Historiography and Propaganda of Armenian Genocide
Prof. Dr. Haluk Selvi
Armenian researches in European and American universities today aim at getting the “Armenian Genocide,” that they absolutely accept, recognized by world public opinion.
It is not recently that these political propaganda activities which ignore the historical realities and documents started. A long process within the events of the past century gave birth to this approach. The interesting part is that European and American public opinion came to recognize Armenian claims today due to these instructions and political reasons.
On the other hand, the Armenian diaspora, which has the position of directing the genocide claims, is not satisfied with Turkey being convicted and opened the way for the trial of those who do not believe in the genocide in many countries. Diaspora Armenians achieved to make the denial of the Armenian genocide a crime against humanity as a legal regulation in the legislation of many countries; however, this big mistake has been prevented by international courts.
In Armenian historiography, the struggles by Armenian leaders and guerrillas are shown as heroism, whereas the Ottoman government, which objected to these and had a political identity, is shown as brutal and cruel. This approach was directed by the states which had acted completely as against Turkish governance by the 19th century. Propaganda had a significant role in the activities in this period. The goal of propaganda is to create a general opinion about the issue in the environment it’s meant for, and bring the people to a position where they can act according to this opinion. For this reason, the main addressees of propaganda are the masses. Those going to do propaganda have to very well know the social values, beliefs and rooted traditions and thoughts of the social mass they are going to address and determine how to benefit from these. When the goal and target of propaganda is defined like this, it is possible to say that Armenians found this environment ready in Europe and America. The public opinion of Europe and the United States of America always dealt with the fights of Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians happening in the Ottoman Empire from the beginning of the 19th century as wars of freedom with the spirit of Christianity.
The Armenian revolution organizations highly took advantage of the convenient environment in Europe and the USA for them to propagate. When missionaries working in different regions of the Ottoman Empire and the institutions in their own countries are added to these activities, the activities gave results in a very short time. During the propaganda activities, media organs were used very effectively in creating public opinion.
The Historical Process and Sources
The foundation of the historiography about the Armenian genocide stretches to the events taking place in various provinces of the Ottoman Empire between the years 1894-1896, the Adana events of 1909, and the 1915 deportations. Since 1894, Armenian historians, by always following the same method, have claimed that the Ottoman Empire followed a policy of massacres on them and this took the shape of genocide with the 1915 deportations. These historians choose their sources either as the writings of Christian officers in the region during the time of the events or as the words of people who were saved in the events which they claim to be massacres. It is not a common thing for these writers to display a new approach by using a different source apart from these.
The Armenian diaspora, which started to take shape by 1890, in Europe and America constitutes the base for this historical approach as this new formation was shaped more by Dashnaksutyun and Hunchakians. One of the main targets of these organizations was to set the European public opinion in motion against Ottoman Empire also by using Christianity. This propaganda method was used very well in the 1894-1896 events and the 1909 Adana Events; many books were published in Europe and America, news about Armenians and so-called stories of Armenians who were saved in these massacres often appeared in European newspapers. Armenians in America did everything possible to convince American newspapers to write articles in support of them. Some parts of Armenians in New York stated that there are 10,000 Armenians living there and that they will subscribe to those newspapers which support their cause (Armenians in Ottoman Documents, 1988, b. 12, Document No: 111). These attempts were influential. For instance, the newspaper Worcester Daily Spy published an interview with Hunchakian leader Nishan Garabetyan under the title of “Suffering Armenia” on 21 March 1894. While Armenians were said to be educated, wishing to progress and civilized people, Turks were claimed to suppress these people in Anatolia (BOA, Y. MTV, 93/41).
The Hayk newspaper presented the number of deaths as 10,000 by exaggerating the Sason events where 900 Armenians died. Also, they called all Europeans and Americans to intervene in this event (BOA, Y.A HUS. 324/4). Priest Gabrielian, supported and protected by American missionaries, published a book titled The Armenians or the People of Ararat in Philadelphia in 1893. There was information against Ottomans and Islam in the book.
Frederick Davis Greene, who worked as an American missionary for four years in Anatolia published, on the other hand, the book called The Armenian Crisis in Turkey. Greene claimed in his book that Muslims massacred Armenians based on the unsigned letters coming from Anatolia.
Three more books were published in America in 1896. These three works, used as fundamental pieces by researchers later on, were: Priest Edwin M. Bliss, The Armenian Atrocities; A.W. Williams, Bleeding Armenia; Frederic Davis Greene, American Massacresor The Sword of Muhammed (Şimşir, 1985: 106).
