Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Connections between American politics and the Armenian condition in the middle east/caucasus

Special for the Armenian Weekly
Billions of dollars grease the machinery of American electoral politics as the 2016 election season heats up. Promises will be made and broken. Hope will flutter and flounder. Voters will feel valuable in a courtship constructed by the 1%. And for the first time, our next president could be female, Latino, or thick with braggadocio.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the first Democratic debate in October 2015. (Photo: CNN video screen shot)
As a modest but influential voting bloc, particularly in densely populated states and districts, Armenian Americans and their supporters pride themselves on embracing positions of nuance and principle despite the harsh tendrils of realpolitik.

Armenian-Americans demand Armenian Genocide recognition during a protest.
To echo Harout Sassounian’s June 2015 piecein the Armenian Weekly, the promise of Armenian Genocide recognition should no longer serve as a litmus test for presidential endorsements. For decades aplenty, American politicians have wooed Armenian voters and financiers with empty promises to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Sassounian presents seven core “issues of significance” to evaluate as alternative barometers for directing support. He also suggests another strategy: Sit this election out “to avoid being misled by false promises” and later favor elected officials who promote these core Armenian issues.
Sitting out the 2016 presidential election would disempower voters in America and stakeholders the world over who are Armenian or care about core Armenian issues. Instead, the following points on corruption, human rights, and international affairs offer a fresh perspective on how to consider the impact of American left-leaning progressivism upon Armenian issues and how that impact should galvanize support from our community during the 2016 presidential election and beyond.

Reigning in Corruption: Oligarchs in Armenia and America
One of the primary distinguishing philosophies between Democratic and Republican politics is the matter of government regulation at the federal level.
Democrats espouse regulation to limit private sector corruption that withers the middle class. Remember the subprime mortgage crisis? Republicans seek to reduce federal governmental regulations and gut government spending (not the military, but entitlement programs like Medicare), arguing instead that America’s robust private sector will garner economic prosperity for Americans. Though America’s inception emerged from a revolutionary spirit opposing bureaucratic heavy-handedness, one must recognize the private sector’s ultimate interest in profit juxtaposed against the public sector’s ultimate interest in social welfare. The two interests may not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but the overlap is nominal. An honest assessment of Wall Street, K Street, and Main Street leaves one facing the stark reality of corporate America’s sheer power and the government’s limited capacity to tame that strength. Nevertheless, America has and can set an example to the rest of the world of what a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” should look like.
In this case, no example for just governance is more critical than the one that must be set for Armenia. The Armenian government’s culture of corruption has produced fraudulent elections, environmental catastrophes, the destruction of the middle class, bureaucratic largesse, and racist and sexist ideologies permeating society. One parallel in modern America involves Republican Governor Rick Snyder (R) of Michigan who looked the other way as citizens in Flint drank lead-contaminated water for months despite a $575 million budgetary surplus and ample warnings that something was awry in the city’s piping.
With a new administration forthcoming, America must encourage Armenia’s government towards a “better way” that loosens the shackles of regional governing practices. From big bank bailouts to Citizens United to the NRA’s destructive stranglehold on America’s public health, the United States teeters on the edge of oligarchy, if it has not fallen into the abyss already, and no amount of deregulation will promulgate the reforms necessary to reignite America’s middle class and the spirit of representative government. The United States must set an example by restoring integrity in the rule of law before a new wave of criminal millionaires and billionaires produce the next global financial crisis.

Human Rights: Minorities in Armenia and Turkey, and the American Left’s Civil Rights Record
America’s left has advocated domestic and international human rights causes from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement to healthcare reform and beyond. Armenia’s need for leadership and support in human rights causes are manifold.

Thousands gathered in Taksim Square on April 24, 2015, to commemorate the Armenian Genocide (Photo: Nanore Barsoumian)
First, the state of minority groups within Turkey demands attention. This includes Armenians, Kurds, and others contending against an authoritarianism that permeates the region and heightens the palpable legacy and continuation of genocide. Indeed, it is in the political left of Turkey where Armenian activists and their sympathizers have found a voice to achieve unprecedented gains in confronting the deep and profound discrimination codified by the Turkish state.
Second, Armenia’s government must address the suffering of its own minority groups. Activists fighting to protect diversity in religion, political belief, economic policy, and sexual orientation in Armenia must not exist in a vacuum. Their cause correlates with a universal pan-progressivism present in all societies that promotes rule of law, environmental sustainability, and middle class development.
The (American) Republican Party’s rhetoric has underscored a troubling ideology: America for the Americans. This simplistic identity formulation, coupled with anti-immigration sentiments, promotes intolerance and erodes the tendencies that helped Armenians prosper in multicultural societies.
We must reject discrimination and recognize that the fight for civil rights around the world directly overlaps with left-leaning, progressive politics in the United States.

