The Armenian Genocide is widely acknowledged outside Turkey to have been one of the first modern, systematic genocides, as many Western sources point to the sheer scale of the death toll as evidence for a systematic, organized plan to eliminate the Armenians.
The Republic of Turkey does not accept that the Ottoman authorities attempted to exterminate the Armenian people. Turkey acknowledges that during World War I many Armenians died, but counters that Turks died as well, and that massacres were committed on both sides as a result of inter-ethnic violence and the wider conflict of World War I. The denial of an Armenian Genocide is often criticized by genocide scholars and historians, in particular as a crucial symbolic and ideological process which follows every genocide after it has taken place which is intended to desensitize and to make possible the emergence of new forms of genocidal violence to peoples in the future.
Turkey uses exclusively the definition established by United Nations. Turkey adhered to the Genocide Convention in 1950, after two years United Nations General Assembly voted in 1948. Turkish sources state: "the measures adopted regarding the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia was merely a replacement in another region within the Empire for security reasons". Turkish sources using Ottoman historical documents "on the other hand, the Party of Union and Progress came to power embracing the Armenians, and never developed an anti-Armenian doctrine even if Union and Progress turned to Turkism in time." It is also historically evident that the Union and Progress was responsive to the needs, and desires of the Armenians citizens and they passed Armenian reform package. They also say, there is great amount of historical data exits to support "within the conditions of the day Ottoman parliament adopted the “Tehcir Law” (27 May 1915), the reasons for the taking of this decision, which was contemplated as provisional were: The Armenians living at regions near the war zones hinder the movements of the Turkish armed forces; harden the logistical support to the soldiers; share the same goals and collaborate with the enemy; attack the troops and innocent civilians within the country’s boundaries; and show the fortified regions to the enemy forces.". The Turkish sources claim "intent of the process" (deportation or relocation) was written in the law. They also claim there was vast amounts of evidence which supports Ottoman Empire acted according to what the written law stated and legislated according to conditions. In support, Ottoman Archives are open to public and Turkish historians published five volumes of Ottoman Security dispatches between 1914-1918 related to Ottoman Armenian insurgent activities, as "Arşiv Belgeleriyle Ermeni Faaliyetleri 1914-1918" Vol I Vol II Vol III Vol IV Vol V .
The convention includes two qualifications for a genocide to have taken place. For the crime of genocide to have taken place there must the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [a protected group]". The qualifications are important under international law and have been clarified by the judgements of the ICTY and the International Court of Justice. Under the convention the courts have adopted the common law principle that both actus reus (guilty act) and mens rea (guilty mind) must be present for genocide to have been committed. This was highlighted by Alphons Orie in hist summary judgement of the ICTY Momcilo Krajisnik case. The summary judgement explains that:
The Krajisnik case made it clear that as the Genocide Convention specifically includes "intent to destroy", in whole or in part, a protected group, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect intended (or was part of a criminal conspiracy that intended) to destroy the group, and that this is different from crimes against humanity where there does not have to be intent to destroy a group, just an action that kills many people. This is why Krajisnik was found guilty of multiple instances of participation in crimes against humanity across Bosnia but not participating in a general Bosnian genocide. When other alleged genocides are debated, it is not enough to show that crimes against humanity were committed, because there must be intent to destroy a a substantial part of the targeted group. It can be very difficult years or even decades after the event to prove the intent mens rea (intent) component of genocide even if there is ample evidence that crimes against humanity were committed that fulfil the actus reus (the destruction of the group requirement). This may be because the decision to commit genocide was not well documented at the time, or that given the odium attached to genocide that the perpetrators of a genocide, or their descendants, have destroyed any paper trail that could prove genocide. This means that determining if a genocide took place in the past is often a matter of judgement based on incomplete information about the intent of the perpetrators and whether they intended to commit genocide.
