Robert Fisk

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Independent on Sunday (London) October 16, 2005, Sunday




This is a very long book, allowing Fisk to interleave political analysis, recent history and his own adventures with the real stories which concern him. These are the sufferings of ordinary people under monstrous tyrannies or in criminal, avoidable wars. Fisk reported the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf war of 1991, the Palestine intifadas, the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and its sequel as the Americans and their allies invaded in 2002, the terror regimes of Saddam, the Shah and the ayatollahs, the frenzy of bloodshed in Algeria as Islamists and security forces competed to slaughter the innocent, and " of course " the Bush-Blair war against Iraq and its outcome. His chapter on the 1915 Armenian genocide, still unpardonably denied and evaded and not only by Turks, revives his famous report from Syria when he stumbled across the mass graves at Margada (see extract, above).


Independent on Sunday (London) October 16, 2005, Sunday



Robert Fisk recovers after being beaten by a mob on a road near Quetta, Pakistan, 2001 HUSSEIN MALLA/AP

Exposed to the air, the bones became soft and claylike and flaked away in our hands, the last mortal remains of an entire race of people disappearing as swiftly as their Turkish oppressors would have wished us to forget them. As many as 50,000 Armenians were murdered in this little killing field, and it took a minute or two before Ellsen and I fully comprehended that we were standing in a mass grave. For Margada and the Syrian desert around it " like thousands of villages in what was Turkish Armenia " are the Auschwitz of the Armenian people, the place of the world's first, forgotten, Holocaust.

The parallel with Auschwitz is no idle one. Turkey's reign of terror against the Armenian people was an attempt to destroy the Armenian race. The Armenian death toll was almost a million and a half. While the Turks spoke publicly of the need to 'resettle' their Armenian population "as the Germans were to speak later of the Jews of Europe" the true intentions of the Turkish government were quite specific. On 15 September 1915, for example " and a carbon of this document exists " the Turkish interior minister, Talaat Pasha, cabled an instruction to his prefect in Aleppo. 'You have already been informed that the Government... has decided to destroy completely all the indicated persons living in Turkey... Their existence must be terminated, however tragic the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to any scruples of conscience.'

Was this not exactly what Himmler told his SS murderers in 1941? Here on the hill of Margada, we were now standing among what was left of the 'indicated persons'. And Boghos Dakessian, who along with his five-year- old nephew Hagop had driven up to the Habur with us from the Syrian town of Deir es-Zour, knew all about those 'tragic measures'. 'The Turks brought whole families up here to kill them. It went on for days. They would tie them together in lines, men, children, women, most of them starving and sick, many naked. Then they would push them off the hill into the river and shoot one of them. The dead body would then carry the others down and drown them. It was cheap that way. It cost only one bullet.'

You're talking nonsense, Mr Ambassador

Robert Fisk:

You're talking nonsense, Mr Ambassador

All the while, new diplomatic archives are opening to reveal the smell of death - Armenian death

Published: 20 May 2006

A letter from the Turkish Ambassador to the Court of Saint James arrived for me a few days ago, one of those missives that send a shudder through the human soul. "You allege that an 'Armenian genocide' took place in Eastern Anatolia in 1915," His Excellency Mr Akin Alptuna told me. "I believe you have some misconceptions about those events ..."

Oh indeedy doody, I have. I am under the totally mistaken conception that one and a half million Armenians were cruelly and deliberately done to death by their Turkish Ottoman masters in 1915, that the men were shot and knifed while their womenfolk were raped and eviscerated and cremated and starved on death marches and their children butchered. I have met a few of the survivors - liars to a man and woman, if the Turkish ambassador to Britain is to be believed - and I have seen the photographs taken of the victims by a brave German photographer called Armen Wegner whose pictures must now, I suppose, be consigned to the waste bins. So must the archives of all those diplomats who courageously catalogued the mass murders inflicted upon Turkey's Christian population on the orders of the gang of nationalists who ran the Ottoman government in 1915.

What would have been our reaction if the ambassador of Germany had written a note to the same effect? "You allege that a 'Jewish genocide' took place in Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1945 ... I believe you have some misconceptions about those events ...' Of course, the moment such a letter became public, the ambassador of Germany would be condemned by the Foreign Office, our man in Berlin would - even the pusillanimous Blair might rise to the occasion - be withdrawn for consultations and the European Union would debate whether sanctions should be placed upon Germany.

