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Posted January 27, 2008 in Armenian genocide
Armenian genocide: the view of the Turkish embassy, 15 January 2004

Several years ago, when my students were studying the Armenian genocide, one of my students was outraged when he learned that the Turkish government was denying that they had any responsibility for the fate of the Armenians and that what happened to the Armenians was a genocide. He decided to write an e-mail (under the name “confused student,” as he wanted to remain anonymous) to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C. The following is the response he received, dated 15 Jan, 2004. The student's letter that elicited this response from the Turkish embassy appears after the Embassy's letter.

To Confused Student,

First and foremost, in response to your e-mail, the following would be pertinent to note: There is no name at the bottom of your page so we do not know who we are corresponding with. With the understanding that you are indeed a genuine student at the school you mention, here are some salient points for the questions you posed.

How many people perished during WWI is not known nor has it been properly documented to date. The figures you allude to are highly contested. The unfortunate fact is that many innocents who were not combatants died as a consequence of the ensuing World War and this is why this war was so terrible for all those whose lives it ruined.

It is true that the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire, who were heavily influenced by the independence movements in the Balkans and elsewhere, conspired to revolt against the Ottoman Empire. With this aim, they sided with the Russian Empire which had designs on the Eastern territories of the Ottoman Empire where Armenians together with other Ottoman citizenry lived and attacked Ottoman forces who were trying to protect the Eastern Borders of the Empire. The Armenian Ottomans even captured the city of Van for a period of time where many atrocities were committed against innocent civilians. Moreover, it is a historic fact that the Ottoman Empire relocated many Ottoman Armenians who were in harm's way or who were siding with the Russian Empire. This was a step to ensure security. It was not a campaign to destroy the Ottoman Armenians in any way as many Armenians in the diaspora would construe it. Sadly, the relocation (not deportation since they were not sent outside of the Empire) did result in the loss of many lives, due, in most part, to the war and the difficulty of providing the necessary conditions for those moving.
So you are right that many more died than the combatants but such is the reality of war.

Morganthau is a source. However, exactly how Morgenthau became interested in the issue and how he was receiving his information and intelligence is highly dubious at best. Many would agree that Morgenthau's book was wartime propaganda to get US public interest in the war so that the US could intervene. Nevertheless, as was mentioned before, it is not contested that a lot of people, predominantly Ottoman Armenians, sadly perished during the relocation because the Empire, which was more or less bankrupt and at the same time being systematically dislocated militarily by all the major European powers, could not provide properly for those who had to be relocated. It is a sad chapter in Ottoman history. Indeed, no country has fond memories of WWI.

To answer your question related to terrorism, there was no systematic murder, or genocide, inflicted on the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, if the simple fact that some deranged people can be successfully brainwashed into perpetaring terrorist acts means that their claims are true, then we would have had to assume that those who attacked the US on 9/11 were also right in their motives. This, very obviously, cannot be true. Sadly, most young Armenians are filled with hate from a young age in the diaspora on this issue and some even resort to violence with the misplaced anger planted in their hearts. ASALA terrorism over the last 40 years has claimed many innocent Turkish and foreign lives. This fact cannot and must not deter us from trying to understand the truth of what happend during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the number of Ottoman Turks who died during this period is also contested. Again, it was a time of war and many many innocents sadly

You have many other allegations in you mail that deserve further scrutiny. Some of the laws you mention were never in place and some have been construed wrongly. But to argue this point with some clarity and come to a genuine judgement, one has to be very well versed in history which we are not. Indeed, historians are evenly divided on many aspects of this issue. So jumping the gun on such matters would not lead us immediately to the truth.

One last point: to create any parallel between the Holocaust and what happened during the last days of the Ottoman Empire is way, way off the mark. Firstly, the Jews of Germany never took up arms against the German Government. Secondly, Germany was not at war when it decided to destroy the Jews and the Jews never conspired with an invading power to dismantle Germany. Thirdly, Hitler had a openly stated goal of exterminating all Jews and had for this purpose set up death camps.
None of this applies to the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians. So in all fairness, even with the limited information available, no serious scholar could or would ever draw a comparison with the Holocaust or any of the genocides perpetrated in history.

In international law, for there to be the crime of genocide an "intent" has to be established. There was no intent to destroy the Ottoman Armenians. Circumstances created a drastic situation which led to a very unfortunate human tragedy. There are still many aspects of what exactly happened that need to be brought to light. This job belongs to historians, not politicians. Once all the facts are out, then the jury can come up with a verdict. But for the moment, this is not possible. Many though use politics to pursue some kind of verdict on this issue. Such attempts only create more hate and tension between Turkish and Armenian peoples.

Having said all of this, one point is very crucial. Whatever happened during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, it has left a deep scar for both Armenians and Turks, admittedly more so for the Armenians. Regardless of what name the events are to be called, until and unless there can be a true reconciliation between the two peoples, who essentially had coexisted peacefully for hundreds of years, there can never be genuine closure for the two peoples and we will continue to haggle about who is right and who is wrong, when all we need to do is move on, cognizant of our history and
the obligation it imposes on us to make sure it never repeats itself.

The original letter from my student:

I am currently studying the Armenian "genocide" in my social studies class. I am a 12th grader at the Boston Latin School, and have become thoroughly confused. I have read accounts from both your embassy website, and also from countless other sources, which seem to conflict at every possible point. I have a few questions I would like addressed, if thats ok.

First, I understand that Armenians were against the Turks during WWI. However, it seems to me that most of them were farmers, and didn't have a lot of access to weapons. Your website claims that 50,000 of the Armenians were volunteers in the Russian army, or resisted in the Caucasus Mountains. How then, do you explain 600,000 deaths? 280,000? 1.6 MILLION? Either way, far more than those in the resistance died.

Additionally, while you have a variety of sources negating Morganthau, the man was very passionate about his belief that the Turks were committing crimes against humanity against the Armenians. Additionally, there are many, many photographs and first hand accounts out there of people who literally starved to death, were murdered, raped, beaten, tortured. there was the march across the Syrian desert, where no camps had been built. What of the children who were taken from their parents and then "Turkishicized"? You think this is the fraudulent Armenians with a vendetta against turkey? i cant agree with that

If this was not a systematic murder of the Armenians, why are so many bent on killing your politicians? is it because they just don't like you? Also, you attempt to weaken the Armenian argument by talking about the 2.5 million Turkish deaths. However, how did those Turks die? Was it in war, or were they murdered by the Young Turks? Was it the Armenians? The Triple Entente? What's the deal?

You also mention a fact about how "Where Ottoman control was strong, Armenians went unharmed. In Istanbul and other major western Anatolian cities, large populations of Armenians remained throughout the war. In these areas Ottoman power was greatest and genocide would have been easiest to carry out. By contrast, during World War II, the Jews of Berlin were killed, their synagogues defiled. The Armenians of Istanbul lived through World War I, their churches open."

As I understand it, you deported many from Constantinople very early on in said "genocide." Also, the treatment of Armenians during WWI seems to fit a pattern common to many other genocides. Why didn't you let them have pets? Why were the intellectuals rounded up? Why were they not allowed to send mail?

Many of those laws fit perfectly with other countries' laws leading up to their own genocides. I think you have some more explaining to do. Could you please answer the questions in this email?

A Confused Student

Category: Armenian genocide