The Fresno State campus welcomed a joint lecture by two professors on April 16 at 7:30 pm at the University Business Center. Attendees were treated to presentations by Dr. Bedross Der Matossian, professor of Middle East History at MIT, and Dr. Levon Marashlian, professor of History at Glendale Community College.
The event was organized and sponsored by the Armenian Studies Program in commemoration of the 95th Anniversary of the Genocide. ASP Coordinator Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian introduced the speakers, emphasizing the important work being done by scholars in furthering knowledge of the Genocide.
Dr. Bedross Der Matossian opened the evening with a talk on “The Taboo Within the Taboo: The Fate of the ‘Armenian Capital’ in the End of the Ottoman Empire.” He discussed the economic aspect of the Armenian Genocide and the fate of the ‘Armenian capital,’ an area of the Genocide’s impact on Armenians and Turkey that needs more research. He pointed out that modern Turkish scholars frequently confront a second taboo in referring to the fate of the ‘Armenian capital’ in Turkey, even among the more liberal Turkish scholars. Two main issues were brought up: Armenians’ contribution to Turkey as industrialists had come to have an established place in the Turkish economy and the legality of the confiscations of Armenian homes and property by Turkish officials.
The economic elimination of the Armenians in Turkey began with the Hamidian era, 1876 to 1908, when the 1895-1896 Hamidian massacres led to 200,000 Armenians being killed throughout the Empire. When nationalists began protesting against the government’s oppressive policies towards minorities, there was some hope for the Armenians, but it ended in 1909, as 20-30,000 Armenians died in the Adana massacres, the cotton production center of the Ottoman Empire.
There is a clear continuity between the policy of the Ottoman Empire and that of Turkey. During wartime, supplementary laws were created to justify policies of confiscation. A June 10, 1915 law composed of 34 articles concerned confiscation of Armenian property on the premise that the property would be returned, but the law contradicted itself by also stating that the property would be given to the “muhajirs,” Turkish immigrants fleeing the Baltic wars. The comprehensive records of the Abandoned Property Commission on those deported have served as evidence of “population engineering.”
Legislation passed in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide aimed to prevent claims on land, such as the Treaty of Lausanne in 1927, which intended to make it impossible for Armenians to claim property. Dr. Der Matossian posed the question: “Why do you need to use law or legality to confiscate?” He emphasizes that we need comparative studies to understand the process and ramifications of this kind of policy and legislation because it has occurred numerous times in world events afterwards, such as the systematic bureaucratic confiscation in Germany of Jewish property. From 1948 to 1950, the Israeli government passed laws on confiscating abandoned property by the Palestinians. Israel’s legislation was influenced by the laws passed in the aftermath of the partition of India to confiscate and deal with abandoned property, when 14 million Hindus and Muslims passed the India-Pakistan border and 1 million died as a result of the partition. Pakistan itself was influenced by British policy on taking enemy property during WWII.
Dr. Levon Marashlian gave the second lecture of the evening, “Problems with Denial and Denying with the Armenian-Turkish Protocols.” Dr. Marashlian characterized Turkey’s problem with Armenian Genocide resolutions passed around the world as a national security issue, pointing out that if it’s not so, “why is Turkey so concerned?” Armenians have been recently unsuccessful at getting recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the United States Congress.
Video clips accompanied Dr. Marashlian’s presentation, showing how, whenever there’s a resolution discussed or passed in foreign governments, discussion and debate in the Turkish media over the Armenian Genocide “skyrockets.” Video clips from Turkish news when France passed a resolution in 2001 showed street protestors throwing eggs at the French embassy in Turkey, burning French flags, and calling for the boycott of French goods.
When Turkey began to make important steps toward getting entrance into the EU a couple of years ago, Armenians from various countries of Europe protested and even though Genocide recognition was not a pre-condition for entrance, European nations like Austria and France emphasized it and it became a discussion point in Turkish media. Dr. Marashlian notes that all this attention educates the Turkish public.
A documentary film argued against the existence of a quote from an interview with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in The Los Angeles Examiner in August 1926, the founder of modern Turkey, where he acknowledged that the Young Turks should be held accountable for “the millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred.” Although Dr. Marashlian was interviewed for the documentary, his own video compared against the documentary clip showed that the filmmaker cut off his point that if that portion of The Los Angeles Examiner’s interview was fake, why didn’t the Turkish government send a letter to the editor of the Examiner testifying that Ataturk never said it?
Dr. Marashlian discussed the protocols that Turkey initiated with Armenia to begin normalization and establish a historical commission to review the events of 1915. When Turkey’s current prime minister Erdogan sent a letter to then-president of the Republic of Armenia Robert Kocharian, it was rejected, noting that “this was a desperate act” of a losing government and the current president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan “walked right into this trap.” Dr. Marashlian stated that the purpose of the protocols was to deflect attention from recognition of the Genocide because when foreign governments see the recent progress on the protocols as evidence that Turkey and Armenia are trying to reconcile their past, they are influenced against recognizing the Genocide. For example, while Armenian Genocide resolutions in the House Foreign Affairs Committee had passed by very wide margins twice in the past decade, it passed by a margin of one vote in March this year.
Dr. Marashlian thinks that President Sargsyan has probably realized signing the protocols was a mistake in regard to international recognition.