Rarely in the annals of recent journalism has such an intellectually dishonest and historically bogus article appeared as Melik Kaylan's thinly veiled invective against Armenians, ["Whose Genocide?"] ("Taki's Top Drawer," 12/27). Kaylan announces his loathsome views in a rebuttal of sorts to Charles Glass' article on the Armenian genocide that ran two weeks earlier in the pages of "Top Drawer." Kaylan first admits the reality of the Armenian massacres, which he describes as so gruesome that he has trouble reading about them, yet he then spends the better of 1000 words telling readers why commemoration of the Armenian genocide is unimportant and historically biased.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of Kaylan's denialist gestalt is that he seems to want to portray himself as part of a misunderstood, oppressed group, one that is unjustly attacked and perpetually misunderstood: the Turks. Yes, the Turks. If one listens to Kaylan, the Turks are a defenseless civilization unable to bear the unjustified attacks they must endure from everyone: Orientalizing Europeans, Armenians, Arabs, even usually "courageous" journalists such as Glass.
Kaylan's main strategy, as a denier, is to turn the oppressor into the oppressed, no mean feat in the case of Turkey?a country with a huge military presence that in 1974 invaded Cyprus and regularly threatens its neighbors Greece, Syria and Armenia. No mean feat either for a country that shares the world's worst human rights record with China, and whose prisons just several weeks ago saw some of the worst police violence in recent history.
Beginning in 1915 Turkey committed not one but three genocides. From 1915 to 1923, the Turkish government effectively planned and systematically annihilated 90 percent of its Christian population: 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered and forced on death marches, along with three-fourths of the world's Assyrian community, as well as the Pontic Greek community that lived around the Black Sea for several thousand years. All told, 2.5 to 3 million people were slaughtered in an orgy of killing the likes of which the modern world would not see again until the Nazi extermination camps. Entire villages were burned to the ground, Armenian women abducted and raped; priests flogged and flayed to death, the men horseshoed and bayoneted by the thousands. With no gas chambers, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were herded into churches and caves that were set on fire, or drowned on barges in the Black Sea. On April 24, 1915, the date on which the Armenian genocide is now commemorated annually, the Armenian intellectual elite of Constantinople was rounded up, sent to Anatolia and executed. The heart-rending details are documented in any library the world over.
Yet, as with most Turks brought up in or influenced by a repressive neo-fascist military regime and subjected to historical revisionism, the suffering of the Armenians makes little difference to Kaylan. As he states it, the Kurds actually killed the Armenians, not the Turks. This is technically true in many cases: the Turkish government, to absolve itself of direct responsibility, goaded local Kurds to carry out the actual killing of Armenians. Kaylan also implies that Kurds should not complain about the continued policy of cultural and physical genocide that has been unleashed against them by the modern-day Turkish "democracy," because they, too, participated in genocide in the past.
Kaylan further neglects to tell his readers that Turkey's campaign of genocide has continued unabated to this day. Slogans in post-WWI Turkey such as "Citizen, speak Turkish!" and references in all media to Kurds as "Mountain Turks" have all been attempts to forge an ethnically pure identity in Turkey, and more specifically in Anatolia, a land that according to the Turkish military/government must be Muslim and monoethnically Turkish.
(Speaking of the Kurds, it is an historical fantasy of Kaylan's that their rebellion is Russian-"sponsored." While Russia?like any good antagonist?may indeed aid Kurdish separatists, just as Turks aid Chinese separatists of Turkic origin as far off as the Northern Chinese provinces, the Kurdish uprisings are as homegrown as the ones in Quebec, Corsica or the Basque region. Kaylan rationalizes the Kurdish uprisings like his brethren in the Turkish government do, when they accuse everyone from Syria to Armenia, Russia and Iran of creating the PKK and the Kurdish "problem"?anyone but Turkey itself, a country that has killed more than 30,000 Kurds with military equipment largely bought from the United States, and which has prohibited the teaching and broadcasting of the Kurdish language, even in Diyarbakir and Southern Kurdistan.)
As for today's few remaining Armenians and Assyrians in Turkey, the message that the Turkish government continues to send is clear: shut up or we will repeat what happened in 1915. If Mr. Kaylan needs any convincing of this, he need only look at the recent pressure put on Istanbul's small remaining Armenian community after Armenian genocide resolutions were passed in France and Italy, or at the unfortunate fate of Assyrian priest Yusuf Akbulut, who stood trial last month in Turkey for simply mentioning the Armenian genocide in public.
