By Seyfi Tashan*
Turkish Daily News, April 2002
In March 1915 when the Russian forces began to move towards Van and immediately Armenians of Van began a general revolt massacring all the Turks in the vicinity easing the way for Russian forces. Armenian question and the Western powers
The chief of staff of the Third Army had to write to the Ministry of War, requesting that the Armenian gangs behind the Ottoman lines were causing serious disruptions in the supply lines and that Armenians living in these areas aiding and abating these gangs should be moved to other parts of the empire or outside the empire and in their place Moslems who were driven from Caucasia be settled.
The suggested move was very similar to the one carried out by the United States against the Japanese Americans in the second world war with the difference that the Japanese Americans had not yet indulged in any anti-American activity whereas in Eastern Turkey the Armenians were engaged actively in hostilities.
The conditions that obtained in Eastern Turkey were hospitable neither for Turks, nor for other people living in the region. Poverty, cold, epidemics were claiming lives. During the war with the Russia, about 90,000 Turkish soldiers had died mostly from cold and disease. Altogether more than 3 million Ottoman subjects had died because of war, deportations, massacres and disease in Eastern Turkey.
Western powers became interested and appointed themselves protectors and guardians of the Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire as from the beginning of the 19th Century.
Their pressure as well as the desire of the Ottoman Sultan the principle of equality among all citizens of the Empire was introduced. Nevertheless, the French continued to be the protectors of Catholics, the Russians of the Orthodox and Britain and the United States of the Protestants living in the Ottoman Empire. It was however very difficult for the Ottoman reformists to adopt European state norms although significant progress was made in higher education and modernization of the army.
The Ottoman State joined the “droite public European” (in other words European Concert) in the middle of the 19th century (1856 Paris Conference).The target of destroying the Ottoman empire that began with the formation of the Kingdom of Greece in 1828 remained intact for the major European countries namely France, Britain and Russia. In the Berlin Conference of 1878 the Western powers appointed themselves officially the guardians of Christians in the Ottoman empire and advanced the privileges granted to Christians and foreigners. Britain which had hitherto considered the existence of the Ottoman Empire for the protection of their interests in Asia had changed its policy in favor of creating smaller states one of which would be an independent Armenia. This naturally lead them to encourage secessionist activities among the Arabs and the Armenians. Greece was already coveting the Ottoman lands as they considered themselves as the inheritors of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians who were very close to the Turks in respect to their culture and way of life and many of whom occupied responsible political positions in the Government as Ministers, ambassadors and administrators, by the end of the century, engaged in acts terrorism and caused frequent incidents in the cities and Armenian gangs were attacking and pillaging Turkish villages. In 1894 a serious fight broke-out in Bitlis between Armenian gangs and Turkish local forces.
The beginning of the First World War found the Ottoman State as an ally of Germany and at war with Britain, France and Russia. Ottoman troops were engaged fighting with the British in Gallipoli and in the Middle East, with the Russians in the Carpathian mountains in Romania and in Eastern Anatolia. As a natural component of the War the Western powers preferred to use Christian minorities, particularly the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia as fifth columns. The famous Laurence of Arabia was inciting the Middle East Arabs to revolt. In the Russian Army and Armenian Brigade was fighting against the Ottoman third army and Armenian Hinchak and Dashnasiun guerillas were attacking Ottoman supply lines and villages behind the front while they were supplied and protected by Armenian villages and financed by Armenian landowners
In the winter of 1915 the situation had become untenable. In March 1915 when the Russian forces began to move towards Van and immediately Armenians of Van began a general revolt massacring all the Turks in the vicinity easing the way for Russian forces.
The chief of staff of the Third Army had to write to the Ministry of War, requesting that the Armenian gangs behind the Ottoman lines were causing serious disruptions in the supply lines and that Armenians living in these areas aiding and abating these gangs should be moved to other parts of the empire or outside the empire and in their place Moslems who were driven from Caucasia be settled. The suggested move was very similar to the one carried out by the United States against the Japanese Americans in the second world war with the difference that the Japanese Americans had not yet indulged in any anti-American activity whereas in Eastern Turkey the Armenians were engaged actively in hostilities. But the conditions that obtained in Eastern Turkey were not hospitable neither for Turks, nor for other people living in the region. Poverty, cold, epidemics were claiming lives. During the war with the Russian about 90, 000 Turkish soldiers had died mostly from cold and disease. Altogether more than 3 million Ottoman subjects had died because of war, deportations, massacres and disease in Eastern Turkey.
