Responses to the Book review in the Times Literary Supplement - 17 September 2004 (No 5294) By Andrew Mango
Here are some of the Responses to the Review:
RESPONSE FROM MR. CHRISTOPHER J. WALKER, HISTORIAN, AUTHOR (Published in TLS)
Sir, At the risk of revisiting a well-trodden landscape, can I query Andrew Mango's endorsement (in his review, September 17) 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 another 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 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 Turks were fighting the Russians, not the Armenians, in World War I. 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 imminent collapse?
Yours sincerely, CHRISTOPHER J. WALKER
TO THE EDITOR, TLS - RESPONSE FROM MR MIKE JOSEPH - HISTORIAN
Dear Sir, Andrew Mango (TLS, September 17 2004) 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. Amongst 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 thousand".
What became of these witnesses to genocide? One became a close associate of Adolf Hitler and founder of the Nazi Party. Another 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.
Yours sincerely, Mike Joseph
RESPONSE FROM MR. ANDREW KEVORKIAN - JOURNALIST - 22 September 2004
Dear Editor: It was a bit mischievous--if not downright disingenuous--of you to ask a known and active Turcophile to review Peter Balakian's book on the Armenian Genocide, "The Burning Tigris" (September 17). Would you have been so bold to have asked David Irving to review a book on the Sho'ah?
As it is, Andrew Mango did concede that a few Armenians did suffer sprained ankles and a further few also suffered broken fingernails during the events of 1915.
But, in furthering the Turkish cause of denial of a historical fact, Mango not only repeats the standard lies but also throws in a few interesting twists of his own.
He repeated places all the blame for the suffering of the Armenians on the Armenians themselves with his constant repetition of those nasty "Armenian nationalists." Is he suggesting that my father's 12-year-old sister was brutally raped and murdered because she, too, was an "Armenian nationalist"?
Mango accuses Balakian of being selective in his inclusions (and, by inference, his exclusions). This is a prime example of the kettle and the lid.
Mango suggests that what befell the Armenians was at the hands of the Kurds and a few rogue Turks. He ignores completely that the Turks formed The Special Organisation (TSO) with the sole purpose of filling its ranks with some of the most hardened criminals and murderers who were pardoned and "recruited" into the TSO and whose instructions were to kill the Armenians. The Political Director of TSO was Dr Behaedin Shakir, one of the chief architects of the Genocide.
Mango also ignores the fact that valis (Provincial governors) were appointed and dismissed depending on their effectiveness in killing Armenians in their districts. One vali was even hanged because he refused to follow such orders--and was replaced by a relative of Talaat Pasha.
Mango also refers to the writings of Bernard Lewis--the doyen of Genocide denialists--but neglects to say that in his book, "The Emergence of Modern Turkey," Lewis refers (on page 368, second edition, 1968) to the events of 1915 not as a genocide but as a holocaust! After Lewis joined the Turkish cause, he was asked by Dr Israel Charny, editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopaedia of Genocide, in Jerusalem, why he changed his mind on the matter of the Armenian Genocide. Lewis replied "additional research." When asked what that "research" consisted of and asked to submit it for publication in the Journal, answer there came none. Charny has written extensively and at great length on this matter. Mango seems to have ignored this.
Instead, he quotes from one of the foursome of American Turcophile "academics" who not only deny the Armenian Genocide but also cite each other in their writings. In quoting Justin McCarthy, who is in the pay of the Turkish Government--indirectly in that he holds a Chair of Turkish studies funded by Ankara--and whose entire meagre "academic" output has been to deny the Armenian Genocide, Mango shows the dearth of his sources.
Mango tries to deny a link between the events of 1915 and Hitler's later attempt to exterminate Europe's Jews, when the link is so strong. In 1931, Hitler referred to the Armenian Genocide when explaining his plans for the future of German in which there would be no Jews. He also referred to the Armenian Genocide in the now-famous Obersaltzburg meeting, on August 22, 1939, when he was instructing his generals to be ruthless in the forthcoming attack on Poland. Hitler's early supporters were Army officers who served in or with the Turkish armies exterminating the Armenians.
Mango also ignores the July 1919 War Crimes Trial held by the Turks (how ironic that not only did the Turks commit the first Genocide of the 20th Century but also held the first War Crimes Trial) in which the seven leaders of the Young Turks were found guilty in absentia (they having fled the country). The counts for which they were found guilty included the killing of the Armenians. Interesting, Mango cites, yet again, the Turkish claim that the Talaat telegrams produced at the trial of Soghomon Telierian, the young Armenian who shot and killed Talaat Pasha on a Berlin street in 1921, were false, conveniently forgetting that the telegrams were among the most convincing evidence against Talaat and his colleagues in the War Crimes Trial!
