Monday, 20 April 2015


Erdogan says EU vote to recognise 1915 Armenian genocide 
an "expression of enmity" as Turkey's genocide denial deepens 
ahead of April 24 anniversary
Richard Spencer, Sanliurfa
17 April 2015

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, has accused the EU
of declaring "enmity" on his country as next week's centenary
commemorations of the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire
descend into bitter rows over what to call them.

Both the European Parliament and Pope Francis this week referred to
the killings as a genocide, a term recognised by much of the rest of
the world but fiercely disputed by Turkey.

The European decision prompted a furious response from Mr Erdogan.

"Such decisions are nothing but expressions of enmity against Turkey
by abusingArmenians," he said while on a visit to Kazakhstan. "Come
on, let's leave history to historians."

Earlier he had made an implicit threat to deport Armenian citizens,
many of whom work in Turkey.

â~@¢ Stories from the Armenian genocide: the survivors, the victims
and the relatives

The Pope's comments on Sunday, in which he also referred to the
events as a genocide, have met an even more extreme response. One
minister claimed the statement stemmed from Pope Francis's Argentinian
nationality and the country's history of giving shelter to Nazis.

The Grand Mufti of Ankara threatened retaliation by saying Turkey
could convert the former Hagia Sophia Basilica - the seat of the
Orthodox church for a thousand years, until Constantinople was seized
and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1453 - into a mosque. It
is currently a museum.

Widespread massacres of Armenians, accused of plotting against the
declining Ottoman Empire with the Russians and western Christian
powers, began in the 1890s but climaxed with an orgy of violence in
the First World War.

In April 1915, ethnic Armenians, of whom millions lived in what is
now eastern Turkey, were ordered to be deported south. En route,
they were ambushed by soldiers and Kurdish gangs, who separated the
men and killed them by the hundreds of thousands. Many of the women
and children who survived the attacks died of starvation or thirst
in the Syrian deserts.

The anniversary is traditionally commemorated on April 24, including
by the small remaining Armenian community in Istanbul. The day after,
the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli is traditionally respected
together by both sides of that encounter, the Turks and the western
allies and above all the Australians and New Zealanders who made up
a large part of the latters' fighting forces.

This year the Turkish government has announced that the Gallipoli
commemorations will be held over three days, starting on April 24,
meaning they will most likely overshadow the Armenian commemorations.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to remember
what it called the "centenary of the Armenian genocide".

The facts remain hotly contested by Turkish and Armenian historians.

Turks say the empire was fighting what proved to be a mortal threat
to its existence, in which hundreds of thousands died on either side.

Ilhan Palalı, a historian of the period at Sanliurfa University said
that Armenians had also exaggerated the number of dead, which he put
at 300,000, rather than the figure of 1.5 million often given.

"This action was not a planned genocide, but merely the defensive
action of a country that was about to be extinct from history,"
he said.

Sanliurfa was the scene of repeated massacres, including one of the
best-remembered of the 1895 killings, when up to 3,000 Armenians
seeking refuge in the town's St John the Baptist Cathedral died when
it was burned to the ground around them.

The town is now entirely muslim, and the church, after falling into
disrepair, was rebuilt in 1993 as a mosque named after the Crusader-era
Sultan, Saladin. There is no memorial to the Armenian Christians who
died there, and the mosque's imam said he had no knowledge of its
earlier history.

There has been more freedom in recent years for the Armenians to
press their case inside Turkey. The Turkish authorities say that the
insistence on calling what happened a genocide by European nations -
excluding Britain, which still does not use the term - is hindering

One Armenian community leader, Ergun Ayık, said Mr Erdogan's harsh
response to the European vote was to save the "prestige" of the
Turkish government rather than because he feared any real consequences.

The European vote certainly united the normally bitterly hostile
main Turkish parties - the main liberal opposition, the CHP, called
for a joint statement of protest, while the right-wing, nationalist
MHP said there was a "campaign of slander" against Turkey from those
looking at history "through a crusader lens".

As for the question of whether what happened was a genocide, Mr Ayık,
whose father was a baby in 1915 and survived with his mother and
grandmother, but lost 97 members of his family, said: "I don't have
uncles, I don't have a grandfather.

