Norm Naimark, Orhan Pamuk on Armenian genocide, Turkish denial

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Pamuk: "Nobody dares to mention that. So I do."

“Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do.”

After Turkish author Orhan Pamuk made those remarks in 2005, rallies were held to burn his books and a hate campaign forced him to flee the country.  When he returned, the future Nobel laureate faced a criminal trial.

He stood his ground:  “What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo. But we have to be able to talk about the past.”

Norm Naimark would agree:  “A healthy national consciousness cannot abide nasty secrets hidden away in a locked drawer.”

For Turkey, there are practical consequences to the government’s official denial of genocide – scholars have been intimidated into doing research, denied access to research, and governments held hostage.

Naimark has edited a new volume of essays, just released by Oxford University Press: A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire. After reading this book, no one will be able to deny the Armenian genocide.  [Note:  If you want to see how bad it was, do an image search on google for "Armenian genocide" -- I will not use those photos. They are dehumanizing.]

For Naimark, whose provocative Stalin’s Genocides was widely discussed and critically praised, a critical question is how, in fact, do these frenzies happen?

Context is everything.  “It is not too strong to state that war serves as a breeding ground for genocide,” he writes in his preface.  War provides justifications and possibilities.

“In the minds of Turkish nationalists, the Armenians’ traditional designation as gâvur (infidels) took on some of the elements of race prejudice and was reinforced by popular resentment of alleged Armenian wealth and treachery. That ‘Christians’ had driven the Ottomans out of southeastern Europe during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 and now threatened the integrity of the Anatolian lands of the Turks from outside and within made the Armenian threat even more dangerous from the Young Turk point of view.”  The Young Turk ideology claimed the racial superiority of Turks to Armenians.

Envy and greed also play a role.  A trigger is often rapid status reversals, “especially when class and ethnicity are both involved” as well as racial and religious prejudices.

Rarely does genocide fix itself exclusively on one set of victims – in this case, Anatolia’s Assyrians were also targets; so were Greeks.

According to Naimark, “the whirlwind of killing pulls in more and more victims and implicates an increasing number of assailants.”

Here’s what I find interesting:  Genocide happens at a number of levels of government, each with their own methods of implementation and decision-making.   “Every case of genocide is in some measure local,” he writes.

Naimark (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

“Recent research on mass killing indicates that the crime of genocide needs to be thought of as occurring at various levels of society: at the very top, where decisions are taken that lead to mass murder; at the ‘meso-level,’ where regional officials and their accomplices, the police and military, implement orders or interpret signals from the political leadership that lead to genocide; and at the most basic local level of society, where individuals participate in the killing, steal from the victims, move into their houses, or witness the depredations. Sometimes, locals try to save individuals and families, or protest against the deportation or murder of their neighbors, usually in vain.”

Genocide is not an “event” but a process – one that follows “unwritten rules of historical behavior.”  The deportation and killing of Ottoman Armenians began in the spring of 1915 and accelerated over the next six months – but it wasn’t truly finished until the early 1920s, in the face of outside stabilizing political events.

The end product was the destruction of the Armenian community in Anatolia – as in most cases of genocide, the events took place in full view of the international community,” writes Naimark. In this case, the great powers were at war, and Realpolitik trumped humanitarian considerations.

As a result is a haunting betrayal of responsibility: “The conscience of contemporary world society is haunted by images of doomed Armenian women and children, wandering aimlessly in the Anatolian plateau, mad with hunger and grief, and by photographs of rows of corpses of murdered Armenian men and boys, guarded casually by Turkish soldiers.”

And the perps? W.H.  Auden put it best:

All if challenged would reply
– ‘It was a monster with one red eye,
A crowd that saw him die, not I. —


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4 Responses to “Norm Naimark, Orhan Pamuk on Armenian genocide, Turkish denial”

  1. Demirtas Bayar Says:

    You are quoting only those you want to hear from and ignore all others that contradict your views. You have ignored documented evidence. The allies imprisoned the highest ranking Ottoman officials and sent them to Malta for trial similar to the Nuremberg trials. During their two years of their occupation they searched all archives for documents in order to condemn them for atrocities against the Armenians. They did not find any proof. They asked the US for documents. The US official reply was that they also had nothing. The Allied Judges decided that there was no evidence and ordered the release of all prisoners.

    President Wilson ordered a report in order to assign a relief fund for the Armenians in 1918. The report gives the status to 1921. “Near East Relief”, Report Doc#192 presented to 67th Congress-Senate on April 22, 1922″. This report states that 400,000 Armenians fled to the Transcaucasus after the Russian occupation ended, 200,000 Armenians joined the French army then left after the French moved out and most significantly the Report states that in 1921 there were One Million Armenians living in the Near East Thus the US Government states that 1,600,000 living Armenians were accounted for in the Region. Out of the Armenian population of 1,800,000 before the war 200,000 are not accounted for. Pamuk and possibly you have distorted the actual facts.

    The Armenians who fled to Russia had good reason. They demolished 22 villages and killing 500,000 Turkish, Kurdish and Jewish men women and children. Reprisals were expected. Many other assertions you make can easily be shown to be wrong with real documents.

  2. Haik Says:

    Turkey must recognize Armenian Genocide as soon as possible because it is the only chance to show the world that turks belong to human beings.

  3. Sargon Says:

    Denying the Armenian Genocide is the same as denying the Jewish Holocaust. Thanks for posting this article and a big high 5 for Orhan Pamuk’s bravery in speaking out about the truth

  4. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You’re welcome, Sargon. Norm Naimark is an amazing guy.

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