Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Some thoughts in reaction to reading Fuat Dundar's book "Μοdern Türkiye'nin şifresi" (Greek Edition)

Reactions to Fuat Dundar’s “Modern Turkeys Secret Code”(Greek Edition)

The ideal Ottoman State for the CUP

I read this very interesting and important book in Greek. There is no English translation available which is a pity, as the book is very worthwhile for discussing what happened not just in the Armenian Genocide, but generally in the Balkans and Anatolia in the 1880-1922 period.


Dundar’s main contribution to the debates is the exploration of three things. First the ideology of the Committee of Union Progress(CUP), the political organization that ruled the Ottoman Empire in the period 1908-1912,1913-1918 and which was the state within the state that made the rule of the three Pasha’s  (the term Young Turks is much broader and includes groups that splintered and opposed the CUP, which ruled the Empire in 1912 and 1919-1921). Second the marshaling of social science and statistics in the policies of the CUP, and third the exploration of the implementation of this policy via the coded telegrams exchanged between the central authorities in Istanbul (Constantinople for Greeks, also called Konstantiniyye in the Imperial era) with provincial authorities, or between Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha. These include coded telegrams from many institutions with the exception of the Army, since those archives are still restricted. While I am not a specialist on this debate, this last point is the main contribution as to this day most of the debate is based on open and many times secondary sources. What did I learn from the book, but also in general.

1) The CUP was engaged in a colonial project. 

At its basic the CUP was a party and political organization created in Rumeli (Ottoman Balkan territory). The Rumeliot Muslims were the first to have to tackle with the idea of national-statism as expressed by their Greek, Bulgarian, Slav, Serbia neighbors, were the most exposed to western ideas of the empire’s Muslim population, and were the most threatened by nationalism. As a result they quickly rejected the Ottomanism supported by some Young Turks and promoted by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, and instead became more attached to the idea of the “Turkish” nation, as opposed to a “Muslim” state. For these people the period 1877-1913 was a catastrophe. 

The Bulgarian revolution and independence in conjunction with the Serbo-Ottoman and Russo-Ottoman wars of 1875-1878 led to the movement of close to a million Muslims from the newly Christian ruled territories to the south. The early movement was the result of ethnic cleansing by the Russian Army and its local Bulgarian and Slavic allies, while the later period saw partly voluntary movement, a lot of it encouraged by Abdul Hamid II who wanted to concentrate as many Muslims as possible in the Ottoman Empire. To this refugee population were added the Caucasus Muslims ethnically cleansed by the Russians in the 1850-1880 period, as well smaller numbers of Muslims from Greek Thessaly (the reasons for their movement are less clear, but probably had to do more with economic changes than a policy of ethnic cleansing).

These people were traumatized and became advocates of a more chauvinistic “Turkish” nationalism as a counter-point the chauvinistic nationalisms of the Christian Balkan populations. The organization of the CUP and other groups was in reaction to these events and their goal was to assure that at least Anatolia would remain as a homeland to “Turkish” populations expelled by Greece, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria. When the CUP came to power in 1908, it quickly broke ranks with the minority groups, especially Armenians, as well as Ottoman constitutionalists that had supported the overthrow of Abdul Hamid. The “Turkish” nationalist policies they implemented led not just to the reaction of Ottoman Greeks and Armenians but also the Muslim Albanians, Muslim Arabs, and Muslim Kurds. With the loss of Rumeli with the Balkan Wars, the destruction of the Ottomanist government in power in 1912 with the 1913 Coup ,and the addition of another 300,000-400,000 refugees to the million and a half caused in the 1880-1912 period, the CUP focused on making sure no more land would be lost to Turks in Anatolia.

But as Dundar points very well , for these Rumeliot Muslims, Anatolia was an unknown land. Like European colonial authorities, the goal of the CUP was first to chart this land geographically and ethnographically, and then implement a population policy that would create a state dominated by population loyal to the new state. In another name, just like Jews in Israel/Palestine in the 1940s, or Boers in south Africa, the CUP political program was the colonization of a new land by a harried, much suffering refugee population. For this reasons some of the local populations could be assimilated, and some would need to be placed in such a position that they would no threat the newly arrived population with expulsion and extermination again. It is instructive that during the period of power of the CUP there was a heavy study of books and practices of the European colonial experience. Russia with its own population management politics, which included heavy ethnic cleansing, was also an example.


