Michael Gunter: He blurbed a book ... Should he then have reviewed it?
The review appeared in the International Journal of Middle East Studies (Volume 39 Issue 03 - Aug 2007). The journal's editors were unaware that Gunter had blurbed the book; it reportedly arrived in their office sans cover.
After the review appeared two scholars objected to Gunter's decision to review the book. A contentious exchange ensued:
KEITH DAVID WATENPAUGH: A RESPONSE TO MICHAEL GUNTER'S REVIEW OF THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES IN OTTOMAN TURKEY
Michael Gunter should not have written a review of Guenter Lewy's The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide for IJMES or for any other scholarly journal, as he was intimately involved in the prepublication review and promotion of the book.
The mere fact that he did so, however, indicates a significant procedural failure on the part of the journal. Because these procedures rely on the collegial, ethical, and professional behavior of those asked to review books and articles for publication, it is Gunter himself who bears chief responsibility for an act that has undermined the credibility of IJMES and weakened its crucial position as the journal of record for the Middle East studies community. He is a senior political scientist at an established American university who has published books, articles, and book reviews. Believing that he was unaware of the ethical burden of conscientious review and the need to recuse himself in the face of obvious conflicts of interest is difficult, if not impossible.
Gunter's apparently unethical behavior cannot and should not be disconnected from the book he took it upon himself to review. Lewy's book is likewise the product of a series of ethical lapses, most particularly, genocide denial the purposeful misrepresentation through manipulation or misuse of the historical record of an episode of genocidal violence to lessen the perception of its severity, to put causal responsibility for genocide upon its victims or survivors, or to reject altogether that genocide took place. Moreover, it is a form of scholarly fabrication usually done in the hopes of promoting a particular political or social agenda and is wholly unrelated to the professional practice of historical revision. In this case, it is the genocide of the Ottoman Empire's Armenian citizens during World War I that is at issue. However, regardless of the specific subject, the project of genocide denial depends for its success, in large part, on the subversion of established principles and systems of professional scholarship and review. The way Gunter was able to subvert one of those critical principles and place this review in IJMES mirrors the larger vulnerabilities and potential failures of those systems exploited in order to publish Lewy's book in the first place.
Lewy is a retired professor of political science who specialized in contemporary American politics. His recent writings on mass violence including those on Native Americans, the Roma, and now the Armenians indicate a belief that the Shoah was the unique genocide of the 20th century, a position generally rejected by scholars of the Holocaust, including Raphael Lemkin, the Polish jurist who coined the term genocide in 1944.
Lewy's underlying rhetorical strategy is to contend that because there is no absolute agreement among historians of the Ottoman period that genocide happened or that historians cannot agree on all of the particular historical facts of the genocide one cannot conclude that genocide took place. This pseudomorph of critical rational discourse, inherently flawed though it may be, is the style employed most often in Holocaust denial and is similar to the lazy and anti-intellectual techniques used by policymakers to reject taking measures to combat global warming and by fundamentalist proponents of"Intelligent Design" who advocate the inclusion of the supernatural in high-school biology textbooks.
It is important to note that the larger purpose of Lewy's intellectual output is less to exonerate contemporary Turkey from a genocide that occurred at the beginning of the last century which I imagine is the hope of some of the book's supporters and elements of the Turkish state that have bought hundreds of copies of this book for free distribution than to construct a conceptual lattice for Holocaust exceptionalism and defend political claims that might be derived thereby.
The majority of the postpublication reviews of Lewy's work have identified obvious and egregious errors of fact, interpretation, and omission most of which presumably would have been caught had the text been carefully scrutinized by competent and nonpartisan readers. Thus, one can surmise that in the course of the editorial review the text was sent to individual scholars whose own views would ideologically cohere with those of Lewy's thesis and not necessarily to specialists in Ottoman history familiar with the archival evidence in its original languages or cognizant of the larger historiographical issues and context of the events of 1915 22. In addition, it is not too great a leap to conclude that only with this corruption of the process, in which editors and reviewers desperate to see this book come out regardless of its inherent weaknesses and lack of scholarly value were involved, would this work have been published by a university press. In the end, IJMES compounded this abuse of the process albeit inadvertently so when it ran Gunter's review.
