National Compass has previously written about new historical scholarship that deals a fatal blow to Turkey’s long standing repudiations of their serial atrocities and ethnic cleansing against minorities in their former empire, both in the late 19th century, but most notably in the first two decades of the 20th, against the Armenians.
Why is this relevant? For the unfortunate reason that genocide is by no means, fully in the rear view mirror of mankind. Crimes against humanity on a mass scale are being committed in real time as witnessed by the ferocious slaughter and forced migration of the Rohingya minority population by Myanmar government forces and citizens inflamed by anti-Rohingya propaganda.
That orgy of cruelty has been underway, going on five years now. It features all the standard components of state sponsored genocide, according to U.N. investigators – mass killings, rape, war crimes, detensions void of due process and the destruction of villages. And it also features another facet that is common to all genocide – persistent denial of the crimes.
The international community, most prominently the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, is defining China’s mass incarceration of its Uyghur population in the Western province of Xinjiang as an ongoing campaign of genocide – again with confirmed findings of brainwashing, torture, rape, forced labor and the customary vehement disavowals coming from Chinese officials.
We decided to revisit the subject and expand on it, with some of the previous material and research included here, in light of the formal acknowledgment by President Joe Biden today on Armenian Genocide Rememberance Day.
Another equally, if not more compelling reason is that a second genocide against the Armenian people is presently underway. Genocide Watch reports:
Although a paper ceasefire was signed on October 15, 2020, Azerbaijani forces are still attempting to capture new territory. Azerbaijan uses laser-guided drones from Turkey, Russia, and Israel to attack Artsakh’s defenders, who are mostly Artsakh civilian volunteers. Azerbaijan is using Syrian mercenaries. Azerbaijan’s political ally, Turkey, provides air support for Azerbaijani forces, sparking fears that Turkey will resume the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – 1922.
Referencing the war against Armenians in the South Caucasus by Azerbaijani forces with the assistance of air support from Turkey in their indigenous region of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) board member Ani Tchaghlasian observes that:
We always say that genocide denied is genocide repeated and that’s what’s going on today. We are all watching it happen, watching an ethnic group on their own land being driven out by force. Now there is a direct line from the Armenian Genocide to basically Armenian Genocide 2.0 today, and this is what I think triggered a lot of ethnically Armenian people across the globe.
Should echoes of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – 1922 in what is taking place in Artsakh strike you as hyperbolic to one extent or another, be advised that the Anatolia region of the late Ottoman Empire was not the only scene of displacement and slaughter during that period.
The Azeri are a branch of the Turkic people who, in modern times and today, live primarily in Azerbaijan, but also have populations in Iran and in Turkey. Turkey and Azerbaijan are aligned strategically, politically, militarily and culturally and Azerbaijan is viewed by critics as a client state for Turkey’s regional ambitions . In 2020, Turkey furnished an estimated $120 million worth of weapons and equipment used to wage cross border conflict with Armenia.
In 1918, contemporary with the events of the Armenian holocaust in Turkey, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic conducted a similar annihilation of Armenian people in Azerbaijan and the provinces of Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Tatar paramilitary units and Azerbaijani forces in Baku staged pogroms that resulted in murder and destruction. And the Turkish Army participated as well. Typical of international reporting of the time, was this account from the German daily, Neue Vorwärts:
Turkish forces massacred 10 thousand Armenians while evacuating the towns of Baku, Olti and Ardahan, in the Caucasus and in some towns the entire Armenian population was exterminated. The Turks permitted Tartar troops to plunder the Armenians.
A manager of the main telegram office in Baku was so appalled by the carnage that he sent a dispatch out describing what was happening at the hands of the Azeris in partnership with the Ottoman army:
Robberies, murders and rapes were at their height [at 4.00 p.m. on 15 September]. In the whole town massacres of the Armenian population and robberies of all non-Muslim peoples were going on. They broke the doors and windows, entered the living quarters, dragged out men, women and children and killed them in the street.
From all the houses the yells of the people who were being attacked were heard….In some spots there were mountains of dead bodies, and many had terrible wounds from dum-dum bullets. The most appalling picture was at the entrance to the Treasury Lane from Surukhanskoi Street. The whole street was covered with dead bodies of children not older than nine or ten years. About eighty bodies carried wounds inflicted by swords or bayonets, and many had their throats cut; it was obvious that the wretched ones had been slaughtered like lambs.
From Telephone Street we heard cries of women and children and we heard single shots. Rushing to their rescue I was obliged to drive the car over the bodies of dead children. The crushing of bones and strange noises of torn bodies followed.
The horror of the wheels covered with the intestines of dead bodies could not be endured by the colonel and the asker (adjutant). They closed their eyes with their hands and lowered their heads. They were afraid to look at the terrible slaughter. Half mad from what he saw, the driver sought to leave the street, but was immediately confronted by another bloody hecatomb.
