Ellis Washington
Before the Holocaust--Armenian Genocide: 1915-1918
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By Ellis Washington
April 15, 2015

"Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention."

~ Hitler (circa 1915)

Prologue to 20th century's first Holocaust

Recently I watched a very interesting yet disturbing documentary about the Armenian genocide where the Muslim Ottoman Turks shortly after taking power in a coup, ruthlessly committed genocide against the Armenian Christians, a relatively small and unassuming minority population in Turkey. Titled, The Armenian Genocide, this documentary was first broadcasted nationally on PBS in April 2006 coinciding with the week leading to the 91st anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

This essay marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most horrific episodes of human depravity of the 20th century; a Holocaust that predated Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Holocaust against 6 million Jews by 20 years, yet foreshadowed many of the grotesque techniques the Nazis would emulated by the bloodthirsty Ottoman Turks who killed the Armenians, not for domestic insurrection or terrorist activities against the Turkish State, but for this singular reason – the Armenians where Christians, therefore besides being an ethnic genocide, the Armenian Genocide by the Turks was a Muslim genocide specifically directed against a Christian minority population.

Narrated by Julianna Margulies and produced by Andrew Goldberg of Two Cats Productions and with Oregon Public Broadcasting, the documentary cuts through 100 years of Turkey's Holocaust denials and affirms in no uncertain terms the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Next a series of critical historical questions is presented such as how was it possible for a massacre of such grand magnitude allowed to occur, why did it happen, and why has the Genocide remained one of the greatest untold stories of the twentieth century? These questions of ultimate concern and many others are addressed and systematically answered during this revelatory documentary which lasts just under an hour.

The Armenian Genocide pays meticulous detail to putting this event in its proper historical context including numerous statements about the Genocide given by many scholars, including Ronald Suny of the University of Chicago, Peter Balakian, author of Black Dog of Fate, Vahakn Dadrian, Director of Genocide Research for the Zoryan Institute, Elizabeth Frierson of Princeton University, Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, and Israel Charny, President, International Association of Genocide Scholars. The documentary gives an outstanding historical overview of the Armenians from antiquity up to their current existence in Turkey in modern times. The documentary history of the Armenians is a very useful narrative particularly for those viewers not acquainted with the Armenians or Armenian history.

The Hamidian massacres (1894-1896)

The Armenian Genocide in a most compelling manner discusses the Armenians' aspiration for political and social equality in the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, the historical source materials on the Armenians in the 19th century is crucial in explaining the precursors of the Genocide. Despite the fact that the Armenians have lived in the Anatolia region of Turkey for over 3,000 years, for the past several hundred years they have been ruled by the Ottoman Turks, and following the standard religious discriminatory practices of dhimmitude, the Armenians (along with other non-Muslim religious minorities like the Jews and the Kurds) were subjected to second-class citizen existence where they were taxed at higher rates than the Muslims yet every other aspect of their lives were inferior and demeaning.

The documentary also has an interesting narrative regarding the Hamidian massacres, which the narrator said, "according to German foreign ministry operatives and French diplomatic sources an estimated 200,000 people were killed between 1894-1896 the Hamidian massacres, but this was only a foreshadowing of what was to come."

The banality of genocide

History Professor Ronald Suny of the University of Chicago characterized the Turkish Muslim violence against the Armenian Christian minority as "repressive violence; that is a relatively weak government in order to maintain its own control over the local population, uses as an instrument of government massacre to establish law and order, to keep those rebellious elements in their place. This repressive violence leads to what may be called a habit of violence or a culture of violence in which violence becomes justified." This Muslim tactic and strategy of "repressive violence" reminds me of a phrase philosopher Hannah Arendt coined in the 1930s to define the widespread, yet almost pedestrian use of Nazi genocide against the Jews she called "the banality of evil."

Sociologists Taner Akçam of the University of Minnesota and Fatma Müge Göcek of the University of Michigan give compelling viewpoints from the perspective of Turkish professors, who argued that the Genocide is a historical fact. Fikret Adanir, Professor of History, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany, Tessa Hoffman, Ajarian University, Armenia, and historian Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute, London, offered further commentary on many matters throughout the documentary.

The Armenian Genocide took place in the historical backdrop of the beginning of World War I where the pretext of this diabolical plan of Genocide by the Ottoman Turks was initially considered, planned, and executed. Like future tyrannical regimes of the succeeding decades – Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Mao, Pol Pot, the first priority by the Ottoman regime was the disarming the Armenian soldiers, followed by arresting the Armenian leadership of Constantinople on April 14, 1915, and the subsequent jailing and execution of all Armenian intellectuals, and then the deportation, via railroad of the general population, however, in most cases the Muslim Turks without warning forced the Armenians from their homes usually on foot amounting to Armenian "death marches" where the causalities of the elderly, children and pregnant women was very high. Twenty years before Hitler's "Final Solution" against the Jews, the Ottoman Turks had their own version of a Final Solution – the final eradication of the Armenian Christians throughout the country of Turkey.

