Gwynne Dyer: Ending the debate on an Armenian genocide

The first great massacre of the 20th century happened in eastern Anatolia 94 years ago. Armenians all over the world insist that their ancestors who died in those events were the victims of a deliberate genocide, and that there can be no reconciliation with the Turks until they admit their guilt. But now the Armenians back home have made a deal.

On October 10, the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers signed an accord in Zurich that reopens the border between the two countries–closed since 1993–and created a joint historical commission to determine what actually happened in 1915. It is a triumph for reason and moderation, so the nationalists in both countries attacked it at once.

The most anguished protests came from the Armenian diaspora –eight million people living mainly in the United States, France, Russia, Iran and Lebanon. There are only three million people living in Armenia itself, and remittances from the diaspora are twice as large as the country’s entire budget, so the views of overseas Armenians matter.

Unfortunately, their views are quite different from those of the people who actually live in Armenia. For Armenians abroad, making the Turks admit that they planned and carried out a genocide is supremely important. Indeed, it has become a core part of their identity.

For most of those who are still in Armenia, getting the Turkish border re-opened is a higher priority. Their poverty and isolation are so great that a quarter of the population has emigrated since the border was closed 16 years ago, and trade with their relatively rich neighbour to the west would help to staunch the flow.

Moreover, the agreement does not require Armenia to give back the Armenian-populated parts of Azerbaijan, its neighbour to the east. Armenia’s conquest of those lands in 1992-94 was why Turkey closed the border in the first place (many Turks see the Turkic-speaking Azeris as their “little brothers”), so in practical terms, Armenian president Serge Sarkisian has got a very good deal.

The communities of the diaspora, however, believe the Armenian government has sold them out on the genocide issue. Their remittances are crucial to Armenia, so President Serge Sarkisian has spent the past weeks travelling the world, trying to calm their fury. In the end, he will probably succeed, if only because they have nowhere else to go.

But can any practical consideration justify abandoning the traditional Armenian demand that Turkey admit to a policy of genocide? Yes it can, because it is probably the wrong demand to be making.

Long ago, when I was a budding historian, I was sidetracked for a while by the controversy over the massacres of 1915. I read the archival reports on British and Russian negotiations with Armenian revolutionaries after the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on the other side in early 1915. I even read the documents in the Turkish General Staff archives ordering the deportation of the Armenian population from eastern Anatolia later that year. What happened is quite clear.

The British and the Russians planned to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war quickly with simultaneous invasions of eastern Anatolia, with Russia entering from the north and Britain landings on Turkey’s south coast. So they welcomed the approaches of Armenian nationalist groups and asked them to launch uprisings behind the Turkish lines to synchronise with the invasions. The usual half-promises about independence were made, and the Armenian groups fell for it.

The British later switched their attack to the Dardanelles in an attempt to grab Istanbul, but they never warned their Armenian allies that the south coast invasion was off. The Russians did invade, but the Turks managed to stop them. The Armenian revolutionaries launched their uprisings as promised, and the Turks took a terrible vengeance on the whole community.

Istanbul ordered the Armenian minority be removed from eastern Anatolia on the grounds that their presence behind the lines posed a danger to Turkish defences. Wealthy Armenians were allowed to travel south to Syria by train or ship, but for the impoverished masses, it was columns marching over the mountains in the dead of winter. They faced rape and murder at the hands of their guards, there was little or no food, and many hundreds of thousands died.

If genocide just means killing a lot of people, then this certainly was one. If genocide means a policy that aims to exterminate a particular ethnic or religious group, then it wasn’t. Armenians who made it alive to Syria, then also part of the Ottoman empire, were not sent to death camps. Indeed, they became the ancestors of today’s huge Armenian diaspora. Armenians living elsewhere in the empire, notably in Istanbul, faced abuse but no mass killings.

It was a dreadful crime, and only recently has the public debate in Turkey even begun to acknowledge it. It was not a genocide if your standard of comparison is what happened to the European Jews, but diaspora Armenians will find it very hard to give up their claim that it was. Nevertheless, the grown-ups are now in charge both in Armenia and in Turkey, and amazing progress is being made.

Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, Climate Wars, was published recently in Canada by Random House.

Comments

We're now using Facebook for comments.

57 Comments

Vince Greg

Oct 15, 2009 at 12:23pm

"...and the Turks took a terrible vengeance on the whole community [...] and many hundreds of thousands died."

