Eunomia · Armenia

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Shat mart kose yis earimen hasrat’ im  Many men say I am yearning for my beloved.
Leyli-Mejloom el che es halov Even Medjloom of Leyla was never in such a state.
Mart piti hamasha beranet tndghe  One must always be careful with your mouth.
Khosk’ is asum arakavor-masalov You are speaking with fables and hints.

Lezoot kaghtsr’ unis shakar or shartin  You have a sweet tongue, sugar and honey.
Mazirt’ rehan e patetats’ vardin, Your hair is basil, wrapping around the rose.
Ki zardarats’ tesnim hit tsaghkazardin Let me look at you decorated at the flower festival,
Hagil elis zar-zarbaben khas alov Youwear silk with red satin.


Ea indzi kortsrek’, ea me ban arek’,   Either leave me or do something
Khpetsek’, me tighes me nshan arek’, Beat me, put a mark on me somewhere
Tekooz estoo hama karaspan arek’  If only for this, stone me to death.
Chim kshtanum gozali hit khosalov I am not satisfied with speaking with the beautiful one.


Ajab vonts’ dimanam yis eschap darin,  How can I take so much pain?
Achkemes artasunk’ doos goooka arin,  From my eyes come tears of blood.
Orn ir shabatov karot im earin,  Daily I am yearning for my beloved.
Vontsor gharib blbool vardin tisalov.  Like the wandering nightingale looking at the rose.


Khlkis tarav jadookarin chim tesi.  Whoever took my mind, I did not see the magician.
Bemurvatin, beighrarin chim tesi.  I didn’t see the ruthless and unfaithful one.
Sayat-Noven asats’ earin chim tesi.  Sayat Nova says, I didn’t see the beloved.
Man im gali artasunk’s husalov.  I am walking, pouring forth my tears.

Translated by Larison

Turkey’s strategic interests are much more dependent on good relations with the United States than vice versa. If we tolerate Turkey’s blackmail, we actually weaken our position in the strategic relationship and embolden others in the region to blackmail us. ~Roxanne Makasdjian

This is pretty much my view of the matter as well.

How are the mighty fallen! President George Bush, the crusader king who would draw the sword against the forces of Darkness and Evil, he who said there was only “them or us”, who would carry on, he claimed, an eternal conflict against “world terror” on our behalf; he turns out, well, to be a wimp. A clutch of Turkish generals and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign on behalf of Turkish Holocaust deniers have transformed the lion into a lamb. No, not even a lamb – for this animal is, by its nature, a symbol of innocence – but into a household mouse, a little diminutive creature which, seen from afar, can even be confused with a rat. ~Robert Fisk

It is still a little strange to find myself agreeing with Robert Fisk as often as I have in recent years, but on the subject of the Armenian genocide he has been absolutely right.  Fisk makes many of the points that I did in my column on the genocide last month (10/22 issue).  We have all heard the arguments claiming that “no one denies” that what happened to the Armenians was genocide (I have heard another one of these today), when there is a small industry dedicated to just this kind of denial and our government evidently cowers in fear of them.  Some people, who have gotten their history from some of the denialist historians, come to the debate misinformed and so react very strongly against charges of denialism, since they think (erroneously) there is some legitimate doubt about what happened.  There really isn’t.  Some who are better-informed, but apparently still unaware of the denialists, think it is redundant to say yet again what they believe everyone already acknowledges.  Yet the absurdity of the situation is clear: if “no one” denied the genocide, there would be no controversy over acknowledging it as genocide, since no one would have any stake in preventing recognition.  Clearly, some interested parties are very intent on preventing that recognition, or else there should scarcely have been much attention paid to a House non-binding resolution. 

Speaking of the Turkish threats against our supply lines, Fisk correctly notes: “In the real world, this is called blackmail…”  Exactly so.  And the administration yielded to it without hesitation.    

My column sums up my views on the current debate, but I did have one more thing to say on the subject of the Armenian genocide.  This was brought to mind as I reviewing part of Bruce Clark’s Twice A Stranger this morning before lecturing on the Megali Idea.  Clark has written a fine book on the population exchanges following Lausanne.  In it he has a few sentences about the genocide on page 9:

In one of the most ghastly chapters of modern history, the entire Armenian population in most parts of Anatolia was deported southwards and at least 600,000 died as a result.  To this day, bitter arguments rage between the Turkish government, its defenders and critics over the cause of these deaths.  Were they the result of a deliberate policy of mass killing, or, so to speak, negligence?  A few courageous Turkish historians have argued for the absurdity of the latter position. [bold mine-DL]

And, of course, that is an absurd position, but it is one that you will see Ankara’s apologists use.

And on yet another level, that issue highlights the way the West, including the U.S., has been preoccupied with the killing of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by mostly Muslim Turks and Kurds. ~Leon Hadar

Certainly, there has been some attention drawn to the genocide in the West over the last 90 years, though the attention tended to be greatest when it was happening and has since settled into the background or vanished from collective memory.  But preoccupied?  The West has been anything but preoccupied with the Armenian genocide.  But for active lobbying by Armenians, scarcely anyone would give it a second thought.

Something very strange has happened.  Christopher Hitchens writes about the Armenian genocide resolution and actually makes sense:

If the Turks wish to continue lying officially about what happened to the Armenians, then we cannot be expected to oblige them by doing the same (and should certainly resent and repudiate any threats against ourselves or our allies that would ensue from our Congress affirming the truth).

This has generally been my view since the debate heated up again this autumn.  I have more to say along these lines in my next column in TAC.

We remain surprised that the U.S.-Turkey relationship is thought to be so fragile that this non-binding resolution or other verbal acknowledgements appear to pose a problem. ~Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian

Oskanian went on:

“Armenia has been careful not to voice an opinion on the resolution. We have maintained that this is a matter between those in the U.S. Congress and their constituents [bold mine-DL],” he said.

“But when Turkey and its lobbyists dragged us in, implying that such a resolution would hurt some non-existent bilateral process between Armenia and Turkey, then we spoke up.”

“We’ve held out our hand for more than a decade. Turkey has kept the door shut tightly. Worse, Turkey has become more radical and extreme in its denialist policies.”

This is a helpful corrective to the story being told by some opponents of the resolution that its passage will “set back” efforts at Armenian-Turkish reconciliation.  Ankara isn’t engaged in reconciliation efforts.  For there to be a “setback” there would actually have to be a process that is being set back. 

James Fallows makes some good observations about the influence of ethnic and interest group lobbies and the legitimacy of criticising the potentially adverse effects of their recommended policies on American interests.  He is correct that opposition to the genocide resolution doesn’t make someone anti-Armenian.  Then again, I would make a point of noting that no one who supports the resolution has made such a stupid charge.  That’s one place where there seems to be a significant difference in the treatment of different lobbies. 

Of course, the chief difference between the Armenian lobby, so called, and the Cuban and “pro-Israel” lobbies is that the latter two actually get concrete policies enacted that they want to see enacted in the face of the obvious costs and disadvantages those policies involve.  According to the harsher critics, the “pro-Israel” lobby has enough influence to propel America into regional wars or at least to acquiesce in Israel’s own excesses, helping to alienate us from most of the world and contributing to security threats to our own country.  The Armenians can’t even get a symbolic resolution through one side of Congress, the only consequence of which would be the irrational overreaction of one ally.  Does anyone really think that Armenian-Americans could effectively shape U.S. policy in the Caucasus or our relationship vis-a-vis Azerbaijan?  Could they get Washington to recognise Karabakh?  Of course not, and therein lies all the difference in the magnitude of the influence of different lobbying groups.

I gave up on the dreadful Florida GOP debate before they ever got to foreign policy, but apparently Tom Tancredo had the nerve to attack the genocide resolution at one point.  Nothing new there, you might think, except that Tancredo was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.  He very quickly abandoned it once it became controversial.  Quoth Tancredo:

We can’t continue to go back to the dust bin of history to condemn actions by empires that no longer even exist.

It seems to me that this is what we do all the time.  We pore over the “dust bin” and dwell on the crimes of the Nazis and Soviets, and repeatedly, endlessly talk about those crimes and compare our present-day enemies with the perpetrators of these crimes.  Earlier this year, the President went to the Holocaust Museum and condemned the actions of an empire that no longer exists.  American politicians condemn the evils of Soviet communism as a matter of course, and are not concerned that this might hurt relations with the Russians.  Of course, there is usually an assumption that post-Soviet Russia is in significant ways still quite different from the old Soviet Union, which means that criticism of the latter need not extend to the modern successor state of the criminal regime. 

Yesterday I said in another post:

I suspect, but I cannot definitely prove, that another element is a weird, unseemly desire to keep the Nazis in the public imagination as the fons et origo of genocidal killing (which would also have to conveniently ignore the genocide of the Ukrainians) to sustain the mythology surrounding the entire WWII period.

Part of my point here was to make the point that the mythology about WWII to some extent requires holding up the Nazis as uniquely and especially evil in some unprecedented way.  They must remain the ultimate villains to better reinforce the memory of WWII as the ‘Good War’.  Part of the novelty and uniqueness of Nazi evil, according to President Bush’s own description, is that the Nazis allegedly introduced state-planned genocide:

Yet in places such as Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald, the world saw something new and terrible: the state-sanctioned extermination of a people — carried out with a chilling industrial efficiency of a so-called modern nation.

To argue that there was actually a precedent and a previous state-sanctioned, organised and planned extermination of a people is effectively to deny the newness and uniqueness of the Nazis’ crimes.  To acknowledge the Armenian genocide as genocide, then, endangers a key part of a certain narrative about WWII, because it means that there had already been something similar in nature to the Nazis’ genocidal killing.  For some bizarre reason, there really does seem to be a need on the part of Armenian genocide deniers to resist acknowledging that the Armenian genocide was the “first genocide of the 20th century,” which would at the very least make the Holocaust the second, as if some special or superior status were attached to being the first one.  The distinction is obviously chronological, not moral.  Later genocides do not matter less because they came after others, nor are earlier ones more significant.  However, the debate over this resolution seems to take it for granted that some are more important than others and some are more worthy of commemoration than others. 

The San Francisco Chronicle sullies its op-ed page with more of Bruce Fein’s denialist prattle.  Armenians in the Republic are taking a keen interest in the resolution’s fate.  Jay Tolson in U.S. News and World Report makes the obvious, but necessary point:

The question is whether Turkey will ever enter a debate in which the consensus of scholars holds that the killings and mass deportations of Armenians did indeed constitute a genocide. According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the historical record on the Armenian genocide is “unambiguous”: In the years approaching World War I, a new breed of Ottoman officials, the Young Turks, heirs to two centuries of imperial decline, saw themselves as the defenders of the Turkish remnant state in the Anatolian core of the empire. Embracing an ultranationalist and supposedly secular ideology, Young Turk leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress pointedly excluded non-Muslim minorities, particularly Armenians, from their vision of Turkish purity. The outbreak of war allowed these leaders to paint all Armenians as pro-Russian fifth columnists (which only a small number were) and undertake organized and widespread massacres and deportations that led to further deaths from starvation and disease.


The resolution is opposed by the Bush administration, not necessarily because it disagrees that genocide occurred nearly a century ago, but because such a resolution will inflame passions at a time when there are passions enough in the neighborhood. ~Cal Thomas

Via Sullivan

That must be why the White House said, “the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.”  It doesn’t take a genius to come up with the formulation, “Yes, it was a genocide organised by a state that no longer exists, but this resolution is badly timed, provocative and strains an important alliance in wartime.”  That is not the White House’s position.  In fact, that is a fairly rare position in this debate–it is a view held, shockingly enough, by none other than Charles Krauthammer.  Meanwhile, the White House is taking the Ahmadinejad “we need more research” view of the question.  We call Ahmadinejad’s maneuver the tactic of a Holocaust denier.  The same standard should apply to the administration.

