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Book Reviews

Published: 06-20-2008

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. The Armenian File; Leon Picon
  2. Death and Exile; Daniel Pipes and Booknews
  3. Great Game of Genocide, The Armenian Massacres; N. Stone
  4. The Armenian Massacres; Ed Erickson
  5. The Armenian Rebellion at Van; Ed Erickson


THE ARMENIAN FILE Reviewed by Dr. Leon Picon

THE ARMENIAN FILE

THE MYTH OF INNOCENCE EXPOSED

by Kamuran Gurun

One of the most eye-opening and reliably informative books regarding the false Armenian Genocide on record. Too bad it's not written by a Westerner, in case there are those of you who believe (justifiably) a writer's origin can determine his or her bias. However, there are more than enough excerpts taken from Western sources to set your minds at ease.

"We can easily state that propaganda is one of the weakest points of the Turks." [Gurun, File, p. 36]

With this simple, declarative sentence political scientist and former Ambassador Kamuran Gurun introduces us to one of the most concise but informative exposes ever written of the seldom-discussed, insidious role of the British anti-Turkish propaganda machine in spreading the Armenian "genocide" myth, during and for a period after World War I. The statement also points a finger at Turkey's complete apathy to the vast propaganda onslaught from the West. Most people who follow "The Armenian Question" with anything more than a passing interest are hazily aware that the Western Imperialist Powers were somehow involved in the spread of the exaggerated tales of unilateral massive atrocities in Anatolia. The degree to which the falsifications were actually an integral part of the Great Powers policies dra e instrumentalities which they used in disseminating their propaganda are usually glossed over or only vaguely hinted at by those who treat the history of the 1915-23 era in the Levant.

How successfully the Turks could have warded off the resultant stigma through counter-propaganda will never be known. But it is certain that in 1922 Sultan Mohammed Vl put it quite succinctly and pointedly, when he told the American writer E. Alexander Powell:

"If we sent one, your newspapers and periodicals would not publish an article written by a Turk, if they published it, your people would not read it, if they read it, they would not believe it. Even if we sent a qualified person to America, to convey to you in your language, the Turkish point of view, would he find an impartial audience?" [Gurun, File, p. 37]

It was true throughout Ottoman history, and it remains almost as true today. Ottoman Turks obviously had never really felt the need to develop a propaganda machine. Turks today still retain an abiding contempt for propaganda. Turks of the Republic have on occasion tried to counteract with information programs the malicious falsehoods about their history and culture - and even this they have done only lately and with minimal successes. Blend together the normal Turkish reticence with the deftness of the English propaganda factory "Wellington House," add the zeal of the Western missionaries in exaggerating what had happened in Eastern Anatolia, and a monumental myth is born.

The Armenian File supplies us with fascinating insights into the activities of Wellington House, the distortions of truth which it circulated, and its relationship to British policy objectives. Throughout Gurun's book there are numerous useful illustrative quotations. Startling, but characteristic, is the following admission from The Armenians, published in 1916 by an Englishman, C. F. Dixon-Johnson:

"We have no hesitation in repeating that these stories of wholesale massacre have been circulated with the distinct object of influencing, detrimentally to Turkey, the future policy of the British Government when the time of settlement shall arrive. No apology, therefore, is needed for honestly endeavouring to show how a nation with whom we are closely allied for many years and which possesses the same faith as millions of our fellow subjects, has been condemned for perpetrating horrible excesses against humanity on "evidence" which, when not absolutely false, is grossly and shamefully exaggerated." [Gurun, File, p. 45]

"Wellington House," sometimes known also as the Masterman Bureau, turned out a mass of publications, authored by such famous British writers as Max Aitken, James Bryce, Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Arnold Toynbee, and H. G. Wells. Such was the caliber of the propagandists whose writings flooded Western Europe, the Scandinavian nations, Russia, and America. Among their publications was a "blue book" on the Armenians published in 1916. In its first form it was a pamphlet entitled Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation. Since the original Wellington House edition of this pamphlet is no longer available, it cannot be compared with the reprint done in the United States in 1975 by an Armenian publishing house. Gurun points out that it is impossible for us to know today whether the Toynbee who wrote The Western Question in Greece and Turkey would have permitted the 1975 edition if he had been alive at the time of the reprint.

