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Post Biden, Turkey and the Armenian Question: Nothing Will Be the Same
Created by John Eipper on 04/26/21 3:18 AM

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Biden, Turkey and the Armenian Question: Nothing Will Be the Same (Yusuf Kanli, Turkey, 04/26/21 3:18 am)

It has always been assumed that there is a natural "lowest level" and a "highest level" in Turkish-American relations, but even the lowest level does not mean the end of the alliance.  Nor does the highest level reach a "strategic partnership" between the two countries like we see between the US and UK, or the US and Israel.

From the infamous Johnson letter to the closure of US bases in 1975, to the poppy planting crisis, the Cyprus intervention, the US arms embargo, the food-ammunition supply to PKK terrorists by US helicopters and the present-day US alliance with the PYD, the Syrian extension of the PKK, and the F-35 and S-400 crises, US-Turkey relations have undergone many important tests.

US President Joe Biden's characterization of the events of 1915 as "genocide" will, of course, be a new and crucial test for the ties. In addition to romantic statements that the American leader's hostile "genocide" referral was "rejected" or "nonexistent," in due time countermeasures will of course be taken by Turkey in a manner that might hurt the US administration. Although many analysts think that Biden's "genocide" statement, which seriously hurts Turkish honor, will not cause further tensions in the already tense Turkish-US relations, it is worth looking at the situation a little more generally.

Just as some have attributed the development to "Biden's dementia," it is impossible to deny that with the US branding the 1915 events as genocide, Turkey is seriously hurt. The international political conjuncture has changed. The failure to fully match Turkey's foreign policy objectives and the objectives of its allies, especially in the conflicts over the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, Libya, Syria and Iraq, was a requirement of Turkey's own national interests. Yet, these developments have isolated Turkey. Important Turkish friends, especially the Jewish lobby, who have been in support and solidarity with Turkey for almost half a century, have taken a seriously different position in this process.

"Perennial interests" should be important in international relations. The phrase "there are no eternal friends, no enemies, there are eternal interests" is not a joke; it is the most important cornerstone of international politics. "Precious loneliness" and tensions that originated from Turkey preferring "moral priorities" have led to a change in the perception of Turkey.

If previous US President Donald Trump's insulting letter had been answered with a reciprocal style in line with diplomatic procedures, perhaps Biden's brazen statement would not have occurred. Of course, like all the people of this land, Turks and Armenians suffered greatly because of problems reflecting occasional sensitive periods. Allegations of "cooperation with the enemy" and deportation from border areas because of that reason and some other not-so-welcome reasons, the failure of the disintegrating empire to provide adequate security, Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian gang attacks all caused a lot of pain to our people from all ethnic groups during that chaotic period. The loss and suffering of the majority was large, but such pains were much more traumatic for minorities. In the end Anatolia lost many of its colors. With every color that left Anatolia, we all came out the poorer. Today, it is essential to commemorate this pain, to have mutual empathy and even to ask each other for forgiveness, to heal wounds and to work to build a common future.

"Genocide" is a very serious allegation. Of course there were mutual massacres. The deportation was, of course, a very serious atrocity. However, genocide cannot be proven by hearsay, such as "my grandfather told my father, my grandmother told my mother." Grandpa told me, that's what grandma said. Well, the grandparents of the Turks spoke a lot as well about the atrocities, massacres committed in the east Anatolia by the Armenian gangs and in west Anatolia by invading Greek troops and local Greek gangs. This issue should be addressed by historians. Unfortunately, the protocols to research the events of 1915, signed in 2009 with the great efforts of the United States, the idea of creation of a "Impartial Joint Historical Commission," was vetoed by the Constitutional Court of Armenia.

Furthermore, the Joint Historical Commission should not investigate how many people died. It is not a question of how many Turks, Armenians or Kurds have died, but whether the Ottomans took an official "genocide decision" and implemented it.

This new and powerful trauma in Turkey-US relations will surely pass. However, those who have researched Biden's political career for nearly 50 years will see that far from standing by Turkey, he has never been even impartial, but always cheered against Turkey on all issues.

