A contribution by a security analyst who has requested anonymity
Concerned about the “historical commission” in the Armenian-Turkish protocols that may investigate the veracity of the Armenian Genocide? You should be if you are an idealist who believes that patently obvious facts should not have to be proven again and again. For many, this endeavor is as impossible – if not as pointless – as it is to enlighten someone who intransigently insists that the sun orbits around the earth, despite that fact that science proved the opposite centuries ago. That being said, I never want to give up on someone who genuinely seeks the truth.
The Armenian “case,” also known as the truth, is quite simply unassailable no matter what tactic genocide deniers may use. This article will set out to eviscerate just one possible Turkish tactic by hypothesizing that everything the Turkish government says about “Armenian rebels” is true; that these militias didn’t simply exist as means of last ditch self-defense, but were instead instruments of insurrection and secession. (Which, nevertheless, would be fully justified after hundreds of years of oppression from a government that Armenians never contested to be part of)
The most damning evidence that shows that Turkey carried out genocide against the Armenians is a comparative analysis with the Arab Revolt. Just as a reminder, during WWI many Arabs openly sided with the British. They were resentful of heavy-handed Turkish rule, and wanted to be independent. As with most nationalist movements, this revolt initially started on a smaller scale, and ultimately mushroomed into full-scale warfare between Ottoman Turkish forces and Arabs.
So where is the “damning” evidence I am talking about? The fact of the matter is that the Ottoman Empire had the military capability to conduct the same measures against the Arabs, i.e. genocide, as they did against the Armenians. The Ottoman Government could have simply cited the same reason they used to justify the Armenian Genocide, “they were siding with the enemy (which was true in the case of the Arabs), and that the homeland must be preserved at all costs.”
As indicated by the outcome, the Arab revolt was every bit as dangerous to the Ottoman Empire as was the so-called “Armenian Revolt.” Yet, in the end the Ottoman Empire did not target Arab civilians as it did Armenian civilians. While Arab lands were still under Ottoman control, Arab residents of Damascus, Aleppo, etc were not exiled into the wasteland without food, water or shelter. Instead the Empire, for the most part, restricted its violence to actual Arab militias. Certainly, skeptical readers might say, the Arab Revolt originated in the uncontrollable and wild Arab Peninsula, not domesticated Damascus. But, this same skepticism can and should be applied to the Armenian case as well. Even the most fanatical Turkish apologist will not claim that the alleged “Armenian Revolt” existed in Bursa, Konya, etc., yet the Armenians of these Anatolian cities were nevertheless marched into the desert and slaughtered en masse. So what possible conclusion can be drawn from the comparison? The Ottoman government’s policy regarding the Armenians was not just some necessary wartime contingency.
Some denialist historians might say that the Ottoman Empire was ultimately willing to lose the Arabian lands. Arabia was not vital to the empire’s existence, and its loss did not represent and existential threat. Turks did not live there in significant numbers, and they were more overseers than anything else. Conversely, these historians will claim the same is not true in the Armenian case, and that Anatolia is the heartland of the ethnic Turks. Had Armenians carved out an independent country there, or so the denialist argument goes, the existence of the Turkish people would be threatened. But this argument is not valid either. Eastern Anatolia at the time was an ethnic mosaic, and rarely did Turks constitute an outright majority. In fact, in many places such as Bitlis, Armenians were the largest ethnic group followed by the Kurds. Here and in other places in the region, Turks were actually only a small minority. Therefore, the same demographic argument that says Arabia wasn’t important to Turkey also applies to Eastern Anatolia.
To this, a denialist historian might answer, demographic reality is not as important as the perception of Turks. But again, Eastern Anatolia does not feature prominently in the hearts or lore of Turks (even till this day), with one minor exception being Alp Arslan and his battle at Manzikert in the 11th century. Instead, Eastern Anatolia has always been more like a colony, such as the Balkans, than an integral part Turkish identity. The real homeland, the real gem, to Turks at the time of WWI is further west where the Ottoman Empire actually originated, places like Eskisehir.Therefore, fear of losing Eastern-Anatolia as opposed to Arabian lands is not a justification for Ottoman policies vis-à-vis the Armenians, especially when considering that the Levant is just as close to the heart of Turkish identity, western-Anatolia, as is Eastern-Anatolia.