Or, consider still another prop in the building of the great Armenian myth: the role of the American missionary. Kamuran Gurun, in his study, has unearthed statement after statement drawn from the commentators of Russia, France, the United States, and Britain. Another quotation from E. A. Powell's writings states:

"The extent of the American missionary effort in the old Ottoman Empire is quite generally known, but its effect on American public opinion is not, perhaps, so widely recognized. Very early in their work the American missionaries discovered that Moslems do not change their faith, so, debarred from proselytism among the Turks, they devoted their energies to religious, educational, and medical work among the Christian minorities, particularly the Armenians. For half a century or more, these missionaries provided our chief sources of information on conditions in the Near and Middle East, and by them public opinion the United States on these subjects was largely mouIded . Having been rebuffed by the Moslem Turks and welcomed with open arms by the Christian Armenians, it is scarcely surprising that they espoused the cause of the latter and the reports they sent home and the addresses they delivered, when in America on leave of absence, were filled with pleas for the oppressed Christians and with denunciations of their Turkish oppressors. The congregations which supported the missionaries accepted this point of view without question, and there was thus gradually developed, under the aegis of our churches, a powerful anti-Turkish opinion." [Gurun, File, p. 30]

This "powerful anti-Turkish opinion," which Powell wrote about and which had been circulating all over America, makes it easier for us to understand Henry Morganthau's blind anti-Turkish attitude as reflected in his later book. His judgments were seriously colored by what he constantly heard unilaterally from missionaries at home and from those in Turkey when he was the American ambassador there. Although Gurun does not draw this direct connection in his treatment of Morganthau, on pages 240-41 of Gurun's book, there are revealed other fascinating political meetings which further show Morganthau's motivations and underlying bias against the Turks.

The foregoing paragraphs of this review, it must be noted, deal only with a tiny but characteristic fraction of the book's contents. They were chosen simply to be illustrative of the mass of documentary material that appears in this concise book. In seven pages of introduction and 323 pages of text, indices, a bibliography, and notes, Kamuran Gurun delves into every factor that has led up to the development of the Armenian Myth, from defining the Armenians and their origins; through the onset of the Armenian "question;" their position in the Ottoman Empire; the numerous attempts at insurrection; the recurrent acts of treason and involvement with Russia, particularly when Russia was at war with the Ottomans; the treachery during World War I, the decision to relocate the insurgents, and the ensuing problems of implementing that decision; and, finally, the aborted civil war within the Turkish War of Independence. In treating the activities of the Armenians during the period surrounding World War I, Gurun describes the rise of the Dashnagtsutune, the territorial agreements the Armenians made with Russia over Turkey's eastern provinces, and the beginnings of Armenian underground activities and terrorism. And every statement and event is thoroughly documented, frequently from Armenian sources. In short, this book tells the complete story concisely. One is tempted to say "too concisely," for the volume seemingly has more documentation than narrative analysis. Anyone who takes up this book for bedtime reading makes a mistake; it is not a running account of the development of a people nor is it easy reading as history. The book is, however, what its title says it is: a file, a dossier, not of an individual, or even of a people. It is a file which undoubtedly constitutes the most compact, fully documented, chronological treatment of the birth of a malignant myth of innocence which has plagued the Western world for nearly a century. It is a source book of information, drawn not only from official and unofficial documents but also from the histories, commentaries, and other accounts written by Armenians as well as "outsiders."

No one who ever deals with the Armenian issue in the future can fail to take this book into account. Difficult though it may be to get started reading The Armenian File, every Turkish-American should have access to it. It should be in the university libraries and in the public libraries. It tells the story more completely and honestly than anything heretofore.

Published jointly by K. Rustem & Bro. and Weidenfield & Nicolson Ltd., London-Nicosia-lstanbul, it is not yet easily obtainable in American bookstores. Copies are obtainable now for $29.95 +$1.50 (shipping and handling) by calling Customer Service at 212-647-5151 or writing to:

St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Readers of this review may wish to consider presenting copies to their local public and university libraries.

The book is that important.

(Holdwater: The St. Martin's Press information may be outdated. A large part of the book is available online;)


Death And Exile The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922

The Darwin Press, Inc.
Princeton, New Jersey ISBN
0-87850-094-4
by Justin McCarthy

Death and Exile is the history of the deportation and death of millions of Muslims in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from areas that have remained centers of conflict - the Balkans, the Middle East, and what was the Soviet Union - and shows how these ethnic and religious conflicts developed. The history of the expansion of the Russian Empire and creation of new nations in the Balkans has traditionally been told from the standpoint of the Christian nations that were carved from the Ottoman Empire. Death and Exile tells the story from the position of the Turks and other Muslims who suffered death and exile as a result of imperialism. nationalism, and ethnic conflict.