JE comments:  Yusuf, "genocide" is a strong word, and it is no surprise that Turkish pride has been seriously wounded.  I never understood why Turkey didn't take the German approach of acknowledging its past sins, attributing them to a previous (and nefarious) regime, and allowing the "New Turkey" to move on.  They could even make a comparison with the US internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, as the analogy largely fits.  (Many Armenians, but certainly not all, were sympathetic to Turkey's Great War enemy, Russia.)

If I may pry a bit more on this topic, is the existence of Armenian "gangs" during the period a universally held belief among the Turkish people?  I've seen no mention of these in the histories I've read, but there is anecdotal evidence of Armenian Turks aiding the Russian invaders.

Just as the "G-word" (genocide) awakens passions on all sides, the "D-word" (denial) is almost as controversial.  The events are in the distant past, but the implications live on.  As historian David Reynolds has argued, the "Long Shadow" of World War I never goes away.

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  • Turkey's Grievances with the US: Turgut Ozal's 1993 Death (Edward Jajko, USA 04/28/21 3:06 AM)
    To Yusuf Kanli's short list of Turkish grievances with the US--some of which I dispute--I would add this country's shameful reaction to the sudden death, in April 1993, of then Turkish President Turgut Özal.

    Özal had been a firm supporter of the US. Granted, Bill Clinton had been president for only a couple of months, and may not have known of or been familiar with Özal, but he could have asked those under him (my late brother Walter, for instance, then deputy director or director of the Pentagon's euphemistically named Office of Policy and a frequent participant or representative of the Secretary of Defense in NSC meetings). Then he could have at least sent Al Gore as his and our official representative at the funeral. Instead, disgracefully, the US sent assistant deputy undersecretaries with unimportant positions, to stand among heads of state and pay last respects to a good friend.

    In his comments, JE wonders--as have I and many others--why Turkey has not taken what he calls the "German approach," namely, acknowledging past sins and placing the blame on an earlier and now repudiated administration. (This was really the "West German Approach"; the East Germans rejected responsibility for the depravities of WWII.)

    Turgut Özal had studied and taught in the US. During his years here, Özal had learned of the growing militancy of the Armenian diaspora and the calls for the US to do what President Biden just did. He seems to have devoted much thought to this. When he was in high office in Turkey, he proposed pretty much what JE proposed: that Turkey admit the crime, blaming it on the Ottoman administration which republican Turkey had repudiated; and moving on. He faced opposition and criticism and his proposals died.

    As did he, suddenly and suspiciously, of a heart attack in 1993. His body was exhumed years later and found to contain abnormally high amounts of DDT.

    JE comments:  The message is clear:  admitting Turkey's guilt for the Armenian genocide is (quite literally) political suicide in Ankara.  The West has forgotten about Özal's fate, but we can be certain that Erdogan has not.

    Wikipedia mentions Özal's stillborn "Van project," a proposal to return some lands in that region to the descendants of the displaced Armenians.  I'd like to know more.  The sticky issue with "returning" property is that it invariably involves displacing someone else.

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    • Attacks Against Turkey's Christians: A Book Recommendation (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 04/29/21 7:51 AM)

      A recent scholarly book on attacks against Christians in Asia Minor from 1894 to 1924 is:

      Morris B and Zd'evi D, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey's Destruction of
      its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924
      (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2019). 650 pages.

      JE comments:  Thank you, Harry!  That's a major reading assignment.  A curiosity from this non-specialist:  what occurred in 1924 that brought the generation-long atrocity to an end?

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      • "Our Smallest Ally": Assyrians in the Great War (Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA 04/30/21 11:48 AM)
        Here's my addition to the reading list and discussion about the Armenian/Christian (Assyrian) genocide. I came upon this obscure, but precious, account of Assyrian history during my research in service to the Chaldean Church in Erbil:

        Our Smallest Ally: A Brief account of the Assyrian Nation in the Great War: Written by Rev. W.A. Wigram (William Ainger Wigram, 1872-1953), a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the Assyrians in Kurdistan and Urmi.

