Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Turk slaughter of Armenians is little-known (Dadrian interview reprint)

Turk slaughter of Armenians is little-known (Dadrian interview reprint)


The Armenian Genocide
Original Publication Date: 4/16/2000
(c) 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Original Headline: Turk slaughter of Armenians is little-known // An
author documents the overshadowed history of genocide during World War I
in the former Ottoman Empire.

By Eric Black; Staff Writer and Big Question blogger

"Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?"

That remark was uttered by Adolf Hitler a few days before Germany's
1939 invasion of Poland, which started World War II.

Hitler said he had ordered death squads to "exterminate without mercy
or pity, Polish men, women and children" who got in the way of
Germany's aims. They needn't worry about history's judgment, he said,
because history had already forgotten the massacre of more than a
million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire just 25 years earlier.

Vahakn Dadrian, who lectured in the Twin Cities last week, has made it
his life's work to keep alive the history of the Armenian genocide.

Armenians around the world commemorate the genocide every April. April
24 was the date in 1915 when about 300 Armenian intellectual and
professional leaders in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (modern
Istanbul) were rounded up, beginning a three-year killing spree.

The Armenian Cultural Organization of Minnesota will mark the tragedy
today with a lecture by Dadrian at the University of Minnesota.

The Armenian genocide ranks as one of the 20th century's biggest cases
of organized mass murder based on ethnic and religious differences. But
it is far less well-known than the biggest case - the Nazi-organized
slaughter of Jews, Gypsies and others - and several more recent ones
such as those in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Dadrian, director of genocide research at the Cambridge, Mass., and
Toronto-based Zoryan Institute and author of a 1995 book, "The History
of the Armenian Genocide," has devoted his adult life to documenting
the tragedy. And Dadrian is among the founders of a field known as
comparative study of genocide. He spoke twice in recent days, at St.

Cloud State University and at the Jewish Community Center of
Minneapolis, on his comparison between the Armenian genocide and the

Modern Turkey, successor to the Ottoman Empire, denies that the deaths
of the Armenians were part of a program of genocide. Many countries,
including the United States, out of deference to the Turkish position,
have avoided officially recognizing the tragedy as a genocide. In April
1999, for example, President Clinton's statement on the anniversary
referred to the "deportation and massacre" of "so many innocent lives,"
but he avoided using the term "genocide."

Dadrian said a resolution pending in Congress, with more than 100
cosponsors, would recognize the genocide and authorize the United
States to create an archive to preserve materials documenting the case.

Turkish denial

In the 19th century, Armenia was part of the declining Ottoman Empire.

Anti-Armenian sentiment was a staple of Turkish politics. In 1894-96,
more than 150,000 Armenians were slaughtered, Dadrian said.

Early in the 20th century, the Ottomans lost their extensive holdings
in the Balkan peninsula in a war that started with nationalist
movements among several of the subject populations. Similar nationalist
sentiments were stirring in the Armenian regions. Dadrian said the
biggest part of the motive for the Turkish program of genocide was the
fear that Armenian nationalism would lead to the empire's loss of more

The Turkish denial that its predecessors committed genocide, Dadrian
said, relies on the argument that the government was merely trying to
relocate a troublesome population out of a war zone.

That argument was rebutted at the time by the U.S. ambassador to the
Ottoman Empire, Henry Morganthau, who witnessed much of the genocide.

In a 1917 book, he wrote: "When the Turkish authorities gave the orders
for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a
whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversation with
me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact."

The way the Armenians were killed are staggeringly grisly and provide a
macabre contrast to the relatively bureaucratic and hi-tech methods
that the Nazis would employ 25 years later.

In a policy that Dadrian said was "unparalleled in the annals of human
history," the Turks "decided to rely not on soldiers but on
bloodthirsty criminals." Dadrian said 30,000 to 35,000 convicts were
released from prison to participate in the slaughter.

With a world war raging, Dadrian said, Ottoman officials were anxious
not to waste bullets or powder on the Armenians, so they employed four
main methods to kill the Armenians:

Many were beaten to death or killed with daggers, swords and axes.

Massive drowning operations were conducted in the tributaries of the
Euphrates River and the Black Sea. Bargeloads of Armenians were
intentionally sunk. Dadrian, quoting Morganthau, said that in places
the Armenian corpses became so numerous that the rivers were forced out
of their beds, in one case changing the course of a river for a
100-meter stretch.

The method that Dadrian called "the most fiendish" was to pack Armenian
women and children into stables or haylofts and then set them ablaze,
burning the victims alive. Dadrian estimated that about 150,000 were
killed by this method.

