Battling Media Falsehood (2)

21 May 2015

On May 1 the Kingston Whig-Standard (Ontario, Canada) published a denialist article by Queen's University teacher Louis A. Delvoie.

Armenian readers sent letters to the newspaper challenging Delvoie's facts. The newspaper published three of the letters. Delvoie replied with a brief and pointless rebuttal. The newspaper also published a letter from a Turk who is an official in a Canadian Turkish association. Below is the Kingston Whig-Standard correspondence.

21 May 2015

On May 1 the Kingston Whig-Standard (Ontario, Canada) published a denialist article by Queen's University teacher Louis A. Delvoie.

Armenian readers sent letters to the newspaper challenging Delvoie's facts. The newspaper published three of the letters. Delvoie replied with a brief and pointless rebuttal. The newspaper also published a letter from a Turk who is an official in a Canadian Turkish association. Below is the Kingston Whig-Standard correspondence.

Canada, Turkey and the Armenians

Louis A. Delvoie

The Harper government has once again made statements commemorating the so-called "Armenian genocide" of 1915, in this the centenary of the events concerned. It has done so over the strong objections of the Turkish government. This move is at one and the same time unwarranted, unwelcome and unwise.

The Harper government was elected (by 39% of the electorate) to govern Canada. It was not put into office to interpret the history of foreign countries. Yet that is precisely what it has done in this case. And one may legitimately ask to what extent the government is qualified to pass such judgments. Most of its members are career politicians, country lawyers, small businessmen or used car dealers. It is highly doubtful that there is even one member of the cabinet who can claim to be an expert on the history of the Middle East. And yet they do not hesitate to blunder into territory where most professional historians fear to tread. In so doing, they submit to political pressure from the Armenian-Canadian community, but are guilty of poor history and worse foreign policy.

It is sometimes best to go back to basics on questions of this sort. And the most basic issue in this case is the definition of genocide. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines genocide as the "deliberate extermination of a race, nation." From this definition arises one initial finding. If the government of the Ottoman Empire was bent on the deliberate extermination of the Armenian people, it was certainly not very successful in the endeavour. There are today millions of Armenians living in Armenia, in the Middle East, in Europe and in North America. They are certainly not an extinct people.

What happened to the Armenians in Turkey in 1915 is certainly not a simple or very edifying story. At the time, the Ottoman Empire was engaged in a life and death struggle in the midst of the First World War. To its southeast, it was confronted by a British army advancing from Mesopotamia. To its southwest, it had to deal with an expeditionary force of some 200,000 British and French troops who had landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. To the northeast, the Ottomans were experiencing a number of defeats at the hands of the advancing forces of the Russian Empire. All of this was enough to produce extreme nervousness in Ottoman ruling circles.

In 1915, the greatest threat to the survival of the Ottoman Empire was the advancing Russian army. In the course of its campaign, the Russians enjoyed the support of Armenian nationalist movements both in Russia and in Turkey. These movements saw the war as an opportunity to advance the cause of an independent Armenia. Some Armenian volunteer units actually served in the Russian army. Under these circumstances, it is perhaps not astonishing that the Ottoman authorities came to view the Armenian minority within their territory as a potential fifth column that might assist the Russians as they moved forward into Ottoman lands.

The Ottoman government decided to try to eliminate this potential threat by ordering the forced evacuation of Armenians from eastern and southern Anatolia. (In its intent, this move was comparable to the Canadian government's decision to remove all persons of Japanese descent from the coastal areas of British Columbia during the Second World War.) Unfortunately for the Armenians, the operation went terribly wrong. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported towards Syria. A combination of the inhospitable terrain, disease and starvation took its toll on the refugees and countless thousands died. Other Armenians were deliberately killed by Turkish soldiers or by irregular auxiliaries. All in all, it was a truly appalling episode in the history of the 20th century. But was it genocide?

Canada's most distinguished historian of the modern Middle East, the late professor William Cleveland of Simon Fraser University, concluded his treatment of the subject in these terms: "It would be pointless to enter the debate that rages today between members of the Armenian community in Europe and the United States, who accuse the Ottomans of genocide, and the Turkish government, which insists that the excesses have been overemphasized. Any episode in which as many as one million civilians may have lost their lives is an appalling one, whether it is calculated or the unintended result of internal security measures."

