14th May 2015
Open Letter to the European Union Parliament
Honorable President and Members,
Europe Must Come to Terms with its Perfidious Past
The recent call by you to Turkey to recognize the Armenian “genocide” was rightly condemned by the Turkish government. There is no evidence that the Ottoman government committed genocide against the Armenian Christians in the early part of the last century. The claim has been made based on forged documents and reports from interested parties including Christian missionaries, Armenian revolutionaries and anti-Ottoman European Powers. It has been highly contested and many distinguished historians have concluded that, while hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Kurds and Turks lost their lives during the Great War 1914-1918, there is no evidence of any intent on the part of the Ottoman government to commit genocide against the Armenian Christian community in Turkey.
Guenter Lewy, a prominent scholar, in his book, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey, A Disputed Genocide, after a careful analysis of the historical sources, has concluded that “no authentic documentary evidence exists to prove the culpability of the central government of Turkey for the massacres of 1915-16.”
You also had called on Turkey to “come to terms with the past”. It is not Turkey, but the European Powers – Britain, France, Russia and Germany – that need to come to terms with their perfidious past. They are responsible for the turmoil and the humanitarian catastrophe in Ottoman territories under siege during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They instigated and supported religious wars and conflicts to drive the Muslims out of Europe, and competed to create client states on the Ottoman territories which culminated in the 1914-1918 Great War.
The result was economic collapse, widespread starvation and diseases in those territories which claimed millions of lives. Multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies that had been living in peace and harmony for centuries were destroyed because of religious fanaticism and colonial ambitions for acquiring more territories and resources.For the benefit of those who do not know their own history, let me set out briefly the historical context in which the Armenian tragedy occurred.
In 1877 Tsarist Russia sent its troops to war against the Ottoman Empire in the name of persecuted Christianity to assist the Bulgarian revolt. The Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers committed horrible atrocities against the Muslims, many of them Christian Bulgarian converts, and Jews who were protected persons under Ottoman Muslim rule. Historical records reveal how village after village was pillaged and destroyed. Civilians – men women, children – were massacred. Women were raped, and refugees fleeing from the war were attacked by Bulgarian Christian bands. Over 260,000 Muslims were killed or died from war-related causes, and more than a half million were driven out of Bulgaria, representing a total Muslim population loss of about 55 percent.
In October 1912, the Balkan states – Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro – declared war on the Ottoman Empire. King Ferdinand of Bulgaria announced in the cathedral of Starazagora, the forward headquarters of the army command: “In this struggle of the Cross against the Crescent, of liberty against tyranny we shall have the sympathy of all those who love justice and progress.” Thus began the “ninth crusade” which seems not to have ended, with the Western Powers continuing their Islamophobia policies of the past.
Death and destruction followed wherever the Balkan armies went. There were reports of pillage, rape, forced conversions of Muslims and massacre, including the burning of villagers alive in barns and mosques. The British vice-consul at Kavalla reported that the track of the Bulgarian army was marked by “80 miles of ruined villages”.
By the end of the Balkan wars, the Ottoman Empire had lost more than eighty percent of its remaining territory on the European side of the Bosporus. According to the acclaimed historian Justin McCarthy, out of the Muslim population of 2,315,293 living in the territories occupied by the Balkan armies, 1,445, 179 (67 percent) were gone by the end of the Balkan War. Of this number 812,771 survived as refugees and 632,404 (27 percent) were dead. How did Pope Francis come to the finding that the so-called Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the twentieth century? What about the killing and ethnic cleansing of over 1.4 million Balkan Muslims? The Russian-Bulgarian barbarism does not qualify as genocide because the victims were Muslims!
Hardly a year after the Balkan War, the Great War started and led to more killing of Muslims, Armenians and others. Tsarist Russia and Armenian forces attacked and occupied large tracts of Anatolia which were to be part of the future Armenian state. Cities, towns, and villages in the eastern and south eastern provinces were razed to the ground with corpses littered everywhere. Confronted by the existential threat to the Ottoman state coming from the well-armed Russian and Armenian forces, the central government ordered the transfer of the Armenian population, some of whom were assisting the Russian Army, from the war theatre to Syria.