In conclusion, the Ottoman Empire’s brutal treatment of the Armenians, even if they were in full revolt (which they weren’t), was reserved for Armenians alone, despite other rebellions in the Empire. It is now incumbent on denialist historians to explain the huge differences in policy with respect to an identical security threat. All this being said, severe annoyance with this “commission” is justified, because denialists are most likely not really looking to debate the veracity of the Armenian Genocide, but instead are mainly interested in the mere illusion of controversy.
P.S. There is no rule that says that genocide cannot occur simultaneously with war and rebellion, as Armenian Genocide deniers would mistakenly have you believe. If anything, a genocide that occurs without the backdrop of rebellion, even rebellion committed by the victim group, represents an anomaly. I am going to give just three examples of genocides coinciding with rebellion, though many more cases exist. The Rwandan Genocide of the Tutsi people coincided with the Tutsi RPF rebellion in the same country; the Herero Genocide coincided with a rebellion in German South-West Africa by the Herero; lastly the Genocide in Darfur which coincided with the JEM rebellion in Sudan. If you were to apply the same (rebellion = no genocide) argument that denialists use against the Armenian Genocide, you would have to deny every other genocide in history.
“Who controls the past controls the future;” party slogan states in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, “Who controls the present controls the past.”
While hopes are high that – despite a hostile history – Armenia and Turkey will establish diplomatic relations and that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan may finally be solved, the problem of how to deal with the official Turkish/Azerbaijani factory of history is not being addressed.
Djulfa, Nakhichevan: the worst documented case of history fabrication; Azerbaijani soldiers destroying the largest Armenian medieval cemetery in the world (December 2005) – the site is now a military rifle range
It’s not merely Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s denial of the Armenian Genocide that makes the reconciliation quite difficult, to say the least, but also the official Turkish thesis, with its roots in the Young Turkish movement (that carried out the Armenian Genocide) and formalized by Ataturk, that Turks/Azeris are indigenous to their current homelands and that Armenians, in the best case, are unwelcome immigrants.
While the Turkish fabrication of history can be dismissed as an issue of “internal consumption” – meaning a convenient myth to boost Turkish/Azeri pride in their respective countries (with the dangerous slogan “Happy is the man who can say I am Turk”) – the implications of flip-flopping history are right there in the middle of the current developments in the region. Here is a most recent case.
Turkey’s ceremonial president Abdullah Gul is currently visiting Nakhichevan (or Nakhchivan as Azerbaijan prefers), the region of Azerbaijan which it got from the communist regime in Moscow as another gift at the expense of giving out Armenian lands. Moreover, a treaty that Soviet Armenia was forced to sign from Moscow made Turkey the “guarantor” of Nakhichevan in the 1920s.
Gul is visiting Nakhichevan with other heads of “Turkic-speaking countries” (most of them in Central Asia) to talk about common issues. Sounds like a normal political event, and nothing to protest about, especially since Armenia has no official claims toward Nakhichevan. But read the rest.
As there are no Armenians left in Nakhichevan (thanks to a Soviet Azerbaijani policy of nonviolent ethnic cleansing which attracted little attention at the time) and not a trace of the rich Armenian heritage (the most precious of which, the Djulfa cemetery, was reduced to dust by Azeri soldiers in December 2005 – see the videotape), Armenia has no claims to Nakhichevan and perhaps rightly so. Yet, apparently, the history factory in Nakhichevan is still cooking.
While Armenia restraints itself from claiming its indigenous lands, and particularly Nakhichevan, taken away from it without its consent, Turkey and Azerbaijan must discontinue their unhealthy fabrications of history. Instead…
Putting the “native” side aside for a moment, the distortion of not just basic history but of linguistics is sickening. Save for the disputed proposal that Nakhichevan comes from the Persian phrase Naqsh-e-Jahan (image of the world), every other explanation of the name of the region has to do with Armenians (see Wikipedia for the several versions), let alone that the word itself has two Armenian parts to it: Nakh (before or first) and ichevan (landing, sanctuary) – referring to Noah’s coming out of the Ark from (another holy Armenian symbol) Mount Ararat – next to Nakhichevan now on Turkish territory.
