October 20, 2007

Points Worth Repeating

J. Cassian, of February 30th fame, offers some enlightenment on the subject of the Armenian genocide (about which I've already confessed my ignorance):

I've read a fair amount about the Armenian genocide and I'm amazed how its historical significance seems to have been sidelined. The denialists or minimisers of Turkey's actions usually ignore points such as the following:

(a) The Armenians had already been subject to tremendous slaughter. During the Hamidian massacres of 1894-6, around 200,000 Armenians had perished and 20,000 were killed in the massacres in the city of Adana in 1909. Any revenge attacks by Armenians were pinpricks in comparison.

(b) Ottoman Turkey was hardly the only empire in World War One which had a problem with "disloyal" subject peoples. Austria-Hungary had the Serbs of Bosnia and (I presume) the Romanians of Transylvania. Many Balts and Baltic Jews living under the Russian Empire welcomed the German invasion as a liberation (yes, there's heavy irony here given what happened in WWII, but there's good evidence the Germans did treat the Jews better than the Russians at this time). The British had the Irish and, indeed, the Easter Rising broke out in Dublin right in the middle of the war. Most of the imperial powers reacted to these acts of rebellion heavyhandedly - the Austrians hanged several hundred Serbs, the British executed the Easter insurgents, winning them the sympathy of the Irish public. But they did not respond by deciding that genocide was the way to deal with these troublesome peoples. Only the Turks did that. The Turks also incited the Muslim subjects of the Russian and British empires to revolt via their call to jihad. Neither the Russian or British empires reacted with plans of mass extermination.

(c) Most of the Armenians were deported from regions which were nowhere near the frontline (in other words, they had no chance of helping the invading Russians) and the Turkish war effort was hampered as resources were diverted to deal with the Armenian deportations. Sounds familiar.

(d) There's strong evidence that the "final solution to the Armenian Question" (it was described in such terms at the time) had been discussed before the war. Turkey entered WWI hoping to win. What it aimed to win was a new pan-Turkic empire which would stretch across central Asia, including peoples such as the Azeris, Uzbeks and Kazakhs. It's obvious from looking at a map that Armenia was a non-Turkic obstacle to linking all these countries together. Armenians would have no place in the new order.

To this authoritative recitation, I will only add a line I read this afternoon while enjoying a cigar in Dupont Circle, from Taner Akcam's A Shameful Act:

...at one point, after claiming Armenians were extremely wealthy, constituted a full third of the members of the Ottoman bureaucracy, paid very few taxes and didn't do military service, Abdul Hamid II said that "the Armenians are a degenerate community...always servile..." He also claimed that their advantageous position derived from their economic power...
Posted by Ideofact at October 20, 2007 01:09 AM
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