1 Whitney Olsen History 457-01 Comparative Essay December 2, 2011 The Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Genocide
of 1915 In 1915, the Ottoman Empire began a deliberate attack and elimination of the Armenian population within its borders. This high organization and methodical slaughter of the Armenians has become known as the Armenian Genocide or the Armenian Holocaust, one of the very first genocides to occur in modern times. The astonishing thing is that, despite overwhelming evidence that would satisfy even the most stubborn critic, the modern Republic of Turkey (formerly the Ottoman Empire) continues to deny that a genocide against the Armenians ever took place. For this reason, I have become fascinated with this historical event and would consider myself to be on a personal quest to discover why the Republic of Turkey continues to deny their involvement in an event that is obviously true and why they refuse to accept the blame of something that happened almost 100 years ago. In my research, I have noticed that many sources have vastly different approaches and perspectives on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Some sources do not even acknowledge that it happened and others go into great detail concerning the matter. For this essay, I have concentrated my research on comparing the accuracy and particular biases of three different authors that write about the genocide. I will compare the three sources’ approach to how the Armenians were treated during the attacks, what the Turks’ reasoning was for desiring to wipe out the Armenian race, and why the Republic of Turkey firmly denies their involvement in the genocide to this day.
2 In the research process, it is crucial to understand whom the authors of your sources are and what particular biases they have regarding the topic. Without understanding this, you may not have a very accurate perspective of the historical situation. For the purposes of understanding the Armenian genocide, I consulted the book “Turkey: The Quest for Identity” by Feroz Ahmad. Orginally, Ahmad studied history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. Then he studied history at the University of London where he obtained his PhD. Ahmad became an emeritus professor of history at the University of Massachusetts in 1978. He is considered to be an expert on modern Turkey and Middle East history. Ahmad worked in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University in 1980-81. Some of his other works include “The Making of Modern Turkey” (1993), “From Empire to Republic: Essays on the Late Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey” (2008), and “Democracy in the Process of Turkey” (1994). Ahmad also was a visiting scholar at the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University in the United States. Ahmad served as the Chair of the Department of International Relations and Political Science at the Yeditepe University in Istanbul. As of 2005, Ahmad retired from being a professor and settled in Turkey. Because of all Ahmad’s accomplishments and depth of studies, it would seem that he would be a highly credible source. However, in his book “Turkey: The Quest for Identity,” he does not mention the Armenian Genocide even though he claims to give a complete chronological list of the events in modern Turkey. It appears that his bias is to present Turkey in the same light that the current leaders of Turkey desire to have their country presented to the world. This bias would include denying the existence of the Armenian Genocide. Knowing this about Ahmad, it makes me leery to fully trust his
3 works. His purpose in writing “Turkey: Quest for Identity” was to educate those who do not know much about Turkey’s history and give an account of the current challenges the country faces. In contrast, Richard Stoneman, the author of “A Traveller’s History of Turkey,” was born near Devon, England. He spent thirty years as a classics editor for Routledge and recently retired from that in 2006. He is now an honorary visiting professor at The University of Exeter. His primary research interest has been in Greek tradition, primarily focusing on Alexander the Great. He is a Director of Westminster Classic Tours, which takes tour groups to classical sites in Turkey and Greece. He is the author of many books including “A Literary Companion to Travel in Greece” (1984), “Legends of Alexander the Great” (1994), and “Across the Hellespont: Travellers in Turkey from Herodotus to Freya Stark” (1987). Stoneman appears to be a credible source, especially regarding Greek history. However, since his research has primarily been focused on Greek world history and Alexander the Great, we know that the history of Turkey is not his area of expertise. Because his interests have not been directly related to the history in modern Turkey, it would seem that he would not have any huge bias regarding the Armenian Genocide. I find these discoveries about Stoneman’s background to be interesting because it certainly diminishes my trust in his credibility on this particular subject. His purpose in writing “A Traveller’s History of Turkey” was to educate students and tourists about important background information of Turkey that they could not normally find in a guide. The emphasis of the book is given to sites and monuments that are still in existence today; however, Stoneman claims that this book gives an accurate description of the events of Turkey from ancient to present times.