"If everything is as the government says, why are there no Armenians
here any more?" ends 

The Economist
April 16 2015

NOTHING inflames the present like the past. When Pope Francis said
on April 12th that the "first genocide" of the 20th century was of
the Armenians in 1915, Turkey angrily recalled its ambassador to the
Vatican. Far from being resolved, the argument over exactly what to
call the death of as many as 1m-1.5m Armenian citizens of the Ottoman
empire still spreads hatred. This fight does nothing for Turks and
Armenians--nor for the century-old memory of the victims.

At issue is not the terrible fate that befell the Armenians of eastern
Anatolia, in massacres, forced labour and death marches towards the
Syrian desert. It is whether to use the word "genocide". Historians
differ, not just Armenians and Turks, on whether extermination was
a side-effect or the intention, as genocide requires. As America's
president, Barack Obama has talked only of the Meds Yeghern ("great
crime" in Armenian), despite promising the Armenian lobby as a
candidate to call it genocide. Yet, on the face of it, the facts
support Pope Francis, not least because Raphael Lemkin, the Polish
lawyer who coined the word in 1943, cited the Armenian case.

By treating the dispute as a matter of vital national interest, the
Turkish government is falling into a tionalistic trap. Instead
it should admit past sins. Like other European powers, including
Britain, Germany and Russia, it has plenty to acknowledge. Turkey
has in the past mistreated, deported or killed not only Armenians but
also Assyrians, Greeks and Kurds. But it also has reasons for pride,
for the Ottoman empire was, for example, often more tolerant of its
ethnic minorities, including Jews, than the rest of Europe was.

Today's Turkish government can also boast of improvements in its
treatment of minorities. As Turkey's president and founder of the
Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party that forms its government,
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has distanced himself from the narrow secular
nationalism of Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's founder. He is
tantalisingly close to making peace with the Kurds, the country's
biggest minority, a goal that has eluded all his predecessors. And
last year he bravely offered condolences, if not an apology, to the
grandchildren of the Armenian victims of 1915 (see article).

Yet of late, Mr Erdogan has taken on an angrier, more nationalistic,
Islamist and autocratic tone. This is making it harder for him not
just to get on with his neighbours but also to preserve Turkey's
pro-Western credentials as a bulwark of NATO and prospective member
of the European Union. That is why Turkish twitchiness over what
happened in 1915 is so counter-productive. Better would be to try,
once again, to repair relations with the Armenians.

Fence-mending in Anatolia

After a bout of "football diplomacy" in 2008-09 Turkey and Armenia
signed protocols that would have allowed their border to be reopened.

But the protocols were never ratified, not because of the genocide
row, but because the Turks insisted as a condition on the resolution
of the frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey's ally,
over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet the best chance
of solving Nagorno-Karabakh would be better relations--and an open
border--between Turkey and Armenia, which otherwise feels hemmed in
and dependent on the dubious prop of Russian support.

For ordinary Armenians, the most promising idea for marking the 100th
anniversary of the terrible events of 1915 would be to regain direct
access to their sacred mountain of Ararat and to their ancient capital
of Ani, both of which are now blocked off in Turkey. For Turkey, too,
the best memorial would be improved relations with Armenia.

The Economist
April 16 2015

As the centenary of the Ottoman empire's slaughter of the Armenians
approaches, the truth is still contested

"ON ALL the roads we traversed between Yozgat and Kayseri, about
80 per cent of the Muslims we encountered (there were no Christians
left in these parts) were wearing European clothes, bearing on their
persons proof of the crimes that they had committed. Barefoot peasant
boys wore formal clothes; men sported gold chains and watches." Thus
wrote Grigoris Balakian, an Armenian Orthodox priest who witnessed
the aftermath of the mass slaughter of his ethnic brethren by Ottoman
forces in 1915-16. On April 24th 1915, scores of Armenian intellectuals
were rounded up in Istanbul and most were later murdered. But as the
centenary approaches, what followed is still bitterly contested.

Turkey claims that around 500,000 Armenians died of hunger and disease
en route to the Syrian desert. They were being deported, it says,
because Armenian revolutionaries were siding with Russia against the
Ottomans during the first world war. Survivors and their scattered
descendants put the toll as high as 1.5m, insist the deaths were
largely intentional rather than a regrettable side-effect, and want
the events recognised as genocide. A growing number of academics and
governments agree and use the term. But Turkey is mounting a vigorous
counter-campaign. "I refuse to let my forefathers be equated with
Hitler," fumes a Turkish diplomat.