Denial of this sort is a constant feature of the historical study of genocide, and Lewy's work is not an especially unique example of denial literature, either in form or substance. Still, seeking to silence or criminalize denial, as is the case in parts of Europe, is wrong. Ignoring it is usually a good strategy, but it has grown increasingly difficult in a time when knowledge is so fragmented and when the more traditional ways of evaluating the credibility and quality of scholarship are disappearing in the face of Google and Wikipedia. In the end, the way to deal with denial and collectively protect ourselves and our reputations from its corrosive influence is in public forums like IJMES. Here we can use consistent and transparent professional standards of review, disciplinarily and intellectually sound, to evaluate a work's evidence, argument, and overall scholarship. I am confident that, as Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote,"[s]unlight is the best of disinfectants." Unfortunately, we lost our initial opportunity to shed that much needed light on this work.
I also worry that unless and until Gunter's review is unambiguously and unequivocally revoked, it will continue to bear the IJMES imprimatur of legitimacy. Consequently, the journal is made an unwitting accomplice to denial. What is worse is relegating to the back pages comments by Joseph Kéchichian and me and then providing the individual whose actions visited this fraud upon the journal a chance to respond, combining to give the false impression that we are merely dealing here with a legitimate intellectual controversy and a difference in historical interpretations.
We must be concerned about the erosion of our academic freedom and freedom of speech and should take all measures necessary to protect both. That means preserving even the right, as is often the case, to be utterly wrong. Alongside that extraordinary category of rights, we must work even harder to take academic responsibility and enforce upon ourselves disciplinary rules and community-defined ethics. We should never confuse that act with censorship, self or otherwise, but rather see it as the fullest expression of our academic freedom.
Pierre Vidal-Naquet notes in his work on Holocaust denial, The Assassins of Memory (1993),"It is not enough to be on the right side of the issue. What is needed is ceaseless work, the establishment of facts, not for those who know them and who are about to disappear, but for those who are legitimately demanding as to the quality of the evidence." I would add only that as we study a part of the world where genocide denial has become an ugly and salient feature of public discourse, we should redouble our commitment to that task.
Upon reading the proofs of this exchange, the writer wished to make clarifications.
I have no objection to being labeled one of two Armenian gentleman,‚ but the Editor should note that I am of Northern European origin and am not Armenian.
JOSEPH A. KÉCHICHIAN: A RESPONSE TO MICHAEL GUNTER'S REVIEW OF THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES IN OTTOMAN TURKEY
Perhaps inadvertently, IJMES rendered a disservice to its readers by allowing Michael M. Gunter to review The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide, by Guenter Lewy, because not only the book but also the reviewer pose serious problems.
Perhaps inadvertently, IJMES rendered a disservice to its readers by allowing Michael M. Gunter to review The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide, by Guenter Lewy, because not only the book but also the reviewer pose serious problems.
First, how is it that a person who has already praised a book on its back cover is asked to review it in IJMES? Indeed, the words of Gunter's dust-jacket quote ("A very significant contribution to a long-standing debate. There is no other comparable work that so objectively, thoroughly, and meticulously reviews and analyzes so many different sources on both sides of this bitterly divisive issue") find their way into his review virtually unchanged:"This is a very significant contribution to a long-standing historiographical debate … there is no other comparable work that so objectively and thoroughly reviews and analyzes so many different sources on both sides of this bitterly divisive issue." Because the dust-jacket quote was written prior to the book's publication, there are serious questions raised about the conditions under which the IJMES review was written and the motives of the author. Is it not tantamount to support for a promotional proclivity or, perhaps, even an example of blatant conflict of interest that prefigures in the tone and texture of the review?
