The Armenian Genocide Denier Kamuran Gurun

Nshan Kesecker

Historical Methods

December 15, 2011

 

Denial of the Armenian Genocide: Kamuran Gurun

The Armenian people had been experiencing persecution and hardship in the land called Armenia since ancient times due to their geopolitical location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. They were able to maintain independent to semi-independent kingdoms for significant amounts of time from 301 B.C.E. until 1375 C.E., when the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia was destroyed. The Ottoman Empire was able to gain control of the majority of the Armenian population centers in Cilicia and Eastern Anatolia during their rise to prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 19th century, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire began demanding more rights and autonomy, bringing some attention to their cause from Western European powers. In 1915, during World War I, the nationalist Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire plotted to destroy the Armenian people and end the so-called “Armenian Question,” resulting in the Armenian Genocide that resulted in the deaths of up to a million and a half Armenians. However, despite the fact that most scholars are in agreement that the Genocide took place, most countries today, including the United States of America, do not recognize the Armenian Genocide. This is largely due to the efforts of Turkish lobbyists to influence politicians against accepting the Genocide as fact. In the book The Armenian File: The Myth of Innocence Exposed by Kamuran Gurun, the author attempts to debunk the Armenian Genocide, though he fails due to the sloppy scholarship that is prevalent in his writing. 

Gurun’s introduction and first chapter focus on ancient Armenian history. In these sections, he attempts to degrade the Armenian nation by revising the history of its kingdoms of antiquity. He claims, citing historians such as Herodotus as proof, that Armenians did not exist as a people in the geographic region of Armenia until the 4th century B.C.E. He goes on to claim that Armenia only existed as an independent kingdom from 95 to 66 B.C.E., and that in every other period of its history it was either ruled by “feudal princes” or was a pawn of the Persian or Roman/Byzantine Empires. Not only are Gurun’s claims about ancient Armenian history completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, the Armenian Genocide, but they are also erroneous. In his introduction he claims that Armenians had no interest in their own history as a people since the first book produced following the invention of the Armenian alphabet in 405 C.E. was a translation of the Bible. Though Gurun makes this sound groundbreaking with his blunt language, this fact is not particularly surprising considering the alphabet was created by a monk employed by the Catholicos of the Armenian Church at the time, St. Sahak. It is important to note that Gurun omits the fact that Mesrob Mashdots, the main creator of the alphabet was a monk employed by the Church, calling him only a “religious man.” (Gurun xii) His conclusion is dubious anyway considering the fact that the first book translated was the Bible, which was of considerable importance to Late Antique Christian communities to say the least. It is also important to note that Armenia had a strong tradition of oral history similar to many other peoples such as Native Americans and ancient Celtic tribes, and these traditions show up partially preserved in the writings of Moses of Chorene. Gurun also fails to note that there were proto-Armenian alphabets in use prior to the development of the alphabet of 405, which were in fact used as a basis for the creation of the complete alphabet that is still in use (with minor additions) to the present day. The end of the introduction is devoted to claiming that the book is written objectively and without prejudice toward the Armenian people.

In the first chapter Gurun begins by delving into ancient history. He mentions the opinions of various other scholars regarding the relationship between Armenians and the people who lived in the Armenian Highland prior to the Armenians, such as the Urartians. He attempts to illustrate how the Urartians were unrelated as a people to the Indo-European Armenians, who migrated into the area later. Many scholars adhere to this opinion, and Gurun only brings it up to show how Armenians are alien to the Armenian Highland and convince the reader that Armenians did not really belong in Eastern Anatolia anyway. When citing from Herodotus, he takes a passage that mentions the “Cappadocians,” “Cilicians,” and “Armenians” and claims that they are referring to geographic regions rather than people. This is a completely incorrect interpretation of Herodotus, since when he wants to talk about geographic regions, he clearly says place names such as “Cilicia” and “Armenia,” not to mention that in Herodotus’ time Cappadocians and Cilicians (not to mention Armenians) were separate groups of people and not just people living within those geographic regions, despite Gurun’s claims to the contrary. 

