A Response to Vahakn Dadrian’s Book Genocide as a Problem of National and International Law: The World War I Armenian Case and its Contemporary Legal Ramifications

Şener ÇELİK
01 April 2013
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Vahakn N. Dadrian—a radical advocate of the so-called “Armenian genocide”—wrote this book with the assistance provided by the British London State Archives Bureau, the Israeli Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate and the American National Science Foundation. A detailed review of this work illustrates that the study has a subjective approach that is contrary to scientific objectivity and that it espouses an aggressive style of writing that is incompatible with academic seriousness and, perhaps most importantly, that the evidences presented therein are products of a questionable accuracy.

 

The main claim of the book is based—as set forth in the introduction of the book—on the hypothesis that a total of over 1 million Armenians were murdered as a result of the “genocide” committed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The author indicates that the allies defeated the Ottoman Turks at the end of the war, but that the ‘Kemalist regime’ provided a ‘favor’ towards them, thereby which the Western states relinquished investigating the claims of the so-called genocidal crime and preferred to establish good relations with the Turkish Republic. It should primarily be noted that a real committed offense that ended with the deaths of 1 million people could not be ignored by Western powers just because their political interests required them to do so. This is not a reasonable assumption that can be proven. The claim that the so-called genocide had not been investigated because the Western world was concerned for the future establishment of long-term relations with Turkey does not comply with the natural flow of that period’s political events. Indeed, in this period, the allied forces’ strategy was to carve up the Ottoman Empire and to limit the power of the state that would be the successor of it. Therefore, it is simply not convincing to believe that the western world did not make use of such a significant advantage.

 

In the first part of his book, Dadrian tried to strengthen his claims by connecting the origins of the genocide with a pseudo-religious approach; according to Dadrian, many verses in the Qur'an were altered and converted into aggressive contents, which permitted the killing of non-Muslims. The author argues that the fourth verse of the Qur'an’s 47th section (Surah Muhammad) was altered: this verse suggests, “Be harsh against the unbelievers.” Whether or the sacred text of Qur'an is original or falsified is not a matter of historical, political or legal debate, but a matter of theological discussion. For this reason, Dadrian’s claim is open to criticism in two ways: while writing this book, Dadrian performed a literature review which referred to religious texts that are not related to scientific objectivity in any way. Such a literary review mindset suspends the debate from the political/legal realm and puts it into a religious one. Such an approach carries the issue towards a conflict of values between Islam and Christianity and leads astray the debate from its fundamental line of reasoning. A second technical and problematic issue on the commentary of the Qur’an exists with this approach; more specifically with the verse, “Be harsh against the unbelievers.” A different interpretation is generated whenever this fourth verse of the Qur'an’s 47th section is considered within the context of the book. The expanded verse in question states, “When you encounter those (in battle) who deny, smite at their necks immediately. Finally, when subdued them, bind a bond firmly (Get them slaves). After that, either depose them or take a ransom”.[1] These acts refer to conditions of war; the act of killing is not absolute, but rather offers an alternative action.

 

Dadrian has taken only one sentence of the verse isolated it from its context and interpreted it in accordance with his world view. Because of his view, he claims that Turks have always perceived minorities as threats throughout their history and wished to exterminate them, allegedly acting under the influence of Islam’s dogmatic structure and aggressive propaganda. In other words, the author indicates that religion has a significant impact on this term’s policy and its policy makers. Ironically however, Dadrian—right after his religious argument—suggests that the Committee of Union and Progress leaders were ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostics’. If we were to accept the ‘atheists’ and ‘agnostics’ Young Turks leaders as having manipulated a statement of the Qur'an out of context and as having used it as a reference for some of their policies, then we would have to blame some others in the past and even today for grosser misinterpretations of other holy books. This approach seems far too simplistic and unfounded.

 

In the same chapter, Dadrian offers an essay of Hüseyin Cahit, the editor of the newspaper Tanin—an official organ of the Union Party—as evidence of his own views. Dadrian focuses on Cahit's statement, “Turkish nation is a dominant nation and so will continue to be.” Dadrian interprets this sentence as evidence of Turkish racist supremacy. However, in all modern states that follow a period of monarchic rule, a ‘supreme nation’ motif is usually established. After the Thirty Years’ Wars—that had ended with 1648 Westphalia Treaty—the modern state period paved the way for the order of states at the international level. The continuation of this process—especially after the 1789, 1830 and 1848 revolutions in Europe—the nation-state acquired certain prevalence and the ‘leading nation’ motif came into being. The concept of the ‘leading nation’ has been the building block of the nation-state for many a modern Western states. There is no data that suggests the ‘leading nation’ phenomenon constitutes or may constitute a political foundation for the crime of genocide.

