Ottoman Empire at Baruch College
Published: Sunday, April 29, 2007
Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 02:02
Bruce Fein is a constitutional and international lawyer who was a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration. He is an experienced columnist for The Washington Post and The Washington Times, and has appeared multiple times on CNN and C-Span. He spoke at Baruch College on March 27, regarding the alleged Armenian genocide of 1918 by Ottoman Turks.
Fein began the program by discussing the history of the Ottoman Empire and the legacy of racial tolerance it had towards minorities. Although certain taxes were levied against non-Muslims, the Ottoman Empire had a good human rights record, and in some cases was even a refuge for Christians from civil war in neighboring countries. This much is acknowledged by most scholars. Next, Fein argued against an inaccurate revisionist history. He cited a quote that is often misattributed to Marie Antoinette, and the death of two princes in Richard III as two examples of myths that have become ingrained in the popular consciousness. By repeating these myths, the public at large is done a disservice, and the full implications of an event cannot be reasonably assessed. By referring to the massacres as genocide, we "cheapen" the Holocaust, and do a grave disservice to a real genocide.
A point that Fein made multiple times is that genocide is a systematic "attempt to exterminate a race or people." Given the Ottoman Empire's liberal stance towards minorities, it seems unlikely that such an Empire would lend itself to the perversion of genocide. However, given the far-reaching political implications that genocide would carry, Armenians have a clear motive for portraying the massacres as genocide.
In 1820, when the Greek War was being fought, Armenians sought the support of the West, and sought to provoke Turks into fighting a war for independence. Similarly, on the eve of World War I in 1914, tensions between Armenians and the rest of the Ottomans were high. During World War I, in which Armenians fought against the Ottomans, this was a form of treason, as Armenians were Ottoman subjects.
Given obvious security risks, the Ottomans relocated Armenians, which was clumsily done. Fein compared this event to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, except that it was hastily and poorly executed, and resulted in mass casualties. However, a comparable number of Turks were killed, which substantiates that this was fighting and massacre, but not genocide.
Fein continued by addressing the evidence that Armenians offer. Much of it is from either Ambassador Henry Morgenthau (who was, in fact, far removed from actually witnessing the events firsthand,) or Secretary of State William Bryan, who was in the United States. Another piece of evidence that corroborates the Turkish claim is that Turks have declassified their archives of the period, while Armenians have not.
Also to be considered is the fact that Armenians have refused to take the case to World Court, which would seem to damage their credibility. Fein mentioned that the American Congress is prepared to vote on the matter, determining whether genocide did indeed occur. He noted the irony of this measure, to the applause of audience members. "Politicians do not study history when they vote [on] historical events, they study constituencies."
He asserted that Armenians are very wealthy and very well organized in their attempt to portray their version of history. He claimed that the construction of an Armenian genocide museum in Washington, D.C., as the byproduct of active petitioning, is an attempt to rewrite history.
When asked whether free speech was the correct tool to resolve the two irreconcilable versions of history, Fein was skeptical. "Truth is not self-executed," therefore characteristic Turkish reticence was part of the problem: in order to defend themselves Turks would have to vociferously present their