The French Senate has approved a controversial bill that makes it a criminal offence to deny that genocide was committed by Ottoman Turks against Armenians during World War I.
That really is a controversial bill. The trouble is that there were population moves of lots of people during that time. Everyone was obsessed with race and nationality at the time, and it was encouraged even more by Self Determination. The Ottoman Empire, despite its many problems, was a cosmopolitan one where it was normal to have Arabs, Turks, Greeks, Armenians, and Jews all interacting. But by World War 1, it suddenly mattered a lot who was Muslim and who was Christian, who was a Turk and who wasn’t.
If anything it must be understood in context. When the Russians attacked in the Caucasus, they had the Armenians there on their side who were little more than brigands, driving Turkish refugees into Anatolia and committing many, many atrocities against Muslims along the way. At the time, there were Armenians spread all over the Empire, but it suddenly mattered.
And there are probably only vague orders about the security of the empire that led to the attempt at a population move, but millions of people still died in forced death marches across deserts without food or water. It’s a fact that it happened, the question has always been whether it was with full and pre-meditated intention.
But let’s not forget that at the end of the war, with the Ottoman Empire collapsing, the British promised the Greeks basically all of western Anatolia without asking the Turks, which led to the Greco-Turkish War of 1921-1923, a particularly bloody and racially charged affair as the Greeks tried to land and take it for themselves. The treaty which ended it decided that the best solution would be for all the ethnic Greeks to move to Greece, and all the Muslims in Greece to move to Turkey.
Which might sound good on paper, but it was basically moving millions of people who were technically different in religion and names, but practically Greek or practically Turkish. And frankly, a lot of people died on those moves too.
Yes, millions of Armenians died and it was possibly intended as such. But honestly, that was just how things were at the time. No one cries over the mutilated Turks during the Balkan Wars, or the Muslims driven out of the Caucasus into Turkey by rape, pillage and essentially ethnic cleansing. No one remembers how the Greeks landed at Smyrna (now Izmir) at the place where the original Crusaders landed, not somewhere more sensible, and basically cleansed the Turkish quarter of the city. When the Turks retook the city, they were then motivated to cleanse the Greek quarter of the city.
And by cleanse, I really do mean rape, loot, burn, crucify, torture, kill and all the horrible things that soldiers have tended to do when their blood is up, discipline is gone, and they’ve had a very bad war. For some reason, when mutilating women, they often feel the need to stab the groin or cut off the breasts or something gruesome and particularly aimed at sexual areas.
But who knows what goes through the mind of a soldier after seeing atrocities and going through bloodshed and finally winning a difficult battle.
It’s possible the Ottoman State was suffering from the same thing, in a way, when they rounded up the Armenians and told them to walk, without ever really having a destination for them to end at.