The Three Pashas. Enver, Talaat, Djemal

2) The CUP was engaged in "scientific" project

Dundar does a good job of marshaling previous studies and primary sources to show how the leadership of the CUP saw itself as a engaged in a policy and project that was highly scientific. The creating of a “Turkish” nation, the assimilation of “Turkish” nomads and other Muslim refugees, the turning of Kurds into “Turks”, the exclusion of Albanian and Arab muslims from this “Turkish” nation, and the movement of other non-“Turkish” populations around were planned and implemented with a heavy use of motifs from social science, sociology, statistics, mathematics, and medicine. The Ottoman Empire was suffering from a “disease” which was the lack of national identity among its Muslim populations, and the existence of national identities among Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. 

As a result none of the populations of Anatolia (with the exception of Rumeliot Muslims) were useful to the country. The goal of the policy was to “cure” these diseases by promoting a national identity, assimilating those that can be assimilated, and rendering those that cannot be assimilated harmless and useful by population movement. The expectation was that once the problem populations were dispersed among Turkish majorities they would lose their national identity and in turn be assimilated later on.


Foucault. Saving us from ourselves?

3) This is why we got post-modernism and critical theory

To see the social sciences used in such a un-scientific way was a great example of the hubris of social science in the 1900s-1950s. It’s not just he CUP, or other nationalist-statists that misused them like this. The colonial project was justified on scientific grounds, and the left-wing progressive and Marxist projects also claimed the mantle of social science. There complete disregard of the limits of probabilistic sciences like the social sciences, led to the great tragedies of the 20th century. Now wonder the backlash took the extreme forms of post-modernism and critical theory that completely reject positivism and thus social science. I am not favored to either intellectual bodies, but I can see, from the example of the CUP as narrated by Dundar, why they arose, and why they were important for the development of a more humble and prudent social science. The hubris and excesses of the 19th and early 20th century social scientists must always be a shadow that stands over our work. 

4) The Armenian Genocide is thus the first scientific genocide.

Many people argue that the Shoah was the first scientific genocide, but that is not the case. In the Dundar book ,and it must be noted that he does not call the policy implemented as a genocide in the book, it became clear to me that the policies implemented on the Armenians were argued on scientific grounds. A pseudo-science yes, just like the science of the Nazis, but on science as accepted as science in that date. The continuous counting and re-counting of populations before expulsion, after expulsion , the continuous use of surveys for information, all indicate a regime engaged in a systematic policy.

Armenias fleeing the creation of the Turkish nation-state


5) The Armenian Genocide is not like the Shoah or Rwanda. It is like too many other things done by too many other states, that its global recognition is probably impossible as long as national-statism is a dominant ideology.

From the coded telegrams once cannot argue that the CUP was engaged in a policy of immediate extermination of the Armenian population of the Empire. Thus this is very different from the Nazis or Rwanda, where the policy was Exterminate ASAP. Instead the CUP’s goal was to render the Armenians “useful” for their new Turkic national Empire. These would be done by ethnically cleansing them from the border areas and dispersing them among loyal Muslim populations. The CUP even had a specific proportion with a preference for 2%,5%, at most 10%. Their hope was that thus dispersed, denied education in their language (Dundar gives the actual telegraph ordering this), the Armenians would be assimilated in several generations in to the new Turkic national Empire. It was thus in general an ethnic cleansing campaign rather than an extermination one.

 However, the crux of the question was on how much did the CUP leadership and especially Talaat Pasha expect that the ethnic cleansing would also be accompanied by extermination of part of the population. Only this would be done by irregular forces (chetes, most made up of Rumeliot Muslims, especially Muslim Cretans), and more importantly by the conditions of the march. Here the book provides a lot of damning evidence. While the Armenians would not be exterminated, instead losing their national identity after several generations, a part of the population would be expected to die. 