And as is so often the case, it is well to remember that this is not a simple story of good guys and bad guys. The Armenians were not entirely innocent in this case. Not only did some of them actively collaborate with the Russians against the Ottomans, but some of them were also guilty of excesses. In his history of the Middle East, Prof. Glenn Perry of Indiana State University points out that: "In turn, Armenians organized to massacre Turks whenever they had the upper hand, as during the Russian occupation of northeast Anatolia. Thousands of Turks, fearing the Armenians, died of hunger or cold as they fled their homes in the face of Russian advances."

There is a curious dichotomy in all of this. On the one hand, eminently qualified historians who have examined the historical evidence are not prepared to use the word "genocide" to describe the events of 1915. On the other hand, members of the Canadian government who know next to nothing about the subject do not hesitate to do so. In the process, they are giving offence to the Turkish government and the Turkish people. Successive Turkish governments have maintained that it is up to historians, not foreign politicians, to interpret this episode in their history. In this they are quite right.

There appears to be a reluctance on the part of Canadian politicians to put themselves in the shoes of other people. One can only imagine how outraged Canadians would be if the Dutch or Norwegian governments were to issue statements condemning Canada for the Chinese poll tax or for the ill treatment of native children in the residential school system. Americans would be similarly outraged if the Italian or Greek governments were to make statements condemning the institution of slavery or racial discrimination in the United States. Viewed from this perspective, Canadian ministers should take on board two injunctions: "Mind your own damn business" and "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Unfortunately, Canadian politicians are all too prone to succumb to the demands of ethnic lobby groups in the hope of securing their support at the next election. In this case, they are doing so while paying scant attention to Canada's relations with Turkey, a country of ever-increasing political and economic importance on the world stage. This is a mistake.

Louis A. Delvoie is a Fellow in the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen's University.

Letters by Armenian readers (published)

Letters to the editor, May 4

Column on Armenian history off the mark

Re: "Canada, Turkey and the Armenians," May 1.

In an astonishing feat of intellectual bunk, Louis A. Delvoie practises evasions, distortions, obfuscations, and false equivalences in his column. Delvoie excoriates Stephen Harper's government for its decision to recognize the Armenian genocide. He brands it as "unwarranted, unwelcome and unwise," and proceeds to insult most politicians by calling them "career politicians, country lawyers, small businessmen or used car dealers." He could justifiably have insulted himself and fellow-academics who become "experts" by using casuistry to deflect and deceive.

Delvoie contends that Harper's government was "not put into office to interpret the history of foreign cultures." He fails to recognize that every major political, military, and economic decision by a powerful country — such as Britain, France, Russia, Germany, China, the United States, Israel, etc — has been governed by its own peculiar interpretation of "foreign cultures." Moreover, Canada's recognition of the Armenian genocide is a moral judgment based on historical fact and motivated by a concern for decency and justice — and not by a concern for political or economic expediency.

Delvoie quotes The Concise Oxford Dictionary, whose definition of the term, he concludes, shows that there was no Armenian genocide because there are surviving Armenians.

Then, like an uninspired lecturer, he proceeds with an incredibly condensed and skewed history of the Ottoman Empire and its dealings with Armenians, blithely ignoring the massive historical documents to the contrary. He mentions only two North American professors who would justify his position, but omits the eminent Turkish historian Taner Akcam, as well as all the missionary, consular, and newspaper reports of the era that ineradicably establish the fact of genocide.

No history is ever a story of simply good guys and bad guys. You don't need to have been an ambassador, high commissioner, assistant deputy minister, or adjunct professor (as Delvoie evidently has been) to know this. But to be a real historian you should know the facts of what you are arguing and not seek to make false equivalences — such as drawing a parallel between the Canadian government's persecution and relocation of the Japanese during the Second World War and the Turkish "relocation" of Armenians to the killing desert of Deirr ez-Zor (rightly called the Auschwitz for Armenians).

Delvoie ultimately fails to see himself as a member of an intellectual lobby group — the historical denialists who create a second "genocide" by denying the original one. By a stroke of accidental irony, he gives his game away in his penultimate sentence in which he describes Turkey as "a country of ever-increasing political and economic importance on the world stage." The inference is clear: governments should cut their cloth to fit the robes decreed by foreign governments on the grounds of politics and economics. And for this, Delvoie is a Fellow at Queen's University? Shame!

