Sunday, April 8, 2018

Revenge or Justice?

I will come to the question posed in the title of this post shortly, but first the conclusion of the fall of the Ottomans. 

One by one, the Allies – led by Britain – took the major cities and regions of the Ottoman Empire: Baghdad, Gaza, and Jerusalem; the Sinai Peninsula.

“Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.”

Not much has changed in the last 100 years.

The story is punctuated with large cavalry charges – cavalry as in horses (and camels), not tanks; effective diversions; conflicting promises.  Death by the thousands and tens-of-thousands, on both sides.

The Ottomans were losing not only in the Middle East, but also eastern Anatolia.  Russia was making advances through Erzurum and Trabzon.  The Russians headed toward Mesopotamia; the British, concerned about their future claims, wanting to secure this region first.  Allies, yes – but competitors for empire first.

By the end of 1917, the Ottomans were fighting not for victory, but for survival.  Even with the withdrawal by Russia from the war, due to the Russian Revolution, it was too late for the Ottomans.  That the United States entered the war took away any advantage to the Germans.

As victory for the Allies seemed certain and was fast approaching, many wanted their cut – and decided to join Britain in the Middle East:

…two Jewish battalions of Royal Fusiliers, formed with the express intention of advancing the Zionist claim to Palestine by valour and sacrifice on the battlefield.  The French contributed the Détachement Français de Palestine et de Syrie to ensure that France protected its long-standing claims to Syria.  One regiment of the French detachment was made up entirely of Armenian refugees rescued by the French from the famous siege of Musa Dagh.  Amir Faysal was at the front of the line, with T. E. Lawrence as his advocate, to uphold Hashemite claims to rule Syria as part of a greater Arab Kingdom.

Both the Arabs and Armenians sent delegates to Paris for the Peace Conference.  The Arabs got nothing, the Armenians got a promise, one that didn’t come with any teeth and that the allies gave away in a subsequent treaty.  Which leads me to the subject hinted at in the title….

Since 1699, the Ottomans had lost most of the wars that they fought….

The empire was regularly shrinking.  The Armenians in eastern Anatolia represented perhaps the last great risk; call it genocide or not, but what was once an Armenian population of perhaps 2 million was reduced to perhaps 100,000 or less.  The Great War and aftermath truly represented an existential event for the Turks.  Had all enactments from Paris been enforced, Turkey would have been a stub – the western peninsula, with Istanbul even under foreign administration.

And then along came Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  The hero of Gallipoli became the father of the Republic.  Shoving the Greeks off to the west, the French in the south, and the Armenians to the east, he secured Turkey in basically its current form.

That settled things in Turkey, but it didn’t settle things for many Armenians.  Call it revenge or call it justice; several Armenians went after many of the Turks that were the leading perpetrators of…well, the term “genocide” had not yet been coined, so we will refer to it using the terminology of the time:

…"massacres", "atrocities", "annihilation", "holocaust", "the murder of a nation", "race extermination" and "a crime against humanity".

First were trials, held in Turkey and for the purpose of prosecuting the perpetrators (and also, perhaps, with an eye on the hope that the trials would buy the Turks some western favor in the peace settlement).  Eighteen individuals were given the death sentence, yet fifteen of these were tried in absentia – having fled Turkey at the end of the war.  The three who remained were executed in Turkey.  The rest remained free.

Unwilling to watch the Young Turk leaders in exile escape justice, a group of Armenian militants from the Dashnak organization took the law into their own hands.  Between March 1921 and July 1922, the Dashnaks ordered a series of assassinations of key Young Turk leaders in a program known as “Operation Nemesis.”

Perhaps most well-known is the case of Soghomon Tehlirian:

Soghomon Tehlirian was an Armenian who assassinated Talaat Pasha, the former Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, in Berlin on March 15, 1921. The assassination was a part of Operation Nemesis, planned by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation as revenge for the Armenian Genocide orchestrated by the Ottoman Imperial Government during World War I. Talaat Pasha had been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in the Turkish courts-martial of 1919–20, and was viewed as the main orchestrator of the genocide. After a two-day trial Tehlirian was found not guilty by the German court, and freed. Tehlirian is considered a national hero by Armenians.

