Issue 116

Books

Toxic Topic: Documents Expose First Genocide Of The 20th Century

DESPITE evidence to the contrary, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses to acknowledge that the Ottomans engaged in a meticulously planned massacre of their Christian citizens in 1915. On April 24, 2021, Joe Biden became the first sitting president to formally recognize the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians along with 750,000 Greeks and 300,000 Assyrians. That followed Resolution 296 which the U.S. Congress passed in 2019 decrying the Turkish “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.”

I came upon proof of genocide on a visit to the majestic city of Isfahan in Iran. The impressive Vank Cathedral occupies a large part of prime real estate in the Armenian Quarter. Attached to the cathedral is the two-story Vank Museum that contains a prominent exhibit of the Turkish Muslim campaign to exterminate its 2500-year-old Armenian Christian community. I was shocked to see on display telegrams (fortunately, with added English translation) from the Ottoman minister of the interior Talaat Pasha planning the genocide of the Armenians. One of the cables directed the governor of Aleppo to put an end to the existence of the Armenian people. The cable stated that the government “has decided to exterminate the entire population of Armenians in Turkey…Children, women and the sick are not to be spared.”

Among the recent spate of books exploring this toxic topic of the Armenian annihilation, which preceded Hitler’s Holocaust to exterminate the Jews of Europe:

Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide (Princeton University Press, 532 pages, $39.95) by Hans-Lukas Kieser. In his meticulously written account, Kieser, a professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia and the University of Zurich, Switzerland, shows how Talaat “designed the scheme of an almost total removal of Armenian fellow citizens from Asia Minor and European Turkey to death camps in the Syrian desert.” In 1916 more than 200,000 were massacred or burned alive.

Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide (Oxford University Press, 288 pages, $32.50) by Joseph Yacoub, emeritus professor at the Catholic University of Lyon, whose own family was murdered and dispersed, documents the systematic massacre and ethnic cleansing stirred up by pan-Islamism and religious fanaticism perpetrated by the Young Turks and Ottoman authorities against the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac peoples in Turkey, Iran and Iraq from 1915 to 1918, same time as the Armenian genocide. The British and French press publicized the atrocity, and Frederic Masson of the Academie Francaise appealed for help: “A people small in their ruins yet immense in the glories they claim and remember, the Chaldean people have almost entirely perished without Europe being moved to indignation and without anybody taking any interest.”

Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide (Oxford University Press, 393 pages, $29.95) by Vicken Cheterian, lecturer at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland. He points out that “the Turkish government had never denied that the Armenians had suffered during the First World War; the issue was whether or not the Ottoman Armenians had been subject to a planned extermination campaign, something the Turkish authorities refused to accept.” He says that the Armenian genocide of 1915 is unique in Ottoman history as this was the first occasion in which the authorities had decided to destroy an entire social group. Alongside the killings and deportations, the Ottoman authorities abducted women and children and converted them to Islam. They kidnapped young girls, branded them with tattoos and forced them to serve the harems of army officers or tribal chieftains. Cheterian concludes that he doesn’t think the Turkish government will denounce the crimes against humanity committed by the founders of the Republic, nor will they take any steps to correct the historic injustice in the near future. “Turkey is not ready for it.” His last words: “But I know that in the future Turkey will recognize the genocide, and it will be a beautiful country.”

The Thirty-Year Genocide (Harvard University Press, 672 pages, $35) covers Turkey’s destruction of its Christian minorities in three waves of murderous violence from 1894 to 1924. A prime aim of the Ottoman participation with Germany in World War One was the “de-infidelization” of its Christian population. They described their victims as a “cancer, microbes or scum.”  Islam played a cardinal role throughout the process. The Great Powers did not interfere and the victims did not resist. The perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing were never held responsible for their crimes. This was not lost on the German Nazis who subsequently launched the Holocaust (Greek for “conflagration”) while the world, as expected, looked the other way. Hitler referenced the annihilation of the Armenians when envisioning the destruction of Europe’s “lesser” peoples. An excellent book on the subject, from Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, professors in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

What Have Jews Done For You Lately?

Norman Lebrecht, a London-based writer who appears regularly in the Wall Street Journal, reveals the remarkable contributions Jews have made in modern times.  He is intrigued that a people, who number such an insignificant part of the world, have achieved significant innovations in the sciences and the arts and every aspect of society.  

Jews make up 0.2 percent of the word population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates, and 31 percent of the medical laureates. Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 51 percent of the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize winners and 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors. A Jewish average IQ of 115 is 40 percent higher than the global average IQ of 79.1.

Mark Twain in the 19th century also took note and concluded that the Jews “are peculiarly and conspicuously the world’s intellectual aristocracy.” Lebrecht lays out the evidence in Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847 to 1947 (Scribner, 459 pages, $30).