Second, it is critical to note that Gunter, the reviewer, occupies a central place in the massive campaign—ardently promoted by successive Turkish governments—to deny the Armenian genocide. For decades he supported that campaign even though he has not produced a single work with a focus on this subject. Gunter has published two studies, Transnational Armenian Activism (1990) and "Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People": A Study of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism (1986), as well as several essays that examine alleged Armenian"terrorism"—but none of his work was on the genocide, either directly or indirectly. Such lack of specialized competence in and of itself certainly does not, and should not, disqualify a reviewer from engaging in a reasonably crafted assessment if everything else falls into its proper place.
Unfortunately, this predicament is compounded, not mitigated, by the attendant fact that Gunter has placed himself in the forefront of a parallel campaign to promote, directly and indirectly and with remarkable zeal, the"official" Turkish line of denial of the Armenian genocide (resmi tarih). This is more significant when one considers that a host of Turkish historians, free from the shackles of the official line, are not only refusing to deny the genocide but in one way or another are also recognizing its occurrence. They are led by Fatma Müge Göcek (University of Michigan), Halil Berktay (Sabanci University), Engin Deniz Akarli (Brown University), Selim Deringil (Bogazici University), and, above all, Taner Akçam (University of Minnesota). Göcek dismisses what she called the Turkish government's denialist"master state narrative"; Berktay unequivocally concedes the truth of the"genocide"; Akarli concludes that the relevant facts"invite the term genocide"; Deringil dismisses a key element in the Turkish denial syndrome, namely, the bogus" civil war" argument; and Akçam explicitly concludes, on the basis of a plethora of official and authenticated Ottoman documents, that the wartime anti-Armenian measures were genocidal in nature, intent, and outcome. Akçam's latest book, titled A Shameful Act (a quotation attributed to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk denouncing the crime perpetrated against the Armenians), is filled with authentic Turkish sources that remarkably are ignored by Gunter.
In light of these views, Gunter's exaltation of the volume—in such terms as a hallmark of"academic objectivity and courage" and"no other comparable work that so objectively and thoroughly reviews and analyses"—calls for a closer examination of Guenter Lewy and his book.
One is dealing here with a book whose author admits a lack of familiarity with both Ottoman and Turkish languages. Lewy declares that he does not know Turkish at all and that he had to depend on"two Turkish speaking persons" (p. 292, n. 112) as well as on others"who have translated some important Turkish materials for me" (p. xiii). However, departing from a very common standard procedure, Lewy repeatedly avoids identifying those who, he says, helped him in the matter of translation of numerous documents. Would it be unfair to ask, under these circumstances, why go to such a highly unusual act of withholding?
Oblivious to this serious problem, Lewy then proceeds to take to task almost everyone who has published extensively on the Armenian genocide. For example, Donald Bloxham, Richard Hovannisian, Taner Akçam, and Erik Jan Zürcher are criticized for their emphasis on the role of the Special Organization (p. 88); Ronald Suny, Robert Melson, Leo Kuper, and Richard Hovannisian again for their rejection of the Turkish argument of Armenian provocation (p. 17); Melson and Hovannisian for their reliance on findings of the postwar Turkish Military Tribunal prosecuting the authors of the Armenian genocide (pp. 43, 78); and the late British historian David Lang and Melson on the relative value of the Naim–Andonian documents (p. 66). Topping this list is, of course, Vahakn N. Dadrian, who, Lewy admits, is his special target (p. 282, n. 3), not only in two chapters as he claims, but also throughout the book (see index, pp. 361–62).