Agreement among scholars on whether a genocide took place is further complicated because not all scholars use the the Genocide Convention as a definition of what constitutes genocide (see genocide definitions), which was a point raised by Rosalyn Higgins the President of Bosnian Genocide Case at the International Court of Justice at a post trial press interview. She noted that while there was substantial evidence of events in Bosnia may have amounted to war crimes or crimes against humanity, the ICJ had no jurisdiction to make findings in that regard, because the case dealt "exclusively with genocide in a limited legal sense and not in the broader sense sometimes given to this term.
Turkish historians have conceptual problems with a "Broad Genocide of Armenians" which is presented as; "(a)The Turks invaded Armenia and seized its land. (b)They applied a systematic massacre against Armenians since the 1877-1878 war. (c)They resorted to a plan against Armenians from 1915 onward [extending 1922] Regarding this definition of "Armenian Genocide" Turkish sources claim that "...[the sources who use this definition] has never hesitated to go to such extremes as ... [removed the middle section which included claims not linked to issue] to make the claims of genocide against Armenians heard and their demands known [but impossible to respond]..." The roots of "broader sense" form of genocide definition lies in the unresolved conflict paradigm, this definition of genocide "remain in the clash of interest in the past and the present". If the Armenian Genocide begins with the events after 1877-1878 war, these events are more comprehensible if one looks with the concept of rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire.
From the "Ottoman perspective", the term "denial of realities" applies to "conclusions" that are blind-sighted in the interpretation process, such as considering only one side of the casualties (Christian: Armenian, Greek, etc) while ignoring the other side (Muslim: Kurds, Azeris, etc). An example of this ignorance can be seen in the use of chethes (irregular units) being the origin of trouble for the Armenian population (long history of Kurdish-Armenian relations). The assumption that the Kurdish chetes were under Ottoman control was presented as a "denial of realities." In truth, they say, a civil war (waged by irregulars on both sides) took place, rather than a planned annihilation. There are "recent studies", which used to fall into the "denial" category, that present lack of monolithic political system or non unity between Three pashas. The assumption is questioned that during this time the Committee of Union and Progress was a monolithic political system or united political front performing empire level activities. The unity or power of the Three pashas, which were presented as organizers of the annihiltion of 1.5 million Armenians, is also questioned. The same arguments, presented in the rest of the article, extend to many other positions, such as covert operations of Russo-British intelligence services, the use of the Memoirs of Naim Bey, etc. It is claimed that the "late response", "lack of communication" between the sides, the important part of the Armenian Archives, Ottoman Archives, even the third parties archives being classified were the source of problematic use of the word "denial."
From the "Armenian perspective" use proffers an alternative account of the events, the inevitable norm of education in Turkey is a defense of this account. Thus, by virtue of merely being educated in Turkey, an unawareness of any tenable alternative viewpoint may cause a Turkish national to be accused of "denying" something she or he has never had an opportunity to know in the first place. Turkish state revisionism is further helped by the fact that, as a result of the alphabet reform of 1928 (which changed the Turkish script from an Arabic alphabet to a Latin-based alphabet) the vast majority of Turks are unable to read Ottoman-period newspapers, letters, or diaries.
Only in the 1980s did the controversy become public through the work of Kamuran Gürün. Other Turkish institutions followed Gürün. The basic thesis of genocide was only then tested by gathering and organizing the decades-old records and data on the conflict and its casualties. Also at this time, political and military analysis of the crisis began. Since the initial exposure, academic analysis has proceeded to find the underlying conditions of the Empire and the Armenians, with the aim of understanding history to prepare for the future, rather than preserving national pride.