Death and Exile radically changes our view of the history of the peoples of the Middle East and the Balkans. it presents a new framework for understanding conflicts that continue today.

About the Author:
Justin McCarthy, Professor of History at the University of Louisville, is a historian and demographer who has written extensively on the people of the Balkans and the Middle East. Among his previous works are: The Arab World, Turkey, and the Balkans (1982); Muslims and Minorities: The Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of Empire (1983); and The Population of Palestine: Population History and Statistics of the Late Ottoman Period and the Mandate (1990).

Book Review

By Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly

Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922.

By Justin McCarthy.

Princeton, N.J.: Darwin, 1995, $35.

McCarthy has unearthed a horrifying and extremely important fact: that in the course of the century between the Greek war of independence and World War I, the Ottoman Empire suffered five and a half million dead and five million refugees. He deems this Europe's largest lost of life and emigration since the Thirty Years War. Christian suffering in this time and place is well-known; McCarthy shows the other side, that "Muslim communities in an area as large as all of western Europe had been diminished or destroyed." His study minutely reviews the regions and wars, pulling information from foreign and Ottoman sources to produce a compelling account.

Beyond the tragedy involved, this pattern of death and exile has a profound historical importance. To take just three matters that the author raises: It puts into perspective the deportation of Armenians in 1915 and turns this from an act of hatred into one motivated by fear (had the Armenians, with Russian support, rebelled, Ottoman Muslims could have expected to be slaughtered). Also, this legacy explains the modest and circumspect foreign policy pursued by Ataturk; "as a land of recent refugee immigration and massive mortality," his country was ready not to assert itself but to reform itself. Lastly, the massive immigrations to Anatolia mean that modem Turkey is (like France) an ancient land of migrants; McCarthy estimates that one-fifth of the population descends from nineteenth-century refugees. This fact also helps understand the country's acute sensitivity to current problems in Bosnia and Azerbaijan.

A more extensive review of "Death and Exile"

Booknews, Inc. Review,
June 1, 1996

A carefully researched history of Muslim mortality and migration in the areas of Anatolia, the Crimea, the Balkans, and the Caucasus during the late 19th century and through World War I. The history of Russian expansion has traditionally been told from the Christian viewpoint. McCarthy history, U. of Louisville) adds an important dimension to the tragic circumstances of imperialism, nationalism, and ethnic conflict. which resulted in the death of millions of Muslims and Turks. The volume provides a framework for understanding conflicts which continue to plague the Middle East and Balkans. Includes maps and tables. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Chapter One: The Land To Be Lost

In 1800, a vast Muslim Land existed in Anatolia, the Balkans. and southern Russia. It was not only a land in which Muslims ruled, but a land in which Muslims were the majority or, in much of the Balkans and part of the Caucasus, a sizeable minority. It included the Crimea and its hinterlands, most of the Caucasus region, eastern as well as western Anatolia, and southeastern Europe from Albania and Bosnia to the Black Sea, almost all of which was within the Ottoman Empire. Attached to it geographically were regions in Romania and southern Russia in which Muslims were a plurality among different peoples. By 1923, only Anatolia, eastern Thrace, and a section of the southeastern Caucasus remained to the Muslim land. The Balkan Muslims were largely gone, dead or forced to migrate, the remainder living in pockets of settlement in Greece, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The same fate had overcome the Muslims of the Crimea, the northern Caucasus, and Russian Armenia - they were simply gone. Millions of Muslims, most of them Turks, had died; millions more had fled to what is today Turkey. Between 1821 and 1922, more than five million Muslims were driven from their lands. Five and one-half million Muslims died, some of them killed in wars, others perishing as refugees from starvation and disease. Much of the history of the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Caucasus cannot properly be understood without consideration of the Muslim refugees and the Muslim dead. This is particularly true of the history of nationalism and imperialism. The contemporary map of the Balkans and the southern Caucasus displays countries with fairly homogenous populations, countries that were created in the wars and revolutions that separated them from the Ottoman Empire. Their ethnic and religious unity was accomplished through the expulsion of their Muslim population. In other words, the new states were founded on the suffering of their departed inhabitants. Similarly, Russian imperialism, still too often portrayed as the "civilizing" march of European culture, brought with it the deaths of millions of Circassians, Abhazians, Laz, and Turks. Nationalism and imperialism appear in a much worse light when their victims take the stage.

