The Unremembered Genocide

Marjorie Housepian
Forty-eight years ago, in September 1966, this essay by novelist and historian Marjorie Housepian-Dobkin (1922-2013), Professor Emerita in English at Barnard College, appeared in the influential magazine "Commentary" (published until 2007 by the American Jewish Committee). At the time, articles of a scholarly nature on the genocide committed against the Armenian people (the Medz Yeghern) were scanty in English and essentially restricted to Armenian publications. Housepian's groundbreaking discussion was not only about the facts of the crime, but also about the aftermath, including Turkish denial and American ambivalent policies, and a critique of Western intellectual attitudes towards the Armenians. The essay remains a compelling read until today. 

The Armenian people—some 250,000 in the United States and about four million throughout the world—consider themselves to have been the victims of a genocide perpetrated almost thirty years before that term was coined. They insist that the murder of over a million Armenians in Turkey during 1915-1916 was the result of a deliberate and methodical government policy aimed at the extermination of an innocent minority and not, as Turkish apologists have claimed, a wartime security measure against a treasonous group. Convinced that the universal indifference to this “solution” of the “Armenian question” later encouraged Hitler to venture on a similar “solution” of the “Jewish question,” Armenians feel a tragic kinship with the Jewish people and have sought, often in vain, for a sign of acknowledgement of this bond.
There have, of course, been Jews who showed concern for the fate of the Armenian people, among them Henry Morgenthau, Sr., who was the American ambassador to Turkey during the first year of the fateful “massacre.” Within the limits of his power—and sometimes, it seemed to the State Department, beyond those limits—Morgenthau made the Armenian cause his own, proclaiming the Turkish crimes to be unparalleled “in the whole history of the human race.” There was also Franz Werfel, whose novel, Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1934), remains the sole literary testament to the Armenian catastrophe—a dramatization of one of the rare, isolated instances of heroic resistance against the Turks, and at the same time a portrayal of hundreds of thousands of people marching to their death, silent and unprotesting.
Werfel became familiar with the events through the reports of Armenian escapees, as well as through the eyewitness accounts of foreign missionaries, journalists, and officials who had managed to see exactly what was happening, despite the efforts of Ottoman authorities to hide their deeds from public view. As the first of these accounts filtered out of Turkey, James Bryce, the English statesman, historian, and author of The American Commonwealth, began collecting documentary evidence, which was later summarized in his British Blue Book, The Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (edited by Arnold J. Toynbee). Lord Bryce took pains to have the evidence examined—and to have his verdict corroborated that the Turks were committing what would now be called genocide—by such figures as Gilbert Murray, H. A. L. Fisher, and Moorfield Storey, president of the American Bar Association.
American consuls throughout Turkey were simultaneously sending detailed accounts of the systematic massacres to the State Department, and such humanitarians as Johannes Lepsius, a leading German Protestant, were also gathering evidence. At great risk to his life, Lepsius even visited Turkey on several occasions and pleaded with the Turkish rulers on behalf of the Armenians. His efforts were unsuccessful, as was his attempt to apply pressure on his own government. As Turkey's wartime ally, Germany had no intention of pressing the Turks to desist; in fact, according to Morgenthau in Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, Germany gave its tacit encouragement to the policy of extermination.
Thus—though the world was in a position to know what was happening—that policy proceeded to run its course. As will be seen, the events left no mark on history; indeed, today there are few who even know that they occurred.
The Armenians are an ancient people who converted to Christianity about 300 C.E., a number of years before the conversion of Constantine. Fatally located at the crossroads between East and West, the Armenian kingdom was stormed by all the invading hordes: Saracens, Seljuks, Mongols, Tartars, and lastly the Ottoman Turks. Yet the Armenian Church—independent both of the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic—preserved the national identity through this long series of invasions, through the subjugation of the kingdom by a succession of pagan and Moslem powers, and finally even through the dispersion of about half of the Armenian people to every corner of the globe.
Under the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians became a subject race, forbidden to bear arms, and prey to the semi-barbarous Kurds who roamed among their towns and periodically beset them, with the encouragement and approval of the Turkish authorities. By 1908, when the “Young Turks” overthrew the oppressive Sultan Abdul Hamid, the more fortunate among the Armenians had fled the country, or else had settled in the large cities, where they improved their position considerably; indeed, along with Ottoman Greeks, they controlled much of Turkey's finance, shipping, and building. The rest of the Armenian population was scattered through Turkey's six northeastern provinces; there they comprised the bulk of the craftsmen and tradesmen, and tilled the soil in what, at the time, was Turkey's breadbasket.