Essentially, what was underway in Turkey from 1915 to 1922, was taking place in Azerbaijan, just on a smaller scale. And in regards to the present onslaught against Armenians in Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh, the International Association of Genocide Scholars cautions:
History, from the Armenian genocide to the last three decades of conflict, as well as current political statements, economic policies, sentiments of the societies and military actions by the Azerbaijani and Turkish leadership should warn us that genocide of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and perhaps even Armenia, is a very real possibility. All of this proves that Armenians can face slaughter if any Armenian territory is occupied, consequently recognizing of the independence of the Republic of Artsakh is the way to save Armenians of Artsakh from extermination now or in the near future.
President Biden’s proclamation touched off a firestorm of anger from Turkish officials, President Recep Erdogan and throughout the government.
Here is a brief excerpt of his comments:
Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms. The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.
The response from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry office was characteristic of the reaction of the Turkish government:
“We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups on April 24”
Most people in the West are reasonably knowledgeable, or at least familiar with the Nazi Holocaust in Germany, Poland and elsewhere throughout Europe. And that is as it should be. But mention the Armenian Holocaust perpetrated by the Turkish government (Ottoman Empire) during World War I and you might get a few blank stares.
Why? Partially because Jews are very adept at storytelling and their plight at the hands of Hitler’s regime is very compelling in many dimensions, including the fact that it happened within the last 70 years, not over a century ago.
But the other factor may be that Armenians are an ethnic minority that have been accorded a low profile in comparison to that of Germany’s holocaust victims.
Beyond that, the mass extermination of Armenians, together with Greek and Assyrian ethnics, took place on a somewhat smaller scale – an estimated 1.5 million compared to the 12 million victims of the Nazis. Even so, it should be taken into account that this campaign of terror put to an end over three millennia of Armenian civilization in historic Anatolia.
Writing in 1918, former president Theodore Roosevelt, described the Armenian massacres as “the greatest crime of the war.”
The Armenian genocide, known in the Armenian vernacular as Meds Yeghern, is also distinctly an extermination of Christians, which is not to say that the religion of the victims makes the atrocities committed against them any more or less significant. The historical fact and the experiences of the Armenian people in this genocide is every bit as harrowing and gut wrenching as what the Jews and other opponents of the Third Reich suffered.
Just as Nazis and their sympathizers viewed Jews, blacks, homosexuals and those with congenital deformities as less than human – the Turkish saw Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Christians as less than human.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s David Holthouse, examined the social status of the victims of the campaign of annihilation and draws analogies to the history of slavery and post Civil War period following it in the United States:
For decades before they were the victims of genocide, Armenians living as a Christian minority in the Muslim-dominated Ottoman Empire were accorded second-class citizenship. It was against the law for them to carry weapons or ride horses. Their houses could not overlook those of Muslims. Testimony from Armenians was not admissible in courts of law — just as slaves and even freedmen in the 19th-century American South were barred from testifying against whites.
But the comparison goes even further. Prior to World War I, the Ottoman Empire had been declining in influence and economically as a consequence of a series of disasterous attempts to expand their footprint into central Europe.
New leadership, dubbed the “Young Turks” by historians, assumed power in 1908 and immediately nominated the Armenians within their borders as the central scapegoat for all their woes and misfortunes. Among the accusations leveled at the Armenian population was that they were a fifth column in league with Turkey’s hated adversary, Russia.
Commenting in response to a report in the Middle East Research and Information Project, representatives from New York’s RAMIG Armenian information collective issued this corrective:
The idea of an “Armenian fifth column” threatening Ottoman political and territorial integrity is quite baseless. With the advent of World War I, Armenians in the empire were drafted into the army to prevent the near total collapse of the Turkish forces during their ill-fated Caucasian campaign in 1914.
These Armenian soldiers were soon disarmed, organized into labor battalions and later murdered. Turkish apologists and official propagandists argue that Armenian nationalist “elements” had to be neutralized and the general Armenian populace removed from the war front for their own safety.
Such “elements” turned out to be defenseless old men, women and children who were murdered or deported — the young male segment already having been dealt with. The 1915 massacres and deportations occurred throughout the Empire, in towns, villages and cities far removed from the war front.
The Turkish government gave carte blanche and encouragement to the military and the Turkish citizenry to also destroy all vestiges of the cultural existence and life of Armenians in the country, with demolition, desecration and vandalism of both historical sites and houses of worship.
ArmenianGenocide.org narrates in sum, that:
In their zeal to create a homogeneous society exclusively Turkish and Muslim, the Young Turk radicals sought to exclude the Christian populations that had long inhabited Asia Minor. Through expulsions, expropriations, and extermination, by 1923 no Christians to speak of, including Assyrians and Greeks, remained across Anatolian Turkey.