The Muslim loss is an important part of the history of the Turks. It was they who most felt the consequences of nationalism and imperialism. At a time when the Ottoman Empire was struggling to reform itself and survive as a modern state, it was first forced to drain its limited resources to defend its people from slaughter by its enemies, then to try to care for the refugees who streamed into the empire when those enemies triumphed. After the Ottoman Empire was destroyed in World War I, the Turks of what today is Turkey faced the same problems - invasion, refugees. and mortality. The Turks survived, but their nation was greatly affected by the events of the past century. The new Turkish Republic was a nation of immigrants whose citizens came from Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia. Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Like the Ottoman Empire before it, Turkey faced all the difficulties of integrating an immigrant population and coping with massive wartime destruction while it was trying to modernize and survive. The challenges of that struggle shaped the character of the Turkish Republic.

Despite the historical importance of Muslim losses, it is not to be found in textbooks. Textbooks and histories that describe massacres of Bulgarians. Armenians, and Greeks have not mentioned corresponding massacres of Turks.

The exile and mortality of the Muslims is not known. This goes against modern practice in other areas of history. It has rightly become unthinkable today to write of American expansion without consideration of the brutality shown to Native Americans. The carnage of the Thirty Years War must be a part of any history of religious change in Europe. Historians cannot write of imperialism without mention of slaughter of Africans in the Congo or of Chinese in the Opium Wars. Yet, in the West, the history of the suffering of the Balkan, Caucasian. and Anatolian Muslims has never been written or understood. The history of the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Anatolia has been written without mention of one of its main protagonists, the Muslim population. The "traditional" view of the history of the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Anatolia is less than complete, if not misleading, because the histories of the Ottoman minority groups are taken out of context. A major part of that context is the suffering of Muslims, which took place in the same regions and at the same time as the sufferings of Christians, and often transcended them. The few who have attempted to alter the traditional view have been derided as "revisionists" as if revision were an academic sin and contextual historical accuracy irrelevant. In fact, revising one-sided history and changing deficient traditional wisdom is the business of the historian, and in few areas of history is revision so needed as in the history of the Ottoman peoples. The history that results from the process of revision is an unsettling one, for it tells the story of Turks as victims, and this is not the role in which they are usually cast. It does not present the traditional image of the Turk as victimizer, never victim, that has continued in the histories of America and Europe long after it should have been discarded with other artifacts of nineteenth-century racism.


Prof. Norman Stone Reviews: Bloxham's "The Great Game of Genocide" Lewy's "The Armenian Massacres"

(Note: Lewy's book must have been a pre-publication copy, and the title was subsequently changed to The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide.)

Norman Stone: Review (for Cornucopia) of

  1. David Bloxham: The Great Game of Genocide. Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford University Press 2005)
  2. Guenther Lewy: The Armenian Massacres in Modern Turkey. The Historiography of a Disputed Genocide (Utah University Press 2005)

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Turkey's foreign friends have not had a very easy time in the last few months. The country's best-known writer, Orhan Pamuk, was arraigned on a charge of insulting the nation: he (allegedly) claimed that a million Armenians (and 30,000 Kurds) had been killed. It is of course true that the once-large Armenian population of Anatolia has dwindled: in what circumstances, and was it "genocide" ? Pamuk (he says he did not say it) was arraigned, the great and good arrived from the European Union, there were nationalist demonstrations outside the court, Turkish persecution of intellectuals made the world's media, Euro figures were roughed up by stout parties, and there was embarrassment all round until, finally, the Pamuk case was, on a technicality, shelved. The whole business was an embarrassment, was dreadful PR for Turkey, and made head-lines all over the world.

What is particularly odd is that the authorities did have a certain amount of justice on their side. For Orhan Pamuk is not the only figure to have been persecuted over the Armenian massacres. In some countries - Switzerland, for instance - it is now a crime to "deny" that these massacres amounted to genocide. The Swiss police made it their business to chase after a well-known Turkish academic, Yusuf Halacoglu, who does not accept that there was a genocide, and a veteran left-wing politician, Dogu Perincek, who said that the story of genocide was an imperialist plot. In France, the grand old man of Middle Eastern studies, Professor Bernard Lewis, whose Emergence of Modern Turkey still counts, fifty years on, as the outstanding book on the subject, faced five separate court actions when he called the genocide into question. There are other episodes, in which an Armenian lobby attempts to silence dissent. The massacres - or genocide - occurred ninety years ago, in a country two thousand miles away that has ceased to exist. What on earth is this all about ? Money (Note).

