Erdogan has military troubles of his own, but he still defends the Ottoman army over the Armenian genocide
A new book exposes the slaughter of more than a million Armenian Christians a century ago. It’s quite a volume for the Turkish president to dip into, once he’s finished purging his broken country
A mural commemorating the Armenian genocide in Los Angeles, California, in 2016 Getty
If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wasn’t so busy right now trying to emasculate his 600,000-strong Turkish army, he’d be raging about the contents of a new book that – with judicious research and painfully ironic timing – has just appeared in Australia with irrefutable proof of the 1915 Armenian genocide at the hands of Turkey’s (then) 500,000-strong army.
The Turkish army, in the 1914-18 war, was intimately involved in the Nazi-like persecution and slaughter of one and a half million Armenian Christians. And it neither knew nor apparently cared that Australian prisoners of war were witnesses to the greatest war crime of the conflict. But now along comes a small Australian publisher with a highly researched volume, by Vicken Babkenian and Peter Stanley, in which the reader can find the testimony of Australian and other Allied prisoners who witnessed the dispossession and mass murder of the Armenians.
Some were survivors of the 1915 siege and surrender of Kut al-Amara in present-day Iraq, whose death march to prisons in Anatolia matched in brutality if not in numbers the killing of the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey. Other Australian troops were captured at Gallipoli. Several were submariners whose vessel was seized by the Turkish navy.
They were Allied servicemen, not propagandists, and their attempts to help the doomed Armenians were as brave as they were innocent. Turks who still deny the knifing, beheading, mass executions and rape of the Armenians in a deliberate campaign of genocide – and Sultan Erdogan is one of them – will find it hard to challenge these witness statements.
Though he has other worries on his mind right now, Erdogan is so strong a defender of the old Ottoman army that he rearranged the date of last year’s 1915 Gallipoli commemorations to obscure the anniversary of the start of the far bloodier destruction of the Armenian people on the same day. But when he’s eventually finished destroying the army, judiciary, civil service and academic freedoms of present-day Turkey – perhaps on a subsequent, more relaxing holiday at Marmaris – Erdogan should take a look at the 324-page Armenia, Australia and the Great War.
Here, for example, is Lieutenant Leslie Luscombe of the Australian 14th Battalion at Gallipoli, captured by the Turks and sent to Angora province where he saw “a sad and depressing sight” on a railway station platform: “a considerable number of Armenian women and children were huddled together” while “Turkish soldiers armed with whips” drove them onto sheep trucks “to transport them to some distant concentration camp”. Just before Luscombe’s arrival, the monks of the Armenian monastery in which he was to be held “had doubtless been liquidated”. All the Australian prisoners were housed in abandoned Armenian houses.
One of Luscombe’s colleagues, Corporal George Kerr, was sent to work on the uncompleted German Taurus mountain railway and lodged on the upper floor of a house whose occupants included “60 miserable creatures” (as he recorded in his secret diary), both Armenians and Greeks.
Captain Thomas White of the Australian Flying Corps, arriving under Turkish guard in the Ottoman city of Mosul (now, of course, the Isis “capital”), saw “Armenian women, reduced to beggary”, pleading for food. He was marched to the abandoned Armenian town of Tel Armen where – although a few Armenian women and children were still present – the men were absent. After climbing a low hill, he found “36 newly made graves which spoke eloquently of what had become of the Armenian men”. White described himself as “horrified at the Turks’ handiwork”, noting later that these massacres had been “simultaneous and to order throughout the entire country”.
At this time, the Armenians of Ras al-Ein (a village now in the hands of the American-armed YPG anti-Isis militia) were being prepared for their death march to Deir ez-Zour and White wrote of seeing “a large camp of Armenians herded together after the general round-up from their homes, and waiting to be sent on marches that had always the same ending”. After a train ride to Afion, White and others were housed in a church from which Armenian survivors had been driven to make way for them. “Their menfolk had been killed and furniture confiscated” and now “they were being turned into the street from their last possible sanctuary”. He found a burial ground of Armenians, some of whose bodies were “so close to the surface that their bones protruded”.