Disagreeing with the official version can be interpreted as a crime
in Turkey, and brings other risks, too. Hrant Dink, an intrepid
Turkish newspaper editor of Armenian extraction, was shot dead by
a nationalist teenager in 2007 after revealing that Sabiha Gokcen,
the adopted daughter of Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's founder, was an
Armenian who had been orphaned during the genocide. There is mounting
evidence that rogue security officials orchestrated his killing.

The particular power in labelling an atrocity "genocide"

The crime proved a surprising turning point. Over 100,000 people,
many of whom had probably never heard of Mr Dink before, attended
his funeral. The wall of denial began to collapse. Books cataloguing
the horrors endured by the Armenians, such as "Black Dog of Fate"
by Peter Balakian, Grigoris Balakian's great-nephew, are now
available in Turkish. The government has begun, albeit slowly, to
hand back confiscated Armenian church properties. A year ago Recep
Tayyip Erdogan, the president, became the first Turkish leader to
acknowledge Armenian suffering under the Ottoman empire when he offered
condolences. Three big political parties, including Mr Erdogan's own
Justice and Development party (AK), are fielding Armenian candidates
for winnable seats in the election on June 7th, a first.

Turkey's Kurdish leaders have formally apologised for their people's
role in the massacres. In the Kurdish-dominated province of Diyarbakir,
where Armenians once made up almost half the population, the district
of Sur is offering free Armenian lessons. In the neighbouring province
of Sirnak, some "hidden Armenians", whose ancestors converted to Islam
to avoid being killed, celebrated Easter this year with other locals,
both Christians and Muslims.

Both in Armenia, where nearly half the population is descended from
Ottoman Armenians, and in the diaspora, long-nursed grievances are
beginning to give way to curiosity about the "old country". Hundreds
are coming to Istanbul and Diyarbakir for commemorative events around
the centenary. Khatchig Mouradian, an ethnic Armenian born in Lebanon
who now lives in America, organises "pilgrimages" for far-flung
Armenians to "Western Armenia" (their name for eastern Turkey). Armed
with long-guarded hand-drawn maps, they seek out their ancestors'
homes and pray at ruined monasteries for their souls.

Not even past

But the thaw goes only so far. In previous years Turkey has
commemorated the allied landings at Gallipoli in 1915 on April 25th.

This year it is shifting events to April 24th, some say to distract
from the centenary of the Armenian massacres. An art installation
planned in Geneva to mark the Armenian centenary has been blocked by
the Swiss government--because of Turkish pressure, insiders say.

In Syria, Turkey is accused of standing by or even helping Islamist
rebels to take cities including Kobane and the mainly Armenian border
town of Kassab, which fell last March. Kassab has since come back
under the control of Bashar Assad's regime, allowing residents to
return. But the episode revived bitter memories of the final spasm
of violence in 1916, when tens of thousands of Armenians camped in
the desert province of Deir ez-Zor were slaughtered. It will take
more than condolences to heal such deep wounds.
17 Apr 2015
Siranush Ghazanchyan

Turkey has never accepted the term genocide, even though historians
have demolished its denial of responsibility for up to 1.5 million

What's the story?

On 24 April, Armenians in Yerevan and around the world will mark the
centenary of the genocide of 1915. That is the date when Ottoman
authorities began arresting the leaders of the 2 million-strong
minority Christian community. It is widely accepted that 1 million
to 1.5 million Armenians died in the ensuing years until 1922, though
there are no indisputable figures.

The Turkish government has never accepted the term genocide. It
recognises killings that occurred in wartime but denies Armenians were
systematically targeted and emphasises their links with enemy Russia
as well as Armenian attacks on Muslims. Modern historical research
has demolished the Turkish case, establishing intent, organisation
and responsibility.

Turkey's position has softened in recent times. In 2014 Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, now president, described the killings as "inhumane" and sent
condolences to the descendants of the victims. But tempers flared when
Turkey announced it would mark the centenary of the Allied landings
at Gallipoli on 24 April. Critics say the intention was to deflect
attention from and limit attendance by foreign VIPs at the memorial
ceremony in Yerevan.