We all know about the vagaries of American law, particularly the class-actions. The costs of law are such that it pays firms being sued just to settle, regardless of liability: lawyers on both sides clean up; no doubt insurance premiums rise accordingly. This business has made health insurance in the USA so expensive that infant mortality is higher, there, than in Burkina Faso. If the Turkish Republic were to "recognize the genocide" - as she is sometimes required to do, by parliamentary bodies up and down the world - then who knows what sort of claims she would then have to face, from diaspora Armenians four or five generations down the line ? Unless there are clear grounds for Turkey to bow the head, she is well-advised to do no such thing.

Besides, she would have some arguments on her side. Yes, the Armenian diaspora has been active - hyper-active - in France and elsewhere, and parliamentary bodies have "recognized" the massacres as "genocide". But do these parliamentary bodies really appreciate what they are doing ? Was there indeed a "genocide" of the Armenians in 1915 ? The very fact that we are even discussing the matter shows that it is not clear-cut at all. No-one outside a few cranks disputes that Hitler meant to exterminate the Jews. But in the Armenian case, we are not talking about cranks at all - on the contrary, some of the best names in the business dispute the standard "genocide" line. Here are two books that display the problem.

The latest public body to have given at least gingerly "recognition" was, of all things, Edinburgh City Council. It was guided in its wisdom by David Bloxham, author of the rather oddly-entitled Great Game of Genocide. Page one of his introduction firmly states "Armenian genocide" one million Armenians died. Later in the book there are descriptions of the process, plus some asides as to how the Germans confined themselves to verbal protests while the British cared more for the Greeks. Later on no-one held Turkey to account because she "mattered", and the modern-day Turks were therefore allowed to get away with "denialism". We take a tour round some by now very familiar arguments and sources. This is all fairly standard stuff, though Bloxham does protest at exaggerations by some of his allies. One of them, V.Dadrian, even tries quite hard to show that the Armenians had the same fate as the Jews, including equivalents of the SS and the medical-experiments doctors of Auschwitz (in 1915 the Turks hardly had any nurses, let alone doctors). Bloxham refers to Dadrian often enough, but at least does not accept this fanciful line. To his credit he also chides present-day Armenians for the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh. There have been several hundred thousand Azeri refugees - a curious descant on 1915. However, Bloxham himself does say "genocide" (shall we call him an "acceptionist"?) , and gives a figure for 1,200,000 Armenian dead.

But there is another side to the story: no genocide, and 700,000 dead, mostly from disease and starvation, such as affected the entire population of Anatolia at the time. This side has most recently been represented by Guenther Lewy, the senior historian in the USA of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and recently retired from a chair at the University of Massachusetts. He does not think that there was a "genocide" of the Armenians in 1915. There were killings, yes, but they were in a sense provoked, because Armenian legionaries were fighting for the French and for the Russians. The Ottoman government of the time feared that there would be a general uprising of Armenians, not just in the front-line areas, but in the interior, where railways and telegraph lines might be sabotaged, and it decreed that there should be a deportation of the Armenian population (with certain exceptions). But the locals could sometimes not be controlled: there were killings, and foreign observers concluded that there was a plan to exterminate the Armenians. Was there ? Despite Bloxham's certainty, there is, Lewy shows, no evidence of such a plan. There are forgeries, nowadays almost universally accepted as such (Dadrian being an exception) and when the British were in occupation of Istanbul between 1918 and 1922, they found no incriminating evidence in the archives. They released several dozen Turks whom they were holding in Malta. Why ? Dadrian claims, because the Turks were themselves holding British hostages. Bloxham thinks that there just was not, at the time, a mechanism for international trial of war-crimes. He does not even mention that the British Law Officers themselves just said that they did not have the evidence for a satisfactory prosecution; they asked the Americans if they had such evidence, and were told, no. So the Turks were released. There are other similar cases. For instance, a commission went round the orphanages to rescue Armenian children. Halide Edip Adivar, a famous Turkish feminist, was part of it. An Armenian source says she tried to keep the children Islamic. A Turkish biography says she tried to rescue children from being kidnapped, shrieking, by Armenians. Who is right ? It is very difficult for an outsider to judge, and would a decent woman have behaved as cruelly as Bloxham's Armenian source claims ? It would have been fair-minded of Bloxham just to recognize that there are two sides to such stories. Time and again, when some anti-Turkish evidence comes up, he quotes Dadrian, the most extreme jumper-up-and-down on the Armenian side. Lewy is a great deal more balanced, and he also has the considerable merit of showing that Dadrian's scholarship is itself full of holes - documents selectively quoted in pursuit of his thesis that the Armenian massacres can be put on the same level as the Holocaust. Since Lewy reads German as well as Dadrian does, he is in a very good position. Lewy's book, incidentally, will not offer much comfort to Turkish nationalists, either. However, until such time as we have an historian able to deal with Ottoman, Armenian and Russian (since Russian documents are now becoming available) Lewy's establishes itself as the most serious account. It is, besides, much easier to read than Bloxham's, which is rather muddled in lay-out and self-important in tone.