A typical and, quite frankly, revealing blunder in this respect, probably due to his lack of Turkish, is Lewy's handling of Special Organization Chief Esref Kusçuba[sdotu ]i's confession of his involvement in the wholesale elimination of Armenians. In his personal account of an exchange with wartime Grand Vizier Said Halim Pa[sdotu ]a in Malta, when both were detained by the British, Kusçubai, referring to his involvement in the matter of Armenian deportations, identifies himself"as a man who had assumed a secret assignment" [hadisenin iç yüzünde va[zdotu ]ife almi bir insan]. Not knowing Turkish, Lewy in an endnote (p. 292, n. 112) admits that he consulted two"Turkish speaking persons," whose identities are, as noted above, suspiciously withheld and who evidently misled him. Dadrian not only quoted this item separately and identified it in an extra separate endnote ("Ottoman Archives and Denial of the Armenian Genocide," in ed. Richard Hovannisian, The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992], 300–310, n. 72), but also provided in italics the Turkish original text of that very quotation. This single case of distortion, if not outright falsehood, illustrates the level of scholarship present in the work. Incidentally, this is the same Dadrian whose three separate monographs—presumably scrutinized by several anonymous reviewers as IJMES protocol requires—were published in this journal (18:3 , 23:4 , and 34:1 ).
For all of these"accomplishments," Lewy has been amply rewarded by Turkish authorities in Ankara and abroad through the launching of a massive campaign to distribute his book free of charge to libraries and to select groups of diplomats. Equally noteworthy, Lewy has been decorated at a special ceremony in Ankara with, ironically, the Insanliga Karss i Islenen Suçlar Yüksek Ödülü (High Award for Fighting in Opposition to Crimes Against Humanity) by the Avrasya Stratejik Arasstirmalar Merkezi (ASAM or, in English, the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies). It may be worth noting that ASAM is a well-known organization whose mission includes the systematic denial of the Armenian genocide through propagandistic and partisan research and publications; the organization is sponsored and underwritten by the Turkish government. Again, none of these facts is indicated in the review as Gunter chooses not to disclose them.
Superseding in import all these tribulations is, of course, the fundamental issue of the scholarly value of the book and the related matter of the competence of its author. Taking full advantage of the fact that the voluminous corpus of Turkish Military Tribunal files mysteriously disappeared following the capture of Istanbul by the insurgent Kemalists in the fall of 1922, Lewy in monotonous refrain repeats the standard argument—"the original is missing"—as if every single reference to all these documents was a deliberate and malicious fabrication. A case in point is the detailed narration of the organization and execution of the Armenian genocide by General Mehmet Vehip, the commander-in-chief of the Turkish third Army. The bulk of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire was subject to the military jurisdiction of that army, and the most gruesome and inexorable aspects of the genocide were inflicted upon that population—prior to Vehip's taking over the high command. The general's detailed account is not only prima facie evidence of the great crime, but it is also testimony to the uprightness and decency of a Turkish military commander—unfortunately a rarity of rarities in the all-consuming atmosphere of state-sponsored denials. Even though the original is missing, the full text was read into the record of the court-martial proceedings on 29 March 1919, with portions of it having been published in Tavim-i Vaayi[hamza ], the government's official gazette (no. 3540, 5 May 1919 and no. 3771, 9 February 1920). This entire text was also published in the April 1919 issues of the French-language but Turkish-owned newspaper Le Courrier de Turquie, as well as in Vait, a Turkish daily, on 31 March 1919.
Without mincing words, this vaunted Turkish general declared that the central committee of the ruling monolithic political party of Ittihad (the Union and Progress Party, otherwise identified as CUP), in line with the terms of"a resolute plan" (muarer bir plan) and"a definite prior deliberation" (mu[tdotu ]labira[sdotu ]d ta[hdotu ]tinda), ordered"the massacre and extermination" ( atl ve imha[hamza ]) of Armenians and that governmental authorities [rüesa[hamza ]-yi [hdotu ]ükumet] meekly and obediently submitted to this CUP order. Furthermore, the general disclosed that countless convicts were released from the empire's various prisons for massacre duty; he described them as"gallows birds" (ipten ve kazikdan kurtulmus yaranini) and"butchers of human beings" (insan kasaplari) (as cited in Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility , 154, and in Dadrian, IJMES 34 , 85, n. 111).
