Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic Genocide News

Follow up interview with Berktay
by Sahin Alpay - Milliyet - 20 October, 2000
Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000 08:34 pm CST

The interview that Nese Duzel did with historian Dr. Halil Berktay, a faculty member at Sabanci University, which was published in RADIKAL newspaper on 9 October, attracted a good deal of interest, and was the object of a number of reactions and criticisms. I spoke with Berktay on the topic of these reactions and criticisms.

Translated from Turkish EXCLUSIVELY for ANN/Groong

Q: The interview you gave led to a great many reactions and occasioned a good deal of criticism. Should none of these be taken seriously?

There were those who considered that the explication of the historical context was insufficient. But I did in fact describe it fully: That the Turks had been forced back, and pushed into a corner. The class-based resentment against the non-Muslim minorities who had gained preferential status as a result of the support and the intervention of the Great Powers, and this rancor's having turned into religious and ethnic hatred... The sufferings of those who had been expelled from the Balkans. And the efforts of the new Balkan nationalisms, again under the protection of the Great Powers, which weren't satisfied with merely achieving independence for themselves, but rather sought various versions of the `Megali Idea' (`Great Ideal') for themselves.

And in opposition to this, the gradual hardening of Turkish nationalism. The spreading of the idea that, with the landing at Gallipoli, Istanbul would also be lost, and that there would be a retreat to Anatolia, and that there would be no place left for the Turks but the Anatolian heartland. And then, just at that point, the activities of Armenian nationalist bands in parallel with the operations of the Russian army on the Eastern Front. The resulting birth of the nightmare that even Anatolia itself was no longer safe. I explained all of these things, but naturally not all of my explanation was published, nor could it have been.

I provided the context. And naturally I then related the events themselves. But it appears that various commentators prefer that, for the sake of the context, the events themselves not be mentioned, and even that they be disregarded entirely.

Q: There are some who say that `What Berktay said serves the interests of the Armenians.' To what degree is this true?

Well, is the U.S. Congress going to make its decision on the `revelations' that I make regarding what happened in 1915? In fact, I stressed that it is entirely wrong for the U.S. Congress, or any other political institution, to see itself as empowered to judge history in this way. Those who introduced this resolution, and who supported it, did a great disservice to everyone; they remove the possibility for finding common ground and dialogue.

But that is another issue entirely, completely distinct from what is known and what is not known. We can talk all we like about the context, but there's no way you can convince any half-way well-read person in the U.S. or Europe that no horrific event happened in 1915. For there are tons of documentation there that treat of it. Diplomats' reports, journalists' telegrams, the accounts that reached the West from Christian missionaries and their schools, diaries that were kept, photographs: all of these things. And moreover, there are the documents of the Ottoman state; for instance, the documents covering the 1918-19 investigations and trials.

In fact, neither I nor any other historian can reach a conclusion without recourse to these sources. For instance, the figure of `at least 600,000' dead has been in every edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica since 1915. I note this as but the simplest and most basic example that an opinion has been formed and generally accepted in this regard.

Q: Are you saying that we in Turkey are isolated from the rest of the world on this issue?

On this issue, Turkey is living in total, almost hermetic isolation from the rest of the world. The endless repetitions that no such incident occurred, that this is a matter of groundless `Armenian falsifications', form a type of sweet lullaby for our public opinion. This lullaby is not putting the rest of the world to sleep, but is putting Turkey to sleep. It is causing us to float around in dreams and causing us to feel content with what occurred rather than realistically look for possible solutions to the issue.

Q: What do you say to the charges you are a `traitor to the country'?

It is clear that those who call me a traitor and target me as some sort of fifth columnist have no concern for freedom of thought or academic freedom, nor for the autonomy of universities. For a scholar to respect only truth is apparently something totally alien to them.

Democracy is not just a question of legal guarantees, but at the same time a question of style. We should recall Voltaire: `I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the end your right to say it.' If our first reaction is to accuse of treason anyone who says something that is contrary to established beliefs, then the internal situation will become so tense that it will countenance neither democracy nor the objective voice of reason. Perhaps this is just what such people want to bring about.

Talat Pasha's telegram

Q: It has been charged that you referred to no documents in the interview.

