Defeating terror ... Armenian genocide ... Tunisian reform

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Defeat of Terror

To the Editor:

Newt Gingrich makes excellent points in his recent article, "Defeat of Terror, Not Roadmap Diplomacy, Will Bring Peace" (Summer 2005), but some of his ideas do not hold up to scrutiny.

He wants to keep Israel from "grab[bing] more Palestinian land." But neither law nor logic supports the predetermination of the West Bank as "Palestinian land." No Arab state, Palestinian or otherwise, ever existed in the West Bank. Jordan occupied the West Bank between 1948 and 1967. Under international law, the West Bank is disputed territory. Why does Gingrich assign this land to the Palestinians in advance of an agreement?

He also wants the U.S. government to support creation of a new Palestinian state, the twenty-third Arab nation in the Middle East. But why so? It may be true, as Gingrich says, that most Palestinians "would like to live in safety, health, prosperity, and freedom." But, given the dismal record of the Palestinian Authority, what grounds has he to assume that a new state would advance these goals?

He would gamble that long-term potential for economic prosperity will lure Palestinians from their hatred of Israel. But neither the history of the Palestine Liberation Organization nor the Palestinian Authority suggests this to be a smart bet. The international community has already poured billions of dollars into the Palestinian Authority, yet polls show overwhelming Palestinian support for continued terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Gingrich's optimistic assumption appears unwarranted.

Michael W. Steinberg
Bethesda, Maryland

Revisiting the Armenian Genocide

To the Editor:

I must express my delight at reading Guenter Lewy's balanced treatment of the Turkish-Armenian conflict ("Revisiting the Armenian Genocide," Fall 2005) in the pages of the Middle East Quarterly. I have the utmost admiration and respect for the honesty and truthfulness displayed in the article.

I am one of the eight children of a much ignored and dismissed Balkan-Turkish genocide victim. My father, as a one year-old baby, somehow escaped the horrors of the Balkan wars (1911-13) but without any parents, relations, or even neighbors or acquaintances. All vanished from the face of this earth without a trace. To this day, we don't know where my father's family is buried although we suspect somewhere near the village of Kirlikova, which today sits in northern Greece. In 1912, he was thrown along with thousands of other orphaned Turkish babies into one of the last trains departing from Selanik (Thessaloniki today) to the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. The Ottoman state cared for him until 1923 when the newly-established Turkish republic took over. He graduated from the University of Istanbul in 1939 and served as a forestry engineer for thirty-four years before passing away in 1973.

There are millions of Turks today who have similar stories. Those Turkish refugees who survived massacres in the Balkans, the Aegean Islands, the Crimea, the Caucasus, and elsewhere met another cycle of Christian violence in Anatolia at the hands of Greeks in the West and Armenians in the East. Our stories have not been told because of endless Armenian propaganda, which, since 1915, has saturated the West. My pain was never shared. My tears went unnoticed. Lewy's essay stirred such deep emotions in me, and a sense of fairness emanating from it soothed my even deeper wound.

Ergun Kirlikovali
Santa Ana, California

To the Editor:

The scholarship behind Guenter Lewy's article, "Revisiting the Armenian Genocide" (Fall 2005), was unimpressive. He is wrong to state that "many historians … in the West" deny the Armenian genocide. Quite the contrary, very few do.

Professor Lewy's methodology is weak. He reduces evidence concerning the genocide to documents regarding the 1919-20 trials, the "Special Organization," and to the Memoirs of Naim Bey. The evidence of genocide, however, is far more extensive. The genocide was carried out in its most intensive phase for over a year in full view of Turks, Armenians, Kurds, as well as foreign missionaries, diplomats, and military officials. Archives, memoirs, eyewitness accounts, and newspaper reports all show a systematic and deliberate elimination of the Armenian population.

Lewy limits his argument to what he says did not happen. He does not address what did occur. If the killings were simply the actions of "Kurdish tribesmen and corrupt policemen," then these rogue elements eradicated a population from the Ottoman Empire that had weathered 2,500 years of conquests and invasions. Genocides usually fail. There are Jews in Germany today, and Tutsis in Rwanda. But, Istanbul aside, there are no Armenians in Turkey. What happened, if not genocide?