The new Turkish leaders were greeted with jubilation by the Armenians, who were promised equality under law and even permitted to elect deputies to parliament. But the new regime soon shattered their hopes. Encouraged by the Germans to the notion of pan-Islamism, inflamed with nationalism, and thwarted—by minority deputies who were taking the new doctrine of equal rights seriously—in its attempt to “ottomanize” all the minorities of Turkey, the Young Turk revolution rapidly degenerated into chauvinism and fanaticism.
Hardly had the new rulers gained power when they became embroiled in the disastrous Balkan Wars and proceeded to lose virtually all of Turkey's vast European territory to their former slaves: the Bulgarians, the Greeks, and the Serbs. Thus, in 1914, as Turkey was becoming immersed in World War I, thousands of destitute and disgruntled Moslem refugees from the Balkans were encamped on her doorstep. Desperately in need of capital, the government was faced with the fact that much of Turkey's trade was in foreign hands, while the rest was controlled by Ottoman Greeks and Armenians. The Armenians, whose compatriots outside Turkey were voicing their enthusiasm for the Allies, provided the most logical and defenseless minority on which to turn—despite the fact that Armenians within Turkey were doing their utmost to demonstrate their loyalty to the state.
“For years it had been Turkish policy to provoke the Christian population into committing overt acts, then seizing upon such misbehavior as an excuse for massacre,” Morgenthau writes. “The Armenian clergy and political leaders saw [in 1914] many evidences that the Turks . . . were [provoking rebellion] and they went among the people cautioning them to be quiet and bear all insults and even outrages patiently, so as not to give provocation. ‘Even though they burn a few of our villages,’ these leaders would say, ‘do not retaliate, for it is better that a few be destroyed than that the whole nation be massacred.’” As time went on, however, the provocations increased. One ruse adopted by the authorities was to requisition a certain number of fighting men from an Armenian town. These were then taken away and slain, and their bodies left where they could be readily found. When the citizens of Van—a town near the Russian border—organized a defense and held siege rather than submit their men to the slaughter, their “revolution” was made a pretext for subsequent “punitive” actions.
It soon became evident that the Turks were out to do more than burn a few villages. During the night of April 24, 1915, the intellectual and religious leaders of the Armenian community in Constantinople were seized from their beds, imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately put to death on charges of sedition. (The Turkish reply to Ambassador Morgenthau's protest was to hang fourteen men in the public square the following day.) Simultaneously, all Armenians serving in the Turkish army—these had already been gathered into separate “labor battalions”—were taken aside and killed. Then, when the leaders and fighting men were disposed of, the final phase began. Lord Bryce describes the opening procedure as follows:
At one Armenian center after another, throughout the Ottoman Empire, on a certain date (and the dates show a sequence), the public crier went through the streets announcing that every male Armenian over age 15 must present himself forthwith at the Government building. . . . The men presented themselves in their working clothes, leaving their shops and work-rooms open, their ploughs on the field, their cattle on the mountain side. When they arrived, they were thrown without explanation into prison, kept there a day or two, then inarched out of the town in batches, roped man to man along some southerly or southeasterly road. . . . They had not long to ponder over their plight for they were halted and massacred at the first lonely place on the road.
After a few days' interval, the Armenian women and children, as well as any remaining men, were ordered to prepare themselves for deportation. Many were turned out on the road immediately, but in some towns they were given a week of grace which they spent in a frenzied attempt to sell their personal possessions for whatever was offered. Government orders forbade them from selling real property or stocks, as their banishment was supposed to be temporary. Scarcely were they out of sight, however, when Moslem refugees from Europe, who had been gathered nearby, were moved into their homes. Since the Turks of the interior were almost totally unskilled, a representative Armenian craftsman in each area—a shoemaker, a tailor, a pharmacist—was permitted to remain. All the rest were set upon the roads leading to the deserts. According to Morgenthau, hundreds and thousands “could be seen winding in and out of every valley and climbing up the sides of nearly every mountain.” In the first six months alone, over 1,200,000 people joined this unearthly procession.