Keith Garebian, (PhD, 1973, Queen's University), Mississauga

Columnist insults Conservative government, parliamentians

Re: "Canada, Turkey and the Armenians," May 1.

Louis A. Delvoie's Johnny-come-lately column denouncing Canada's recognition of the Armenian Genocide is misleading and devoid of substance. Since one can fill a small library with books by historians confirming that Ottoman Turkey committed genocide against its unarmed and innocent Armenian minority, I will address Delvoie's insults to the Harper government and to our parliament.

He bizarrely says that because the federal Conservatives won only 39% of the votes, they have no authority to pass judgment on foreign policy issues. This is a new one to me and to Canadian and to people living in democratic countries. Delvoie is blandly saying that the government has no authority to make any decision because it doesn't have 51% of the votes.

He writes that the Harper government was not put into office to interpret the history of foreign countries. In acknowledging the veracity of the Armenian genocide the government was not interpreting history. It was only stating a fact that has been acknowledged by the overwhelming majority of international historians, France, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, the European Parliament, Pope Francis, Quebec, Ontario, B.C., 43 American states and others. Incidentally, to give Delvoie the benefit of a doubt, I would direct him to the International Association of Genocide Scholars — the ultimate authority on the topic — which has repeatedly asserted that Ottoman Turkey committed genocide. The association even wrote (twice) to President Recep Erdogan of Turkey urging him not to deny the truth.

Delvoie also insults our parliamentarians by saying, in effect, that they don't know anything about history because they are "country lawyers, small businessmen and used car dealers." The attitude is pure Ottawa mandarin and ivory tower arrogance.

He also risks his credibility by writing "it's highly doubtful that there is even one member of the cabinet who can claim to be an expert on the history of the Middle East." How does he know? This is rhetoric shot in the dark.

I am not surprised by his anti-Armenian bias. One of the negative characteristics of Muslim governments is that they put too much weight to religion in foreign policy issues. Thus in any international conflict involving a Muslim and non-Muslim state, they automatically gang up, as if by reflex action, against the non-Muslim nation. The Arab/Israeli conflict is a good example of this. Justice and truth be damned: religious affiliation is all. Thus, Muslim Turkey good, Christian Armenians bad is the byword in the Muslim world. Delvoie, who has been ambassador to a number of Muslim nations and has special interest in the Arab/Israeli conflict and the Gulf states. This close association to the Muslim world seems to have infected him with the same bias.

Finally, he sounds desperate when he writes: "the so-called 'Armenian genocide'…" His English teacher must have taught him that if you write 'so-called', you don't put quotes around Armenian genocide.

It's called redundant. But then again, his column is redundant.

Jerry Tuntunjian

Toronto

Letters to the editor, May 9

Opinion piece disappointing

Re: "Canada, Turkey and the Armenians," May 1.

As a resident of Kingston, it gave me great sadness to read an opinion piece by Louis A. Delvoie.

Most historians, including the International Association of Genocide Scholars, recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915.

If anyone remains unconvinced about whether the word genocide applies in this historical setting, I urge them to refer to statements made by Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word genocide. Lemkin based the word in part based on the Armenian massacres of 1915.

Dr. Francis B. Panosyan, Kingston

Letters by Armenian readers (unpublished)

Re: Mr. Louis A. Delvoie’s Opinion piece published in your May 1, 2015 edition, entitled “Canada, Turkey and the Armenians.” 

I will not deal with the many insults and sinister innuendoes Mr. Delvoie makes nor with the “poor history” he himself is guilty of. Let me focus only on the “basics.”

He gives us a concise definition of genocide taken from the Concise Oxford Dictionary.  But it is far too concise. No doubt he is aware of the 1948 Genocide Convention which Canada has ratified. In Article Two the Convention states that:

genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Extensive documentation exists in North American and European archives demonstrating that Turkish authorities committed all of the above, deliberately and on a massive scale. So in response to Mr. Delvoie’s question, “But was it genocide?” the answer is YES.  The events from 1915 to 1923 were unarguably a genocide.