On the British-Australian-Indian prisoners’ 2,000km death march northwards to Anatolia from Kut, two POWs discovered a well at the back of a village house filled with “the mutilated remains of the murdered Armenian women and children”. In total, 70 per cent of the British POWs who surrendered at Kut and 30 per cent of the Indians died in captivity. By September 1916, the dead Allied POWs were themselves being buried in the Armenian cemetery at Afion. At Yozgat, Allied prisoners were placed in empty Armenian houses whose owners had been “massacred” and their shops pillaged, according to engineer Captain Kenneth Yearsley.
The Armenian massacres continued long into 1918 in the east of Turkey – where, to the credit of the books’ authors, they record the slaughter of Muslim villagers by Armenians – but in the north of Mesopotamia, Colonel Stanley Savige, an Australian Gallipoli veteran, and his men found themselves fighting 10-to-one against Turkish and Kurdish cavalry killing the stragglers from an Armenian refugee column. They had found them – “old men, weak and wounded women, deserted infants and crippled children” – and, under fire, pulled women and children onto their horses, leaving, “with aching hearts”, cripples and infants to their fate. Captain Robert Nichol, a New Zealander, was killed as he fought for the Armenians’ lives.
As General Allenby’s victorious army surged through Palestine and into what is now Syria in 1918, they found thousands of Armenians, starving and dying, most of them women and children, up the long road from Damascus to Homs and Hama and Aleppo – a melancholy highway in today’s ghastly Syrian conflict – and then again around the Turkish city of Diyabakir. Australian cavalrymen emptied their supplies and water bottles for the Armenians.
Ancient Diyabakir still existed then; much of it has now been destroyed by the present-day Turkish army (including those who plotted against Erdogan last week) in their battle against the Kurdish PKK.
Quite a volume for Sultan Erdogan to dip into, then, once he’s finished purging his broken country.
But I suppose he can always claim – evidence notwithstanding – that the Ottoman government wasn’t responsible for the Great War Armenian genocide on the grounds that its soldiers, like his own, simply took the law into their own hands.
Erdogan has military troubles of his own, but he still defends the Ott
Posted 21 July 2016 - 09:22 AM
Erdogan has military troubles of his own, but he still defends the Ottoman army over the Armenian genocide
- onjig likes this
Posted 13 August 2016 - 09:18 AM
Author: Pinar Tremblay
Posted August 12, 2016
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly told the world and his people that the words “Islam” and “terrorism” should not be used together, because Muslims cannot be terrorists. Indeed, Erdogan has insisted that students who attend Turkey's religious imam hatip high schools would never become terrorists. Yet the man Erdogan accuses of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt is none other than the president's former close friend and ally, Fethullah Gulen, a Sunni imam. This has made the situation rather uncomfortable for the president and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Acknowledging that Muslims might deliberately hurt and even murder other Muslims is not easy in general for the majority of Turks, so what can be done to address this uncomfortable reality?
Thus, several pro-government figures have concocted allegations to christen Gulen an Armenian. Such accusations were voiced prior to July 15, but have since been embellished. For example, on June 6, the pro-AKP Ottoman Clubs (Osmanli Ocaklari) proclaimed Gulen an Armenian, citing branches in his family tree and his background. Others claimed that the so-called Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization, a term Ankara uses to refer to Gulen followers, was influential in the German parliament's June 2 decision to recognize the Armenian genocide.
At a pro-democracy rally held July 19, Kocaeli Buyuksehir Mayor Ibrahim Karaosmanoglu told attendees, “The fact that they [Gulenists] have infiltrated several key positions in the bureaucracy is a shame for us. They cannot be [trusted to be] teachers. They cannot be anything. … They hide themselves so well, they can even trade their honor to reach a key position.”