In April 1915, shortly after the Van resistance, an Armenian government was proclaimed in Van, the Administration for Western Armenia. Following these events, April 25 was the onset of the Allied campaign to drive towards the Ottoman capitol (see Battle of Gallipoli). The day before Battle of Gallipoli, Talat Pasha took a decision on April 24 1915 with the internal codes given by the archive code BOA. DH. ŞFR, nr.52/96,97,98. Talat Pasha ordered the governors of the Ottoman Empire to (a) arrest the members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Hentchak and other groups involved with the Armenian national liberation movement, (b) collect documents from party houses and (c) destroy all arms seized in the process. Beginning April 24, there were Armenian notables deported from the Ottoman capital in 1915. The Ottoman Empire wanted to destroy the Armenian resistance and the Turkish authorities today hold the position that the deaths incurred by Armenians as a whole were the result of the turmoil of World War I and that the Ottoman Empire was fighting against Russia, Armenian volunteer units, and the Armenian militia. The Turkish authorities further assert that claims of massacre which ignore the actions of the Armenian resistance movements, are not established historical fact, and therefore grounds for denial that an Armenian Genocide ever took place.
Furthermore, they contend that there was a political movement towards creating a "Republic of Armenia". The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the Balkanization process were in the same period, and may obfuscate the actual events.
They note that in 1915 there was only one railway that connects west-east and that the path of what it considers relocation was not a conspiracy to exterminate Armenians. Turkish authorities strongly reject claims that the locations of the camps which are mentioned in some sources are a result of a conspiracy to bury Armenians in deserts. Deir ez-Zor is a district along the Euphrates and one of the unique places far away from any military activity; thus, Deir ez-Zor's selection as a burying site in a deserted location is rejected. They attribute the graves in these areas to difficulties of traveling under very hard conditions. The conditions of these camps reflected the condition of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire was facing the Gallipoli landings in the west, and the Caucasus Campaign in the east.
Regarding the "process of relocation" under the Tehcir Law, arguments disputing the similarities to the ethnic cleansing (Holocaust) are as follows: (a) there is no record of (neither from origination archives nor from destination archives in Syria) an effort to develop a systematic process and efficient means of killing, (b) there are no lists or other methods for tracing the Armenian population to assemble and kill as many people as possible, (c) there was no resource allocation to exterminate Armenians (biological, chemical warfare allocations), and the use of morphine as a mass extermination agent is not accepted; in fact, there was a constant increase in food and support expenses and these efforts continued after the end of deportations, (d) there is no record of Armenians in forced deportations being treated as prisoners, (e) the claims regarding prisoners apply only to the leaders of the Armenian militia, but did not extend to ethnic profiling; the size of the security force needed to develop these claims was beyond the power of the Ottoman Empire during 1915, (f) there is no record of prisons designed or built to match the claims of a Holocaust, (g) there were no public speeches organized by the central government targeting Armenians.
The Turkish authorities present two positions regarding on this issue:
The Turkish authorities maintain the position that the Ottoman Empire did not exercise the degree of control which the opposing parties claim. Turkey accepts that there were Armenian deaths as a result of Ottoman decisions, but states that the responsible Ottoman bureaucrats and military personnel were tried. Bernard Lewis believes that what he names the "tremendous massacres" were not "a deliberate preconceived decision of the Ottoman government. The Dutch historian Erik Zürcher believes that the reported killings during the application of Tehcir law were ordered not by the Ottoman government itself, but only a small circle. He supported his claims, in particular, with the trials held by court martial involving several hundred soldiers guilty of massacres, as early as 1916. Zürcher believes that the killings are properly likened to the Srebrenica massacres rather than the Holocaust.
Based on studies of the Ottoman census by Justin McCarthy and on contemporary estimates, it is said that far fewer than 1.5 million Armenians lived in the relevant areas before the war. Estimates of deaths are thus lowered, ranging from 600,000 to 200,000 between 1914 and the Armistice of Mudros. In addition, it is said that these deaths are not all related to the deportations, nor should they all be attributed to the Ottoman authorities.
Yusuf Halacoglu, president the Turkish Historical Society (TTK), presented even lower figures of Armenian casualties. He estimates that with the deportations (excluding inter-ethnic violence) total of 56,000 Armenians perished during the period due to war conditions, and less than 10,000 were actually killed. This study is still absent from Turkish foreign affairs publications.