Hundreds of thousands more died of hunger, thirst or exposure during
forced marches in the desert. Dadrian said the Armenians were told they
were being relocated but were marched along routes chosen to maximize
the chances that none of the marchers would survive.

Estimates of the number of Armenians killed vary. Dadrian said the best
figure - just for the period 1915-1918 - is between 1.2 million and 1.3
million out of a pre-war population of Armenians within the Ottoman
Empire of about 4 million.

Cases compared

In comparing the tragedies that befell the Armenians and the Jews in
the 20th century, and looking at other cases of genocide or
near-genocide, Dadrian offered these observations:

The Jews and the Armenians were historical victims of persecution. Both
lacked a state of their own and had a minority status in every country
where they lived. This combination made them "fair game" for their

Armenians and Jews were legally barred from power positions in their
societies, such as the military, government and civil service. Some
their members prospered in commercial fields, which made them objects
of envy and resentment. This element was also represented in the
Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda, Dadrian said, where Tutsis were
perceived as controlling an unfair proportion of wealth relative to

Relative wealth combined with lack of access to political or military
power is a potent combination, Dadrian said, because it makes a group
into appealing targets of persecution but leaves them essentially

Although the genocide victims were already hated groups in both cases,
they were further degraded and vilified by official propaganda before
the killing started. Dadrian said the term "vermin" was commonly used
to describe Jews during the Nazi period and Armenians during the period
leading up their genocide.

Both genocidal campaigns occurred in the context of a larger war. Both
target populations were described as a dangerous internal enemy, which
made their massacre seem justifiable as an act of national security.

One lesson the world can learn from the comparative study, Dadrian
said, is that war itself can create the preconditions for genocide.

"War provides incentives for becoming barbarous, and it presents a
cloak or a guise for that barbarity," he said.

A key similarity that Dadrian said is often overlooked is that both
genocides were committed by particular political parties: the Nazis and
the Young Turks. Those who conceive the Holocaust as perpetrated by the
German nation or the German government are missing the fact that the
nation and the government had been overwhelmed by the Nazis, he said.

The Young Turk movement filled a similar role in the Turkish case.

The same factor is present in many of the other 20th-century genocides,
he said. For example, the Kurds of northern Iraq are being persecuted
not by Iraqis in general but by the ruling Baath Party.

The "killing fields" of Cambodia were created by the Khmer Rouge
movement that took over that country. Dadrian called the Cambodian case
especially unusual because it lacked an ethnic or religious component.

The perpetrators and victims were ethnically similar but on opposite
sides of a class and ideological divide.

The Turks and the Nazis operated in "an absence of external
deterrence," Dadrian said. While some rhetorical protests were filed in
both cases, the perpetrators understood that their victims had been
abandoned by the outside world.

Timeline/Summary:Turkey and the Armenians 1915-1922

The Turks believed that the Armenians would use an Allied victory to
set up an independent state. When many Armenians openly rejoiced at the
initial Allied success at the Dardanelles, the Turks turned upon them.

Between 1915-22, more than a million Armenians were killed and another
400,000 died in prison camps.

April-November 1915: More than 600,000 Armenians killed.

November 1915: 500,000 Armenians deported to Mesopotamia (modern day
Iraq); 90,000 survive the war.

August 1918: More than 400,000 Armenians killed by Turkish soldiers
during the Turkish advance through Russia.

February 1920: More than 30,000 Armenians killed; 80,000 fled to Syria.

September 1922: Remaining 100,000 Armenians driven out by Turks. In
1931, the Turkish government confiscated their property.

Source: "First World War Atlas" by Martin Gilbert


About Eric Black

Eric Black writes about national and world news for the Star Tribune. He
specializes in pieces that try to put the news into historical
perspective. He has been a journalist since 1973, with the Star Tribune
since 1977, and is the author of 1.74 million newspaper articles and
five books.

Black launched the Big Q in December 2005 to see if he could save the
world from ignorance and error. Ignorance and error are still running
slightly ahead in the polls, so, in February 2007, Black recruited the
lovely D.J. Tice as a co-blogger.

About D.J. Tice
D.J. Tice has been Politics and Government Team Leader at the Star
Tribune since 2003, supervising coverage of Minnesota political news.

Earlier, Tice was a columnist and editorial writer at the St. Paul
Pioneer Press for 12 years.

He's also earned a paycheck as publisher of the since-vanished Twin
Cities Reader, as an inflight magazine editor for the since-vanished
TWA, and as a writer/editor for several additional enterprises that have
perished from the earth. Tice has written two hard-to-find books and
joins the Big Q in hopes of enlightening a benighted world or at least
learning to set up a hyperlink.