Proof of Turkish complicity in Armenian genocide revealed

Genocide stains the annals of the 20th century like a macabre decoration – from the Holocaust to Stalin’s forced starvation of Ukrainians to Pol Pot’s killing fields to slaughter in Rwanda.

The first official genocide of the last century began with the organized killing of Armenians by the then Ottoman Empire in 1915, an event that claimed as many as 1.5 million Armenians, or about 75 percent of all Armenians in what is today Turkey.

The liquidation – carried out under the cover of World War I – was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied males through massacre and forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and the infirm on death marches to the Syrian desert in which victims were deprived of food and water, and subjected to robbery, rape and massacre.

Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman perpetrators, has long denied a state role in the killing of Armenians. Despite the testimony of thousands of Armenian survivors, it has resisted the word genocide, saying that the suffering of the Armenians occurred during the chaos of a world war in which Turkish Muslims faced hardship, too.

Turkey also claimed that the Armenians were traitors, and had been planning to join with Russia, then an enemy of the Ottoman Empire. That position is deeply ingrained in Turkish culture with a majority of Turks sharing the government’s position.

Recently, however, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said he has discovered a “smoking gun” that implicates the Turks, an original telegram introduced as evidenced in the 1919-20 trials connected to the deaths of the Armenians, in an archive held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, according to the New York Times.

Akcam, who has studied the genocide for decades by piecing together documents from around the world to establish state complicity in the killings, said he hoped the evidence would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.”

“The story begins in 1915 in an office in the Turkish city of Erzurum, when a high-level official of the Ottoman Empire punched out a telegram in secret code to a colleague in the field, asking for details about the deportations and killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia, the easternmost part of contemporary Turkey,” according to the Times.

A deciphered copy of the telegram was used to help convict the official, Behaeddin Shakir, for planning the organized killing of Armenians in trials held shortly after the end of World War I.

Turkish officials attempted – successfully – to place blame during the trials on a small number of officials, rather than the deaths being correctly expressed as a statewide effort. Those found guilty were either in hiding or given light sentences.

Soon after the trial most of the original documents and sworn testimony disappeared, leaving researchers to rely mostly on summaries from the official Ottoman newspaper. Turkey has been able to deny the genocide partly because so many of the records of the court proceedings were destroyed or somehow vanished, leaving only historians’ accounts and journalists’ accounts, which could be dismissed as biased.

“What we were missing in Armenian genocide is the so-called smoking gun because all relevant documents were taken out from Ottoman archive or all these materials – telegrams, eyewitness accounts, they were all gone,” Akcam told National Public Radio. “We didn’t know whereabouts of all these documents. And mainly, the denial strategy was ‘show us the originals.’ So I discovered in a private archive this telegram.”

The telegram would likely have remained forever lost were it not for Akcam’s sleuthing.

As Turkish nationalists were about to seize the country in 1922, the Armenian leadership in Istanbul shipped 24 boxes of court records to England for safekeeping, according to the Times.

“The records were kept there by a bishop, then taken to France and, later, to Jerusalem. They have remained there since the 1930s, part of a huge archive that has mostly been inaccessible to scholars, for reasons that are not entirely clear,” the publication added. “Mr. Akcam said he had tried for years to gain access to the archive, with no luck.”

He did, though, find a photographic record of the Jerusalem archive in New York, held by the nephew of an Armenian monk, now dead, who was a survivor of the genocide.

“The telegram was written under Ottoman letterhead and coded in Arabic lettering; four-digit numbers denoted words. When Mr. Akcam compared it with the known Ottoman Interior Ministry codes from the time, found in an official archive in Istanbul, he found a match, raising the likelihood that many other telegrams used in the postwar trials could one day be verified in the same way,” the Times wrote.

For historians, the court cases were one piece of a mountain of evidence that emerged over the years – including reports in several languages from diplomats, missionaries and journalists who witnessed the events as they happened – that established the historical fact of the killings and qualified them as genocide.

While many countries, including France, Germany, Greece and the Vatican, have recognized what happened to the Armenians in 1915 as genocide, the United States has refrained from using that term, not wishing to alienate Turkey, a NATO ally and a partner in its fight against terrorism in the Middle East.

Akcam told NPR that the Turkish government must now develop new strategies to deny the Armenian genocide.

“They cannot deny as they have been denying over the years,” he said. “It is over now. There is no way to escape. They have to face this reality. This is a telegram with an Ottoman letterhead and we with the Ottoman coding system.”

(Top: Armenian mother kneeling beside her dead child near Aleppo, Syria, one of many who died crossing the Syrian desert during the Armenian genocide.) 

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Independence movements around globe watching Scotland

With a week until the people of Scotland vote on independence from Great Britain, separatist movements around the world are watching closely.

“From Catalonia to Kurdistan to Quebec, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely – sometimes more so than Britons themselves, who seem to have only just woken up to the possibility that Scotland might vote next Thursday to bring to an end a 307-year union,” writes the New York Times.

“A curious collection of left and right, rich and poor, marginal and mainstream, these movements are united in the hope that their shared ambition for more self-determination will get a lift from an independent Scotland,” it added.

The Telegraph reports that a record-breaking 4.3 million have registered to vote in Scottish referendum, the highest number in Scottish electoral history, and recent polls show the pro-independence movement gaining steam as the vote nears.

As of yesterday, the No campaign had a slim lead over the Yes campaign, 47.6 percent to 42.4 percent. But when the 10 percent who said they were still undecided were removed from the equation, the survey suggests that the Yes campaign would win, 53-47, according to The Telegraph.

The referendum is gathering attention around the globe.

“Busloads of Catalans, South Tiroleans, Corsicans, Bretons, Frisians and ‘Finland-Swedes’ are headed for Scotland to witness the vote,” according to the Times. “Even Bavaria (which calls itself ‘Europe’s seventh-largest economy’) is sending a delegation.”

