The present bombing of Armenia and Artsakh is meant to fulfill the Young Turk dream of building an Empire. That dream is alive and well in Turkey’s government today. By honoring and listening to historian Bernard Lewis, we have become accomplices of that dream, that nightmare. It is time to wake up and hold fast to the truth.

In November 2006, President Bush awarded Bernard Lewis, the once Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, with the National Humanities Medal. It was not the first time the federal government chose to acknowledge Professor Lewis. In 1990, the National Endowment for the Humanities invited him to give the Jefferson Lecture, “the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.”

Sandwiched between these two momentous awards, Lewis was condemned by the French Court for “failing in his duty of objectivity and prudence.” In an interview to Le Monde, Lewis had denied that the Ottoman massacres of the Armenians in World War I constituted a genocide. He subsequently clarified in that newspaper that “there exists no serious proof of a decision and of a plan of the Ottoman government to exterminate the Armenian nation.” On June 8, 1994, the French Court held that Professor Lewis could only have made his claims “by concealing the elements contrary to his thesis”—c’est en occultant les éléments contraires à sa thèse, que le défendeur a pu affirmer qu’il n’y avait pas de ‘preuve sérieuse’ du génocide arménien. It condemned him for hate speech.

Prof. Taner Akçam has since definitively proven that the French Courts got it right. There is “serious proof of a decision and plan of the Ottoman government to exterminate the Armenian nation.” That proof includes cables like the one sent by Talat Pasha, the Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Turkish Government, to the Provincial Governor of Aleppo on October 22, 1915:

the order that all of the Armenians’ rights on Turkish soil, such as the right to live and work, have been eliminated, and not one is to be left [alive]—not even the infant in the cradle; the government accepts all responsibility for this.[1]

That evidence has been there for all serious scholars to examine since the 1920s. Lewis rejected it, declaring that it consisted of “historical fabrications” that were as false as the “Protocols of Zion.” He apparently took the word of others [2], whose work was published under—and at the behest of—a regime for which truly or falsely “denigrating Turkishness” is a crime punishable with up to two years of imprisonment.[3] Lewis was emotionally bound to the Turks.

Lewis continued to deny that the massacres of the Armenians by the Turks were a genocide despite the French Court and the evidence. He continued to deny it even after Professors Robert Lifton, Roger Smith, and Eric Markusen presented incontrovertible evidence of the Republic of Turkey’s massive interference in genuine scholarly work on the Armenian Genocide.[4]

As I write this, Turkish news sites still reverently report those claims of Lewis that got him condemned by the French Court.[5]

The Lewis affair teaches many things. I would like to focus on three. The first is that as true as it is that “duty” of every scholar and professor to be “objective” and “prudent,” scholars and professors can—and often do—take their primary allegiance not to the truth, but to their own likes and dislikes, their own wishes and their agendas. As Professors Lifton, Smith, and Markusen proved, denying the truth can also be wildly remunerative.

Second: the effects of scholars’ failure to fulfill their “duty” to be “objective” and “prudent” are real and grave. Governments can be misled and praise those professors who have failed in their “duty” to be “objective.” Government programs and agendas are often informed by such professors. A nation’s international relations can be informed by such professors. When they do, it is real people who suffer. Is our failure today to stand at the Armenians’ side not proof of this?

Third: when professors and governments fail to fulfill their “duty” to the truth, they not only foment violence, but often end up doing the dirty work of those for whose benefit they neglected to fulfill their “duty” to the truth in the first place. Lewis blindly defended the Turks against the evidence of their genocidal campaign against the Armenians. But such was the hold of his emotional bond to them, that he became an unwitting instrument in their hands. In 1998, he made an ominous defense of Turkish genocide denialists:

The deniers of Holocaust have a purpose: to prolong Nazism and to return to Nazi legislation. Nobody wants the ‘Young Turks’ back, and nobody wants to have back the Ottoman Law.[6]

Much to the chagrin of the Armenians—the Armenians of Armenia, the Armenians of Artsakh, the Armenians of Jerusalem, the Armenians worldwide—of the Kurds, of the Syrians, of the Libyans, and of the righteous Turks themselves, Erdogan has proven Lewis wrong, dead wrong. The present bombing of Armenia and Artsakh is meant to fulfill the Young Turk dream of building an Empire, that, as Talaat Pasha told Halide Edib during World War I, “stretches to the Yellow Sea.”[7] That dream is alive and well in Turkey’s government today. By awarding and listening to Professor Lewis, we have become accomplices of that dream, that nightmare.

It is time to wake up and hold fast to the truth. The Young Turk dream of dominance will not die until we do so.

We ourselves will continue to fall prey to professors, who “fail in their duty of objectivity and prudence,” until we wake up and remember always to hold fast to the truth. The devil has many guises, but behind them all he is a liar.

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Notes:

[1] Taner Akçam, Killing Orders: Talat Pasha’s Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2018) 184. I invite everyone to examine Akçam’s meticulous examination and demonstration of the telegrams’ authenticity.

[2] The others in question were Şinasi Orel and Süreyya Yuca whose examination of the telegrams was published by the Turkish Historical Society.

[3] I am referring to Turkey. Article 301 of the current Turkish Penal Code—and Article 159 of the previous one which dates back to 1926—makes it a crime to “denigrate Turkishness.” The article has been used to try such persons as Orhan Pamuk, Elif Şafak, Hrant Dink.

[4] Roger W. Smith, Eric Markusen, and Robert Jay Lifton, “Professional Ethics and the Denial of the Armenian Genocide,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Spring 1995, 1-22. The article was reprinted in Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide, Detroit: Wayne Street University Press, 1998, pp. 271-296.

[5] Karpel, Dalia (23 January 1998). “There was no Genocide: Interview with Prof. Bernard Lewis,” Ha’aretz Weekly. Assembly of Turkish American Associations. Retrieved 21 February 2015.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Halide Edib, Memoirs of Halidé Edib (New York/London: The Century Company, 1926) 315.

The featured image is the Armenian Genocide memorial at the Armenian Seminary in Bikfaya, Lebanon (1965), uploaded by Serouj, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. It has been brightened for clarity and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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