But Mr Alptuna need have no such worries. His country is not a member of the European Union - it merely wishes to be - and it was Mr Blair's craven administration that for many months tried to prevent Armenian participation in Britain's Holocaust Day.

Amid this chicanery, there are a few shining bright lights and I should say at once that Mr Alptuna's letter is a grotesque representation of the views of a growing number of Turkish citizens, a few of whom I have the honour to know, who are convinced that the story of the great evil visited upon the Armenians must be told in their country. So why, oh why, I ask myself, are Mr Alptuna and his colleagues in Paris and Beirut and other cities still peddling this nonsense?

In Lebanon, for example, the Turkish embassy has sent a "communiqu " to the local French-language L'Orient Le Jour newspaper, referring to the "soi-disant (so-called) Armenian genocide" and asking why the modern state of Armenia will not respond to the Turkish call for a joint historical study to "examine the events" of 1915.

In fact, the Armenian president, Robert Kotcharian, will not respond to such an invitation for the same reason that the world's Jewish community would not respond to the call for a similar examination of the Jewish Holocaust from the Iranian president - because an unprecedented international crime was committed, the mere questioning of which would be an insult to the millions of victims who perished.

But the Turkish appeals are artfully concocted. In Beirut, they recall the Allied catastrophe at Gallipoli in 1915 when British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops suffered massive casualties at the hands of the Turkish army. In all - including Turkish soldiers - up to a quarter of a million men perished in the Dardanelles. The Turkish embassy in Beirut rightly states that the belligerent nations of Gallipoli have transformed these hostilities into gestures of reconciliation, friendship and mutual respect. A good try. But the bloodbath of Gallipoli did not involve the planned murder of hundreds of thousands of British, French, Australian, New Zealand - and Turkish - women and children.

But now for the bright lights. A group of "righteous Turks" are challenging their government's dishonest account of the 1915 genocide: Ahmet Insel, Baskin Oran, Halil Berktay, Hrant Dink, Ragip Zarakolu and others claim that the "democratic process" in Turkey will "chip away at the darkness" and they seek help from Armenians in doing so. Yet even they will refer only to the 1915 "disaster", the "tragedy", and the "agony" of the Armenians. Dr Fatma Gocek of the University of Michigan is among the bravest of those Turkish-born academics who are fighting to confront the Ottoman Empire's terror against the Armenians. Yet she, too, objects to the use of the word genocide - though she acknowledges its accuracy - on the grounds that it has become "politicised" and thus hinders research.

I have some sympathy with this argument. Why make the job of honest Turks more difficult when these good men and women are taking on the might of Turkish nationalism? The problem is that other, more disreputable folk are demanding the same deletion. Mr Alputuna writes to me - with awesome disingenuousness - that Armenians "have failed to submit any irrefutable evidence to support their allegations of genocide". And he goes on to say that "genocide, as you are well aware, has a quite specific legal definition" in the UN's 1948 Convention. But Mr Alputuna is himself well aware - though he does not say so, of course - that the definition of genocide was set out by Raphael Lemkin, a Jew, in specific reference to the wholesale mass slaughter of the Armenians.

And all the while, new diplomatic archives are opening in the West which reveal the smell of death - Armenian death - in their pages. I quote here, for example, from the newly discovered account of Denmark's minister in Turkey during the First World War. "The Turks are vigorously carrying through their cruel intention, to exterminate the Armenian people," Carl Wandel wrote on 3 July 1915. The Bishop of Karput was ordered to leave Aleppo within 48 hours "and it has later been learned that this Bishop and all the clergy that accompanied him have been ... killed between Diyarbekir and Urfa at a place where approximately 1,700 Armenian families have suffered the same fate ... In Angora ... approximately 6,000 men ... have been shot on the road ... even here in Constantinople (Istanbul), Armenians are being abducted and sent to Asia ..."

There is much, much more. Yet now here is Mr Alptuna in his letter to me: "In fact, the Armenians living outside Eastern Armenia including Istanbul ... were excluded from deportation." Somebody here is not telling the truth. The late Mr Wandel of Copenhagen? Or the Turkish Ambassador to the Court of St James?

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