Armenians and others argue that impunity for the Turks, despite
international outrage at the time, was one of the factors that allowed
Hitler to exterminate the Jews of Europe a quarter of a century later.

How did this happen?

Armenians, an ancient people who converted to Christianity in the 3rd
century AD, were persecuted in Ottoman Turkey in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. There was anger about the way Europe and Russia
had intervened on the Armenians' behalf as the empire lost territory.

Anti-Armenian violence occurred in the 1890s and in 1909.

The wartime mass deportations and killings were orchestrated
by the TeÅ~_kilât-ı Mahsusa (meaning "special organisation"),
which sent coded orders to local governors. Armenians (in eastern,
Russian-controlled Armenia) did fight with the tsarist forces and
some Armenian nationalists helped precipitate the brutal Ottoman
response. But most victims were civilians.

Much of the killing was carried out by Kurdish tribesmen. Many
Armenians died from starvation and thirst on death marches in the
Syrian desert. Rape, torture and other atrocities were common.

Children, especially girls, were abducted and forcibly converted to
Islam. Property was expropriated and churches destroyed.

The US was neutral at the time and its diplomats, as well as American
and other Christian missionaries, witnessed and documented the
killings. Washington condemned "crimes against humanity" - the first
time that now common expression was used.

The Armenian republic that emerged at the end of the first world war
represented only a small part of historic Armenia. It was briefly
independent before becoming part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when
it regained its independence. Turkish (western) Armenia disappeared
from the maps.

Awareness of the genocide grew because of the focus on the Nazi
Holocaust in the US and Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. Access to
Ottoman archives has allowed scholars, Turkish and other, to deepen
understanding of what happened. Experts argue that, if there is
hope for change, it will come from shifting attitudes inside Turkey,
not from Armenian or international pressure on Ankara.

What are the issues?

Recognition and denial

Armenians demand Turkish recognition of the genocide, though the UN
genocide convention of 1948 is not applicable retroactively. Of the
22 countries that have formally recognised it, the most important are
Russia and France. The US employed the term under President Ronald
Reagan but has retreated since in the face of anger from Turkey,
a Nato ally. Barack Obama uses the term Meds Yeghern - Armenian for
"great calamity" - akin to the Hebrew word shoah for holocaust. But
he will not use the G-word.

Britain adopts a similar position, condemning the massacres but
arguing that the Armenian case has not been legally tested. Still,
along with statements by the pope and the UN, national legislation
criminalising genocide denial, and recognition by nearly all US
states and many parliaments - including the European parliament -
a quarter of the world in effect recognises the genocide. Outright
denial is rare except in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenian-Turkish relationship

The genocide issue hangs heavily over bilateral relations. Armenians
say recognition is about their security, not only history and justice.

Turkey closed the border with Armenia in 1993 because of unresolved
conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan with an ethnic
Armenian majority, in which Ankara and Yerevan are on opposing sides.

Armenia has tried pragmatically to improve relations and achieve
reconciliation without setting preconditions, even on genocide. A
draft Swiss-brokered agreement in 2009 was never ratified because of
Turkish demands for movement on Nagorno-Karabkh. Thus two difficult
issues have become intertwined. The result is deadlock.

Change in Turkey

Attitudes to the Armenian question have changed in Turkey in recent
years, with liberal intellectuals questioning official narratives and
recognising the genocide. Many books have appeared on the subject,
which is researched and taught in universities. Reconciliation
ceremonies have been held in formerly Armenian areas with Kurds
whose ancestors slaughtered their Christian neighbours. Some Armenian
churches have been restored.

There is also growing recognition of the existence of many thousands
of "Islamised" Armenians, descendants of the survivors. Prosecutions
for "denigrating Turkishness" have diminished. Despite conciliatory
messages such as Erdogan's last year, Ankara refuses to apologise or,
crucially, to budge on the genocide question. Still, the Turkish thaw,
argues expert Thomas De Waal "is the only good news in this bleak
historical tale".

Armenian diaspora

Up to 10 million Armenians live outside Armenia, concentrated in
Russia, the US and France.