Hawks or Doves: The Republican Party’s Propensity for War and the Further Destabilization of the Middle East, Armenia
War and diplomacy offer tools to address the same issue: existential threats.
War harnesses military resources to kill enemies, destroy their infrastructure, and demoralize their will to fight. The military also employs humanitarian and coalition development strategies, though these do not represent its raison d’ĂȘtre.

Donald Trump at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention on Jan. 16. (Photo:
Diplomacy functions to manage international relations around the world by working with friends and foes alike to resolve conflicts, strike deals, and promote values without force.
Though Democrats and Republicans utilize both of these tools, Republicans trumpet America’s military might and threaten devastating military incursions against enemies. Leading candidates for the GOP’s nomination have already showcased this trademark posture. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) threatened to “carpet bomb” Islamic militants to see if “sand can glow in the dark,” while Donald Trump said he would “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.”
Democrats emphasize diplomatic resolutions to conflict before resorting to military force. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton led the charge in restoring America’s standing in the world after George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, while Bernie Sanders has voted against most American foreign military interventions during his 26 years in Congress.
Increased American military engagement in today’s fragile world will destabilize the Middle East, its Armenian communities, and the Republic of Armenia itself. Since the 1970’s, wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria have forced hundreds of thousands of Armenians to dismantle their homes and communities and start anew elsewhere. Today, the Armenians of Aleppo, Syria, are facing some of the harshest consequences of the Syrian Civil War. Should the United States engage Syria with the same heavy-handed approach with which it engaged Iraq, the consequences would be devastating. No amount of carpet bombing or Rumsfeldian conquests will solve the Rubik’s cube of Syria. Instead, look no further than the historic developments with Cuba and Iran to appreciate the seismic shifts possible through diplomacy.

An Aleppo street in ruins
It is hard to conceive of a true and lasting peace in the Middle East, but we cannot hope for better days with the specter of further American military intervention. The Syrian Civil War has brought tens of thousands of Syrian Armenians to an Armenia that has welcomed the new population with open arms and limited economic opportunity—a stark reminder of the nation’s fragile economy and virtually non-existent middle class. Armenia’s corrupt, oligarchical system offers a difficult environment for Syrian Armenians to grow their businesses. Instead, Armenia must focus on resolving the corrosive culture that has stymied its economy and society to reduce brain drain and recruit businesses, students, expats, repats, and new immigrants. Moreover, enhanced American military intervention in the Middle East will stoke Russian aggression, further destabilizing the Middle East, South Caucasus, and Eastern Europe.
Democratic tendencies to put comprehensive diplomacy before war will ultimately serve the best interest of Armenians in the Middle East, the Armenian Republic, and stakeholders throughout the global diaspora.
Reigning in corruption, protecting human rights, and emphasizing diplomacy over war represent three major touchstones in the American left that will benefit the sustainability of Armenia’s nationhood and diasporan communities. As a small but influential bloc of voters and stakeholders, Armenians in America and stakeholders the world over should lean left and help ensure America’s next president champions core values of progressivism.

