Turkish Academics Dispute 'Genocide' Label

Historians in the News

Academics in Turkey, where it is illegal to "offend Turkishness," widely object to the characterization of the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey from 1915-18 as "genocide." While it is accepted that killings took place during the relocation of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire during World War I, many Turkish scholars do not believe they were the result of a deliberate campaign. RFE/RL spoke with some prominent Turkish historians and lawmakers to hear their take.

Murat Belge, Bilgi University, Istanbul:

"I believe what happened in 1915 cannot be put in the same frame with and does not have the same essence of what Hitler did for three main reasons: Firstly, Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews altogether. Hitler was not trying to extradite the Jews from Germany.

"He wanted to exterminate them everywhere in the world they lived. So, what happened in the Ottoman state and what Hitler did and led to the creation of the term 'genocide' are quite different. Secondly, it is important to look at how a society or state organized a crime to see if it was 'genocide.' In [Nazi] Germany, we saw the horrible organization of genocide.

"The Ottoman state, however, under those circumstances, couldn't have done this even if it had wanted to. Chaotic things have happened and it is not fully clear who attacked whom and where.

"A small group inside the Special Organization [A three-member executive committee established by the Committee of Union and Progress] undertook a number of actions in the course of deportation, but we can't see any efforts to massacre those left behind. And thirdly, the Jews were completely innocent and Hitler tried to exterminate them based on fabricated claims. But the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire were involved in armed struggle against the government although it would be an exaggeration to claim that all Armenians engaged in this struggle."

Cengiz Aktar, Bahceshehir University, Istanbul:

"Turkey has never said that 'Nothing happened in 1915.' Sure, things happened. As a result, fewer Armenians were left in the Ottoman Empire, while Turks and Kurds remained.

"But I think it was no genocide. Research and debate is continuing over whether it was indeed a genocide. But, certainly, whatever is agreed upon, it cannot relieve the Ottoman Empire of its responsibility."

Yusuf Halacoglu, head of Turkish Society of History:

"The Armenians wanted to create an Armenian state in Anatolia, but they weren't allowed to. There was a fight and they lost it.

"If the Armenians, with the help of the Russians, French, and British, had succeeded in 1915 in creating their independent state, nobody today would be talking about 'genocide.' And all of those who were killed would be called heroes who were martyred for the cause of an independent Armenia."...
Read entire article at Radio Free Europe

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