Many are direct descendants of genocide victims. Diaspora organisations
tend to be more militant than the republic itself on this question and
are suspicious of moves towards normalisation with Turkey. The two main
organisations in the US have made recognition their raison d'etre. This
helps them preserve a collective identity and resist assimilation.

A recent pan-Armenian declaration focusing on the genocide was
criticised by Levon Ter-Petrossian, the country's former president,
reflecting the view that Armenia needs to focus on its current problems
and not be obsessed by a painful past.

Where can I find out more?

Peter Balakian's The Burning Tigris is a readable account emphasising
US testimony. For forensic research by a Turkish historian, try Taner
Akcam's A Shameful Act. In An Inconvenient Genocide, the British lawyer
Geoffrey Robertson makes the human rights case. The wider background
of the first world war has been recently retold in The Fall of the
Ottomans by Eugene Rogan. Other accounts include Thomas de Waal'sGreat
Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide and Vicken
Cheterian's Open Wounds: Essays on Armenians, Turks and a Century of
Genocide. The website of the Gomidas Institutefocuses on historical
documentation about the genocide and current campaigns. 
April 17, 2015 10:30

Mediamax presents 100 Seconds project devoted to Armenian Genocide
Centennial. The project is based on testimonies of Genocide survivors
published by the National Archive of Armenia.

Donald Bloxham is a Professor of Modern History, Edinburgh, 
Editor of the Journal of Holocaust Education.

For 100 seconds project he reads an extract from Armenian Genocide
survivor Ruben Vardanian's testimony.

National Archives of
Armenia Collection of Documents

Testimony of survivor Ruben Vardanian on the Massacre of the village
of Goms in Mush district of Mush province

At the end of Easter 10 to 15 policemen came to our village. They told
us that the government wanted us all. In the morning, they surrounded
the village and some of them broke in, gathered everyone, women and
children and drove them out. They shot those who tried to flee. Two
people were killed there. After starting off, the policemen killed
another four people who tried to flee. They also caught a man and
cut off his head with a sword.

After walking for some time we were returned back to our village which
was full of people from other villages. Turks from the town had come
who selected beautiful women and girls and took them away. Our friend
Rasul came, selected my mother, my three brothers and me and took us
to Baghesh to keep in his house. We stayed there for a month. Once
I went to our village with the Turkish children to look for food and
goods. All the houses in our village were destroyed; the wooden parts
were taken away. There were corpses in the church, around it and in
the yard; the Turks counted 80 corpses of women and children.

Producer: Ara Tadevosyan Filming: Peter Ross Post Production: Tumo LLC

The source of Ruben Vardanian's testimony: National Archives of
Armenia, Armenian Genocide by Ottoman Turkey, 1915, Testimony of
survivors, Collection of documents, Yerevan-2013.

VivaCell-MTS is the general partner of 100 seconds project. 
April 17, 2015
David Gardner

Personal testimony and scholarly research leave no doubt that the
Ottoman-orchestrated massacre of Armenians that began 100 years ago
this month was genocide ©AFP

Released by the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan, this 1915 picture
shows soldiers surveying the skulls of victims in an Armenian village

'They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else': A History of the
Armenian Genocide, by Ronald Grigor Suny, Princeton University Press,
RRP£24.95 / RRP$35, 520 pages

Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide, by
Thomas de Waal, Oxford University Press, RRP£20 / RRP$29.95, 312 pages

Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, by Karnig
Panian,Stanford University Press, RRP$25, 216 pages

Pope Francis caused a diplomatic uproar in Turkey this week when he
called the massacre of the Ottoman Armenians of Anatolia a century ago
genocide. Even if the term had not been invented when most of the mass
killings took place in 1915-16, and was to be legally defined only in
the 1948 UN convention on genocide, he was stating a fact. Thoroughly
an array of documented accounts over the past two decades, by Turks,
Armenians and western historians, have placed the nature of those
atrocities beyond the questioning of the modern Turkish republican

Essentially, that denialist story holds that massacres did, indeed,
take place, but in the context of total war -- the first world war --
that also killed many hundreds of thousands of Muslims when the Ottoman
Empire, allied with Germany and assailed by the main Entente powers of
Britain, France and Russia, was fighting for its life. It lost that
fight, and the republic of Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, was built from
its residual Turkic core, in an Anatolia almost entirely emptied of
Armenians, as well as Assyrian Christians and Ottoman Greeks.

