Returning to Lerner for another response, I will try to explain how flawed the article is. As an earlier commenter has noted, Lerner has already tried to stack the deck rhetorically by making a comparison between an exterminationist party and ideological movement and an entire nation:
We must do it, Armenian genocide proponents [sic] tell us, because the Armenian tragedy was the original Holocaust: Armenians in World War I were like the Jews in World War II; Turks in 1915 were like the Germans in the 1940s. Thus, the only moral choice is to condemn the Turks, as we condemned the Nazis.
In fact, it was not “the Turks” who filled the role of genocidaires during WWI, but leaders and members of the CUP, Kurdish irregulars and some Ottoman soldiers. To make blanket statements about “the Turks” is to go down Goldhagen’s road of collective guilt and engage in precisely the kind of reckless identitarian vilification that, as Kuehnelt-Leddihn has argued in another context, leads to the dehumanisation of an entire people and thus makes it easier to wage campaigns of annihilation against them. Lerner has phrased things in such a way as to endorse Ankara’s portrayal of the efforts to recognise the genocide. In this view, it is not just a recognition of crimes committed by agents within the Ottoman government and military, but an indictment of the entire Turkish nation. If that was what we were talking about, I would also have to object to it, but it isn’t. “The Turks” as a whole were not responsible, just as “the Turks” today are not responsible for what was done in those years, but it was rather specific groups of Turkish nationalists and Kurdish tribesmen who were responsible for what happened. So, right away, Lerner clouds the issue by inaccurately describing the terms of the debate.
The only enemies at home [in Germany in WWII] were the Jews, and they were never a real threat. They were scapegoats, not objective enemies, and they were being methodically eliminated, without exception, in all German-controlled territory.
The implication is that all Armenians in eastern Anatolia were an “objective enemy,” because there were some Armenians who raised rebellions or fought with the Russians, which somehow makes the genocidal campaign against the civilian Armenian population of eastern Anatolia less than genocidal. In Lerner’s world, it’s only genocide if there are literally no members of the targeted population engaged in subversive or rebellious activity. In framing things this way, Lerner has already conceded the morality of collective punishment of civilian populations in retaliation for the activities of guerrillas. Presumably, as she sees it, there was also no genocide attempted against the Serbian population under German-Croat occupation, either, because “the Serbs” were an “objective enemy” engaged in resistance. For Lerner, deliberate exterminationist campaigns are something other than genocide when they take place in a war zone, which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of the way most people understand the term. Organised killing of a particular group of civilians bound by ethnic and religious ties is not genocide for Lerner if it comes as a “punishment” for the rebellion of a minority of the population. It’s certainly a different kind of view, but it certainly isn’t moral.
She then obscures the issue by describing the Dardanelles campaign thus:
Fighting there was fierce, and continued until January 1916, but, on this front, there were relatively few civilian casualties, and no massacres.
There were relatively few civilian casualties because the front was largely static and confined to the narrow strips of land near Gallipoli. There were no massacres because the Ottoman forces had their hands quite full with British and ANZAC forces. There was also no sizeable Armenian population in the immediate vicinity of the Dardanelles, which makes the comparison seem almost pointless.
While Lerner acknowledges that Armenians fought on the Ottoman side, being subject to the general mobilisation conscription, she does not mention that Armenians in Ottoman units were disarmed after the Ottoman defeat at Sarikamis. They were then executed.
Of the aftermath of Sarikamis, Akcam writes on p. 143-44:
The defeat at Sarikamis was a turning point in the treatment of the Armenians, especially those in the army and labor batallions, who were no longer mistreated but frequently murdered. In many regions, propaganda claimed that the Armenians had stabbed the Turks in the back. Enver Pasha himself attempted to attribute the defeat to Armenian treachery, and referred to Armenians as a “threat.”….the first measure taken after the Sarikamis disaster was the order sent to army units on 25 February 1915, instructing them to disarm all Armenian soldiers….Reports followed, claiming that the annihilation of Armenians serving in the army had begun.
Akcam writes more on page 144:
German missionary Jakob Kunzler, who worked with the medical personnel at the Urfa missionary hospital, recounts that the Armenians taken into the labor batallions were killed in March 1915, and that, “mostly knives were used, because the ammunition was needed for the foreign enemy.” Something similar was related by Ambassador Morgenthau:
In almost all cases, the procedure was the same. Here and there squads of 50 or 100 men would be taken, bound together in groups of four, and then marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the village. Suddenly the sound of rifle shots would fill the air, and the Turkish soldiers who had acted as the escort would sullenly return to camp. Those sent to bury the bodies would find them almost invariably stark naked, for, as usual, the Turks had stolen all their clothes. In cases that came to my attention, the murderers had added a refinement to their victims’ sufferings by compelling them to dig their graves before being shot.
Other eyewitness accounts by foreigners serving in the area corroborate the fact that the murder of the labor batallions began only after the defeat at Sarikamis.
Sounds an awful lot like scapegoating to me.
She also has nothing to say about the leading Armenians of Constantinople who were arrested on April 24, 1915 and subsequently executed. She has nothing to say about these episodes because these would all point to an organised campaign of extermination. In the end, Lerner cites the presence of Armenians fighting for the Russians (many of whom hailed from Russian Armenia all along, since the country was, as it has often been, divided between different empires) as if their possessing the same ethnicity gave the CUP or anyone else license to slaughter other, entirely unrelated Armenians.
The only thing that Lerner can credibly claim is that the situations of the Armenians and Jews were very different. The differences do not prove that there was no genocide, but only shows that genocide can take place under a number of different circumstances.
Akcam has a passage on page 126 that happens to address the thrust of Lerner’s article directly:
It was not a coincidence that the Armenian genocide took place soon after the Sarikamis disaster and was contemporaneous with the empire’s struggle at Gallipoli. As a rule, the acceleration of the process of a country’s decline and partition helps to strengthen a sense of desperation and “fighting with one’s back to the wall.” As the situation becomes increasingly hopeless, those who have failed to prevent the collapse become more hostile and aggressive. When the crisis deepens, they resort to increasingly barbaric means, and come to believe “that only an absolute lack of mercy would allow one to avoid this loss of power and honor.” A nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesitate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation.
Update: Just to make another thing clear, there were also deportations of Armenians from western Anatolia and Thrace following the deportations from eastern Anatolia. Those who would like to cast this as an eastern front wartime measure and leave it at that have no way to account for this.