Over 900,000 vanish from records: A devastating document is met with silence in Turkey

By Sabrina Tavernise Published: March 9, 2009
ISTANBUL: For Turkey, the number should have been a bombshell.

According to a long-hidden document that belonged to the interior minister of the Ottoman Empire, 972,000 Ottoman Armenians disappeared from official population records from 1915 through 1916.

In Turkey, any discussion of what happened to the Ottoman Armenians can bring a storm of public outrage. But since its publication in a book in January, the number – and its Ottoman source – has gone virtually unmentioned. Newspapers hardly wrote about it. Television shows have not discussed it.

“Nothing,” said Murat Bardakci, the Turkish author and columnist who compiled the book.

The silence can mean only one thing, he said: “My numbers are too high for ordinary people. Maybe people aren’t ready to talk about it yet.”

(HH here: That has to be the understatement of the century. As Durban II ramps up its ugly head surely the Turkish Muslims have no room i their brains for this concept.)

For generations, most Turks knew nothing of the details of the Armenian genocide from 1915 to 1918, when more than a million Armenians were killed as the Ottoman Turk government purged the population.

Turkey locked the ugliest parts of its past out of sight, Soviet-style, keeping any mention of the events out of schoolbooks and official narratives in an aggressive campaign of forgetting.

But in the past 10 years, as civil society has flourished here, some parts of Turkish society are now openly questioning the state’s version of events. In December, a group of intellectuals circulated a petition that apologized for the denial of the massacres. Some 29,000 people have signed it.

With his book, “The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha,” Bardakci (pronounced bard-AK-chuh) has become, rather unwillingly, part of this ferment. The book is a collection of documents and records that once belonged to Mehmed Talat, known as Talat Pasha, the primary architect of the Armenian deportations.

The documents, given to Bardakci by Talat’s widow, Hayriye, before she died in 1983, include lists of population figures. Before 1915, 1,256,000 Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, according to the documents. The number plunged to 284,157 two years later, Bardakci said.

To the untrained ear, it is simply a sad statistic. But anyone familiar with the issue knows the numbers are in fierce dispute.

Turkey has never acknowledged a specific number of deportees or deaths. On Sunday, the Turkish foreign minister, Ali Babacan, warned that President Barack Obama might set back relations if he recognized the massacre of Armenians as genocide ahead of his visit to Turkey next month.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was bloody, the Turkish argument goes, and those who died were victims of that chaos.

Bardakci subscribes to that view. The figures, he said, do not indicate the number of dead, only the result of the decline in the Armenian population after deportation. He strongly disagrees that the massacres amounted to a genocide, and says that Turkey was obliged to take action against Armenians because they were openly supporting Russia in its war against the Ottoman Empire.

“It was not a Nazi policy or a Holocaust,” he said. “These were very dark times. It was a very difficult decision. But deportation was the outcome of some very bloody events. It was necessary for the government to deport the Armenian population.”

This argument is rejected by most scholars, who believe that the small number of Armenian rebels were not a serious threat to the Ottoman Empire, and that the policy was more the product of the perception that the Armenians, non-Muslims and therefore considered untrustworthy, were a problem population.

Hilmar Kaiser, a historian and expert on the Armenian genocide, said the records published in the book were conclusive proof from the Ottoman authority itself that it had pursued a calculated policy to eliminate the Armenians. “You have suddenly on one page confirmation of the numbers,” he said. “It was like someone hit you over the head with a club.”

Kaiser said the before-and-after figures amounted to “a death record.”

“There is no other way of viewing this document,” he said. “You can’t just hide a million people.”

Other scholars said that the number is a useful addition to the historical record but that it does not introduce a new version of events.

“This corroborates what we already knew,” said Donald Bloxham, the author of “The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians.”

Bardakci is a history buff who learned to read and write Ottoman script from his grandmother, allowing him to navigate Turkey’s written past, something that most Turks are unable to do. He plays the tanbur, a traditional string instrument. His grandfather was a member of the same political party as Talat, and his family knew many of the important political figures in Turkey’s founding.

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Doth we protest too much?: a Muslim voice

(HH here: I was perusing the AtlMuslim site today. Most of the articles are smoothly spun anti-West Pro-Islamist softsoap. Here and there are interesting glimpses into the mind of the supremacist Muslim. Occasionally there is reasonable argument and analysis. This article is one example.

I think the author has about as much chance of changing the course of the Islamist movements as a “moderate” Nazi would have had in changing the party in 1939 but I applaud the effort.

Frankly I think that if large numbers of Muslims actually put things to reason as much as this author wants the “movement’ would LOSE people to blossoming compasion and tolerance.

But Anyway, even in this piece you see the spin of supremacist. The Jews are “oppressing an indigenous people” Not only does that stretch to the limit the term indigenous but it forgets that a significant percentage of the JEWISH population there also must be then considered “indigenous”. And let us not forget the hundreds of thousands of displaced JEWS from Muslim lands who were expelled in ’48. (as opposed to most of the Muslims who left of their own free will to be out of the way of the Muslim Vengence army. Don’t believe it? Look at quotes from ARAB leaders as late at 1964!!!)