Finally on April 24, 1915 the Ottoman Government closed Armenian revolutionary committees and arrested their leaders. In May the Ottoman Council of Ministers issued a decree for deportation of the Armenians in Eastern Turkey to Syria, Iraq and Palestine with strict instructions that they were treated carefully and compassionately. This decree No.1331/163 of May 1915 clearly defined the details of the protection to be given to the deportees. This deportation order was not extended to Armenians living in Istanbul or generally in Western Turkey. Out of some 700,000 Armenians who were transported some lives were lost as a result of large scale military and bandit activities through which they passed, as well as the general insecurity and blood feuds which some tribal forces sought to carry out as the caravans passed through their territories. During this entire deportation process the Ottoman Government gave permissions to a number American philanthropic organizations to help the deportees. Despite the claims of the Armenian nationalist organizations which conducted a sinister campaign against the Turks accusing them for genocide, they have kept silent the Armenian role in pursuit of their desire to set up an independent Armenia on Turkish soil for committing terrible massacres of Turks between in Eastern Turkey particularly after 1917 when Russian troops has withdrawn after the Bolshevik revolution and left the control to Armenians as well as those wanton killings of Turks by Armenians who accompanied the French forces in South Eastern Turkey. After the first world war the British tried to find evidence to accuse the defunct Ottoman administrators but failed to find any evidence of responsibility.
Large numbers of Armenians eventually settled down in Syria, the Lebanon, France and the United States. Since the Armenian Church had been given the task of managing the civil affairs of the Armenian Community under the Ottoman rule, when the Ottoman Empire began to weaken it became the hotbed of Armenian nationalism. The same characteristic of the Church was carried to the Armenian Diaspora; and in order to keep the Diaspora from becoming dissolved they encouraged Armenian nationalism with Turkish hostility and the events of 1915 became the unifying myth among the Diaspora. Thousands of books and articles were written by Armenian authors, films were sponsored to present the deportation from Eastern Turkey as a so called “genocide”. In order to justify the claims so-called Armenian historians based themselves on openly falsified documents, and waged a vitreous campaign against the Turks. These falsifications have been demonstrated by universally well known historians such as!
Bernard Lewis or Stanford Shaw and many others… Having failed to persuade the historians the Armenian leader tried to persuade the parliaments to accept resolutions or laws to make them accept and declare the events of 1915 as genocide; something which serious historians
In 1917 Russian troops left those portions of Eastern Anatolia which they had occupied. The vacuum they left was filled by Armenian troops in the Russian army as well as Armenian irregulars who conducted large pogroms in the Turkish villages in Eastern Turkey, where large numbers of Turks were slaughtered. Nevertheless Turkish army soon returned and Armenian troops had to withdraw. Two treaties were signed between Turkey and Armenia in 1920 in known as Kars and Ardahan treaties the terms of which were later included in the Moscow Treaty between Turkey and Bolshevik Russia in 1921. These treaties defined the present borders between Turkey and Caucasia as final.
Following the war of independence the new Turkish Republic had signed in 1923 the Treaty of Laussane which defined the borders of present Turkey. This did not stop the Armenians from making demands on Turkey basing themselves on the false accusations of genocide. Because of their pressure the United States Senate failed to ratify a a Turkish-American treaty confirming the terms of the Lausanne Treaty. Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic had expressed his sentiments by expressing to the then American Ambassador to Turkey Joseph Grew by saying that it was impossible to comprehend how an enlightened and advanced nation could become subservient to the demands of a fanatical minority. Nevertheless during the pre-Second World war years little was heard from Diaspora activities. But they continued a sly and sinister campaign of slander against Turkey and the Turks led by Armenian churches and activists, infiltrating school books, media and film industries in an effort for presenting the 1915 deportation as a genocide. Diaspora activity against Turkey continued and was concentrated where there were Armenian nationalist churches.
Immediately after the Second World, Soviet Union had demanded the cession of the provinces of Kars and Ardahan to the Soviet Republic of Armenia, among other Soviet demands that initiated the Cold War period. Armenians who were also instigated by Moscow organized a big meeting in Erivan demanding land from Turkey. They also conducted a campaign against Turkey’s membership in the United Nations during the San Francisco conference.
Because of the cold war and the value of Turkey for the Western alliance as a bulwark seems to have quieted the Diaspora in the United States. In fact, in 1954 we have witnessed a strange phenomenon which the writer has personally witnessed. After the comradeship in arms between US and Turkish troops in Korea in 1950 and following Turkey’s admission to NATO membership, the then President of Turkey Mr. Celal Bayar was invited to pay state visit to the United States by President Eisenhower. He was welcomed in New York with a ticker-tape parade on the Broadway and both houses of the US Congress gave him a standing ovation as the leader of a much valued ally. The Armenian Diaspora did not wish to stay behind. They volunteered to conduct the entire public relations work in preparation for the visit of the Turkish President visit to California where Armenians were concentrated. This visit became a demonstration of a renewed Turkish Armenian friendship.