Miss Dyer, did you even read what you wrote before you concluded "ingeniously" that it is not a genocide?

Vigen Badalyan

Oct 15, 2009 at 1:17pm

Miss Dyer, how much do you get paid by Turkish government to write these lies? You sure are piece of work.

Turkish fan

Oct 15, 2009 at 1:50pm

What a retard - Gwynne Dyer - Trash writing not worthy of any comments.

Rich

Oct 15, 2009 at 1:51pm

This article is completely WRONG!

Gwynne Dyer don't speak for Armenians in Armenia you have no freakin clue whats going on with this issue.

The President of Armenia had secretive talks not allowing any public discussion on the protocols nor did he discuss this with the Armenian Parliment. He is seen as a traitor by Armenians BOTH inside and outside Armenia.

Also you stated the economic problems are a "priority" over the Armenian genocide. This is a false claim, the Genocide stands alone for what it is. You don't know what priorities Armenia deals with and you especially have no idea if they are "prioritized".

I can write further but don't give this web site enough credibility to so.

Sergio Galiano

Oct 15, 2009 at 2:05pm

"then it wasn’t. Armenians who made it alive to Syria, then also part of the Ottoman empire, were not sent to death camps. Indeed"

Miss Dyer, some Jews made it to the US or England, even to Russia does this mean the Nazis didn't commit genocide.?

Zorab

Oct 15, 2009 at 2:32pm

Mr. Dyer, I checked and found many websites defining "Gwynne" as a female name, if I follow your analysis of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, perhaps after all you should be called Miss....
The Armenian Genocide of 1915 is a FACT. There were precursors to it in 1896 by sultan Hamid, and 1909 (in Adana, by young Turks government)...there were systematicly planed and executed. Please go and inform yourself maybe at http://www.zoryaninstitute.org/
Also to quote President Sarkissian himself : "No relations with Turkey can question the reality of the patricide and the genocide perpetrated against the Armenian nation. It is a known fact and it should be recognized and condemned by the whole progressive humanity. The relevant sub-commission to be established under the intergovernmental commission, is not a commission of historians."

Victor

Oct 15, 2009 at 3:19pm

Dear Ms Dyer,

You were 'a budding historian' - what is that supposed to mean - are you saying you are more qualified than Rafael Lemkin, International Genocide scholars or the International court of transitional justice. Grow up and act morally , you are repeating verbatim the official Turkish line, which brings into doubt your sources - have you even bothered reading the German sources/archives, have you read the US ambassadors as well as other independent sources- do you even know what qualifies as genocide. you have just sanctioned the mass murder and annihilation of all the Kurds in Turkey - they want independence and have a minority who have taken up arms. How do people like you look into the faces of your children, parents, partners etc - do you even have any family and pretend you have any morality?

Harry

Oct 15, 2009 at 3:23pm

Dear Dr. Dyer,

I am truly surprised to see a "historian" like you DENY the Armenian Genocide. It is my duty to present to you some facts as part of History 101 and International Relations 101, which you seem to not know.

First you accuse the Armenian Diaspora by arguing that "there can be no reconciliation with the Turks until they admit their guilt." This is a false assumption because the opposition of the Armenian Diaspora is on the content of the protocols and not on the idea of reconciliation. Armenians are in favour of reconciliation but not at the expense of giving up the rights of Armenians. As a Graduate student in Political Science I do know that negotiations are not carried out this way. The content of the Protocols protect the interests of Turkey and once again destroy the rights of Armenians.

Turkey wants to hinder the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, by creating historical sub-commissions to examine the events of 1915. This can be seen in the protocols and also in the recent speech of Turkish President Abdullah Gul who urged foreign historians to join a sub-commission to study the Armenian Genocide. (see http://www.asbarez.com/2009/10/06/gul-invites-historians-to-study-genocide/). Numerous countries and organizations including the Canadian Parliament in April 2004 and the Canadian Government in 2006, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) in June 1997, June 2006 and October 2006, have recognized the Armenian Genocide. The International Centre of Transitional Justice (ICTJ) that studied the Armenian case requested by a similar historical sub-commission, Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), has already concluded that the events of 1915 constituted a Genocide.

Second, the views of the Armenian Diaspora are not fully different than those who live in Armenia. There was a Massive protest the day of the signing in Armenia and President Serge Sarkissian has lost his legitimacy, as the majority of Armenians in Armenia and around the world call him as a protector of Turkish interests. You generalize the view of a minority in Armenia who want to open the border to protect their own personal interests. It is true that poverty exists in Armenia but all the below mentioned points suggest that Turkey will not help to improve the Armenian economy but it will abuse Armenia.