Ironically, and as almost always in history fabrication, the Azeri/Turkish distortion of “Nakhichevan” is inconsistent. According to an official Azerbaijani news website, there are discussions in Nakhichevan that admit that the word has to do something with Noah (of course after saying that it had to do with a mythical Turkish tribe that lived there thousands of years ago): “The Turkic tribes of nakhch were once considered as having given the name to it. Other sources connect Nakhichevan with the prophet Noah himself, as his name sounds as nukh in Turkic.” Moreover, as an official Nakhichevani publication reads, “There is no other territory on the earth so rich with place-names connected with Noah as Nakhichevan. According to popular belief, Noah is buried in southern part of Nakhichevan, and his sister is buried in the northwest of the city.” Hold on. Did you notice that the language uses (at least its official English translation) the Armenian taboo name of the region: Nakhichevan (as opposed to Turkified Nakchivan)? Maybe there is hope, but not really. Azerbaijan still denies that it didn’t destroy the Djulfa cemetery because, well, it didn’t exist in the first place.
A skeptic would ask what the fuss is about. The answer is that Nakhichevan’s distortion is not the first. The sacred Armenian places of Ani, Van, and Akhtamar in Turkey all have official Turkish explanations to their meanings, while those places existed for hundreds – if not thousands – of more years before Turks colonized the homeland of the Armenians.
More importantly, the changing of toponyms is not done to meet the social demands of Turks/Azeris and in order to make it easier for the locals to pronounce geographic names. Distortion is done to rewrite history in order to control the future. But it’s not the right thing to do. And both Turkey and Azerbaijan embarrass themselves when it comes to legal discussions.
Immediately prior to voting for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, for example, the Turkish delegation at the United Nations made it clear that its “yes” vote was cast with the understanding that there were no indigenous peoples on Turkey’s territory. If there were indigenous peoples on the territory, the Turkish representative stated, then the declaration didn’t challenge states’ territorial integrity. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, abstained from voting.
The reservation on the UN document came from both countries who claim that there are the indigenous heirs of the lands they occupy and that their main enemy, Armenians (and also Kurds) are not only indigenous but are recent immigrants.
One version of Azerbaijan’s ridiculous inidigenousness claim is written on the website of one Azerbaijani Embassy: “The ancient states of Azerbaijan, which maintained political, economic and cultural ties with Sumer and Akkad and formed part of the wider civilization of Mesopotamia, were governed by dynasties of Turkic descent. The Turkophone peoples that have inhabited the area of Azerbaijan since ancient times were fire-worshippers and adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions – Zoroastrianism.”
Armenians (and to a large extent the Kurds, Assyrians and Pontiac Greeks) have their share of fault in the debate. Constantly repeating their indigenousness in what is now Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenians have helped create the defensive Turkish/Azeri attitude that they, and not Armenians or others, are the indigenous peoples of the land. But when it comes to fabricating history of their own, there is little blame for Armenia.
As Armenia struggles to defend the victory it won over the Karabakh conflict, most Armenians use the Turko-Persian name for Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh meaning black garden, Kara – black in Turkish and bagh – garden in Farsi). While some Armenian nationalists prefer using the indigenous name of the region, Artsakh, many others indirectly admit that diverse history of Nagorno-Karabakh by keeping its Turkified name.
While Turkey ad Azerbaijan must come to terms with history, Armenia must accept that Turks and Azeris are there to stay. All the nations in the region have equal rights to existence, but not so at the unhealthy price of fabricating history.
Armenian diaspora’s idealist opposition to Turkey-Armenian negotiations is understandable, but an outright rejection of the dialogue process is a missed opportunity to introduce ideas and strategies that would empower Armenia.
One of world’s ancient nations and one of its youngest states, Armenia celebrated its 18th anniversary as an independent republic on September 21, 2009.
No country in history has persisted so much invasion, persecution, and genocide.
