Why do Muslims deny the genocide?

It was a deliberate, systematic attempt to eradicate the Armenian population throughout the Ottoman Empire and it has certainly met with a very large measure of success. (Viscount James Bryce, and Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1916)

Man, do I miss Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Where is the intelligent analysis and reasoned outcry to the US Council of Muslim Organizations statement denying the Armenian genocide? If there was ever a statement that demonstrates willful denial of historical evidence for the sake of religious pride, this is it:

USCMO STATEMENT ON 1915 TURKISH-ARMENIAN EVENTS

(Washington, DC, April 20, 2015) — The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) the largest umbrella group of mainstream Muslim American organizations is aware of the painful history of over 30 nations fighting for over 4 years and the loss of over 37 million lives in World War I, including those of the Armenians.

As April 24 comes near, we share the pain suffered by Armenians during this period. We also believe that any acknowledgment by religious or political leaders of the tragedy that befell Armenians should be balanced, constructive and must also recognize Turkish and Muslim suffering.

In this respect, characterizing the events of 1915 as genocide without proper investigation of these events by independent historians will not only jeopardize the establishment of a just memory pertaining to these events, but will also damage the efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

As Americans, we are concerned about alienating a key ally, Turkey, through one-sided declarations that political and religious leaders have made on this subject. The events of 100 years ago should be based on a consensus among historians and academicians with access to archives and documents from that era.

Why would US Muslims endorse a fabricated version of history that downplays the senseless slaughter and torment of innocent men, women, and children? Why would they care about a geopolitical alliance with Turkey? They have nothing to lose by exposing the founding CUP members of the Turkish elite as thieves and murderers. They also would have no reparations to pay, and have no repeated lies to confess to.

Aside from pandering to Erdogan’s Islamist political party, the Turkish version of history justifies the elimination of Armenians because they were considered a threat to the Islamic Caliphate. Once the entire population was declared an enemy of the state, they were fair game during war-time. Mass deportations could thus be equated with Ottoman war-time losses. This is the meaning of Turkish and Muslim statements that “Turks also suffered.”

I agree with Richard Rubenstein in his article “The Armenian Genocide as Jihad(New England Review, Jan 2015):

Briefly stated, while steadfastly denying that genocide took place, Turkish governments have also implied that, no matter how terrible Turkish behavior may have been, no crime was committed and the actions taken against the Armenians were fully justified. This is not the view that the Turkish government has publicly expressed. Nevertheless, no other view appears able to explain the consistent behavior of the Turkish governments for almost a century.

The deportations are not contested by any Turkish scholar. So why is it important for Muslims to avoid the application of the word “genocide”?

One view is that it is a direct existential challenge to the founding nationalist narrative. This explains why not only Muslims, but leftists, socialists, ect. deny it as well. The eminent Armenian genocide scholar (and first Turkish academic to speak up on the issue) Taner Akcam describes this way of thinking:

The Armenian Genocide is a part of a more general framework that is directly related to our existence. The republic and the society of Turkey today have been constructed upon the removal of Christians—the destruction of an existence on a territory that we call our homeland. Since we have established our existence upon the non-existence of another, every mention of that existence imparts fear and anxiety in us. The difficulty we have in our country with speaking about the Armenian issue lies within this existence-non-existence duality. If you’re looking for an example that comes close to this, you don’t need to look far: The history of the Native Americans in the U.S. bears similarities.

It makes sense for Turks to fear their own deligitimization as a nation – but US Muslims?

Another answer to the genocide denial question is that the killings continued an explicit policy of jihad against a Christian community unwilling to accept it’s dhimmi status. Acknowledging that the Caliph and his successors ordered a genocide would be to acknowledge that the concept of jihad itself was genocidal, and a crime against humanity.

This version has its roots in the tanzimat legislation of the 1850s, which sought to modernize the empire and give equality to all its subjects. Rubenstein writes:

Even before Abdul Hamid II abolished the reforms, their likely negative consequences of were already understood in 1856 by Grand Vizier, Mustafa Reşid Pasha (1800-1858), a brilliant diplomat. In a memorandum addressed to the sultan in the wake of the reforms of that year, Reşid foresaw the possibility of a “great slaughter” as a result of the efforts to establish the civic equality of all Ottoman subjects through legal enactment.