Guenther Lewy was told by Oxford University Press that he had adopted "Turkish denialist discourse". He has been published by Utah University Press (and Einaudi in Italy). That University's President received a letter from one of the most senior Armenian academics, protesting at the publication. Why not just give the book a bad review, somewhere important, if it is that bad ? Thank the Lord, the French historians have recently turned round and told the government that they will not have politicians tell them what they have to say. A declaration, signed by nineteen seniors (Le Roy Ladurie and Rene Remond in the lead), was made, and signed by what appears to be every teacher of history in the land. A counter-petition, by an Armenian lady, who said that historians should not hurt people's feelings, gained three other signatures. In other words, some common sense, at last.

The long and short of it is that there is no proof of genocide, or, at any rate, there is room for honest disagreement. In getting public bodies (and Californian lawyers) to interfere with this, the Armenian diaspora spokesmen have been doing damage to their own cause. Armenia, which is a poor and land-locked country, losing population every year - 60,000 of them, incidentally, to Istanbul - needs to have good relations with Turkey. Oddly enough, when independent Armenia collapsed back in 1921, its government-in-exile at long last recognized that that had been the case. The present-day diaspora has not learned that lesson. It is turning the tragedy of the nation into a sort of beggar's Shoah.

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Note: The Monterey Herald 15 January 2006: "Heirs of Armenians killed 91 years ago in the Turkish Ottoman Empire sued Deutsche Bank A.G. and Dresdner Bank A.G. on Friday, claiming the German banks owe them millions of dollars and other assets deposited by their ancestors. The class-action lawsuit - is the latest bid by Armenians in the United States to recover assets they believe belonged to some 1.5 million Armenians who perished in a genocide beginning in 1915. Litigation brought against New York Life Insurance Co. by Armenian descendants led to a $20 million settlement; French life insurer AXA has agreed to pay $17 million to settle a separate class-action claim. Both lawsuits made similar allegations".


Dr. Edward Erickson Reviews: Lewy's "The Armenian Massacres"

The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide. Edward J. Erickson.

The Middle East Journal 60.2 (Spring 2006): p377(3).

The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide, by Guenter Lewy. Salt Lake City, UT: The University of Utah Press, 2005. xiii + 370 pages. Gloss. to p. 273. Notes to p. 331. Bibl to p. 358. Index to p. 370. $24.95.

Guenter Lewy's latest book will surely raise controversy, as have his previous books (on, for example, America in Vietnam, the Nazi persecution of the Gypsies, and religion in America). In The Armenian Massacres in Turkey, Lewy, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, now turns his attention to the historiography of the Armenian deportations and massacres in 1915, with particular focus on examining the validity of the original sources cited by authors writing about these events. Lewy's work, published nearly simultaneously with a similar book by Donald Bloxham (The Great Game of Genocide, reviewed in the ME J, Vol. 60, No. 1, Winter 2006), casts doubt on the conventional interpretation of the Armenian genocide. As such, The Armenian Massacres in Turkey is a major revision to how we should think about what proves or disproves historical accounts of these events--a subject that is currently politically sensitive.

Lewy limits his study to the events of 1915-16 (the period of deportation and associated massacre). He does not attempt to answer the question, "was it a genocide or not?" Nor does he delve into the subsequent massacres of 1918-22. His objective is to "subject the rich historical evidence available to the test of consistency and attempt to sort out the validity of the rival arguments" (p. x). According to Lewy, there are two schools of thought about the events of 1915: The Armenian view asserts that the innocent and harmless Armenians were systematically exterminated in a premeditated genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks. The Turkish view maintains that an Armenian rebellion (aided by the Allies) forced the regime to deport the Armenians from the Caucasian war zone, an event during which thousands of Armenians were massacred by criminals or died of starvation. Lewy maintains that both camps have created a flawed supporting historiography by using sources selectively, quoting them out of context, and/ or ignoring "inconvenient facts" (pp. xi-xii).

