Atatürk’s genocide?

No it wasn’t.

In an op-ed in the Boston Globe, reprinted in the IHT, Charles Fried describes the mass murder of the Armenians in 1915-1916 as “Ataturk’s genocide”.

Since the official position of the Turkish government, followed by most Turks, is that the genocide never happened, they can’t defend Kemal Atatürk against this slur. But I know of no evidence he was directly responsible. During WWI he was a (very good) fighting general. According to this Armenian genocide website – hardly a pro-Turk source – he “stayed out of politics until 1919”.

Atatürk, a member of the Young Turk movement, was a commander in Diyarbekir in 1916 and the Caucasus front in 1917, so he must have known what his bosses – Enver and Talat – were doing, It’s conceivable he contributed as executant, though he wasn’t SFIK charged in the postwar Turkish and British trials. The same site does accuse him of war crimes against Armenians in the battles of 1920-1922, when he had risen to power. Atatürk must also carry responsibility for the institutional denial by the Republic he created, so he’s hardly a total innocent. It is still a grotesque distortion to pin his name to the genocide as prime mover. Should we call the extermination of the Sephardic Jews of Salonika in 1943 Waldheim’s genocide ?

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

4 thoughts on “Atatürk’s genocide?”

  1. In controversy, the strategic use of exaggeration or even false statements, seems, generally, to be unwise; the only justification I can see here is that it may provoke some Turks to defend Ataturk's good name, and in so doing, to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.
    Grotesque distortion?
    What is most grotesque is the Turkish denial. In their own country, they have used laws against the slander of "Turkishness" to suppress liberal efforts to speak the truth. So, they feel some shame, at least; let them feel some more.
    If "Ataturk's genocide" leads them to confront the truth, to acknowledge the deep shadow of Turkish nationalism, that will all be to the good. The Turks can defend the Father of the Turks against this slander, if they wish to do so, and the evidence may support such a defense, but it will require them to admit the crime.
    Turkish denial has, arguably, been a factor in a continuation of Turkish policies of ethnic cleansing against minorities, including Greeks and Kurds, down to the present day. It is not a mere academic point.

  2. I would urge a less calculated and more literary explanation for this egregious mistake. Fried wants parallelism in the sentence– he refers to "Hitler's genocide" and wants to balance it against what he calls Ataturk's, he then wants to suggest it as a possible precedent for Hitler. He wants to personalize the whole thing.
    He also knows that Ataturk is about the only Turkish figure from roughly that period that even an educated American public would recognize. When's the last time *you* heard even Olbermann talk about Enver Pasha?
    I don't know whether the mistake is deliberate or not. It may be that he just forgot when Mustafa Kemal actually gained power. Or it may be that he knew, but decided to ignore the historical fact in favor of a literary effect.
    Either possibility is really hard to excuse in an essay whose central point is that historical facts are primary.

  3. Well, Niall Ferguson disagrees with you, since he has Ataturk supervising the genocidal sack of one town, in his new The War of the World.
    Don't have it any more (library), but it's in there, if you find yourself in Borders.

  4. Right, because we should all honestly trust the Europhobic high snapcase Tory regarding this sort of thing?
    The man's scholarship has been, shall we say, fast and loose in the past. Given his particular interests regarding the EU and the Turk, I feel particularly disinclined to trust his handiwork.
    Not only because there's not a prior record of this in Kemalist scholarship, such as it is, but also because the Turkish state holds all such records close to its chest. Archival work never yields curses or negative light on Kemal–which isn't to say it isn't there–but given that Ferguson doesn't read Turkish, I wonder what precisely he's going to have based this on.
    And yes, it is a rather bizarre misnomer. It'd be rather like blaming Leon Blum for the fate of the Jews of Vichy France, and rather unlike blaming Admiral Horthy for the fate of the Jews of Hungary.

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