Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Francis
May peace be upon you!
It is highly regrettable that you have given papal endorsement to the baseless claim by Armenian nationalists that the Ottoman government committed genocide against the Armenians in the early part of the last century. There is no credible historical evidence to support the allegation of genocide. Your endorsement is perceived as a manifestation of the Catholic Church’s anti-Muslim prejudice, rooted in the history of papal support of the Crusades, the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Muslims in Spain and, later in the 19th century, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the Balkan states in Europe.
The allegation of genocide is based on the forced transfer of Armenians from the Eastern Ottoman provinces to Syria. From May 1915, between 500,000 to 700,000 civilian Armenians were involved in the deportation. Many were killed by bandits and Kurdish fighters in revenge for Armenian atrocities in the Kurdish region. Between 1914 to 1921, over 500,000 Kurds had been massacred by Armenian and Tsarist Russian forces. Majority of the Armenians who lost their lives had died of starvation and disease which had ravaged that region during World War 1 and killed millions of people of various national, religious groups.
The deportation of the Armenians from the Eastern provinces was dictated by military necessity. The remaining Ottoman Empire, in its final state of dismemberment by the European Powers, was in 1914, facing an existential threat from, a war for its very survival against, Tsarist Russia. Ottoman Armenian soldiers had deserted the Ottoman army and joined the Russian Army and Armenian nationalist forces to conquer and occupy parts of the Ottoman eastern provinces to create the Armenian state. Armenians who had lived in peace for over a hundred years revolted in several parts of the empire and aided the Russian troops.
It is in these circumstances that the Ottoman authorities took the painful decision to transfer the Armenians in the Eastern provinces to other parts of the empire. Tsarist Russia and the Armenian nationalist forces would have succeeded in swallowing up parts of Anatolia if not for the success of the Bolshevik revolution whose leaders renounced all claims to territories outside Tsarist Russia.
On the reason behind the transfer of Armenians, the interior minister Talat Pasha explained: “At a time when our armies were in a life or death struggle with enemies who were vastly superior in both numbers and equipment the Armenians, who were our fellow countrymen, had armed themselves and revolted all over the country and were cooperating with the enemy for the purpose of striking us in the rear. What other choice was there but to remove this race away from the war zone?”
On the existential threat faced by the Ottoman government, Jeremy Salt, in his book The Unmaking of the Middle East, writes: “The wartime suffering of the Muslims in the region, against the historical background of Russian expulsion of Muslims from the Caucasus since early in the nineteenth century, suggests that had Russia stayed in the war their future would have been bleak in the extreme…The Bolshevik revolution ended centuries of Russian interference in Ottoman affairs in the name of defending the rights of Ottoman Christians. The withdrawal of Russia from the war and the renunciation by the Bolsheviks of all territorial claims abruptly ended Armenian hopes for a state that would include the eastern lands of the Ottoman Empire. The Dashnak [Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries] gamble on a Tsarist victory had failed.”
The charge of genocide does not stand up to logic and reason. Genocide is an international crime and means “acts committed with intent to destroy… a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…” There must be intention to commit the crime of genocide. There is no credible evidence of such intent. On the contrary, the conduct of the Ottoman government disproves it had such intent. Those who accuse it of genocide must explain why thousands of Armenians in Western Turkey were not deported. The reason is simple. There was no Russian threat and Armenian rebellion in the West to require their transfer to another place.
The Ottoman government had regulations governing the resettlement of the Armenians. They could take their immovable property and animals with them. They were to be protected and provided with food and medical care on their journey. The regulations could not be implemented effectively for lack of resources, shortage of food and breakdown of law and order because of the war. The fact that the regulations were made negatives any intention on the part of the Ottoman government to annihilate the Armenian community.
When news reached Istanbul of Armenians being attacked and killed, a special investigation council was set up to investigate the crimes and punish the perpetrators. Hearings were held across the eastern provinces which found more than a thousand civilian officials or military personnel guilty “of organizing or failing to prevent the attacks” on the Armenians or of stealing their property. The sentences included imprisonments and some executions. Will any government intent on committing genocide against a race act in this way?
Guenter Lewy, a prominent scholar, in his book, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey, a Disputed Genocide, after a careful analysis of the historical sources, has concluded that “no authentic documentary evidence exists to prove the culpability of the central government of Turkey for the massacres of 1915-16.”
In your statement, you refer to three genocides perpetrated in the 20th century by the Ottomans, Nazism and Stalinism, but omitted any reference to the genocide of Muslims during the Balkan wars and the Iraqi war; of the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed, investigative journalist and international security scholar, writes: “…total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s -from direct killings and the long-term impact of war-imposed deprivations- likely constitute around 4 million…and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.” [Information Clearing House, April 08 2015]. Do you not consider killing millions of Muslims as genocide?
The issue whether the Ottoman government committed genocide can only be resolved by looking at the historical evidence which are in the documents kept in the archives of Turkey, Armenia, and the Armenian diaspora in France and the United States. President Erdogan has proposed that the archives be opened for historians to investigate but Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have refused. Why? Because they fear the truth!
President Erdogan’s government has been taking important initiatives to resolve this issue. Last year Erdogan issued a condolence message to the descendants of the Armenians who lost their lives during that tragic period. He has also called for “the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to study the events of 1915 in a scholarly manner” but the “genocide theory” purveyors are not interested. Regrettably, your endorsement, without any credible evidential basis, will only serve to impede the reconciliation process initiated by the Turkish government.
As head of the Catholic Church, your statement endorsing the Armenian nationalists’ claim of genocide will not only influence your flock but also many Western governments, carrying on their shoulders centuries-old prejudice against Muslims, Islamophobia. Since your statement is not based on historical evidence and contrary to reason and logic we appeal to you to retract it and, instead of inflaming the Turkish-Armenian conflict by reckless statements, work for reconciliation and peace between the two nations and peoples.
Kindly let us have a response.
With best wishes.
S.M. Mohamed Idris
Citizens International is a global initiative to foster awareness, activism and advocacy on issues that are central to the stability and wellbeing of humanity at the beginning of the 21st century. We believe that irrespective of race and religion, the interests of humanity are undermined by a reversion to military might to resolve issues and that the international order must rest on the rule of law, based on the United Nations Charter and principles of international law.
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