If it's documents that are wanted, here's one: page 69 of the book `Osmanli Belgelerinde Ermeniler (1915-20)' (`The Armenians in Ottoman Documents (1915-20)'), published by the Prime Ministry's General Directorate of State Archives, provides a telegram sent from the Interior Minister of the time, that is, Talat Pasha, to the Governor of Diyarbakir province. The date is 12 July 1915, and the topic is events that took place in Mardin. The Ottoman Turkish text reads `Son zamanlarda vilayet dahilindeki Ermenler ile bi - la tefrik - i mezheb Hiristiyanlar hakkinda katl - i amlar tertip olundugu ve ez - cumle ahiren Diyarbekir'den sevk olunan eshas vasitasiyle Mardin'de murahhasa ile Ermenilerden ve diger Hiristiyan ahaliden yedi yuz kisinin geceleri sehirden harice cikarilarak koyun gibi bogazlattirildigi ve simdiye kadar bu katl - i amlarda maktul olanlarin iki bin kisi tahmin olundugu ve buna seri ve kati bir netice verilmezse civar vilayattaki ahali - i Islamiyenin de kiyam ederek bi'l - umum Hiristiyanlarý katletmelerinden korkuldugu istihbar edilmistir. Ermeniler hakkýnda ittihaz edilen tedabir - i inzibatiye ve siyasiyenin diger Hiristiyanlara tesmili katiyyen gayr - i caiz oldugundan efkar - i umumiye uzerinde pek fena tesir birakacak ve bi'l - hassa ale'l - itlak Hiristiyanlarin hayatini tehdid edecek bu kabil vekayia derhal hitam verilmesi ve hakikat - i halin isarý.' (`It has recently been reported that massacres of Armenians and Christians without distinction as to sect have been organized within the province, and that in Mardin, for example, some seven hundred people from among the Armenians and other Christian inhabitants were recently taken outside of the city at night and, with due authorization, slaughtered like sheep by those individuals who had been brought from Diyarbakir, and that the total of those killed to date in these massacres is estimated at two thousand persons, and that there are fears that, if a speedy and definite end is not put to this, then the Muslim inhabitants of neighboring provinces will rise up and engage in a general slaughter of Christians. As it is not appropriate that the disciplinary and administrative measures adopted with regard to the Armenians be extended to the other Christians, [this situation] will have a very negative efect on public opinion; consequently, [it is directed that] such practices which threaten the lives of Christians indiscriminately [must] be stopped immediately and a report of the situation be provided.')

Q: Isn't Talat Pasha talking here about putting an end to the incidents?

No, he isn't calling for an end to what is being done to the Armenians, but rather calling for massacres against other Christians to be prevented. In the first sentence, he explains, and even reminds, that massacres have been organized. He states that, in the most recent incidents in Mardin, some 700 Armenians and other Christians have been slaughtered `like sheep', and that thus a total of 2 thousand people have been killed. He refers to those doing the killing as `the people who were earlier transferred from Diyarbakir'; if this is not a reference to the `special organization' I cited in the interview published on 9 October, what is it? He states as well the fear that the Muslim population in neighboring provinces will rise up and slaughter all the Christians. He notes this not as a mere claim, but rather as actual information: he says that `it has been reported'.

Let's look at the second sentence: He says that the `disciplinary and administrative measures' applied to the Armenians are not appropriate for application to other Christians, and should be halted immediately. Does he say `Don't kill the Armenians either'? No, he doesn't say this. Does he say that `We only ordered deportations; what are these massacres?'? He says nothing of the sort. Only, the word `katliam' (`massacre') repeated several times in the first sentence becomes `Ermeniler hakkinda ittihaz edilen tedabir - i inzibatiye ve siyasiye' (`the disciplinary and administrative measures adopted with regard to the Armenians') in the second sentence.

And so, the Turkish and Muslim population of the Ottoman empire at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century had been very much squeezed into a corner. They were facing the prospects of destruction and/or colonization. In addition, if there had been no Armenian deportations, what might Armenian nationalists have done to that Turkish and Muslim population? As a historian, I cannot answer this question, nor can I say that `Nothing worse could possibly have happened.' But I also cannot ignore what actually did occur. No person who loves his country, his Republic, knowledge itself, the truth, or humanity should ignore this.

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