It is difficult to ascertain Gurun’s point with his interpretations of ancient history, but he continues into the Classical and Medieval periods. His interpretations of history do not improve over time, and in fact begin to reveal more sloppiness in his scholarship. His first error occurs when he mentions the conquests of Alexander and states that Armenia came under Macedonian control. This is in fact a false statement, since the Achaemenid appointed satrap of Armenia, Yervand, became king of Armenia after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire and was not incorporated into the Macedonian Empire. This dynasty, known as the Yervanduni or Orontids (331-189 B.C.E), is not mentioned by Gurun at all, and he skips to the next dynasty, the Artashesians. (189-1 B.C.E.) He claims that the Artashesian dynasty began as a vassal of Rome, which is completely false, especially considering that Rome’s arch-nemesis of the time, Hannibal Barca, fled to the Armenian court for protection in the 180’s. Gurun then goes on to state that Armenia was only independent for thirty years during the reign of King Tigran II (r 95-55 B.C.E). This is a complete revision of history, since during the majority of Tigran’s reign, Armenia was not only independent but also conquered territories down to Syria. Gurun seems to equate independence with having the ability to conquer your neighbors, which is simply false. His strategy of revising history to make it seem as though Armenians were never a significant force within Armenia continues into the Middle Ages, when he states that the Bagratuni dynasty (885 C.E.-1045 C.E.) was unable to control the various Armenian feudal principalities, and was merely a vassal of the Arab caliphate. Gurun continues to be incorrect in his interpretations of history, since the Abbasid Caliphate at the time exerted little influence outside of Mesopotamia and Armenia was in fact for much of the period embroiled in a static conflict with the Atabegs of Azerbaijan, who did not answer to the Caliph in Baghdad. 

Gurun devotes a significant section of his first chapter to the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1198-1375 C.E.). He calls this kingdom a “state in the full meaning of the word.” This is a strange assessment, since the structure of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was exactly the same as the prior structure of the prior Armenian Kingdoms in Greater Armenia, with feuding baronies and kings who struggled to control them. Not only this, but Gurun misrepresents Armenian Cilicia as a united kingdom at the founding of the first barony in the region in 1080 C.E., which is simply untrue. The Roupenian barony that Gurun speaks of needed another century to defeat its neighbors and consolidate its position before being bestowed the title of kingdom by the Papacy in 1198 C.E, which had close relations with the kingdom through the neighboring Crusader kingdoms. Gurun’s faulty analysis of the status of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia only reveals more about his lack of skill as a serious historian.

Another fallacy in his argument is that the situation of the Bagratuni kings was not dissimilar to the situation of their contemporaries in France. King Hugh Capet (r. 987-996) controlled Paris and its environs, but had little sway over the other feudal lords of France. However, this does not mean that French people do not have the right to live in France, not to mention that Gurun’s concept of a nation-state did not exist until centuries later, after the Armenian kingdoms had been destroyed. Following his diatribe against the concept of an Armenian state, Gurun ends the first chapter by stating “the so-called ‘Armenian Question’ which passes from mouth to mouth is, just like the claims we have examined above, a figment of the imagination; in other words, an imaginary building whose only foundation is similar baseless claims.”  Gurun shows in this statement that by revising Armenian history to make it seem like Armenian nationalist claims in the 19th and 20th centuries were baseless as opposed to the claims of other nationalities, he can illustrate how Armenians had no right to advocate for autonomy and human rights within the Ottoman Empire. This is a claim that makes little sense whether his interpretation of history is correct or not.

Not only are his claims false, but the book is filled with several simple signs of scholarly laziness. Gurun constantly calls kings “princes” in an effort to falsely belittle their positions. There are also several mistakes in the numbering of certain rulers. He calls Mithridates the Great of Pontus “Mithridates IV,” when he was in fact Mithridates VI (r. 120-63 B.C.E.), and King Artavasdes II (r. 55-34 B.C.E.) “Prince Artavzade III,” the latter of whom is not only misnumbered but also misspelled.  Errors such as these are common in his analysis of ancient history and further disprove his qualifications as a credible historian.