No country has continuously existed for so long as Armenia has.
And even though today’s Armenia is small, weak and has a declining population of already less than three million, today’s Armenia is one of the best times Armenia has had in thousands of years. Today is Armenia’s gift, and that gift must be used wisely.
Already a young adult, Armenia lives in a world with little room for mistakes. It must democratize, stabilize and normalize its relations with its historic foes to survive in times when today’s errors will be hard to erase tomorrow. As bad as Armenia may seem today, it has the opportunity to invest in a great future.
As the new Armenia is celebrating its entrance to adulthood, its ongoing negotiations with Turkey are in the center of international attention. There have been many articles and discussions on a subject which divides a lot of people, who I will “divide” into two camps – pragmatists and idealists.
Armenia’s current administration, and perhaps most of the citizens in the Republic, wants to normalize relations with Turkey for economic reasons. These are the pragmatists, for who Armenia is the only permanent address they have known, and who want to have a normal social life. I understand this group well. This is the group that is Armenian every second of their life. This is the group that wants to change, improve Armenia and is willing to take the risks. This is the group that ultimately takes all the risks.
I also understand the second group – the idealists. These are the diasporans for whom the Armenian genocide is the centerpiece of Armenian identity. The diaspora would never exist in the first place if there was no genocide. Diaspora’s opposition to the Turkish-Armenian ‘normalization,’ thus, is natural. These are the people that won’t forget how Turkish governments repeatedly lied to Armenians, and how the most trusted of those, the CUP, ended up carrying out the Armenian genocide. These are also the Armenians for who genocide awareness is often the road to staying Armenian. Diasporans have to fight day and night to keep the Armenian identity – unlike the Armenians in Armenia, who – no matter what they do – are Armenians every second.
I understand both groups. I love both sides. I am a son of the genocide itself and a son of the young and small Armenia living in the Diaspora. But when it comes to making a choice for Armenia’s future, I have to be a realist.
The reality is that Armenia’s population, at its best, will stay 3 million for the next decades. Turkey’s 71 million population and Azerbaijan’s 8 million will keep growing, coupled with the rise of ethnic Turkic Azeris in northern Iran. Unless Armenia finds a language with these inconvenient neighbors, it could face the danger of a final genocide.
Finding a common language, to be clear, has nothing to do with forgetting the Armenian genocide. The pragmatists, taking a market-ly speaking neoliberal approach, think that free trade will bring dialogue, and dialogue will bring genocide recognition. The idealists, on the other hand, say that genocide recognition should come first. As noble as the latter sounds, the former seems to make most sense. “Once the border opens,” Turkish historian Taner Akcam told me a few years ago, “Armenians and Turks will find out that they have more things in common than they thought: they have the same daily problems, and none have horns.” He surely belongs in the pragmatist camp, not only in the Armenian but also in the Turkish sense.
Is it bad to be an idealist? Not at all. But the idealist opposition to the “Armenian-Turkish protocols” needs to be a constructive one. Instead of outright rejecting any normalization efforts between Armenia and Turkey, the diaspora idealists must infuse specific and stated strategies that the pragmatists have been unable to include in the negotiations:
Demand Turkish neutralization in the Nagorno-Karabakh process
Demand the US government to force Turkey to declare itself a neutral side in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Demand Turkey that by 2015 all monuments honoring the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide have separate plaques added describing the crimes they committed during WWI
While the latter is the only point that deals with the genocide, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is the most realpolitik task and requires immediate attention. The idealists, overoccupied with genocide recognition, have long neglected the question of Nagorno-Karabakh – the indigenous Armenian region claimed by Azerbaijan.
Turkey remains the biggest obstacle in reaching peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that will guarantee the security of the region’s indigenous population. If Turkey wants to normalize its relations with Armenia, it must stop being pro-Azerbaijani when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It must declare itself neutral in the conflict and say that it will honor any decision reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
This is the chance for the idealists to make a difference in the normalization process. It’s time to tell Turkey that for Armenians to choose the pragmatist approach – open border first, dialogue second and reconciliation third – Turkey must become objective in the Nagorno-Karabakh process.