Or he may want to screen the recent film Salkim Hanim's Necklace, which depicts the Varlik Vergisi (wealth taxes) imposed on Armenians, Greeks and Jews in Turkey as early as the 1930s, which subjected non-Muslims to exorbitant rates. These laws effectively drove many Armenian, Greek and Jewish businessmen into poverty or emigration; and, when they were unable to pay such onerous debts, they were sent to work camps in Anatolia, where they toiled in stone quarries. In the process, a whole class of ethnic Turks exploited the fate of these minorities and became many of today's wealthy Turkish families, whom you can read about in the Forbes 400.
And although Turks like to portray their relations with Jews as being all but perfect since Turkey's recent alliance with Israel, they seem to have selective amnesia when it comes to the massacre and expulsion of 50,000 Jews in the Rumeli region earlier this century, or the constant outflow of Jews from Turkey until the past decade, when relations between the two communities eased somewhat.
To this day, the remaining Armenian community, reduced to 70,000, is not free to renovate its own properties or to buy new real estate without special approvals from the Turkish government?approvals that often, mysteriously, never arrive.
As for history, Kaylan first creates a new historical category, the "Christian supremacist...Armenians, Georgians, Russians" who swept down into Anatolia, displacing Turks. Even if Kaylan has been educated in Turkey, he must know that by the 10th century, it was in fact the Turks, or more exactly Turkic and Mongolian/Tatar tribes, who swept through Anatolia, quite literally on horseback, raping and pillaging everything in sight. From Tamerlane and Genghis Khan to the Seljuks and others, one wave after another conquered, raped and killed Armenians, Russians and a host of native peoples. In the 12th century the Armenians fled to the Mediterranean, where they founded the wealthy Kingdom of Cilicia, eventually succumbing to Turkish dominion there as well.
Kaylan's acceptance of the Turkish propaganda that Armenians have unconditionally supported Russia at Turkey's expense is laughable. In fact, the Armenians were known in the Ottoman Empire as the "sadik milleti," or "faithful community." If Kaylan knew anything about Armenian history, he would know that Armenians have suffered tremendously at the hands of Russian and Soviet domination as well.
As for the Russians themselves, for centuries they fought defensive wars against the Mongols and Tatars, who among other things ransacked and burned Moscow to the ground several times, once in 1237 (Batu Khan) and later in 1382 (Khan Togtamitch). Later on, it is true that Russia fought an expansionist war with Turkey, Britain and others, known as the Great Game, for control over the Caspian Sea. These may not have been innocent pastimes, but they were par for the course in an age of conquest. The Armenian genocide, Melik Kaylan to the contrary, was not.
Kaylan misuses historical facts on yet another level when he confuses the terms "Turkish" and "Muslim" and asks, "Where are the monuments to the Turks and Muslims murdered?" Is he speaking of Muslims in Indonesia or Egypt? Or how about the thousands of Arabs slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks over several centuries of Turkish domination? Are those the Muslims he refers to?
Had Kaylan visited his homeland lately, he would know that the Turks have in fact erected several obscene monuments to their own imagined dead. In Van, an historically Armenian city defended until the very end in 1915, the Turkish government has built a museum commemorating the "Turkish Genocide" that goes so far as to desecrate history by showing skulls of dead Armenians and claiming that they are in fact ethnic Turks killed by Armenians. Farther north, near the Armenian border, in the city of Igdir, the Turkish government has erected a tall monument to the supposed 80,000 Turks killed, once again, in a fictive Turkish genocide that even Turkish scholars find risible.
As for those Turks who actually did die during WWI, one would like to remind Kaylan that they perished during a war waged by Turkey, which allied itself with the Germans, against the rest of Europe. That is quite a different story from the state-sponsored Armenian genocide, whose victims were innocent civilians, many of whom had actually fought for the Ottoman Empire during several wars against their supposed "allies," the Russians and Europeans.
Kaylan seems to revel in historical reversals, making the victim into the oppressor and vice versa. Since for most of history, with a few exceptions, the Armenians were a subject people (to Persians, Arabs, then Turks), he is hard-pressed to find overt examples of organized Armenian terror?not because, to be fair, Armenians are less inclined to violence than anyone else, but simply because, like the Jews, theirs has been a history of oppression and survival. So, with no other alternative, Kaylan picks on the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh, portraying the native Armenians as the aggressors.
