April 24 was a rainy cold day, which was spent in a vehicle driving with the family to Georgia to renew our visas. I would have loved to be downtown for the concert, but by the time we arrived it was 3 degrees and raining. So I did the next best thing, and watched genocide denial videos on Youtube…
After spending a week looking at pro-Armenian sources, I wondered more than once how Turkey justifies its position. Was it a conscious denial of evidence? Do they really think innocent civilians were a political threat? Was there any truth to the stories of Armenians massacring Turks? Our Model UN delegation encountered their Turkish counterparts in Rome a couple weeks ago, and said “No. YOU were the ones who committed genocide against US.”
I read some Muslim eyewitness accounts from the Armenian rebellion in Van (the centre of the ancient Armenian kingdoms in Eastern Anatolia) – the precursor to the April 24 killing of intellectuals. There were definitely accounts of Armenian atrocities committed, such as rape and slaughter of civilians, which would have prepared Muslim villages psychologically for copy-cat revenge. It seems very true that the Armenians did everything in their power to help the Russians, since they were promised land in return. And it is also clear that the land Armenians planned to retake (centred around Lake Van), was majority Muslim and would have required similar resettlement programs to the ones used in Western Anatolia.
I also wondered why some Jewish scholars denied the genocide – even giants in the field like Bernard Lewis.
I watched Justin McCarthy deliver a speech in Australia. McCarthy is probably the highest profile genocide denier (a historian from Kentucky) who describes the deportations as a “rational political decision” based on the Armenian rebellion.
One of the most interesting parts of the talk was when he described the Armenians pleading with the UK to invade in the south, which would split the kingdom in two, and have been far more effective than Gallipoli. Churchill decided against it. McCarthy notes that a UK landing in the south would probably have prevented the Armenian genocide.
The most striking think about McCarthy’s position is his starting point. He assumes that there is no legitimate reason for the Armenians to be revolting against the Ottoman Empire, and there is no discussion of the failed tanzimat reforms, which were supposed to give Armenians a modicum of equal treatment. He therefore depicts the Armenian/Russian cooperation as a travesty and the gravest treason, justifying the treatment of all Armenians as potential combatants.
It is certainly important that Armenian rebels slaughtered Ottoman soldiers who were retreating from the Russian front line. You will never hear this in a pro-Armenian documentary. From reading the eyewitness account, it does seem as if revolutionary groups shot at Muslims from church steeples in order for Muslim reprisal to incite greater revolution. And I would certainly want to ask the Armenians about the “million” (or so McCarthy claims) fleeing villagers and soldiers who also died of starvation (were they just soldiers or villagers?). Were they massacred, or just fleeing the Russian invasion? He reports that by the end of the war, two thirds of Muslims in the area of Van were killed.
In any case, why does McCarthy defend the just rule of the ailing Ottoman empire to begin with? He believes in the American revolution supposedly. Armenians were revolting against the outright slaughter of their people under Abdul Hamid II. He does raise the question of what the Van region would have looked like if the Armenians were successful – would they have dealt with the majority Muslim population in a similar brutal fashion?
McCarthy makes note of the outright massacres of Armenians in Trabzond (drowing in the Black Sea), and in central Anatolia. But he seems to believe the Turkish narrative that deportations (into the desert?) were not intended to kill people. Deportations were not genocide, he claims, because Turks left considerable numbers of Armenians in Istanbul, Izmir, and Erdine.
Many scholars have noted McCarthy’s contribution to a more full picture of the Turkish reprisal. However, I just can’t wrap my head around one thing:
How is the killing of innocent men, women, and children ever a “rational political decision?” Sure, they needed to be worried about Armenian insurrection (even though arms smuggling was mostly successful in the East). What about the death squads formed by the triumvirate?
In my very limited opinion, McCarthy seems to be defending not justice, but the Ottoman Empire and their Turkish successors. The weak argument about political expedience also ignores the serious question of document veracity. This is where I rely on respected historians who have been to the Ottoman archives, like Taner Akcam, and ignore the ridiculous (and anonymous) analysis on the web.