In September 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that "Turkey’s goal is to live in peace with all countries and restore the might of the Ottoman Empire". (see http://www.armtown.com/news/en/pan/20090921/36653/), isn't this an imperialist ambition? A few weeks ago, President Gul announced that ``We’ve agreed to establish the Turkic Speaking Countries Cooperation Council in result of consultations over the last one to two years...The council will be institutionalized with a permanent secretariat,” (see http://www.asbarez.com/2009/10/02/turkic-speaking-countries-to-form-coop...).

Moreover President Abdullah Gul urged Sarkissian to ignore the Armenian Diaspora and considered the Diaspora as a separate entity. He said that "The Armenian diaspora should stop being a challenge to the solution of the problems in the region as they sit a long distance away. I believe they follow this deadlock policy as it serves their interests in some countries. This is not right, if they care about the future of Armenia, they should support the cooperation process." (see http://www.armtown.com/news/en/anw/20091009/4116). All these clearly indicate the imperial ambitions of Turkey and the desire to weaken Armenia and you seem to ignore them. Armenia's official motto reads: "One nation, one culture" and Armenia has a Ministry of Diaspora. Despite the fact that Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan signed the protocols, President Sarkissian announced on October

(continued on next comment)

Harry

Oct 15, 2009 at 3:25pm

(continuation)

October 10 2009 that "Let no one ignore the fact that, contrary to any slogans, the Armenian nation is united in its goals and is strong with its sons and daughters. And let no one try to split Armenia and our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora in presenting their concern over the future of Armenia as an attempt to impose something on the Republic Armenia." (see http://www.a1plus.am/en/politics/2009/10/10/sargsyan).

Third, you argue that Armenia has conquered Nagorno-Karabagh. This is also wrong. The war in Karabagh started when the AZERI ARMY attacked Karabagh to get rid of the Armenian population, pogroms had already started in Baku and Sumgait against Armenian citizens. The Nagorno-Karabagh territory was not CONQUERED by Armenians because it was never under Azeri sovereignty. Karabagh was forcibly attached by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s to Azerbaijan and was governed as an autonomous oblast for decades.

Fourth, you DENY THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE by arguing that "If genocide just means killing a lot of people, then this certainly was one. If genocide means a policy that aims to exterminate a particular ethnic or religious group, then it wasn’t. Armenians who made it alive to Syria, then also part of the Ottoman empire, were not sent to death camps." Well it seems you have not read the U.N Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948. It says "the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. " (see http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html).

It clearly states that if there is an INTENT then it is a Genocide and even though some Armenians survived, there was an intent to exterminate them. It seems you do not know that the person who coined the word Genocide, Raphael Lemkin became interested in the concept of the crime not after the Holocaust but in 1921 after the Armenian Genocide, according to one of his interviews on CBS (see http://www.vimeo.com/6976835). You can also see the story of how Lemkin became interested in the concept of the crime by reading Samantha Power`s book ``A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

Thank you for your consideration,

Sincerely yours,

Harry

Ergun Kirlikovali

Oct 15, 2009 at 4:25pm

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY CANNOT BE SILENCED

Armenians seem so wrapped up and obsessed with their version of history that they cannot even see why wartime suffering cannot possibly be considered genocide, not even a long shot. The Armenians routinely misrepresent to unsuspecting public the Turkish-Armenian conflict as settled history of genocide, whereas the truth is far from being settled, let alone called genocide. When questioned, Armenians come irritated even violent with a “What is there to questions? There is nothing to debate.”

EVERYTHING IS OPEN TO DEBATE !

Only those who are not confident about their facts and figures are terrified by open debate, as they know their lies, distortions, fabrications, hearsay, and tall tales will be exposed. Only those fanatics will argue that their case has only one side, their side, and only their stories are the truth, the whole truth. We heard it all too many times in other controversies, too: abortion, gun control, immigration, gay rights, Iraq War, Guantanamo, taxes, stimulus package, and many others. It is up to decent people to stand up to the “opinion thugs” and demand the opening of the field to responsible opposing views so that both, in fact all, sides of any controversy shall be heard. After that, let the public come to its own decision. Propaganda and political pressure are not meant to replace scholarship, as Armenian falsifiers and their fellow Turk haters attempt to do so frequently.