By now the story bears a chillingly familiar quality, the more intensified when one remembers that the victims of this last, most hideous phase were almost exclusively women and children. They were marched south from the plains of Anatolia, through a region that is a no-man's land of treacherous ravines and craggy mountains forbidding to the most hardened traveler, and finally into the bleak Syrian desert, fiercely hot by day and frigid by night. On the way, they were beset by all the Moslem populations they encountered. First there were the Turkish villagers and peasants who robbed them of their few provisions, their clothes, and took such of their women as they pleased; then the Kurds, who committed blood-chilling atrocities, first butchering any males in the convoy, then attacking the women. According to the Bryce Report: “It depended on the whim of the moment whether a Kurd cut a woman down or carried her away into the hills. When they were carried away their babies were left on the ground or dashed against the stones.” Then came the “chettis,” savage brigands who had been loosed by the thousands from prisons and set in the victims' path, and dervishes who roared down from their convents in the hills and carried off children “shrieking with terror.” And always there were the gendarmes, prodding the exhausted and terror-stricken figures with whips and clubs, refusing them water when they passed wells and streams, bayonetting those who lagged behind, and committing increasingly perverted atrocities.
Apologists have claimed that these atrocities were simply the work of barbaric and fanatic tribesmen, but Morgenthau has shown that they were a matter of deliberate policy. Thus, an educated state official told him with some pride that “all these details were matters of nightly discussion at . . . headquarters. . . . Each new method of inflicting pain was hailed as a splendid discovery, and the regular attendants were constantly ransacking their brains in an effort to devise some new torment. He told me that they even delved into the records of the Spanish Inquisition and other historic institutions of torture and adopted all the suggestions found there.”
Nor can there be any doubt that the policy of extermination as a whole was planned by the central government. The official record includes the following orders, sent on cipher telegrams and in all but one case addressed to the provincial government of Aleppo (the lightning advance of Allenby's forces prevented the Turks in Aleppo from destroying these compromising documents):1
September 3, 1915
We recommend that the operations which we have ordered you to make shall first be carried out on the men of the said people, and that you shall subject the women and children to them also. Appoint reliable officials for this.
(signed) Minister of the Interior Talaat.
September 16, 1915
It was first communicated to you that the Government, by order of the Jemiet, had decided to destroy completely all Armenians living in Turkey. Those who oppose this order and decision cannot remain on the official staff of the Empire. An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to age, or sex, or to conscientious scruple.
(signed) Minister of the Interior Talaat.
November 15, 1915
From interventions which have recently been made by the American Ambassador at Constantinople on behalf of his Government, it appears that the American consuls are obtaining information by secret means. In spite of our assurances that the Armenian deportations will be accomplished in safety and comfort, they remain unconvinced. Be careful that events attracting attention shall not take place in connection with those who are near the cities or other centers.2 From the point of view of the present policy it is important that foreigners who are in those parts shall be persuaded that the expulsion of the Armenians is in truth only deportation. For this reason it is important that, to save appearances, for a time a show of gentle dealing shall be made, and the usual measures be taken in suitable places. It is recommended as very important that the people who give such information shall be arrested and handed over to the military authorities for trial by court-martial.
(signed) Minister of the Interior Talaat.
January 10, 1916
Enquiries having been made, it is understood that hardly ten per cent of the Armenians subjected to the general transportation have reached their destinations; the rest have died from natural causes, such as hunger and sickness. We inform you that we are working to bring about the same result with regard to those who are still alive, by using severe measures.
(signed) Abdullahad Nouri.
As a result of Turkey's policy, over one million Armenians died.
During World War I, the French government originated the phrase “crimes against humanity” to describe Turkish acts against the Armenians, but the war was hardly over when the world proved itself eager to forgive Turkey its crimes. There was a reason for this, though not necessarily a good one. To put it in the simplest terms, after Kemal Ataturk's victory in the Greco-Turkish war of 1920-22, every Western power, in its haste to beat its rivals to his favor—among other things, there were his lush Mosul oil fields to consider—found one reason or another to absolve, and even to exalt, the Turkish nation.