4 While his account of the Armenian Genocide is somewhat brief, his particular bias seems to be to make a “good story.” With this in mind, his account of the genocide may or may not be exaggerated to make a good story. Finally, I have looked into the background of G. S. Graber, author of “Caravans to Oblivion: The Armenian Genocide, 1915.” Graber was born in England in 1928 and died in Los Angeles, California in 2000. He graduated from the London School of Economics. Some of his other works include “History of the SS” (1978) and “Stauffenberg” (1973). As far as a particular bias on the subject goes, perhaps Graber describes it best himself: “Is it possible to tell the story without landing too heavily in one camp? I have attempted to do so, but I do have a viewpoint based on such study of the material as I have undertaken, and perhaps I should announce it now. I do believe there was a genocide…masterminded via the teleprinter by Talaat at the Ministry of the Interior at Constantinople” (Graber, 6). Graber admits openly that he does not side with the denials of the leaders of Turkey today. Graber is very much a credible expert on the topic of the Armenian Genocide, considering that he wrote an entire book dedicated to it. When conducting research, it is also crucial to look into where the author of a source obtained his or her information. With Ahmad’s book “Turkey: The Quest for Identity,” there is no official citation page; however, he does include a list of sources for suggested further reading. Most of the sources he suggests are by Idem. Ahmad also suggests reading other books that he himself has written. The fact that he seems to rely heavily on sources from only a select few people makes me question his biases towards historical events. On the acknowledgements page, Ahmad claims that he “…stands on
5 the shoulders of the scholars who inspired [him] over the years…” He also states: “However, I alone remain responsible for any errors of fact or omissions.” Those are both bold statements, demonstrating that he is confident in the accuracy of his work. In contrast to Ahmad’s one-track research, Stoneman, author of “A Traveller’s History of Turkey,” has a much more broad and diverse list of sources in his suggested reading list. I think it is interesting to note that one of Stoneman’s suggested authors is Ahmad. Finally, Graber, author of “Caravans to Oblivion,” includes a very extensive list of research sources that he used to writing his book. None of the sources are in common with the sources that Ahmad and Stoneman use, however. From comparing all three authors (Ahmad, Stoneman, and Graber), Graber’s extensive research on the topic of the Armenian Genocide seems to be the most promising and convincing because of his extensive and diverse research, as well as his expertise on the subject. In comparing these three sources, I have discovered some key similarities and differences in Ahmad, Stoneman, and Graber’s approaches to the Armenian Genocide. For example, in comparing how the Armenians were treated during the attacks, Ahmad claims that the Kurdish tribes not the Ottoman Empire attacked the Armenians (Ahmad, 62). In fact, he goes so far as to claim that the Porte sent troops and gave arms to the Armenian community so that they could defend themselves from the attacks (Ahmad, 62). He continues by saying that eleven Kurds were found guilty of leading the attacks against the Armenians and were publically hanged as punishment in order to prevent further violence (Ahmad, 62). Ahmad clearly denies that a genocide ever even existed. He also deliberately denies that the Ottoman Empire was involved in leading the attacks. He goes as far as to pass all of the blame onto the Kurdish tribes and
6 Russia. In stark contrast, Stoneman and Graber claim that there is overwhelming evidence supporting the fact that the Ottoman Empire deliberately and systematically destroyed the Armenians in concentration camps and death marches. Basically, Ahmad and Stoneman/Graber claim the exact opposite things regarding the Ottoman’s involvement – Ahmad says that the Ottomans helped the Armenians, but Stoneman and Graber claim that the Ottomans purposefully slaughtered the Armenians. According to Stoneman, “Those who reached the concentration camps of Mesopotamia were… no more than living skeletons. At Deir-ez-Zor many were crowded into underground caves where they were crushed or, in some cases, doused with petrol and burnt to death” (Stoneman, 172). And according to Graber, a survivor of the genocide wrote: “The escorts were trying to kill us by hunger and exhaustion. All this rough country was full of corpses; the stench was terrible. Of the group with which I left Malatia, certainly more than a half perished before reaching the Euphrates… nearing the bank they threw us into the water and many were drowned” (Graber, 104). These two accounts from Graber and Stoneman show that the Turkish treatment of the Armenians during the genocide was horrible and completely inhumane. Another difference among the viewpoints of these three authors is their thoughts on what the Turk’s reasoning was for desiring to wipe out the Armenian race. Stoneman argues that the only reason for the Turkish genocide against the Armenians was the issue of picking sides during the World War I. According to Stoneman, when Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians openly declared their support for Russia (Stoneman, 171). Because of this, the Ottomans needed to quickly remove the Armenians from within their borders. Stoneman states: “Officially the