Talaat’s Personal Account of The Armenian Massacres

In my last week’s column, I reported that Talaat Pasha, the mastermind of the Armenian Genocide, had told British intelligence officer Aubrey Herbert in 1921 that he had written “a memorandum on the Armenian massacres.”
I would like now to present brief excerpts from Talaat’s lengthy account published in the November 1921 issue of Current History, the monthly magazine of The New York Times, titled: “Posthumous Memoirs of Talaat Pasha,” and subtitled: “The former Grand Vizier’s own account, written shortly before his assassination, of why and how Turkey entered the war — Secret alliance that preceded the conflict — Causes of the Armenian massacres as stated by the man who ordered them.”
In an introductory note, Current History editors explain how they obtained a copy of this revealing report: “…After Talaat’s death, the manuscript passed into the possession of his wife, who remained in Germany; she has not yet published the whole of it, but after the acquittal of her husband’s assassin she permitted the Paris correspondent of Vakit, a liberal Turkish newspaper published in Constantinople, to reproduce the most interesting portions of it. These have been translated from Turkish for Current History by M. Zekeria, a native of Constantinople. They represent about fifty pages of the original manuscript, the opening sentence of which, ‘I do not tell all the truth, but all I tell is truth,’ aroused a great sensation in Turkey.”
In his memoirs, as in his interview with Aubrey Herbert, Talaat tries to exonerate himself by blaming everyone else — Armenians, Russians, even Turks — for the Armenian massacres. He does not deny “the deportations of the Armenians, in some localities of the Greeks, and in Syria of some of the Arabs,” but claims that such reports “were exceedingly exaggerated.” Talaat then adds: “in saying this, I do not mean to deny the facts. I desire only to eliminate the exaggerations and to relate the facts as they occurred.”
The former Grand Vizier confesses: “I admit that we deported many Armenians from our eastern provinces, but we never acted in this matter upon a previously prepared scheme. The responsibility for these acts falls first of all upon the deported people themselves. Russia, in order to lay hand on our eastern provinces, had armed and equipped the Armenian inhabitants of this district, and had organized strong Armenian bandit forces in the said area.”
Attempting to repair his tarnished image, Talaat acknowledges the Turkish brutalities against Armenians: “I admit also that the deportation was not carried out lawfully everywhere. In some places unlawful acts were committed…. Some of the officials abused their authority, and in many places people took preventive measures into their own hands and innocent people were molested. I confess it.”
Continuing his face-saving rhetoric, Talaat concedes: “I confess, also, that the duty of the Government was to prevent these abuses and atrocities or at least to hunt down and punish their perpetrators severely. In many places, where the property and goods of the deported people were looted, and the Armenians molested, we did arrest those who were responsible and punished them according to the law. I confess, however, that we ought to have acted more sternly, opened up a general investigation for the purpose of finding out all the promoters and looters and punished them severely. But we could not do that. Although we punished many of the guilty, most of them were untouched.”
Talaat proceeds to provide excuses for not pursuing perpetrators of the Armenian massacres who “were short-sighted, fanatic, and yet sincere in their belief. The public encouraged them, and they had general approval behind them. They were numerous and strong. Their open and immediate punishment would have aroused great discontent among the people, who favored their acts. An endeavor to arrest and to punish all these promoters would have created anarchy in Anatolia at a time when we greatly needed unity.”
To set the record straight, Talaat’s claims that Armenians stabbed Turkey in the back during WWI are completely false. Minister of War Enver Pasha, Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman Armed Forces, in a letter to the Bishop of Konya, praised the bravery of Turkish-Armenian soldiers fighting against the Russian Army in the winter of 1914-1915.
Ironically, Talaat’s assertion that his government would have taken brutal actions against Armenians even at “a time of peace,” reconfirms long-standing Turkish genocidal practices as previously demonstrated by the Hamidian and Adana massacres of Armenians which were carried out when there were no wars.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Turkish Academic Supports Probes, Urges for Moderation

Turkish novelist and academic, Orhan Pamuk. (Source: AA Photo)
Turkish novelist and academic, Orhan Pamuk. (Source: AA Photo)
ISTANBUL (Hurriyet Daily News) — Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has said that recent investigations and detentions of academics who signed a petition calling for an end to security operations in southeast Turkey did not suit Turkey.
“Twisting their arms, calling them traitors and pledging payback does not suit Turkey and the wealth that Turkey comes from,” Pamuk said during a TV program on CNN Turk on February 2, adding no one would benefit from those incidents.
Pamuk called the petition “faulty” but said its general philosophy was “peace and goodness.”
“I am against those austerities. Let us soften a little bit. There is an austerity coming from the top of the state,” Pamuk said, calling for moderation.
Recently, an academic from Ataturk University in the eastern province of Erzurum who was released with an international ban after detainment, was dismissed from his post on February 3.
Academic Ramazan Kurt, who worked in the department of philosophy and history of philosophy, was detained at his house on January 14 and accused of “terror propaganda,” “incitement to hatred or defaming people” and “defaming the state’s judicial bodies.”
After the court’s decision of rejection of venue, the investigation file was sent to Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
“Many other academics despite me have abandoned all their academic works and had to struggle with their own problems. I had no idea that I was dismissed on January 11; I have still been teaching at the faculty. I found out that I was dismissed when I couldn’t log in to my university e-mail account and university automation system” Kurt said.
Universities and prosecutor’s offices across Turkey have launched investigations into many of the 1,128 local and international academics and intellectuals who signed the petition titled “We Will not be a Party to this Crime,” arguing that the petition went beyond the limit of academic freedom.
Many national and international organizations have reacted to the detentions and investigations in strong statements.
All those detained in the probe have since been released but they still face investigation and an eventual trial, while some academics were removed from their posts or suspended with administrative decisions.

