Commentary Magazine


The Armenian Case

To the Editor:

Marjorie Housepian’s “The Unremembered Genocide” [September] is a soul-searing indictment, both of those who “would rather not get involved” and of those who do not hesitate to do so—for self-gain.

May I suggest, however, that Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is not the “sole literary testament” to this event. My book, The Cross and The Crescent, a historical biography of the 1915 Turkish Armenocide, although not a novel, details the inception and progression of Turkey’s contribution to mankind—genocide. Dedicated to the 1,500,000 Christian martyrs who were slain by the Moslem Turks, it depicts not only the holocaust in Armenia in 1915, but the Communist holocaust which marked the Republic of Armenia as the first victim of Communism in 1920.

Author Housepian might also have mentioned the . . . name of Soghomon Tehlirian, the twenty-five-year-old Armenian patriot who tracked down, found, and executed Talaat Pasha in Berlin in 1921. Talaat, the author of the first genocide of the 20th century, escaped the Allied occupation forces in 1918 and fled to Berlin until his crimes caught up with him. Tehlirian went before a High German Court, and in the ensuing two weeks, all the agony and pathos of the Armenians were brought to light. The accused was acquitted, marking the first time in history that a mass-murderer was judged guilty of “war crimes,” setting a precedent that culminated in Nuremberg. Ironically, as Adolph von Gorton, Tehlirian’s defense attorney, was calling for an international court to try Turkish war criminals, some miles away, another Adolph was penning his Mein Kampf. . . .

President Wilson and the Western powers did not establish the republic of Armenia, as stated in the article. Nor can I agree with the statement that the “establishment of the Republic was a result of genocide, not a cause.” Under the banner of the leading political party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Armenian Volunteer Regiment, composed of survivors and volunteers from all over the world, fought and defeated Wehib Pasha’s 36,000 regulars and thus raised the red, blue, and orange tricolor over Yerevan, establishing the Republic on May 28, 1918—two years before the Sèvres Treaty of 1920. Thirty days after the Treaty was signed on August 10, 1920, the Turks and Soviets attacked the Republic. The combined Kemal-Lenin sneak attack resulted in the Republic’s defeat on December 2, 1920—the first domino to fall. The world failed to challenge Communism’s first violation, or Turkey’s part in it. President Wilson’s call for an American mandate over Armenia had been denied months before and the road to world domination had been opened. The reaction of many so-called Western powers was by no means apathetic; on the contrary, it was quite deliberate. . . .

Lindy V. Avakian
Los Angeles, California

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To the Editor:

May one say thank you for . . . “The Unremembered Genocide”? Maybe the Turks succeeded in “burying their crime in the pit of history” but, at least for me, Marjorie Housepian has succeeded in digging up just one more instance of man’s inhumanity to man. . . .

D. Deitcher
Montreal, Quebec

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To the Editor:

Marjorie Housepian’s article . . . reminded me of an incident from my boyhood. I was about nine or ten and angry as only a boy of nine or ten can be at his father. In a rage, I shouted at him, “You Turk!” It seemed to me the ultimate opprobrium because of what he had told me about the hurt and misery he and his people had known in the old land. Could I hurt him more deeply?

I expected him to turn on me with fury. . . . But instead, he said, quietly, “What’s the matter with the Turks? There are good ones among them too.”

At the time, I could not understand it. But years later, it suddenly came to me, what my father meant. . . .

In the spring of 1964, I traveled from Antiocus deep into the heartland of Turkey just short of the Lake Van regions and back, my father’s words ringing in my ears all the way. To remember is one thing, to forgive is something else entirely. . . .

. . . Ultimately every single man, woman, and child who has been deeply hurt by the kind of mass insanity Miss Housepian depicts in her article must find his way to a personal resolution that permits the giving of such forgiveness. . . .

I have made my way through this intricate process so I can say, “I forgive!” Since I am a writer and have worked the hurt over in the process of creation, reparations have been exacted. . . .

Harry Barba
Department of English
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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To the Editor:

. . . We are living in an age of expediency and fraudulent diplomacy. Terms like “free world,” “captive nations,” etc. etc. are the merest slogans to serve our national purpose . . . and interest. The entire population of Eastern Turkey—Armenia, that is—is massacred, the Turks rule the land, and when the Armenians raise their voices for justice, their cries fall on deaf ears . . ., for keeping Turkey as an ally is held to be the most important consideration. . . .