Nowhere does the Genocide Convention definition of genocide nor any other definition state that genocide occurs only when the victim group has been totally wiped out. Yet, because Turkey was unsuccessful in annihilating the Armenian people, because some Armenians survived, because they rebuilt community life wherever they found refuge after the Genocide, and because they are not “extinct,” Mr. Delvoie makes the insinuation that this tragedy cannot be classified as genocide.  If anything, this paragraph reveals a cynicism and malevolence that I have found primarily among the most callous deniers.  Surely it is time for Mr. Delvoie to take his own advice, so arrogantly bestowed on others: “Mind your own damn business.”

Yours sincerely

Isabel Kaprielian, PhD

Emerita Professor of History

*****

Dear editor of The Kingston Whig-Standard,

Louis Delvoie word by word has become the mouthpiece of the Turkish Embassy in Canada. Turkey has been mounting a tremendous PR campaign  to be unleashed on this centennial commemoration of the Armenian genocide. Despite this campaign, to Turkey's dismay its allies during the WWI, Germany with the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey and Austria have recognized the Armenian genocide. With their archives full of testimonials now open for access after the legal period of 100 years, they had no ground to stand on but to ask Turkey to look back at its history. Similarly the Vatican's archive were made accessible full of testimonials and the Pope Francis II has issued a call to the heads of state and  world institutions to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Vahe Balabanian

*****

I am shocked with this writer's insensitivity and ignorance. That he has served so many important posts in his career makes me wonder whether he heard the Pope's or the German or Austrian governments' declarations or that of the other 22 governments which have accepted the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.

Allow me to tell him what my father told me when I was young; how he witnessed his father and mother being axed by Ottoman soldiers as he peeked  from under a tent that children were kept under on their way to the Syrian desert. My father had never lied to me. I believe him and the other thousands of Armenian victims who have been telling the same stories over and over in the past 100 years. Armenian revolutionaries never killed Turks, except for self-defense. Furthermore, Turkey was far more powerful than the few Armenian revolutionaries who lacked any ability to resist the powerful Turkish army.
 
Mr. Delvoie,

You must be very naïve to think that killing 1,5 million out of 2 to 2.5 million Armenians living in Ottoman Turkey equates to saying Turkey did not want to wipe the Armenian race from the face of the earth, forgetting  what the their leader Talaat Pasha declared openly at that time. 
 
Please realise that Armenians have no reason, other than the genocide, to be antagonistic towards Turkey and accuse Turks who persistently deny that their ancestors–the Ottomans– killed my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins that I never had the opportunity to see..

I really don't know how you could have achieved your prestigious status and yet be unable to discover a historic truth such as the Armenian genocide. Be honest and tell us if you are paid by Turkey or are related to Turks. I have to say "shame on you"..

 H. Kavazanjian, M.D

Mr. Steve Serviss

Managing Editor

Kingston Whig-Standard

*****

Dear Mr. Serviss,

I just read the article by Mr. Louis A. Delvoie, titled “Canada, Turkey and the Armenians”, in your May 1, 2015 issue. Mr. Delvoie has a distinguished career in the Foreign Service and he should indeed be knowledgeable on the subject of the Armenian Genocide, however, in this article, unfortunately, he has made numerous omissions and inaccurate statements.

Mr. Delvoie compares the Canadian government’s decision to remove all persons of Japanese descent from the coastal areas of B.C. to the death marches of the Armenians from the “eastern and southern Anatolia”. This is not correct. Tens of thousands of Armenians from western towns of Bursa, Izmit, Adapazari, Kutahya and from several other locations, were also put to death marches. Those cities were some 1000 kms away from the eastern front of the Ottoman Empire.

Before the death marches started the Ottoman government conscripted all the young Armenian men to the army, leaving their families in the villages and towns unprotected. Once in the army, the conscripts were promptly killed outside their army barracks. If this was just going to be an “evacuation”, why kill the able men first by bringing them into the army? Isn’t this fact alone proof that the Ottoman government had the intent to eliminate the entire Armenian population from Anatolia?

Again before the death marches began, the government opened the doors of its prisons and formed a “Special Forces” (of criminals) called “Teshkilati Mahsusa” to do the killings. Again if there was no intent, why were those Special Forces formed?

At the coastal towns of eastern Black Sea, thousands of Armenians were put on barges and boats and once far away from the shore were tied together and thrown into the water to die. What kind of an “evacuation” would you categorize these events as?