 

Dadrian continues his allegations by examining some national independence processes that occurred during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In this context, he addresses the Greek and the Balkan Wars. At the end of these processes, Muslims and other nations drifted apart within the empire. While describing this process, Dadrian derives accurate conclusions having taken into account historical and political realities. In this process what he did not take into account was the violence, persecution and massacres conducted against Turks by separatist forces. In order to strengthen his “genocide” argument, the author states in his work that, “irregular Turkish troops” killed between 15-20 thousand people in 1876 Bulgaria. On the other hand, in the same period, Bulgarians killed a much greater number of Turks and the events that occurred at that time are outcomes of impulse-driven responses. Dadrian deliberately ignores these facts.

 

4000 Christian civilians were killed in Bulgaria in those years, but a much greater number of Muslim Turks had also perished.[2] While interpreting these tragic events in the Balkans, American historian Dennis P. Hupchick observed, “The ill-armed and disorganized rebels did little more than publicly rally, sing newly written patriotic songs, and butcher their mostly pacific Muslim neighbors.”[3] Dadrian refrained from referring to any of these observations with his one-sided attitude; he tried to support his argument of the so-called Armenian genocide by referring to another alleged massacre that occurred in the Balkans as evidence for the claim, “The Turks already made a massacre before, so it is normal for them to massacre the Armenians in 1915.” The fact that he reaches this conclusion through reasoning from such a simplistic style, does not comply with principles of academic consistency. These forced and artificial associations of the author prove that he does not evaluate history impartially as he makes himself out to be.

 

The author also examines in his book the Contractual Debit as a principle of private law. These principles come up after the conquest of Istanbul: principles of regulation and relationships between the governing and the governed. Within the framework of these principles, having defeated a non-Muslim nation, what is required is the termination of hostilities against non-Muslim vassals and grant them refugee status or refuge. According to the author’s claim, the Turks never did any of these and the Armenians were deprived from their fundamental rights and liberty.

 

After the conquest of Istanbul, all kinds of religious and conscience freedoms were given to the Armenians. This is personally vouched for by Mesrob II, the 84th Patriarch of Turkish Armenians, speaking at a reception held on May 1999. Mesrob expressed this fact with these words: “After eight years of the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, in 1461 Fatih issued an edict and converted the Armenian Episcopacy in Western Anatolia to Patriarch in Istanbul which is a clear example of Fatih and Ottoman Sultans’ vision of future and their tolerance of other religions. Neither before the Conqueror Fatih, nor after him had ever seen that a monarch belonging to another religion, establishing a spiritual authority.”[4] Even former British Foreign Secretary Lord Granville stated that the Armenians were protecting their original identity under the favor of the Turks, “Armenians owe to Turks of maintaining their religion and culture.”[5] Putting these aside and the fact that the Ottoman Empire was in gradual collapse, it is an undeniable fact that many concessions were offered to the Armenians[6]. In addition, the 1838 Baltalimanı Treaty had provided the opportunity for minorities to obtain commercial rights and the Edict of 1839 gave them political rights. Evidently then, claims that the Armenians were deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms in no way reflects the truth.

 

While the author was summarizing the events of the period after the enactment of the 1915 Law on Temporary Relocation and Resettlement, he also benefited from U.S. Ambassador Morgenthau’s notes. Morganthau mentions the events of those times and refers to a number of massacres claimed to be perpetuated by the Turkish soldiers. During the implementation of the relocation, according to the author; the ‘Special Organization’ (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) was founded and the agents of this organization were sent to the remote regions of the country to set up death traps against the Armenians. The book states that the main purpose of this organization was to ‘solve’ the Armenian issue—regardless of the Relocation Act. The organization was established in 1911 to gather intelligence and counter-intelligence at home and abroad. This ‘Special Organization’ organized resistance against the Italians in Tripoli, the Bulgarians and Greeks in Western Thrace, and against the British in Iraq and Egypt. These are, however, known facts.

