To the Editor:
Florence Avakian reminds us in "The Armenian Dead"
(Op-Ed, April 27) of one of the great human and national tragedies of the 20th century —
the suffering of Armenians in Turkey in the years after 1915.
But, far from contributing to understanding of this tragedy, Miss
Avakian distorts the record and seeks to blame rather than identify causes. Three points
in particular deserve mention.
• She refers to "mountains of objective testimony" as
In part "authenticating the premeditated, systematic annihilation of a people."
Of all that may be said about the events of 1915-23, this is the least supported.
That a holocaust occurred is acknowledged by Bernard Lewis, dean
of historians of modern Turkey, but not one shred of documentary, archival evidence has
ever been authenticated by impartial scholarship to indicate that any Turkish government
— Ottoman, Young Turk or republican — ordered or carried out an organized campaign on
the scale of the Hitlerian genocide. The "edict" of Talat Pasha cited by Miss
Avakian is a historical fiction concocted by Turkey's wartime enemies; it cannot be
considered as objectively documented.
• While the sufferings and deaths of countless Armenians (the
count itself is hotly disputed) living in eastern Turkey are to be deplored and mourned as
much as those of other national groups, It behooves us to view the Armenians as victims of
the conditions of modern warfare. Eastern Turkey from 1915 to 1923 was a front-line war
zone, in which Turks, Russians, Arabs, Kurds and Armenians — singly and In combination
— were bitterly engaged. The Armenian tragedy is no more and no less than the tragedy of
other war victims, from the Boer through the Vietnamese Wars. It is unfair to hold the
Turks of 1915 to a higher standard than that to which the rest of the world has
• This brings us to responsibility. Whether the current Turkish
regime is "despotic," as Miss Avakian avers, is irrelevant, and in any case open
to question. That it cannot be held responsible for what happened under the Young Turk
regime of 1915 is not.
The Young Turk triumvirate of Pashas Enver, Talat and Cemal ruled
Turkey from 1913 to 1918, and presided over a ruthless repression of all segments of the
population. The republic inaugurated by the revolution of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) in 1923
discharged whatever responsibility it might have had for the atrocities of its predecessor
by overthrowing and discrediting it.
Let us remember and mourn the Armenian dead. But let there
be an end to vilification against a nation and a people who have themselves too often been
victims of Western misinformation and prejudice.
By concentrating on vindictiveness rather than sorrow, by
insisting on worldwide acceptance of their version rather than seeking scholarly
illumination; by forgetting those numerous Turks who harbored Armenians and who saved and
raised Armenian children to whom they had been related by ties of godparenthood in happier
times, Armenians are creating the very conditions they deplore. As long as this continues,
the Turkish Government cannot mourn a tragedy that happened on soil it now governs, and on
which "frustrated" Armenian terrorists are nurtured.
Turkey and the Turks will the sooner come to terms with the dark spots in their past
if both Armenians and non-Armenians give them a little light by which to see.
WILLIAM M. BATKAY
Montclair, N.J., April 29, 1985
The writers are, respectively, associate professor of political science and
assistant professor of anthropology at Montclair State College.