The utterly partisan thrust of Lewy's book has proven to be its very undoing as revealed by the countless factual and historical errors punctuating it. This deplorable fact is amply documented in a ten-part Turkish-language serial analysis undertaken by Akçam. Point by point and item by item, Akçam depicts these errors, at the same time expressing his amazement as to why a person with such limited knowledge of the subject would want to venture into such a project. Still, the errors in the Lewy volume are not only factual and historical but also include mistranslations and misquotations (see the Istanbul weekly Agos, June, July, and early August issues in 2006).
Finally, in his review, Gunter notes that"Lewy finds most valuable…the consular reports…of Leslie A. Davis, the wartime American Consul in Harput. Of special importance are accounts of his visits to several mass execution sites, one of the few such reports available from any source." Nevertheless, with remarkable abandon, he joins Lewy in glossing over the damning conclusion this American diplomat, a rare eyewitness to mass murder, reached when he reported to his superiors in Washington, D.C. In that pungent summary report, Davis"estimated that the number is not far from a million," when giving an approximation of the magnitude of Armenian victims. He also emphasized that the massacres were not all perpetrated"by bands of Kurds," as so emphatically claimed by Lewy (pp. 167, 173–74, 182), but by government-appointed and government-directed"gendarmes who accompanied" the deportee convoys. Confirming General Vehip's disclosure, Davis directly implicated" companies of armed convicts who have been released from prison for the purpose of murdering the Armenian exiles." The American consul's conclusion is compressed in this single statement:"The whole country is one vast charnel house, or, more correctly speaking, slaughterhouse" (Davis, The Slaughterhouse Province: An American Diplomat's Report on the Armenian Genocide, 1915–1917 , 156, 158, 160).FURTHER COMMENTS
Upon reading the proofs of this exchange, the writer wished to make clarifications.
"I mailed a letter to IJMES which was shared with Professor Watenpaugh. The reader may assume that we coordinated our letters, which we have not, and it may be important to point that out."MICHAEL GUNTER: A REPLY TO JOSEPH KÉCHICHIAN AND KEITH WATENPAUGH
I would have preferred not to reply to these scurrilous attempts at academic character assassination by Joseph Kéchichian and Keith Watenpaugh, but silence might have been misconstrued as somehow agreeing with them.
The main argument these two try to make against me is that I did not agree with their interpretation of what happened to Armenians during World War I and that I did not have a right to write my review of Guenter Lewy's The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide in the first place because I praised the book on its back cover. The two even declaim that by publishing my review IJMES"rendered a disservice to its readers" that has"undermined the credibility of IJMES" because I am guilty of"unethical behavior,""fraud," and so forth. They also lecture IJMES that, although it should publish their five pages attacking Lewy and me, the journal should not publish any reply that I might choose to make. Perhaps noticing that I live in Tennessee, the two even hurl the proverbial kitchen sink my way by accusing me of using"lazy and anti-intellectual techniques" employed"by fundamentalist proponents of ‘Intelligent Design’ who advocate the inclusion of the supernatural" What incredible, self-righteous, pompously ignorant arrogance!
First, there is no academic rule that someone who pens a few words of praise for the back of a book cannot later write a review of it. If there were, a number of good reviews never would have been written. Clearly, my review should stand or fall on its merits, not some alleged rule invented by my two detractors.
