Sins of the Three Pashas


Edward Luttwak's reviews Ronald Grigor Suny's 'They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else’: A History of the Armenian Genocide, in the LRB:

Turkey is a country small in neither size nor population, yet its rulers have the privilege of being ignored most of the time, no doubt because its language is remarkably little known, considering that for all its Arabic and Persian accretions it’s a most useful entry to the Oghuz Turkic tongues spoken from Moldova to China. This privilege was in evidence when Pope Francis chose in April to define the Armenian deportations, kidnappings, rapes and massacres that started in 1915 as a genocide. The Turkish government prefers fine terminological distinctions: what the pope, every Armenian and a great many others call a genocide should more properly be described as a First World War event involving mass killings (one of many such, down to the present day) and deportations (a wartime necessity given Armenian complicity in Russia’s invasion of North-east Anatolia); but in any case it was an unfortunate event that happened a long time ago, and an exception in Turkey’s fine tradition of tolerance. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu went on the offensive in the Washington Post: ‘I am addressing the pope: those who escaped from the Catholic inquisition in Spain [Sephardic Jews] found peace in our just order in Istanbul and İzmir. We are ready to discuss historical issues, but we will not let people insult our nation through history.’

To pause on the effrontery of citing benevolence to 15th-century Jews at a time when his party and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continually denigrate today’s Jews (he blames ‘the Saturday People’ for Turkey’s high interest rates, and explains modern history as the product of the Üst Akil, the global conspiracy of you-know-who) would be to miss the point entirely: the persecution of the Armenians didn’t start in 1915, and wasn’t a First World War event as per the official Turkish line – there had been massacres of Armenians before then, notably in 1894-96, leaving some fifty thousand orphans. And, more important, the persecution didn’t end with the First World War, but continues to this day. Its current form, aside from occasional non-state violence such as the 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, founding editor of the bilingual magazine Agos (dedicated to reconciliation), is Turkey’s artfully drafted legislation on non-profit trusts and foundations. The lack of a good law on foundations wasn’t one of the Ottoman Empire’s shortcomings; its simple and efficacious Vakf law long persisted unchanged in the successor states including decidedly non-Muslim Greece and Israel (Agudat Ottomani). But the new Turkish state needed something more modern – the text after all was in an Ottoman Turkish that was both Persianised and written in Arabic script – and laws were duly enacted. One such law of 1967 (number 743, or 4721 in the current code), which amended Article 101 of the Turkish civil code, defines foundations in the usual way: charity groups that have the status of a legal entity formed by real persons or legal entities dedicating their private property and rights for public use etc. But then it adds: ‘Formation of a foundation contrary to the characteristics of the republic defined by the constitution, constitutional rules, laws, ethics, national integrity and national interest, or with the aim of supporting a distinctive race or community, is restricted’ [emphasis added] – which actually means that it is forbidden, because there are no provisions for exceptions.

More here.