 

One of the very few academic Western experts regarding this organization is Philip Stoddard. According to Stoddard's conclusions, the ‘Special Organization’ did not play a role in the Armenian deportation process in any way.[7] Dadrian claims in his previous work that the ‘Special Organization’ was managed by the Ottoman Interior Minister, Talat Pasha. To this end he referred Galip Vardar’s book, İttihat ve Terakki İçinde Dönenler (The Goings On In The Union and Progress), as a source to his doctoral thesis and accounted Talat pasha as personally responsible for the planning the so-called-genocide. However, when this book is examined, one can see that Galip Vardar wrote not about so-called genocide plans, but about who would manage the ‘Special Organization’ apropos the political power struggles. However, Dadrian wished to make the so called genocide seem as a state policy by placing Talat Pasha at the center of the conspiracy. Dadrian was never interested in the actual facts.[8]

 

The author refers to the 1919 Temporary Paris Peace Congress in his book’s third and final chapter; a chapter on the examinations for war crimes which took place during the war. These examinations were conducted by 15 sub-committees operating under the broader Responsibilities and Sanctions Commission. According to Dadrian’s book the report, dated March 1919, which was prepared by the said commission as a result of these examinations, concluded: “All people belonging to enemy countries are subject to criminal prosecution who committed the crime of violation of the law of war, rules of humanitarian and customs.” On the other hand the author admits that the report it never mentioned any genocide alleged to have been committed against the Armenians by Turkish state authorities. It would not be wrong to assume that there was no concrete evidence of the so-called genocide and that this was not mentioned in the commission's report.

 

The book states that a large number of Turkish military officers and civilians were arrested by Turkish authorities by January 1919, due to pressure from the invading allied powers for crimes allegedly perpetrated against the Armenians. These people had been initially gathered at the Central Headquarter and then transferred to a military prison which was under the protection of the Turkish War Custodian Center. However, due to the social and political turmoil that occurred thereafter, the detainees—a total of 118 people—were transported to Malta and Mondros under Britain's auspices. According to Dadrian, this process was halted due to the Italian and French requests in order to establish bonafide relations with the Turkish government. The British determination to further pursue the matter lessened over time. The British High Commission’s legal expert Mr. Lamb in Istanbul drafted a memorandum and drew attention to the difficulty of obtaining evidence of the so-called genocide and complained about the absence of incriminating crimal evidence. However in the said period, a total of 61 allied warships based on the authority given to them by the conditions of the armistice, had harbored in Istanbul. These 61 ships carried nearly 3626 sailors/officers acting as allied occupiers. With these circumstances in mind, how could it be that such an occupying force is so ‘impotent’—as the author claims—against a weak Turkish government and why this force could not find official documents of “genocide” is severely dubious. How could the allied troops not ensure access to the archives although they were holding the absolute domination undermines the author’s arguments. As a possible Turkish resistance in the form of a national armed resistance was a bit ways off still, how come such a large enemy force was allegedly retained from obtaining evidence of a so-called genocide is simply not possible. Unfortunately, there are no answers to any of these questions in Dadrian’s book.

 

Dadrian, in the second part of his third chapter, goes back in time by briefly referring to the judicial processes of the Ottoman Empire; an Ottoman Parliament had set up the 5th Branch Commission of Inquiry to investigate the attacks in order to find out who served as the ministers, account for the lives of people and property. However, on December 21 1918, the Sultan dissolved the Parliament and transferred its jurisdictional power to the Courts-Martial. Shortly before this date, on November 1918, the Government Inquiry Commission was established to investigate the crimes mentioned and within two months commission officers obtained dozens of so-called encrypted and unencrypted telegraphic orders sent from province areas and from points that were identified as centers of deportation of the so-called genocide. As indicated in the book, 42 encrypted messages came from Ankara alone. When the commission completed its task, it submitted the files that contained these messages to the Courts-Martial.

 

However as one can see throughout the book, there is an inconsistency which is open to questioning; Dadrian refrained from putting the information related to these documents in his book. The contents of the encrypted messages were not described in the main text of the book nor in the notes or annexes. A large and intense scale of resistance and organizational works were being carried out against the occupying powers during the time. Under the conditions of extremely complicated struggle for independence, it is usual to conduct communication between provinces and military units in the field with encrypted messages. The author is associating these messages with the so-called genocide without disclosing their contents. This is definitely not compatible with scientific or academic objectivity. Attempting to bring forward these messages as complimentary evidence, although their contents are not mentioned in the book, undermines the credibility of the author’s professional standards.