Turkey Falsifies Historical Facts Around Tigran Honents Church of Ani

Tigran Honents Church of Ani. (Source: Massis Post)
Tigran Honents Church of Ani. (Source: Massis Post)
YEREVAN (Armenpress) — Gyumri’s National Park-Museum of Sculpture expressed concern over Tigran Honents Church of Ani stating that the policy of Turkey about the falsification of historical facts and incomplete reconstruction of the mentioned church thrusts a wedge into the culture and friendship of neighboring countries. In order to combat distortion of history website started a petition.
The organization called on the Turkish Ministry of Culture, UNESCO, UN and the European Heritage Convention Committee to get focused on such policy of Turkey.
In its call the organization writes:
“Being historically Armenian capital and residence for various nations, Ani remains an Armenian landscape, which is documented in historical information and our present lithography. The 17 frescoes of the church contain images that depict the torments of the first patriarch and the founder of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Gregory the Illuminator, that are the vivid proves of the church’s national and religious belonging. Announcing that Ani is a historic area of cultural diversity, Turkey deviates the international community from our main demands; and thus creates an environment of cancelling them. But we are particularly concerned by the fact, that while being reconstructed, the church has been proclaimed as Chalcedonic and thus this is escalating disputes and conflicts in Georgian – Armenian age-old friendship. We demand from the Turkish responsible institutions of the sector that they:
-avoid proclamations about the historical belongings of the church
-add “Armenian Christian church” name into the sign put nearby the church
-finish and not to abridge the church dome construction and announce the process and objectives for further work.
-avoid escalating cultural conflicts between Armenia and Georgia. The issue has received wide public attention because of the sign installed nearby the church that presents the church as Georgian Chalcedonic.
We are confident that our Georgian brothers have a friendly approach to this issue and are ready for reinstating historic justice that can be reached through professional and public debate and dialogue. We live in a region where any problem can be solved through dialogue if we just face them.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Genocidaire Talaat’s Last Interview Shortly Before his Assassination