Returning to Lerner for another response, I will try to explain how flawed the article is.  As an earlier commenter has noted, Lerner has already tried to stack the deck rhetorically by making a comparison between an exterminationist party and ideological movement and an entire nation:

We must do it, Armenian genocide proponents [sic] tell us, because the Armenian tragedy was the original Holocaust: Armenians in World War I were like the Jews in World War II; Turks in 1915 were like the Germans in the 1940s. Thus, the only moral choice is to condemn the Turks, as we condemned the Nazis.

In fact, it was not “the Turks” who filled the role of genocidaires during WWI, but leaders and members of the CUP, Kurdish irregulars and some Ottoman soldiers.  To make blanket statements about “the Turks” is to go down Goldhagen’s road of collective guilt and engage in precisely the kind of reckless identitarian vilification that, as Kuehnelt-Leddihn has argued in another context, leads to the dehumanisation of an entire people and thus makes it easier to wage campaigns of annihilation against them.  Lerner has phrased things in such a way as to endorse Ankara’s portrayal of the efforts to recognise the genocide.  In this view, it is not just a recognition of crimes committed by agents within the Ottoman government and military, but an indictment of the entire Turkish nation.  If that was what we were talking about, I would also have to object to it, but it isn’t.  “The Turks” as a whole were not responsible, just as “the Turks” today are not responsible for what was done in those years, but it was rather specific groups of Turkish nationalists and Kurdish tribesmen who were responsible for what happened.  So, right away, Lerner clouds the issue by inaccurately describing the terms of the debate.

Lerner says:

The only enemies at home [in Germany in WWII] were the Jews, and they were never a real threat. They were scapegoats, not objective enemies, and they were being methodically eliminated, without exception, in all German-controlled territory.

The implication is that all Armenians in eastern Anatolia were an “objective enemy,” because there were some Armenians who raised rebellions or fought with the Russians, which somehow makes the genocidal campaign against the civilian Armenian population of eastern Anatolia less than genocidal.  In Lerner’s world, it’s only genocide if there are literally no members of the targeted population engaged in subversive or rebellious activity.  In framing things this way, Lerner has already conceded the morality of collective punishment of civilian populations in retaliation for the activities of guerrillas.  Presumably, as she sees it, there was also no genocide attempted against the Serbian population under German-Croat occupation, either, because “the Serbs” were an “objective enemy” engaged in resistance.  For Lerner, deliberate exterminationist campaigns are something other than genocide when they take place in a war zone, which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of the way most people understand the term.  Organised killing of a particular group of civilians bound by ethnic and religious ties is not genocide for Lerner if it comes as a “punishment” for the rebellion of a minority of the population.  It’s certainly a different kind of view, but it certainly isn’t moral.

She then obscures the issue by describing the Dardanelles campaign thus:

Fighting there was fierce, and continued until January 1916, but, on this front, there were relatively few civilian casualties, and no massacres.

There were relatively few civilian casualties because the front was largely static and confined to the narrow strips of land near Gallipoli.  There were no massacres because the Ottoman forces had their hands quite full with British and ANZAC forces.  There was also no sizeable Armenian population in the immediate vicinity of the Dardanelles, which makes the comparison seem almost pointless.

While Lerner acknowledges that Armenians fought on the Ottoman side, being subject to the general mobilisation conscription, she does not mention that Armenians in Ottoman units were disarmed after the Ottoman defeat at Sarikamis.  They were then executed. 

Of the aftermath of Sarikamis, Akcam writes on p. 143-44:

The defeat at Sarikamis was a turning point in the treatment of the Armenians, especially those in the army and labor batallions, who were no longer mistreated but frequently murdered.  In many regions, propaganda claimed that the Armenians had stabbed the Turks in the back.  Enver Pasha himself attempted to attribute the defeat to Armenian treachery, and referred to Armenians as a “threat.”….the first measure taken after the Sarikamis disaster was the order sent to army units on 25 February 1915, instructing them to disarm all Armenian soldiers….Reports followed, claiming that the annihilation of Armenians serving in the army had begun. 

Akcam writes more on page 144:

German missionary Jakob Kunzler, who worked with the medical personnel at the Urfa missionary hospital, recounts that the Armenians taken into the labor batallions were killed in March 1915, and that, “mostly knives were used, because the ammunition was needed for the foreign enemy.”  Something similar was related by Ambassador Morgenthau:

In almost all cases, the procedure was the same.  Here and there squads of 50 or 100 men would be taken, bound together in groups of four, and then marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the village.  Suddenly the sound of rifle shots would fill the air, and the Turkish soldiers who had acted as the escort would sullenly return to camp.  Those sent to bury the bodies would find them almost invariably stark naked, for, as usual, the Turks had stolen all their clothes.  In cases that came to my attention, the murderers had added a refinement to their victims’ sufferings by compelling them to dig their graves before being shot.

Other eyewitness accounts by foreigners serving in the area corroborate the fact that the murder of the labor batallions began only after the defeat at Sarikamis.

Sounds an awful lot like scapegoating to me. 

She also has nothing to say about the leading Armenians of Constantinople who were arrested on April 24, 1915 and subsequently executed.  She has nothing to say about these episodes because these would all point to an organised campaign of extermination.  In the end, Lerner cites the presence of Armenians fighting for the Russians (many of whom hailed from Russian Armenia all along, since the country was, as it has often been, divided between different empires) as if their possessing the same ethnicity gave the CUP or anyone else license to slaughter other, entirely unrelated Armenians.   

The only thing that Lerner can credibly claim is that the situations of the Armenians and Jews were very different.  The differences do not prove that there was no genocide, but only shows that genocide can take place under a number of different circumstances. 

Akcam has a passage on page 126 that happens to address the thrust of Lerner’s article directly:

It was not a coincidence that the Armenian genocide took place soon after the Sarikamis disaster and was contemporaneous with the empire’s struggle at Gallipoli.  As a rule, the acceleration of the process of a country’s decline and partition helps to strengthen a sense of desperation and “fighting with one’s back to the wall.”  As the situation becomes increasingly hopeless, those who have failed to prevent the collapse become more hostile and aggressive.  When the crisis deepens, they resort to increasingly barbaric means, and come to believe “that only an absolute lack of mercy would allow one to avoid this loss of power and honor.”  A nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesitate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation.

Update: Just to make another thing clear, there were also deportations of Armenians from western Anatolia and Thrace following the deportations from eastern Anatolia.  Those who would like to cast this as an eastern front wartime measure and leave it at that have no way to account for this. 

And why on earth should these public bodies lecture historians as to what they should be saying? ~Norman Stone

This is a standard line that I have heard a lot of these past few days.  Never have you encountered so many new passionate defenders of the independence of professional historians as in the last couple of weeks–the concern is truly touching.  Very clearly, Stone has never read the text of the resolution in question, or he would know that it has absolutely nothing to do with lecturing historians. 

The invocation of what we magical historians do bothers me most when someone talks about a matter “best left to historians” as another way of saying, “Let’s please stop talking about this subject publicly and leave it to those ghastly academics to worry about.”  Huckabee has done it before when it comes to debating the merits of the beginnings of the Iraq war (”it’s a question for historians to decide”), and it has now become the favourite refrain of the denialist.  Naturally, the denialist is not interested in proper historical research, nor does he care about interference with that research by “public bodies.”  The denialist complains about “political” interference with research when official bodies recognise the blatantly obvious, but will just as readily denounce as hopelessly biased any research that comes to conclusions that he dislikes.   

No one says that governments are “lecturing” historians when they commemorate the Holocaust or V-E Day or the Armistice or any other major historical event.  Governments commemorate things all the time, lending a certain sanction or authority to this or that reading of history.  As the Turkish government has shown, governments can use this power for distorting and corrupt ends.  That does not mean that we cease all commemorations and public acknowledgements of the past, but that we strive to be scrupulous in how we remember the past.  Certainly governments should not interfere with academics or dictate to them what they ought to say–that is fundamental.  That’s yet another reason to draw attention to the offically sanctioned denialism of the Republic of Turkey.  It is rather amazing to me how so many Westerners became so exercised over the threatened free speech rights of the people at Jyllands-Posten, but have suddenly lost all interest in free speech when it comes to Turkish academics and writers.  Many Westerners were put off by the idea that Muslims should apply the standards of their religion to everyone else and demand that others abide by those standards, but when it comes to abiding by the revisionist propaganda coming from Ankara they are more sanguine.        

It is not the government’s official approval or recognition, to address a concern my colleague James has raised, that adds any truth or significance to the event, and the historical reality would be the same whether or not it was ever officially acknowledged.  The genocide happened, whether or not Ankara and its small army of American and other lackeys will ever accept that reality.  But what we choose to commemorate and acknowledge does reflect on the kind of government one has and the kind of historical memory the citizens of a country have.  Refusal to commemorate and use the proper names for things also reflects on us. 

To cast the current (almost certainly now dead) resolution as a lecture to historians, as Stone does, is especially galling, since the main (indeed technically the only) intended audience of the resolution is the President, who is as much of an historian as I am a jet pilot.  The resolution is entitled: “Calling upon the President to ensure the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian genocide and for other purposes.”

Were the resolution to pass, not one historian would be obliged to do anything.  No historians will have been lectured by a public body.  Most historians of the subject, who already acknowledge the genocide, will be unfazed by the terrible burden of a non-binding resolution.  The only historians who would be troubled are those who have, for whatever reason, chosen to deny the genocidal nature of the events.  In any case, they have not yet been persuaded by evidence or conscience to recognise and speak the truth–a vote by the House of Representatives will not weigh heavily on them, either.

Stone invokes Lewy, whose arguments are pretty effectively undermined here, while ignoring the work that directly contradicts that of Lewy.  The Inside Higher Ed refers to a future Akcam work that will reportedly make the case even more clear.  From the article:

To those like Lewy who have written books saying that there is no evidence, “I laugh at them,” Akçam said, because the documents he has already released rebut them, and the new book will do so even more. “There is no scholarly debate on this topic,” he said. 

P.S.  Note to Cohen: the text of the resolution itself includes mention of Lemkin’s views on the Armenian genocide.

The Economist covers the resolution in an editorial and discusses Turkish-Armenian relations in an article.  Naturally, I don’t agree with the editorial, but I’ve already said plenty on that subject for now.  The article is a good overview of the state of affairs in Turkey.

Via Massie, I see that Fallows wrote:

The Armenian genocide was real; many Turks pretend it wasn’t. They are wrong, and we should stand for what’s right. But it’s hard to think of a more willfully self-indulgent step than lecturing Turkey’s current government and people 90 years late.

Er, so it’s willfully self-indulgent to stand up for what’s right?  What do you call it when you permit those in the wrong to prevail?  Virtuous self-sacrifice?  As the last couple of weeks has made quite clear, it isn’t just “many Turks” who deny the genocide, but a small army of water-carrying American apologists as well.  Is it “self-indulgent” to try to defeat willing collaborators in genocide denial?       

