10/11 Telegraph: Analysis: Turkey's Armenian massacre of 1915

Analysis: Turkey's Armenian massacre of 1915

By Amberin Zaman
Last Updated: 3:07am BST 12/10/2007

In May 1915 the ruling junta of nationalist Ottoman officers known as the Young Turks ordered the mass deportation of the collapsing Empire's two million strong Armenian minority in reprisal for their alleged collusion with invading Russian armies.

In village after village, town after town, Armenian civilians were rounded up and marched at rifle point towards the Syrian Desert. Tens of thousands were slaughtered en route; others robbed, raped and tortured by Kurdish brigands who would swoop down on the Armenians' caravans from their mountain hideouts.

"When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race," wrote Henry Morgenthau, the then American ambassador, in his memoirs.

A growing number of Western historians concur that the horrors inflicted on the Ottoman Armenians fits the United Nations' definition of genocide, which is described as carrying out acts "intended to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

Descendants of survivors of 1915, largely form the Armenian Diaspora, is pushing for recognition of the genocide the world over. Many are demanding compensation and restitution of lost land, even of Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey.

Others agree that these claims are far-fetched - not least because Eastern Turkey is inhabited by Kurds with their own separatist aspirations.

Armenian moderates say acknowledgement of the massacres together with an official apology from Turkey would go a long way towards healing the wounds of the past. But reconciliation seems far off.

The idea of being placed in the same category as the Nazis is intolerable for most Turks, who believe the genocide issue is yet another red herring devised by Western governments to weaken and divide their country.

Although Turkey acknowledges that several hundred thousand Armenians did perish, they insist this was a result of malnutrition, disease and the wartime chaos engulfing the empire during its final days.

Indeed, Turkish schoolchildren are taught that Turks were killed in greater numbers by the Armenians than the Armenians were killed themselves. Those who challenge this official line, such as the Nobel prize laureate Orhan Pamuk, face prosecution under laws that make "insulting Turkishness" a punishable offence.

Yet, a growing number of Turks are beginning to question the past, stepping forward with "confessions" to having Armenian forebears, many of them orphans rescued by Turkish families.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/11/wturkey211.xml