Indeed, various figures, including the professed historian Kadir Misiroglu, have alleged that Gulen's father is Armenian and his mother is Jewish. Misiroglu also claims that Gulen belongs to a community in which Jews have (somehow) become Armenians. Ultra-nationalist figures have also contributed their share of such allegations.
In addition, numerous newspaper opinion pieces continue to warn dubiously against the Gulen movement. For example, Yeni Soz columnist Can Kemal Ozer wrote, “Gulen's mother is a Jew, and [his] father an Armenian. He is the devil, who was brought up to seek revenge upon our people. He is not a Muslim, but a member of the Vatican Council.” Another columnist made mention of a few terror organizations, including the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and argued that they are “Armenian establishments.”
As these articles and others began circulating on social media, a few lone voices struggled to stand up against such hate speech. One anonymous person tweeted, “[To claim] Gulen as Armenian is not a nuance or observation. It is the foundation of a process known as elimination and extermination.”
While watching the largest rally in Turkish history at Yenikapi, Istanbul, on Aug. 8, several observers tweeted about the deep-rooted xenophobia oozing from the rhetoric of the country's political leaders. One tweet, with a photo of religious leaders attending the Yenikapi rally, observed, “It is as if we have invited these men [in the photo] to offend them.” Nationalist Action Party leader Devlet Bahceli referred to those deemed to be the (non-Muslim) enemy and a threat to Turkey as “Byzantine seeds.” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim resorted to “crusaders' army,” and Erdogan described them as a “flock of infidels.”
The worrisome part is not only that Turkish leaders freely utter such hateful rhetoric, but that it has become normal in contemporary Turkey to do so. As abhorrent phrases filled the air, millions cheered in Yenikapi, and only a handful even realized the offense. Amid this feverishness, one must, however, ask, how could Armenians be culprits in the crimes for which an Islamist group, the Gulenists, has been accused?
Murat Bebiroglu, a senior editor of the Armenian online publication HyeTert, told Al-Monitor, “Starting in 1878, the image of the Armenian community in Anatolia switched from a nation of trust to a nation of [a slur]. That is, if you want to belittle someone, you call them Armenian. If you want to badmouth someone, call them Armenian.
“In a society where 99% [of the population] is said to be Muslim, it is seen as better to target your anger at 40,000-50,000 people rather than a larger group. Remember, when the PKK leader was caught, he was declared Armenian, [and] whenever PKK terror spikes, different papers start Armenian bashing. Whenever the going gets tough, Armenians become the easy and readily available target.”
Bebiroglu, a member of the dwindling Armenian community in Turkey, clings to black humor. He remarked, “In a sense, we were relieved when we heard several commentators also claim that Gulen is Jewish, not just Armenian. Could there be a worse image in the eyes of Turkish society than being not only Armenian, but also Jewish? The sad part is these allegations are accepted by a significant portion of the society and fuel further hatred against the minorities.”
So a sobering question remains: If you are not a Muslim, can you still be a Turk? The answer seems to be that in the view of some, anyone who is not a Muslim is a potential threat to society.
Turkey has recently suffered from simultaneous attacks at the hands of the PKK and the Islamic State and allegedly the Gulenists, the latter two of which are openly Islamic entities. Pro-government pundits are spinning their wheels to find ways to undermine support for these groups. They still lack the means, however, to explain how strains of Islam can threaten society, so they take the easy way out by fanning the flames of xenophobia. In the short term, Armenophobia becomes a valuable accomplice.
Without accepting full responsibility for its role in the expansion of the Gulenist movement in Turkey, and without acknowledging the organization's Islamic outreach at home and abroad, can the Turkish government truly take on the Gulenists?
As convoluted as allegations that Gulen is Armenian might be, they are also quite scary when combined with the suggestion that the state and society will be wiped clean of all Gulenists. Turkish policymakers should surely recall from history the failures when states have tried to ensure domestic security by demonizing segments of society. The hateful rhetoric invoking Armenians — or any group unrelated to the Gulenists — will inevitably become the most difficult obstacle in the battle against curbing the Gulenists' strength.
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