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Turks Died Too

Guest Column
Sevgi Ertan and Cagri A. Savran

The column of Armen Vartanian ’96 [“The Armenian Genocide,” April 27] is not historically accurate with regard to the sufferings of Armenians during the First World War or the historical research surrounding the issue. We would like to begin by outlining what happened in Anatolia during the years of 1915-1924.

The Ottoman Empire was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious empire that at its height spanned from the Danube River in Europe, to North Africa, to as far as the Caucasus and Iraq. In accordance with the laws of the Koran, the rights of all minorities were respected. The Ottomans were the most lenient of all empires concerning its religious minorities. The Ottomans expected the payment of taxes, but otherwise left the religion and cultures of its conquered territories intact. This was, in fact, what made it so easy for minority groups to succeed when the Ottomans became weak. Furthermore, many Christians and Jews achieved high government posts, and during the Spanish persecution of the Jews, the Ottoman Empire became a safe haven for them. Armenians and Turks have lived together peacefully for over 600 years. To quote Voltaire, “The great Turk is governing in peace twenty nations of different religions. Turks have taught to Christians how to be moderate in peace and gentle in victory.”

In the years leading up to World War I, however, the Ottoman Empire grew increasingly weak, and provinces began to secede. When World War I began, the Ottomans sided with the Germans, and the German defeat left the Ottomans in shambles. Under the Treaty of Sevres, the Allies conspired to use the nationalist tendencies within the Ottoman Empire to destroy it. Under Sevres, the Turkish people would have no nation, and Anatolia would be colonized by Europe. Thus, the Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire, including the Armenians, were encourage to rebel, and were given ample support to do so. Vartanian’s assertion that Armenians were unarmed is a joke.

Armenians joined with the Russian forces, and grouped into guerrilla bands. They began attacking the Turkish Army in the rear, and even before the Russo-Armenian forces arrived, they succeeded in capturing Van, massacred its entire Muslim population, and razed the entire city. They then proceeded to “soften up” the area, and in the process killed thousands of Turks and Kurds. There was a massive flow of refugees into Central Anatolia, who survived under extremely harsh conditions.

At this point, the Ottoman Government faced severe problems. The Army was being attacked by Russo-Armenian forces in the North and Armenian guerrillas in the South. On the other hand, there were the many Armenian communities who appeared uninvolved in the fighting, but in fact were providing food, shelter and new recruits to the guerrillas. The Muslim populations were beginning to react in kind, and the region was rapidly falling into full-fledged inter-communal warfare.

After much hesitation, the Ottomans decided to relocate the Armenian communities to Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which at that time were still Ottoman provinces. Ottoman archives chronicling this decision show that this decision was not punitive, and that Ottoman soldiers were ordered to escort the Armenians and protect them from any vigilantes. As it turned out, though, this decree had tragic consequences, not just due to the warfare in the region, but due to disease, harsh weather, exposure and hunger. However, a few facts should be noted. First, most Armenian casualties occurred in regions where Ottoman control was the weakest. Secondly, a great many Turks and other Muslims also died from the same causes.

When the Ottoman Army returned to the north, the onset of the Russian Revolution forced the retreat of the Russo-Armenian forces to what is currently Armenia. During this retreat, many atrocities were committed against Turks and Kurds, including the burning of mosques full of women, children, and old men, gouging eyes, and burying people alive.

At the close of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was no more. The Ottoman Sultan fled Istanbul on a British ship, and Turkish people were left to fend for themselves against the invasion of the British, French, Australian, Italian, Russian, Greek, and Armenian forces. The Turks fight for independence raged on for several years under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Many more Turkish people died in this struggle, not just from war, but from hunger and disease. There is not one single Turk alive today who did not lose relatives during the Independence War. The Independence War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which the modern day borders of Turkey were recognized, and the Allies abandoned all claims on Anatolia.

Thus, there was neither any planned execution of Armenians, nor such an intention.

Demographic studies by Professor Justin McCarthy show that roughly 600,000 Armenians died during the struggles as compared to almost 3 million Muslim deaths. Vartanian claims that 1.5 million Armenians were killed -- however, according to census figures of the British as well as the Ottomans, there were never more than 1.3 million Armenians in Anatolia. Additionally, Vartanian refers to U.S. Ambassador Morgenthau. It should be noted though that Morgenthau was a racist, who believed that Turks were an inferior race and openly printed that Turks had “inferior blood.” One cannot expect accurate reporting from such a biased man, yet it is his reports on which much of the Armenian accounts are based on. Vartanian also refers to a remark by Adolf Hitler, as though somehow the psychotic ravings of a man known for exterminating the Jews can be relied on for accurate history.

He also asserts that “claims against the Armenians are purely anecdotal.” I highly doubt that the mass of evidence can be referred to as anecdotal: there are eyewitness accounts of Russian soldiers, demographic evidence, reports from Allied soldiers, photographic evidence, as well as testimonies from the Turkish refugees. Seventy American scholars -- including Prof. McCarthy of the University of Louisville, Prof. Bernard Lewis of Princeton, and Prof. Sandford Shaw of the University of California at Los Angeles -- testified in 1988 in front of the House International Committee that there was no genocide of Armenians. The Clinton Administration continues to back the Turkish people on this issue, because it knows the truth: there was no Armenian genocide.

Sevgi Ertan is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Cagri A. Savran is a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.