Mr. Delvoie boldly states that “eminently qualified historians are not prepared to use the word ‘genocide’ to describe the events of 1915”. Well, let us list some organizations and persons who are very qualified in the subject of Genocide, that do call it a Genocide:

1) The Association of Genocide Scholars, with hundreds of members, amongst them distinguished Holocaust scholars Elie Wiesel, Yehuda Bauer, Israel Charney, on May 16, 1998, unanimously called it a genocide, in writing.

2) International Centre for Transitional Justice Report dated, February 10, 2003, called it a genocide.

3) Mr. Raphael Lemkin, the person who coined the term Genocide, in 1946 and in 1948, while describing the word, called “whatever happened to the Armenians in 1915, a Genocide”

4) Prominent Turkish historians Prof. Taner Akcam, Prof. Halil Berktay are calling it a Genocide.

5) Pope Francis, on April 12, 2015, called it “the first Genocide of the 20th Century”, and 

6) Last but not least, Hasan Camal, a prominent Turkish journalist, who is the grandson of Camal Pasha, is calling it a Genocide and has written a book about it. Camal Pasha together with Enver and Talat Pashas, was part of the top triumvirate who decided to annihilate the entire population of the Armenians in Anatolia.

You can see Mr. Hasan Camal’s as well as other prominent Turkish intellectual’s messages from last week, on April 24, 2015, on the centennial of the Genocide, in an 8-minute video, at the following link : 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=17&v=GmnnsDUY_B

 

The Canadian Parliament, on April 21, 2004, boldly condemned the Armenian Genocide and called it a crime against humanity. In subsequent years our Prime Minister Right Honourable Stephen Harper reaffirmed the same. As the son of an Armenian Genocide orphan, I am very thankful. 

Sincerely,

Mig Migirdicyan

Toronto

Letter from a Turkish reader

Letters to the editor, May 5

Politicians are not historians

Re: "Canada, Turkey and the Armenians," May 2.

Thank you for publishing Louis A. Delvoie's column.

Obviously, Delvoie is one of the few free souls who can tell his audience and readers about the Canadian and international issues as they are. He has tremendous knowledge of political and historical events on those issues.

It is unfortunate that the Armenian Diaspora's political power and influence transforms some politicians into fake historians. By believing one-sided stories of the Diaspora, these politicians think that they have the knowledge and authority to give the Armenians a stamp of approval.

It is very sad indeed when the Canadian government and elected representatives of our country try to rewrite the history of faraway lands and sacrifice historical accuracy for political gain.

Bora Hincer, Kingston

[he is past president of The Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations and active denialist]

Delvoie's reply to Armenian readers

Letters to the editor, May 6

different views should be respected

Re: "Columnist insults Conservative government, Parliamentarians" and "Column on Armenian history off the mark," May 4.

You received and published two letters highly critical of my recent column on the Harper government's decision to make statements concerning the so-called "Armenian genocide." Needless to say, I deeply respect the right of these gentlemen to hold and to express the views they do. I would hope that they equally respect my right to hold and express somewhat different views.

Unfortunately, both letter writers resort to that weakest form of argument, the ad hominen attack.

One writer accuses me of being pro-Muslim and anti-Christian. While I practise no particular religion, I hold in the highest regard most of the tenets of most of the world's major religions. I am neither pro nor anti any of them.

The other writer accuses me of being "a member of an intellectual lobby group — the historical denialists." What this means exactly, I am not entirely sure. What I can say with certitude is that I belong to no lobby group of any kind.

In writing these columns (for which I receive no payment), I am simply trying to carry forward the mission statement of the old Canadian Institute of International Affairs: to help promote in Canada an informed debate on foreign policy and international relations. My hope is that the debate can be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect.

Louis A. Delvoie, Kingston

1 comment
  1. Delvoie’s Fabrications

    It's unprofessional of the Whig Standard to publish Delvoie's second letter in response to the letters from Armenians and not to publish the many letters sent to the newspaper in response to Delvoie's second misinformed letter.

    I understand that Mr. Garebian also wrote to the editor and requested equal time. That is, write an article of equal length as proper rebuttal to Delvoie's column. Mr. Garebian didn't receive a reply.

    Hayorti
     

Comments are closed.

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