The Armenian Genocide did not occur in a vacuum or without notice by the international community. For example, documentation is cited via numerous op-eds published in the New York Times who filed 137 reports during the Armenian Genocide (1915-18). Also American consuls including Leslie Davis, Oscar Heizer, and Jessie Benjamin Jackson knew of this Genocide and in gruesome detail described the scenes of inhumanity in their dispatches to Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. The Armenian Genocide documentary also utilized never before seen photos, video and other archival documents and arranges it into an impressive visual effect, together with discussions with Kurdish and Turkish citizens in modern day Turkey, who freely reminisce about the stories they recalled hearing from their grandparents, parents and other eyewitnesses of the Armenian Genocide.

Vahakn Dadrian, Director of Genocide Research for the Zoryan Institute, speaks about the Turkish government denial and the 1919 military war crimes trials, an important incident in Turkish and international history which predated the Nuremberg Trials by 35 years. The military court rigorously examined the charges and determined that the Committee of Union and Progress was guilty for the planning, plotting, and execution of the crimes of Genocide. Known as the "Three Pashas" of the Ottoman Empire represents to the Grand Vizier (prime minister) and Minister of the Interior, Mehmed Talaat (1874–1921); the Minister of War, Ismail Enver Pasha (1881–1922); and the Minister of the Navy, Ahmed Djemal Pasha (1872–1922). They were the leading political figures of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, mainly responsible for its entrance into the war. Although after the war they escaped to Germany and Russia and thus avoided the judgment of the Armenian Genocide Trials, eventually all three Pashas were killed by Armenian citizens who tracked them down and took their revenge on behalf of the 1.5 million Armenians they committed genocide against.

My only criticism of this documentary was the moral equivalency arguments presented by Gunduz Aktan, a former Turkish diplomat, in his clumsy attempt at balancing the authorized Turkish "point of view" (denial of the Armenian Genocide) with the historical truth that shortly after the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état, political policies were immediately enacted amounting to governmental, systematic and sustained genocide against the relatively small Christian Armenian minority population which was planned, plotted and executed under the leadership of the Three Pashas.

Epilogue: Modern Turkey – 100 years of Holocaust denial

Tragically this obscene Holocaust denial view is still very popular in modern times and was recently echoed by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan where he condemned Pope Francis for comments the Pope made in his Resurrection Day message that the 1915 mass killing of Armenians was genocide. President Erdogan warned the Pope not to make such a statement again. "We will not allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context and be used as a tool to campaign against our country," Erdogan said in a speech to a business group.

Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians. He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. In an excellent 2013 article he wrote for Human Events on the Armenian Genocide, Ibrahim wrote, most objective American historians who have studied the question unequivocally agree that it was a deliberate, calculated genocide. Ibrahim further wrote:
    More than one million Armenians perished as the result of execution, starvation, disease, the harsh environment, and physical abuse. A people who lived in eastern Turkey for nearly 3,000 years [more than double the amount of time the invading Islamic Turks had occupied Anatolia, now known as "Turkey"] lost its homeland and was profoundly decimated in the first large-scale genocide of the twentieth century. At the beginning of 1915 there were some two million Armenians within Turkey; today there are fewer than 60,000.... Despite the vast amount of evidence that points to the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide, eyewitness accounts, official archives, photographic evidence, the reports of diplomats, and the testimony of survivors, denial of the Armenian Genocide by successive regimes in Turkey has gone on from 1915 to the present.
In 1915, Adolf Hitler said, "Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention." This was a foreshadowing of Hitler's gross rationalization and historical revisionism he and the Nazi regime would so skillfully use again and again some three decades later to achieve his genocidal plans to murder millions of Jews within the 42,500 death camps. The Nazis spread these death camps throughout Germany and German-controlled territories, for example, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec and Mauthausen among many, many other locations all over Europe during World War II. Later Hitler would ask rhetorically: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously wrote, "Those cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." If the Armenian genocide of 1915-18 has taught the world anything it is that humanity has learned nothing from history as we see before our eyes in 2015 the rise of ISIS and Iran as devout Muslim hegemony daily triumphs throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia and now an ISIS training camp on Mexico's border with Texas, while Christians and other ethnic minorities are wantonly slaughtered in the name of Islam.

Even to this day Turkey stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by the Turkish government of President Erdogan. To date the number of Christian victims of Muslim genocide and Islamic jihad is approximately 270 million. Specific terrorist attacks by Muslims against Christians is chronicled here. And who speaks today of the slaughter and virtual extinction of Christians under Islam and Islamic countries? We have learned nothing from history?


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Invitation for manuscripts

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Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)

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