The Irish Times is at it again. For the last few months this remnant of Imperial rule in Ireland has been slandering “our gallant allies” of 1916 in a series of articles, book reviews and comment columns. It seems that the great popularity of the centenary of 1916 among the Irish people has prevented direct assaults upon the Rising and instead we have attempts to bolster the British Imperial narrative by resurrecting the atrocity propaganda of the War against the Germans and Ottoman Turks:
“April 24th (Easter Monday), 1916, was the foundation moment of an Irish State. At the opposite end of Europe, what Pope Francis has described as “the first genocide of the 20th century” began in Constantinople (now Istanbul) on April 24th, 1915. Several hundred Armenian leaders were abducted and later murdered. On the same day orders were issued for Anatolia to be ethnically cleansed. From May to September it was emptied of Armenians, pursuant to emergency deportation laws. The ‘Turkification’ programme cost the lives of one million people, more than half the Armenian population in what was then the Ottoman empire.”
This is written in ‘An Irishman’s Diary on the Armenian Genocide’ by the journalist and historian, Brendan Ó Cathaoir (IT, 21/4/16).
The first thing that should be noted is the very tenuous connection between the two events – the excuse for the article. The “Armenian Genocide” began in 1915 and the Easter Rising in 1916. Why are they linked? There is no apparent reason except “guilt by association.”
At the end of his musings O’Cathaoir pronounces:
“As a measure of restorative justice, Ireland should join the 20 national parliaments that recognise this crime against humanity as genocide.”
Parliaments can do what they please but it doesn’t alter anything. They are responsive to pressure groups and can pass motions to their heart’s content. No facts are altered when they do since parliaments have no competence in this area. It should be pointed out that what matters is International legal judgement. The U.N. defines what constitutes “Genocide” and it has not defined the Armenian events as such. Neither has any other international court – quite the reverse in fact.
Therefore an assertion that the events of 1915 constitutes a genocide is nothing but opinion. It is not Law and it is not historical fact. So anyone asserting such a thing should be very careful about making such accusations without the evidence to back it up.
What right does O’Cathaoir therefore have to make such a pronouncement? Who is he to make such a serious accusation against a nation? He needs to tell us.
O’Cathaoir, is a historian of 19th Century Ireland. To my knowledge, he has never published anything about Ottoman Turkey or the Armenians. He has made no investigations into the events of 1915 – before or after. His knowledge is presumably based entirely on the tales he has read on the internet and books by bitter Genocide propagandists he has probably scanned . Does he really believe, if he is a real historian, that accepting highly biased sources at face value is acceptable in scholarship? If it is not in such an ephemeral pursuit as academia is it acceptable to accuse a nation of genocide on such a basis?
If he does not come up with research, evidence, publications etc. we must conclude he is an ignoramus doing some moral grandstanding, for whatever reason.
There is usually a simple test about whether a piece of writing about the Armenian/Ottoman issue is serious study or mere moral grandstanding. It is the presence of a single sentence:
“Hitler asked in 1939: ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’
And there it is, in the middle of O’Cathaoir’s article. He just couldn’t resist it could he, a fool like all the others, investing in the cheap slur without bothering to check on validity?
How many times does it have to be repeated that there is no valid evidence that Hitler actually said such a thing! There was so much doubt over the authenticity of the document presented to Louis Lochner of the Associated Press containing the quote, that it was discarded as evidence at Nuremberg. The original containing it (L-3) was submitted to the Nuremberg Tribunal but withdrawn as evidence. The document was suspected to be a forgery since the original German was incorrect in a number of grammatical ways and it had unusual vocabulary. The typewriter used was not a German one, having no capacity for accents and suspicious spaces existed within the composition.
The Nuremberg Tribunal rejected the document as evidence against the Nazis in favour of two other official versions found in German military records. Neither of these, which have detailed notes of the address, contain the Armenian reference. One is authored by Admiral Hermann Boehm, Commander of the High Seas Fleet. In addition, an account by General Halder was used to prove consistency with the other two accounts used as evidence and this again makes no mention of the Armenians. This strongly suggests that the Armenian reference was added later by someone who wished to associate Hitler with the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire.
None of this has however deterred historians, lawyers and various media commentators using the Hitler forgery ever since. But it is a sure sign they are not interested in real historical fact, only propaganda making.