Reşid’s views were prescient. Muslim traditionalists regarded the emancipation of Jews and Christians as profoundly offensive. Before emancipation, payment of the jizya, the poll tax imposed upon all male dhimmis, symbolized their subjection, inferior status, and suspension of jihad. By voiding dhimmi disabilities, traditionalists believed the dhimma had been rendered null and void. In their eyes, dhimmi emancipation did not mean an end to civic disabilities but the restoration of the state of war against the dhimmis. Under the circumstances, the traditionalists believed that, at least in theory, the umma, the Muslim community, could commit any outrage against them. Moreover, these actions were regarded “not only as justified but also as mandatory and even as praiseworthy.”

When Sultan Abdul Hamid II gave the order in 1894-6 to slaughter 200,000 Armenian men, women, and children, he was the Caliph of Islam, upholding the death penalty for religious minorities who refused to pay the jizya tax.

When Armenians pushed for equal treatment under the Young Turk government of 1909 (something they were promised), reactionary Muslim mobs slaughtered 30,000 Armenians with impunity.

When Talat Pasha gave orders to annihilate every last Christian Armenian, including the elderly, women, and defenceless children, Turkish mullahs told congregations that killing their neighbors was not only allowed, but would bring them eternal life. Why else would ordinary people commit such heinous acts of violence and cruelty?

Along with the killings and deportations, conversion to Islam seems to have been part of the plan:

According to historian Ara Sarafian, in addition to the killings and general massacres, a large number of Armenians were “’abducted,’ ‘carried off,’ or ‘converted to Islam’”48 Sarafian argues that “the fate of this latter class of Armenians was part of the same genocidal calculus as those who were murdered.” It is estimated that in 1915-1916 between 100,000 and 200,000 Armenians, most of whom were women and children, escaped death by converting to Islam. The absorption of these converts into the Muslim community had the same objective as outright genocide, the elimination of the Christian Armenian community as a demographic presence in the Ottoman Empire.

Denial of genocide would not only be a denial of national origins, but also a denial of forced conversion to Islam, which was part of the CUP strategy.

Viewed from an Islamist perspective, genocide recognition would be a reversal of jizya – Muslims would have to pay the infidels and submit themselves to Western legal institutions.

Perhaps this is why Turkish foreign minister Davutoglu declared the Pope to be “racist” for recognizing the genocide.  In this clumsy defense, Davutoglu reveals his thinking about the Turkish people – they are united as one, and suffer national humiliation together. Davutoglu is a proponent of Turkish-Arab unity, and by race it is unclear whether he means Turks or Muslims. Either way –  how else could genocide recognition be seen as racist unless you believe your actions are fully justified? Racism implies a devaluation of a people because of their natural identity. Is the jihad against Armenians part of Turkish identity?

In return for calls to recognize historical facts, the grand mufti of Turkey warns Christians that the Hagia Sofia will be converted to a mosque in retaliation for the actions of modern day “crusaders.” Crusaders are thus any group that seeks to overturn the fortunes of the Muslim community, historical facts be damned.

By supporting Turkish denial of genocide, USCMO encourages the majority of Muslims in the US to favor historical revisionism if it protects Islamic interests. By doubting the well-established evidence in US, German, and other archives, the USCMO joins the ranks of climate change deniers who are paid to lie.

It is one thing to deny the infamous Taalat Pasha telegrams to Aleppo and another entirely to believe that US and German diplomatic accounts and discussions with Taalat are forgeries.

This is one that Turkish historians believe is a forgery – a telegram from Taalat Pasha to the Police Office in Aleppo, Syria, dated September 15, 1915:

It has been reported that by order of the Committee [of Union and Progress] the Government has determined completely to exterminate the Armenians living in Turkey. Those who refuse to obey this order cannot be regarded as friends of the Government. Regardless of the women, children or invalids, and however deplorable the methods of destruction may seem, an end is to be put to their existence [i.e., the Armenians] without paying any heed to feeling or conscience.

