The geno­cide of Ana­to­lia’s Chris­tians

New book goes beyond Turkey’s mass mur­der of Ar­me­ni­ans to ad­dress its treat­ment of Greeks and Assyr­i­ans

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • BEN­JAMIN WEINTHAL

Is­raeli his­to­ri­ans Benny Mor­ris and Dror Ze’evi have pro­duced a work that shocks the con­science with their foren­sic study of the ex­ter­mi­na­tory vi­o­lence com­mit­ted dur­ing the fi­nal stage of the Ot­toman Em­pire and the leadup to the nascent phase of the Turk­ish Repub­lic. In con­trast to schol­ar­ship that has largely fo­cused on the World War I Ot­toman ex­ter­mi­na­tion of Ana­to­lia’s Ar­me­nian pop­u­la­tion, The Thirty-Year Geno­cide: Turkey’s De­struc­tion of its Chris­tian Mi­nori­ties, 1894–1924 broad­ens that time frame to study other per­se­cuted Chris­tian mi­nor­ity groups, par­tic­u­larly Greeks and Assyr­i­ans.

An im­por­tant les­son from this mas­ter­ful his­tory con­cerns the role that Is­lamic-an­i­mated geno­cide played in the de­struc­tion of the re­gion’s Chris­tians. Mor­ris and Ze’evi mar­shal no short­age of ev­i­dence.

Take the ex­am­ple of one sheik who, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish diplo­mat in Turkey Ger­ald Fitz­mau­rice, “or­dered his fol­low­ers to bring as many stal­wart young Ar­me­ni­ans as they could find. To the num­ber of about 100 they were thrown on their backs and held down by their hands and feet, while the sheik, with a com­bi­na­tion of fa­nati­cism and cruelty pro­ceeded, while recit­ing verses of the Ko­ran, to cut their throats after the Mecca rite of sac­ri­fic­ing sheep.” This mas­sacre un­folded dur­ing a sav­age pe­riod of wide­spread tar­get­ing of Ar­me­ni­ans that ex­tended from 1894 to 1896.

The book abounds with ex­am­ples of Is­lamic ide­ol­ogy be­ing com­bined with state di­rec­tives to pro­mote the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of Mid­dle Eastern Chris­tians. It is not a his­tor­i­cal study for the faint of heart.

The au­thors con­clude that what hap­pened was deliberate, state-en­gi­neered geno­cide aided by Mus­lim cler­ics and the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion. They base their con­clu­sion on “the mas­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion – Amer­i­can, Bri­tish, French, Ger­man and Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian – that we have stud­ied over the past decade.”

The Ot­toman and Turk­ish Repub­lic’s pol­icy of elim­i­na­tion re­duced Asia Mi­nor’s Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties from 20% of the

pop­u­la­tion at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury to 2% in 1924.

Mor­ris and Ze’evi write, “The Turks and their helpers mur­dered, straight­for­wardly or in­di­rectly, through pri­va­tion and dis­ease, be­tween 1.5 and 2.5 mil­lion Chris­tians be­tween 1894 and 1924.”

The rise of the Young Turks and the Ot­tomans’ en­try into WWI re­vealed a kind of grotesque his­tor­i­cal irony. Ac­cord­ing to a con­tem­po­rary wit­ness, Wil­fred Post, a doc­tor and mis­sion­ary who was born and reared in Turkey, “The procla­ma­tion of the holy war, which failed to unite all Is­lam against the En­tente, nev­er­the­less had the ef­fect of arous­ing the old fa­natic spirit of the Turks them­selves and they pros­e­cuted the holy war within their own Em­pire with a zeal ex­ceed­ing that of their fore­fa­thers.”

The Ger­man diplo­mat and arche­ol­o­gist Max von Op­pen­heim pro­duced the 1914 “Mem­o­ran­dum on the fo­ment­ing of re­bel­lions among the Mus­lim sub­jects of our en­e­mies” that was sent to Sul­tan Mehmed V for approval. In short, Op­pen­heim and Kaiser Wil­helm II con­vinced the Ot­tomans to urge Mus­lims world­wide to re­volt against their colo­nial masters based on ji­hadi ide­ol­ogy.

Op­pen­heim’s ji­had failed while the Ot­toman’s in­ter­nal ji­had against Chris­tians suc­ceeded at the cost of spec­tac­u­lar vi­o­lence and suf­fer­ing for Chris­tian mi­nori­ties.

The collapse of the Ot­toman Em­pire and the rise of the Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist leader Mustafa Ke­mal (later Ke­mal Ataturk) did noth­ing to di­min­ish the role of “ji­hadi rhetoric” as an or­ga­niz­ing tool.

Ke­mal, the mil­i­tary hero as­so­ci­ated with the Gal­lipoli cam­paign and who later be­come Turkey’s pres­i­dent, de­clared there was a “na­tional holy war now com­menc­ing to save our sa­cred race and fa­ther­land from the dan­ger of dis­mem­ber­ment.”

Ke­mal made that state­ment after re­sign­ing from the army, say­ing he had then be­come a “crusader [mud­jahid] fight­ing for the glory of the race.”

This type of rhetoric and ide­ol­ogy would not bode well for Turkey’s strug­gling Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties be­tween 1918 and 1924.

Ben­jamin Weinthal is a fel­low of the Foundation for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

AN AR­ME­NIAN woman kneel­ing be­side a dead child in a field “within sight of help and safety at Aleppo.”

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