If the United States lagged behind a year or two in this, it was not because of any pangs of conscience felt by those in charge of the Harding administration's foreign policy (among them Allen Dulles, then the Chief of the State Department's Near Eastern Division). It was rather because the American Protestant leadership, much to its later dismay, had created a certain amount of public antipathy toward Turkey in the course of wartime fund appeals for the “starving Armenians.” The starving ones were those who had escaped into nearby countries, as well as a number of emaciated orphans whom the missionaries had managed to rescue from the deserts. But when the time came to save Protestant missionary “investments” in Turkey—investments both of real estate (schools, hospitals) and of a century of futile effort to gain a foot-hold among the Moslems—the professional moralists joined forces with American business interests and hastened publicly to exonerate Turkey.
Having arrived in the Near East in the 1840's to convert Moslems to the Protestant Christian faith, the missionaries had quickly discovered that for a Moslem the penalty for such conversion was death, as sanctioned by Koranic law. The Armenians, however, in their eagerness to partake of the educational benefits, were “converting” in considerable numbers from their established Church to the more evangelical brands of Protestantism. The missionaries therefore remained in Turkey, justifying the expenditure of funds and energy with the long view that “if it were possible to . . . instill them [the native Christians] with a lively missionary spirit, they would be . . . the best and most effectual missionaries because native to the soil.”3 They had no doubt that the indirect approach would take hundreds of years. Then, quite suddenly, and in one unbelievably simple stroke, Ataturk dissolved the Caliphate and secularized the nation in the early 1920's. The missionaries no longer had any need for the Armenians, and indeed there were few Armenians left. Subsequently, all the churchmen had to do in order to remain in Turkey and prepare to serve Moslems directly was to procure Ataturk's favor. This, however, required considerable public-relations work in revising opinion in the country toward Turkey, and various Protestant leaders plunged into the task with true missionary zeal.
“We believe in America for the Americans, why not Turkey for the Turks?” wrote one of these leaders, George A. Plimpton, in 1923. He was not, to be sure, referring to the extermination of the Armenians but to the expulsion from Turkey of the Greek population following the Greco-Turkish war. His excessively pro-Turkish attitude was, however, both typical and instructive. Thus, he expressed the thought that the loss of the Greeks (and presumably of the unmentioned Armenians) “has cost great suffering and involved great financial sacrifice to Turkey,” in the sense that she had lost her merchants, businessmen, and major taxpayers. And he added some words that sound strange coming from a Trustee of Union Theological Seminary: “Whether it was right or wrong is not for us to decide.”
Having articulated these sentiments in a letter to the New York Times, Plimpton also proceeded to include them in The Treaty With Turkey, a volume compiling “statements, resolutions and reports in favor of the ratification of the Lausanne Treaty,” brought out jointly by some significantly interested individuals and institutions, the foremost being the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the United States Chamber of Commerce. The burden of their combined task was to praise Turkey, to dismiss, and at the same time to justify, its actions against the Armenians, and to demonstrate that if the Turks were in any way antagonized—such as by the failure of the United States to sign the treaty—both American business and American philanthropy would suffer. A proposed clause in the treaty, providing safeguards for the minorities left in Turkey, was denounced as an unreasonable intrusion into Turkey's internal affairs. It was deemed essential, however, to include a clause “to protect foreign corporations and individuals from the retroactive application of new and possibly excessive taxes.”
While the American Protestant movement was cementing relations with Turkey, it was at the same time helping to draw a veil over the historical record. In effect, it was dismissing the word of its own missionaries, whose eyewitness reports had provided the bulk of the testimony about the genocide.
The record of events was further distorted by the Turks themselves, who lost no time in putting forth their own version of the Armenian story. One or two, like Djemal Pasha, third-ranking of the Turkish leaders, attempted to absolve themselves of responsibility by professing that they were only following orders. Soon, however, more skillful Turkish dialecticians took up the argument, protesting that the Armenians, as traitors to the Turkish war effort, had constituted a menace to the very existence of the Turks in 1915, and thus had to be liquidated. No concrete evidence was offered by the Turkish apologists for this contention, nor for the secondary argument that Armenians themselves had been massacring Turks in 1915, and even before.
Already in 1916, shortly before the publication of Bryce's documents in England, the Young-Turk government—doubtless with world opinion in mind—had jumped the gun by publishing an official pamphlet, “The Truth About the Armenian Revolution and the Governmental Measures.” Lord Bryce had apparently seen this document, for he meticulously refuted every argument contained in it. Andre Mandelstam, the first Dragoman of the Russian Embassy in Constantinople from 1898 to 1914, and later a professor of international law in Paris, also pointed up the speciousness of the argument contained in the pamphlet.