Taalat,

Minister of the Interior

The triumvirate Pashas were sentenced to death for a reason in 1919. Armenians bought their own tickets on the deportation trains, their land and possessions were confiscated. Taalat Pasha asked US Ambassador Morgenthau to hand over Armenian insurance policies since no other beneficiaries existed. Priests were tortured, women raped, babies used as target practice, and countless individuals marched into the desert with no food or water.

USMCO must respond to the evidence that already exists. Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story is one of these sources:

One day I was discussing these proceedings with a responsible Turkish official, who was describing the tortures inflicted. He made no secret of the fact that the Government had instigated them, and, like all Turks of the official classes, he enthusiastically approved this treatment of the detested race. This official told me that all these details were matters of nightly discussion at the headquarters of the Union and Progress Committee. Each new method of inflicting pain was hailed as a splendid discovery, and the regular attendants were constantly ransacking their brains in the effort to devise some new torment. He told me that they even delved into the records of the Spanish Inquisition and other historic institutions of torture and adopted all the suggestions found there. He did not tell me who carried off the prize in this gruesome competition, but common reputation through Armenia gave a preeminent infamy to Djevdet Bey, the Vali of Van, whose activities in that section I have already described. All through this country Djevdet was generally known as the “horseshoer of Bashkale” for this connoisseur in torture had invented what was perhaps the masterpiece of all — that of nailing horseshoes to the feet of his Armenian victims.

Yet these happenings did not constitute what the newspapers of the time commonly referred to as the Armenian atrocities; they were merely the preparatory steps in the destruction of the race. The Young Turks displayed greater ingenuity than their predecessor, Abdul Hamid. The injunction of the deposed Sultan was merely “to kill, kill”, whereas the Turkish democracy hit upon an entirely new plan. Instead of massacring outright the Armenian race, they now decided to deport it. In the south and southeastern section of the Ottoman Empire lie the Syrian desert and the Mesopotamian valley. Though part of this area was once the scene of a flourishing civilization, for the last five centuries it has suffered the blight that becomes the lot of any country that is subjected to Turkish rule; and it is now a dreary, desolate waste, without cities and towns or life of any kind, populated only by a few wild and fanatical Bedouin tribes. Only the most industrious labour, expended through many years, could transform this desert into the abiding place of any considerable population. The Central Government now announced its intention of gathering the two million or more Armenians living in the several sections of the empire and transporting them to this desolate and inhospitable region. Had they undertaken such a deportation in good faith it would have represented the height of cruelty and injustice. As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes. The real purpose of the deportation was robbery and destruction; it really represented a new methods of massacre. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.

[paragraphs omitted]

I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915. The slaughter of the Albigenses in the early part of the thirteenth century has always been regarded as one of the most pitiful events in history. In these outbursts of fanaticism about 60,000 people were killed. In the massacre of St. Bartholomew about 30,000 human beings lost their lives. The Sicilian Vespers, which has always figured as one of the most fiendish outbursts of this kind, caused the destruction of 8,000. Volumes have been written about the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada, yet in the eighteen years of his administration only a little more that 8,000 heretics were done to death. Perhaps the one event in history that most resembles the Armenian deportations was the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. According to Prescott 160,000 were uprooted from their homes and scattered broadcast over Africa and Europe. Yet all these previous persecutions seem almost trivial when we compare them with the sufferings of the Armenians, in which at least 600,000 people were destroyed and perhaps as many as 1,000,000. And these earlier massacres when we compare them with the spirit that directed the Armenian atrocities, have one feature that we can almost describe as an excuse: they were the product of religious fanaticism and most of the men and women who instigated them sincerely believed that they were devoutly serving their Maker. Undoubtedly religious fanaticism was an impelling motive with the Turkish and Kurdish rabble who slew Armenians as a service to Allah, but the men who really conceived the crime had no such motive. Practically all of them were atheists, with no more respect for Mohammedanism than for Christianity, and with them the one motive was cold-blooded, calculating state policy.

Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.: 1919), pp. 307-309, 321-323.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Why do Muslims deny the genocide?

  1. Pingback: Genocide denial and natural law | Andrew J Siebert

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