Another commonality is that just as the Nazi holocaust has its wretched and insidious deniers, so does the one committed by the Turks. In fact, the Turkish government has officially denied the Ottoman Empire’s atrocities which commenced on April 24, 1915 and continues to do so.
Another interesting and telling touchpoint in this event and how it resonated onward, was the episode during which Hitler was engaged with his council of war in 1939 and formalizing a decision to invade Poland – he responded to some notes of caution voiced regarding the plan, saying:
“Who, after all, today, speaks today of the annihilation
of the Armenians?”
The above quote is excerpted from a witnesses’ notes of Hitler’s private address to high ranking Nazi party members including the SS and Wehrmacht commanders at his residence in Obersalzberg.
The full quote is as follows:
Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me.
I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy.
Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language.
Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?
A point of distinction between the two events is that while some few Germans were not aware of the full extent of the butchery committed by their government and others were indifferent – a large segment of the Turkish population was not only enthusiastic about the cruelty and brutality, but relished the opportunity to participate in it.
To set the background on this, historians are in general agreement that the genocide conducted by the Turks, commenced on April 24, 1915 (Genocide Remembrance Day), beginning with the arrest and deportation of 800 prominent Armenian citizens of the country. But it should not be supposed that such an event was a sudden development. The Ottoman Empire had been mistreating Armenians and other ethnic minorities within its boundaries for over 400 years prior.
There had been numerous well documented massacres of Armenians, a number of which took place in the half century prior to the mass genocide that began in 1915.
One such sequence of events from 1894 through 1896, typifies the nature of such terror filled attacks and illustrates the religious motivation of Islamic fanaticism behind the persecution. In a diplomatic dispatch, Henry Barnham, a British Consulate official, gave his personal description of events:
“The butchers and tanners, with sleeves tucked up to the shoulders, armed with clubs and cleavers, cut down the Christians with cries of ‘Allahu akbar!’ (Allah is great!) (and) broke down the doors of their houses with pickaxes and levers, or scaled the walls with ladders. Then when mid-day came they knelt down and said their prayers, and then jumped up and resumed the dreadful work, carrying it on far into the night. Whenever they were unable to beat down the doors they fired the houses with petroleum…”
In this, known as the Hamidian massacres of the late 19th century, as many as and possibly more than a quarter million Armenians were slaughtered. Another bloodbath committed against Armenians took place in Adana province in 1909.
Soon after the deportations of August 24, began the organized mass deportations, starvation, forced death marches, rapes, tortures, killing of infants, burning alive, fatal morphine injections, drownings, injections of deadly diseases (Typhoid), gassings and countless other unimaginable brutalities that even shocked the sensibilities of Germans working on railroad construction in the country.
The Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, provides a sense of the calculated mayhem executed by the Turks against their disarmed prey:
One of the most distinguishing, if not singular, features of the Armenian Genocide is the array of methods and instruments employed. To spare powder and shells, for example, the perpetrators mostly used daggers, swords, scimitars, bayonets, axes, saws, and cudgels, as attested to by wartime U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau.
To memorialize this important event there is an Armenian Genocide Museum in Armenia and another in Washington, D.C. soon to be opened, together with exhibits hosted by the Museum of Tolerance (Simon Weisenthal Center) in Los Angeles, where you can see the visual documentation of the inhumanity if you have the courage to look at it. The Turks were so proud of their atrocities that they even captured images of them.
The inclusion of an Armenian Genocide exposition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capitol, was bitterly opposed and lobbied against by the Turkish government ever since 1978.
Because Turkey was a member of the NATO alliance and the only majority Islamic government aligned with Israel at the time, they applied pressure not only through Israeli government diplomatic channels but also through intensive lobbying directly with members of Congress.
They persisted successfully in this campaign to bury their nation’s shameful, heinous crimes for 41 years, until in 2019, the political winds and Congress’ perception of Turkey’s disintegrating relationship with the United States presented clear political cover for a breakthrough in acknowledgment of the atrocities.
Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, summarizes the reasons why the tide has shifted:
In the past, the Department of Defense considered Turkey a precious ally and frequently served as the key building block of the U.S. government dam, making a case that ties with Ankara superseded campaign promises about the Armenian genocide. Not anymore. Today the Pentagon, which is angry at Ankara for a bevy of issues, most notably Turkey’s 2017 purchase of a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, is no longer interested in carrying Ankara’s water in Washington.
Combined with this is a strong sentiment among the American people, that the United States government make it an official policy to recognize the reality of what took place in Turkey in 1915 and the years following. A sample of this is a screen capture of reader poll conducted by NBC News:
Wikipedia recounts the reaction of Major General Otto von Lossow, acting military attaché and head of the German Military Plenipotentiary in the Ottoman Empire, speaking of Ottoman intentions in a conference held in Batum in 1918:
The Turks have embarked upon the “total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia … The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. Talaat’s government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey but also outside Turkey. On the basis of all the reports and news coming to me here in Tiflis there hardly can be any doubt that the Turks systematically are aiming at the extermination of the few hundred thousand Armenians whom they left alive until now.
