Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Thomas Riggins

“A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility,” by Taner Akcam, translated from Turkish, Metropolitan Books, 483pp., reviewed by Michael Oren, “The New York Review of Books,” May 10, 2007.

This was a good review. The reviewer really liked the book, mostly because of the research done in original Turkish sources. For my part, I appreciated the answers it gave to questions about this genocide that often pop up. Also, there is one big question which still isn’t answered.

But first, what is answered. Yes there was a genocide perpetrated by elements within the Turkish government against the Armenian people between 1915 and 1918. The American ambassador called it “race extermination.”

The Armenians were Christians living within the then Ottoman Empire. The Turks had been seeing their Empire broken up and take by the Christian West piecemeal for several centuries and they snapped and took out their frustrations on the Armenians since they could not do anything about the Russians, German, French, British, etc. who were picking them apart.

The Genocide has much in common with that of the Nazi’s thirty years later. It was sanctioned by powerful elements within the government, it was hidden from the public and done in secret “without the knowledge of the cabinet or the parliament.” It was seen as a final solution to the problem of an alien un-Turkish race living in Turkey, and it was cruel and inhumane. 1.5 million were killed men, women, babies, children, old people, without mercy.

Ataturk said it was a “shameful act” but, the reviewer says, he held that “the Turkish nation bore no collective responsibility” for it. The evidence suggests that it was only some elements in the government that carried it out-- some officials along with “provincial governors and gendarmes.”

The reviewer says, that unlike Germany, “the Republic of Turkey has never admitted its part in the mass murder of Armenians.” But there was no Republic when this happened. It was done by Ottoman officials at the end of the Ottoman Empire (and hidden from the cabinet and parliament.) The Republic overthrew Ottoman rule years later.

This Is what I don’t understand. Why the Turkish government doesn’t just admit that this was an Ottoman genocide [I’m not talking about “collective guilt”] and try to make up with the Armenians? What is the point of denying it ever happened (i.e., that it was genocide)? It makes Turkey look like it is acting in bad faith. It is surely correct to think that unless the Turks are mature enough to face their own history they will never have a fully bourgeois democratic government. The author writes, “Only full integration of Turkey’s past can set the country on the path to democracy.”


Anonymous said...

Tom Riggins review on the Armenian genocide is very valuable. Let me add a few historical points.

At the end of the Ottoman Empire, "modernizing nationalists" called Young Turks came to power and were praised in the capitalist countries as reformers. As their reforms failed they and others embraced a fascistic Turkish nationalism which both sought to expand Turkey's power over other Turkic peoples and "purify" the empire of non-Turks.
It was these elements who were most responsible for the genocide against the Armenian minority(who were accused of subversion treason, economic domination, pretty much the sort of things that European national chauvinists and later fascists accused Jews of doing, during WWI)
Actually, Mustapha Kemal, the postwar "strongman" whose regime represented in some ways a continuation of this chauvinistic nationalism, wasn't going to admit the Turkish state's role in these atrocities which were rooted in a version of the nationalism that he continued.
As for Tom's point about Bourgeois democracy, who ever said that Turkey was a Bourgeois democracy. While the post WWI regime made important achievements in economic development, its government resembles very much that of Latin American junta states, that is, the military is always in the shadows ready to take power if the "wrong people" win elections and the election cards are often stacked for those people not to win elections.
One should also remember that the Turkish regime was neutral during WWII and contained elements which were clearly sympathetic to the Axis.
Turkey received aid from the United States under the Truman Doctrine, called rightly by Henry Wallace in 1947 a "World Monroe Doctrine," as a "free people" because its regime was a valuable ally in the encirclement of the Soviet Union(not only was the Turkish regime anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, but the Ottoman Empire had been a major enemy of pre revolutionary Czarist Russia for centuries).
Turkey was also made a member of NAT0(the "North Atlantic Treaty Organization," even though it was no where near the North Atlanic and on the border of Europe) because it had military muscle to provide.
The present Turkish regime also has a history, as do reactionary forces in Iraq and Iran, of oppressing the Kurdish people, a majority Muslim but non-Turkish, non-Iranian, and non-Arabic people.

Unlike the Hitlerite genocide against the Jewish people of Europe, which only open pro fascist elements deny or even see as a question, rather than a fact, a significant part of the Turkish political establishment has sought to fund scholarship and disseminate information denying the Armenian genocide
Turkey is the sort of "democracy" that the Bush administration, like previous administrations, supports, particularly now, when it seeks to continue the anti-clerical aspects of the state Attaturk largely established and led. While separating church and state is an important part of bourgeois democracy, doing it through a repressive military regime which in the past has punished people for expressing their religosity is not exactly a model that deserves to be emulated.
Norman Markowitz

A Turkish American said...

First of all Mr. Norman Markowitz, you are looking at things at a very bias one sided view. First of all, the so-called "Armenian Genocide" wasn't even a genocide in the first place. You say Turkey has issues with Freedom Of Speech.
What happened to a dissident of Turkish descent by the name of Dogu Perincek who wanted to voice his opinion about the events of 1915-1923 by presenting many things that the Armenian diaspora hid for many centuries. Then he got jailed for just disagreeing with the allegations of "genocide" in Switzerland. This is called double standards, racism and bias by the so-called "Liberal, Democratic, Civilized E.U."
You have no clue about what the true intentions of the Armenian cause is. The Armenian cause is not only an anti-Turkish racist hate campaign, but the Armenian cause is just a shortcut to snatch land from Turkey and all the Armenian diasporans want to sue the Turkish government and literally bankrupt the Turkish economy. Mr. Markowitz, I suggest that you read things from Turkkaya Ataov, Stanford Shaw and many other reputable professors, instead of reading one-sided hate speeches from Armenian faschists.
Don't think the Armenian cause is "righteous" because it is not. I bet you every single Armenian, if they meet a person of Turkish origin, they would want to kill every single Turkish person on the planet. The Armenian diaspora even pressured Billy Hayes to create the hate film "Midnight Express." So please Mr. Markowitz, don't listen to one sided stories and hate speeches. If you think Turkey should give East Anatolia to Armenia, then Poland should become Prussia again, then California and Texas should be Mexican again. This is how righteous the so-called "Armenian Cause" is, or should I say, racist anti-Turkish hate campaign.