Since most Americans don't know the difference between a Czech and a Slovak, and less so between an Armenian and an Azeri, Kaylan is perhaps hoping to play on public ignorance. In point of fact, Nagorno-Karabagh?partitioned to Azerbaijan after WWI by none other than Josef Stalin?voted for independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, after the wish to be reattached to Armenia had been ignored for decades by the Soviet leadership. The other region thus partitioned by Stalin, a sliver of land called Nakhichevan, located in between Armenia and Turkey?so that it has no physical borders with Azerbaijan itself?was, over the span of 75 years, ethnically cleansed of its entire Armenian population. Armenian monuments in Nachichevan were so mistreated that UNESCO intervened two years back to protect Armenian graveyards, which were still being desecrated and destroyed on a regular basis.
Back in Turkey's proclaimed "Turkic cousin" Azerbaijan, the government responded to Nagorno-Karabagh's independence movement with pogroms of the Armenians in Sumgait and Baku. World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, an ethnic Armenian, was airlifted out of Baku in a helicopter to escape rioting described by observers as similar to that unleashed against Jews during Czarist Russia. Azerbaijan then proceeded to attack Nagorno-Karabagh militarily, causing the refugee issues that now plague both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Until then, no violence against Azeris by Armenians was ever recorded. The Armenians?who represented more than 75 percent of the population in Nagorno-Karabagh?fought back and won. Turkey, instead of staying neutral out of diplomatic tact, or perhaps because of its own past debt to Armenians, instead imposed a blockade on the fledgling Republic of Armenia.
One last fantasy of Kaylan's: the happy Ottoman Armenian. Kaylan implies that Armenians had nothing to complain about under the Ottomans since, as an industrious and annoyingly persistent race, they were all prospering and building "the lushest Ottoman sultans' palaces." Kaylan seems as resentful of Armenian wealth as Germans were of Jewish wealth before WWII. It is an historical fact that Armenians were better educated and successful than Turks during the Ottoman Empire. The reasons for this are numerous and have to do mainly with Armenian culture and literacy, their position as a minority, and the Ottoman system of rule. The sultans, for example, excluded Muslims from serving as Janissaries, the elite, Christian corps of young boys and war captives who were trained at court in various professions.
Yes, the most brilliant architects, bankers, doctors and writers in Constantinople and other urban areas were Armenians. But the vast majority of Armenians, still living in rural Anatolia, remained poor. They were subjected to overtaxation and countless pogroms by Kurdish overlords, encouraged by Ottoman governors. Starting in 1894 Abdul Hamid, dubbed "The Bloody Sultan," massacred more than 200,000 Armenians. In 1909, in the heavily Armenian city of Adana, 30,000 more were massacred with the acquiescence of local governors. Throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, disease was rampant in Anatolian villages and life expectancy poor. Throughout the Empire, Armenians were being quickly assimilated. By 1915 most could no longer speak Armenian, and Armenian schools and newspapers were subjected to constant raids and closings. In many areas, terror reigned. Are these the happy Armenians, I wonder, that Melik Kaylan imagines?
Most official Turkish deniers are more subtle. They blame the "events" of 1915 on the Young Turks and absolve themselves of responsibility. "What does that have to do with us?" they ask indignantly. "We are not the Turks of 1915." Go ask a Kurd whose village the Turkish military just blew up, or an Armenian currently suffering under the Turkish blockade.
Kaylan professes to being tired of hearing about the Armenian genocide, although it is one of the lesser-known episodes of 20th-century history. One wonders what Kaylan would do if he were German and had to watch the profusion of films on the Nazis and the Holocaust. Surely that injustice would drive him insane.
The modern Turkish Republic was founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923 on the ashes of the genocide?that is to say, the obliteration of the native Anatolian Armenian population that had lived there for more than 3000 years, long before the first Turk galloped through and pitched the first yurt on Armenian territory. The modern Turkish Republic has been referred to as "genesis in genocide," a heavy burden to bear for Turkey, and crucial to its understanding of itself and its modern culture. The day that Turkey, like Germany, faces its past honestly, apologizes, compensates and builds memorials to the Armenian dead, will be the day that Turks no longer carry the self-imposed burden of being viewed as cruel or backward. But the more denialist or exculpatory articles people like Kaylan write, the more uncivilized his treasured Turkish culture will appear to the world.