There is something deeper wrong with Fallows’ response.  He is not alone in making this kind of argument, so this isn’t aimed just at him.  There is the idea that unless you simultaneously condemn every act of genocide or anything that might reasonably be defined as genocide in the history of the world, you really shouldn’t say anything about one particular genocide.  This is a very strange view to take.  Rather than strengthening the case against recognition and drawing attention to the particular genocide, it simply reminds us of how many such exterminationist campaigns most people never give a second thought.  It reminds us how lopsided and arbitrary our commemoration of past genocides has been up till now, and underscores how poor and limited our historical memory is.  There is something particularly strange about those who actually know about these other slaughters and wish to cite them as reasons for not acknowledging this or that genocide.  They might cry, “What about the Ukrainians?”  But should it ever come time to commemorate the Holodomor, they will turn around and cry, after having belittled the Armenian genocide resolution and the history that it represents, “What about the Armenians?” 

The odd thing is that this push to recognise and acknowledge an historical event requires very little of a nation.  Americans are not being called on to intervene in someone else’s conflict, nor are we being asked to take sides in complex, little-understood struggles on the other side of the world.  The only costs that we might incur derive from the threats of a putative ally.  Americans are being asked to acknowledge, through their representatives, the basic and obvious truth about a terrible, state-organised act of terror and violence against innocent people, and in response their representatives are being intimidated with invocations of the importance of this so-called ally in the “war on terror.”  The absurdity of it is plain for all to see.         

The liars are out in force these days.  Does National Review really want to be known as a venue for genocide deniers? 

She seems to think that a people cannot be made into a scapegoat when things at home are going badly, but only when they are going relatively well.  This is a very unique understanding of what scapegoating is.  It is rather stunning that so many hacks and amateurs can confidently deny what honest scholars of genocide studies and history affirm.  As for those who “excel” at propaganda, Ms. Lerner does not need to look very far, since her article is a classic example of that very thing. 

P.S. Incidentally, it is articles just like this one that confirm my view that passage of the resolution is highly desirable.  Every day that this resolution is blocked is another small victory for these genocide deniers.  Whenever someone argues that the resolution is redundant or “gratuitous” because no one questions that the Armenians experienced a genocidal campaign against them, I will simply point to this article and others like it to show that denialism is flourishing. 

Like Cohen’s shambles of a column the other day, Lerner’s article insists on defining what genocide is based on its identity with the circumstances of the Holocaust.  Since no other genocide in modern history has ever been identical to the Holocaust, this style of argument implicitly denies all the other acknowledged genocides of the 20th century by emphasising dissimilarity of circumstances.  Lerner’s article is a blatant example of “blaming the victim,” pinning the blame for the actions of a relative few revolutionaries on an entire population.  And of course the trials of guilty officers were conducted by the non-CUP elements of the Ottoman government, yet Lerner uses these trials as exculpatory evidence to the advantage of the CUP leadership. 

I don’t know how many times one needs to say this: there was a deliberate and organised campaign of extermination authored by the leaders of the CUP and carried out in a series of massacres and death marches on their orders.  As Akcam has shown, the CUP leaders would send our duelling sets of orders, with one set ordering humane and decent treatment of the deportees and the other ordering their annihilation.  These are obviously war crimes–that much hardly anyone will seriously dispute–and they very clearly meet all but the most peculiar definitions of genocide.  It’s not clear to me what could actually motivate someone to engage in Lerner’s morally abhorrent contortions. 

Here is a good Telegraph review of A Shameful Act.

Denialism is alive and well on the Web.  Here is a specimen of the type, complete with references to Kevorkian and “crafty” Armenians.  Naturally, this brave character does not publish his name–nor would I if I were in the business of spewing filth.

Mr. Krikorian is correct when he says:

First of all, it is simply inarguable that the Ottoman Empire tried to eradicate the Armenian people under the cover of World War I.

Why then do so many prominent Americans keep arguing against it, hedging their statements or tying themselves into knots to trivialise the events?  Of course, it is, or rather ought to be, inarguable, but so long as Ankara’s apologists are able to retain any credibility and cast doubt on the matter there will be a continuing “debate.”

He’s also right when he says:

Our policy toward modern Turkey should have nothing whatsoever to do with acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. But caving to Turkish pressure never to use “Armenian” and “genocide” in the same sentence is what has given the current resolution its impetus.

Critics are right that Congress has no business weighing in on historical controversies. But there is no controversy here [bold mine-DL]. This isn’t even a matter of the polite fictions necessary to international diplomacy. Denying the Armenian Genocide is simply a lie, and a lie propagated at the behest of a foreign power. It’s unworthy of us.

Amen to that.

“They have focused on the idea of objectivity, the idea of ‘on the one hand and the other hand,’ ” he said. “That’s very attractive on campuses to say that you should hear both sides of the story.” While Payaslian is quick to add that he doesn’t favor censoring anyone or firing anyone for their views, he believes that it is irresponsible to pretend that the history of the period is uncertain. And he thinks it is important to expose “the collaboration between the Turkish Embassy and scholars cooperating to promote this denialist argument.”

To many scholars, an added irony is that all of these calls for debating whether a genocide took place are coming at a time when emerging new scholarship on the period — based on unprecedented access to Ottoman archives — provides even more solid evidence of the intent of the Turkish authorities to slaughter the Armenians [bold mine-DL]. This new scholarship is seen as the ultimate smoking gun as it is based on the records of those who committed the genocide — which counters the arguments of Turkey over the years that the genocide view relies too much on the views of Armenian survivors.

Even further, some of the most significant new scholarship is being done by scholars who are Turkish, not Armenian, directly refuting the claim by some denial scholars that only Armenian professors believe a genocide took place. In some cases, these scholars have faced death threats as well as indictments by prosecutors in Turkey. ~Inside Higher Ed

Via Cliopatria

Well, there goes any respect I might have had for Bruce Fein (who works, it should be noted, for the Turkish Coalition of America, founded in that august, ancient time of February 2007):

Like Benito Mussolini, Armenians believe truth is an assertion at the head of a figurative bayonet.

Yes, don’t you see–the Armenians are deceitful and treacherous.  You can’t trust them.  Sound familiar?  Note that any similarly gross overgeneralisation about another group of people would be met with fierce denunciations from all sides.  The upshot of Fein’s article is that lots and lots of Turks died in the same period (true), there were atrocities carried out by Armenians in eastern Anatolia (also true) and there have been many Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish targets in the 20th century (true again).  The purpose of the article, of course, is to make light of the genocide and to equate the organising massacring and death march of over a million civilians by their own government (it is, of course, the intent and organised extermination, not the number, that ultimately matters) with the devastating consequences of near-total war between sovereign governments.  Sounds curiously like arguments that go something like, “Lots and lots of Germans died fighting in WWII, so state-run genocide isn’t that big of a deal.” 

My favourite bit is the accusation of religious bigotry (that would be bigotry against the Muslims, you see), the praise of the notorious genocide denier Shaw for his “academic courage,” and the immediate invocation of none other than Bernard Lewis.  Of course, it was in no small part religious bigotry and supremacism on the part of the perpetrators that fueled the genocide, as Akcam has made clear, and I suspect that it has been the fact that the Turks are Muslim and the Armenians Christian that has kept the genocide from being more widely publicised and recognised for what it was.   

Update: The Turkish Coalition of America takes mendacity to all new lows.  Consider this description of H. Res. 106:

[it] targets Turkish history and heritage, hurts US-Turkish relations and the US national interest.

Impressive how they hardly ever mention anything about the substance of the resolution.  That might make the “Turkish history and heritage” bit a little too hard for some folks to swallow.  This “Action Alert” section is also quite hilarious in a depressing, sickening way:

Sadly, our voice has mostly been absent in this debate.

If you believe that, they have a bridge in Istanbul to sell you. 

Query: what is the position (at the moment) of the magnificent dancing fraud (i.e., Romney) on the genocide resolution?  This is, after all, someone who wants to indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention because of his menacing remarks towards Israel.  Surely someone so deeply concerned about genocide as Romney would be a vocal proponent of the resolution’s passage.  What’s that, you say?  He’s never talked about it?  He was “largely indifferent” to Armenian-American concerns when he was governor in Massachusetts?  That’s strange.  It’s almost as if he were taking his positions on a purely opportunistic basis!

Almost a dozen lawmakers had shifted against the measure in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday night, accelerating a sudden exodus that has cast deep doubt over the measure’s prospects. Some made clear that they were heeding warnings from the White House, which has called the measure dangerously provocative, and from the Turkish government, which has said House passage would prompt Turkey to reconsider its ties to the United States, including logistical support for the Iraq war. ~The New York Times

Here’s a true champion of the moral high ground:

“We simply cannot allow the grievances of the past, as real as they may be, to in any way derail our efforts to prevent further atrocities for future history books,” said Representative Wally Herger, Republican of California.

That’s a good one.  Acknowledging genocide is now just a matter of ”grievances of the past.”  This is what people are reduced to saying.  What else can they possibly say?   

Rep. Sherman, a resolution supporter, took the words right out of my mouth:

Since when has it become fashionable for friends to threaten friends?

Alex Massie is right on the mark again:

But of course Lemkin himself deliberately cited the suffering of the Armenians when he first wrote about genocide. He didn’t seem to share Mr Cohen’s belief that there is only one kind of genocide.

I appreciate Mr. Massie picking up on this point.  After all, if someone confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust had been looking for precedents of coordinated state extermination of its own population the Armenian genocide would have been an obvious example in the 1940s.   

What strikes me as so strange about all this is that virtually no one in the Washington political or media establishment has ever applied this same level of skepticism to talk about genocide in Darfur, to say nothing of the much more dubious case of Kosovo.  I expect that I will look in vain for Cohen’s citations of Lemkin from the spring of 1999.  All that needed to be said in 1999 was the word “Balkan” and suddenly everyone who was anyone was convinced that genocide was about to happen again (not that any of the people who wanted to “crush Serb skulls” ever gave a second thought to the genocide of Serbs during WWII at the hands of the forerunners of our good friends and allies in Zagreb). 

Pundits and pols are very free with the word when the regime being accused is one that they don’t much like, which is why I have tended to be very skeptical about people who describe something as genocide in the present.  It has frequently become a one-sided and tendentious political weapon that seems to be deployed for other reasons.  Yet in this case, when the evidence is clear, the government responsible is long gone and all that is being asked of anyone is to recognise the obvious, everyone becomes terribly anxious and reticent.     

Massie also notes a ridiculous Hiatt op-ed:

Then there’s Fred Hiatt, the WaPo’s editorial page editor  who thinks the resolution should be spiked because, well, modern Armenia isn’t properly democratic. Or something like that.

I had seen Hiatt’s op-ed, and my first response was simply to move on to something else.  Then it occurred to me that Hiatt’s column quite unintentionally helps explain why the resolution is necessary.  Hiatt’s argument, such as it is, is that the Armenian Diaspora could have used their time and resources for much better purposes than lobbying for this resolution.  Think of what all that money and attention could for Armenia, Hiatt exulted!  Armenia is a poor and corrupt state with a dysfunctional government, and the Diaspora could work to change that. 

Not that Fred Hiatt has ever, to my knowledge, given a fig for what happened to the Republic of Armenia, mind you, but his tiresome lecture did make me think of something important.  It was, as some of us will remember, Hrant Dink’s argument that the Diasporans should stop fixating on the genocide and work to build a better Armenia.  Dink, a great man, argued that the preoccupation with the genocide would become “poison in the blood” for the people who continued to focus on it so intently.  Dink was actually arguing for the Armenians to move on and try to build a better future for the independent Armenian state that Armenians finally did have–the very thing that Hiatt has suddenly discovered as the right answer–and for his wise counsel he was indicted by the Turkish government for “insulting Turkishness.”  How could that be?  Well, his remarks about “poison in the blood” were taken entirely out of context and turned into an attack on Turks.  When he was talking about poison, according to the government, he was referring to Turks.  This was a malicious and obvious lie, as the government there must have known, but the hysteria in the press that the charges generated led in short order to Dink’s assassination by a Turkish nationalist. 