Second, neither Guenter Lewy nor I deny the terrible suffering imposed upon the Armenians. Any objective reading of Lewy's book and my review will make this obvious. What we do not agree with is the interpretation many Armenians and others make that what befell Armenians constituted premeditated genocide as defined by Armenians and their many supporters. My two critics notwithstanding, Lewy and I are not alone in this contention. Indeed, Edward J. Erickson's review of Lewy's book in the Middle East Journal 60 (Spring 2006) finds much to praise about it and concludes,"I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the question of what really happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915" (p. 379). Writing in the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 23 March 2006, the distinguished German scholar of comparative genocide, Eberhard Jackel, also praised Lewy's book. A number of years ago IJMES also published a heated exchange between Richard G. Hovannisian and the late Stanford J. Shaw,"Forum: The Armenian Question" (IJMES 9 , 379–400). Such distinguished scholars of Ottoman history as Bernard Lewis, Roderic Davison, J. C. Hurewitz, and Andrew Mango, among others, have all rejected the appropriateness of the genocide label for what occurred. I guess this makes these other major scholars and publications also guilty of"fraud" and other related sins by daring to publish such thoughts!
Joseph Kéchichian furthermore incorrectly opines that"Gunter, the reviewer, occupies a central place in the massive campaign—ardently promoted by successive Turkish governments—to deny the Armenian genocide … even though he has not produced a single work with a focus on this subject." As anyone who knows my work on the Kurdish and Armenian questions realizes, I often have taken critical stands against the Turkish government. (Maybe the Turkish government has hired me to throw its critics off the scent!) In contrast, Joseph Kéchichian and Keith Watenpaugh clearly are spokespersons for the longtime, massive Armenian campaign to trash any scholars who dare to disagree with their own particular version of history. Indeed, in France, Armenians have even succeeded in making it a crime to criticize them. In 1995 the highly respected scholar of Turkish studies Bernard Lewis was actually fined for questioning the Armenian version of history. Despite their pious denials, it is clear that my two critics would like to extend the French system to the United States.
As for Kéchichian's erroneous assertion that I never"produced a single work with a focus on this subject," I would like to call to his attention a lengthy article I wrote (in an Armenian journal no less) on"The Historical Origins of the Armenian–Turkish Enmity" in a special issue on"Genocide and Human Rights" (Journal of Armenian Studies IV, nos. 1–2 , 257–88). A shorter, slightly different version appeared as"The Historical Origins of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism" (Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 9 [Fall 1985], 77–96). He might also note my short piece,"Why Do the Turks Deny They Committed Genocide against the Armenians?" published in the leading German journal on Middle East politics and economics (Orient 30 [September 1989], 490–93).
Moreover, my being asked over the years to write five separate reviews in the two leading journals on Middle Eastern studies in the United States has further recognized my objectivity on this subject. In IJMES I reviewed (1) Merill D. Peterson,"Starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915–1930 and After (May 2005) and (2) Richard Hovannisian, ed., The Armenian Genocide in Perspective and Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question 1915–1923 (August 1989). In the Middle East Journal I reviewed (3) Vahakn N. Dadrian, German Responsibility in the Armenian Genocide (Autumn 1998), (4) Jacques Derogy, Resistance and Revenge: The Armenian Assassination of the Turkish Leaders Responsible for the 1915 Massacres and Deportations and Ephraim K. Jernazian, Judgment unto Truth: Witnessing the Armenian Genocide (Spring 1991), and (5) Kamuran Gurun, The Armenian File: The Myth of Innocence Exposed (Winter 1987).
Furthermore, my book"Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People": A Study of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism (1986) opened with an entire chapter comparing differing Armenian and Turkish positions on what happened in 1915. It received some of the following positive reviews."This is in every respect a splendid book, which every university library and individual interested in the contemporary Middle East ought to purchase" (Middle East Studies Bulletin 21 [December 1987])."Professor Michael Gunter's study of contemporary Armenian terrorism is … carefully chronicled, and there is much material which helps to explain subsequent developments. … Well documented. … Gunter has made a notable contribution" (Middle Eastern Studies 25 [October 1989])."The book is an important one for anyone requiring a systematic account of a terrorist movement that began attacking Turkish officials and offices" (Christian Science Monitor, 10 March 1987). Illustrating the egregiously shocking way he interprets facts, however, Joseph Kéchichian pontificates that my book deals with"alleged Armenian ‘terrorism.’" Alleged? If this is how Kéchichian views recent Armenian terrorism, how can one trust his version of earlier events?
