An eloquent account of Turkey’s long campaign to rid itself of Armenians—and far longer campaign to disavow any responsibility for crimes against humanity.
During the 1890s, writes memoirist (Black Dog of Fate, 1997) and poet Balakian, Sultan Abdul Hamid II launched a campaign of extermination against Armenia’s Christians, killing about 200,000 in a two-year period and setting “the template for most of the genocide that followed in the twentieth century.” The Ottoman Empire’s resorting to state-sponsored murder against the Armenians was not without precedent; a few years earlier, the same sultan had ordered the massacre of thousands of Bulgarians who had been pressing for independence. Yet this crime was unprovoked, and it outraged the world; in the US, millions of dollars were raised for Armenian relief, and at the turn of the century nearly every American schoolchild could find Armenia on the map. The fall of the Ottomans and the rise of the Young Turks brought further troubles for the Armenians, for whereas the Ottomans had ruled a multiethnic empire, the Ataturk regime championed Turkish nationalism. Faced with revolutionary movements in the Balkans, the Young Turks justified oppression of the Armenians as a measure to stave off a two-front attack; “in the Turkish mind,” writes Balakian, “the struggle to keep the Balkans was never far from the Armenian Question.” This time the death toll was far higher; Balakian estimates that between 1.2 and 1.3 million Armenians were killed in the years between 1915 and 1922, though some historians put the figure at 1.5 million. Again, writes Balakian, American sentiment was with the Armenians, many survivors among whom emigrated to the US. But in the years since, despite the Turkish government’s crimes against its people, the Armenian genocide has been gone unacknowledged, the product of a “sinister . . . Turkish campaign of denial . . . that is perhaps singular in the annals of history”—a campaign that, Balakian says, successfully persuaded Bill Clinton to kill a House measure to commemorate the genocide “for the sake of ‘national security.’ ”
Thoroughly convincing—and one more reason for the governments of the West, including the Clinton administration, to be ashamed.