Gurun then moves on to the beginning of the Armenian Question, which has its origins in 19th century. Gurun attempts to show how the minorities living in the Ottoman Empire were utilized as tools of the Great Powers, especially Russia, for their own political purposes. In the 1800s, according to Gurun, the Armenians were living without any discontent in the Ottoman Empire even while nationalist movements were going on in the Balkans, leading to the Balkan Wars. He states that the Ottoman reform movements such as the Hatt-i Sharif of Gulhane, which included provisions to grant more rights to the Armenian millet of the Ottoman Empire, were in fact opposed by the oppressed minorities, due to the requirement of military service. This is a fabrication. Gurun also makes the blatantly nationalist statement that only Turks had been dying for the freedom of the people in the Ottoman Empire, when in fact the janissary corps, one of the main branches of the Ottoman military until 1826, was comprised entirely of conscripted Christian subjects. The author seems to be unable to realize that even if some Armenians were being rallied by Russia for her own purposes, it does not necessitate the facilitation of the deportation and destruction of a whole people, though the author does not seem to distinguish between Armenian conspirators against the Ottoman Empire and innocent Armenian civilians. Gurun also seems to be unaware that the Ottoman government only proposed the reforms to appease Russia, France, and Britain without intending to ever carry them out. 

Another important aspect of Gurun’s treatment of the century leading up to the Genocide is his blatant omission of events that occurred in Greece and that Balkans, often commenting that they are not relevant to the subject at hand. This is in fact an attempt to hide the growing ethnic conflicts within the Ottoman Empire that were not limited to the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire had already stained its human rights record earlier in the 18th century in these drawn out conflicts. In 1822 Ottoman forces massacres tens of thousands of Greeks on the island of Chios in retaliation for equally brutal massacres carried out by Greek forces after the capture of the Turkish controlled town of Tripolitsa (Dadrian p. 12). Back and forth massacres continued during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830), necessitating “humanitarian” aid from the Great Powers (Britain, France, and Russia essentially) to end the conflict, resulting in a fully independent Greece rather than a Greece with some autonomy incorporated into the Ottoman Empire (Dadrian p. 14). Despite the similarity between these events and the Armenian Question, Gurun chooses to ignore them knowing that they would be detrimental to his case.

Gurun attempts to belittle the cause of the Armenian revolutionary movements by focusing on the intent of a small minority of revolutionary writings. He states that “banditry was prevalent in the east” and claims that Armenians were no more victims of this banditry, largely carried out by Kurdish tribes, than their Muslim counterparts. He attempts to show that the Armenians are privileged whiners when he gives numbers showing that the majority of the richest sector of the Ottoman population was made up of Armenian businessmen. While this may be true, they were a very small minority as the majority of Armenian villages in the east were subjected to random attacks and double taxation imposed on them by Kurdish brigands, which Gurun fails to mention. The Sultan Abdul Hamid II (r. 1876-1909) also failed to note that Armenians in the region of Sassoun were resisting due to this policy of double taxation, and ordered massacres on the basis that the Armenians were in open revolt. Similarly, incidents of small Armenian groups causing trouble in the Eastern vilayets were utilized as bases for further massacres of Armenians, with the government even arming and inciting mobs to attack Armenians indiscriminately. Expectedly, Gurun omits these facts from the record, choosing to focus on dubious interpretations of the terrorist acts of a few revolutionaries, who certainly did not represent over a million Armenians within the Ottoman Empire.