Dink was right–the genocide should not be an all-consuming passion, and Armenians should work to improve Armenia.  For his efforts to de-emphasise the focus on the genocide (while also insisting on the reality of the genocide), he was prosecuted and then murdered.  His son has since been indicted under the same charge and sentenced to a year in prison.  That is the government for whom the apologists are carrying water. 

Yet here is another reason why recognition of the genocide is important–without widespread recognition and pressure on Ankara to acknowledge the reality of the genocide, the Diasporans will never be able to let go and start the necessary work of building up Armenia.  Not, of course, that Turkey has had any interest in aiding the improvement or reform of Armenia, since they have kept the border sealed in solidarity with the Azeris.  The poverty, corruption and bad government of the Republic have more than a little to do with that situation, which Washington tacitly endorses with its alliances with Turkey and Azerbaijan.  Hiatt has quite unwittingly helped the argument for the resolution, by making clear that Armenia’s development depends in part on the Diasporans’ being able to turn their attention to other things besides this.

Richard Cohen started out all right, but then goes into the ditch:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word “genocide,” a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard — and it need not be — then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad — maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered — but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna and Aleppo were largely spared.

Not every Tutsi in Rwanda was “affected,” either, but we don’t quibble about that.  Of course, the Armenian elite in Constantinople was not spared, and tens of thousands of members of the Armenian community in Smyrna was massacred when Kemal’s forces took the city in 1922.  Frankly, this line of argument is a bit like saying, “Well, since there were some Jews left at the end of the war, it wasn’t that bad.”

Cohen is trying hard to reach moral equivalency:

Among them were the Armenians, an ancient people who had been among the first to adopt Christianity. By the end of the 19th century, they were engaged in guerrilla activity.

How nice it must be to sit back and talk about what “they,” the Armenians, all did.  Some Armenians were involved in guerrilla activity, but virtually the entire Armenian population of eastern Anatolia was “punished.”  The actions of a relative few neither explain nor justify the murderous response of the CUP.

Cohen says:

Within Turkey, Armenians were feared as a fifth column.

Set aside the obnoxious dismissal of the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal millet.”  Unlike many members of the Rum millet, the Armenians typically did not engage in separatist or subversive activities.  Of all the Christian subjects of the Ottomans, the Armenians had given the least cause for offense, yet they were the ones who suffered the full wrath of the empire to whom the overwhelming majority remained loyal.  Sound familiar?  Need I point out the obvious problem with talking about the nationalist delusions about minorities as if they were mitigating or justifying?  Nationalists and genocidaires routinely treat their victims as collaborators with an enemy, whether real or imagined.  Collaboration is often not happening in any form, but it is assumed by the ideologues for whom “those people” are all inherently treacherous and disloyal.  Sound familiar?


So contemporary Turkey is entitled to insist that things are not so simple. If you use the word genocide, it suggests the Holocaust — and that is not what happened in the Ottoman Empire.

Yes, the past is so very complicated!  Especially when the people who were butchered don’t have anything to do with you.  It’s much easier to talk about context and ambiguity when the humanity of the victims doesn’t really matter as much to you.  If you use the word genocide, it also suggests Rwanda, Cambodia, the Ukraine in the ’30s.  None of these is directly identifiable with the methods employed in the Holocaust, but each is a genocide.  It need not be done in organised camps with gas to count as the same crime.

Cohen then goes deeper into apologist mode:

Its modern leaders, beginning with the truly remarkable Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, have done a Herculean job of bringing the country from medievalism to modernity without, it should be noted, the usual bloodbath.

Except for the bloodbaths that made a more homogenous Turkish state possible, and except for the ongoing repression of the Kurds.  By all means, give Kemal his due for modernising Turkey, but let’s not pretend that it was all done through some pleasant and humane process.  It was brutal, coercive and, more often than his admirers like to recall, quite violent.

Cohen finally comes around, after all of this, to declare Turkey’s threats over the resolution and its efforts to suppress the truth to be unacceptable, but he took such an appalling route to get there I’m not sure that it matters.

Alex Massie gets it:

Ultimately it’s pretty simple: you either treat genocide as genocide or you don’t. But if you don’t at least have the decency to stay quiet about it rather than offering weasel excuses about the national interest and all the rest of it.

Besides it is humiliating to give in to Turkish bullying. To wit:

A top Turkish official warned Thursday that consequences “won’t be pleasant” if the full House approves the resolution.

“Yesterday some in Congress wanted to play hardball,” said Egemen Bagis, foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “I can assure you Turkey knows how to play hardball.”

Screw them.

Spengler also has a number of good points, including this one:

The sorry spectacle of an American president begging Congress not to affirm what the whole civilized world knows to be true underlines the overall stupidity of US policy towards the Middle East. It is particularly despicable for a Western nation to avert its eyes from a Muslim genocide against a Christian population.

Thanks to commenter tcowan for the link to Spengler’s article.

Apropos of nothing, the brilliant Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian was one of the main voices on the soundtrack of The Two Towers, as well as for Atom Egoyan’s AraratBayrakdarian is one of the rising opera stars of our time, and I had the pleasure of hearing her perform during one movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony at the CSO and again at the Lyric in Dialogues des carmelitesHere she is singing a song adapted by the great Komitas, and here she is singing an ancient Armenian Christian hymn (taken from her DVD A Long Journey Home). 

Only Turks question this history. ~Ralph Peters

There, of course, Mr. Peters is laughably wrong.  If “only” Turks questioned this history, there would be no debate whatever in any academic circles outside Turkey over “whether” there was a genocide.  You would not find academics readily spouting the official Ankara line, nor would you find pundits and hacks mouthing denialist rhetoric.  The truth is that there are a great many willing, non-Turkish collaborators who help cover up or apologise for this “questioning.”  At least Peters has the integrity, so to speak, to acknowledge that his opposition to the resolution is motivated out of his fidelity to the Iraq war.  He is quite happy to quash the resolution and tacitly abet genocide denial if it allows the war to continue.     

Michael Crowley raises a good point that the genocide resolution is providing hay for conservative talk show hosts, who would like to turn the entire question into a debate over national security and the war.  This angle had occurred to me, but Pelosi doesn’t strike me as  being nearly so clever as to engineer such a roundabout, indirect way of making the continuation of the war untenable, and attacks on her along these lines will not persuade anyone who isn’t already steadfastly behind the war.  Actually, if pro-war talk show hosts wanted to go down that road I think it could help the antiwar cause in one respect: it closely links support for the Iraq war to supporting, tacitly or not, genocide denial.  They can keep saying, in effect, “Genocide denial is essential to victory.”  I’d be interested to see how many people buy into such a corrupt bargain.

On a different point, when Pelosi says, “this is about the [former] Ottoman Empire,” she is clearly trying to distiguish between the condemnation of a genocide in the past and the perception that recognising this for what it is somehow entails equal condemnation of the current government or the Republic of Turkey.   

Update: Here is a roll call of the committee vote.

Back from Toronto.  I’ve come across Fisk’s latest on the Armenian genocide.  I also see that Turkey has recalled their ambassador over the House committee vote.  Look for my next column for more discussion of all this. 

Update: Can I just say how genuinely weird it is that everyone at The Washington Note is effectively taking the White House’s side in this dispute, while I support officially recognizing a genocide?  There is also a notion out there that the right way to handle Turkey is to give in to its demands over this, as if it is the proper behaviour of a government to enable its ally in one of its most self-damaging policies.  There is nothing “pro-Turkish” in encouraging the worst sort of behaviour in our ally, especially if you think that Turkey should be implementing the changes that will make it acceptable to the European Union.  I think Turkish entry would be a mistake by the EU, but if I supported Turkey’s bid I wouldn’t be backing them when they’re in the wrong over something that will definitely undermine their bid.  Turkey’s denialism is self-destructive and harmful to their own stated long-term goals, so it is simply amazing that they are willing to take things this far.

Chris Roach makes an excellent point here:

I would be sympathetic with complaints against this Congressional Resolution if they were lodged by consistent realists, who adopt an across-the-board policy rejecting interference with other nations’ internal affairs. But the defenders of Turkey’s right to live in a world without criticism are normal, run-of-the-mill western politicians–these, the same people that piously utter “never again” at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.  In Turkey’s defense, the Madeline Albrights and Cyrus Vances of the world are standing shoulder to shoulder.

My next column will be on the Armenian genocide resolution and the debate surrounding it, so I won’t pre-empt myself with more commentary before I go to Toronto.  However, James Bovard makes many of the right points:

It’s a helluva thing when a war on terror supposedly requires the U.S. Congress to pretend that genocide didn’t occur.  Bush’s assertion that “we all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people” is a lie.   Most people either don’t know or don’t care about the carnage.  And Bush apparently wants to keep it that way.



Here we go:

A congressional panel approved a resolution calling for the U.S. to designate the World War I-era killings of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, amid warnings that the measure would harm relations with Turkey.

Speaking of Bernard Lewis, one of the more unpleasant facts about the man is that he has made a point, using his reputation as a serious Ottomanist, of maintaining the Ankara line on the Armenian genocide (i.e., that it wasn’t planned and wasn’t genocide).  Naturally, Armenian-Americans are rather unhappy that genocide deniers receive presidential awards, and I should think most everyone should be unsettled at the thought that one of the more influential historians advising or inspiring Republican views on the region is committed to denying a genocide.  Lewis’ privileged place as the administration’s reliable Middle East expert helps explain the White House’s fairly despicable attitude on the question of recognition.

Michael Crowley has been doing good work keeping track of the politicking and lobbying surrounding the Armenian genocide resolution, and he has a round-up of the latest news.  Most ridiculous (and depressing) line comes from the White House: “the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.”  This comes from the same administration that has felt no compunction about labeling the conflict in Darfur a genocide and the House joined the administration in declaring it as such, whether or not that really is the most accurate term for it.  Mr. Bush has no problem invoking the Cambodian genocide in a tendentious and dishonest revisionist account of the end of the Vietnam War.  Yet the administration and its allies in the House are utterly spineless when it comes to properly describing the genocidal crimes of a regime that no longer even exists because it will offend an allied state.  This is all another very helpful reminder that for all together too many people that the recognition of a genocide that occurred in the past depends heavily on whether it serves or harms present political interests. 

Do you suppose that PM Erdogan would be received in the same way that Ahmadinejad was last month?  I doubt it.  He would be welcomed, cheered as a “moderate” and “reformed” Islamist and a strong ally of the United States, and so on.  He denies a genocide about which relatively few people care, and his government is allied with Israel, which makes his government’s affront to moral and historical truth rather more acceptable to a lot of the very same people who wanted to bar Ahmadinejad from setting foot on U.S. soil.  Erdogan is the head of government in a state that prosecutes people for engaging in just such “historical inquiry,” which is why Turkish historians who wish to speak truthfully about the genocide, such as Taner Akcam, have had to leave Turkey.  When Bush says that there should be more “historical inquiry” into the matter, what other politician does he sound like?

Before I go this morning, I wanted to mention that Fisk has an excellent article on the Armenian genocide.

This is probably well-known to more advanced students of both languages, and is so obvious that I feel silly for not noticing it earlier, but if someone told me about this before I had forgotten it.  Armenian seems to have borrowed the root of their words relating to translation (targmanut’yun, targmanich, targmanel) from Arabic or, more likely, Syriac, given the strong cultural and commercial ties between classical/medieval Armenia and Syria.  In Arabic, the word for translation is tarjama, so the connection between that or some variant of it and targmanel is clear enough, since anel means “to do” and the gim in Armenian is equivalent to the jim in Arabic.