Asbarezreports about the Nairit explosion in Yerevan, a plant that Armenians closed due to environmental concerns toward the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the plant reopened in 1992, demands to close it down had died due to economic depressions. Will the new incident reignite the environmental movement?
Two explosions within the spam of about five minutes rocked the Nairit chemical plant in southern Yerevan at about 6.40 pm Thursday.
The explosions reportedly followed a huge fire at a chloroprene production shop at Nairit, the region’s largest synthetic rubber producing plant. The two explosions could be heard by residents living in the nearby area.
Sixteen fire-fighting vehicles reportedly rushed to the scene soon after the incident and were fighting fire late on Thursday. The fire rated as ‘huge’ was reportedly localized.
Several ambulance vehicles were rushing into the area. According to unconfirmed reports, there are at least three deaths and over a dozen injuries.
Hetq, the Investigative Jouralists of Armenia, details the killing with some shocking information. Apparently, Tigran died 12 days after the beating. The day of the beating, his mother went to the police station to get Tigran (who, despite horrible health conditions), had only been treated by a nurse.
At the station, his mother was forced to write a statement that Tigran had “fallen.” While unaware of the real details, the mother wanted to get her son home as soon as possible. On the way to their home, Tigran told his mother that he had been beaten by four men. When four young men (Sergei, Samvel, Valerik and Edgar) attacked him, Edgar recalled, he tried to escape. The four men, nonetheless, got on the taxi and followed Tigran.
Finding out the truth, Tigran’s relatives took him to the hospital where he lived on for 10 days. There, he was visited by the assailants’ seven relatives leaving with him several hundreds of dollars worth money.
After that, police officers showed up at the hospital – they wanted Tigran’s mother to change the initial statement by saying that she had not picked up her son from the police station but from the street.
For the second time, Tigran’s traumatized mother was forced to write another false testimony. This time, the statement had already been written by the police – she only had to sign it.
After Tigran died in the hospital, according to Hetq’s information, only one assailant Samvel, had been questioned by the police.
Samvel is the boyfriend of Lida Yedigaryan, the young woman who had her four male friends “avenge” Tigran’s Odnoklassniki message.
This tragic story speaks to many problems in Armenia: a culture of violence, uneven relationship between men and women (where the latter often seek “protection” from other men), and a failed police system.
It would be unjust to use this story to generalize Armenia, but there is a pattern of violence in the society whether starting online or in real life. Several years ago, for instance, an acquaintance at the time from Gyumri (the city where Tigran was killed) told me about his friends’ online “heroism:” straight men, posing as gay, would find online hookups, make a date with the real gay guy, show up with a gang and assault him. In Armenian chat rooms, men start “fighting” or “defending” a girl and then meet up for fights.
Just came across to an interesting research on the Islamic fighters, recruited by Azerbaijan, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Christian Armenia in the early 1990s.
Speaking of the number of the Islamic fighters, researcher Micael Taarnby writes:
Whatever the true number of Mujahedin, even the most conservative estimate of around 1,000 represents a considerable influx of foreign fighters. Unlike the parallel situations in Bosnia or Chechnya where individuals or smaller groups of foreign fighters made their way into the theatre of war, the scale of operations in Nagorno-Karabakh required a very different logistical setup, complete with a sizeable airlift capacity. The foreign Mujahedin were flown in on chartered civilian aircraft and this considerable traffic resulted in the joking reference to an unknown company called Afghan Airlines.
Ironically, according to the author, the Afghan fighters had more respect for their Christian Armenian enemies than for their Muslim Azeri bosses:
In spite of the official Azeri position that Afghan Mujahedin did not exist, such individuals were easily spotted in tea-shops in Baku because of their tribal dress and full beards. Apparently discipline broke down occasionally, even requiring young Azeri conscripts to be moved to other sectors of the front to avoid their killing by the Mujahedin. Insubordination became a problem, probably because of two characteristics specific to Afghan Mujahedin: fearlessness and the concept of loyalty. Apparently they cared little for their Azeri relations, who were considered inadequate paymasters and poor soldiers but also, and perhaps even worse, as only nominally Muslim. They did, however, respect their adversaries, the local Armenian Karabakhis, who had an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the ability to exploit this advantage on a tactical level. Often the Mujahedin would find themselves outmanoeuvred or fired at from multiple directions, not even knowing where the enemy was placed.
