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Turkey: Turkish Academics Dispute 'Genocide' Label

The mass killings of Armenians has long cast a pall on Ottoman Turkey (AFP) April 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- 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."

Sukru Elekdag, parliamentarian, former UN ambassador:

"In World War I, the Ottoman state was fighting against Russia in the east and against France and Britain in the west. They [Ottoman Armenians] were planning to create an Armenian state in eastern Anatolia.

"Armed Armenian groups were joining the Russian army to fight the Ottomans. They [the Armenians] were also massacring Turks in the areas in which they were active. That means that in 1915, along with the [world] war, there was also a civil war within the Ottoman Empire. That is why the Ottoman state exercised its legitimate right of self-defense."

RFE/RL: Elekdag on the possibility of the United States passing a congressional resolution defining the massacre of Armenians as a genocide:

"The Armenian leadership openly sided with the Ottoman Empire's enemies. Ottomans used their legitimate right of self-defense. The ex post facto inculpation of the Ottoman Empire by such a resolution violates Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution, because the word and the concept of 'genocide' did not exist back in 1915.

"Second, the passage of the resolution would constitute a condemnation for a crime without trial and prosecution. It will contravene the principle of due process enshrined in the fifth amendment of the United States Constitution."

Betul Aslan, University of Erzurum, Turkey:

"All archives are open in Turkey. Based on these archive materials they will see that there has been no genocide. This was a decision that the Ottoman state had to make under conditions of war.

"I don't see it even as deportation, but moving out and resettling. They [the Armenians] even claim a number of dead that exceeds the total number of [the Armenian] population in the Ottoman Empire."



'Every Armenian Knows What Happened To Their Ancestors'

By Harry Tamrazian, director, RFE/RL's Armenian Service

"To be Armenian and not know what happened in 1915 is unimaginable. Every Armenian, wherever they are in the world, knows what happened to their ancestors at the beginning of the 20th century. And every Armenian knows that almost the entire Armenian population in Turkey was lost because of an extremist, ethnocentric policy carried out by the government of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

The issue will not go away. Armenians will not give up or compromise on their tragedy, which they firmly believe was a genocide." more

Do The Killings Constitute Genocide?

By Abbas Djavadi, director, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

"Few in Turkey would deny that Armenians were killed in 1915 during the course of World War I. Opinions vary, however, on how the deportations and killings of Armenians came about; and whether the killings can be labeled a 'genocide' in a similar vein to the Holocaust.

While only a few extreme nationalists dispute the mass killings of Armenians, some liberals have recognized it as a 'genocide.' Most Turkish intellectuals, political analysts, and historians believe that local Armenians, with the help of Russia, were trying to create an independent Armenian state in eastern Anatolia. " more