A friend of mine has just given me a boatload of Armenian books and books about Armenian history and literature, including the Matyan Voghbergutyan (Book of Lamentation), often known simply as Narek after the monastery where its author, the late tenth and early eleventh century churchman Grigor Narekatsi, one of the great Armenian medieval writers, resided.  I also received a copy of the English translation.  Narekatsi’s poem is one of the greatest written works of Armenian Christian spirituality, a work of repentance and profound sorrow over sin.  Consider these lines from the second lament:

I am the forsaken tabernacle on the verge of collapse;
The broken lock on a door;
The voiced edifice soiled anew;
The forlorn fitting inheritance;
The forgotten house built by God,
As foretold by Moses, David and Jeremiah. 

Until now, I had not looked closely at the original.  I will certainly try to make some time to work on this. 

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. ~Michael Rubin

Via Yglesias

Well, there is certainly a big gap between historians who take the Turkish government’s view and those who actually properly handle the evidence.  I don’t know whether the Turkish historian Taner Akcam ranks as “prominent” in Mr. Rubin’s world, but the argument he lays out for the deliberate, central planning of the genocide is thorough and persuasive.  Even though it required quite a lot of political pressure to make it happen, the ADL’s belated, grudging and qualified acknowledgement of the genocide is to their credit. 

It goes without saying that similar agnosticism and references to the complexity of historical debate in connection with certain other genocides would be considered despicable, dehumanising to the victims and basically unwelcome in polite society.  The histories and historiographies of Cambodia and Rwanda were and are no less complex, but there were still deliberate genocides carried out in those countries.  Of course, neither the Khmer Rouge nor the Hutu Power maniacs have well-heeled lobbyists, a U.S.-allied government and willing apologists to help cast doubt and cover up for them. 

Update: Due credit to Jeff Jacoby for a good column on this.

The soundtrack to Fanaa was playing in the background, and I was finishing reviewing the most recent Arabic lesson’s vocabulary when I was reminded of another Arabic loanword found in Sayat Nova’s poetry.  His Doon en hoorin is (You Are A Nymph) has a line where he says:

Toor, indzi spane, ikhtiar unis!

I believed that this translated roughly as, ”Come (lit., give), kill me, you have the right.”  The modern Eastern Armenian translator renders ikhtiar as iravunk’, which is where my translation of ikhtiar as “right” comes from.  In the context of the poem, this rendering might make perfect sense, since the gusan is talking about the authority of the beloved to order his death, where she plays the role of a khan or some other powerful figure.  Yet my Arabic lesson tells me that the primary meaning of ikhtiar is “choice” and the dictionary confirms that it means selection, preference or even free will in certain usages.  Fortunately, there is a way out of this contradiction.  

Ikhtiar (or ikhtiyar as Hans-Wehr transliterates it) can also mean “option” in Arabic, which would also fit the context of the poem.  It would not, however, bear out the translator’s decision to use iravunk’.  This rendering does manage to convey some of the meaning, but does not capture exactly what the poet was saying.  Still, I can appreciate the translator’s quandary, since the main Armenian word for choice is entrut’yun, which is a bit more cumbersome.  So, eight weeks in intensive Arabic have at least brought me some new insight into Sayat Nova.  Park’ Astutso!

Today I was working on a couple new Sayat Nova poems, Khmetsoor dzerit tasemen (Give me a drink from the cup of your hand) and Ari indz angach kal divana sirt (Come, listen to me, mad heart), and another one of these Persian loanword links between Armenia and India appeared.  This is not very surprising anymore, since there are so many mutual borrowings, but it is always interesting to see which words make their way into other languages.  In this case, it is divana/deewana, which means “mad” or “crazy,” usually referring in poetry and song to the madness of love.       

Listening to the performances of traditional muwashshah songs by Zein al-Jundi and reading a bit about the genre, it has been a pleasant, not entirely surprising, discovery that three of the principal instruments in muwashshah ensembles are the oud, qanun and kamancha, which are also central to traditional Armenian music.  This makes perfect sense, when you consider the proximity of Syria and Armenia and the longstanding patterns of exchange between the two lands, but it nonetheless seemed like something worth noting.

The footnotes to the modern Armenian translation of Sayat Nova’s Angin akn vret sharats had an interesting explanation for what seemed a partly impenetrable line of verse.  The verse ran:

Khosrov pachayemen toghats, doon Tovoozi takht is, gozal.

Now, takht is the word for throne shared by Armenian, Persian and Urdu.  However, without the explanatory note linking this takht to the invasion of India and raid on Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739, which was when he made off with the Peacock Throne, my Armenian teacher and I would not have readily made sense of what was meant.  Once Nadir Shah entered the picture, everything came together nicely.  Since this poem was probably written in 1758, Nadir Shah’s exploits would not have been such distant history for the ashugh.  The translation of the line would run as follows:

Left by King Khusrau, you are the Peacock Throne, beautiful one.


Skandari-Zoolghari toghats javahir is, angin lal is



I am not one particularly drawn to an Ariel Levy or Isla Fisher.  It doesn’t help that I had literally never heard of either one until today.  (Make of that what you will.)  Apparently, Ms. Fisher is the fiancee of Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, which is very “naice” for him; she has also apparently ridiculed Scientologists, which is a testament to her good judgement (despite the business of being engaged to Sacha Baron Cohen).  No, if we must talk about actresses/celebrities we will never meet, it simply has to be Rani Mukherjee whom we admire:

About such a woman, Sayat Nova might have said:

Ov che tesi, test e uzum, ov tesnoom e, miranoom e

(He who does not see wants to see you; he who sees, perishes.)

Or to use one of my favourites:

Patvakan angin javahir, lal badeshkhan is indz ama

(You are a worthy, priceless jewel, the very ruby of Badeshkhan for me.)

Update: Here is a higher-quality version of Rani performing Main Vari Vari from Mangal PandeyTumhari adao pe main vari vari indeed.

No, it was secular nationalism that killed them, the pseudo-religion that exalts the Turkish nation. ~Morning’s Minion

Undoubtedly pan-Turanism and Turkish nationalism masquerading as Ottomanism were profoundly significant ideological factors in driving the genocide, and I wouldn’t even object to allowing that they were the most significant factors for the architects of the genocide.  In addition to pointing to the basic Muslim identity of the irregulars, both Turkish and Kurdish, who carried out most of the actual looting and killing, I would point to an important feature of the ideology of the CUP leadership that is very often glossed over in many traditional accounts of this group.  Taner Akcam, who will probably not be mistaken for a “right-wing culture warrior” (though I might fairly be described as such), wrote in his masterful A Shameful Act on the Islamic background to the genocide:

In addition to the general subjugation of all its subjects, the Ottoman state specifically oppressed and discriminated against non-Muslims.  Indeed, in the course of Ottoman rule, long-standing assumptions of Muslim superiority evolved into the legal and cultural attitudes that created the background for genocide.  This is not to say that the Ottoman Empire rested only on violence, but that without a grasp of the particular circumstances of the Muslim-non-Muslim relationship, we cannot understand the process that led to a decision for a “final solution” to the Armenian question….The Muslim-Christian clashes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the Armenian genocide must be considered against this background.  Accordingly, the view that relative peace prevailed prior to the emergence of nineteenth-century nationalism, [sic] is not only incorrect but also misleading. (p.19-20)

And again:

Solidarity among the empire’s Muslims, no matter what, was the psychological product of decline and disintegration coupled with the belief of being surrounded by hostile forces desiring the state’s elimination.  Thus Pan-Islamism was transformed into state ideology.

For this reason the attacks, mainly against the Armenians, had the nature of pogroms.  The state unleashed its attacks on the slightest provocation, calculating that this would bind Muslims more closely to the empire.  The Austrian ambassador to the Porte reported that Muslims were being armed and set into action against Christians, calling this a policy a “Muslim Crusade.”  From reportss of the various diplomatic missions in Istanbul and eyewitness accounts, it is clear that the massacres of 1894-96 were centrally planned. (p.44)

And again Dr. Akcam wrote:

For all their differences, these divergent currents–Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism, and Westernism–shared one core premise: the nationalism of a dominant ethnic group, which was understood to mean the Turks. (p.49)

Elsewhere he stresses the flexibility of the CUP in stressing different aspects of their ideology according to perceived need; when it helped to speak of jihad, they spoke of jihad, and when it helped to speak in racialist terms, they spoke as racialists.  Whichever way you slice it, this was a nasty bunch.  They were motivated by a number of different senses of their rightful superiority over Armenians and other minorities, one of which in this case was Islam, albeit an Islam as mediated through a particularly Turkist filter.

Speaking of “right-wing culture warriors” and the Armenian genocide together is notable for another reason, since relatively few “right-wing culture warriors” over here have any familiarity with the genocide and even fewer care very much.  I have noticed that almost the only people who have shown any interest in what I have had to say about the genocide have been on the left or center-left.  It is not for nothing that it is the Democrats who consistently push for recognition of the genocide, if only because Armenian-Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic.  Christian conservatives, who might theoretically be natural allies for the Diasporan Armenians in this area, seem to be generally uninterested in the question. 

Depressingly, any sense of solidarity with Armenian Christians that one might think Christians in this country would or ought to have is virtually non-existent.  For obvious reasons, American Jews are much more aware of the genocide and they tend to be more involved in promoting knowledge about the Armenian genocide.  Likewise, the slaughter of the Assyrians undertaken at around the same time is also largely unknown to American Christians, just as the sorry fate of today’s Assyrians is overshadowed by an unfortunate commitment to Mr. Bush’s War.  This deplorable neglect of Near Eastern Christians is repeated time and again across much of the American right.  The response tends to be one of ignorance, indifference or some mixture of the two, so I would be very interested to see more “right-wing culture warriors” at least paying some lip service to remembering the Armenian genocide.

Armenians laying flowers in the memorial on April 24. 

 Menk’ Hishoom Enk’


The bill’s advocates had hoped that Pelosi, a longtime advocate for recognition of the Armenian genocide, would bring the bill to a floor vote by Tuesday.

Yet the bill still is lingering in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it has not been scheduled for a vote. ~The Chicago Tribune

This is a shame.  I had been operating on the mistaken assumption that Ankara’s mouthpieces had been making so much noise about this because the resolution was set for a successful vote.  It would seem that Madam Speaker once again has managed to disappoint even in the most symbolic things.

An article by the New York Times dated 15 December 1915 states that nearly one million Armenians had deliberately been put to death by the Ottoman government. 

What You Cannot Say In Turkey

The United States contributed a significant amount of aid to the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.  Shown here is a poster for the American Committee for Relief in the Near East vowing that they (the Armenians)

Americans From A Different Time 

Activities here for the Commemoration Day were not all that remarkable, but it is a fairly small Armenian presence here on campus.  Today I had my normal Sayat Nova translating session, and then our Armenian students here at the University gathered for a screening of Assignment: Berlin, which makes up in importance as a lesson in the fate of Talaat Pasha for what it lacks in production value.  I had said yesterday that the CUP men managed to avoid facing their responsibility for what they did, which is only partly true.  They did not face the same kind of formal, internationally recognised justice that certain other genocidaires have had to face.  They were, of course, formally condemned by the Kemalists, who wanted to make clear that they had no connection to the CUP leadership, and one by one the leading party men were gunned down in the following years.  The movie mentioned above tells the story of the trial of Taalat’s assassin.

Update: Mark Krikorian writes on the genocide here.