Up to 1.5m Ottoman Armenians perished. They were then largely erased
from official history and Kemalist Turkey's school textbooks, an
enforced amnesia strengthened by a wall of silence from reputed
Ottomanist scholars. The infamous remark attributed to Adolf Hitler
on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 -- "Who, after all,
still talks nowadays about the extermination of the Armenians?" --
should remind us of the colossal cost of amnesia about genocide.

Only in recent years, especially following the rise to power of
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his neo-Islamist Justice and Development
party (AKP), has there been a fuller debate inside Turkey about what
happened. Yet the way Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish foreign minister,
attacked the Pope's "unfounded allegations" shows how far Turkey is
from a full reckoning with what befell the Armenians 100 years ago.

Last April, on the eve of the anniversary of the government
deportations in 1915 that began the systemic massacres, then prime
minister and now president Erdogan, in a hedged but nonetheless
unprecedented statement, offered his condolences for the mass murder,
speaking of the "shared pain" of "millions of people of all religions
and ethnicities [who] lost their lives in the first world war". Yet
the messaging is mixed. This year Turkey has chosen to mark the
centenary of the allied landings in Gallipoli -- a battle Mustafa
Kemal was instrumental in winning -- on the same date, April 24,
as the remembrance of the Armenian genocide.

One can now find books in Turkey analysing these terrible events as
a genocide but no official recognition that this was what it was.

Erdogan's offer to open Ottoman archives to a panel of international
scholars to determine the truth of what happened is superfluous in
light of scholarship there for all to see.

The three newly published, and very different, books discussed here --
and many previous works besides -- can leave no one with a scintilla
of doubt that what was done to the Ottoman Armenians (and the Assyrian
Christians of eastern Anatolia) was genocide. They were annihilated,
and the merciless drive against the Armenians was centrally directed
by the Ottoman government under the Committee of Union and Progress
(CUP) or Young Turks. One man in particular, Talat Pasha, minister
of the interior, later grand vizier, and one of the CUP triumvirate
along with Enver Pasha and Cemal Pasha that ruled the empire at the
time, oversaw the process in chilling detail, demanding by telegraph
almost daily tallies from his provincial enforcers.

So rapidly did most of them obey that, by August 1915, Talat felt
able to tell Henry Morgenthau, the US ambassador who forged a close
relationship with both Talat and Enver and is a key witness in all
serious histories of the killings, that "it is no use for you to
argue .â~@~I.â~@~I.â~@~Iwe have already disposed of three-quarters
of the Armenians; there are none at all left in Bitlis, Van, and
Erzeroum. The hatred between the Turks and the Armenians is now so
intense that we have got to finish with them. If we don't, they will
plan their revenge."

These lines, in the history by Ronald Grigor Suny, an Armenian-American
professor at the University of Michigan and great-grandson of
genocide victims, have been often quoted. But what distinguishes
Suny's scholarship is a scrupulous attention to context and the
genuine imperial anxiety of the Young Turks. They Can Live in the
Desert but Nowhere Else (a title taken from another Talat diktat)
is a fair-minded account. Unsparing in depicting the viciousness
of the killing, forced conversions and kidnapping of children and
young women, it is rigorous in its choice of language and nuance,
generous in its empathy but implacable in its conclusions.

The Armenians lived in what Suny calls "relatively benign symbiosis"
with their imperial masters for more than four centuries after the
Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. Clearly subordinate, they
enjoyed a measure of cultural and religious autonomy in six eastern
provinces of Anatolia where they were most numerous, while Armenian
businessmen and professionals thrived in Istanbul and west coast
cities. Armenian nationalism was confined mostly to the diaspora,
in Venice, Vienna or Madras.

The Young Turks, with the conspiratorial CUP at their core and a
strong base in the army, were originally Europeanist modernisers
who at times allied with like-minded Armenians. Centred on Salonika
in what is now Greece, they took power cumulatively from 1908 in an
attempt to save the crumbling Ottoman Empire. In the Balkan wars of
1912-13 they lost the European heartland of their empire. They threw
in their lot with Germany, a gamble to safeguard their territory from
the predatory European empires, especially an expansionist Russia.