The question of the Armenian genocide remains a serious issue for Turkey's relations with both Europeans and Americans. Western nations hold a cooler and more open approach to history, in which recognition of past crimes is a necessary step toward friendly and cooperative relations. Turkey has not reached a stage where it is willing to recognize its past atrocities. This is why Turkey's denial of the Armenian genocide threatens to become a major impediment to Turkey's accession into the European Union.

Nicolas Tavitian
Director of European Programs
Armenian General Benevolent Union

To the Editor:

Guenter Lewy's article contains errors that undercut his thesis: the Turkish courts-martial were in Istanbul, not Yozgat; Mehmet Kemal was Kaymakam only of Bogazliyan and not of Yozgat; Cemal Pasha was commander of the Fourth Army, not the governor of Aleppo; Liparit was an Armenian activist, not a German missionary; Malta was not a venue for criminal trials but a temporary detention center.

While Lewy relies on two Turkish authors who dismissed the Naim-Andonian documents as forgeries, a subsequent German researcher visited the Ottoman state archives and established that the state documents "confirm to some degree the contents of two other" Naim-Andonian documents.[1] Moreover, Lewy ignored my extensive analysis of these disputed documents.[2]

Lewy misinterprets evidence with which he attempted to construct his revisionist account. He took issue with the military tribunal's key indictment to which the court appended forty-two authenticated documents. But he misunderstands the facts of the Ottoman criminal justice system. It was an inquisitorial system, modeled after its French counterpart. For proof of guilt, judges balance evidence with defense counter-arguments. Such evidence consists of confessions, witness and expert testimony, official records, discovery, judicial notice, searches and seizure.[3] Several dozen Turkish witnesses, including two army commanders, several other high-ranking military officers, physicians, and governors testified. The ensuing verdicts confirmed the premeditation of the Armenians' mass murder.

Lewy is incorrect about General Vehip. His written testimony is recorded and extant in several sources, including period newspapers.[4] Lewy's reliance on the three high commissioners—one American and two British—is misplaced because each denounced the military tribunal for its "failure" to exact justice commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed against the Armenians. As U.S. high commissioner Lewis Heck stated, "The great majority of the Turkish officials in the interior either actively participated in, or at least condoned the massacres of the Armenians."[5] On another occasion, he declared "the great majority of the Turkish race heartily approved of these massacres."[6] The loss of the military tribunal's documents, which Lewy uses to undercut reliance on the documents, coincides with the Kemalist seizure of Istanbul in 1922.

Lastly, Lewy's discussion of the Special Organization, the main instrument of Armenian massacres, is marked by error. The German Colonel Stange was, according to both authentic Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman sources, commander of a Special Organization regiment otherwise identified as The Detachment. Its several units, consisting of released convicts, participated in the massacres against Armenians. After acknowledging them as chettes (bandits), Stange, denounced them as "scums."[7] Lewy mistranslates the autobiographical account of Eşref Kuşçubasi, that organization's principal leader. Lewy denies that the convicts enrolled in that organization "took the lead role in the massacres." But, Kuşçubasi bragged that he "performed secretly charted duties" in conducting the Armenian deportations.[8] In contrast to Lewy's arguments, the historical evidence is clear. Ottoman authorities conducted premeditated genocide against the Armenian population.

Vahakn N. Dadrian
Director, Genocide Research, Zoryan Institute
Cambridge, Mass./Toronto, Can.
Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia

Guenter Lewy responds:

Mr. Kirlikovali is correct that the tribulations of Turkish refugees from the Balkan wars and other armed conflicts of the pre-World War I era have not received the attention and condemnation they deserve. The West has been preoccupied with the horrors of the Armenian story, and the suffering of Turks has often been ignored. The same holds true for the wartime famines that took a heavy toll of life among both Turks and Armenians. This double standard in recognizing human misery must be repudiated for the sake of historical truth and to help descendants of these victims live with their pain.

In response to Mr. Tavitian: yes, a large number of Western students of Ottoman history reject the appropriateness of the genocide label for the tragic fate of the Armenian community in Ottoman Turkey. This list includes distinguished scholars such as Roderic Davison, J.C. Hurewitz, Bernard Lewis, and Andrew Mango. Ignoring this formidable array of learned opinion, most Armenians and their supporters among so-called genocide scholars assert with superb arrogance that the Armenian genocide is an incontrovertible historical fact, similar to the Jewish Holocaust, which would be denied only by lackeys of the Turkish government. One pro-Armenian author, Henry C. Theriault, has even suggested that denial of the Armenian genocide represents hate speech and, therefore, should be illegal in the United States.

