ERMENİ SORUNU DOSYASI /// Canada, Turkey and the Armenians /// KANADA’da bugünkü The Kingston Whig-Standard gazetesinde yayınlanan makale

KANADA’da bugünkü The Kingston Whig-Standard gazetesinde yayınlanan makale

Bora Hincer

bhincer

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By Louis A. Delvoie

The Harper government has once again made statements commemorating the so-called “Armenian genocide” of 1915, in this the centenary of the events concerned. It has done so over the strong objections of the Turkish government. This move is at one and the same time unwarranted, unwelcome and unwise.

The Harper government was elected (by 39% of the electorate) to govern Canada. It was not put into office to interpret the history of foreign countries. Yet that is precisely what it has done in this case. And one may legitimately ask to what extent the government is qualified to pass such judgments. Most of its members are career politicians, country lawyers, small businessmen or used car dealers. It is highly doubtful that there is even one member of the cabinet who can claim to be an expert on the history of the Middle East. And yet they do not hesitate to blunder into territory where most professional historians fear to tread. In so doing, they submit to political pressure from the Armenian-Canadian community, but are guilty of poor history and worse foreign policy.

It is sometimes best to go back to basics on questions of this sort. And the most basic issue in this case is the definition of genocide. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines genocide as the “deliberate extermination of a race, nation.” From this definition arises one initial finding. If the government of the Ottoman Empire was bent on the deliberate extermination of the Armenian people, it was certainly not very successful in the endeavour. There are today millions of Armenians living in Armenia, in the Middle East, in Europe and in North America. They are certainly not an extinct people.

What happened to the Armenians in Turkey in 1915 is certainly not a simple or very edifying story. At the time, the Ottoman Empire was engaged in a life and death struggle in the midst of the First World War. To its southeast, it was confronted by a British army advancing from Mesopotamia. To its southwest, it had to deal with an expeditionary force of some 200,000 British and French troops who had landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. To the northeast, the Ottomans were experiencing a number of defeats at the hands of the advancing forces of the Russian Empire. All of this was enough to produce extreme nervousness in Ottoman ruling circles.

In 1915, the greatest threat to the survival of the Ottoman Empire was the advancing Russian army. In the course of its campaign, the Russians enjoyed the support of Armenian nationalist movements both in Russia and in Turkey. These movements saw the war as an opportunity to advance the cause of an independent Armenia. Some Armenian volunteer units actually served in the Russian army. Under these circumstances, it is perhaps not astonishing that the Ottoman authorities came to view the Armenian minority within their territory as a potential fifth column that might assist the Russians as they moved forward into Ottoman lands.

The Ottoman government decided to try to eliminate this potential threat by ordering the forced evacuation of Armenians from eastern and southern Anatolia. (In its intent, this move was comparable to the Canadian government’s decision to remove all persons of Japanese descent from the coastal areas of British Columbia during the Second World War.) Unfortunately for the Armenians, the operation went terribly wrong. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported towards Syria. A combination of the inhospitable terrain, disease and starvation took its toll on the refugees and countless thousands died. Other Armenians were deliberately killed by Turkish soldiers or by irregular auxiliaries. All in all, it was a truly appalling episode in the history of the 20th century. But was it genocide?

Canada’s most distinguished historian of the modern Middle East, the late professor William Cleveland of Simon Fraser University, concluded his treatment of the subject in these terms: “It would be pointless to enter the debate that rages today between members of the Armenian community in Europe and the United States, who accuse the Ottomans of genocide, and the Turkish government, which insists that the excesses have been overemphasized. Any episode in which as many as one million civilians may have lost their lives is an appalling one, whether it is calculated or the unintended result of internal security measures.”

And as is so often the case, it is well to remember that this is not a simple story of good guys and bad guys. The Armenians were not entirely innocent in this case. Not only did some of them actively collaborate with the Russians against the Ottomans, but some of them were also guilty of excesses. In his history of the Middle East, Prof. Glenn Perry of Indiana State University points out that: “In turn, Armenians organized to massacre Turks whenever they had the upper hand, as during the Russian occupation of northeast Anatolia. Thousands of Turks, fearing the Armenians, died of hunger or cold as they fled their homes in the face of Russian advances.”

There is a curious dichotomy in all of this. On the one hand, eminently qualified historians who have examined the historical evidence are not prepared to use the word “genocide” to describe the events of 1915. On the other hand, members of the Canadian government who know next to nothing about the subject do not hesitate to do so. In the process, they are giving offence to the Turkish government and the Turkish people. Successive Turkish governments have maintained that it is up to historians, not foreign politicians, to interpret this episode in their history. In this they are quite right.

There appears to be a reluctance on the part of Canadian politicians to put themselves in the shoes of other people. One can only imagine how outraged Canadians would be if the Dutch or Norwegian governments were to issue statements condemning Canada for the Chinese poll tax or for the ill treatment of native children in the residential school system. Americans would be similarly outraged if the Italian or Greek governments were to make statements condemning the institution of slavery or racial discrimination in the United States. Viewed from this perspective, Canadian ministers should take on board two injunctions: “Mind your own damn business” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Unfortunately, Canadian politicians are all too prone to succumb to the demands of ethnic lobby groups in the hope of securing their support at the next election. In this case, they are doing so while paying scant attention to Canada’s relations with Turkey, a country of ever-increasing political and economic importance on the world stage. This is a mistake.
Louis A. Delvoie is a Fellow in the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University.

KATILMAK İÇİN LİNK : http://www.turkishnews.com/content/2015/05/03/canada-turkey-and-the-armenians/

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