        The introduction is by Brigadier-General H. H. Austin, C.M.G. C.B., etc., G.O.C. who wrote from the Refugee Camp, Baquba, in Baghdad, 1918, 1919 and declared, "but few in England realize to what extent the small and obscure Assyrian nation helped to shoulder our burdens in the Middle East, by resisting the Turko-German aggression along the Turko-Persian frontier."

        Here is a small section from the introduction:

        "Two battalions of these (Assyrian) mountaineers were organized and placed under the command of Russian officers, and became an integral part of the Russian army. Later, a third battalion was organized, under the special command of the Assyrian Patriarch. These battalions were on active service under Russian direction, and were utilized on expeditions against both Turks and Kurds, until the final dissolution of the Russian army. They then, up to July,1918, formed part of the irregular force that defended the plains of Urmi and Salmas, and held the Turks in check on that frontier. In fourteen distinct engagements, from March to July,1918, they defeated every Moslem force that was brought against them. Eventually, when their stock of ammunition was exhausted, and they attacked simultaneously by Turks, Kurds, and Persians, their position about Urmi became untenable, and the flight to Hamadan commenced. Subsequently, at Hamadan and Baquba, an Assyrian contingent was raised from these mountaineer and plain refugees, and drilled and trained by British officers and C.C.O.s. The writer has recently heard, from officers commanding this mountain battalion, of the splendid work performed by his men, who were brigaded with Indian troops during recent operations against the truculent Kurds north of Mosul, in the year 1920.

        "Our Smallest Ally is now homeless, and dependent on our charity at Baqubah, for its lands and villages have been utterly destroyed, and it has the further mortification of seeing--from reasons beyond our control--that although it threw in its lot with the ultimately victorious side, Kurds, and others of the defeated enemy, are in practical possession of its ruined homesteads. Such a state of things is incomprehensible to the minds of this people, but it is due to the difficulties of the country, the entire absence of food in, and the inaccessibility of their home, for purposes of ordinary transport, coupled with the extremely disorderly political conditions of Kurdistan and North-Western Persia.

        "These circumstances combine to render their safe re-instalment in their former lands, at present impracticable."

        H. H. Austin

        (Late G.O.C. Refugee Camp, Baqubah)

        February 6, 1920

        JE comments: A fascinating account.  I've always been a fan of obscure and forgotten history books, and Our Smallest Ally preserves one of the least-known chapters of the Great War.  The text is available in print-on-demand for a very reasonable ten bucks:

        Our Smallest Ally by Wigram, William Ainger: New (2010) | GreatBookPrices (abebooks.com)

        Tamara, if memory serves, the last time you checked in with WAIS you were back in the US.  Have you now returned to Erbil?

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      • A Legacy of Betrayal: Anatolia's Greeks after WWI (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/01/21 3:32 AM)
        The Armenian genocide has not been fully recognized until almost now. Yet the genocide of the Anatolian Greeks is practically unknown outside of Greece.

        We may even say that Constantinople was betrayed in the spring of 1453 by the Christian countries--only a few Catalans, Papals, Neapolitans with the fallen duke of Venosa and 700 Genoese guided by the gallant Giovanni Giustiniani arrived to help against the hundred thousand Ottomans.

        Greece was again betrayed by its former allies after the Great War, not to mention the betrayal of Armenians and Kurds.

        With the Treaty of Sevres on 10 August 1920, Greece obtained Izmir and the Thrace except for the Bulgarian Northern part and Istanbul (Constantinople). The Treaty, however, was not ratified by the new Turkish government, so the Greeks on October 1920 advanced eastward. At first they were verbally supported by the UK PM David Lloyd George. Unfortunately, at the same time the king of Greece died following a monkey bite, throwing Greece into a serious political crisis which very badly influenced the conduct of the war and the diplomatic actions.

        Greece perhaps was asking too much. It also sought the Italian-occupied Dodecanese Islands, pieces of Bulgaria and Albania (the latter supposedly under Italian influence), and of course and rightly Cyprus.

        Therefore, Italy, France, and the UK did not support Greece. On the contrary, their support was shifted to Kemal Ataturk, who was already openly supported by the Soviets.