Part One of this book, which presents the historical setting, is largely non-controversial. However, Part Two, which is titled "Two Historiographies," can only be characterized as contentious. In this part, Lewy presents and analyzes the Armenian case for premeditation and intent to exterminate the Armenians, and the Armenian case for the covert and state-sponsored implementation of genocidal massacres. He also takes on the Turkish case that an Armenian rebellion necessitated their deportation for reasons of national security. Lewy moves, step by step, through the opposing historiographies and dissects the supporting citations. He contends that there is little surviving authentic evidence that either corroborates premeditation or proves the existence of a Young Turk plan of extermination, nor is there any authentic evidence implicating the Germans as co-perpetrators. These views contradict the prevalent Western (and Armenian) view of these events. He also asserts that, although an Armenian rebellion occurred, it minimally threatened the Ottoman Empire and did not justify deportation (contradicting the Turkish position).

"No authentic documentary evidence exists to prove the culpability of the central government of Turkey for the massacres of 1915-16"

In the equally contentious Part Three, Lewy scrutinizes the deportations, the resettlement, the identity of the perpetrators, and the number of victims. Lewy maintains that the number of Armenians actually killed, as opposed to the number of those who starved, is much lower than generally believed in the West today. In his conclusion, he boldly asserts that "no authentic documentary evidence exists to prove the culpability of the central government of Turkey for the massacres of 1915-16" (p. 250). Additionally, he points out obvious inconsistencies sometimes ignored by historians, for example, the supposed planned extermination of all the Armenians does not square with the survival of the large Armenian populations of western Anatolia, who were not deported. He also thinks that a deliberate plan to exterminate over a million people would not rely on inconsistent methods like marching them to starvation and localized partial massacres. Lewy presents a plausible alternative scenario that the deportation decision itself was an impossible mission, given the logistical shortages of the Ottoman Empire; and that a poorly supervised and poorly supported mass movement of Armenians resulted in both massacre and death from starvation and disease. These are important and inflammatory ideas that contradict our Western conventions regarding these events.

Of particular note is Lewy's interest in the work of Vahakn N. Dadrian, an American sociologist, who is considered by the Armenian camp to be one of the preeminent writers on the Armenian genocide today. In this regard, Lewy is reflective of a gathering trend among historians that seeks to revisit and check the citations listed by authors of contested historical work. Work subjected to such scrutiny includes that of S. L. A Marshal, Michael Bellesiles, and recently Ward Churchill. Dadrian's influential work from the 1980s and 1990s became the intellectual bedrock for the modern Armenian claim that the Young Turks conducted a premeditated genocide of approximately 1.5 million innocents. Lewy systematically examines the sources cited by Dadrian and finds that the latter frequently misrepresented and misquoted sources or failed to include important contextual information. Lewy contends that the implications of Dadrian's dishonesty cast doubt on the veracity of many of his assertions regarding the existence of a historical case proving genocide. Importantly, his contentions reinforce and complement British historian Donald Bloxham and German historian Hilmar Kaiser, who reached similar conclusions regarding some of Dadrian's methodology and citations as well. While this seems to cast Lewy as a "genocide denier" and may lead him to legal problems should he travel to France, what Lewy actually says is that the case for the premeditated killing of Armenians is historically unproven today and that more research on the subject is needed.

This is an important book because it presents a much-needed corrective to the one-sided view that many have of the Armenian deportations and massacres. Dadrian has already criticized Lewy because the latter does not read Turkish and has not spent a lifetime researching these events. This is valid criticism, to be sure. Nevertheless, Lewy has examined enough of the actual German, British, and American archival sources that exist today (in their original languages) to find inconsistencies in the extant historiography. Lewy contends that his expertise as a scholar is sufficient to point out what authentic historical evidence and proof should look like - a point with which this reviewer agrees. Moreover, Lewy makes a major contribution to how we should think about the Armenian deportations and massacres by pointing out that simply having a large number of advocates affirming that the genocide is a historical fact does not make it so. Specifically, he identifies the group of concerned writers and scholars who signed a letter to this effect published in the New York Times, as such an effort. Lewy makes the critical point that such tactics "foreclose further scholarly investigation of the deportations and massacres by imposing a politically correct nomenclature" (p. 267-69). I concur with Lewy in this assessment, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the question of what really happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915.