In a short article, it is impossible to put forth all of the evidence that contradicts the notion of a premeditated plan of annihilation. I do so in my book on the Armenian massacres,[9] on which my essay is based. The reports of American, German, and Austrian consular officials as well as the accounts of Western missionaries, who were on the spot in Anatolia, confirm the occurrence of large-scale killings but do not implicate the "Special Organization" or any other agency of the central government. Mr. Tavitian's allegation of "a systematic and deliberate elimination of the Armenian population" is further undercut by the exemption of the large Armenian communities of Istanbul, Izmir, and Aleppo from deportation. These exemptions are analogous to Hitler exempting the Jews of Berlin, Frankfurt, and Cologne from the final solution.

I welcome Mr. Dadrian's close reading of my article, which indeed caught a few minor factual errors. However, regarding the points of substance, Dadrian again displays his skill in the use of selective evidence. For example, the alleged thirty-one telegrams of Talât Pasha contained in the Naim-Andonian volume, some of which order the killing of all Armenians, are rejected as crude forgeries not only by Turkish historians but also by almost all Western students of Ottoman history. Hilmar Kaiser, cited by Dadrian and the one exception to this rule, did say documents from the Ottoman Ministry of the Interior "confirm to some degree" two telegrams, but he concluded that "further research on the ‘Naim-Andonian' documents is necessary."

If Dadrian wants to consider the verdict of the Turkish courts-martial as proof of the guilt of the Young Turk regime in the premeditated murder of Ottoman Armenians, he is, of course, free to do so. However, his readers should know that the evidence relied upon by the military tribunals—"confessions, witness and expert testimony, official records, discovery, judicial notice, searches and seizure"—is of doubtful reliability. Among other shortfalls in due process, it was never subject to cross-examination. More importantly, this evidence does not actually exist. Wherever the blame for this situation is to be placed, the fact is that all of the original documentation of the trials is lost, and we have nothing but copies of some documents in the gazette of the Ottoman government and the press. It is doubtful that the Nuremberg trials would ever have attained their significance in documenting Nazi crimes had only unauthenticated copies of documents existed.

I know of no authentic sources that prove Stange's service as a commander of a Special Organization unit engaged in the massacre of Armenians. It is in Dadrian's gloss and not in the original documents that Stange confirms the transfer of brigands employed in guerilla war to mass murder duties, and it is Dadrian, not Stange, who equates the "scum" involved in massacre with released convicts and enrolls them into the ranks of the Special Organization. Similarly, the leading Special Organization official, Eşref Kuşçubasi, after his capture indeed bragged about his exploits in secret operations, but it is only through the shrewd juxtaposition of words taken from different parts of the book in question and Dadrian's insertions that this account becomes an acknowledgment of involvement with the Armenian deportations.

Hilmar Kaiser, on whom Dadrian relies for his defense, has drawn attention to "misleading quotations" and the "selective use of sources" in Dadrian's work, and he has concluded that "serious scholars should be cautioned against accepting all of Dadrian's statements at face value."[10] I concur in this judgment.

Tunisian Reform

To the Editor:

Your interview with Neila Charchour Hachicha on Tunisian politics ("Tunisia's Election Was Undemocratic at All Levels," Summer 2005) gave a platform to a political unknown. She is hardly one "of Tunisia's chief dissident voices." Hachicha misrepresented the progress made in Tunisia under President Ben Ali. Political reform in Tunisia started seventeen years ago. In 1994, opposition parties entered parliament. Ben Ali introduced legal measures himself to enable opposition candidates to challenge the incumbent in the last two presidential elections. Hundreds of observers judged the 2004 elections free and fair.

Ben Ali's reforms have been carefully implemented. It is important to introduce the democratic process in a way that does not allow Islamist demagogues to subvert the process. Hachicha's belief in the innocuous nature of fundamentalism is both shallow and irresponsible.

Holding almost a quarter of the seats in parliament, Tunisian women have one of the highest parliamentary representation ratios in the world. This is a direct result of Tunisia's enlightened reformism. In a rare development reflecting the climate of openness and tolerance in the country, a Tunisian-Jewish business leader was elected in July 2005 as a member of the newly created senate. Far from a country "undemocratic at all levels," Tunisia is increasingly a model for democratic reform.