A major event that altered the course of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century was the 1909 revolution that ousted the Sultan Abdul Hamid II and replaced him with the outwardly more liberal Young Turk, or Ittihadist party. Armenian revolutionary parties played a major part in the coup, since they figured that the more liberal Young Turks would enact and implement reforms to benefit Armenians within the Ottoman Empire. The vast majority of Armenian leaders supported the Yount Turks, despite the massacres in Adana province that began shortly after the Young Turk coup and were intensified by Ottoman regular military forces. Gurun ignores the fact that there were over 100,000 armed Kurdish tribesmen in the Eastern Provinces, and that the government had done nothing to stop them from terrorizing the countryside. He does mention that there were a few Armenian and Greek bands who roamed the countryside in a similar manner, but these were very limited in number and did not participate in any significant, organized action. General Andranik Ozanian, who would later fight in the Russian Army during World War One on the Caucasian Front commanding a brigade of Armenian volunteers, noted prophetically to the Armenian revolutionary leaders that he believed the Kurds were not being stopped so that they could be used to massacre Armenians at a later date. Andranik was the most powerful of the Armenian revolutionary military leaders, and in fact restrained his forces from participating in attacks on innocent Turkish and Kurdish subjects of the Empire even though tensions were very high, stating that “I only fought against the Beys and against the government… I recognize only one nation: the nation of the oppressed.” Gurun ignores the fact that the government allowed Kurdish brigands to remain armed and dangerous across the Armenian populated provinces, and goes on to the subject of World War One and the Genocide itself.

Gurun states that prior to the start of World War One, Armenian revolutionary parties were in collusion with the Russian Empire and Armenians within the Russian Empire for the purpose of gathering recruits from Turkish Armenia. There was an effort to recruit Turkish Armenians into the Russian Army by the few leaders who opposed the general consensus of the revolutionary parties to support the Ottoman Empire, but the number of recruits garnered by these means was only up to 5,000 soldiers. At the beginning of World War One, the majority of Armenian leaders as well as the general population within the Ottoman Empire supported the Empire when hostilities broke out with Russia. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were conscripted into the Ottoman Army in a plot to weaken the Armenian population, and they were ordered to perform the tasks of “pack animals” in the Army. Gurun attempts to show that all Armenians in the Empire were in collusion with Russia and were prepared to fight on behalf of the Russians, but in fact this is a fabrication and an exaggeration of very minor incidents of sedition. In fact many of the sources Gurun utilizes were propaganda organized by the Young Turks for the purpose of inciting violence against Armenians in the Empire. By claiming that Armenians all over the Empire were in open revolt and joining Russia en masse, Gurun attempts to justify the initial deportations of the entire population of Armenians by claiming the Ottomans had no other choice for the survival of their war effort in the Caucasus. He also attempts to refute that the goal of the Ottomans was deportation of the Armenian population, let alone liquidation, by analyzing the etymology of the Arabic word tehjir, which apparently comes from the Arabic word for emigration. He then states that the word tehjir was not used when describing the undertaking, making his analysis of its etymology seem more pointless than it already was. April 24 is generally accepted as the date of the start of the Genocide, when over 2,000 Armenian intellectuals and leaders were arrested and either executed or forced into death marches from Istanbul. Gurun attempts to belittle this date by stating that only a few hundred revolutionary leaders were arrested, even though this is a false statement. Gurun then points out several laws and statements by the Young Turk leaders that support the idea that the Armenians were merely being relocated away from the front into new settlements and provisions were made to ensure the safety of the convoys. In fact. the Ottoman leaders utilized a careful system of encryption to avoid a public outcry for their genocidal measures, such as using words like “relocation” and stating that those who harm the Armenian convoys will be punished, when in fact they were well aware of what the “relocations” would accomplish. Gurun points out that the Young Turk authorities never explicitly stated that Armenians were going to be killed as a result of the “relocations,” but this is not surprising and similar methods of encryption were utilized by the Nazis during World War Two while carrying out the Holocaust. 

