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Book Review: The Relocations of the Armenians and the Realities, 1914-1918

Asst. Prof. Dr. Sedat LAÇİNER*
Armenian Studies, Issue 2, June-July-August 2001

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Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Press, 2001. 106 pp.+XXXII. Bibliography, footnotes, tables, copies of the archival documents. ISBN: 975-16-1431-7.
The Institute for Armenian Studies / Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar? Enstitüsü, Ankara, Turkey

This timely book examines a highly thorny issue: the relocation (tehcir) of the Ottoman Armenians during the First World War. The subject of the book is 'political' and as mentioned problematical; while the Armenian academicians in general argue that the Ottoman forces massacred the Armenian subjects of the Empire, many Turkish historians claim the reverse. Although the most useful materials to find out the realities are the Ottoman archive documents, most of the studies, which are used in the current debates, are based on the emotional memories and the journalistic papers. Considered this, Prof. Yusuf Halaço?lu's book is vital for the Armenian studies, as the book is mainly based on documents of the Ottoman and Russian State archives. The author, who is the head of the History Association, also provides photographs of the original copies of the documents he used at the end of his book.

Prof. Halaço?lu accepts in his Preface that he does not agree with the Armenian arguments yet he also says that he made extreme efforts in his book to provide a real and impartial picture of the relocation of the Armenians in 1915.

The book is divided into two main parts. First, it gives the historical background of the Armenians under the Turkish rule in the Introduction chapter focusing on the Selçuklu and Ottoman Armenians until the First World War. The author gives the population figures of the Armenians under the Turkish rule in the various years and cities. For Halaço?lu, the Muslims were the dominant group and the Armenians were not majority in any Anatolian town in these years although they enjoyed generous religious, social and political tolerance, which was a direct result of the Ottoman political system. Prof. Halaço?lu says that when the Ottomans expanded their territories they recognised the Armenians as one of the main religious-ethnic groups (millet) of the Empire and Fatih Sultan Mehmet encouraged the founding of the Armenian (Orthodox) Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul). Halaço?lu further continues that the Ottoman government, thanks to the European and American missionary activities among the Ottoman Armenians, had to recognise the Armenian Catholic (1831) and Protestant Churches (1859) with the Western and Russian pressure.

In the first chapter Halaço?lu challenges the general Armenian argument by saying that the main reason of the Armenian problem was the European powers' Ottoman policy rather than the Ottomans' Armenian policies. The author further says that the European powers with Russia aimed to disintegrate the Ottoman State and they used 'the Armenian card' in order to weaken the Ottomans. The weakness of this part of the book is that some statements are so strong and the Armenian activities in the Ottoman territories in the pre-First World War need to be more detailed. Nevertheless, the chapter provides a very handy analysis of the Armenian separatist movement against the Ottoman State before and during the World War I. The chapter furthermore focuses on the Van and Adana uprisings and the foreigners' role in these revolts. Halaço?lu particularly details the structure and aims of the revolutionary and armed Armenian organisations, like Black Cross Association, which he likens it to Clu Clux Clan, American racist organisation. The author in this part presents almost all the archival documents (like Emniyet-i Umumiye, ?ifre Kalemi documents etc.) concerning the anti Ottoman activities of the Armenian groups. For the author, these documents prove that the Armenian nationalists were heavily armed and they largely used the terrorist methods against their state. It must be noted that the author's all these arguments are also supported by the Russian State Archive' Political Section documents in the book.

Having showed that the armed terrorism carried out by the Armenian armed bands and secret societies, which were encouraged and actively supported by Russia, France, Germany and Britain, Prof. Halaço?lu argues that the relocation of the Armenians should be seen as legitimate self-defence to which every nation is entitled, because the Armenians betrayed the Ottoman armies on the Caucasus front in First World War and assisted the Russian occupation of the Ottoman provinces of Kars, Van and Erzurum.

