The Armenian leadership openly sided with Turkey’s enemies, demanded a state on Ottoman land and formed anti-Ottoman militias. Many Turks were killed by these Armenian groups.
Turkey fears an official apology for the Armenian deaths would trigger claims on its land or on seized Armenian assets. Turks cannot believe the sincerity of foreign parliaments which, usually ill-informed about the Turkish case, give in to Armenian diaspora lobbying for genocide declarations. (One such bill looks likely to pass the U.S. Congress in April.) Politics often seems to trump history. [bold mine-DL] Would the French Parliament have made it a crime last year to deny a “genocide” by the Turks if an unrelated desire to keep Turkey out of the European Union had not been prevalent? ~Hugh Pope
The first statement is a shocking overgeneralisation. Mr. Pope has evidently written several books on Turkish history, so he ought to know better than to say broad and sweeping things about “the Armenian leadership.” Much of the flower of Ottoman Armenian political and intellectual leadership in Constantinople (or Konstantiniye as it was still called at the time) was wiped out in the days and weeks following the mass arrests of Armenian journalists, professionals, clergy, scholars and parliamentarians on April 24, 1915 (April 24 is now the day when the genocide is now commemorated). This leadership had remained quite loyal to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal” millet in contrast with the Orthodox Christian Slavs and Greeks who had been breaking away from the empire for decades. For their loyalty, they were rewarded with death, and the deaths of these leading figures gave the signal to the Turkish and Kurdish irregulars in eastern Anatolia to begin the massacres and forced deportation of Armenians from Van, Erzerum and Cilicia, among other locations. The Young Turk government during WWI coordinated with these irregulars to achieve maximum destruction of the Armenians in Anatolia. After the Ottoman defeat, there were even some trials of some of those who had participated in the slaughter. The slaughter was unfortunately not an entirely new thing, since there had been widespread massacres of Armenians in 1894-96 in the previous generation and no foreign war on which they could later be conveniently blamed. What was different starting in 1915 was the scale and organisation of the killing and the official backing of the government.
There were some Armenian nationalists in eastern Anatolia who sided with the Russians in the hopes of establishing an independent Armenian republic (a goal which was briefly realised at war’s end before it was swallowed up by the Soviets and became Armenia SSR), but to refer to these people as “the Armenian leadership” or to treat the problem as if it were one of general subversion of the empire by the entire Armenian community in time of war when it was not the case is unworthy of someone who claims the role of historian. Indeed, Mr. Pope’s column reads very much like something out of the Turkish government’s own propaganda, including the scare quotes around the word genocide and the outrageous statement that it is somehow the Turkish government that has history, rather than politics, on its side. It is fairly obvious to most thoughtful people, whether Armenian, Turk or some other nationality, that the massacres did happen and did constitute the first modern genocide. It has been the political repression of the evidence and speech about this inside Turkey that has been the only real source of doubt about the genocide. It has been this persistent denial imposed by the Turkish government that has continued to frustrate and embitter the Armenian Diaspora.
As the late Mr. Dink had tried to argue, preoccupation with Turkish acknowledgement of the genocide has become for many Diasporans a consuming passion, even an unhealthy one. However, I can hardly blame them for wanting official acknowledgement that this did happen and was a deliberately orchestrated state-sanctioned attempt to annihilate an entire people. I don’t know why exactly Mr. Pope feels obliged to carry water for Ankara and the argument that “lots of people died–hey, there was a war on!”, especially when the latter is typically the refuge of the Holocaust-denier, but he lends his name to a bad cause and does not do his duty as an historian by lending credibility to the Turkish government’s self-serving justifications of a horrendous crime. Politics often seems to trump history all right, at least as far as Mr. Pope’s misleading description of the genocide goes.
For those interested in what a more serious historian has to say about the matter, Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act is reputed to be an excellent study. (I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I plan to do so this year.) It confirms, as one would expect, that the genocide was “a deliberate, centralized program of state-sponsored extermination.” This is the work of a Turkish scholar who is keenly aware of the anxieties of Turks about acknowledging this crime, but who is also concerned to tell the truth about these terrible events. That is the sort of historian we should be heeding.