O’Cathaoir says that “Pope Francis has described (it) as ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’.” But Pope Francis is a Pope not a historian. And one of his predecessors, Benedict XV, the Pope at the time of the Great War, called for the release of those detained by the British for the “Genocide”. So he obviously didn’t think the same way as his successor, a century later. So the Popes seem to be divided by the issue. So we should give the benefit of doubt to the one from the time, on the scene. A Pope who struggled for Peace in a very difficult time.
And what is so important about the 20th Century? Do 19th Century genocides not count?
Here is something Lord Birkenhead from the Lloyd George Coalition Government said in 1923 – after the “Armenian Genocide”- that would have been fully agreed upon by the Irish Times:
“The general extrusion of savage races from regions – for instance the American continent and certain of the South Sea Islands – to which have some considerable legal right, shows that, rightly or wrongly, nations of stronger fibre, confronting the indigenous weaklings, have always asserted the right of forcible expropriation. No one who has studied the history of the world has ever defended the view that the supreme interest of evolutionary humanity can support a definitive delimitation for all time of the surface of the world.” (The speeches of Lord Birkenhead, p.216)
So, it was accepted by all in England (and the Irish Times, presumably) that superior races had the right to exterminate and ethnically cleanse inferior ones in the name of progress. And of course, this programme for genocide was carried out extensively by England across the world. The problem of what befell the Armenians seems to have been that they were the ‘superior’ race being extruded by the ‘inferior’!
O’Cathaoir: “the first genocide of the 20th century began in Constantinople (now Istanbul) on April 24th, 1915. Several hundred Armenian leaders were abducted and later murdered.”
It was a Genocide therefore in which nobody actually died! What happened on that date was the internment of a couple of hundred Armenians connected with the Dashnaks (Armenian revolutionaries who went into alliance with the Tsar and England to destroy the Ottoman state). Quantities of arms were seized and suspects were moved by train to various locations and mostly placed under house arrest or told to report to police regularly. It was a bit like the Falls Road curfew and Internment operation of the British Army in 1971 minus the killing and brutality. Those detained were granted a living expenses subsidy. Most detainees were subsequently released and survived the war. Only a minority, around 20, were subsequently hung as traitors. The relocation or forced migration of Armenians did not begin until June 1915.
“On the same day orders were issued for Anatolia to be ethnically cleansed.From May to September it was emptied of Armenians, pursuant to emergency deportation laws.The ‘Turkification’ programme cost the lives of one million people, more than half the Armenian population in what was then the Ottoman empire.”
So orders were not carried out. Anatolia was never “ethnically cleansed”. Let us just pause and think about what O’Cathaoir is saying here. That the Ottomans fighting a war on numerous fronts against British invasion in the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia and Tsarist invasion in the east were able to accomplish the deaths/deportation of a million people in 4 months. How the Nazis must have marvelled at ruthless efficiency!
And if there was a ‘Turkification’ programme instituted why was it so unsuccessful? Why were so many Armenians, Greeks, not to mention Kurds still there in 1916, unmolested?
The Ottoman forced migration policy is the centrepiece of the “genocide” allegation. It was an emergency war measure and had no programme for genocide behind it. The Ottomans were the least racially orientated people in Europe. The Armenians served in significant positions within the Ottoman State through its history. Sultans often took Armenian women as wives so the Ottoman line became mixed with Armenian blood – something the English saw as “race suicide”. At least 12 Ottoman ministers between 1867 and 1913 were Armenian. They also served as Ambassadors, Bankers, translators, consuls and deputies in the Ottoman Parliament – 14 in 1908. The Ottoman Foreign Minister in the year before the Great War was an Armenian. It is extraordinary that the belief exists about Ottoman desire to destroy the Armenians, they were such an important pillar of the Empire and its functioning. Can it be imagined Hitler having a Jew as his Foreign Minister in 1938?
It is suggested the Ottomans sent the Armenians on death marches into the deserts. The Turks actually acted in accordance with standard military practice of the time. The most civilised power in the world (and mother to the Irish Times) used a forced migration policy only a decade earlier in South Africa. And it used it again 40 years later in Kenya.
There was no evidence of a premeditated plan on the Ottoman’s part to remove the Armenians. The forced migrations were improvised because of the situation that had developed. A Law was passed openly to declare the state’s intention and so that preparations could be made. Time was not always available in war areas, like the east, where Russian armies were close. However, it was insisted that convoys were guarded and life protected. A major problem was that most of the gendarmerie that would guard the columns had to be pressed into military service due to Armenian action behind the lines.