Aubrey Herbert, British diplomat, adventurer, intelligence officer, and Member of Parliament, conducted a rare interview with Talaat Pasha, in February 1921, just days before his assassination in Berlin by Soghomon Tehlirian.
As all-powerful Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, its despotic ruler and mastermind of the Armenian Genocide, Talaat had fled Turkey in November 1918 to avoid prosecution by the new regime. The 23-page interview with Talaat was published in 1924 (London) and 1925 (New York) in Herbert’s memoirs titled, “Ben Kendim: A Record of Eastern Travel.”
Herbert first met Talaat in 1908 while stationed at the British Embassy in Constantinople (Istanbul). Eleven years later, Herbert received an unexpected letter from Talaat seeking a meeting with him “in any neutral country.” Desperately seeking to rehabilitate his diabolical image in the West, Talaat claimed that “he was not responsible for the Armenian massacres, that he could prove it, and that he was anxious to do so.” Herbert turned down Talaat’s request telling him: “I was very glad to hear that it was not he who was responsible for the Armenian massacres, but that I did not think any useful purpose could be served by our meeting at that time.”
However, Herbert reversed his decision in February 1921, after Sir Basil Thomson, Director of British Intelligence, ordered him to leave immediately for Germany and meet Talaat. The secret rendezvous took place on February 26, in the small German town of Hamm.
Talaat told Herbert again that “he himself had always been against the attempted extermination of the Armenians.” More incredibly, Talaat claimed that “he had twice protested against this policy, but had been overruled, he said, by the Germans.”
Forgetting his own claims of innocence in the massacres, Talaat justified the mass killings by accusing Armenians of stabbing his country in the back during the war. Contradicting himself again, Talaat declared his support for Armenians by claiming that “he was in favor of granting autonomy to minorities in the most extended form, and would gladly consider any proposition that was made to him.”
Talaat then switched the blame to the British for the Armenian killings: “You English cannot divest yourselves of responsibility in this matter. We Young Turks practically offered Turkey to you, and you refused us. One undoubted consequence has been the ruin of Christian minorities, whom your Prime Minister has insisted on treating as your allies. If the Greeks and Armenians are your allies when we are at war with you, you cannot expect our Turkish Government to treat them as friends.”
Herbert and Talaat then decided to move to Dusseldorf, Germany, where they continued their discreet conversation for two more days. Herbert reported Talaat’s paradoxical attempt to cover up his role in the Armenian Genocide, while justifying this heinous crime. Talaat stated that “he had written a memorandum on the Armenian massacres which he was very anxious that British statesmen should read. Early in the war, in 1915, the Armenians had organized an army, and had attacked the Turks, who were then fighting the Russians. Three Armenian deputies had taken an active part; the alleged massacres of Moslems had taken place, accompanied by atrocities on women and children. He had twice opposed enforced migration, and he had been the author of an inquiry which resulted in the execution of a number of guilty Kurds and Turks.”
Ironically, Talaat boldly told Herbert that he was not afraid of being assassinated. “He said that he never thought of it. Why should anyone dislike him? I said that Armenians might very well desire vengeance, after all that had been written about him in the papers. He brushed this aside.” Two weeks later, Talaat was assassinated in Berlin by Soghomon Tehlirian!
Concluding his interview of Talaat, Herbert observed: “He died hated, indeed execrated, as few men have been in their generation. He may have been all that he was painted — I cannot say. I know that he had rare power and attraction. I do not know whether he was responsible or not for the Armenian massacres.”
Only experts of that time period can verify the authenticity and accuracy of this lengthy interview. If true, what exactly were Talaat’s aims in proposing “an Anglo-Turkish alliance” and why was the British government so anxious to talk to him?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Undoing Years of Progress in Turkey - The New York Times

ISTANBUL — Entire towns and districts are under siege. Tanks ram through narrow alleys closed off by barricades and trenches. Residents are trapped indoors for weeks because of curfews. Those who venture outside risk sniper fire. Their bodies lie on the streets for days before they can be collected. Bullets fly in through windows and buildings collapse under shelling, killing those seeking shelter at home.