Tomorrow is April 24, the day on which Armenians traditionally commemorate the genocide committed against their people.  That genocide began 92 years ago this month.  April 24 was chosen as the day of commemoration because it was on April 24, 1915 that the leading members of the Armenian community in Constantinople (Polis to the Armenians, Konstantiniye for the Turks) were arrested and taken away to be executed in the days and weeks that followed.  That gave the signal for the beginning of the organised attempt to annihilate the Armenians in all those places where they constituted more than 5-10% of the population; the goal was nothing less than the destruction of the Armenians throughout most of Anatolia.  Obviously, the Ottoman triumvirs directly responsible never publicly admitted their responsibility, much less were they punished for their crimes, and all attempts to hold other involved in the genocide were by and large stillborn thanks to post-WWI politics.  The new national government in Ankara early on rejected attempts to hold “the Turks” collectively responsible (this is understandable, in a way), and this hardened into the full-fledged policy of denialism that we see today.  At this point, denialism and Turkish republicanism have unfortunately combined; the hyper-nationalists today are only the most obnoxious of the denialists.  The Turkish Republic is the only ostensible democracy that I know of in which it is a crime to state publicly well-established historical facts.  In other democracies they make it a crime to deny genocides–in Turkish democracy, they make it a crime to use the word genocide.  It is a bad joke that the administration that wants to intervene in Sudan to stop a civil war that they (mistakenly) deem a genocide actively opposes a minimal effort to acknowledge a genocide that only Ankara and their apologists refuse to call by that name. 

Tomorrow Congress is preparing to pass still considering a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide as genocide and acknowledging the role of the Turkish government in it.  If West Germany had had a law on the books criminalising anyone who spoke of the Holocaust or the responsibility of the German government, it seems unlikely that Washington would respond well to threats from Bonn to the effect that relations would sour dramatically should Congress pass a purely symbolic resolution acknowledging the historical reality of the crime their government actively denies.  Today Ankara so threatens Washington with very real retribution for such a symbolic measure, when it is Ankara whose denialist law and repressive government combined to inflame public opinion against Hrant Dink, leading directly to his death.  That is only the most recent and dramatic example of how this genocide denialism has served as a mechanism for suppressing freedom of speech and whitewashing past crimes in Turkey.  It is appalling that such a government believes it is fit to join the nations of Europe as an equal; it is even more depressing that so many Americans are interested in currying favour with such an ally. 

Watching the magnificently bad Indian nationalist movie-parading-as-message-of-peace, Dil Pardesi Ho Gayaa, which stars the stunning Salloni Aswani, I happened to notice the mention of the chinar tree, which is to be found in Kashmir and is apparently extremely important in Kashmiri culture and it is considered “the King/Queen of all the trees.”  It would seem that the name “originated from the Persian word “Chihnaarst” meaning fiery red color.”

As Sayat Nova fans will know, the ashugh often will compare the lithe figures of women to the chinar tree, as he does in Ashkharooms akh chim kashi:

Mechkt salboo-chinari pes, rangt frangi atlas e.

Your waist is like the cypress and chinar, your colour is that of French silk.

Update: Aur ha, there is another shared borrowing in Armenian poetry and colloquial Hindi.  Sayat Nova has a poem called Eshkhemet hivandatsil im (I have become sick from your love), where eshkh is the Armenian rendering of ishq, which I assume must be originally taken from Arabic.  Language bleg: does anyone know for certain what language ishq comes from?

Gna, Blbool-Goosan Sheram (1906) 

Gna, blbool, trir gna
Es aryoonot ashkharen
Trir, blbool, el mi kena
Bazhanetsin kez varden

Go, nightingale, fly away 
From this bloody world.
Fly, nightingale, and do not stay…
They have separated you from the rose.

K’o sirekan siroon vardet
Kamin pchets choratsoots
Arnov ltsrats vardarant,
Ayginert pchatsoots.

The wind blew, drying
Your beloved beautiful rose…
Your rose garden is filled with blood,
Your gardens are ruined.

Arden eghav agravi tegh,
Estegh el vard chi batsvi,
Zoor mi voghba, kheghchook blbool,
Tsavert ar heratsir.

Already was the place of the crow,
Here also the rose will not open.
Do not lament in vain, miserable nightingale,
You escaped your pains.

Translated by Larison

There is an online collection of Armenian poetry in Armenian script available here, including Sayat Nova’s entire Armenian corpus listed alphabetically.  This should make it easier for me to post translations in the future.  Unfortunately, the design of the site does not allow for copying the Armenian script text itself.  But, here, for instance is a link to Ashkharooms akh chim kashi.


Holy Week has come to a bright and joyful end, and I am attempting to catch up on the latest controversies. 

Most notable of these was the argument that has broken out over Nancy Pelosi’s much-discussed visit to Syria.  When cornerned about the propriety of the visit, Nancy immediately backtracked by using the one get-out-of-jail free card any American politician has in taking potentially explosive steps in the Near East: she claimed she was doing it to help Israel.  Boggle as the mind may at the, er, audacity of such a claim (which the Israelis publicly repudiated), she made it, but she also made it in a typically grandiose, overreaching Pelosian way by talking about roads to Damascus and peace in Israel with much the same stupefying carelessness that the Krauthammers of the world talked about the “road to Jerusalem” going through Baghdad.  Granted, Pelosi has not come to bring the sword, but rather talking points, on her sentimental journey to the city once known for its fine sword metal, but she wields even these with such blithe indifference to their unrealistic nature that it can only trouble a realist or any critic of Bush-style foreign policy.  It cannot end up doing any good, and it will probably do harm, if perhaps only in undermining efforts to conclude the Iraq war by lending credibility to those who say that opponents of the war are lacking in sagacity and prudence when it comes to handling hostile or potentially hostile governments. 

Now I am certainly not one of the outraged breast-beaters who think that Pelosi has committed some heinous transgression, but neither am I quite so hopeful that this trip to Syria was actually evidence of anything like a coherent “alternative” foreign policy–not that there was much danger of the Democratic leadership providing one.  I do not share the faith of the presidential cultists who think that the branches of government are profoundly unequal (they believe this about foreign policy in particular), but like everything else the Democratic House has done in the last three months I find that I would be supremely disappointed in their actions if I had ever expected anything but flim-flam and empty rhetoric, which is mostly all they have managed.  The problem is not, as Unity ‘08 centrists would have it, that there is too much divergence, but far too much convergence, especially in foreign policy.  The problem, as usual, is not that the Democrats are undermining Mr. Bush’s policies and sending contradictory signals to the world, but that they are expressly at great pains to not do either of these things–but have still managed to do so despite every effort not to.  So they have bungled twice over.  Most of them do not fundamentally disagree with anything Mr. Bush has done, but only disagree with the timing, the methods or other elements of the execution, which means that all they have left is posing and putting on shows of calculated defiance that achieve nothing.  As Tom Lantos said in defense of the visit:

In USA Today, he [Lantos] noted that she “publicly declared that she supports the administration’s goals regarding Syria.”  

Whatever those goals are (it is hard to tell with this crowd what the intended goals are), the Democratic leaders insist that they are supporting them.  Yet the only justification for what they are doing would be if they had strong objections to those goals and believed those goals to be directly contrary to the national interest.  Short of that, they are just mucking about like a bunch of high-powered tourists.

There is nothing especially wrong with Pelosi going to Syria, nor is there even anything wrong with the Speaker attempting to reclaim an appropriately robust role for Congress in the making of foreign policy, but as with everything else she has done so far the Speaker has achieved nothing while pretending to have radically changed everything.  Most of those who complain about Pelosi trying to run her own foreign policy are not usually moved by constitutional scruples, but find any hint of dissent from the standard line about the perfidy of Syria, for example, to be intolerable.  Actually going there and treating the Syrian government as a more or less legitimate government with which we have formal diplomatic relations are far worse things than dissent in this view, and so there is a lot of loose talk about treachery and illegality.  If Pelosi’s venture represented something concrete in terms of advancing a new Syria policy and beginning a brokering of an Israel-Syria peace, it might have real merit and deserve the strong defense Dr. Trifkovic has given it.  Certainly, detaching Syria from Iran is highly desirable if it can be done, and it probably can be done, but it seems unclear at this time how Pelosi going to Damascus has made it more likely rather than less.  Arguably, she has done more to set back the development of some understanding with Syria with her little display than anyone else has in months, because it gives the appearance that Pelosi is now taking control of U.S. foreign policy, when in fact she controls very little and knows she controls very little.  It is empty grandstanding for the folks back home–watch as I tweak George Bush’s nose over Near East policy, she might as well be saying.  Basically, she is to diplomacy what Chuck Hagel is to war: someone who likes the sound of his own voice and the cachet of being labeled a dissenter or rebel or “maverick,” while actually doing nothing to merit those labels. 

Therefore, Dr. Fleming makes a good deal of sense when he writes:

The best that one can say about Pelosi’s trip is that it is inconsequential. The worst is that it reveals a self-important woman who puts party politics above the American interest.

This latter point seems to be on target.  It fits into Pelosi’s preference for taking symbolic action rather than doing anything substantive.  At least she didn’t say that she was putting the Speaker’s gavel in the hands of Syrian children!  The Armenian genocide resolution is a good example of a symbolic move (which I happen to agree with) that does nothing except formally state what every honest, informed person already knows (the Ottoman government organised and carried out a genocide against the Armenians, and that this was very bad), but which will inevitably worsen relations with Ankara, committed as it is to official denialism.  Within its first four months, Pelosi’s speakership could be defined generally as one that meddles inconclusively in foreign affairs while also managing to create a diplomatic nightmare with Ankara for purely constituent-driven and ethnic lobby reasons.

I find myself increasingly torn over the genocide resolution, since it is undeniable that the genocide occurred and that the Ottoman government was behind the planning and execution of it (particularly the CUP triumvirs), while it is equally clear that American-Turkish relations will become terrible if this resolution is passed.  If there were ever any arguments advanced against the resolution that were also capable of acknowledging the profound evil of the genocide and the ongoing complicity of the Turkish state and the early National Movement in the denial of the Ottomans’ responsibility, they might be quite compelling.  Since every Realpolitik argument I have seen treats the genocide as a sort of historical curiosity (as if it were an episode about which everyone’s opinion is equally valid), I am inclined to regard realist arguments against the resolution to be rather sickening in their indifference to the truth.  There is also something to be said for resisting moral blackmail from people who put Hrant Dink on trial and who still pretend that the near-extermination of Anatolia’s Armenian population was some sort of unfortunate accident.  Were the victims not Christians, and were the perpetrators not Muslims, and were the denialists not “good” secular and “democratic” Muslims, it seems to me that we would have no problem roundly condemning both the past crimes of the state and the ongoing suppression of free speech needed to maintain the cloak of ignorance and deceit that the current government actively weaves to obscure these crimes from view.  If only to resist moral blackmail from genocide deniers and to fight the profound misunderstanding of Ottoman Turkey as some land of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, the House should pass the genocide resolution.  That does not mean that Pelosi’s foreign policy bungling is generally a good idea, but it can occasionally and accidentally come to the right conclusion (even if not necessarily for the right reasons).    

Update: Read the smart exchange unfolding over at Chronicles‘ website in response to the articles by Dr. Fleming and Dr. Trifkovic.  Dr. Fleming also has pointed us to the interesting blog of Chronicles’ contributor George Ajjan, who has any number of thoughtful posts on matters Near Eastern (plus an intriguing post about Easter in Senegal among the Maronites there). 