The most damning exchange is the debate in the Ottoman Parliament between the MP of Aydin Emmanouil Emmanouilidis and Talaat Pasha. This took place on 6th July 1914. Emmanouilidis was asking why the government was resettling Rumeliot and Caucasian Muslim refugees on Ottoman Greek villages, instead on the open or empty that existed in abundance in the Empire. Talaat answered that while such lands did exist, the Ottoman government did not have the funds to make sure the resettlement would not endanger the life of the refugees. If the Muslim refugees were forced to leave in those lands then they would all die of starvation. The land to which Talaat refers, according to Dundar cannot be any other parts of the Empire than Zor, Musul, Halep, Urfa, the very areas to which the Armenians on eastern Anatolia would be expelled to. At least from his own public words, Talaat Pasha sent many Armenians knowingly to death. 

Also damning is the fact that the coded telegrams make it clear that none of the expelled into Zor-Urfa would be permitted to return to Eastern Anatolia.

However, the problem with this is that this type of death march is part and parcel of the policies done by many of the existing nation-states and colonial powers. The Herero Genocide was mostly due to starvation rather than killing. The destruction of native Americans, the Irish famine, the destruction of Caucasian Muslims,Crimean Muslims and Rumeliot Muslims, were implemented with such policies of not on purpose total extermination but of culling. If the Armenia events are a Genocide, and I say they are  and the Dundar books supports the view, than so are all those other events. Especially Russia then is responsible for an Mulsim Genocide in the 1850-1917 period. This is why I think global recognition of the Armenian genocide will not happen under the current legal framework. States, and Nation-States care above everything for their security, and as long as they see their national myths of innocence as part and parcel of that security, they will never open that can of worms. Justice is secondary concern, and Human History not one at all.

Essentially the difference between the Shoah and the Armenian Genocide, is the that in the first case the policy was Genocide, while the in second case the policy amounted to Genocide. It’s a subtle difference, irrelevant to the victims, but relevant to definitions I guess.


Ziya Gokalp. Ideologue of the CUP

6) A Greek is harder to substantiate, though Ethnic Cleansing was implemented. 
Growing up in Greece I was taught about the Greek Genocide by the Turks. I was also taught that the CUP was continuously ruling the Empire from 1909. It seems that recognizing the tolerant Ottomanism of the 1912 government would be problematic for the national narrative, as it was this Ottoman Government, instead of a CUP government, that Greece fought in 1912. Now unquestionably both the Greeks and the Assyrians were subjected to ethnic cleansing by the CUP. But in the case of the Greeks that policy was never implemented fully. First, the existence of Greek state, itself holding 400,000-600,000 muslims, put a limit to what the CUP could do especially if it wanted to keep Greece neutral during the 1914-1917 period. 

Second, the very existence of Greece made the CUP more willing to consider a population exchange rather than ethnic cleansing. This was only given up in 1917 and it was during that period that a full policy of ethnic cleansing by dispersal in the interior of Anatolia was implemented, but it never was able to reach the size, and thus the lethality of the Armenian case. 

Third, the fact that the bulk of the Ottoman Greek population lived in Aydin and Istanbul, meant that the international opinion conscious CUP was unwilling to engage in the types of policies that it engaged in Eastern Anatolian so close to the eyes of neutrals and Allied forces. This of course was not the case of the Ottoman Greeks of Eastern Anatolia (which in Greece we call Pontic Greeks, from Euksinous Pontous, which is the Greek name for the Black Sea), who suffered the same fate as the Armenians. 

7) The Assyrians were heavily massacred, while Nestorian Christians mostly escaped thanks to the high altitude of their communities and the proximity of the Russian Army and the Persian border. 

However Talaat is very clear in coded-telegram that under no circumstances are Assyrian Christians to be subjected to the same culling as that of the Armenians.

8) Islam was a secondary matter

In our charged political environment, with Islamophobic groups and Radical Islamists working together to bring about wars of extermination, the 1915 events are cast as a case of Muslim terror against Christians. While without question in the sad history of humanity Muslims have massacred Christians (and Christians Muslims) the policy of the CUP was not fueled by Islam, but an almost racial nationalism. This is proven by the fact that 1) Albanian and Araba Muslim refugees from the Balkans were not prohibited from being resettled in Anatolia 2) CUP funded organizations that tried to persuade the Muslims of Greece, Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary to emigrate to the Empire were prohibited from recruiting Albanians, Pomaks, and Bosniaks.3) The CUP prohibited the movement of Arabs to Anatolia. 4) Armenians who became Muslim (a large number) did not escape ethnic cleansing, and even if they avoided it were put under police surveillance as a suspect elements.