No matter how much you stretch the supremacist mind it remains supremacist in thought until it finally shatters in it’s own hypocrisy and the person is no longer a tool of an ideology. So I have hope for the author even while I don’t expect many radical Muslims to listen to him.

In fact I would not be surprised to find that by saying that Islam had no lock on moral behaviour Superior to that of any other religion the author would be considered an apostate.)

By Ayman Fadel, January 15, 2009

In many Gaza demonstrations, the use of inflammatory rhetoric – such as the words “Nazi” and “Holocaust” – does not advance our objectives at all. Instead, it causes observers to doubt the marchers’ rationality.

On January 10, 2009, I attended a protest in Atlanta, Georgia titled “Children March Against Genocide in Palestine.” Overall, the protest was a positive event, …

However, there was a phenomenon in place at this event – something I had witnessed at similar protests in the past – namely some disturbing chants and a few horrifying signs used to express outrage at the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza.

One chant from a person with a bullhorn referred to Israel as a “terrorist state,” while others in the crowd started chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” In ascending order of disapproval features on some of the signs included the use of the words “genocide,” “Holocaust,” “Nazi,” and the swastika symbol. One particularly offensive sign had “Israhell: The Real Racist Nazis” on one side and the Israeli flag on the other, with the Star of David replaced by a light blue swastika.

I approached two people carrying this last sign and asked them if they made it themselves. Each told me no. Instead, each had grabbed the sign from a stack of available signs for marchers to take. I then asked each if he knew what the sign meant. Both said, “No.”

There are symbols that produce the most reptilian, visceral response in people. For Jews worldwide, for victims of Nazi Germany, and for those who fought Nazi Germany (like the United States), the swastika is at the top of this list. Contemporary U.S. and European hate groups vandalize minority religions’ buildings, including mosques, with this symbol. In my mind, the only effect the use of this symbol can possibly have is to provoke the worst reaction in people who see it.

One young woman had a sign equating the Star of David with a swastika, followed by a question mark. I asked her about it, and she told me that she hoped to provoke thought. I did not press the issue with her, but I would ask her if the caricatures of the Messenger Muhammad ﷺ published in the Danish right-wing newspaper Jyllands-Posten “provoked thought.”

The desecration and abuse of these symbols is incompatible with the ethos of a humble believer. The Star of David, despite its appropriation by the state of Israel, remains a symbol of Judaism, which Muslims regard to be a revealed religion in its origin and a source of guidance. Regardless of whether the symbol has any real relationship to God’s Messenger David (Dawud in Arabic) ﷺ, anything tied with a messenger’s name should have some sanctity.

Regarding the chants, the Israeli state does do some terroristic things. But it also has an educational system, a health care system, public transportation, and more, just as Hamas, the Palestine National Authority, Egypt and the United States do (or wish to). In fact, some libertarians would say that every state is a terrorist state. Aside from the fact that the claim is either wrong or a truism, it is an unnecessary claim that does not advance our objectives at all. Instead, it causes people to doubt the marchers’ rationality.

I believe there is a group of demonstrators whose sole purpose is “shifaa’ al-suduur,” an Arabic phrase which I would roughly translate in this context as “blowing off steam.” They feel bad, like all of us, and marching and shouting insulting slogans and carrying provocative signs makes them feel better. Those in this group should indulge the rest of us in our delusion that we can actually improve U.S. policy towards the Palestinians. Indulge us by not undermining us in that work. If you must blow off steam, have a separate direct action. Or travel abroad and fight. Or, better, fast the day and pray at night that Allah ﷻ relieves the Palestinians and forgives us for betraying them. Organizers of these events must make it clear why they want people to come and take measures to prevent or limit behaviors that undermine this purpose.

I quickly learned that the Israeli government is not the only government in the world suppressing indigenous peoples, so I don’t say stupid things like “the Israelis are the worst people in the world” and worse. When I learn that Muslims in Sudan killed hundreds of thousands in Darfur and forced millions to flee their villages for refugee camps, I know that adherents of no single religion have a monopoly on morality (and immorality). When I learn about the Nazi-orchestrated slavery and industrial murder of Jews and others in Europe and the killing of 800,000 in Rwanda in 100 days, I don’t casually use words like “Nazi”, “genocide” and “Holocaust.”

Muslim organizers of these protests against the Israeli war in Gaza should expand their encounters with others through participation in a wide variety of organizations, from women’s rights, social welfare, environment protection and foreign policy advocacy, particularly where Muslims are underrepresented. By framing our issues in a manner consistent with more widely accepted norms, we can avoid ineffective and inaccurate “protesting too much.” By connecting our just causes to those of others, we can improve our effectiveness in advocating for them in the years to come.

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