        Greece remained alone and in the end, was defeated. On 13 September 1922 Izmir was conquered by the Turks, and the local Greek and Armenian population were wiped out. Some sources claim that up to 100,000 Greeks and Armenians were murdered. Greece accepted an armistice followed by the Losanna Treaty on 24 July 1923 with the present borders, apparently reaffirmed in a discussion by the dictator (as per Italian PM) Erdogan.

        As mentioned above, during the war many atrocities and retaliations were committed by all parties involved, after all, 700 years of Turkish attacks on the Christians could not have been forgotten.

        Through 1924, 1,400,000 Greeks were expelled from their homes of many centuries, versus 500,000 Turks expelled from Greece.

        We know the tragic fate of Armenians and Kurds.

        We should add the Corfù incident.

        On 27 August 1923, unknown terrorists killed the Italian General Tellini, in charge of drawing the International borders between Greece and Albania, together with four other persons of his staff, including an Albanian driver. It was immediately believed that the terrorists were Greeks (could they also have been Albanians resettled in Greece?) and Italy in retaliation occupied the island of Corfu for one month until the Greek government paid compensation.

        JE comments:  You have to take the long, long view to understand the enmity between Turkey and Greece.  As Harry Papasotiriou recently wrote in reference to Cyprus, the Greeks cannot remember what happened on the island, and the Turks cannot forget.  We might qualify this by saying that the victims throughout the region have the photographic memories, while the perpetrators are the amnesiac proponents of "moving on."

        I never knew about the demise of Greece's King Alexander.  He was just 27 when a monkey bit him after attacking his dog.  The wounds grew septic and proved fatal 23 days later.  Just a generation later, antibiotics would have saved him for certain.

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  • The Armenian Genocide Continued after the Ottoman Defeat (Massoud Malek, USA 04/28/21 3:36 AM)
    The Armenian genocide is an important event in the history of modern human rights atrocities. The genocide is unfortunately still denied by the majority of Turks in 2021.

    From the 1890s through the 1910s, Armenians were asking for some major change such as equal treatment for Christians and Jews under Ottoman law. But this was met with massacre as a punitive act, especially in the 1890s and the early years of the 20th century. When World War I broke out, the ruling elite in Turkey decided they had an opportunity to eliminate the entire Armenian population. It's worth noting that other Christian minority populations, Assyrians and Greeks, were also wiped out. During World War I and its aftermath, about 4 million Christians disappeared from Turkey.

    In a series of genocidal massacres repeated in 1895-1896, 1909, 1915-1918, and 1920-1922, the Armenian population of Turkey was annihilated. The combined deportations and massacres during World War I acquired the dimensions of total genocide and was implemented by the Young Turks who had removed Abdul-Hamid from the throne in 1909.

    1915-1916: At the orders of Talaat Pasha, he Minister of Interior Affairs in 1915, an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenian women, children, and elderly or infirm people were sent on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert. Driven forward by paramilitary escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to robbery, rape, and massacre. In the Syrian Desert, they were dispersed into a series of concentration camps; in early 1916 another wave of massacres was ordered, leaving about 200,000 deportees alive by the end of 1916. Around 100,000 to 200,000 Armenian women and children were forcibly converted to Islam and integrated into Muslim households.

    Our esteemed editor asked on April 26th: "Why Turkey didn't take the German approach of acknowledging its past sins, attributing them to a previous (and nefarious) regime, and allowing the 'New Turkey' to move on?" The answer is in the next paragraph:

    1920-1922: Massacres and ethnic cleansing of Armenian survivors were carried out by the Turkish nationalist movement during the Turkish War of Independence after World War I.

    Turkey is successfully colonizing American universities by endowing chairs to professors who would deny the Armenian genocide.





    JE comments:  Talaat Pasha's 1915 directive is about as close as one can get to the "Wannsee" moment.  An Armenian assassin's bullet would be the price he would pay, in 1921.  The assassin was acquitted in a Berlin court, on account of insanity provoked by the genocide--a PTSD defense before its time.

    A logistics question:  how did the (few) surviving Armenians cross over to French-controlled Syria in wartime?  The front lines were not as static as Europe's Western Front, but there was still a war zone to content with.

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