THE HISTORY OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FOURTH CONGRESS
MAY 15, 1996
After Cong. Benjamin Gilman's welcoming remarks and opening statements by several Members of the Committee, Prof. Levon Marashlian presented his prepared testimony, followed by the testimonies of Prof. Rouben Adalian and Prof. Justin McCarthy. Below is Marashlian's testimony.
Levon Marashlian, Ph.D.
Professor of History, Glendale Community College, California
May 15, 1996
House Committee on International Relations
Testimony on the Armenian Genocide
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak before you on an issue which is intimately tied to American history and directly related to the welfare of Turkey and to the success of United States policy in a region of the world which is critically important economically and strategically.
In 1919, a political body called The National Congress of Turkey confirmed the overwhelming American evidence that the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were victims of a mass destruction during World War I. The National Congress of Turkey declared that the "guilt" of the Turkish officials who "conceived and deliberately carried out this infernal policy of extermination and robbery is patent," those officials "rank among the greatest criminals of humanity."
The official Turkish gazette Takvimi Vekayi published the verdict of the post-war Ottoman trials of those officials. The Turkish court ruled that the intention of the Ottoman leaders was "the organization and execution" of the "crime of massacre."
German Ambassador Johann Bernstorff, whose country was allied with Turkey, wrote about "Armenia where the Turks have been systematically trying to exterminate the Christian population." Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word genocide in 1944, specifically cited the "genocide of the Armenians."
Those who today deny the Armenian Genocide are resorting to academically unsound revisionism, in order to prevent the moral act of remembering this crime against humanity. In the process, the deniers are doing a disservice to the majority of today's Turkish people. By keeping the wounds open with their stonewalling tactics, by making it necessary to have hearings like this, they force the Turkish people to continue wearing like an albatross the negative image earned by a circle of officials who ruled eight decades ago.
A consideration of House Con. Res. 47, which remembers "the genocide perpetrated by the governments of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923," would provide a good opportunity to draw a distinction between the guilty and the innocent Turks, to remember also the Turks of decency who opposed their governments policy of inhumanity.
At a time today when so many people in our own society too often shirk their individual responsibility to make personal choices based on principles and values, it is a good lesson for us to recall the years when American witnesses and Turkish civilians made the personal choice to resist a wrong and save human lives, when a few Turkish officials even chose to object, even though doing so could have endangered their own lives.
One was an Ottoman Senator, Ahmed Riza. In December 1915 he courageously condemned the policy to destroy and deport Turkeys two million Armenian citizens and expropriate their assets, which authorities were carrying out under the cover of a legislative fig leaf euphemistically called the Abandoned Properties Law.
"It is unlawful to designate" Armenian properties as abandoned, declared Senator Riza, because they did not leave their properties voluntarily. They were "forcibly" removed from their homes and exiled. "Now the government is selling" their possessions. "Nobody can sell my property if I am unwilling to sell it. This is atrocious. Grab my arm, eject me from my village, then sell my goods and properties? Such a thing can never be permissible. Neither the conscience of the Ottomans nor the law can allow it."
Mr. Chairman, during a debate on the Senate floor in February 1990, your colleague Senator Robert Dole championed another resolution commemorating the Armenian Genocide (SJR 212), and declared, "its finally time for us to do what is right. Right. We pride ourselves in America" for "doing whats right, not whats expedient."
In this case, doing what is right does not exact a big price. The frequently heard argument that a commemorative resolution will harm American-Turkish relations is not credible. It ignores the fact that the relationship is much more in Turkey's favor than America's. Not doing what is right, on the other hand, is tantamount to rejecting mountains of documents in our National Archives, testimonies that refute the denial arguments generated in Ankara and, most disturbingly, promoted in prestigious academic circles here in America.
This denial recently spurred over 100 prominent scholars and intellectuals, including Raul Hilberg, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, and Arthur Miller, to sign a petition denouncing the "intellectually and morally corrupt . . . manipulation of American institutions" and the "fraudulent scholarship supported by the Turkish government and carried out in American universities."
A typical example of the powerful evidence in the US Archives is a cable to the State Department from Ambassador Henry Morgenthau: "Persecution of Armenians assuming unprecedented proportions. Reports from widely scattered districts indicate systematic attempts to uproot peaceful Armenian populations and through arbitrary arrests" and "terrible tortures," to implement "wholesale expulsions and deportations from one end of the Empire to the other," frequently accompanied by "rape, pillage, and murder, turning into massacre . . ."
And the persecutions continued even after World War I ended in 1918. "It was like an endless chain," reported Edith Woods, an American nurse, in 1922. "The children would often be dead before I had taken their names. Forty to fifty of the older women died each day. . . . Their mouths were masses of sores, and their teeth were dropping out. And their feet, those poor, bleeding feet. . . . Deportation is sure death--and a far more horrible death than massacre. Unless one sees these things it is difficult to believe that such monstrous cruelty and barbarity exist in the world."