While propaganda activities were being done abroad, commemoration meetings on anniversaries of these events were being organized inside the country and “old blooded days!” were remembered. In terms of making an example for this approach, a printed declaration distributed by Dashnakians in Van on 7 August 1906 is interesting. The text also demonstrates the psychological approach of Armenians to the events. The declaration was prepared due to the tenth anniversary of the events and starts with the lines “The Sin is not to us but to the Cursed Enemy / They Exhibited the Signs of the Bloody War.” (BOA, Y. MTV, 289/174).
The only source for a 19th century European to hear from their co-religionists living in Ottoman Empire was daily, weekly or monthly newspapers and magazines and weekly Sunday rituals. When the situation was this the importance of newspapers increased even more. Paralleling the increase in Armenian events between the years 1890-1918, there was an increase in news on the Armenian problem in European public opinion and the letters written to editors and published. In The Times, which was working as the media organ of the British government, 100 of the letters in the part “Letters to the Editor” published between the years 1890-1918 were about Armenians. These letters were sent by those living in Britain such as the administrators of the Armenian charity community, the chairman of the Armenian Patriots Association, administrators of the British-Armenian Friendship Association.
These approaches and instruction lasted until the 1915 events without showing any change. By setting aside the international propaganda dimension of World War I, Armenian historians used the writings of the representatives of the British, the Americans, and other nations who fought against the Ottoman Empire as if they were objective. The First World War was a war where many new approaches in world history emerged. The countries applied various methods to motivate their own people for the war and to benefit from the weakness of the opposite side. They developed new propagandas on national minorities (Renouvin, 1993: 15; Sonyel, 1972: 377-379). Britain, France, and the USA stated that Christian co-religionists in the Ottoman Empire were being killed and that they needed support to be able to encourage their people for the war. The 1915 deportations became an important misuse tool for these activities by them. Numerous books were issued. The most important of these is The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916 by Lord James Bryce published in London in 1916. The book involved letters from missionaries in the provinces, the reports of Armenian migrants and the patriarchate and the writings published in Russian, British, German and USA media organs. The American Ambassador in Istanbul during the years of 1913-1916, Henry Morgenthau, also published a book called Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story in New York in 1918. This book, which was prepared based on the letters coming from Armenians and missionaries, was very popular among Armenians. Morgenthau who put all the responsibility for the deportations on Talat, Enver and Cemal Pashas tried to explain how Turks wiped out innocent and blameless Armenians and abused them.
The British Foreign Ministry also did similar activities during the war. In the book published in London in 1917 with the title of Germany, Turkey and Armenia; A Selection of Documentary Evidence Related to the Armenian Atrocities from German and Other Sources, the writings published in newspapers coming from Van, Muş, Erzincan, Malatya and Zeytun and being sent from the German Mission here were collected. In the appendix part, the events that unnamed officers witnessed were told under the title of “Reports of Muslim Officers.” The book named Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide published in New York in 1993 by Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan, also based on the same method and approach, was constituted of citations from Morgenthau and Bryce.
American media has lots of material on the issue, like European media. Armen Kirokosian collected the writings published in American newspapers and magazines in the indicated dates in his work The Armenian Massacres (1894-1896): U.S Media Testimony published in Detroit in 2004.
Today’s studies also follow the same method and often handle the Armenian genocide using these sources. Dikran H. Boyacian, in his study called Armenia, The Case For a Forgotten Genocide, claims that Armenians were definitely exposed to genocide, the allies did not sacrifice anything for them and Lord Curzon clearly confessed this situation in the Lausanne Conference. Today, three names from Armenian historians and their approach to the Armenian problem are significant. These historians, whose opinions and theses are discussed in international platforms, are Richard G. Hovannisian, Denis Papazian and Vahakn Dadrian. According to these historians, who are professors at renowned universities in the USA, Armenians were definitely exposed to genocide. When we think that these academics are among the administrators of the Armenian Diaspora committees in the USA, it is discussable to what extent their approaches are scientific. Armenian researchers are not able to put forward any historical documents or proof when they are commenting on the issue. Dadrian’s studies are also translated into Turkish and an impact on Turkish public opinion is tried to be created. On the other hand, those who are not related to Armenian history also started writing on the issue. The most significant indicator of this is Yves Ternon, who is a French medical doctor.
A psychological approach to the war period is avoided neither by Armenian researchers nor by European or American researchers. Information gained during special researches started to be among encyclopedic information. In the “Armenian” entry of many encyclopedias published in the UK today, it is recorded that Turks massacred more than one million Armenians and that Armenians are an innocent and suffering nation.
These encyclopedias are indisputably the first sources which the British or other nations would apply to in gaining information about Armenians. Therefore, Armenian historiography and the phenomenon of massacre created during the war are accepted today as if they were put forward with accurate proof. European intellectuals who grew up with this kind of information have already chosen their side in the Turkish-Armenian controversy.