Mohsen Jouini
Founder, the Tunisian Society of America

Neila Charchour Hachicha responds:

President Ben Ali's reforms have been implemented only to ensure preservation of an autocratic regime. No Tunisian should be left behind whether an Islamist or not. Islam is a common component of our cultural and national identity while Islamism is proof of the government's failure to establish rule of law. Repression has spurred terrorism. Political stagnation is more dangerous than democratic evolution.

At present, Tunisians can only choose between dictatorship and Islamism. In order to limit options from the bad to the worse, Ben Ali's government silences the majority of Tunisians who support liberal democracy. What better proof then being forced to debate through foreign media with our own compatriots and our own government?

We need to break this circle of false allegations that reinforces the autocracy. We need our government to evolve toward a democracy. It should begin by enabling complete freedom of speech and unrestricted freedom of association.

The Editor responds:

Neila Charchour Hachicha may be a thorn in the side of President Ben Ali, but she is far from irrelevant; indeed, she is one of the prominent dissidents with whom U.S. officials meet when visiting Tunisia. Her Internet commentaries have broken through Tunisia's tightly controlled state media to reach a significant domestic and international audience.

Hundreds of observers did not find Tunisia's elections "free and fair." A ten-member observer team from the Arab League—an organization dedicated more to preservation of the status quo than to democracy—concluded that there were "no serious [election] violations."[11] On the surface, that might be correct, but dig deeper and the elections ring hollow. Yes, opponents can now challenge the incumbent, but both their numbers and campaigns are limited. Hence, Ben Ali received 99 percent of the vote in 1999 and 94 percent in 2004.

The Denmark-based International Media Support, an organization promoting press freedom, found otherwise. It concluded, "All broadcast media … failed to comply with the basic obligations of balance and equitable coverage of parties and candidates" and that "journalists appear to have been closely managed and censored during the election campaign." [12] According to U.S. State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli, "There are questions about the degree to which these elections were fully contested. We would note that the capacity of non-incumbents to compete meaningfully in elections is an important indicator of the strength of democratic institutions in any country."[13]

Nor are Hachicha's statements out-of-line with those of other dissidents. Nejib Chebbi, head of the Progressive Democratic Party and a candidate in the most recent election, observed, "The [vote tally] figures released are characteristic of a totalitarian and monolithic regime."[14] Ben Ali can point to accomplishments, but until the Tunisian people can vote in a free and fair election, his political reforms can be considered little more than cosmetic.


[1] Hilman Kaiser, "The Baghdad Railway and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1916," in Richard G. Hovannisian, ed. Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide (Wayne State University Press, 1999), p. 109.
[2] Vahakn N. Dadrian, "The Naim-Andonian Documents on the World War I Destruction of Ottoman Armenians: The Anatomy of a Genocide," International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Aug. 1986, pp. 311-60.
[3] Articles 130, 214, 222, 232, 233, "Ottoman Criminal Code of Procedures," in George Young, Corps de Droit Ottoman, v. VII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905).
[4] Vakit, Mar. 31, 1919; Hayat Tarih Mecmuasi, vol. 11, no. 3, Nov. 1981; Le Courrier de Turquie (Turkish Association for the Defense of the Fatherland), Apr. 1, 2, 1919.
[5] U.S. National Archives, R.G. 256, 867.4016/2, pp. 2, 3.
[6] Ibid.; idem, 867.00/59, p. 3.
[7] Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (HHSTA), Vienna, PAI 942, Krieg 21a Türkei; Altay Yigit, Karadeniz Muharebeleri (Trabzon: Istikbal, 1950), p. 351.
[8] Cemal Kutay, Birinci Dünya Harbinde Teskilâte Mahsusa (Istanbul: Ercan, 1962), p. 78.
[9] The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005).
[10] Hilmar Kaiser, "Germany and the Armenian Genocide, Part II: Reply to Vahakn N. Dadrian's Response," Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, 9 (1996): 139-40.
[11] Agence France-Presse, Oct. 24, 2004.
[12] "Monitoring the Coverage of the October 2004 Legislative and Presidential Elections in Tunisia," International Media Support, Nov. 2004.
[13] State Department briefing, Oct. 25, 2004.
[14] Agence France-Presse, Oct. 25, 2004.