“It would create a very important precedent,” said Naif Bezwan of Mardin Artuklu University in the Kurdish part of Turkey. Across the Iraqi border (or “the Kurdish-Kurdish border,” as Mr. Bezwan puts it), where a confluence of war, oil disputes and political turmoil has renewed the debate about secession, Kurds pine for the opportunity of a Scottish-style breakup, the publication added.

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Lone survivor of WWII ship disaster dies

struma

In late 1941, the Jewish immigrant ship Struma, overcrowded, 75 years old and fitted with an unreliable second-hand diesel engine, was jammed with 770 refugees, bound for Palestine from Axis-allied Romania.

The vessel’s engine failed several times before it arrived in Istanbul in mid-December 1941 and she had to be towed by tug into the neutral port.

Turkish officials ordered all 769 passengers to remain aboard and ultimately refused them transit. In late February 1942 the boat was towed into the Black Sea and set adrift.

Within hours Soviet submarine Shch-213, prowling the waters for German and Italian ships, torpedoed the Struma, killing all but one of the 780 refugees and crew onboard.

The lone survivor was 19-year-old David Stoliar, who was plucked from the icy water by a Turkish fishing boat.

Stoliar, who died this month at the age of 91, eventually was able to make his way was first to Lebanon than to Palestine with the help of Istanbul’s Jewish community.

The following year he enlisted in the British Army and saw action in North Africa. Upon his release from the British Army, he returned to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces. In the 1948 War of Independence he fought as a machine gunner, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Stoliar had more than one lucky break in his life.

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Signs of scientific awakening in Muslim world

Islamic science

Islam’s reputation for hostility to science is a modern phenomenon.

As has been well documented, the Muslim world was a dynamo for scientific development during the time Europe was ensnared in darkness and superstition.

How advanced was Islam’s scientific community? Extremely advanced, according to Physics Today.

“Islam’s magnificent Golden Age in the 9th–13th centuries brought about major advances in mathematics, science, and medicine,” the publication wrote in 2007. “The Arabic language held sway in an age that created algebra, elucidated principles of optics, established the body’s circulation of blood, named stars, and created universities.”

The Economist highlights several of Islam’s scientific greats:

  • Avicenna wrote the “Canon of Medicine” in the 11th century, a standard medical text used in Europe for hundreds of years;
  • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi laid down the principles of algebra, a word derived from the name of his book, “Kitab al-Jabr,” in the ninth century;
  • Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham transformed the study of light and optics, and is known as the father of modern optics and scientific methodology; and
  • Abu Raihan al-Biruni calculated the earth’s circumference to within a single percent and has also been called the first anthropologist.

In addition, Muslim scholars did much to preserve the intellectual heritage of ancient Greece; centuries later it helped spark Europe’s scientific revolution.

Unfortunately, this period of great development came to a screeching halt long ago.

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Ancient tablet shows undiscovered language

Amid the ruins of a Middle Eastern palace dating back nearly 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, archaeologists believe they have discovered a previously unknown ancient language.

Working in southeast Turkey, a team excavating an Assyrian imperial governors’ palace in the ancient city of Tushan recently unearthed a 2,800-year-old clay writing tablet.

Cambridge University archaeologist John MacGinnis discovered the unknown language – which was likely spoken by a hitherto unknown people from the Zagros Mountains of western Iran – while deciphering the tablet, according to The Independent.

“The discovery is important because it may help reveal the ethnic and cultural origins of some of history’s first ‘barbarians’ – mountain tribes which had, in previous millennia, preyed on the world’s first great civilizations,  the cultures of early Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq,” according to the British newspaper.

The clay tablet revealed the names of 60 women – probably prisoners of war or victims of an Assyrian forced-population transfer program.

But when MacGinnis began to examine the names in detail, he realized that 45, or three of every four, bore no resemblance to any of the thousands of ancient Middle Eastern names already known to scholars.

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Last Ottoman royal dies in Istanbul at 91

The last Ottoman royal born during before the 600-year dynasty’s collapse in the early 1920s died earlier this week. 

Fatma Neslişah Osmanoğlu was 91 when she fell victim to heart attack Monday in Istanbul.

Once known as Imperial Princess of the Ottoman Empire and Princess of Egypt, Sultan was the granddaughter of the last Ottoman sultan, Mehmed VI, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Ottoman Empire had ruled Turkey, parts of the Middle East and eastern Europe, beginning in 1299. 

Neslişah was born just two years before Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded modern Turkey, which brought a formal end to the Ottoman dynasty. 

However, while the Ottoman Empire’s doom was effectively sealed when it sided with the Central Powers during World War I, it had been in decline for more than a century. 

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Why criminalizing genocide denial is bad

Nearly a century after between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in what is considered the one of the first examples of modern genocide, Turkey continues to fight efforts to label the event as such.

Turkey’s prime minister on Saturday sharply criticized France for a bill that would make it a crime to deny the 1915-23 mass killing of Armenians was genocide, The Associated Press reported.

“Saying France should investigate what he claimed was its own ‘dirty and bloody history’ in Algeria and Rwanda, Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Turkey would respond ‘through all kinds of diplomatic means,’” the wire service reported.

While Turkish officials quibble over labels, there’s little question of the horrors inflicted upon Armenians by Ottoman Turks as their empire collapsed.

However, Turkish leaders reject the term “genocide” for the tragedy, arguing that the toll is inflated, that there were deaths on both sides and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Later this week, the lower house of French Parliament will debate a proposal that would make denying that the massacre was genocide punishable by up to a year in prison and $58,500 in fines, putting it on par with Holocaust denial, which was banned in the country in 1990.

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