Speaking about particular involvemenet of the Afghan fighters, the author writes:
Many atrocities were committed during the conflict, including decapitations and the ritual mutilation of civilians, although it is not known what role the Mujahedin played in this respect. However, their presence at the frontline and the style of fighting reminiscent of the Afghan theatre increase the possibility of their involvement. Eyewitness reports have confirmed that villagers had had their heads sawn off by advancing Azeri troops, although no unit identification was presented.
Where did the fighters go after the war? Mostly to Chechnya, since Shamil Basayev – the Chechen Islamist fighter – was himself fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In contrast to emigration, Armenia’s immigration history is not rich. But with Armenian expatriates finding themselves unemployed in host countries such as Russia due to worldwide economic downfall, many of them are returning home.
My 6-year-old niece brought up a discussion of societal corruption this week while riding with her parents the public minibus – known as “Marshrutka” in Armenia and in other ex-Soviet countries.
She unintentionally prompted a democratization discussion by singing a song for the passengers who enthusiastically clapped at the end. One of the older woman passengers asked my niece, “When will you be performing on stage?”
“It is $1,000 to perform on stage,” answered my niece – suggesting that the answer was “never.”
The passengers got angry at a society where a 6-year-old talented child knows she has little prospects to succeed since the charge for a single performance is $1,000.
Does talent matter? My niece has been attending a world-famous children’s sing group/school in Armenia for a few years. She is one of the two, if not the only, student who has been continuously receiving straight “A”s, and her teachers call her “a child with exceptional talent.” But to participate in a local national festival with a solo performance, group parents need to pay $1,000 for production, dress, etc. And the only qualification for students to participate in the performance is to come up with the $1,000. So talent, in this case, matters not.
To appease the mashrutka passengers, my niece said, “Don’t worry; I am going to leave Arevik anyway.” The passengers got more concerned, “No, please don’t!” The woman, who had sparked the discussion by asking when my niece was going to perform on stage, said, “You will succeed no matter what. Don’t worry.”
Isn’t something wrong in a society where a 6-year-old knows that the price for “success” is $1,000?
Azerbaijani journalist and writer Alekper Aliyev’s latest novel, “Artush and Zaur,” has attracted much interest due to its plot. The novel tells the story of an Armenian and an Azeri lover, who get separated because of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The catch is: the lovers are gay men. With homophobia being so big in both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Aliyev’s novel will be discussed for a while. To get answers to questions that interest me, I e-mailed Alekper Aliyev. Below are my questions and his answers (translated from Russian):
1. What feedback have you received in Azerbaijan about your new novel?
I still receive much positive and negative feedback. And that is understandable –the book cannot be accepted universally, not only in Azerbaijan but also in the whole world. Of course, there are more unsatisfied [people] in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, these people are shocked by the fact that books with gay theme would be written and published. And these people haven’t even seen the book with their own eyes.
2. Are there any plans to translate the novel into Armenian and English?
I am going to translate the book into English. Most likely some in the US are already working on it. The Russian translation of the book is already ready. We will soon start publishing the book in Russia. In Armenian… You know, unfortunately, I don’t know Armenian and I don’t have Armenian-speaking acquaintances in Baku. But I have many friends in Armenia, including writers, translators, and publishers. We will wait for the release of the Russian version and then we will be able to talk about translating the book into Armenian and even into Georgian.
3. What, if any, feedback have you received from Armenia/Armenians?
The feedback from Armenia has mainly been negative. The Armenian society is a homophobic society. In that sense we [Azeris and Armenians] are very much alike. I didn’t except that Armenians would applaud me [in the first place]. Tough they haven’t read [the book] either and are shocked just from the title itself and from the suspected content of the novel.
4. Is there something you would like to add?
I wish our region [Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia] peace and happiness. We have the obligation to live like humans. We don’t have another choice.