Your editors are to be congratulated for . . . this reminder of the death of a nation in the civilized 20th century.

(Dr.) Stephen G. Svajian
Brooklyn, New York

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To the Editor:

I fail to see what useful purpose is served by Marjorie Housepian’s rehearsal of the Turkish evils of over a half century ago. She laments the fact that “today there are few who even know that they occurred,” but does not tell us why it would be better for many to know. Had she cited evidence that the old insanities of Turkish nationalism were still alive, that the forces that could lead to genocide were still active, then there might have been some point in alerting us. As it is, her article merely serves to reinforce paranoid tendencies, the fear of threats and dangers which do not in fact exist. The emotional maps of fifty years ago are just as obsolete as the political maps. Let us adjust and live in terms of present-day realities—both in Turkey and in Germany.

John V. Hagopian
Department of English
Harpur College
Binghamton, New York

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To the Editor:

. . . Aside from the reasons presented by Miss Housepian, more recent political considerations have undoubtedly prevented this timeless story from being known, judging, for example, from the fact that official pressure has, on at least two occasions, prevented Franz Werfel’s epic Forty Days of Musa Dagh from being made into a film.

It is plain that even the most “civilized” people have been unwilling to put moral issues above personal interest. . . . COMMENTARY is to be congratulated for bringing this shocking story to light. Opening a window to truth may be chilling to those who have something to hide—but in the long run it promotes international health.

Armine Dikijian
Brooklyn, New York

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To the Editor:

As an American Jew who not long ago spent nearly two years in Turkey, I was particularly interested in Marjorie Housepian’s article. I have no special factual knowledge to contribute to her account of the alleged Turkish atrocities against the Armenians. However, during my stay in Turkey I did come to know many Turks, some of whom are now among my closest friends. In these circumstances, it is difficult to be objective about the grave charges made in this article.

Judging simply from numerous contacts with individual Turks a generation after these atrocities were supposed to have been committed, my only reaction is that the Turks seem so completely normal and human in every way that Miss Housepian’s charges are completely believable. Certainly they are no harder to believe for a Turcophile like myself, than reports that bombs, napalm, and other tokens of endearment are sometimes dropped by American planes on the villages of our South Vietnamese allies in the hope that armed Vietcong, as well as innocent civilians, will be among the victims.

Miss Housepian’s closing note is particularly appropriate in a Jewish magazine. Certainly the Armenians have a right to expect that the world remember the genocide committed against them.

Seymour Smidt
Ithaca, New York

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Miss Housepian writes:

Mr. Avakian’s reference to the Tehlirian case is well taken. His last paragraph, however, deals with postwar political developments that are quite irrelevant to the issue of the 1915 genocide with which I was primarily concerned. His letter does serve to illustrate how easily history can be garbled when clear distinctions are not made; as between the unprovoked exterminations of 1915-16, and the highly complex political aftermath in the Trans-Caucasus in 1918-20. After the war, Armenians who had escaped to Russian soil had an opportunity, at least, to display a measure of resistance against Moslem attacks on that area. These Armenians and their Russian-Armenian brethren attempted to fight for independence only after the Bolsheviks ceded to Turkey the territory on which they had found refuge, and precisely because, after the events of 1915, they felt it would be suicidal to submit to Turkish rule. Recognition of an Armenian State in the Treaty of Sevres (only to be abandoned when the treaty was scrapped) was likewise the direct result of genocide. And since, at the end, countless Armenians assisted in the Communist takeover—in order to prevent the sole remaining province of Erevan from falling into Turkish hands—that episode can hardly be compared to the holocaust of 1915. Mr. Avakian’s zealous anti-Communism has perhaps blurred his vision.

Mr. Hagopian’s bland assertion that whatever forces motivate genocide will never again recur is scarcely reassuring. If he is convinced that the human animal has undergone revolutionary change for the better in fifty—no, twenty years, I suggest the burden of proof is on him. Equally remarkable is his urge to dismiss the past, and his indifference to how the past is recorded. We should be grateful Mr. Hagopian does not teach history.

I’m happy to know Mr. Smidt numbers Turks among his best friends. Despite their failings, some of mine are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

About the Author




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