7 Armenians were to be deported en masse to places where they could not interfere with the progress of the war. In practice, they were rounded up…forced to walk to camps that awaited them in Deir-ez-Zor…” (Stoneman, 171). From Stoneman’s perspective, it sounds like the genocide just happened and that it wasn’t planned at first. In contrast, we have Graber who paints more of the picture that the Armenians were in the way of a greater plan that the Young Turks had to advance their territory (Graber, 96). The Young Turks also hated the Armenians because they were constantly in touch with Russia, a giant enemy of the Turks. Furthermore, the Armenians were better educated and more prosperous then the Turks, which increased their hatred toward each other (Graber, 96). Certainly Stoneman and Graber both have slightly different opinions on why the Young Turks decided to attempt to wipe out the Armenians. Ahmad, on the other hand, does not even admit that there was such a genocide, and, naturally, does not hold the same opinion about the Young Turks’ intentions towards the Armenian race. Ahmad instead claims that the Young Turks desired to settle the problems with the Armenians by reform under British control, but that this plan was prevented from being carried out (Ahmad, 61). Ahmad really tries hard in his writing to make the Turkish government appear to be considerate towards the Armenians – the exact opposite of what Stoneman and Graber claim to have actually happened. Finally, the last difference I would like to point out among the viewpoints of these three authors is their opinions on why the Republic of Turkey firmly denies their involvement in the genocide to this day. Obviously, Ahmad himself denies the existence of the Armenian Genocide; so of course, he does not explain why the Turkish government might be defending themselves from this accusation. However, Stoneman
8 declares that the Turkish government only denies that there was an official policy of systematic massacre (Stoneman, 171). This suggests that perhaps the Turkish government admits that a horrible massacre did happen but denies personal involvement in the issue. Graber has a much different opinion, however. Graber declares that the Turkish government tried to explain away the Armenian deaths by lumping their losses in with the causalities of the World War I. Graber would say that this excuse did not work for long though because of the 600,000 – 1,500,000 murdered Armenians, the vast majority of them were women and children (Graber, 151). Graber shows that the Turkish government very purposefully attempted to destroy all evidence of their involvement, making it more difficult to find solid facts on which to accuse them for an official and united slaughter of the Armenians (Garber, 165). Graber argues that one of the reasons the Turkish government denies involvement even nearly 100 years later is because they believe that there will never be enough evidence to prove them wrong, although the majority of the world would disagree and have interpreted the withstanding evidence of the Armenian Genocide differently. My personal opinion about these three authors – Stoneman, Graber, and Ahmad – has definitely developed throughout the course of my research. Near the beginning of this study, I had a very open and trusting view of these authors’ expertise on the issues of the Armenian Genocide. However, as I continued to uncover information about their backgrounds, biases, and education, I discovered that I could not as readily trust that all of their information was completely accurate. Especially with Ahmad, I now believe that it would be difficult to accept anything he claims to be true considering his position of denial on the Armenian Genocide. On the other hand, Graber’s presentation
9 and argument regarding the Armenian Genocide has greatly impressed me and has a much more convincing appeal to readers. Graber has consulted a great variety of other sources to establish his viewpoint on the matter. Graber, also, was on a search for the truth in regards to the Armenian Genocide instead of having a preconceived agenda on what happened. Because of these reasons, I am much more drawn to believing the “facts” that Graber provides rather than the skeptical opinions of Ahmad. Stoneman, as an English man and therefore, an outside observer, is also believable in his presentation because he does not seek to really take “sides” with any particular party in the Middle East, but rather just desires to present the findings of his research as he has discovered them. Stoneman is far more concerned with the history and stories of the archeological sites rather than the political beliefs of the people; this gives him more credibility as an unbiased outsider, but also causes me to question his depth of study on the events if that is not his area of expertise. In conclusion, I have really enjoyed studying the works of Graber, Stoneman, and Ahmad. I believe that this research project has really opened my eyes to the importance of digging up information on author’s backgrounds and biases. I have a new perspective on accepting the reliability of historical information, knowing that I need to look at the facts presented through the lens of many different biases. Ahmad’s work has really shaken me up as I now realize how easy it is for experts to present history in a false light. I also am encouraged by the works of Stoneman and Graber, but still cannot help but hold onto at least some skepticism about their work now that I know how easy it is to present historical facts through a biased lens.
10 Works Cited:
Ahmad, Feroz. Turkey: The Quest for Identity. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2003. Print.
Graber, G.S. Caravans to Oblivion: The Armenian Genocide, 1915. Toronto, Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996. Print.
Stoneman, Richard. A Traveller’s History of Turkey. Brooklyn, New York: Interlink Books, 1998. Print.