The plight of Ottoman Muslims throughout the 19th and 20th centuries is also mentioned. According to the historian Mark Mazower, Turkey resents the fact that the West is ignorant of the fate of millions of Muslims expelled from the Balkans and Russia, and would consider any apology towards Armenians as a confirmation of the anti-Turkish sentiment held by Western powers for centuries. Mazower recognizes a genocide of the Armenians, but he notes "Even today, no connection is made between the genocide of the Armenians and Muslim civilian losses: the millions of Muslims expelled from the Balkans and the Russian Empire through the long 19th century remain part of Europe's own forgotten past. Indeed, the official Turkish response is invariably to remind critics of this fact — an unconvincing justification for genocide, to be sure, but an expression of underlying resentment".
Regarding the famine and starvation arguments; Turkish authorities acknowledges that many Armenians died, but says Muslim millet (Turks) of the Empire died too. The most horrible cases, which happened to occur around the region that is currently Syria (part of Ottoman Empire until end of war), was covered in a detailed article (the whole of Greater Syria, and thus including Akkar) by Linda Schatkowski Schilcher. This study lists what she views as eight basic factors, contributing to as many as 500,000 deaths of the Syrians in the 1915-1918 period: (a) The Entente powers' total blockage of the Syrian coast; (b) the inadequacy of the Ottoman supply strategy; deficient harvest and inclement weather; (c) diversion of supplies from Syria as a consequence of the Arab revolt; (d) the speculative frenzy of a number of unscrupulous local grain merchants; the callousness of German military official in Syria, and systematic hoarding by the population at large.
In general, beginning with World War I every situation of the Empire got worse every year, as most of the able man being in the front lines. Signing of the Armistice of Mudros by the Ottoman Empire was related with the breakdown of the public support under very bad conditions.
In 2005 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invited Turkish, Armenian and international historians to form a commission to reevaluate the events of 1915 by using archives in Turkey, Armenia and other countries. Armenian president Robert Kocharian responded, "It is the responsibility of governments to develop bilateral relations and we do not have the right to delegate that responsibility to historians. That is why we have proposed and propose again that, without pre-conditions, we establish normal relations between our two countries."
As a scholarly study area, the field is highly divided, as the camps on both sides of this issue approach it very strongly.
Every original document of the Tehcir Law is open. The Ottoman Archives were taken over by the Governmental Archives Directorate of the Prime Ministry. The Ottoman Archives have been researched by many historians. Besides the research made by thousands of historians, these documents were translated into English and published in order to enlighten the public.
Turkish authorities point out that without doing a triangulation, even if the facts were reported correctly, the conclusions drawn can be false. It is also possible to look at secondary sources in the Ottoman Archives of the period such as budget, allocations, decisions/reasons of requests. There are also personal records such as Mehmed Talat Pasha's personal notes. They also point out the general attitude (Sick man of Europe) of the time and how it deforms perceptions. They state that the conclusions reached toward genocide are highly biased.
Some very "central" (most cited) sources are actively questioned on the basis that they do not include a single reference from the Ottoman Archives, mainly occupying forces' sources of the period (British, French) on the basis of their Intelligence (information gathering) issues. There are concerns that these sources may promote propaganda.
Enver Zia Karal (Ankara University), Salahi R. Sonyel (British historian and public activist), Ismail Binark (Director of Ottoman archives, Ankara), Sinasi Orel (director of a much publicized project on declassifying documents on Ottoman Armenians), Kamuran Gurun (former diplomat), Mim Kemal Oke, Justin McCarthy, and others have told that the "Blue Book" (The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916) by James Bryce and Arnold J. Toynbee lacks credibility.
Reverse engineering of activities aimed to provide evidence without covering opposing reasoning, such as "Map of Genocide", contain factual problems according to these historians. In this map, the methodology developed, related to "Centers of Massacre and Deportation" and adding data from three different sources (the data in these sources are also aggregate data), is questionable. This map is used as a source of validation among Western scholars.