Not the whole Armenian population was relocated, mainly those in the warzone and immediately behind the lines. Elsewhere migration was very selective. Catholic and Protestant Armenians were less likely to be moved. Around 350,000 were totally exempted. Armenians in Istanbul were largely left alone and Moslems in the east were also moved. Armenians in the west were allowed back once the Gallipoli assault was beaten off. Convoys had their priests, canteens, and were provided with oxen and carts. Missionaries kept a watchful eye. Armenian possessions were neatly stored and labelled to await their return. All these things tend to suggest there was no genocidal intent. Individual Turks and Kurds did a lot of bad things to the relocated people, of course. Kurdish bands who were beyond the authority of the state, and who were outlaws in a war situation, resisting conscription, attacked many of the convoys. Ottoman employees robbed and killed people and there were some massacres in areas conducted by civilians.
Talaat Pasha, the architect of the migration policy, established commissions in late 1915 to investigate abuse and crimes, and ended the policy in the winter of 1915/16. Thousands of Ottoman officials were subsequently tried for maltreatment of the Armenians and about ten per cent were hung. These included commanders who failed to protect columns. The Armenians tried no one for massacring Moslems. Criticism can be made about the inadequacy of the operation and the failure of the commissions to punish all war criminals but it is a fact that the Ottomans had no intention of annihilating a race.
The forced migration policy adopted by the Ottoman State to deal with the Armenian insurrection was a western military measure employed to solve a military problem. It was outstandingly successful. Once the insurgents behind the front were separated from their mass base the small forces available to the Ottomans mopped up the Dashnak bands.
About 650,000 Armenians were relocated to Syria/Iraq. Around 400,000 went east to Russian territory under the influence of the war. Russia refused them right to return when they took the territory in which they lived. Over 160,000 died in this relocation which took place entirely outside Ottoman territory. Around 500,000 Armenians were counted by US observers in 1916 in Syria/Iraq. It appears, as far as we can be sure, that over ¾ survived their forced migration. Around 400,000 Armenians remained in their homes at the time of the Armistice in 1918, out of the pre-War Empire’s population of 1.6 million.
There were about 1.6 million Armenians within the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and around a million survived the war. The nearest likely total death toll of Armenians is 600,000. This figure is usually inflated to 1.5 million and it is inferred that it came about exclusively from Ottoman massacre and death marches i.e. an intentional policy of genocide. However the 600,000 described includes all deaths, military and civilian, from all circumstances – natural, violent, starvation, disease etc. and takes in the entire period between 1914 and 1922. Hundreds, of thousands died in the Russian/Armenian retreats in the east and the French retreats in Cilicia. Many more died as the new Erevan/Armenian Republic collapsed through mismanagement.
Does O’Cathaoir know any of this? I doubt it.
The rest of the Irish Times column would be too tiresome to deal with. Much of it is based on Geoffrey Robertson’s book ‘An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?’
O’Cathaoir blames the Germans for not keeping order in Anatolia – a strange thought considering that British and Redmondite War propaganda described the Germans as “Huns” and “Barbarians” and went to War against Germany partly because of its pre-war relationship with Ottoman Turkey. Like the War propaganda O’Cathaoir seems to want it every way. He has got the following idea straight from Robertson:
“Initially, the British government took steps to punish th ‘crime against humanity and civilisation’ (Edward Grey’s phrase). Sixty eight Turkish officials suspected of ordering atrocities were taken to Malta for trial, but released eventually in exchange for British soldiers held as hostages for this purpose by Ankara.”
Because O’Cathaoir has lifted this idea straight from the book of Robertson he has not thought through what he is saying. What he is expecting is that the Black and Tan regime should be the source of justice in the world. O’Cathaoir is an Irishman with an English mind, it seems.
Prominent Ottomans were actually interned in Malta and the British, holding the Ottoman archive, attempted to establish war crime trials. The British appointed their most senior law officer to the case and viewed it with the upmost seriousness. The British, despite holding the Ottoman archives and having access to Ottoman territory, could find no evidence against the Turks and had to release them. When the cases collapsed for want of evidence the ‘hostage’ story was employed, despite the fact that Britain, occupying Istanbul, had every means at its disposal to follow through with the prosecutions and gain the release of any prisoners. The fact remains that there were no orders to annihilate found and no mass graves discovered. And there still hasn’t been after a century!
I bet O’Cathaoir doesn’t know about Mr. Robertson’s one adventure into the world of history. If he did I’m sure it would not inspire him with confidence about his judgement on matters of ‘genocide’.