On the existential threat faced by the Ottoman state, Jeremy Salt, in his book The Unmaking of the Middle East, writes: “The wartime suffering of the Muslims in the region, against the historical background of Russian expulsion of Muslims from the Caucasus since early in the nineteenth century, suggests that had Russia stayed in the war their future would have been bleak in the extreme…The Bolshevik revolution ended centuries of Russian interference in Ottoman affairs in the name of defending the rights of Ottoman Christians. The withdrawal of Russia from the war and the renunciation by the Bolsheviks of all territorial claims abruptly ended Armenian hopes for a state that would include the eastern lands of the Ottoman Empire. The Dashnak [Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries] gamble on a Tsarist victory had failed.”
Number of Muslims, mostly Kurds, who were massacred by Russian-Armenian forces in the eastern and southeastern provinces totaled 518, 105, according to recently published Ottoman documents. Muslim population of Van fell by 62 percent.Armenians who died during the entire war numbered between 600 thousand and 800 thousand (41percent). An estimated 450,000 to 500,000 Armenians fled from “Turkish Armenia” into “Russian Armenia”.
Atrocities against Muslims continued after the war ended. With British support, Greece attacked Anatolia in 1919. Greek and Armenian bands were involved in the atrocities committed against Muslims. A U.S. naval intelligence officer wrote: “All cities except Menem practically destroyed by burning. There are many stories of robbing, looting, rapine and pillaging by the retreating Greek army. Saw many wounded and dead Moslems passing through this country. Country absolutely desolate and all shelter and food had been destroyed…Mosques were particular objects of destruction. Harvested crops were destroyed by fire.”
The Inter Allied Committee of Inquiry, in its October 1919 report, stated that “in the part of the kazaof Yalova, and Guemlek occupied by the Greek army there is a systematic plan of destruction of the Turkish villages and execution of the Moslem population. This plan is being carried out by Greek and Armenian bands which appear to operate under Greek instructions and sometimes even with the assistance of detachments of regular troops.”
After the war, the 1920 Sevres Treaty provided for the partition of the eastern provinces into an Armenian state and a possible Kurdish state and the incorporation of western Anatolia along the Aegean coast into a greater Greece. The partition, had it been implemented, would have led to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from those areas as became the fate of the Palestinians in 1948. Fortunately there emerged a strong Turkish national movement to block this diabolical Western enterprise.
The British, through deception, induced the Arab rulers to rise up against the Ottomans, the consideration being support for Arab independence. Unknown to the Arab rulers, they, secretly, made the Sykes-Picot Treaty with the French to divide the Ottoman Arab territories between them. Also, in November 1917, Britain announced the Balfour Declaration, opening up Palestine for Zionist colonization which now poses the greatest threat to global peace.
On the effect now of the British betrayal of the Arab rulers, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in 2002, told The New Statesman, “A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now…are a consequence of our colonial past…The Balfour Declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to Israelis – again, an interesting history for us but not an entirely honourable one.”
Britain and France manipulated the League of Nations to sanction the balkanization and colonization of the Ottoman Arab territories and facilitate the creation of a Zionist state in Palestine. Outraged by the selfish conduct of the European Powers, President Woodrow Wilson, in despair, asserted: “….When I think of the greed and utter selfishness of it all, I am almost inclined to refuse to permit this country to be a member of the League of Nations when it is composed of such intriguers and robbers.”
On the predatory conduct of the European Powers, Jeremy Salt writes: “Under the top hats and behind the frock coats of the diplomats and statesmen, the European powers were divided in their ambitions by what they all had in common – hypocrisy, greed, suspicion, self-interest and prejudice. They rooted around in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire like pigs after truffles…Moral concern for Christian minorities was matched by moral indifference to the interests of the Muslim majority. A vast land mass lay prostrate as this banquet of thieves began. The Ottoman Empire did not “collapse”….It was ripped apart as a chicken might be disjointed; not even Germany had to suffer dismemberment and evisceration.”
The Armenian tragedy must be seen in the context of the incitement of religious wars by the European Powers, their rivalry, greed and scramble for colonies in the Ottoman territories and the great humanitarian disaster they produced in that region for everyone. As Jeremy Salt writes: “…there certainly was a holocaust in the eastern Ottoman lands, but it devoured Muslim Kurds and Turks just as greedily and cruelly as Christian Armenians.” The EU Parliament needs to face this stark truth in order to promote reconciliation and peace between the Armenians and Turks, and between Muslims and Christians.
S.M Mohamed Idris