They suffered the humiliation in 1914 of the future Entente imposing
reforms that would have established European stewards of Armenian
rights in eastern Anatolia. In the CUP mind, Suny shows, this confirmed
a treacherous nexus between the imperial powers and Ottoman Christian
minorities. When war came, Enver Pasha's Third Army was routed by
the Russians at SarikamiÅ~_ in the Caucasus in 1915, and soon after
the Gallipoli landings threatened an Istanbul in panic.

This grim outlook, plus the need to find space for Muslim refugees
pushed into Anatolia as the empire lost its European territory,
is part of the rationale for its Armenian policy, but, as both Suny
and Thomas de Waal show -- the latter in his measured and meticulous
Great Catastrophe -- it is hardly the only part. After serial Ottoman
failures, Young Turk ideology, inchoate but influenced by European
nationalism, evolved away from multicultural Ottomanism into national
imperialism, which upgraded the value of ethnic homogeneity and
Muslim solidarity.

Talat's and Enver's arguments that the Armenians allied with the
Russians to stab the empire in its eastern back does not bear
real examination -- despite the hopes of some Armenians, and the
reckless incitement of the European powers. Most Armenians, wary
of Russification as well as Turkification, remained loyal, to the
point they could not imagine what they faced, despite pogroms against
them in 1894-96 and 1909. The fifth-column paranoia or "provocation
thesis", as Suny calls it, was largely fabricated. As Suny shows,
the most celebrated acts of Armenian resistance, notably at Van,
which was portrayed as a generalised insurrection, occurred after
massacres had begun.

"The Young Turk leaders did face threats to their security, but out
of the options they had at their disposal, they came to choose mass
murder," argues De Waal. A scholar of Russia and the Caucasus, he
focuses on the relations between Turks and Armenians in the century
after the Medz Yeghern or Great Catastrophe, the traditional term
Armenians used for 1915. He wonders whether denialists have an interest
in confining the controversy over the atrocities to the semantics
of the word "genocide", and whether a convention on "crimes against
humanity" -- words used in an Entente démarche in that fateful spring
of 1915 -- might not bring more mass murderers to justice.

Talat Pasha oversaw the process in chilling detail, demanding almost
daily tallies from his enforcers Tweet this quote

The late Karnig Panian's memoir begins in what he calls "our little
corner of the universe", where his grandfather owned bountiful cherry
orchards -- a Garden of Eden in which he recalls an uncle warning of
the spectre of Cain and Abel, well before the deportations began. As
a five-year-old boy, Panian endured a forced march from his native
east-central Anatolia to the Syrian Desert that wiped out his family.

He was then placed in an orphanage at Antoura in Lebanon, which
systemically brutalised its Armenian charges to turn those who survived
into Turks.

Panian's recollection of the heat and hunger, the thirst and the
constant menace of predatory bands licensed by the government to
massacre those Armenians who didn't die on the road, is unbearably
vivid. But nor does it omit the compassion and kindness of some
ordinary Turks, Kurds and Arabs, typically in the form of food
and water.

At Antoura, the boys were given Turkic Muslim names -- and a number. A
few older boys became whip-wielding trusties, grotesquely bearing the
names of the CUP triumvirs who had exterminated their people. "We were
all humiliated, reminded that being Armenian was a punishable crime,"
Panian writes. Despite it all, most of them clung desperately on to
their identities.

The most uplifting section of this harrowing but luminous story of
witness is when more audacious boys organise to steal fruit from
neighbouring farms. Panian's group flees the orphanage to live in
caves in the Lebanese hills. "It was a beautiful place to call home,
even if we were living like animals," he writes. "We were like birds,
satisfying ourselves with the bounty of nature and asking for nothing
more." The hero of the tale is Yusuf, a resourceful lad who turned the
raiding parties into a self-sufficient little army. "We had created our
own little family of boys, without mothers or fathers. The wilderness
was our school, and Yusuf our guide."

This searing account of a little boy wrenched from family and innocence
manages to retrieve irrepressible flashes of great humanity amid the
horror and chaos. It is a literary gem.

David Gardner is international affairs editor at the FT 

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