At the beginning of the war, according to the Turks, Armenian secret societies provoked revolts and committed massacres. Since, however, there were no eyewitnesses to these alleged acts, the only “proof” the Turks could offer consisted of three documents. The first was a manifesto addressed by the Russian Czar to the Armenians in Turkey inviting them to revolt (a document that never existed, Mandelstam insists, but that would hardly have justified genocide even if it had); the second was an alleged report on the massacres from the Russian Consul in Bitlis, dated December 24, 1912, and addressed to M. Tcharykov, his ambassador in Constantinople. (According to Mandelstam, Tcharykov had been replaced as ambassador six months earlier: “Could the Russian Consul in Bitlis have been unaware of who his own ambassador was? What a strange Russian diplomat, or else, what a clumsy Turkish fabrication!”) Finally, there were some alleged resolutions and publications of the Huntchag (Armenian) party urging Armenians to fight against Turkey. The pamphlet also stressed the existence of a corps of Russian-Armenian volunteers in the Russian army. This corps was made up of Armenians who were citizens of Russia, of course, but to the Turks it somehow constituted proof of the disloyalty of the Armenians living in Turkey, even though the latter had served faithfully in the Turkish army from the time they were conscripted to the time they were put to death.
The Young Turks who devised this pamphlet were well on their way to oblivion when it was issued, but while those who succeeded them lost no time in denouncing the former regime, they continued to defend the Young-Turk policy toward the Armenians with identical arguments, albeit with certain modifications in tone. The authors of the earlier efforts were discredited failures, but during Kemal Ataturk's regime there appeared far more sophisticated and—to the West—more credible advocates of Turkey's case, among them the eminently respected Halide Edib, a lady whose word carried much weight.
Mme. Edib was the first Moslem graduate of the Constantinople Women's College, a woman with undeniable gifts of imagination and intellect. She was a famous novelist in her own country, as well as a journalist, statesman, social worker, and soldier. She was also Ataturk's chief propagandist (until her break with him later in the 20's), and an avowedly passionate Turkish nationalist. Moreover, she was a source of wonder to the West as the first emancipated specimen of her race. Upon coming to America in 1927, she taught at Barnard College, wrote extensively and in excellent English, and became one of the most popular lecturers in the United States.
Halide Hanum, as she called herself, was none too incisive in writing about her attitude toward the defunct Young Turks. Like almost everyone else in Turkey she had welcomed their accession and had then become disillusioned. She never made clear why she became disenchanted, although one may assume that failure does not sustain admiration. Whatever her reasons, they did not include the Young Turks' solution to the “Armenian question.” Talaat remained for her “an idealist . . . modest, charming, a true democrat. . . . However one may criticize him, one is obliged to admit that he was the truest of patriots.” She did profess to having once been opposed to his measures against Armenians, and having gone so far as to tell Talaat so, but “I saw the Armenian question quite differently from the way I see it today. I did not know about the Armenian crimes, and I had not realized that in similar cases others could be a hundred times worse than the Turks. So I spoke with conviction against bloodshed. . . . The next day I received a great volume about the massacre of the Turks by the Armenians.”4 Unfortunately, despite her meticulous documentation of the relatively obvious, Mme. Edib did not cite this “great volume.” One is tempted to surmise that it was the aforementioned pamphlet, published at just about the time to which she refers.
Although Mme. Edib's tone is quite often passionate, she deftly modulates it when she refers to human suffering, toward which she continually protests her sensitivity. Once or twice she even refers to Armenian suffering, as when she remembers seeing (in 1918) “a poor Armenian in Syria who had lost his speech and wandered in the night crying like a dumb tortured animal because he imagined [italics mine] his two boys, who were separated from him, had been shot. I know—never mind what I know.” She does not care to dwell on these things, she writes, for “of the massacres and violences it is best not to speak much—the sooner they are forgotten the better.”
Western historians applauded these sentiments of Mme. Edib's and lost no time in echoing them. By the 20's the world was sick to death of violence and no one was much interested in Armenians. Furthermore, Arnold J. Toynbee, the editor of the best known primary source on the genocide, Lord Bryce's Blue Book, had reversed his previous views about Turkish responsibility, and emerged a stalwart defender of the Moslem world. Unfortunately for history, Lord Bryce himself died in 1922.