Finally surfeiting themselves with their badly conceived ad hominem attacks on my academic ethics and qualifications, these two Armenian gentlemen next turn their self-righteous diatribes against the accuracy of Lewy's book. Although they make some valid points regarding the Armenian massacres that neither Lewy nor I deny, the two also commit several blunders and possibly outright falsifications in their haste to preach to the choir. For example, they maintain"that a host of Turkish historians" are now agreeing with the Armenian version of history. Kéchichian manages, however, to name only five. Although their position provides food for thought, it hardly amounts to a mass conversion of Turkish scholars to the Armenian line. Indeed, the claim by one of the five (Taner Akçam) that Kemal Ataturk accepted the Armenian version of history is simply not true. Rather, Ataturk criticized the incompetence of the Ottoman government for not alleviating the sufferings of both Armenians and ethnic Turks.
Kéchichian further faults Lewy for not being able to read Ottoman and Turkish and for relying on two anonymous Turkish-speaking persons and others for translating important documents for him. Seeking to draw negative implications from this anonymity, Kéchichian declaims that their names have been"suspiciously withheld." This, of course, is simply another red herring because the translations will stand or fall on their accuracy, not on who made them. What probably really bothered Kéchichian here is that Lewy illustrates several times how pro-Armenian sources cite Turkish sources out of context or simply juxtapose them with ellipses to create different meanings. Vahakn N. Dadrian, often cited as one of the leading contemporary Armenian scholars of these events, is listed by Lewy as one of those who sometimes engages in these practices.
It is also interesting that inability to read Turkish does not prevent Kéchichian from praising as genocide experts Donald Bloxham, Robert Melson, and Leo Kuper, among others, who also do not know Turkish. In addition, if Kéchichian and his supporters understand Ottoman so well, why do some of them continue to tout as genocide evidence such obvious forgeries as the so-called Naim–Andonian documents and the supposed secret Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) meeting of February 1915 described by Mevlanzade Rifat? They weaken their own case by adding such spurious sources.
Kéchichian makes Esref Kuscubasi's statement that he was"a man who had assumed a secret assignment" read to be a confession of genocidal guilt, but as a head of the Special Organization, Kuscubasi naturally dealt with secret assignments. Taking that as a genocidal confession is the real distortion. General Mehmet Vehip's statements are hardly decisive. If the Ottoman government had been behind an extermination plan, Vehip was not in a position to know, as he was not part of the inner circles of power. At the most, Vehip was simply providing his own opinion, as he also did when he foolishly opined that Ataturk's war of independence was ruinous for the country. Leslie Davis was"not a rare eyewitness to mass murder." What he saw was corpses. How those people died and who killed them are matters open to debate. Davis relied entirely on his Armenian assistants and missionaries for information. When he wrote that convicts were released for the purpose of murdering Armenians, that was his opinion. There was a severe shortage of manpower during a desperate war, and making use of convicts is not an unusual practice. Lewy's lamenting of missing originals would be a concern of any objective scholar. If the postwar puppet Ottoman government was corrupt, the fact that some trial material was reproduced in the official newspaper of that government is not what one would necessarily call reliable evidence.
If Lewy's book may have been distributed free to a few libraries, it does not demonstrate that his book is somehow illegitimate. The fact that Lewy was presented with an award by the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies (ASAM), a Turkish think tank, does not prove that he is lying and in the service of the Turkish government. An author does not control such matters. Kéchichian's claim that ASAM's"mission includes propagandistic and partisan research and publication" is an apt description of the Armenian Zoryan Institute that has published some of Taner Akçam's work. Erik Jan Zürcher received the Medal of High Distinction from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although he concluded in Turkey: A Modern History (1993) that"while the Ottoman government as such was not involved in genocide there was a centrally controlled policy of extermination, instigated by the CUP" (p. 121).