The goal of the CUP was to create not a Muslim state, but a Turkish state, as they, as Rumeliots, conceptualized “Turkish”. There was no space in this state for non-Turk Muslims.

9) The ethnic cleansing-population transfer policies targeted Kurds and Muslims as well.

The Kurds were seen as a threat, because of their nomadic character, independence, perhaps loyalty to Abdul Hamid II, and their resistance to “turkishness” and the CUP implemented a policy of forcible population transfer from Eastern to Central Anatolia and forcible settlement. Muslim refugees were also forced to move from their points of first settlement to Eastern Anatolia and Mosul in order to increase the proportion of the “loyal” population both against the re-settled Armenians, the Kurds, and the Arabs, all of which were seen as a threat. 

That said that fact that in those cases the loss of life was much samller, is a furtehr indicator that the extermination of part of the Armenian popualtion was in the minds of some CUP leaders.

10) The Bulgarian and Greek Exchange

People in Greece tend to think the Treaty of Lausanne as the first case of legalized Ethnic Cleansing. That is not the case. On September 29th 1913, the government of the Czardom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire agreed to exchange the remaining Bulgarian population of the Ottoman Empire with those Muslims of Bulgaria that were not Pomak, or living on the borders with Romania. 48,750 Rumeliot Muslims where thus exchanged with 46,764 Bulgarians.

The CUP loved the idea and tried to implement it with Greece.  Between May and July 1914, the Greek government of Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos and the CUP Triad discuss an exchange plan.  The main term for Eleutherios Venizelos was the recognition by the CUP government of full Greek sovereignty over the Western Aegean Islands.  After the First Balkan War the Greek government had taken the heavily Greek populated (70-80% majorities according to the Ottoman Censi of 1893-1895 and 1905-1906) Western Aegean Islands. The CUP dominated Ottoman Government after 1913 had not recognized it. Both states expected to fight over them, and a dreadnought naval race erupted between them. The only reason the war did not happen was the onset of World War 1 in 1914. It seems that for the Greek governments getting the Ottoman Empire to recognize Greek sovereignty over the Western Aegean was very important. 

Essentially, the documents Dundar gives show that in 1914 Eleutherios Venizelos was willing to sacrifice the Greek presence in Anatolia in order to secure full sovereignty over the Western Aegean Islands. It is also clear he personally knew that the CUP had no intention of leaving Anatolian Greeks settled where they were. All of this casts an interesting light on the decision to initiate the Asian Minor Campaign in 1919. The next book I am reading “1915” by Yorgos Mavrogordatos, might cast further light into this issue. The plan ultimately failed (to be resurrected in 1922) because Ottoman Greeks in Greece and Anatolia opposed it and mobilized Greek mainland public opinion against it, and because the CUP was not willing to budge on the islands issue (it is interesting to note that despite everything and the destruction of Anatolian Greece, the Greek state was not able to even extract from Turkey a recognition of full Greek sovereignty over the islands, leading to the ongoing Aegean conflict)

11) The Jews were targeted as well

A common national myth shared by the Turkish ,Israeli, and Greek national narratives is the idea that Jews were loyal to the Ottoman master. It partly explains Greek anti-semitism. And yet in 1914-1918 the CUPs colonial policy also targeted the Jews, especially those that lived in Palestine. From the point of view of language, like all other linguistic minorities, they were pressured to learn Ottoman Turkish (or at least the CUP approved version), and their educational institutions targeted.  However in Palestine, Djemal Pasha saw Jews, and especially Zionist Jews as a threat to the Empire (despite the fact that in the grand plans of the CUP Palestine was to the south of the Halep-Mosul line that separated their ideal Turkish Empire from the non-Turkish Muslims). 

Djemal implemented some policies of ethnic cleansing against Palestine Jews, especially Russian refugees. But he was generally blocked by Talaat. Myth believers par-excellence parts of the CUP had bought in the great Jewish bluff of immense economic and political power in western Europe. In order to not provoke neutral countries, and to ensure the mythic Jewish financiers support, both Talaat and the Germans opposed Djemals policy. Zionist organizations were prescribed, despite their promises of mythical financial support for the Ottoman war effort in return for a Jewish state in Palestine. But the massive population movements that Armenians, Assyrians, Nestorians, Kurds and Greeks experienced were party avoided. That said some people were killed and some populations moved about.