The orders to Tehlirian were as follows:

…"you blow up the skull of the Number One nation-murderer and you don't try to flee. You stand there, your foot on the corpse and surrender to the police, who will come and handcuff you."

And so it went.  Arshavir Shiragian took part in three assassinations – one in Rome, two in Berlin; the assassination of Cemal took place in Tbilisi, Georgia.  Enver eluded assassination, but died in Central Asia while fighting the Bolsheviks.  Altogether, by 1926 ten of the eighteen men convicted in the trials were dead.


So…revenge or justice?


  1. Market a good persecution myth. Call it vanilla history. It may be myth, it may be history. Who knows? So long as you con the Consensus into calling it history, it is history. You'll have your justice. Revenge is for the deplorables.

  2. The article refers to the question as set in the contemporary time frame with the events. And yet you yourself have many beliefs about history.

    If the Armenian massacres were as presented, the killings of these mass murderers is justified. Dennis Prager explains the nuances very well.

    Murderers must have disincentives.

  3. No, You can NOT use the word "myth" with such cavalier abandon. Just admit your ignorance if you decide to contradict credible assertions. Better to keep silent h let people assume you are a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

  4. What a bunch of ingnorant crock.

  5. No. You cannot use the term "cavalier abandon" with such cavalier abandon. As those of us not hopelessly propagandized know, the line separating myth from history, incredible from credible assertion, is rarely cut-and-dried. So lighten up already.

    1. Tony

      It is true that persecution history is sometimes shrouded, perhaps some aspects at times closer to myth.

      What I have found regarding most critics of such history is that they know nothing at all about what is myth and what is history, yet feel free to stomp on the narrative.

      It seems to me that this is a place that a respectful individual would tread lightly absent significant knowledge on the topic.

      It is easy to find online, for example, thousands of examples of sound-bite critics of the history of every persecution myth. I suspect 99% of these are ignorant of the facts and maybe 1% of these have spent any real time studying the topic.

      Malevolent individuals stomp on such narratives for pleasure, and not with any knowledge of the line that separates myth from history.

      I don't know enough about this particular history to claim professorial knowledge. I do know, and no side disputes this: there was something like 2 million Armenians in Turkey before 1915 and within a couple of years there was something around 100,000 or less. Something happened to them, and I doubt it was a school field trip.

      Come up with some facts contrary to the "myth" of genocide to explain this, else shut up.

    2. For the record, I do not dispute the official account of 1915 Armenian genocide. I do entertain my share of doubt about one or two other "credible" persecution histories. I just find it more than passing interesting that the people with whom I most identify invariably find themselves cast as persecutors in the official accounts, and never as persecuted.

  6. Peace friends.

    For the record, whatever the real history, Judaic "eye for an eye" is allowed in Islam, it is just not as high as emulating God in his Mercy and Forgiveness. So justice and revenge do not have to be exclusive of each other.

    As for the real history, until good manners becomes the default in all of our discourse again, which does not thereby corner us into our self enclosed "Views" as the Buddhist would put it, I don't think we will be able to get anywhere with it.

    1. Yes, we need men of goodwill to rebuild healthy institutions and bridges.

  7. I agree. Goodwill (Metta in Buddhist terms) is an excellent inner state for highly refined manners (Skillful Speech in the same), even as it is good to see them as separate.

    Expecting that we humans can sometimes do the outer alone is Mercifully easier (more human) than having both all of the time. And having the inner without being able to easily keep the outer in place (i.e. one can choose to turn off good manners for certain contexts), is a sign the goodwill is not as sincere, whole hearted and well integrated as is perceived.

    1. Well, we are all fallen so we will never be perfectly integrated. This is also part of goodwill: accepting this reality in all of us.

      I, on the other hand, have my share of turning off the outer....As Solzhenitsyn said, the line of good and evil runs through each one of us.

      And it will always shift back and forth between favoring one side or the other.

  8. Precisely (though the East is not sure about "never", "saint production" is an emphasis for the Orthodox as well).

    So an emphasis on good manners as distinct from any moral injunctions or judgements (more on the spectrum of good/bad taste) is truly a great Mercy. A chance to take the time to reflect on Signs from God, about what our dustmote detection equipment is precisely saying about our beam.