They argue that there was a secret arrangement which can be traced through mismatches on orders and distributions of the forced deportations. There are many periphery-to-center transmissions on how to deal with emerging issues, such as allocating more than 10% of the destination population and its consequences to the local economy.
Colin Tatz, Professor of Macquarie University, considers the nature of Turkish denial industry as "pernicious, outrageous and continued": "Here is a modern state, totally dedicated, at home and abroad, to extraordinary actions to have every hint or mention of an Armenian genocide removed, contradicted, explained, countered, justified, mitigated, rationalised, trivialised and relativised. In their book Criminological Perspectives, E. McLaughlin, J. Muncie and G. Hughes conclude: "If the Turkish government can deny that the Armenian genocide happened; if revisionist historians and neo-Nazis deny that Holocaust took place; if powerful states all around the world today can systematically deny the systematic violations of human rights they are carrying out - then we know that we're in bad shape".
In 1990, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton received a letter from the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, questioning his inclusion of references to the Armenian Genocide in one of his books. The ambassador inadvertently included a draft of a letter, presented by scholar Heath Lowry, advising the ambassador on how to prevent mention of the Armenian Genocide in scholarly works. Lowry was later named to a chair at Princeton University, which had been endowed with a $750,000 grant from the Republic of Turkey. The incident has been the subject of numerous reports as to ethics in scholarship.
Another source marks: "In order to institutionalize this campaign of denial and try to invest it with an aura of legitimacy, a "think-tank" was established in Ankara in April 2001. Operating under the name "Institute for Armenian Research" as a subsidiary of The Center For Eurasian Studies, with a staff of nine, this new outfit is now proactively engaged in contesting all claims of genocide by organizing a series of conferences, lectures, and interviews, and above all, through the medium of publications, including a quarterly".
Since the 1980s, the Turkish government has supported the establishment of "institutes" affiliated with respected universities, whose apparent purpose is to further research on Turkish history and culture, but which also tend to act in ways that further denial.
The Armenian genocide is a contemporary current issue, given the persistent aggressive denial of the crime by the Turkish government-not withstanding its own judgment in courts martial after the first World War, that its leading ministers had deliberately planned and carried out the annihilation of Armenians, with the participation of many regional administrators.
According to American scolars Roger W. Smith, Eric Markusen and Robert Jay Lifton,
The government of Turkey has channeled funds into a supposedly objective research institute in the United States, which in turn paid the salary of a historian who served that government in its campaign to discredit scholarship on the Armenian genocide.
When it comes to the historical reality of the Armenian genocide, there is no “Armenian” or “Turkish” side of the “question,” any more than there is a “Jewish” or a “German” side of the historical reality of the Holocaust: There is a scientific side, and an unscientific side acknowledgment or denial. In the case of the denial of the Armenian genocide, it is even founded on a massive effort of falsification, distortion, cleansing of archives, and direct threats initiated or supported by the Turkish state, making any “dialogue” with Turkish deniers highly problematic.
Philip L. Kohl and Clare Fawcett write that the "Armenian cultural remains in neighboring Turkey are frequently dismissed or referred to as "Ottoman period" monuments", and that the continued denial of the state-sponsored genocide is "related to these practices".
According to Taner Akcam, Turkey "tried to erase the traces of a recent past that had become undesirable" through a series of reforms, so the collective memory "was replaced by an official history written by a few authorised academics, which became the sole recognised reference. Events prior to 1928 and the writings of past generations became a closed book.
In November 1993 American historian Bernard Lewis said in an interview that "the reality of the Armenian genocide results from nothing more than the imagination of the Armenian people." In 1995 the French court interpreted his remarks as a denial of the Armenian Genocide and fined him one franc, and the publication of court verdict at Lewis' cost in Le Monde. The court ruled that while Lewis has the right to his views, they did damage to a third party and that "it is only by hiding elements which go against his thesis that the defendant was able to state that there was no 'serious proof' of the Armenian Genocide; consequently, he failed in his duties of objectivity and prudence by expressing himself without qualification on such a sensitive subject."