12) The German Role
The CUPs murderous ideology sprang from the teachings of the Prussian (later German) general Freiherr Wilhelm Leopold Colmar von der Goltz, who was the grand ideologue of national-statism in the Ottoman Empire and should be held responsible for the lives thakn thanks to his ideological justifications. It was the teachings of Von der Goltz that formed the CUPs ethnic program, an organization heavily made up of military men that were his students in the War Academy. It is from his work that they sought to create a nation-army of Turks in Anatolia. Thus we can say in borad strokes, that the creators of Turkish Nationalism were Russian Czars, the Greeks and Bulgarians, and a German officer.

During World War 1, Germany and the Ottoman Empire were allies. From the Dundar books in general it comes out that the Germans were complicit in the Armenian Genocide, indifferent to the fate of Greeks, Nestorians and Assyrians, with the exception of using the fate of Greeks to avoid a Greek entry to the war, and protective of Jews.


Von Der Goltz


13) The Republican Movement (Kemalism) was heavily tied to the events of 1914-1918

While Kemal Ataturk had broken ties with the CUP as early as 1913, many of the members of the Republican regime, and may of its ideologues (Ziya Göklap) were part and parcel of the 1914-1918 regime. While nothing in Dundar implicates Kemal with the Armenian Genocide, or the policies of ethnic cleansing, Ismet Inonu (2nd President of the Turkish Republic) was a direct participant in the Armenian Genocide, and Mahmut Celal Bayar (3rd President of the Turkish Republic) was a direct participant in the ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Greeks. This explains to a point why the Kemalist Republican regime was and is unwilling to fully open up the issue of essentially the CUPs activities.


Rumeliot Muslims fleeing the creation of Christian nation-states


14)IMPORTANT :One cannot understand the fate of Anatolian Christian without understanding the fate of Rumeli and Caucasian Muslims

In the Balkans and in Anatolia, the nation-states prefer to always focus on the actions of others and never on their own actions. Issues that are highly linked are presented as separate in order to protect the national myths of purity, innocence and martyrdom. And yet the events of 1915-1919 are tied to the events of 1880-1913. The massive ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Rumeli and the Caucasus in the period beginning with he 1877-1878 Russo-Ottoman war creates a massive refugee wave that has two results: 

1) It leads to the radicalization of the Muslim populations of Rumeli and their effort to create a chauvinist national identity like the ones characterizing the perpetrators of the ethnic cleansing (mainly Serbians, Bulgarians, Russians and to a smaller but not unimportant degree Greeks). The CUP was a political organization created by either the victims of previous ethnic cleansing, or by people who considered themselves as the next victims. It is surprising that with the exception of Eastern Anatolia, Anatolian Muslims, the millions who fought and died in the Empires wars and toiled in hard labour are not really represented in the CUP (Dundar notes only one Anatolian Muslim in the central committee of the CUP).

 2) it leads to increased ethnic and linguistic conflict within the Empire between settled populations and the incoming refugees. In Bulgaria most of the atrocities committed by the Ottomans during the 1875 rebellion were committed by Circassian Muslims, themselves only recently ethnically cleansed by the Russian Empire. In Anatolia in the 1914 most of the irregular groups terrorizing Ottoman Greeks and Armenians were made up of Rumeliot and Caucasian Muslims, themselves recently being the victims of terror. In an analogy to the adult abuser who was abused as a child, the abuse of muslims by the new Christian nation-states leads to the abuse of Christians by the creators of a new Muslim nation-state.

3) It leads to the justification of the expulsion policies as part of a refugee resettlement policy.

Unfortunately this chain of violence is not really studied from what little I know as a chain. Instead each nation-state, and those foreign scholars that are champions of the various nation states, only focuses on specific links. This has sadly being the character of the study of the 1880-1922 period in Greek, Armenian and Turkish historiography, and it is sadly the case with even foreign writers like Justin McCarthy. It is only when people from within those nation-states, like Dundar, start asking about the wrongs committed in the name of their nation, that we begging to see the whole chain. I am hopeful for Greek historiography because I know Dr.Stefanos Katsikas at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is writing a book exactly on the policies of Greece towards its Muslims populations in the 1821-1941 period. This should be one of the most important books in seeing the whole chain.

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