One of the most affected places is the city of Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district, where I was mayor from 2004 to 2014. Sur has been under 24-hour curfew since the beginning of December. Many of its neighborhoods lie in ruins. Its historic buildings are damaged, once busy shops are shut, hospitals lack staff, and schools are closed. Tens of thousands of people have fled.
Sur’s walls surround an ancient city that has been inhabited for millenniums. Its narrow streets, spacious courtyards and elegant stone structures are reminders of a rich multicultural legacy — a legacy that has survived, albeit in an impoverished state, a century of conflict. Small but increasingly visible communities of Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Yazidis and other minorities live alongside adherents of diverse interpretations of Islam in what is now a predominantly Sunni Kurdish town.
Over the past decade, our municipality worked hard to revive and preserve this heritage. We oversaw the restoration of many historic buildings, including mosques and churches. The reopening of the Surp Giragos Armenian Church, which is now the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, after nearly a century in ruins has encouraged “hidden” survivors in Turkey of the 1915 genocide to rediscover and embrace their heritage. Efforts to restore the old synagogue in memory of Sur’s once vibrant Jewish community were underway before the eruption of violence last summer.
In 2012, Sur’s community leaders established an interfaith dialogue group bringing together representatives of the region’s different religions, cultures and civil society groups. Known as the Council of Forty, it has played a crucial role in keeping sectarian violence from reaching our city. Thanks to its efforts, Sur came to symbolize the vision of peaceful coexistence in a region plagued by intolerance.
It causes me immense grief to see that pluralism fall apart along with Sur’s buildings. Sectarianism is destroying Syria before our very eyes. To avoid the same fate in Turkey, the Council of Forty has called on the government to lift the curfews, and asked all sides to end hostilities and return to peace talks within the framework of parliamentary democracy.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently that military operations in the besieged Kurdish towns would continue until they were “cleansed” of ”terrorists.” “You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” he threatened. But what peace can be built through destruction? Decades of military policies against the Kurds have shown only that violence begets more violence.
Many residents of these towns are poor families who were forced to flee the countryside when the conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state was at its peak in the 1990s. Those who are digging trenches and declaring “self-rule” in Sur and other cities and towns of southeastern Turkey today are mostly Kurdish youths in their teens and 20s who were born into that earlier era of violence, poverty and displacement, and grew up in radicalized ghettos.
Now a new generation will grow up with the trauma of killing, destruction and forced migration. Where will they go? What will become of them? And how will an angrier generation of Kurds and Turks find common ground? The truth is that my generation may be the last to reach a peaceful settlement through dialogue.
Dialogue is possible when those in power want it. Last spring, the two sides were on the verge of a breakthrough after two and a half years of negotiations. The Kurds, when given a real and fair choice, have repeatedly picked politics over violence and opted for coexistence in a democratic Turkey, where their rights and identities are recognized, over separation. But as the destruction goes on, their faith in a political solution withers.
In 2007, Sur became the first municipality in Turkey to offer services in local languages, including Kurdish, Armenian and Assyrian, besides the official Turkish — a move that infuriated the authorities in Ankara, the capital, and led to my removal as mayor. In 2009, months after being re-elected with two-thirds of the vote, I was arrested on charges of separatism. (I was released five months later on health grounds and kept my role as mayor throughout my arrest.)
As I was rounded up along with hundreds of Kurdish activists and elected politicians, my teenage son left our house to join the P.K.K. “You are wasting time with your politics and dialogue,” he told me. I dedicated my life to trying to prove him wrong and bring him home in peace. I have been discouraged before, but never lost hope. Today, I struggle to keep that hope alive.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The European Congresses and the Armenian Genocide