In the Guardian of 23rd April 2011 Robertson described John Cooke, Oliver Cromwell’s Solicitor General and the man he appointed to be Chief Justice in the conquest of Ireland as “my hero”. He wrote a book about his “hero” called ‘The Tyrannicide Brief..’ A reviewer in ‘Westminster Wisdom’ (October 2009) has the following estimation of Mr. Robertson as a historian, which is very relevant:
“Geoffrey Robertson… evaluates purely as a modern lawyer rather than demonstrating any political or historical nous and demonstrates at every page his ignorance of and contempt for the many great historical works written on the period.”
The reviewer continues, commenting on Robertson’s claim that Cooke conducted the first “war crime trial” in history against the English King:
“Robertson does not really see Cooke as a figure in the historical past but as Robertson avant la lettre: Cooke was we are told the man who lit a blaze under tyrants, a blaze that would continue to the days of Milosevic and Pinochet… and that he destroyed sovereign immunity. No matter that nowhere in the trial of Charles I… was the modern concept of war crimes mentioned, Robertson still believes that they believed in war crimes in exactly the same way as we did.”
Perhaps O’Cathaoir, who has written about the Great Hunger in Ireland is familiar with the town of Drogheda in Ireland. It was here that the humanitarian relief sent to the starving Irish in 1848 by the Ottoman Sultan was landed. The town has a crescent in its emblem to this day. Two hundred years previously Cromwell conducted a notorious massacre in this town which historians recognise – but Mr. Robertson denies took place.
After the massacre in Drogheda, Cromwell gave a justification of his actions to the English Parliament describing them as “a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood.” He claimed that “it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise work remorse and regret.”
In other words, the Irish had to be killed to prevent trouble in the future.
Cromwell’s and Cooke’s policy in Ireland would be called ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ today. His statement about Irish hands “imbrued in blood.” is a reference to a rising in Ireland in 1641 in which tall tales reached England that up to 200,000 English colonists were massacred by the Irish in horrible ways. These tall tales were to be used for the purposes of conquest of Ireland and the attempted extermination of its people.
Mr. Robertson’s “hero” Justice Cooke declared that all Irish men and women living on October 23, 1641 or born in Ireland since that date were traitors and should be punished. Cooke provided the legal justification therefore for Oliver Cromwell’s policy that reduced Ireland’s population by over a third, through death or expulsion to slavery in Barbados.
“These were turbulent times when England was under imminent threat from the Royalist army in Ireland” writes Robertson in ‘England’s Bravest Barrister’ (Counsel 2005). Presumably when a state is under threat of invasion, even by its lawful ruler, it must defend itself through extraordinary means.
Is Brendan O’Cathaoir comfortable about all this and the parallels it has for his ‘Irishman’s Diary’ on the Armenians? One historical fact here is that whilst in 1649 Ireland was a peaceful and loyal country, in 1915 the Ottomans were fighting for their very survival against invasion, blockade and insurrection. Which military action was more justified?
O’Cathaoir uses a number of other rhetorical devices against the Turks apart from the Hitler association, including references to ISIS. Here is another false statement to drum up Christian outrage:
“Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion.”
What runs through English Liberal propaganda on behalf of the Armenians is the belief that they were a special people, marked out by their Christian heritage, to rise up above the surrounding dross of humanity, and become a rightful nation. It was therefore a historical imperative that they did so, something which had to take place if progress was to be satisfied. This, of course, is racism. But as it is spoken by moralists on behalf of the oppressed, and in the name of progress and civilisation (which is really just another name for England) it is seemingly acceptable. O’Cathaoir resorts to it without thinking of himself as a racist.
There were two different areas in the Caucasus/Anatolia ruled by Armenians for a short period. They were both military conquests. The Armenians arrived, probably from the Balkans, around the 7th century BC in eastern Anatolia. Armenians were not the first rulers of the areas they began to occupy – many others ruled these areas before and after, like the Hittites. These Kingdoms only had Armenian kings and not necessarily a majority of ‘Armenian’ subjects. The character of who these Armenians were is very questionable and can only be the territory of those with racialist proclivities. It is said that the Armenians established the first Christian kingdom but that is only because the Armenian king Drat was converted by Gregory the Illuminator and then forced his subjects to convert to Christianity en masse. And if it had not been for Roman military power this conversion would have been momentary.
However, it was this conversion imposed by a King, around 300 AD, that marked the Armenians out, which was to make them a special people for the West 1500 years later.
I presume O’Cathaoir knows nothing of all this, of course. But he still accuses a nation of the greatest crime to fill an Irish Times column!