It is seen that literature related to the Armenian genocide has dramatically developed in the last 40 years. The memories of those who are alive generally belong to 1915 and later periods. Stories told to Armenians aroused the feelings of denial/rejection, giving up/submission, reconciliation/rage, anger and revenge. Today’s diaspora Armenians have a grudge against Turks as a second-third generation, much more than their ancestors and they present a structure angry with God. In the Oxford Christianity Wordbook, it is written that, “Armenians have been often exposed to suppression throughout their history and the majority of this nation was massacred by the Turks, in today’s world also Soviets are suppressing them. In the 1915 collective massacre, 1,500,000 Armenians died. This genocide did not end Armenians’ suffering, since 1921 the terror and human rights violation by Soviets have been suppressing Armenians.” An Armenian man of letters wrote: “When we find the God and he offers the paradise to us, we will say ‘no, send us back to the hell, we choose the hell, thanks to you we know there very well, you keep the paradise for Turks’” (Guroian, 1991: 324).
Armenian historians try to demonstrate the similarities between the Armenian genocide and the Jewish genocide with a new strategy. Papazian says that Turks deny that they killed 1.5 million Armenians and they are not punished, though the Nazis were punished (Papazian, 1997).
On the other hand, official numbers show that the number of Armenians living in Anatolia in 1915 was about at utmost, 830,000. The idea of a massacre of 1,500,000 Armenians shown by Armenians to be accurate is confuted by this data. On the contrary, Armenians massacred the same amount of Turks in Anatolia and Caucasia (McCarthy, 1995; Weems, 2002). Even the exaggerated Patriarchate records show the Armenian population as 1,680,000 in 1882 and 1,018,000 in 1912.
As a result of all of these activities, the thing demanded from Turkey is the immediate recognition of the genocide “carried out and proved with accurate proofs!” These approaches inclined to construct history and deceive people do not have anything to do with being scientific and objective. Therefore, Turks are being accused of something they never did and are forced to accept something they did not do. Turks, on the other hand, expect from the public opinion of Europe and the United States of America, who always express to have an objective and free public opinion and scientific understanding, that the mentioned qualifications are performed and history is handled once again as a science.
Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1989), “Genocide As a Problem of Nationaland International Law: The World War I Armenian Case and ıts Contemporary Legal Ramifications”, Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 17, No 2.
Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1993), “The Young –Turk Ittıhadist Conference and the Decision forthe World War I Genocide of the Armenians”, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 7, No: 2.
Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1994), A Review of The Main Feature of TheGenocide”, Journal of Politicaland Military Sociology, Vol. 22, No 1, p. 1-11.
Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1998), “The Convergent Aspects of The Armenian and Jewish Cases of Genocide: Reinterpretation of the Concept of Holocaust, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 3, No 2.
Guroian, Vigen (1991), “Armenian Genocide and Chiristian Existence”, Cross Currents, Fall 91, Vol. 41.
Hovannisian Richard G., The Armenian Genocide in Perspective, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Hovannisian, Richard G. (1967), Armenia Road the Independence, Los Angeles.
Hovannisian, Richard G. (1982), Republic of Armenia, I-II, London.
Hovannisian, Richard G. (1982), The Armenian Image in History and Literature, California.
McCarthy, Justin (1995), Death and Exile, Princeton, New Jersey.
Papazian, Dennis R. (1990), “Nagorno-Karabag: A Case Study in “Perestroika”, Conference of The American Association for the Advencement of Slavic Studies, Washington.
Papazian, Dennis R. (1994), “What Hope is there for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabag?” Knights of Vartan Armenian Research Center Bulletin
Papazian, Dennis R. (1997), Lesson of Amenian Genocide Remains Relevant to All Nations, Detroit.
Papazian, Dennis R. (1997), Why the Armenian Genocide is stil relevent Today?
Papazian, Dennis R., “Armenians”, http://www.umd.umich.edu. (17.01.2001).
Renouvin, Pierre (1993), Birinci Dünya Savaşı, Istanbul.
Robert Melson (1996), “Paradigms of Genocide: The Holocaust, The Armenian Genocide and Contemporary Mass Destructions”, Annuals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 548.
Samuel A. Weems (2002), Armenia, The Great Deception Secrets of a Christian Terrorist State, Dallas.
Sonyel, Salahi R. (1972), “Birinci Dünya Savaşı Günlerinde Türk-Ermeni İlişkileri ve İngiliz Propagandası”, Belleten, LVIII/222, p. 377-379.
Şimşir, Bilal (1985), “Ermeni Propagandasının Amerika Boyutu Üzerine”, Tarih Boyunca Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu İle İlişkileri, Ankara.
Ternon, Yves (1977), Les Armeniens Historie D’un Genocide, Paris.
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