Mango suggests that the matter of Genocide-recognition should be left to the historians and not to the politicians, but ignores the fact that historians and genocide scholars and others have taken a stand on the matter. On April 23, 1999, 150 of them signed an ad in the Washington Post in which they not only recognised the Armenian Genocide as a fact but also called on Turkey to do so--"Turkey Must Stop the Denial of the Armenian Genocide." Further, Mango ignores the fact that in 2001, 53 Jewish historians, genocide scholars and others also made the same declaration.
Whether or not Balakian successfully tells his story--it is, after all not a history of the Armenian Genocide but is a story about the Armenian Genocide--the fact remains that the Armenian Genocide was a State-planned and State-executed attempt to rid Turkey of its Armenian minority. My mother's father--a judge in Smyrna--received advanced warning of the Genocide (and that his name was on the list of those to be rounded up in advance of the start in April 1915) and he was able to flee with his entire family, unlike my father's family the rest of whom died.
The link with the Jewish Holocaust is there for anyone to see in that every step taken by the Turks was repeated by the Nazis--from the laws making their respective minorities second-class citizens to the concentration camps to which they were transported "for their own safety."
Mango does not find it disturbing that if the Armenians were such productive subjects and were "the faithful nation," that they should have been selected for the mass murder.
No matter how often and how loud is the Turkish denial of the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide, and no matter how often those denials are repeated by their apologists, there was an Armenian Genocide.
And, what's more, Andrew Mango knows it.
Respectfully, Andrew Kevorkian, Philadelphia, Pa. USA
RESPONSE FROM DR. H. BESSOS, EDINBURGH
Dear Mr Mango - Your Review Of The Burning Tigris (Peter Balakian)
On the face of it, the review you wrote in the Times Literary Supplement must appear to the general reader as a well written and fair article. However, to those of us who are close to the subject, the article's insincerity and attempts to fudge the truth are plain to see. It is hard for me to believe that a person like you who is so well versed in the region's history, cannot see that what the Turks perpetrated was an act of Genocide. Take me for example, a son of parents who were victims of the genocide and bore witness to its horrors. My father was a 15 year old Assyrian living in Ourfa (Edessa), while my mother was a five year old Armenian living in Marash. Both belonged to large well to do and law abiding families. My uncle, the 28 year old elder brother of my father, had just been appointed a professor at Aintab college following his graduation with a BA in divinity . Then, without any charges, my uncle and other members of the intelligentsia in the region were suddenly rounded up and jailed in Aleppo prison. Shortly thereafter they were taken away and cut down by bayonets in cold blood. At the same time, my three great uncles on my mother's side were rounded up and taken away never to be heard of again. Shortly thereafter the families of both my parents were forced to leave everything behind and made to march into the desert. Miraculously, my mother and father made it to Aleppo. About a million others did not. Yet here you are attempting to explain away this act of genocide as incompetence of the Ottoman Turks in handling a perceived threat from the Christian (mainly Armenian) community during WW1. Your apologetic stance for their genocidal act is an affront to me and millions of descendants of the victims of the genocide.
Dr Hagop Bessos - Edinburgh
RESPONSE FROM MR. ARMENAG TOPALIAN
Dear Sir - I hope that the present Sudanese government have sight of Andrew Mango's review of Peter Balakian's book, The Burning Tigris, (17 September). He has much to encourage them in the nightmare Darfur nightmare situation that exhibits more similarities than differences despite the elapse of years.
Here we have a people (who the authorities would claim were "perfectly integrated into the mosaic") different in ethnicity and religion within the boundaries (drawn by powers without consultation of their consent) of a state intent to exercise its sovereign rights without discharging its responsibilities to protect, nurture and develop all its inhabitants. Decades long discrimination and deprivation results in a not unsurprising reaction leading to government supported violence with the janjaweed (bashibazooks for the Armenians) made worse by the protests of outside states.
How history repeats itself when previous experience is glossed over by some historians! Usefully, Andrew has identified the Sudanese Government's final goal, the prospect of no "unredeemed" natives in their historic lands with the continuing unrestricted infusion of their own kith and kindred.
Of course, there is no current dimension of external invasion as there was in the First World War (declared by the Turkish government for which the Armenians paid the ultimate penalties). However, war was not necessary ingredient as the earlier massacres predated hostilities, involved unarmed civilians (once the Armenian conscripts were murdered by their officers) and mostly well away from any war zone.
Historians may have an input but this issue will only be resolved when the people who suffered on the land (and not just in history books) recognise that it has been dealt with in a manner that they deem satisfactory. Andrew may need to reflect that the Azeri lands currently held by the Armenians came about because of their reaction of "Never Again" after the 1988 pogroms in Sumgait and Baku as they recalled their treatment by the Turks in the early 20th century. This is a current issue with historical resonances and not just an academic debate.
Yours faithfully - ARE Topalian