However, the Turkish American alliance soon became what George Harris called in the title of his well-known book a “troubled alliance”. In 1964 when the Greek leadership in Cyprus had taken over the Government by coup d’etat and a massacre of Turks, Turkey wanted to use its treaty rights and intervene in the affairs of the island. This was strongly objected by the United States.. Following the signing of the first documents of Detente between US and USSR during the visit of President Nixon to Moscow in 1972, the decision of the Turkish government to allow controlled poppy plantation in 1973 and the Turkish military intervention in Cyprus the relations between Turkey and the United States soured to the degree of an imposition of an arms embargo by the United States.
The diaspora activity against Turkey increased during this period in parallel with the estrangement between Turkish and US governments. The murder of the Turkish Council General in Los Angeles in 1973 triggered the Armenian ASALA terrorism which resurrected and this time turned against Turkish diplomats costing the lives of more than forty distinguished Turkish diplomats. The Turkish-French relations began to sour following the decision of Marseille Municipal Council to erect a monument in memorial of the so-called Armenian genocide which resulted in the withdrawal of the Turkish Ambassador to Paris. The next Turkish Ambassador to Paris was murdered by ASALA in 1975. It was well known that there was an understanding between the French Government and the Armenian terrorists that so long as they did not attack French targets they would not be disturbed in France. This arrangement continued until the Armenian bombed the Orly airport in Paris causing many casualties. Then quietly the ASALA assassinations of Turkish diplomats were terminated. Instead the Armenian lobby in United States concentrated its efforts to pass a resolution through the US Congress accepting an Armenian genocide. So far these attempts have failed but the efforts of the Armenian Diaspora to influence the US congress continue to this date. According press reports Armenians have provided substantial financial support to US senatorial elections for candidate to support their cause in the US congress.
It is clear that the Republic of Armenia is in collusion with the Diaspora in the Anti-Turkish campaign. After the break down of the Soviet Union Armenia had occupied about 20% of the Azerbaijani territory driving out Azeri people forcing them to live in poverty in refugee camps. Turkey recognized the independence of Armenia but did not establish diplomatic relations until progress was made in the Minsk process of OSCE in the discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After having rid himself of such diehard aides like Hovanissian, the President of Armenia Mr. Ter Petrosian had made some initiatives giving a hope for progress in negotiation which would also entail the opening of diplomatic relations and the borders with Turkey and provide access for this land-locked impoverished country to high seas the Turkish market. However, the extreme nationalists brought down Mr. Petrosian who was always suggesting moderation to Diaspora and was replaced by the President of Nagorno-Karabagh and the extremely nationalist Dashnak majority of the parliament. The new leaders of Armenia relying on the economic and financial support provided by the Diaspora or secured by them receive highest per capita foreign aid from the United States, which does little to urge them to seek an agreement with Azerbaijan; on the contrary, US Congress withholds any economic assistance to that country.
The acceptance by the French Parliament on January 18, 2001 of a law accepting that a genocide had taken place against the Armenians in 1915 rightfully caused furor in the Turkish public opinion, particularly because the French parliamentarians by passing the law and the Government by promulgating it, had put themselves in the place of historians who had never been able to prove that there was a genocide. The French moves were further aggravated by the Paris Municipal Council which later decided to erect a monument in memory of the so-called genocide, creating in Turkey a great anger and astonishment about the callousness of the French politicians.
It should be remembered that during the years 1972-1986 Turkish French relations passed through their coolest years, particularly because of the activities of the Armenians and the support given by France to Greek membership to the European Economic Community to the exclusion of Turkey. After 1986 Turkish-French relations were improved and political, economic and cultural relations were revitalized. Many French companies invested in Turkey or benefited from State adjudications. Under these circumstances one wonders why French Parliament and Government approved this clearly anti-Turkish action to the degree of making an unsubstantiated claim into a law of France. Was it really a stupidity or due to a myopic expectation of electoral support for a handful of parliamentarians, or was it an expression, in the French way, of their criticism and disdain of Turkish attitude against the French supported CFSP.
Whatever the cause is this French behavior will not deter Turkey from its European vocation and will not force Turkey to readjust its polices towards Armenia or CFSP; but the historic Turkish French ties will have an enduring scar.
Furthermore, if this to be interpreted by the current nationalist leaders of the Armenian Republic as a political success that might change Turkish attitude towards Armenia to condone what they have done in Azerbaijan, they may be mistaken.
*Seyfi Taşhan is a Turkish political analyst, thought leader, and historian. He is the founder and the Director of Foreign Policy Institute, Turkey’s first political think-tank.