Ms. Woods testimony ripped to shreds the web of denial being woven by Turkish officials in the early 1920s. She also exposed the new atmosphere of insensitivity at the American Embassy in Istanbul which contradicted the overwhelming sentiment of American public opinion and the spirit of Congressional resolutions in favor of Armenians that were passed during those days. This American woman made the personal choice to speak up against the response at her own Embassy, a policy imposed by acting ambassador Admiral Mark Bristol, who, driven obsessively by commercial interests, was colluding in a cover-up crafted by Turkish authorities.
Allen Dulles, the State Departments Near East Division chief (and later CIA Director), found it hard to keep things under wraps as Bristol requested. "Confidentially the State Department is in a bind," Dulles cautioned in April 1922:
"Our task would be simple if the reports of the atrocities could be declared untrue or even exaggerated but the evidence, alas, is irrefutable and the Secretary of State wants to avoid giving the impression that while the United States is willing to intervene actively to protect its commercial interests, it is not willing to move on behalf of the Christian minorities."
And the evidence mounted. In May 1922, four American relief workers, Major Forrest D. Yowell of Washington DC, Dr. Mark Ward of New York, Dr. Ruth Parmalee of Boston, and Isabel Harley of Rhode Island, were all expelled from their posts in Turkey because they too chose to do what is right, they protested the ongoing persecutions. Major Yowell said Armenians in his district were "in a state of virtual slavery," with "no rights in the courts."
Dr. Ward quoted Turkish officials. One Turk declared: "We have been too easy in the past. We shall do a thorough job this time." Another remarked: "Why do you Americans waste your time and money on these filthy Greeks and Armenians? We always thought that Americans knew how to get their money's worth. Any Greeks and Armenians who don't die here are sure to die when we send them on to Bitlis, as we always choose the worst weather in order to get rid of them quicker."
Not all Turks were so cruel. A British diplomat reported that another American in Turkey, Herbert Gibbons, knew of prominent Turks who protested the "unparalleled inhumanity;" but they were "beaten and sent away" for intervening. The Mayor of the Black Sea city of Trabzon had no sympathy with the governments policy and did what little he could. The Governor also opposed the "massacres and persecutions," but was powerless to stop it. His predecessor tried and was removed.
Gibbons thought the governments policy was "a calumny upon the good Turks, of whom there are many." Massacres never broke out spontaneously, since "Christians and Moslems ordinarily get along very well." The massacres were ordered, as part of a plan "to make Turkey truly Turkish."
Yet there are "humane and kind hearted Turks," Gibbons stressed, and there are "Mohammedans who fear God and who are shocked by the impious horrors of the extermination policy."
Revisionists today say in effect that Americans like Forrest Yowell, Mark Ward, Ruth Parmalee, Isabel Harley, Edith Woods, Herbert Gibbons, and Ambassador Henry Morgenthau were either liars or misguided.
Remembering the atrocities committed against the Armenians would show respect for those Americans who spoke up, and respect as well for Turks like Senator Riza who also chose to oppose the injustice. A recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the US Congress would be a step toward helping erase this important allys image problem, which Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet described in 1951 as "this black stain on the forehead of the Turkish people."
Encouraging Turkey to face the facts of its history would help lift the cloud of controversy which has haunted it for decades. It would help eliminate the deep roots of Armenian-Turkish enmity, paving the way to normalized relations, and it would give Armenia the sense of security many Armenians feel is necessary if they are to respond to Russias regional policies with more independence and balance. The prospects for American commerce and regional stability would be strengthened by a recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Acknowledging the Armenian Genocide also would show that Congress cannot condone the brazen contradiction of its own Archives and the dangerous corruption of Americas academic institutions. It would send a strong signal to all deniers of genocide, especially to deniers of the Holocaust. Mr. Chairman, taking a stand against the denial of the Armenian Genocide would be entirely consistent with the successful resolution "Deploring Holocaust Deniers" which you so wisely introduced last December, in which you too did what is right, by calling denial efforts "malicious." Such language is applicable to the denial of the Armenian Genocide as well.
Mr. Chairman, when weighing the merits of the arguments on both sides of this issue, it would be useful to keep in mind a letter sent to Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes in 1924 by Admiral Bristol, a man who was called "very pro-Turk" by Joseph Clark Grew, Washingtons first Ambassador to Ankara. Even the pro-Turk Admiral acknowledged "the cruelties practiced upon the Armenians by Turks acting under official orders, and in pursuance of a deliberate official policy." For that policy, wrote Admiral Bristol, "there can be no adequate excuse."
Copyright 1996 Levon Marashlian
Following the prepared testimonies of the three witnesses, there was a lengthy question-and-answer session during which the Armenian Genocide and relations between Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan were debated.
Copyright 1999 Levon Marashlian
See the Congressional publication below for a complete record of the Hearing: The opening statements made by Cong. Gilman and several Members of the Committee, the prepared testimonies submitted by Dr. Marashlian, Dr. Adalian, and Dr. McCarthy, the transcript of the question-and-answer session, as well as additional documents submitted to the Committee.