By Christopher J. Walker
Who were Prince Metternich and Viscount Castlereagh, and what part, if any, did they play in shaping the Armenian Genocide?
They were the two men — one an Austrian prince-diplomat, and the other an Anglo-Irish aristocrat — who grabbed Europe by the scruff of its neck as Napoleon was losing in 1814-15, and formed the system of big-power control of nations and movements of European nations, to try to ensure that everything would in future stay unalterably the same, and that no radical upstarts would disturb their vision of static orderliness. The system they created was known as the “Congress System” and it culminated in the Congress of Berlin (1878), which arguably fixed the fate of Armenians both for Sultan Abdul-Hamid’s murderous outbreaks of 1894-6 and for the desolating Genocide of 1915-16. Those two very reactionary gentlemen did all they could to make sure that power resided with a small elite, that matters of state would never be devolved to the people, and that popular voices would not be heard.
But there were problems. Castlereagh (pronounced ‘castle-ray’) committed suicide in 1822, and his English successor, George Canning, though also politically on the right, responded vigorously to the movement for the liberation of Greece from the grip of the Ottoman Turks, and permitted the British fleet under Admiral Codrington to destroy the Turkish navy at Navarino in 1827. This looked like letting power slip out of the empires and into the people. Metternich thought Canning had been converted to liberalism. And after Canning’s death, the Duke of Wellington (another Anglo-Irish landowner, quite out of sympathy with democracy) called the Navarino engagement an “untoward event.” According to Wellington, the Ottoman Empire should have been left exactly as it was. Greece should never have been set free, but left to the iron control of the Turkish Ottomans.
Even earlier, Britain had walked out of the Congress of Verona of 1822, called to justify the entry of French troops into Spain to quell a revolt. Although this might have seemed like the end of the Congress system, the notion that “big powers” could, with their high-handed decisions and secret agreements, order the future of Europe, persisted. Once the “big diplomats” had tasted the sweets and delicacies of control, they were reluctant to give them up.
In the aftermath of the Greek rebellion, relations grew so bad between Russia and Turkey that war broke out between 1828. The war affected the Balkans rather than the Caucasus, but we remember it for Russia’s first capture of Kars, under General Paskievich. At the conclusion of the war, when Russian troops were threatening to march on the Turkish capital, peace was concluded between Russia and Turkey at Adrianople (in September 1829). What is important for us is that no international “Congress” was set up to make any changes to that peace.
Ideological problems also beset the “concert of Europe.” Right at the outset, the northern powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria established a “holy alliance” based on a kind of mystical Christian fundamentalism. Castlereagh, a man who never understood the idea of religious notions entering politics, to his credit dismissed it as “a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense.” But the Holy Alliance had purchase, and its forbidding, far-right posture was seen in action over the next 20 years, especially in Hungary when it dared to revolt.
A big challenge to the super-reactionary forces occurred in 1848, the “year of revolutions” in Europe. The aspirations of ordinary people simply could not be constrained by the creaky croaks of political leaders who wanted everything to stay the same. The people hated the absolute monarchies imposed throughout Europe by reactionary powers, and detested the solutions devised for them by distant bureaucratic empires. They wanted constituent assemblies and some form of representation, they yearned for localism, their local languages and traditions. A wave of popular revolt spread across Europe, against the iron control of the empires, the political sterility, and the Stasi-like surveillance of anything that could be construed as political activity. The revolutions of 1848 were uncoordinated (though inspired by the example of France), and often chaotic; they were largely simple expressions of local discontent, and the heavily armed empires had no difficulty in mobilizing their brutal well-trained troops to crush the popular uprisings.
A few years later the members of the alliance found themselves fighting among themselves — most memorably, Britain and France against Russia in the Crimea in 1853-6. But still the model of the Congress remained, to impose its political will if necessary. The war was concluded by the Congress of Paris, 1856, when Russian aspirations were knocked down by Britain and France, and Russia (for the second time) was forced to evacuate Kars. The Black Sea was neutralized, a position which held until 1870, when Russia decided to dispense with the regulation, and construct a Black Sea fleet. “Congress” remained too valuable a notion to dump, even when the “great powers” were fighting amongst themselves.
And then we had the Congress of Berlin, designed to do little more than curb Russia and increase the diplomatic purchase of Great Britain. Everyone who knows Armenian history of this period will know how Article 16 of the San Stefano treaty, concluded in early 1878 between Ottoman Turkey and Russia, was changed into article 61 of the Berlin Treaty, a change which meant that the administration of Western (Turkish) Armenia was left unreformed, that is, dependent on the non-existent good will of Turkey — whereas if it had been left as it was under the provisions of San Stefano, the reform might have succeeded, since it would have been dependent on the presence of Russian troops. But no significant changes or reforms occurred in Western Armenia, and the misery and discontent grew among the people, culminating in the paranoid outbreaks of killing of Armenians coordinated by the Sultan Abdul Hamid and the armed militia he had created, backed by the military.
If we look at the diplomatic structure of what actually happened, we see the malign influence of the Metternich-Castlereagh pattern. For the San Stefano treaty was perfectly all right on its own terms. It was a natural, local peace treaty, designed to bring to an end hostilities between two empires. But then the rightist, self-important pattern of 1815 heaved into sight. The two powers, Russia and Turkey, were seen as not be trusted to achieve peace between themselves. They were just naughty children, who needed daddy-diplomats to guide them. “We know best” was the tone of the Berlin Congress.
Did they know best? When we look at the hundreds of thousand of Armenians killed in Abdul Hamid’s murderous outbreaks it is hard to say so. These dead were the fruit of international diplomacy by “big powers,” scoffing at the pretensions of local needs, as they determined to impose their power and influence (and financial muscle) across the globe.
The Congress of Berlin was the last of the post 1815 congresses. But the spirit of murderous distrust had been sown among Turks as far as Armenians were concerned, and after 1896 the Turks had seen how they could absolutely and entirely get away with murder without any of their people being convicted in a court of law for mass-killings. So when new ideologies arose after the Young Turk revolution of 1908, seeking a unity of all Turks from Anatolia eastwards, the Turks realized that no one would impede their death-dealing actions towards Armenians. So the events of 1915 unrolled, which we have been commemorating in the centenary year.
Does all this matter now? In a way it does, since, in the new biography of Dr. Henry Kissinger, written by Harvard professor Dr. Niall Ferguson, praise is extended by both the subject and the biographer toward the ‘Congress System’ as an agent of peace. Was the Congress System an agent of peace, or the main diplomatic structure which brought about the Armenian Genocide?
(Christopher J. Walker is a British historian and author. He is the author of several volumes on Armenian history, includingThe Armenians, with David Marshall Lang, Armenia : The Survival of a Nation, and Armenia and Karabakh.)