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By Mr. Khalid Taimur Akram, Executive Director, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad
On 24 April 2021, US President Joe Biden declared the killings of Armenians in the former Ottoman Empire (1915) as Genocide. Since the last century, Armenians worldwide had been waiting for this moment. President Joe Biden has recognized these causalities to increase its vote bank as a large Armenian diaspora resides in the US. The pro-Armenian narrative of the US is evident of its rhetoric against Turkey. Turkey has never denied the suffering of the Armenian population during 1915-16. However, before labelling the tragic events of 1915-16 as Genocide, one must have an open and true view to look at the historical context of reality. The article aims at elaborating the facts and critically evaluate the consequences of US recognition of Armenian deaths as Genocide in the broader region.
Understanding the Facts: Historical Perspective
For centuries, Armenians lived under the Ottoman Empire, cohabitating with multiple ethnicities in a vast empire. In the 19th century, the rise of nationalism started to crumble the foundations of the weakening Ottoman Empire, especially in the Balkans and Caucasus region. At that time, the Armenian population, following the nationalist approach, took arms and conducted militant actions against their government and Turk citizens. Their growing alliance with Czarist Russia proved detrimental in WWI when the separatist fervour grew in the region. One of the main reasons for the relocation of the Armenian population from Anatolia was the continued cooperation with the Russian invaders by the Armenians. Since 1828, Russia started its attacks on the Ottoman empire. The local Armenian population supported them. The support culminated into open rebellion acts against the government, forming revolutionary groups and battalions. The government facilitated talks and negotiations with the Armenian leaders. However, no final resolution was achieved even though the empire was amid the war.
Separating Facts from the Myths:
At the beginning of the 20th century, Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, concentrated in the six provinces of Eastern Anatolia. A significant number of Armenians also lived beyond the Eastern border of the Ottoman Empire, in territory held by Russia. In Eastern Anatolia, Armenians lived intermixed with the dominant Kurdish nomads. They did not constitute a majority in any of the regions in which they lived, although they often resided in homogeneous villages and neighbourhoods within towns and cities. Demographic studies proved that fewer than 1.5 million Armenians lived in the entire Ottoman Empire prior to World War I. Thus, allegations that more than 1.5 million Armenians from eastern Anatolia died must be false.
The Armenians had taken arms against their government. Their violent political aims, not their religion, ethnicity, or race, caused them to be relocated. The government in 1915 decided to remove Armenians to the Southern provinces from war zones areas that also had trade, supply routes, and transport lines. The Ottoman government’s plan was to relocate the Armenian population and provide protection. Unfortunately, not all of them remained protected from suffering as conditions due to war time were worsened by the internal conflicts.
Historical evidence tells the grim tale of serious inter-communal conflict brewing in the Ottoman Empire, which was perpetrated by Christians. The advent of World War 1, followed by disease, famine, and other consequences of war, led to massive causalities of Muslims and Armenians. There is no clear evidence to suggest that official direct orders ever came from the government to massacre the Armenian population during the relocations.
The Armenian narrative took precedence over all other truths, facts, and figures to paint a villainous picture of Turkey. Even the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed is grossly exaggerated with statistical figures showing the same number of all Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Statistical examination by experts over the years estimates that less than 600000 Armenian’s were killed, while the rest either remained in Anatolia or emigrated to other countries.
Comparing the losses, more than 2.5 million Muslims died during the war years, followed by other ethnic groups like Greeks and Jews. Muslims, Greeks, and Jews were also killed by militant Armenian guerrilla wars. Overall, three to four million Ottoman subjects from all faiths and ethnicities perished due to the same conditions.
The Aftermath of World War 1: Start of the Genocide Narrative
After WW1, the Armenian allegations were investigated as part of the legal process against the Ottoman officials. The Treaty of Sevres imposed on the defeated Ottoman Empire required the government to hand over the officials accused of the massacres. The British then convened the Malta Tribunals to try the 144 high Ottoman officials, who had been arrested and deported for the trial. At the same time, deportees waited for their trial, British occupation forces in Istanbul and tried to look for evidence to incriminate them. Afterwards, no evidence was found to clearly corroborate the claims by the Armenians that the Ottoman government and its detained officials had encouraged or authorized the killings of Armenians. The officials were then set free and were not compensated for being falsely accused of crimes they never committed. Just because the Ottoman Empire was on the losing side of the war, it was subjected to occupation, loss of territory, imposition of Treaty of Sevres and Treaty of Lausanne, and loss of its citizens were ignored.
As Armenians settled in other countries, they started propaganda using prejudicial Western influence to portray the newly independent state of Turkey, guilty of Genocide. They have isolated history into portraying themselves as the victims. The Republic of Turkey and its citizens globally have been vilified by the Armenians and the diaspora. Not only do they vehemently portray their version of events as facts, but many Armenian terrorist groups like the Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide have targeted Turkish officials and citizens worldwide. This also led to assassinations, murder, and injuries during the 1970s and 1980s. In present times, the Turks residing in France were attacked by the Armenians after President Biden’s declaration. A little coverage was given to the actions of Armenians, indulged in violence and terrorism against Turkey and its citizens.
Recognizing Armenian Killing as Genocide: Implications on the Wider Region
The categorization of the Armenian killing as Genocide will deteriorate the relations between the US and Turkey. This act was committed by the pressures from the Armenian lobby in America to target Turkey’s great standing internationally. By declaring the Armenian causalities as Genocide, there is still no judicial mechanism under the framework by the United Nations Convention and the International Court of Justices to act against Turkey.
One of the issues plaguing the bilateral relations between the US and Turkey was Turkey’s significant support to Azerbaijan during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The US stance supporting the alleged Genocide shows its support towards Armenia and against Azerbaijan. It also shows that the US defies the allegations and Genocide by Armenians against Azerbaijan’s Turks in the Khojaly. The actions of the US clearly reflect its biased stance in support of Armenia against Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkey does not deny the suffering of the Armenian people in 1915-16, but it should not be made as to scapegoat. In 2014, His Excellency Tayyab Erdogan expressed his condolences to the descendants of Armenians who died in 1915. Ankara has repeatedly asked for historians to investigate the events of 1915 with facts. Instead of facilitating reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, the US is trying to fan the flame of animosity between the two countries and people. Both countries should be working towards finding peace and accepting the past. The actions of the US not only strain the relations between Turkey and Armenia but also impact the region. It villainizes Muslims, a narrative Armenia and the West are happy to propagate globally.
The historical analysis of actual events and facts cannot be overlooked. Clearly then, many Ottoman Armenians were not killed as claimed, and the 1.5 million figures should be viewed as incorrect. The evidence does not describe Genocide. The negative projection by Armenians has provided the media and the West a wrong lens to visualized things. There are always two sides to the story, and there is a need to examine both sides to get the accurate picture. President Joe Biden has done this act to increase its vote bank as a large Armenian diaspora is residing in the US. His actions have not only undermined its relationship with Turkey but shown its vicious agenda in supporting the Armenian false narrative. Pakistan condemns this act of declaring Armenian causalities as Genocide and strongly supports Turkey and its rightful standing in the international arena.