Letter to the Editor


Dear Editor,

To offer a differing view of the Armenian Genocide is a pretty certain way to invite intense hostility, indeed professor Stanford Shaw of UCLA had his house firebombed for doing so. Several professors have been forced out of their jobs. Worst of all was that in 1993 the greatest historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, was accused of a hate crime against Armenians and brought before a French Court for questioning the use of the word “genocide” for those terrible events during World War I. He was cleared of all charges but one; “Hurting the feelings of the Armenian people.” He was ordered to pay one franc, about 25 cents.

Nevertheless at the risk of being thought cruel and heartless, I would like to present to your readers an opposing view to your Opinion page of April 26.

When I was a boy in the 1960s, the number of Armenian Genocide victims was about 200,000, but every decade I watched with some amazement as the number kept growing, 400,000, then 700,000, then a million and now 1.5 million. It seemed silly at the time to quibble about quantity when confronted with the horrific pain of a persecuted, small nationality; my respect for the awesome quality of that pain kept me from any historical skepticism I might have had.

But eventually after brooding for many years about why the U.S. government wouldn’t acknowledge the genocide, I finally did spend several intense months studying the matter, and realized that far from being historically “simple,” the situation in Turkey during WWI was quite complex.

The Armenians in Istanbul were never touched by the massacres in Anatolia. In fact, their churches remained open throughout the war. The Armenians in the East were armed and sought to open the way for a Russian invasion (as they had attempted to do three times in the 19th century), in fact the city of Van was taken by Armenians and handed over to the Russians till retaken by the Turks.

There were not only massacres of Armenians by Turks but numerous massacres of Turk civilians by Armenian “Dashnak” and “Hunchak” militias. The relocation of Armenians to outside the area of conflict was brutal, and led to the local populations, not the incompetent military, to prey upon them for both vengeance and profit. No organized massacre by government officials has been documented, though a single apparent forgery does exist.

As for the numbers involved, both Turks and Armenians suffered enormous civilian deaths, but there exist 10 different census data from before the war that agree that the entire Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was 1.5 million. This simply doesn’t allow for the loss of 1.5 million souls.

Why make an issue of all this? The agony of those who died and suffered was as real as real can get and should be always honored. But the problem that arises in the study of history when events are distorted or exaggerated in the imagination is that a “slippery slope” occurs and all matters in history become open for distortion with truly weird and paradoxical results.

To accept hyperbole in matters of genocide ultimately makes all mass murders suspect, so that those who deny that a genocide is or has occured feel justified in doing so because falsehoods and illusions have been allowed to stain the accuracy of previous mass murders.

History must never be anyone’s totem or fetish. It is much too dangerous to manipulate, the consequences unnerving.

For those who disagree violently with me and wish to study those events, I would recommend reading the most balanced and scholarly book on the subject; “Armenian Massacres In Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide” by Lewy.

Wayne Cohen Staff