Sunday, October 14, 2007

Legislating Turkish History

It's funny how often something apparently esoteric that I've studied, like the Armenian "genocide" in Turkey during WWI, will pop up in the news. This month, it is Congress's attempts to condemn Turkey for the genocide. A column by Thomas Goltz, a scholar of Turkey and the Middle East, in today's newspaper makes the points better than I can:

"In essence, the Armenian discourse can be summed up by the claim that the Ottoman Turkish authorities mounted a systematic policy of mass murder against a hapless population of innocents, and that up to 1.5 million Armenians thus perished during the years from 1915 to 1918. The Turkish position is that Armenians joined forces with Czarist Russian armies in the largely roadless Ottoman East, slaughtered Muslims in great numbers, and had to be removed to more secure areas of the crumbling empire, during the course of which large numbers (perhaps half a million) of Armenians died of disease, starvation, and violence ...

"To paraphrase the eminent University of Massachusetts/Amherst historian Professor Guenther Levy, if the Ottoman government is to be accused of anything, it would be fair to condemn it for criminal negligence toward all its citizens during the mayhem of the eastern front at the time in question.... Where does the truth lie? The jury is still out among non-partisan historians of the period."

American politics comes into it because "what Armenian lobby groups are attempting is to have non-specialists, who are prone to vote according to the perceived needs (or whims) of their constituencies, legislate that history. Not only does this make for bad history, but worse foreign policy."

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