Saturday, April 26, 2008

book review

Thursday, April 24, 2008
THE GENOCIDE OF TRUTH. By Sukru Server Aya. 702 pages. Illustrated. Index. Bibliography. Istanbul: Commerce University Publications. 2008.
This mammoth compilation of quotations, documents, and polemics sets out to prove once and for all that the Armenian genocide is a figment of imagination, but it succeeds only in proving that the Turks take this figment very seriously.
In his introduction, the author (born in 1930) admits that he first heard of the Genocide in the 1970s when Armenians unleashed a campaign of terror by assassinating more than forty innocent Turkish diplomats. What he fails to mention is that on April 24, 1915, at least four times as many Armenian intellectual leaders in Istanbul, among them some of the most beloved names in modern Armenian literature, were arrested, declared guilty on grounds of their Armenian identity, condemned to death, and executed. He further maintains that the so-called “million and a half” were victims not of a state-sponsored policy of extermination but of badly executed deportations, war, atrocities committed by Kurdish and Circassians bandits, starvation, and disease, all of which claimed many more Turkish victims. It follows, if the Turkish state cannot be held responsible for these crimes, the Armenians have no case. Again, he fails to mention the fact that the properties of the deported Armenians are now in the hands of the Turkish state. Even if not guilty of factors beyond their control, the Turks are guilty of occupying properties that rightly belong to their original owners.
Considerable space is devoted to the discussion of Toynbee’s youthful anti-Turkish stance. What is not mentioned is that even after he acquired Turkish friends and adopted a pro-Turkish stance, Toynbee at no time denied the reality of the Genocide, which he equated with the Jewish holocaust during World War II.
If like me you were born and raised in an alien ghetto populated by Armenian survivors, this book will fail to convince you that everything you were told as a child by your parents, grandparents, schoolteachers, and community leaders was propaganda. But if you are a Turk born and raised in an environment where even uttering the words “Armenian genocide” is considered a criminal offense, the book will succeed in reinforcing your conviction that as a morally upright people, Turks cannot be held guilty of any crime against humanity, let alone genocide, and that all their accusers are no better than misguided and brainwashed dupes, fanatics, charlatans, and profiteers. To which I can only say, all nations produce their share of jackals and hyenas and I doubt very much if Turks are immune to these universal aberration. (More to follow.)

At one point Aya suggests that the Genocide may well boil down to stories told by grandmothers, implying they could hardly qualify as admissible evidence. Which raises the question: If you had a choice between believing the eyewitness account of a grandmother and the hearsay evidence of a politician with an ax to grind, whom would you choose to believe – especially if the grandmother’s stories were supported by countless articles in the international press some of which have now been collected and published in book form.
Aya writes: “Armenians are among the most monolithically acting people in the world today.” This assertion is contradicted by the fact that some of his most important denialist sources are of Armenian descent. He further accuses Armenians of being intolerant of dissent. As a result, he writes, the extremists are heard ad nauseam and the moderates are silenced. But isn’t that the case with Turks too? If Turks, unlike Armenians, are tolerant of dissent, why is it that Orhan Pamuk (a Nobel-prize winning novelist and essayist) and Taner Akcam (a distinguished academic), both of whom have dared to write about the taboo subject of the Armenian genocide, now live in self-imposed exile?
The Turks have made their state archives available to scholars, Aya informs us elsewhere, but the Armenians have consistently refused to do so. Speaking of Ottoman documents that support the reality of the Genocide, he dismisses all of them as forgeries, implying the documents in the Ottoman archives supporting his thesis have not been selected, manipulated, edited, and doctored in any way.
Genocide books (both pro and con) change no one’s mind. They only preach to the choir and the Allawa akbar corner.
If there is a moral to be drawn here, it is this: politics is a filthy business, writing history a complex operation, and propaganda the universal medium of all power structures, especially those that view themselves as morally superior.
Both Armenians and Turks are unanimous in asserting that the truth must be established and the controversy surrounding the Genocide must be resolved once and for all, even as one side continues to criminalize all mention of the Genocide, and the other to build monuments and museums, produce documentaries and movies, organize demonstrations and symposia, and publish an endless stream of books, editorials, commentaries, and polemics. As a result, both sides continue to be polarized with no end in sight. I regret to say the book under review succeeds only in contributing to this unfortunate process of polarization thus making the prospect of a resolution unlikely, perhaps even impossible. (To be continued.)

Finally, here are some questions that Aya’s magnum opus raises:
Is there a single nation in the history of mankind that has fabricated a genocide and believed in it for almost a century? – more than a century, as a matter of fact, if one includes the Hamidian massacres at the turn of the last century.
Why is defending the borders of a disintegrating and rotten empire (perceived as such even by Turks) with every means at one’s disposal politically justifiable and Armenian desire for self-determination a crime against humanity? – unless of course one subscribes to the principle of might is right or what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine also.
Who in his right mind would dare to assert that Ottoman imperialism or Kemalist nationalism is right or acceptable but Armenian irredentism a capital offense?

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