From Turkish Press comes this account of the murder last Friday of an ethnic Armenian journalist in Istanbul:
Leading Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead outside his newspaper office yesterday by an unknown assailant, sending Turkey into deep shock and prompting foreign criticism and statements of concern.
“This heinous attack is against all of us; on our unity, our integrity, our peace and stability,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan said at a hastily arranged press conference. “This is an attack against freedom of thought and our democratic way of life.” Erdoðan cut short a Cabinet meeting to upon the news of Dink’s murder and said he had told his justice and interior ministers to shed light on the killing.
In a statement the Foreign Ministry expressed deep regret at murder of Dink, “a distinguished member of Turkey’s Armenian community,” and went on: “We strongly denounce and condemn this heinous attack. … The perpetrator(s) of the attack will be caught in the shortest time possible and brought to justice.”
The phrase that stands out in that last paragraph is “Turkey’s Armenian community”. If the Turks haven’t managed to exterminate their Armenian community, it isn’t for lack of trying.
News reports said Dink had been shot three times in the neck. An 18 or 19-year-old man was sought as a suspect, and unconfirmed reports said police have detained two people in connection with the murder.
Since the Turkish Press report, a 17-year-old has been arrested and has confessed to the shooting; he is thought to have acted as part of a group. One of the other suspects in custody is Yasin Hayal, who was charged with bombing a McDonalds restaurant in Istanbul in 2004 and later released.
Hrant Dink had been a thorn in Turkey’s side for quite a while, and did time in prison for insulting the Turkish race:
Dink, a 53-year-old Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, had gone on trial numerous times for speaking out about World War I events, which Armenians claim amount to a genocide. He had received numerous threats from ultranationalists, but authorities said he had never demanded state protection.
Ah, yes, the genocide. These quotes, remember, are from a Turkish publication, so that the genocide is described as an “Armenian claim”. Turkish Press is too respectable to put the word in quotation marks, but you can tell that’s what they’d like to do; after all, the event is only “alleged”:
Dink’s murder comes as Armenians step up efforts to win international recognition for the alleged genocide and is set to sour political atmosphere in the international scene, something that would complicate Turkey’s efforts to counter the claims. The United States and the European Union immediately expressed concern over the attack.
“It’s meaningful that this attack comes as the Armenian allegations are on the agenda,” Erdoðan said. “It is meaningful that bloody hands targeted Dink.”
Turkey denies allegations of genocide and says the killings of Armenians took place as the late Ottoman Empire was trying to quell civil unrest sparked by riots of Anatolian Armenians, who then sided with the invading Russian army.
That last paragraph is the Turkish party line on the Armenian Genocide. Those restless Armenians got out of hand back in 1915, and, a few over-zealous lesser officers in the Turkish army went too far, but, hey, there was a war on, you know?
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In the EU, denying the Nazi genocide against the Jews is a crime. In Turkey, which dearly wants to join the EU, denial of the Armenian Genocide is official state policy. There are also plenty of private groups echoing the government’s position.
But that’s not the way the Armenians and the rest of the world see it. Before the Great War there were about 2.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. By the time the war was over, there were about 100,000 left. Non-Turkish estimates of the number of deaths range from 800,000 (the contemporary American estimate) to 1.5 million (the Armenian figure). It would be difficult to account for even the smaller number without a systematic genocidal effort on the part of the Turks.
There is ample documentation of the preparation for and execution of the Armenian Genocide by a faction within the highest ranks of Turkey’s government.
By 1915, although the Ottoman Empire still existed, the sultan was a mere figurehead and a group of military officers known as the Young Turks was running the country. The more radical of these officers formed the “Committee for Union and Progress” (in Turkish Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyet), and under that bland and Soviet-style sobriquet began quiet preparations for a Final Solution to the Armenian problem.
First they took into custody or killed all the Armenians in the Turkish army, to make sure that there would be no sabotage at the front, nor any armed Armenians behind the lines. New Armenian recruits were either routed to slave-labor battalions or killed.
On April 24, 1915 — the day that Armenians memorialize as Genocide Day — several hundred prominent Armenian intellectuals were rounded up, arrested, and later executed.
The CUP’s next step was to order the release of hundreds of criminals from prison, carefully choosing the most brutal and violent murderers. These men were to form the core of the units that actually carried out the genocide.