 

Another important event that requires a skeptical approach to the claims of Dadrian is also worth mentioning; under the national defense context of so-called genocide claims, the author provides an example on the alleged murder of 2,000 Armenians onboard the Baghdad Railway. The details of the mentioned massacres are, of course, matters to be examined by historians. However what is of interest is how the author is in great conflict with his own claims. After all Commander of the 3rd Ottoman Army, Vehib Pasha, apprehended gendarmerie lieutenant Nuri Efendi—who commanded the soldiers involved in the incident—and sent him to the military tribunal courts. Nuri Efendi was tried, sentenced and summarily put to death. Vehib Pasha, as argued in Dadrian’s book, stated in his order issued after the execution, “As it was observed that he destroyed the soldier troop which I sent to 4th Army, the City Barracks Gendarmerie Commander Lieutenant Nuri Efendi was sentenced to death by hanging.”[9] Herein lays the conflict: if this incident was a part of a planned genocide, why would the commander give up his soldier to the tribunal courts if that soldier did nothing but carry out his orders? Why did the court sentence a soldier to death if this soldier only fulfilled an action claimed to be a part of state strategy? This event illustrates that there was no planned state efforts for a so-called genocide. As one can see from the development of the event there is nothing to actually prove that the acts committed were those of a planned genocide. The commander of the military did not follow genocidal orders and was not sentenced to death for killing innocent people. Even this event alone is evidence of the fact that the 1915 incidents were largely results of individual actions.

 

It is important in terms of understanding to address the parties whom are trying to prove the accuracy of the genocide allegations; Dadrian is of such a party and their counterfeit attempts to advocate their cause illustrates that their work is an outcome of a specific political and moral mindset. Numerous false documents have been prepared and published in order to prove the so-called genocide as a true account of what happened to the Armenians in 1915.[10] There are telegrams attributed to Talat Pasha in these forged documents all done to support the claims of so-called genocide. Five of the said 31 telegrams are undated and unnumbered, nine of them bear no number, and another five of them are undated.[11] Although Dadrian is a passionate researcher, even the famed political scientist Guenter Lewy states that that Dadrian used misleading citations in his works, mistranslated deliberately and was one sided in his selection of excerpts.[12]

 

The historian Mary Schaeffer Conroy indicated that the author interpreted Turkish archives incorrectly, so that the resulting works are “not works of history but journalism” and described the author's work as “not recommended”.[13] One of the most objective book criticisms of Dadrian comes from the contemporary Western Asia history Prof. Malcolm E. Yapp of London University. Yapp indicated in his critique that “Dadrian could not establish a link between historical events and law and although he puts many into his works, most of these sources are away from carrying any convincing evidence to support the claims of [so-called] genocide.” Such flaws are also well-known handicaps of the author in the academic community.[14] London’s Holocaust Educational Trust (Holocaust Educational Trust) former research director and University of Edinburgh twentieth century history professor, Donald Bloxham, interpreted Dadrian’s allegations as “baseless” and indicated that the documents which the author revealed as new documents in 1993 showed the orders of the [so-called] genocide, named ‘Ten Commandments’ is a pseudo-state document, and essentially offered it as, “a fake document sold to British in February 1919.”[15] Interestingly however, Bloxham who criticizes Dadrian is known as a researcher who bears an affinity to the Armenian allegations.

 

As a result, the work examined here can be described as the author’s presentation of his own subjective interpretations and forms of his historical, legal and political realities. In this respect, it would not be wrong to suggest that the work is not of sound scientific objectivity and is given more than the ample respect that it deserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Ateş, Süleyman. The Holy Quran and the Holy Meaning. 47th section, (Surah Muhammad), 4th edition, Ankara: Kılıç Kitabevi, 1983.

Bloxham, Donald. “Donald Bloxham Replies.” History Today, Vol: 55, Issue 7, 2005.

Crowe, David M. A History of The Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996.

Dadrian, Vahakn N. Ulusal ve Ulusal Hukuk Sorunu Olarak Jenosid. İstanbul: Belge Yayınları, 1995.

Dadrian, Vahakn N. ve Akçam, Taner. Tehcir ve Taktil, Divan-ı Harbi Örfî Zabıtları, İttihat ve Terakki’nin Yargılanması. Istanbul: Bilgi Universitesi Yayınları, 2010.

Granville, Edgar. Çarlık Rusyası'nın Türkiye'deki Oyunları. Ankara: Yarın Yayınları, 1967.

Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Lewy, Guenter. The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005.

Orel, Şinasi ve Yuca, Süreyya. Ermenilerce Talât Paşa'ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü. Ankara: Atatürk Kültür, Dil ve Tarih Yüksek Kurulu Yayınları, 1983.

Özel, Sibel. Fener Rum Patrikhanesi’nin Ekümeniklik İddiası ve Heybeliada Ruhban Okulu Meselesi. Istanbul: IQ Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, 2011.

Schaeffer Conroy, Mary. “Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict by Vahakn N.” Review of Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict, The Social Science Journal, Volume 37, Issue 3, 3rd Quarter.