Toynbee's part in the historical distortion of the Armenian case cannot be overestimated. After completing his editorship of The Treatment of the Armenians, he published a summary of its contents, The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks, in which he inserted a plea that the world remember these “unprecedented crimes” after the war, and insure against their recurrence. But then, in 1920, Toynbee covered the Greco-Turkish war as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian. Viewing the hostilities from the Turkish side, he beheld the astonishing vision of Turks as suffering human beings, and of Greeks (and even an occasional Armenian) as the actual inflictors of suffering. This revelation, by his own admission, led him to reverse his former views. (Arnold Toynbee to his son, Philip, in A Dialogue Across a Generation: “It was quite an influential thing in my life, [seeing that war]. I always try to see things from the unpopular point of view, the point of view that isn't represented. I think that's a very strong urge in me.” Philip Toynbee: “Of course, it has been said that there's a certain perversity in this, and that in your anxiety to be fair you sometimes exaggerate the merits of the unpopular case.” Arnold Toynbee: “I'm sure I do. Leaning over backwards.”)
By now convinced of the positive value of suffering and the negative nature of anger (Arnold Toynbee to Philip Toynbee: “Anger I do feel is a sin—we're all angry with somebody sometimes, and when I find it in myself I am horrified with myself. . . .”), Toynbee must have had little sympathy for Armenians who continued to feel resentment toward the Turks. Equating all violence by denying qualitative differences in motives, he reasoned that one side was no better than the other-”The Near Eastern people do not differ in kind from one another,” he wrote in 1923-but he clearly implied that Moslems were less bad than the rest. And so in the bibliography of his new book, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, he saw fit to list his previous writing, The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks, as an example of the sort of “prejudice” for which he would henceforth atone.
It is not difficult but merely time-consuming to pinpoint the fallacies in Toynbee's work. Experts have done so in the case of his treatment of the Arab-Israeli question, but no experts have emerged on behalf of the Armenians to refute Toynbee; and judging by the line subsequent historians have taken, he continues to be considered the greatest living authority on the Near-Eastern area. Thus Toynbee's dismissal of the Armenian case, his repudiation of his own and Bryce's Blue Book, exercised an incalculable influence. Despite his protest (in an article written in July 1923 in Current History) that he still believed in “the truth of the evidence” presented in the Blue Book, he went on to say that “Equally dark deeds have been inflicted by Greek soldiers . . . during the War for Greek independence . . .” This was the same man who in 1917 had been so forthright in condemning the Turkish extermination of the Armenians: “Turks will say [after the war], ‘We were at war. We were fighting for our existence. The Armenians were traitors at large in a war zone.’ But such excuses are entirely contradicted by facts. These Armenians were not inhabitants of a war zone. None of the towns and villages from which they were systematically deported to their death were anywhere near the seat of the hostilities.”
The attitude that prevails today toward recent Turkish history can be illustrated by a passage from Richard Robinson's The First Turkish Republic (1963), a popular reference book in American universities:
The problem of Armenians living in Eastern Anatolia drew down much popular condemnation on the head of the Turk. Although Armenians numbered at most not more than 40% of the population in any single province save two, the bulk of their numbers was concentrated in that area adjoining Russia, thereby enabling the Russian army to draw recruits out of Anatolia. The Armenian community let it be known that it would not support the Ottoman war effort, and encouraged by President Wilson's principle of self-determination, moved to create an independent Armenian state. To the Ottoman authorities, these activities constituted wartime treason and they reacted violently. Most of the Armenian population was forced to flee and large numbers perished at the hands of the Turks. These Turkish reprisals recharged the racial-religious animosity of the earlier period of Armenian troubles before 1900. Though the fact does not in the least excuse Turkish behavior on this occasion, the Turks did consider the Armenian defection as treason, a stab in the back that was all the more painful because of Turkish military reverses. It is also quite clear that the Armenians reciprocated in kind, and many Turks lost their lives violently.