Under the cover of “relocation”, Armenians from all over the country were rounded up and moved to camps. The forced marches under terrible conditions and without provisions killed many thousands, in addition to those who died from beatings, rapes, and outright slaughter. Those who survived the trek were left to die in the most bestial of circumstances in desert camps on the borders of Syria and Iraq.
The Armenian Genocide uncannily prefigured the Holocaust in its planning and execution. The use of special military units, the pretense at “relocation”, the network of concentration camps — all of the methods familiar to us from events a quarter of a century later were employed by the Turks in 1915. Victims were even transported to their doom in specially-designated railway carriages, utilizing the infrastructure and equipment provided by Turkey’s ally, Germany.
Turkey later acknowledged the culpability of the CUP — its leaders were tried and convicted after the war. But the Turks downplay the number of fatalities, and continue to deny that the crimes ever rose to the level of genocide.
The rest of the world has never agreed. The genocide was condemned at the time not only by Britain and France, which were Turkey’s enemies in the war, but also by the United States, which was neutral, and by Germany and Austria, which were Turkey’s allies. Some of the most detailed accounts of the genocide came from German consuls and military attachés stationed in Turkey. At least one German officer disobeyed orders and took extensive photos of Armenian victims, which he then smuggled out of the country so that evidence of the atrocities would be preserved.
Many of the Armenians who were saved from death owed their lives to the tireless efforts of American Christian missionaries working in Turkey during the period when America was still a neutral in the war. Most Armenian-Americans today are descended from these survivors of the Armenian Holocaust.
Is the Armenian Genocide a subset of the Great Jihad?
It’s true that the Armenians were Christians, and their persecutors and murderers were Muslims. But the perpetrators were Turkish nationalists, and there was a large component of simple ethnic hatred in their treatment of the Armenians.
Nonetheless, a jihad component of the events cannot be ruled out.
Turks are not Arabs, and the Turkish version of Islam differs somewhat from the Arab version. However, the Turks imported a lot of Arabic words and customs — in the title Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyet, ittihad is a borrowed Arabic word meaning “union”. The first-hand accounts of the massacres often reported that the epithet gâvur — the Turkish version of the Arabic word kaffir, or “infidel” — was applied to the victims by their tormentors.
According to one eyewitness report:
I was standing behind the door and crying, because Grandma had died three days earlier. Mother saw a cart-full of children who were being taken away to be buried alive, for the Mohammedan Turks said: ‘Who kills a gâvur, his soul goes to paradise.
Or consider this account by a German witness:
The German Vice Consul at Erzerum, Count Max Erwin von Scheubner- Richter, summarizes the Armenian Genocide quite succinctly in a report to his superiors:
I have conducted a series of conversations with competent and influential Turkish personages, and these are my impressions: A large segment of the Ittahadist [Young Turk] party maintains the viewpoint that the Turkish empire should be based only on the principle of Islam and Pan-Turkism. Its non-Muslim and non-Turkish inhabitants should either be forcibly islamized, or otherwise they ought to be destroyed. These gentlemen believe that the time is propitious for the realization of this plan. The first item on this agenda concerns the liquidation of the Armenians. Ittihad will dangle before the eyes of the allies the specter of an alleged revolution prepared by the Armenian Dashnak party. Moreover local incidents of social unrest and acts of Armenian self-defense will deliberately be provoked and inflated and will be used as pretexts to effect the deportations. Once en route however, the convoys will be attacked and exterminated by Kurdish and Turkish brigands, and in part by gendarmes, who will be instigated for that purpose by Ittihad.
If the Young Turks had had their way, Turkey would have been free of Armenians more than nine decades ago.
Consider the final written words of Hrant Dink:
In his last column for Agos, Dink complained that he had become famous as an enemy of Turks and wrote of threats against him.
“My computer’s memory is loaded with sentences full of hatred and threats,” Dink wrote. “I am just like a pigeon … I look around to my left and right, in front and behind me as much as it does. My head is just as active.”
In an interview with Reuters news agency, Dink said last July: “I will not leave this country. If I go I would feel I was leaving alone the people struggling for democracy in this country. It would be a betrayal of them. I could never do this.”
In Dink’s view, the state of Turkey is still “struggling for democracy”. Not there yet, but still struggling.
This is the same Turkey that the Pope urges be admitted to the EU, that the United States officially promotes for EU membership, and that has been flooding Europe with hundreds of thousands of “guest workers” for the last fifty years.
To paraphrase Benjamin in the movie The Graduate: This plan isn’t half-baked. It’s completely baked.
Additional resources on the Armenian Genocide: