There is good reason why President Obama avoids using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the killing of one-and-a-half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
This is because if you scratch almost any methodical mass killing in modern times, you are almost certain to find Liberals and Leftists pulling the strings. So it was with the first major holocaust of the twentieth century, the massacre of the Armenians and other Christian minorities that started about one hundred years ago today.
This prolonged atrocity, which included countless acts of rape, torture, and even crucifixion, and which saw tens of thousands taken out into the Black Sea and drowned, while many more were marched out into the deserts to die of starvation and disease, was carried out by the Ottoman Empire. This superficial fact conjures up an image of Oriental despotism of the sort we normally associate with the likes of Tamerlane or even Ivan the Terrible.
In other words, the implicit image of these massacres that exists in the popular mind is of dark deeds carried out at the behest of an absolute monarch, embodying the forces of traditionalism, conservatism, and even ethnic nationalism. But nothing could be further from the truth. By the time of the genocide, the Ottoman Empire of popular imagination had ceased to exist. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the time of the genocide was Mehmed V, a gentle and ineffectual man, who has been described as follows:
The very appearance of Mehmed V suggests nonentity. Small and bent, with sunken eyes and deeply lined face, an obesity savoring of disease, and a yellow, oily complexion, it certainly is not prepossessing. There is little or no intelligence in his countenance, and he never lost a haunted, frightening look, as if dreading to find an assassin lurking in some dark corner ready to strike and kill him. The Near East from Within
By 1913, he had been reduced to a mere figurehead and pawn by a series of coup d’états, which had placed the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in absolute power.
The CUP became better known by its nickname, “The Young Turks,” because of the youthfulness of it three leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, and Djemal Pasha, who were also known as “The Three Pashas.” Enver Pasha , the youngest, was only 32 years old, in 1913. This was the ruling triumvirate that oversaw Turkey’s disastrous alliance with Germany, the genocide of the Armenians, and the country’s final defeat.
Dominated by Enver, the Three Pashas were thoroughly modern types, inimical to traditional Islam, until they realized its military and political utility as a trans-nationalist force that could strengthen the state.
Those on the Left, keen to distance themselves from the brutality and failure of the CUP, prefer to describe it as “nationalist” and even “proto-fascist,” but, within the context of Turkish politics, it was clearly a left-leaning anti-nationalist organization whose slogan — “Hürriyet, Müsavaat, Adalet” (Liberty, Equality, Justice) — would do justice to any liberal party in the modern West.
The Young Turks favoured a constitutional monarchy and the modernization of the country in ways that would eradicate the ethnic divisions that had always formed the texture of the ethnic patchwork that was the Ottoman Empire. They defined themselves politically against reactionary conservative, monarchist, and Islamist elements that wished to restore the power of the Sultan.
Due to its progressivism, the CUP had the support of most of the Empire’s minorities, including ironically and tragically the Armenians themselves, many of whom celebrated its seizure of power. Also important in the movement were the Dönme crypto-Jews, especially those from the town of Salonika, which passed into Greek hands following the Balkan War of 1912.
The most significant Dönme was Mehmet Cavit Bey, editor of the CUP’s newspaper and later finance minister in the government. Other important Dönme figures were the feminist Sabiha Sertel, Doctor Nâzım Bey, one of the chief architects of the genocidal policy, and Munis Tekinalp, also known as Moiz Cohen, one of the main intellectuals behind Turanism and Pan-Turkism, the form that Turkish “nationalism” later took.
All four of these figures had close links to the town of Salonika, as did Kemal Atatürk, the later founder of the Turkish Republic. It is often rumoured that Atatürk was also a member of this crypto-Jewish community, although his Albanian forbearers are better documented and more evident in his physical appearance.
But the most interesting thing about the supposed Turkish nationalism of both the Young Turks and later the Kemalists, is how un-Turkish it actually was.
This was the effect of IQ differences between the European, crypto-Jewish, and Asiatic elements in the Ottoman Empire, with the former naturally rising to the top of any movement or organization. It was also the result of the need to literally create the idea of “the Turk” in order to unify what was in effect an ethnically diverse area.
While, generally speaking, society is more often a racial construct, the Turk is one of the few instances where race can be said to be a social construct. The Turk was certainly not a clearly defined racial entity with unique features. The original Turanian blood of the original Turkish nomads from central Asia had long ago been lost in an ethnic mix with Byzantine Greeks, Armenians, and the various ethnicities of Anatolia. Atatürk later proclaimed the ancient Hittites to have been his people’s true ancestors, but the Hittites were not Turanians (they were Indo-Europeans), and none of the Turkish people could claim anything greater than 25 percent Turanian blood, least of all Atatürk himself with his strong Albanian heritage.
Not only was Atatürk (literally “Father of the Turks”) a very un-Turkish Turk, so were at least two of the Three Pashas. Enver was also of Albanian origin on his mother’s side, while Talaat was a member of the Pomak ethnicity — a group of Bulgarian-speaking Muslims.
Even if you accept the mongrelized Turk as a distinct hybrid race that originated after the conquest of Anatolia by the original Turanian people in the 11th century, the main leaders of Turkish nationalism were a separate racial cadre with greatly disproportionate Albanian, Pomak, and crypto-Jewish elements.
The Young Turks and later the Kemalite state did not therefore represent an authentic nationalism, expressing the true character of the Turkish people. Instead, like the later Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq, they represented a kind or ersatz statist nationalism, imposed by tightly networked hidden minorities on the wider population, a “nationalism” that served the generic statist interests of the modernizing and centralizing civic entity.
As with Assyrian Christians in Baathist Syria and Iraq, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire initially stood to gain from the new order. But their specific ethno-religious character as Christians and ethno-political character as an ancient kingdom with a long history that predated the Ottoman Empire — and even its predecessor, the Byzantine — made them an awkward fit in the new ersatz nationalist civic state that the progressivist CUP were working towards. This inherent conflict was additionally exacerbated by their concentration near the frontline with the Russian Empire, which offered a competing pole of loyalty, especially as many Armenians also lived on the Russian side of the border.
Another factor in the genocide was the characteristic mix of totalitarianism and incompetence that typifies Leftist regimes.
Although technically in favour of constitutional government and democracy, the leaders of the CUP, faced strong resistance and an unsympathetic populace, predisposing them to a “temporary” suspension of their progressivist principles.
This pattern is often repeated among Liberal and Leftist ruling elites: the pursuit of idealistic policies that don’t conform to realities invariably leads to problems, which, in turn, unleashes dictatorial and totalitarian tendencies. Liberals and Leftists have an built-in tendency to veer towards a “dictatorship of the proletariat” mentality — the desire to take power on behalf on the “less fortunate” and “less enlightened,” in order to make the radical changes they feel are necessary.
By 1912, the CUP had completely rigged the electoral system in the Election of the Clubs, and were in the process of sweeping away the past. Part of this included turning its back on the Ottoman Empire’s traditional ally, Great Britain, and its pragmatic and moderating influence, and aligning instead with the strident modernism and assertive militarism of Wilhelmine Germany. This strengthened the tendency towards radical solutions and political ruthlessness within Turkey; this was intensified by the war situation that arose following Turkey’s entry into World War I in October 1914.
Added to these pressures and tendencies, we have the psychological aspect of the leaders, especially Enver Pasha, who like many Liberals and Leftists, was a vainglorious and emotionally brittle individual. In the winter of 1914, he had led an ambitious offensive against the Russians in Eastern Anatolia, which aimed to crush the Russian armies. Faced by General Yudenich, later a hero of the White Russian forces in the Russian Civil War, his army was disastrously defeated at the Battle of Sarikamish. This was another example of the Liberal tendency to get swept away by big ideas and visions, only later to come crashing into realities.
Rather than admit his own incompetence, Enver shifted the blame to the Armenian communities living in the region, and started to see them — and portray them — as traitors and a fifth column for the Russians. Thus the Armenians were demonized as a people that did not fit into the exigencies of the state-of-war mentality which was being promoted by the Liberal dynamic of centralization and standardization. These tendencies were intensified by the pressures of war. The prelude to the actual genocide was Enver’s order to disarm all Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman armies and to transfer them to the labour battalions; in addition there was a sketchy plan to relocate the Armenian population.
The Armenian genocide had two aspects, both of them deadly. On the one hand there were direct attempts at simple extirpation of the Armenians. Many of these efforts were driven by a mixture of human passions, including greed, cruelty, envy, lust, religious hatred, and a displaced desire for revenge. Many of the most violent agents of the genocide were people like the Dönme crypto-Jew Doctor Nâzım Bey, who had been displaced by the Balkan War of 1912 and whose families had suffered.
But there was also a more cold and callous aspect that involved badly thought-out and ill-prepared attempts to relocate the Armenians to less militarily sensitive areas, just as there was in the USA with regard to Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor. But unlike America, where the camps that held the Japanese were commodious and well-provisioned, little was provided in the way of provisions, accommodation, or protection, with the result that many Armenian deaths simply occurred through neglect and the unsupervised abuse by guards. A large part of the loss of life can be attributed to the inefficiency of the process of relocation and a lack of proper organization. This again is a trademark of the Liberal Left (and a hallmark of ethnic policy in the USSR under Stalin), namely the implementation of big plans that haven’t been properly thought through, and in which glaring flaws, weaknesses, and horrific consequences are callously ignored.
But the final proof that the perpetrators of this horrific act of genocide were on the Left rather than on the Right can be found in the aftermath. With military defeat and the collapse of the Ottoman state, no attempt was made, as in 1945, to arrest and try the perpetrators of genocide. The Three Pashas were allowed to escape and go into exile. Luckily two of them fell at the hands of Armenian assassins. But the worst of the three, Enver Pasha, escaped this fate. Instead he fled to Germany, where he made contact with German communists. He then moved on to Soviet Russia, where he managed to win the trust of Lenin, before his Pan-Turkist tendencies led to a falling out and his death at the hands of a detachment of Soviet cavalry.