These problems, of course—and overly pious Turkish denials of any wrongdoing—do not prove or disprove what really occurred. Thirty years ago Gwynne Dyer aptly expressed the state of the disorderly discourse between most Armenian and Turkish exponents when he titled a revealing short analysis"Turkish ‘Falsifiers’ and Armenian ‘Deceivers’: Historiography and the Armenian Massacres" (Middle Eastern Studies 12 [January 1976]). Guenter Lewy also finds that"both sides have used heavy-handed tactics to advance their cause and silence a full and impartial discussion of the issues in dispute" (p. 238). However, his attempt to demonstrate this is denounced as a"fraud" by his Armenian critics.
Why then do most scholars accept uncritically the Armenian version of these events and demonize those who object? Why do Turks continue to maintain their innocence in the face of so much evidence? One must realize that the Armenian massacres in 1915 did not occur out of the blue but followed decades of Armenian violence and revolutionary activity that then elicited Turkish counterviolence. There are a plethora of Turkish sources documenting these unfortunate events. However, much more accessible to Western audiences are the studies by such eminent scholars as William L. Langer, The Diplomacy of Imperialism: 1890–1902 (1935) and Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations (1922), among others.
Armenians also have documented well that they sometimes gave as good as they received. See, for example, Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century (1963), James G. Mandalian, ed., Armenian Freedom Fighters: The Memoirs of Rouben der Minasian (1963), and Garegin Pasdermadjian (Armen Garo), Bank Ottoman: Memoirs of Armen Garo (1990), among others. The Armenians, of course, present themselves as freedom fighters in these earlier events, but the objective scholar can understand how the Turks saw them as revolutionary and treasonous and may thus hesitate to characterize their response in 1915 as"genocide."
Moreover, throughout all these events, Armenians were never more than a large minority even in their historic provinces. However, they exaggerated their numbers before World War I and their losses during the war. Indeed, if Armenian figures for those who died were correct, there would have been few left at the end of the war. Instead, the Armenians managed to fight another war against the emerging Turkish republic following World War I for mastery in eastern Anatolia. After they lost, many Armenians in time came to claim that what had occurred after World War I was simply renewed genocide. Conversely, the Turks saw it as part of their war of independence and understandably hesitate to admit sole guilt for all these events.
Furthermore, as Christians, Armenians found a sympathetic audience in the West. Muslim Turks, by contrast, were the historic enemy of the Christian West. In addition, Armenians were much more adept at foreign languages than Turks and thus able to present their case more readily to the rest of the world. When the events in question occurred, Turks were again the enemy of the West and the object of Western propaganda. Of course, none of this excuses the horrible abuses that occurred, but these facts put what happened into a more accurate context and begin to explain why Turks feel that the term"premeditated genocide" is unfair to describe what occurred, especially when Armenians deny any guilt.
Moreover, Armenian willingness to employ unwise violence continued into more recent times despite the attempt by Joseph Kéchichian to term the murder of numerous Turkish diplomats in the 1970s and 1980s as merely"alleged Armenian terrorism." Several of these murders occurred in the United States. In addition, Armenian activists demanded that Cambridge University Press withdraw Stanford Shaw's History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (1977) because they did not agree with some of its findings; they threatened the noted UCLA history professor and even bombed his house in Los Angeles. Furthermore, one of the first things newly independent Armenia did upon winning its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 was to attack Turkic Azerbaijan and conquer some 16 percent of its territory. To this day, Armenia claims large sections of eastern Turkey. However, those who point out such inconvenient facts are denounced as"genocide deniers" who should not even have the right to express themselves. No wonder Turks are hesitant to confess to genocide as defined by their enemies.
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Vural Sezer - 11/1/2007
I would like to thank Michael Gunter for his reply and I agree that his detractors show incredible, self-righteous, pompously ignorant arrogance.
I hope that Lewy’s book will encourage more scientists to speak about this matter because as Lewy and Gunter had shown, the issue is highly controversial and the Armenian version of what happened is not accurate.
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