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The second most studied instance of genocide is the methodical killing of the Armenian population that lived in the Ottoman Empire during and following the First World War. However, there were also other ethnic groups that were targeted by the Ottoman Empire during the same period such as Greeks and Assyrians murdered in a broader context of killing non-Muslims (Dixon, 2010). There are some historians who consider those groups to be a part of the same procedure of elimination by the Turks. In any event the genocide was executed by way of indiscriminate massacres and deportations. The deportations were forced long-term marches into the dessert under extreme conditions that were designed to bring about the death of those that were deported. The beginning of the genocide is generally reported as April 24, 1915 (Red Sunday) when the Ottoman authorities arrested 250 Armenian community leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople. Following these arrests military deportations that had Armenians taken from their homes and led on a forced march of hundreds of miles without food or water into the desert of what is now Syria took place. Once the deportees reached their destination indiscriminate slaughters occurred that were preceded by multiple instances of rape and other abuses. The majority of property belonging to Armenians was appropriated and then redistributed to Turks by agents of the State. The result was that the Armenian community that had dwelled for centuries in Anatolia was totally destroyed. The deportations and associated massacres were organized and ordered the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the governing body of the Ottoman Empire during that time period. The Armenian genocide took place under the motivation for an extensive ethnic cleansing of the Christian minorities that lived within the Ottoman Empire by the Turks (Mazian, 1990). The Armenian genocide lasted from 1915 to 1917 and the total death count is generally reported as between one million and one and a half million people (Mazian, 1990).
Following the end of WWI the Ottoman government was placed under some heavy pressure, especially from Great Britain, to convict and punish the people responsible for the Armenian massacres. Turkey actually initially established a military tribunal in order to try those responsible (Mazian, 1990). However, there were internal debates over who should take the responsibility for the events occurring in Ottoman government and by 1920 political pressures as well as the positive attitude towards the military as the saviors of the Turks led the Turkish nationalist leaders to move away any prosecutions at all and to renounce any responsibility for the events. The Republic of Turkey has repeatedly denied that "genocide" represents a truthful description of the events and has endured repeated requests to publically represent the events as genocide, but has not done so despite over most other countries officially recognizing the events as an attempt at genocide. Moreover, the majority of historians and genocide scholars accept this view (Dixon, 2010; Mazian, 1990).
Dixon (2010) suggests that the Turkish military, which defeated the occupying Greek army following WWI, and has exerted considerable political influence in Turkey ever since, is at the center of (or at least is a good part of) both the atrocities and ongoing denial. Following WWI when the Ottoman government was pressured to punish those responsible for the genocide and as Turkey began to secure its independence, the CUP and other officials would have been held responsible for the events which would have threatened the nationalists' aim of procuring Anatolia (the Armenian heartland) for Turkey. Moreover many of the nationalists themselves were involved in organizing the genocide. Thus, the Treaty of Lausanne, the post war settlement between Turkey and the WWI allies, officially silenced any reference to the genocide. The silence continued for decades perpetrated by Turkey's strategic position in world affairs such as WWII and the cold war. This major atrocity was essentially officially forgotten. The Turks officially asserted that there was no genocide, the number of Armenians killed has been inflated by outsiders, and that many Turks as well as other groups including Armenians were killed as a result of the struggle in WWI and inter-ethnic violence. This policy is often termed as the "official narrative" and Turkey officially has referred to the genocide as "the Armenian question" (Dixon, 2010).
Mazian (1990) has also discussed the state of Turkish nationalistic views and how they affect the acceptance by the people of official narrative concerning the Armenian question. As stated above, following the 1923 establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the denial of the Armenian genocide as a part of Turkey's history has become an essential component of the national identity of Turkey. The official narrative of the genocide has become tied in with the authenticity and authority of its most powerful and influential political institutions. A motivating component of the narrative of the founding history of Turkey extending to the current time frame puts an emphasis on the notion that as a nation Turkey is totally surrounded by hostile enemies. These hostile forces are present both externally and internally, thus painting a rather bleak picture for Turks. This may seem a bit paranoid, but Akcam (2004) explains that this Turkish nationalism does have its foundations in historical fact. Turkey became an established Republic in an environment of many hostile external forces. There were attempts by Britain, France, Greece, Russia, and Italy to divide and possess the Ottoman territories following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire's following WWI. This occurred against the background of the Ottoman Empire's massive losses of its territory in the nineteenth century. The new country's founding narrative placed a strong emphasis that the Turkish military preserved the unity and the sovereignty of Turkish territory for the creation of the new Republic, particularly the land in eastern Anatolia. An admission that the genocide of Armenians was an intentional act to eliminate them could serve to undermine the narrative of Turkish national victimhood, Turkish trauma, and then a national salvation by the military (Akcam, 2004).
Since the inception of the Republic the Turks have traditionally been led to believe that they have no friends and they are unable to rely on anyone but themselves (Akcam, 2004). In addition, Turkish nationalism places a strong emphasis on the notion that it is the sole responsibility of the Turkish leaders and Turkish citizens to protect the country from these hostile forces that threaten the security and sovereignty of Turkey. The Turks are taught at an early age that the country is under constant threats from internal and external sources that are plotting to divide the country or to take Turkish territory away from them (Mazian, 1990). Moreover, they have been under the impression that there are internal forces that seek to change the constitutional status quo. The result was a type of siege mentality of the people and they were constantly bombarded with elaborate conspiracy theories. Mazian (1990) concluded that the strong sense of Turkish nationalism would be damaged if the government admitted that Armenians were in fact not enemies that attempted to kill Turks and annihilate Turkey, but instead were the victims of an aggressive state course of action. The admission that the Armenians were victims of the state instead of enemies and were eliminated as a policy of ethnic cleansing could be interpreted that any of the other supposed enemies of the Turks are imagined or created by the Turkish government. Such a situation could be a fatal blow to confidence in the government. Acknowledging that the elimination of Armenians was in fact the consequence of the Committee of Union and Progress policies (CUP, the nationalist ruling party) of which many of the members of were military officers, would undermine trust in the legitimacy of the; military, which was regarded as the most trustworthy Turkish political institution (Akcam, 2004).
Ulgen (2010) discusses the attitude of Mustfa Kemal Ataturk (Kemal), the first president of the Republic of Turkey and the man credited for founding the Republic, towards the genocide. Akcam (2004) claimed that Kemal referred to the genocide as a massacre and of course there is his reference to "a shameful act"; however, Ulgen takes a different stance on Kemal's role in admitting to the act although Kemal had no direct part in the actual genocide. First Ulgen states that the prevailing attitude of the nationalists following WWI was one of Muslim nationalism. The nationalists took the position that discussing the "genocide" was "politically irrelevant" and counterproductive to the goals of the Republic. Ulgen (2010) also discusses numerous references made by Kemal to the Armenians as hostile toward the Turks, which is in agreement with Akcam's aforementioned assumptions regarding nationalism in Turkey and political memory of the genocide. As a nationalist, Kemal outlined a history of the Turkish Republic that depended to some degree on the development of national mythology, a process that occurs in all societies. These myths are selective in their memory for certain events in order to promote the feeling of coherence of the people. Kemal was…[continue]
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