Because you are all dying to know what other words Armenian and Hindi share, I will tell you another one.  Reading Namus (yes, I’m still reading Namus ever so slowly), I came across the colloquial expression ghalat chari, which is apparently still used in Armenia today and which is basically an imperative phrase that means, “Don’t do something wrong/bad.”  The word sounded familiar to my Bollywood-trained ears, and sure enough my first intuition that ghalat was the same as galat in Hindi was confirmed when I checked my Hindi dictionary.  To someone hearing it pronounced in Hindi for the first (or even the fifth or sixth) time, it sounds an awful lot like ghaland, but that is not actually what they’re saying, much as zarur (of course) comes out sounding to English-speakers (or at least to me) as zerul

Language bleg: Does anyone happen to know which language galat originally comes from?  Arabic, maybe? 

Update: Yes, it does come originally from Arabic.

Did you know that there was a book about Queen Shirin, the Armenian queen of Khusrau II?  Neither did I.  She is remembered in the Shahnameh of Firdausi, but her story is better remembered because of the poet Nezami’s treatment of her story.  Some of you may be more familiar with that widespread tradition of Shirin’s legendary idealised, tragic love affair with Fahrad, who lost Shirin to Khusrau when he was condemned by the king to carve stairs out of the cliffs of Behistun (the famous rockface into which Achaemenid and later Sasanian kings carved their monuments).  

Their story became part of the literary traditions of the Near East, central Asia and India.  (You can even pick up an echo of their story in the film Kama Sutra, which incidentally happens to star one of the great Bollywood heroine-actresses Rekha and was directed by the accomplished Mira Nair.)  Speaking of Bollywood, Shirin Fahrad (1956) is an Indian adaptation of the tale starring the great screen legend Madhubala, who also played the female lead in the masterpiece Mughal-E-Azam

The story of Fahrad and Shirin is one of those timeless stories of pure, unfulfilled love, and so serves as a natural reference for both the yearning of ghazals and the laments of the khagher of Sayat Nova, including one of his most memorable, Fahrad mirats Shirinn asats, which includes this nod to another famous pair of lovers:

Medjloomi nman man im gali, earen ervats im.

Like Medjloom I am wandering, I am grieved by my beloved.

Sayat Nova, like Shirin, laments because of the love that he cannot have:

Sayat Noven im, endoor goolam dardires arbab.

I am Sayat Nova, that’s why I cry, my griefs are unbearable.

Fahrad and Shirin appear again in another Sayat Nova poem, whose first line is Khabar gnats blbooli mot (The news went to the nightingale).  The poem is a dialogue between the nightingale and the rose, a common symbolic representation of the lover and beloved in this genre, and at one point the rose says:

The pick killed Fahrad, the dagger remains for you, Shirin.   


The senior Turkish official said there was no plan to intervene and no link to the genocide bill. But Ankara is increasingly impatient over US reluctance to suppress armed PKK separatists who launch raids into south-east Turkey from Iraqi Kurdistan. And according to Asli Aydinbas, of Sabah newspaper, a “limited and defined” Turkish military intervention in Iraq is already on the cards.

“The US government believes passage of the Armenian resolution would make a cross-border operation more likely,” he said. “Even a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives would end Washington’s power to deter such an operation.” Seen this way, the genocide bill could spark a whole new bloodbath. ~Simon Tisdall

Normally I would take very seriously when an allied state insists against our government doing something that would badly damage bilateral relations.  However, the genocide denial in Turkey is absurd and it is a colossal lie.  The genocide did happen, and it was genocide, and there is every reason why Congress should acknowledge it as such.  Perhaps when one of its greatest allies and patrons acknowledges it, Ankara’s continued denial will become that much more untenable. 

Normally I am quite satisfied to allow other states to perpetuate their own self-serving lies about their own history, since it is not the business of our government to compel them to acknowledge historical truth, and nothing in the bill before Congress will change the laws or official propaganda in Turkey.  It will, however, stop the U.S. government from enabling Turkey in its genocide denial any longer.  It will demonstrate some solidarity with those relative few Turkish citizens who have been fighting for some genuine freedom of expression and for the sake of historical truth.  It may even embarrass Ankara enough that it will have to stop prosecuting people for speaking the truth, though I am not so naive as to assume this will be the case. 

Normally I am not interested in our government taking deliberately provocative steps towards allied states over a matter that they regard as fundamentally important.  But in this case Ankara is so profoundly in the wrong, and each day that our government officially plays along with Ankara’s lie is another day that the U.S. government fully embraces the Kemalist regime in all its repression, be it repression of its minorities or the attempted repression of history itself.  If Ankara wants to try to blackmail Washington with threats of meddling in Iraq to maintain the decaying facade of denialism, our government should not be intimidated by it. 

While on quasi-hiatus, it is tempting to look in and remark on the odd ill-advised wager of steak or comment on the idiocy of the Senate’s failed cloture motion connected to the surge “debate” (Al Franken must have Coleman running scared–he even voted for cloture), but really of far greater interest for all, I think, is to comment on my recent reading of the first part of Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act in connection with my L.A. Armenian experience.

Over the weekend, I was in L.A. among many Armenians at a graduate student colloquium at UCLA.  The colloquium was well-done and successful all around, though there was the occasional, minor flaring-up of arevmtyan and arevelyan hay disputes that are fascinating in their subtlety and complete imperceptibility to most of us otarner (foreigners/non-Armenians).  For those who scarcely know what the Armenian language is, the distinction between the two major dialects is even more obscure, and so, too, are the slight cultural variations between the different Armenian communities.   

Part of the dispute is, of course, the different place of the genocide in the collective memory of the Diasporans around the world and the Eastern Armenians living in the Republic, and the other part is the related problem that the Diasporans–because their people came from eastern Anatolia in Van, Erzerum, Cilicia and elsewhere–tend not to see the Republic as their real home country.  This brings us back to the tragic story of Hrant Dink, whose prosecution by the Turkish state–leading to the incitement of the public and Mr. Dink’s murder at the hands of a nationalist fanatic–turned on the twisting of a phrase that he intended for a Diasporan audience.  He had said that the Diasporan preoccupation with Turkish guilt was acting like “poison in their blood,” which some time-serving goons in the Turkish government managed to twist into a claim that Turkish blood was poison.  Mr. Dink’s point, lost on so many Diasporans and even more Turks, was that obsession with recognition of the genocide, the extensive leaning on this one historical event as the definition of your identity, was crippling them as a people and diverting their energies from the necessary work of building up Armenia.  He was essentially right, but it is another tragedy that his murder by a Turkish nationalist will almost certainly drown out his reasonable appeal and make recognition of the genocide that much more of a priority over more practical concerns of aiding the actual state that Armenians finally have. 

As related in one of the talks at the colloquium, Western Armenians, scattered around the globe as they are, are focused more intensely on the nature of their national identity, while the Armenians in the Republic tend to be focused more on the bread-and-butter concerns of economic and political reform in their country.  This is not to say that Eastern Armenians aren’t concerned with their history, since they are very much concerned, or that Western Armenians aren’t concerned about Armenia, because they are quite concerned, but that the primary emphasis for each community, broadly speaking, often lies elsewhere.

This got me to thinking after having read the early parts of A Shameful Act (Dr. Akcam, by the way, will be speaking at the University of Chicago this Friday at the Oriental Institute at 7:00), because it occurred to me that, as often as various early republican Turkish officials insisted that the genocide had been necessary to pave the way for the Turkish national state (hence the Turkish Republic’s obsession with denial), the genocide also served ironically to artificially divide Armenians from the Diaspora and Armenia from one another to some degree.  The memory of this horror has proved to be so much more powerful and central for many Diasporan Armenians in a way that was never entirely possible for the Eastern Armenians whose ancestors did not experience it, and it has probably come to form a larger part of the Diasporan identity because it is directly part of their history–rather than part of a general national history in which their immediate kin never directly participated–and has thus managed to introduce a barrier of sorts between them and their fellow Armenians.  Its final bitter fruit has been to create something of a gap in understanding between the two largest parts of the Armenian world.  Of course, I think it is fair to say that almost all Armenians still desire recognition of the genocide as genocide from Turkey, but even then it is possible that this recognition will not mean quite the same thing–and so may have very different effects in the two communities–because the genocide does not have quite the same meaning for both.           

The Armenian leadership openly sided with Turkey’s enemies, demanded a state on Ottoman land and formed anti-Ottoman militias. Many Turks were killed by these Armenian groups.

Turkey fears an official apology for the Armenian deaths would trigger claims on its land or on seized Armenian assets. Turks cannot believe the sincerity of foreign parliaments which, usually ill-informed about the Turkish case, give in to Armenian diaspora lobbying for genocide declarations. (One such bill looks likely to pass the U.S. Congress in April.) Politics often seems to trump history. [bold mine-DL] Would the French Parliament have made it a crime last year to deny a “genocide” by the Turks if an unrelated desire to keep Turkey out of the European Union had not been prevalent? ~Hugh Pope

The first statement is a shocking overgeneralisation.  Mr. Pope has evidently written several books on Turkish history, so he ought to know better than to say broad and sweeping things about “the Armenian leadership.”  Much of the flower of Ottoman Armenian political and intellectual leadership in Constantinople (or Konstantiniye as it was still called at the time) was wiped out in the days and weeks following the mass arrests of Armenian journalists, professionals, clergy, scholars and parliamentarians on April 24, 1915 (April 24 is now the day when the genocide is now commemorated).  This leadership had remained quite loyal to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal” millet in contrast with the Orthodox Christian Slavs and Greeks who had been breaking away from the empire for decades.  For their loyalty, they were rewarded with death, and the deaths of these leading figures gave the signal to the Turkish and Kurdish irregulars in eastern Anatolia to begin the massacres and forced deportation of Armenians from Van, Erzerum and Cilicia, among other locations.  The Young Turk government during WWI coordinated with these irregulars to achieve maximum destruction of the Armenians in Anatolia.  After the Ottoman defeat, there were even some trials of some of those who had participated in the slaughter.  The slaughter was unfortunately not an entirely new thing, since there had been widespread massacres  of Armenians in 1894-96 in the previous generation and no foreign war on which they could later be conveniently blamed.  What was different starting in 1915 was the scale and organisation of the killing and the official backing of the government.   

There were some Armenian nationalists in eastern Anatolia who sided with the Russians in the hopes of establishing an independent Armenian republic (a goal which was briefly realised at war’s end before it was swallowed up by the Soviets and became Armenia SSR), but to refer to these people as “the Armenian leadership” or to treat the problem as if it were one of general subversion of the empire by the entire Armenian community in time of war when it was not the case is unworthy of someone who claims the role of historian.  Indeed, Mr. Pope’s column reads very much like something out of the Turkish government’s own propaganda, including the scare quotes around the word genocide and the outrageous statement that it is somehow the Turkish government that has history, rather than politics, on its side.  It is fairly obvious to most thoughtful people, whether Armenian, Turk or some other nationality, that the massacres did happen and did constitute the first modern genocide.  It has been the political repression of the evidence and speech about this inside Turkey that has been the only real source of doubt about the genocide.  It has been this persistent denial imposed by the Turkish government that has continued to frustrate and embitter the Armenian Diaspora. 

As the late Mr. Dink had tried to argue, preoccupation with Turkish acknowledgement of the genocide has become for many Diasporans a consuming passion, even an unhealthy one.  However, I can hardly blame them for wanting official acknowledgement that this did happen and was a deliberately orchestrated state-sanctioned attempt to annihilate an entire people.  I don’t know why exactly Mr. Pope feels obliged to carry water for Ankara and the argument that “lots of people died–hey, there was a war on!”, especially when the latter is typically the refuge of the Holocaust-denier, but he lends his name to a bad cause and does not do his duty as an historian by lending credibility to the Turkish government’s self-serving justifications of a horrendous crime.  Politics often seems to trump history all right, at least as far as Mr. Pope’s misleading description of the genocide goes.  