Edward J. Erickson, LLC Research Associates

(Thanks to Hector)


Dr. Edward Erickson Reviews: "The Armenian Rebellion at Van" (by McCarthy et al)

The Armenian Rebellion at Van, by Justin McCarthy, Esat Arslan, Cemalettin Takiran, and Omer Turan. Salt Lake City , UT : University of Utah Press, 2006. vii + 266 pages. 11 Maps. Notes. Appends. to p. 285. Bibl. to p. 291. Index to p. 296. $25.

Reviewed by Edward J. Erickson

This timely book follows and complements recent work by Donald Bloxham [The Great Game of Genocide, reviewed in The Middle East Journal (MEJ), Vol. 60, No. 1 (Winter 2006)] and Guenter Lewy [The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide, reviewed in MEJ, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Spring 2006)]. Both Bloxham and Lewy contend that there was an actual Armenian rebellion in 1915, which was encouraged and aided by the Allies, and aimed at the establishment of an Armenian state. Moreover, Bloxham asserts that ill-timed active collaboration with the Allies by Armenian nationalist leaders led their people into a disastrous confrontation with the Ottomans. The Armenian Rebellion at Van supports these contentions by showcasing them with a fascinating case study of the well-known uprising in Van, the eastern Anatolian city and province, in the spring of 1915. The authors begin with three chapters detailing the geographic, economic, and demographic setting of Van province, with attention to the origins and politics of the Armenian committees, especially those of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (the ARF or Dashnaks). Chapter four examines the rebellion of 1896. Chapter five, titled the "Development of the Revolution, 1897-1908," outlines the growth of an armed Armenian movement by examining its leadership, tactics, arms smuggling, and Russian connections. Chapter six, on the period 1908-1912, briefly covers the deteriorating relations between the Young Turks and the ARF, while chapter seven covers the events preceding the outbreak of war.

The heart of the book, chapter eight, is a detailed examination, at the tactical level, of what happened at Van in late March and April 1915. Using previously unavailable documents from the Ottoman military archives in Ankara , the authors offer a picture of a carefully planned and executed rebellion that was sponsored by and closely coordinated with the Russians, who launched an offensive aimed at seizing the city. The concluding two chapters explain the destruction of both the Armenian and Muslim communities in the province and present an analysis of why the Ottomans failed to suppress the rebels.

So why read another book about the Armenians'? This book represents a massive revision of what is known in the West about the Van uprising. Of particular importance is a well-developed exposition of Armenian leadership, organizational architecture, professionalism in military training, innovative tactics, and weaponry that is integrated into an explanation of how the battles were fought. The authors assert that the rebels were not simply city residents reacting in self-defense but were instead well led, tightly organized, and dangerous. They present a convincing argument based on new archival information. The maps are unusually clear and include (for the first time) small-scale municipal maps of the city of Van as it existed in 1915. The book is a gold mine of new and detailed information.

This reviewer found the overall tone of the book to be unusual in its fair treatment of the Armenians by Turkish scholars. Professor McCarthy and his Turkish co-authors present the Armenians as able practitioners of the art of insurgency and note that the Armenian leader "Aram Manukian must be counted as one of the geniuses of guerrilla warfare" (p. 258). Moreover, they conclude that the Armenian insurrections were instrumental in crippling the Ottoman strategic position in Anatolia , and they also reinforce Bloxham's assertion that the Armenians were badly let down by their Russian allies. Unfortunately, there are minor factual errors in the text. For example, Ottoman casualties at Sankaml are overstated by 100% (p. 179) while the cited Turkish source (Turk Harbi) actually gives much lower numbers. The authors erroneously give the date of a critical order from Enver Pasha on security precautions as September 25, 1914 (p. 190), when the correct date is February 25, 1915. Incorrect information is given on the composition of the First Expeditionary Force (p. 210) that includes flawed British estimates of non-existent bis divisions. There is also a lack of clarity and completeness in citing the Turkish archives; the authors rarely detail what the document is. Instead, they choose to list only its archival call number. However, these are small issues in what is otherwise a very valuable contribution to the field.

Specialists and interested readers alike will understand and appreciate this book. It is clearly written, and establishes an important corrective to the extant Western historiography. While it will certainly irritate the global Armenian lobby, this reviewer would encourage those seeking a balanced and informed understanding of these events to read The Armenian Rebellion at Van. It is well worth the price and highly recommended.

Lt. Col. Edward J. Erickson, USA (Retired), International Research Associates, LLC

The Middle East Journal 61.2 (Spring 2007): p348(2).

(Thanks to Hector)