The weight of the book is on the lengthy second chapter. This chapter mainly deals with Ottoman deportation decision of the Armenians from the areas closest to the theatre of war. The author accepts that the resettlement was painful for the Armenians under the war circumstances. Yet, although displacing hundred thousands of people and resettling them was not an easy task for any of the states at that time, Halaço?lu claims that the Ottoman state took all the necessary measures (like advance planning of the routes and staging areas, the use of trains to transport the bulk of deportees, wide use of railway stations as dispatch centres, assignment medical personnel and security officers to the departing parties etc.) to protect the Armenian civilians. The study accepts, despite of all these measures, moving Armenian groups occasionally came under attack from the gangs and vengeful people (Kurdish and Turkish), and unfortunately about 10.000 Armenians were massacred during the journey. Not only the revenge and gang attacks targeted the Armenian deportees, but also contagious diseases and bad weather conditions struck the Armenians. Halaço?lu says that the Ottoman government cannot be blamed for the serious loss of life as he uncovers the details of the governmental measures to prevent undesired attacks and loss of life. The author then continues that the Ottoman archives apparently showed that 'with the end of the war, the decree permitting the return of deportees permitting the return of deportees was issued, orphaned Armenian children kept by Muslims were turned over to an Armenian commission, the returnees received state rations for a while, committees were set up to investigate complaints and identify those who have mistreated the Armenians, their property were returned to those who came back, travel expenses of the returnees were met, they were exempted from certain taxes and their belongings kept safe at public offices were returned'. According to the author, all these measures prove that the Ottoman government had no intention to subject Armenian citizens to genocide. He furthermore provides the Chiphe Office and Directorate of general Security secret documents and continues as 'all these archives do not contain even a single article that might be regarded as suggesting an intention of massacre or genocide' and ' all these Ottoman documents show that re-location was closely monitored by many foreign diplomats, observers and correspondents of the international press organisations'.

The real significance of this study lies in its contribution on finding the real number of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire before the re-location decision and the real figures of the deported and killed Armenians during the relocation. Halaço?lu challenges many authors' figures here. He first compares the number of Armenians in the places they left and in those they arrived, then he, by using the Foreign and Interior Ministry's documents, claims that the number of the Armenians resettled in the southern provinces totalled 438,758 and those reaching the resettlement areas was 382,148. That is to say, the book finds the difference between those who set out and those who reached their new homes as 56,610. For the study the difference stems from the events in Erzurum, Erzincan, Urfa, Dersim, Aleppo and Mardin provinces where about 20,000 people were killed by the bandits. The book also documents that some others starved to death on the road while about 30,000 died because of diseases like dysentery or typhoid.

In summary, Yusuf Halaço?lu concludes his study by arguing that the Armenians were forced to emigrate because they had joined the ranks of the enemy, and the Ottoman government had no intention to kill any of the Armenians but to keep them away from the war zone as a security measure. Some of them, like many Turkish and Kurdish people, died because of the deadly diseases and the bandits attacks, and the security forces could not defend some of them under the war circumstances and about 56,610 Armenians unfortunately died.

As a final word, it can be said that, this book will be a useful introduction to anyone who wants to learn realities about the Armenian problem, and it will also provide new archival documents, which cannot be ignored by anyone studying Armenian and Turkish studies. The format of the study is extremely consistent which makes it very easy to use. It is very focused, thought-provoking study supported by a wealth of original data, clearly illustrated with tables and copy of the archival documents. My only reservation concerning the book is that it should have given more details on the situation after the Armenian resettlement in the Anatolian provinces. I was also disappointed with that the book cannot give details of the Russian and British policies regarding the Ottoman Armenians. Needles to say, the author does not have unlimited space to go into great detail, nevertheless, it can be said that he succeeds in giving a reliable picture of the Armenian problem and in providing new first-hand sources on relocation during the First World War.

See Richard G. Hovanissian (ed.), Remembrance and Denial, The Case of the Armenian Genocide, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999). Salahi Sonyel, The Great War and the Tragedy of Anatolia, Turks and Armenians in the Maelstrom of Major Powers, (Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Printing House, 2000); Mim Kemal Öke, The Armenian Question, 1914-1923, (Oxford: University Printing House, 1988); Türkkaya Ataöv (ed.), The Armenians in the Late Ottoman Period, (Ankara: Turkish Historical Society, 2001); Kamuran Gürün, The Armenian File: The Myth of Innocence Exposed, (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1985); Bilal N. ?im?ir, The Genesis of the Armenian Question, (Ankara: Turkish Historical Society, 1985).

* -
- Armenian Studies, Issue 2, June-July-August 2001
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