Though Professor Robinson is not primarily a historian—he is a Harvard economist and business-administration specialist on Turkish and Near Eastern affairs—his writing is typical of most bona fide historians on the Armenian “massacre,” when and if they trouble to mention the “incident” at all. The above paragraph contains an amazing number of inaccuracies. To begin with, there is no evidence, and Robinson's sources offer none, that “the Armenian community let it be known that it would not support the Ottoman war effort.” Nor has Robinson studied the deportation routes, which show that Armenians were being uprooted not only from the relatively small area by the Russian border, but also from such vastly dispersed towns and villages as Ismid, a few miles from Constantinople, and Musa Dagh, near the Mediterranean sea, not to mention all the scattered towns in between. That “the Russian army drew recruits out of Turkish Anatolia” has not been established, but Robinson may be referring to the fact that many male Armenians who escaped into Russia during the genocide subsequently enlisted in the Russian army. Obviously, this was a result, and not a cause, of the exterminations. Since President Wilson did not reveal his principle of self-determination until 1918, it could not have encouraged the Armenians to create anything in 1915. It is true that an independent, and shortlived, Armenian state was created in 1920 by the Western powers who signed the Treaty of Sevres. Its creation, however, was again a result, and not a cause, of genocide. If the Armenians were ever guilty of “reciprocating in kind,” it was while they were defending this state several years after they had experienced genocide. Finally, that “the Armenian population was forced to flee,” is merely Dr. Robinson's euphemism for a deliberate uprooting.
Accuracy, then, is hardly the strong point of the above writing, and since this is the only kind of writing in which Armenians currently find themselves discussed at all, their resulting cynicism is not surprising. Nor was that mood diminished last year when, on the eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the genocide, the New York Times suggested editorially that it was high time for the Armenians to forgive the Turks. Few Armenian readers of the Times missed the grim irony of the fact that this editorial appeared only a few weeks after the same newspaper had been decrying Germany's proposed statute of limitations on Nazi murders. But then it is common practice to refuse to recognize the meaning of the Armenian fate. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt dismissed their case as a “pogrom”; and this February, as the Fiftieth Anniversary year drew to a close, Karl Jaspers was quoted in the pages of COMMENTARY as denying any pre-Hitler precedent for genocide.
Public commemorations of the Fiftieth Anniversary were not without effect, however; they caused a somewhat hysterical reaction in the Turkish press. Editorials flayed in various directions, but found one point of agreement: the unforeseen spurt of Armenian activity in recalling “alleged,” “so-called,” “supposed” massacres was obviously engineered by Cypriote provocateurs.
In an editorial in the Ankara newspaper Oulous, in March 1965, Jehad Baban, a member of the Turkish parliament, was both incredulous and indignant. “It is very strange that after so many years the Armenians resort to such agitations,” he wrote, referring to the public commemorations in Lebanon. “The only result of this kind of behavior will be to strain relations between Turkey and Lebanon, which allows the organization of this kind of commemoration on its own territory.”
Sometimes the tone was almost mellow, as when one Turkish author chose to remember the Armenians as “Turkish-Armenian brothers [who] for one thousand years lived together with the Turks as inseparable as flesh and fingernail.” And a Mr. Kabakji pleaded gallantly that the whole thing be forgotten. “Let us bury the old stories in the pit of history. Let us live together as humans with brotherly love.”
It is not brotherly love, but the burying of history that Armenians oppose. The question remains whether one can feel forgiveness, and therefore bury the dead, when the world has too readily done so on one's behalf. One may grant that there are few Turks left alive who can be accounted personally responsible for the murders, but the fact remains that a nation guilty of genocide did indeed succeed in burying the story “in the pit of history.” In part it succeeded because the Armenians are few, dispersed, and without a public platform to plead their case—from which astute and dangerous men can draw the conclusion that the world cares little for the fate of those who are politically impotent.
There is evidence, at any rate, that Hitler drew this conclusion. As he announced his own plans for genocide to his Supreme Commanders on August 22, 1939, he noted confidently: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? . . . The world believes in success alone.”5

1 First published in the London Daily Telegraph, May 29, 1922.
2 This statement explains why all but the community leaders in Constantinople and Smyrna were spared in 1915.
3 From Julius Richter's A History of the Protestant Mission in the Near East, London, 1910.
4 From The Memoirs of Halide Edib, New York, 1925.
5 Quoted in Louis Lochner's What About Germany?, New York, 1942.

"Commentary," September 1966

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