire ottoman (Londres, Variorum, 1994).


(1) La dénonciation des responsabilités des meneurs fut parfois le fait des Arméniens eux-mêmes, comme Arshag Tchobanian dans "Badaskhanaduoutiunnere" ("responsabilités"), dans Anahid, 1, n°3, janvier 1899.
(2) Voici comment le chef de la délégation nationale arménienne, Boghos Nubar, présenta à la conférence de la paix à Versailles, en 1919, la participation arménienne à la guerre : "depuis le début de la guerre, disait-il, les Arméniens ont combattu aux côtés des alliés sur tous les fronts. (...) Les Arméniens ont été des belligérants de facto, puisqu'ils ont refusé avec indignation de se mettre du côté de la Turquie..." (The Times of London, 30 janvier 1919, p.10).
(3) Tous les déplacements de population accomplis dans les conditions de l'Anatolie en guerre se soldèrent par un très lourd bilan, même en l'absence de toute intention hostile : dans le cas par exemple de la retraite de Maras de l'hiver 1920, où les troupes françaises étaient accompagnées de 5 000 Arméniens, 2 à 3 000 de ces derniers périrent en route ; cf Georges Boudière, "Notes sur la campagne de Syrie-Cilicie.
L'affaire de Maras (janvier-février 1920)", Turcica IX/2-X, 1978, p.160.
(4) Justin McCarthy, Muslim and Minorities : the Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire, NYU Press, 1983.
Le même a écrit un article important : "The Anatolian Armenians, 1912-1922" dans Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (1912-1926), Université du Bosphore, Istanbul, 1984.
(5) Kara Schemsi, Turcs et Arméniens devant l'histoire, Genève, 1919 ; documents relatifs aux atrocités commises par les Arméniens sur les populations musulmanes, Constantinople, 1919 ; Général Mayéwski, Les Massacres d'Arménie, Saint-Pétersbourg, 1916 ; Christopher Walker, Armenia, the survival of a nation, Londres, 1981, tout en étant résolument proarménien, cet ouvrage est très révélateur sur l'importance des victimes musulmanes.
(6) Sinasi Orel et Sureyya Yüca, The Talât Pasha Telegrams : Historical Facts or Armenian Fiction ?, Londres, 1986 ; Türkkaya Ataöv, The Andonian "Documents" atrributed to Talat Pasha are Forgeries, Ankara, 1984.
(7) Au surplus, la traduction arménienne (publiée par Haigazn K. Kazarian) du texte ottoman de ce réquisitoire est hautement tendancieuse, en plusieurs endroits. Un autre procès fut organisé deux ans plus tard à Malte par les Anglais contre quelque 150 prisonniers politiques et militaires ottomans, mais il se termina par un non-lieu.
(8) On a montré ainsi combien un témoignage, très souvent invoqué et présenté comme "neutre", était susceptible d'une "critique de source" passablement instructive : Heath W. Lowry, Les Dessous des Mémoires de l'ambasseur Morgenthau, Isis, Istanbul, 1990.
(9) Kamuran Gürün, Le Dossier arménien, Triangle, 1984 ; cet aspect de l'attitude officielle ottomane, étayée sur de nombreux documents ottomans inédits des plus explicites, est une contribution majeure de ce livre qu'on ne peut éluder pour l'unique raison qu'il s'agirait d'une publication "officieuse" turque.
(10) La Province de la mort, Paris, 1994.
(11) Les éditeurs des mémoires de ce consul récemment traduits en français, se gardent bien de signaler cet aspect que révèlent les archives ottomanes. Il est vrai que, d'une manière générale, la partialité systématique dans le choix des sources souffre malheureusement peu d'exceptions chez les historiens arméniens, encore bien moins que les historiens turcs, comme en témoigne, par exemple, le recueil d'études cité plus haut publié par l'université du Bosphore à Istanbul.
(12) Erik J. Zürcher, Turkey. A modern history, New York, 1993.






A witness in the killing fields of Turkey


A descendant of Grigoris Balakian translates the author's seminal and wrenching account of the Armenian genocide


Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918, by Grigoris Balakian, Translated by Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag, Knopf, 505 pages, $42


Reviewed by Keith Garebian

Tuesday, May. 26, 2009 04:50PM EDT


More than one million Armenians were exterminated by the Ottoman Turks in the first genocide of the 20th century, in what Raphael Lemkin (a Polish Jew and legal scholar who invented the term after the Second World War to describe race-murder) regarded as the template for genocide in the modern era, and what we can now see as the paradigm for the Jewish Holocaust and for genocides in Ukraine, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur.

My father was Armenian, and one of a multitude of orphaned victims of the Ottoman scourge. He was not yet five-and-a-half when pan-Turkic ideology flamed into race-murder on April 24, 1915. He barely remembered his own father's face. He certainly did not remember any of his grandparents or their names. What he remembered of his mother was a woman dying as much of a broken heart as from starvation and thirst in the desert leading to Der Zor (widely known as “the Auschwitz of the Armenian genocide”).