Gurun also revitalizes the idea that Armenians were in open revolt and places the resistance of Musa Dagh in that category. Similar to the tactics of the Ottomans used in the late 1800s, this is simply a false statement. The Musa Dagh resistance occurred due to the Armenians of the area hearing of the “relocations” and acting accordingly to save their own lives. The Armenians of Musa Dagh knew that they would not be returning from the “relocations,” despite all the official promises made for their safety. In fact, the Kurdish tribes which had been ignored by the Ottoman government possibly for the very purpose of carrying out massacres against the Armenians were indeed massacring tens of thousands of Armenians on the way to their supposed destinations in the deserts of Northern Syria. Another fact was that Armenian property was liquidated and auctioned off to other citizens of the Ottoman Empire, proof that they were not intended to return from their one-way trip. Not only that, but the Armenians who had been conscripted were worked to death in death camps following the implementation of the “relocation” acts. Gurun fails to mention anything about conscription of Armenian subjects of the Empire, only mentioning those who raided Ottoman supply lines or joined Russian forces, who were insignificant compared to the number of Armenians within either the Ottoman or Russian Armies, who numbered in the hundreds of thousands on both sides. When tabulating Armenian casualties during 1915 until the end of the war, Gurun also ignores the hundreds of thousands of Armenian conscripts who were killed indiscriminately, coming to a figure of 300,000 through dubious mathematics.

A major component of Gurun’s argument is the almost complete lack of documents pertaining to massacring Armenians. Though there is certainly enough evidence to deem the events of 1915-1918 as genocide, records of removal and destruction of Ottoman archives and other documents relating to the Armenian Genocide do exist from the transcripts of the trials in absentia of the Young Turk leaders following the conclusion of World War One. All Ottoman military ciphers were destroyed as well as any telegrams pertaining to the true nature of the Armenian deportations. These facts do not seem to matter to Gurun, who avoids the subject of the trials and glosses over the details.

Another important fact that Gurun does not touch upon in the Pan-Turkic nationalism rampant in the late Ottoman Empire as well as the Young Turk regime. Ziya Gokalp, a very popular and influential author of the time, was an ardent supporter of Pan-Turkism, which saw the Armenian people as being a blockage between Anatolian Turkey and Turkic peoples in Azerbaijan. Pan-Turkic ideology saw East-Anatolian Turkey as the heartland of Turkic civilization. This conflicted heavily with Armenian nationalist sentiments, and even partial autonomy of the Armenian millet was seen as treason toward the Ottoman state. 

Kamuran Gurun makes an effort to debunk the Armenian Genocide, but his sloppy scholarship and picking-and-choosing of information void all of his arguments. Not only does he bring up completely irrelevant Ancient, Classical, and Medieval Armenian history, but he attempts to revise it for the purpose of degrading Armenian identity to make Armenian pleas for autonomy within the Ottoman Empire seem ridiculous. His point in this matter are not only irrelevant, but also wrong, as he constantly misinterprets selections of ancient primary sources for the purpose of proving that Armenia was only an independent kingdom for a period of 30 years, 2000 years ago, which remains completely irrelevant to the topic at hand regardless of the accuracy of his arguments. These incorrect interpretations of history are further discredited by his constant errors in regards to spelling and numbering ancient rulers, which is a mark of lazy and incorrect scholarship. Gurun’s interpretations do not improve when he finally reaches the main point of discussion, the Armenian Genocide, as he picks and chooses his information and distorts the true nature of the events by ignoring facts that are detrimental to his case. All in all, Gurun’s work is reminiscent of Holocaust denial literature, and cannot be taken as the work of a serious scholar in any capacity.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Chalabian, Antranig. General Andranik and the Armenian Revolutionary Movement. USA: Antranig Chalabian, 1988.

 

Dadrian, Vahakn. The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus. Providence: Berghahn Books, 1995.

 

Dadrian, Vahakn. Documentation of the Armenian Genocide in Turkish Sources. Jerusalem: Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, 1991.

 

Dadrian, Vahakn. Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999.

 

Gurun, Kamuran. The Armenian File: The Myth of Innocence Exposed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1985.

 

Herodotus. The Histories; Andrea Purvis, Translator, The Landmark Herodotus. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007.

 

Hovannisian, Richard. The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

 

Melson, Robert. Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

 

Ozanian, Andranik. General Andranik Speaks. Paris: ABAKA, 1921.

 
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