Historian challenges "politically motivated" 1915 arguments about Armenia
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Prominent German historian Hilmar Kaiser is presently in Ankara carrying out research in the Turkish archives. In an interview with Sunday's Zaman this week, Kaiser says the field of history "is flooded with political advocates who are less historians than opinion-formers," drawing a picture full of gray areas, showing there is still ample room for research on the 1915 events.
In the 1990s, Kaiser was working exclusively in İstanbul and that period, he was only granted access to the Ottoman archives, which were under special regulations, and had been declined permission to carry out his research in any other library or archive by the then-Tansu Çiller government. Today, however, Kaiser believes that there aren’t any issues as far as access to the state archives is concerned.
“Two weeks ago, I was in Washington, D.C., presenting my research and photos at an Armenian Assembly [of America] conference, and I suggested that if they are looking for a good director for their archives and genocide museum, they might consider hiring Yusuf Sarınay, the head of the Turkish state archives, or Mustafa Budak, the head of the Ottoman archives. These are two highly qualified people with vision, determination and commitment. Some people were surprised, but I was very serious about it,” says Kaiser.
“Yes, there are still problems, but having said this, I should immediately add there are problems everywhere. The important thing is there is a process in place to overcome these problems. It’s a huge administration, and encountering problems is part of the daily work. I can only say that, as far as I’m concerned, and I know the same for many, many researchers -- both Turkish or foreigner -- that they have had exactly the same experiences. If there is a problem, it’s immediately addressed and resolved. That’s all you can ask for. Turkey has gained a lot of credit with its new archive policy, and it will gain more credit if the present government would support the archives more strongly with additional funding,” he notes.
Kaiser is critical of colleagues who prefer doing their work without researching the context of original documents and thus making “reassessments” of certain theses -- one of which is that the İttihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress) had a racist motivation, acted premeditatedly and had developed a systematic extermination policy during the 1915 events.
“One should stop thinking of the [Committee of Union and Progress] CUP as a kind of monolithic party. Research on the Armenians in WWI has tended to try to create the impression of a Turkey that was like a small version of Nazi Germany, with a single party and with a poor man’s SS named Teşkilat’ı Mahsusa. I think this is totally wrong; one has to study the Turkish-Armenian case on its own. Yes, there were some people within the CUP inspired by European positivists, who were partly racist, but thinking that this was not the general party line. That racism was not the driving motive behind the Armenian policy is quite clear because if you compare it to the German racism, you cannot explain the survival of tens of thousands of Armenian women and children in Muslim houses, even in the government orphanages. This would have been completely impossible if the government had been inspired by the German type of racism,” says Kaiser.
“People like to compare Young Turk-Turkey to Nazi Germany, but it is not a comparison; they equate it. A comparison should also stress the fundamental differences,” he continued. “Racism as well as Muslim fundamentalism were not driving forces. Some allege that Islam was very conducive to large-scale massacres of Armenians. It’s totally illogical. If Islam is very conducive to large-scale massacres of Armenians, why were they here for 600 years? Second, why did the survivors survive in Muslim societies in the Middle East?”...
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