My father had an older sister who survived with him, but their youngest sister was given to a Kurdish farmer and his barren wife, and their other sister, a girl also younger than my father, was abandoned to her fate during the nightmarish trek. He could not remember her name when he recounted the tale to me near the end of his life. Children themselves, he and his eldest sister had had no alternative but to abandon this little girl whom they could not feed or care for while they were forced to eat grass or animal excrement. His final image was of a little starving girl, with curly hair, crying by herself beside an inhospitable tree, where she was probably soon taken as prey by scavenging dogs or wolves.

There is irony in the fact that my father was named Adam, though I believe he had his own views on Original Sin. For him, the fall of man was dated April 24, 1915, when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forced from their homes to be tortured and slaughtered by Turks. My father survived, but his survival, like those of other Armenians who after the First World War dispersed to other countries – defeating the Ottoman plan to exterminate their race – carried burdens of traumatized hearts.

The Ottoman plan for ethnic cleansing was brilliantly evil. The Turks eliminated the intelligentsia so that Armenians would have no active leaders. They eliminated able-bodied men so that Armenians would have no militia. They eliminated the old so that Armenians would have no memory. They eliminated the young so Armenians would have no future.

They were wrong in the final calculation. Memory and hope for the future live in seminal texts such as Grigoris Balakian's Armenian Golgotha, a massive memoir first published in Armenian in 1922 and now making its debut in English via the graces of Balakian's distinguished great-nephew, author Peter Balakian.

The long narrative starts in August, 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War. Born in 1876 in Tokat (a small, multicultural Turkish city), Balakian, whose father was a merchant and whose mother was a writer, is in Constantinople after having studied engineering in Saxony and theology in Berlin, making him fluent in German. Russia has declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and the Muslims have proclaimed jihad against Christians to incite religious war against the Allies, but also inflaming anger toward Armenians, who are resented for their skills and crafts and regarded the way Jews would be in Nazi Germany: as despicable vermin contaminating the nation.

Draconian laws go into effect, radically curtailing Armenian civil liberties and rights. In February, 1915, interior minister Mehmet Talat informs German ambassador Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim that he is going to resolve the Armenian Question by eliminating the Armenians. As the Germans observe developments, Balakian, along with about 250 other cultural leaders, is arrested and deported to a prison in central Turkey.

Deportation was, of course, a code word, just as the phrase “take care of the Armenians” was a euphemism. By the end of 1915, three-quarters of the Ottoman Armenians were wiped out, and in many villages and towns, entire Armenian populations were massacred. Balakian does not censor the horrors: children forcibly Islamized; political leaders hanged; death squads, armed with axes, cleavers, knives and rocks, cutting and hacking away at arms, legs and necks, then throwing the bodies into ditches and covering them with lime; young girls beheaded like sheep when they do not submit to sexual advances; suckling infants dismembered; faint screams of children being eaten alive by wild animals after having been abandoned. The sequence of atrocities is the Armenian Passion in the religious sense of suffering, and Der Zor (where the killings exceeded 400,000) is the ultimate place of skulls, or Golgotha.

Balakian's prose is hot, unlike Primo Levi's (in Survival in Auschwitz), which is as cool as a scientist observing laboratory test tubes and chemicals. It recreates wrenching moments: a scene of schoolboys pleading with him to be rescued from Turkish mobs; a train ride generating tormented anxiety and melancholy; a German nurse who embraces the decapitated body of a six-month-old infant; Armenians kissing skulls of the dead; four elderly Armenian women uttering a vehement curse worthy of a tragic Greek chorus. The prose is not overheated, however, except when Balakian is pious (quoting from the Scriptures) or sentimental (indulging in purple prose or paeans to nature).

Weighted with eyewitness accounts and distinguished by Balakian's prodigiously sharp memory, this book is not a scholar's history, of course, but an educated prelate's, with an enviable grasp of Ottoman and European history. It explains German and European imperialist designs on Turkey and Turkish resentment, and how Turkey exploited the chaos of war (as Peter Balakian shows in his introduction).

But the author points his finger as well at his own people, condemning a minority of Armenian traitors, but also revealing how the Armenians' openness of mind and heart victimized them. Many Armenians found it hard to believe that they could be so viciously hated. There were a few brave uprisings – in Zeytoun, Musa Dagh, Van and Sardarabad, for instance – but the Ottomans used these isolated cases as a pretext for their atrocities.

Despite times of utter despair and pessimism, Balakian survives after living like a wild animal for almost four years in mud, rain and snow. Three things help him: his patriotism, of course; his role as unofficial leader of the deportees; and his knowledge of German. In the course of his adventure, he poses as a German worker on the Berlin-Baghdad railway, a German Jew, a German engineer, a German soldier and a Greek vineyard worker.

But there are also good-hearted, sympathetic Turks who come to his rescue and to that of some other fortunate Armenians. So his book is not a wholesale condemnation of Turks, though it probably won't be read by most Turks, who still can't accept responsibility for one of history's greatest crimes against humanity. It should be, of course, for how could a people be expected to understand and atone for a story they have never been officially permitted to know?


Keith Garebian is completing Children of Ararat, a poetry manuscript on his father and the Armenian genocide.