Stoddard, Philip H. Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa. Istanbul: Arma Yayınları, 1st edition 1993, 2nd edition 2003.

Vardar, Galip. İttihat ve Terakki İçinde Dönenler. Istanbul: Yeni Zamanlar Yayınları, 2003.

Yapp, M.E. “The History of The Armenian Genoside.” Middle Eastern Studies, 32/4, 1996.

 

 


* Research Student at Turkish War Academy, Strategic Reseach Institute. senercelik@doruk.net.tr

[1] Süleyman Ateş, The Holy Quran and the Holy Meaning 47th section (Surah Muhammad), 4th verse (Ankara: Kılıç Kitabevi, 1983), 506. (Parentheses belong to the writer of the meaning.)

[2] David M. Crowe, A History of The Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996), 241.

[3] Dennis P. Hupchick, The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 263.

[4] From Patriarch II. Mesrob’s speech at the reception in the Hotel Hilton on May 22, 1999. http://www.ermenisorunu.gen.tr/turkce/iliskiler/osmanli.html (Last accessed: 11/10/2012).

[5] Edgar Granville, Çarlık Rusyası'nın Türkiye'deki Oyunları (Ankara: Yarın Yayınları, 1967), 19.

[6] During the same period privileges granted to the Armenians Ottoman nation system and the Istanbul Patriarchate‘s place in this system For detailed information see: Sibel Özel, Fener Rum Patrikhanesi’nin Ekümeniklik İddiası ve Heybeliada Ruhban Okulu Meselesi (Istanbul: IQ Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, 2011), 44-74.

[7] For detailed information on the subject, see: Philip H. Stoddard, “The Ottoman Government and the Arabs, 1911 to 1918: A Study of the Special Organization,” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1963); Turkish translation: Philip H. Stoddard, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (Istanbul: Arma Yayınları, 1st edition 1993, 2nd edition 2003).

[8]For a review on the subject by Taha Akyol, see: http://kitap.milliyet.com.tr/ermeni-tarihciyi-elestiriyorum-/taha-akyol/kitap/yazardetay/08.04.2009/1080484/default.htm, (Last accessed: 15/10/2012). For more detailed information about the allegations mentioned in Akyol’s article see: Galip Vardar, İttihat ve Terakki İçinde Dönenler (Istanbul: Yeni Zamanlar Yayınları, 2003), 244-246-274; Vahakn N. Dadrian ve Taner Akçam, Tehcir ve Taktil, Divan-ı Harbi Örfî Zabıtları, İttihat ve Terakki’nin Yargılanması (Istanbul: Bilgi Universitesi Yayınları, 2010), 102.

[9] Vahakn Dadrian, Ulusal ve Ulusal Hukuk sorunu Olarak Jenosid (İstanbul: Belge Yayınları, 1995), 88.

[10] In some of these work there are some obvious technical errors were made, one of which relates to so-called genocide documentation correspondence dates. As is known, during the Ottoman Empire, Rumi calendar is used until 1917, so the New Year has been recognized as of March 1st. All official documents, the numbering of input-output started every year since then, writing the numbers started to ascend naturally from March 1. However, the amendment made in 1917 based on Rumi calendar months and days are 13 days advanced and complied with Gregorian calendar in Western countries.  Which means, February 16th 1332 has been accepted as March 1st. 1333 (1917), as well as the first day of 1334 has not started in March, started on January 1st as in other countries. False documents manufacturers who do not know about this, produced a lot about the so-called genocide of 1917 enumerations in the document, such as pre-made for the calendar year started in January, so the date and the number of documents that gave way at variance with the flow of the actual date. False documents about the history of genocide in relation to so-called errors for details, see Şinasi Orel ve Süreyya Yuca, Ermenilerce Talât Paşa'ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü (Ankara: Atatürk Kültür, Dil ve Tarih Yüksek Kurulu Yayınları, 1983), 25-26.

[11] Orel ve Yuca, a.g.e., 4.

[12] Guenter Lewy, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 43-89, 93-94, and 280-282.

[13] Mary Schaeffer Conroy, “Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict by Vahakn N. Dadrian,” Review of Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict, by Vahakn N. Dadrian, The Social Science Journal, Volume 37, Issue 3, 3rd Quarter 2000, 481–483., http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0362331900000902.

[14] M.E. Yapp, “The History of The Armenian Genoside,” Middle Eastern Studies, 32/4 (1996): 395.

[15] Donald Bloxham, “Donald Bloxham Replies,” History Today, Vol: 55, Issue 7 (2005): 68.

 

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