Wiki further discloses the testimony of Dr. Walter Rössler, the German consul in Aleppo during the genocide, who heard from an “objective” Armenian that around a quarter of young women, whose appearance was “more or less pleasing”, were regularly raped by the gendarmes, and that “even more beautiful ones” were violated by 10–15 men. This resulted in girls and women being left behind dying.
And in similar fashion to the Nazi holocaust, concentration camps were organized by the Ottoman government. The killing fields where many Armenians were slaughtered? Ironically and incredibly so – it was within the present day footprint of the slaughter taking place today in Syria.
Turkish government maintains position of denial.
Unlike the Nazi holocaust, which the post war German government never officially attempted to claim was fictitious – the only “deniers” being some individual flat earth type historical revisionist cranks and the recalcitrant East German government – the Turkish government to this very day maintains the position that no such policy of extermination ever took place. This, despite – as is also the case in the murders of millions of Jews, Christians and objectors of the Hitler regime, copious amounts of evidence to the contrary exists.
The modern Turkish government throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, have based the denial of the events on their contention that there existed no documentation linking Turkey to the exterminations. It was the “you can’t prove it, so it didn’t happen” defense.
Critics of the government attribute that circumstance to the deliberate destruction of the original records used by Allied military tribunals to convict the planners of the killings.
Now, thanks to the work of Dr. Altug Taner Akçam – a historian at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts – (himself of Turkish heritage), the Turkish government no longer has that excuse to rely on.
Dr. Akçam is a long time student and researcher of the Armenian genocide and has been approaching it as a detective story for decades. Akçam achieved a breakthrough recently in his discovery of what historians call the “smoking gun” in the investigation – an original telegram related to the court proceedings against the government and military officials responsible for the mass murders.
He traced the telegram to an archive that had been stored for safe keeping by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Dr. Akçam called the discovery “an earthquake in our field” and said he hoped it would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.” He does not, however, anticipate that Turkey, under the authoritarian regime of nationalist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will acknowledge that the ethnic cleansing and atrocities were state sponsored, organized and executed – and that has proven to be the case.
“My approach is that as much proof as you put in front of denialists, denialists will remain denialists,” said Bedross Der Matossian, a historian at the University of Nebraska and the author of “Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire.”
And the New York Times notes that two years ago, Pope Francis referred to the killings as a genocide and faced a storm of criticism from within Turkey. Many countries, including France, Germany and Greece, have recognized the genocide, each time provoking diplomatic showdowns with Turkey.
A copy of the telegram in question was intercepted by Allied war crimes investigators at the time of the trials. When decoded, the communication revealed that an Ottoman official requested particulars on the deportations and killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia – now eastern Turkey. The telegram led to the conviction of Behaeddin Shakir for his participation in the planning and organizing of the holocaust.
The telegram featured this inquiry from Shakir to a provincial official in a region where thousands of Armenians were being held in detention camps:
“Are the Armenians, who are being dispatched from there, being liquidated? Are those harmful persons being exterminated, or are they merely being dispatched and exiled? Answer explicitly.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau Sr., during this massive ethnic cleansing campaign, was advised by the heads of our outlying consulates and diplomatic posts of the harrowing barbarity they witnessed and received first hand accounts of.
Rouben Paul Adalian, details the dispatches to Morgenthau:
Despite the difficulties of communication during the war, Oscar H. Heizer in Trebizond, Leslie A. Davis in Mamuret-el-Aziz, or Harput (Kharpert in Armenian), and especially Jesse B. Jackson in Aleppo regularly posted the Embassy with their own eyewitness accounts of the treatment of the Armenians. On June 5, 1915, Jackson shared his views about the persecutions with the Ambassador and concluded that they constituted “a carefully planned scheme to thoroughly extinguish the Armenian race.”
Morganthau summed up the scale of the holocaust, stating:
“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 compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”
A German officer, Second Lieutenant Armin T. Wegner disregarded orders from command to not document what they all witnessed. Wegner assembled a cache of evidence including a collection of hundreds of photographs. The photographs, some of which we include here, we advise you beforehand, are quite disturbing.
Reflecting on the consequences of the Great War in his 1929 book titled The World Crisis, the future Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, wrote: “In 1915 the Turkish government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians of Asia Minor.” Churchill added: “There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons.” and he concurred with other contemporary independent observers that “whole districts [were] blotted out in one administrative holocaust.”
Dr Akçam, who has been dubbed the “Sherlock Holmes of the Armenian Genocide” by colleague, Eric D. Weitz, a history professor at the City College of New York – has written a book titled, “A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility”.