For those interested in what a more serious historian has to say about the matter, Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act is reputed to be an excellent study.  (I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I plan to do so this year.)  It confirms, as one would expect, that the genocide was “a deliberate, centralized program of state-sponsored extermination.”  This is the work of a Turkish scholar who is keenly aware of the anxieties of Turks about acknowledging this crime, but who is also concerned to tell the truth about these terrible events.  That is the sort of historian we should be heeding.   

I have been slow in commenting on the outrageous murder of Hrant Dink, and for that I must apologise.  It was a terrible crime, and unfortunately only too representative of the state of modern Turkey.  The murder is the unfortunately all-too-logical outcome of the absurd and dreadful charges brought against Mr. Dink by the Turkish state for his alleged “insult” to “Turkishness.”  For some background, I cite from the Armeniapedia entry on Mr. Dink:

Dink wrote a series of articles in which he called on diaspora Armenians to stop focusing on the Turks and focus instead on the welfare of Armenia, said Karin Karakaþlý, an editor at Agos newspaper. Karakaþlý said Dink told Armenians their enmity toward the Turks “has a poisoning effect in your blood.” She said the court took the article out of context, wrongly assuming it meant that Turkish blood is poison.

On October 7, 2005 Hrant Dink was convicted under article 301 of the penal code of insulting Turkishness, charges that Dink said he would fight, adding that he would leave the country if they were not overturned. He was convicted and given a six-month suspended sentence, which means he will not be forced to serve prison time unless he repeats the offense. Dink has lived in Turkey all his life and was shown on television in tears as he denied the charges and vowed to fight them.

“I’m living together with Turks in this country,” Dink told The Associated Press. “And I’m in complete solidarity with them. I don’t think I could live with an identity of having insulted them in this country.”

The court said Dink’s article “was not an expression of opinion with the aim of criticizing but was intended to be insulting and offensive.”

Dink, speaking in Turkish, said the sentence was an attempt to silence him.

The assassin, who has now confessed to his crime, admitted to being motivated by the alleged “insult” to Turks and did silence him.  In a way slightly similar to the fate of Pim Fortuyn, Mr. Dink was officially vilified by the government authorities and made an object of hate in his own country based on false and obviously politically motivated charges.  Within two years of the official hate campaign against the man, he had been shot dead by some fanatic who actually took seriously the government’s claims made in service of its cynical control over its citizens’ statements.  The persistent official denial of the Armenian genocide instituted and maintained by the Turkish state has now contributed to a new murder of an Armenian dissident.  Like another April 24, a leading Turkish-Armenian intellectual has died at the hands of a Turkish nationalist thug.  If Turkey were at all serious about becoming a liberal or genuinely Westernised country, its authorities would either scrap or cease to enforce the dreadful section of the law that precipitated this awful deed.

PM Erdogan’s rush to denounce the crime is as predictable as it is cynical.  He laments that the assassination was an attack on Turkish freedom and democracy, yet the hateful charges against Mr. Dink would never have been brought and would never have existed to spur the assassin on to his horrible deed had there actually been real freedom of speech in Turkey.  His government and the entire apparatus of genocide denial in Turkey are effectively guilty as accomplices in this crime.  If anyone needed another good reason why Turkey should be kept out of the European Union, this is it.      

In Ledeen’s fantastical world, where Iran is bent on conquering Kenya and where he never supported the invasion of Iraq, there is another new equally credible ”revelation”: the murdered journalist Hrant Dink was Kurdish.  That would be very interesting to know, except that it is completely untrue. 

Hrant Dink was a Turkish Armenian and editor of the Turkish and Armenian language newspaper Agos, as this entry from Armeniapedia clearly shows.  His murder is a despicable outrage, but one plainly aimed at a prominent representative of the Armenian minority in Turkey because of his efforts to draw attention to the truth of the Armenian genocide.  (It is a bitter irony that Mr. Dink was known to take Diasporan Armenians to task for their preoccupation with the Turks’ guilt, whence came the “poison in the blood” line that later caused him such grief with the authorities and, now, has contributed to the motive of his assassin.)  It is fairly glaringly obvious that the late Mr. Dink was Armenian.  Not only does his first name shout it from the rooftops, and not only has every news story reporting on his death stated this basic fact numerous times, but the charge of “insulting Turkishness” of which he was convicted and his activism on behalf of awareness about the Armenian genocide were obvious indications of his background.  There are some non-Armenians in Turkey who also speak out about the genocide, but there are few Kurds among them (not least since a great many Kurds were involved in committing the genocide and most Kurds today are not eager to revisit that part of their history).  In any case, Hrant Dink was not Kurdish.  Indeed, it might be considered fairly insulting to the victims of the genocide to impose Kurdish identity on a man killed for his work in trying to gain recognition of the Armenian genocide.  Imagine calling a murdered Jewish Holocaust activist a Lithuanian or German and guess what the reaction would be. 

It is just one more sorry example of Ledeen speaking about something in the Near East without knowing the most basic information about the subject.  Pathetic. 

Since no one has yet offered me a large pot full of treasures that would keep me otherwise occupied, I thought I would point readers to an interesting article (via Razib) about the Alevi sect in Turkey.  This is one of the many sects that fill the fissiparous and wildly diverse universe of Shi’ism.  Somewhat like the Druze, they have roots in Shi’ism, but have developed into an entirely different religious group.

Speaking of fairly obscure Near Eastern sects, I was introduced indirectly to the existence of a small religious minority in Armenia through reading the beginning of Namus, one of the works of Armenian author Alexander ShirvanzadeNamus, as I have discovered, is a Mediterranean and Near Eastern code of honour, and would seem to form part of the Pashtuns’ pushtunwali surveyed by The Economist late last year. 

What was the obscure sect I discovered?  The Malakans (as transliterated from Armenian) or Molokans (as transliterated from Russian).  Not to be outdone by anyone else, the Molokans have their own webpage.  From what I have been able to learn about them so far, you could not find people less likely to follow anything remotely resembling pushtunwali than the Malakans, who appear to be the very embodiment of meekness and longsuffering. 

Relating this to some current events here in America, I would note that Molokans apparently also were supposed to have had a tradition of plural marriage at some point and were either pejoratively identified or otherwise associated with Mormons in the 19th century.  According to a 1993 New York Times article, the Molokans “comprise a rather late Russian sect that emerged at the close of the 18th century.”

The article continues:

Like other anti-clerical movements in Russia and in Europe, Molokan preachers focused on immediate personal contacts with God, refuting ritual and reverence for saints and icons as idolatry. They recognize as the sole fountainhead of truth the Holy Scriptures, emphasizing that both Old and New Testaments are to be viewed metaphorically not dogmatically.

Basic is meeting for prayer which reduce to hymn singing and the joint reading and interpretation of Scriptural texts. There is no hierarchy, with the congregations chaired by an Elder, usually one of the older and better educated members of the community. They resemble more the western Quakers and Baptists.

Apparently, along with other dissident sects, the Molokans were resettled in the Caucasus under Nicholas I.  This is presumably how they entered into the history of Armenia.

Update: Somehow I forgot to mention this earlier.  There is also a movie called Namus, which is based on Shirvanzade’s story.  There is now a restored version available.  From what I have heard about the story’s melodrama, it sounds as if it will be Armenia’s answer to a Bollywood plot.  Unfortunately, it is a silent film, so there won’t be any big song-and-dance numbers.

Peter Suderman points to this Apocalypto review in TNR, which led me to look at this story:

Gibson raised eyebrows when his “The Passion of the Christ” was done entirely in the archaic language of Aramaic. Now Diesel has revealed that he wants to make a three-part swords and sandals epic based on the life of Hannibal. And he wants to do the films all in Punic, the language that was spoken by the Alps-crossing conqueror, but not by anyone for 2,000 years.

That last note isn’t quite true.  There were apparently still Punic-speakers in the time of St. Augustine, as I believe he relates in his correspondence (and Wikipedia tells us that it might have survived into the 7th century, though I do not know of any references to Punic-speakers in the 7th century), but then the history of Punic is not something I would expect entertainment reporters to know all that well.  A Carthaginian trilogy would be great fun (but who would pay to make it?), and Hannibal is probably one of only a few great generals of classical antiquity whose story has never been, as far as I know, brought to film.  Shih-huang-di has been covered, but Ashoka fans everywhere are impatiently awaiting a proper adaptation of his life that does not have Kareena Kapoor in it. 

The question I have is this: when will the Armenians in Hollywood get their act together and produce a screen adaptation of the epic story of the Vardanank’ (entirely in Grabar, of course)?  For some background information on the Vardanank’, read the entry on the Battle of Avarayr (451). 

You can also read this, but try to ignore the Theodore Rshtuni worship in the section on the 7th century if you can.  If Theodore Rshtuni initiated a policy of “compromise between Arabs and Byzantines,” Vidkun Quisling was a hero to his country.  Rshtuni’s “compromise” was effectively to side with the Arabs against the Byzantines, who were still ruling the country at the time.  Some Armenian nationalists have long regarded him as one of the great national heroes because he helped overturn the church union with Constantinople, thus reestablishing Armenian “independence” in church matters at the expense of making a deal with the Muslims.  (And, yes, I do see the parallels with the Byzantines in the 15th century–but I would not therefore say that Lukas Notaras and Mark Evgenikos initiated a policy of compromise between the Latins and the Turks!)

However, telling the story of the Vardanank’ these days might be complicated by some recent developments.  Because Armenia has been pinned between the basically hostile states of Turkey and Azerbaijan, it has been forced to rely heavily on its ties to Moscow and Tehran, which has also necessarily hurt her position with Washington.  Partly as a result of this close relationship with Iran, the long and close connections between Armenian and Iranian cultures have become much more important for a lot of ethnic Armenian scholars and Western scholars of Armenian history (Armenian vocabulary is heavily dependent on Iranian words).  Part of this shift has involved something of a revisionist effort aimed at the Battle of Avarayr and the memory of Vardan Mamikonean, who is also commemorated as a martyr and saint in the Armenian Apostolic Church.  In some of these new interpretations–which are by no means widespread, but which are becoming more popular–seeing Avarayr as a fundamental clash between the Christian Armenian and Zoroastrian Iranian worlds has become less fashionable and there is a tendency to judge Vardan, who has hitherto been the archetypical national hero, as someone who led his people into disastrous resistance against an overwhelming foe.  (It is as if Scots started to belittle William Wallace for being too confrontational.) 

Earlier, pre-Soviet efforts by Armenian intellectuals to emphasise their people’s considerable common ties to the European and wider Christian world no longer necessarily command the attention that they once did, and the story of cultural exchange and interdependence between Armenians, Iranians and other peoples in the region has consequently gained in prestige.  Before the Vardanank’ suffers from the revisionist idiocy that has afflicted other great mythic moments of national struggle, we need a major feature about Vardan.  Maybe there is an opening in Gibson’s schedule. 

For those who might be interested in some contemporary Armenian music, I heartily recommend the new album of Anush and Inga Arshakyan, Tamzara.  It has some slightly modern-sounding songs, but all of the songs are adaptations of Armenian folk (or zhogovortakan) songs and the ballads of famous traditional goosans, or bard-poets.  I had picked it up about a year ago, but had only listened to it once before coming back to it this week.  For whatever reason, the music resonated with me much more this week than it had before.  Ari, lsenk’