The relationship between Arabs and Armenians is one of the few topics studied in the works on the study of the Genocide of Armenian people. Emre Jan Daglioglu, a graduate student of the Department of History at Stanford University, combines academic research in this field with his book “The Year of the Arabs in 1915”. Thus, Daglioglu refers to the relations between Arabs and Armenians in 1915 and after that. We talked with him about the relations of Arabs with Armenians and the book “The Year of the Arabs in 1915”.
In recent years, the research of Kurds has increased both in the debates on the Genocide of Armenian people and in literature. But the Arab question has been left behind. How do you explain the gap in this case?
In fact, the book was created precisely out of a sense of this emptiness. In 2014, when I was working at Akos, I accidentally came across the testimonies of Faiz Al-Husayn about the genocide. As I noticed, this was the first story about the genocide written by a Muslim. But when I tried to study the Fayza presented by Bedwin the aristocrat and his work, I didn’t find much about it. On this topic, the workers referred to Fayez’s story, but paid little attention to why he, as an Arab Muslim, wrote such material.
Why, in your opinion, was this circumstance not considered?
I think this is mainly due to a limited view of literature – in terms of actors, places and times of the genocide. The literature mainly focuses on Western Armenia, the geography in which Armenians mostly lived, and, moreover, mainly on the decision-making process in Istanbul, and considers the genocide as an event that occurred in a certain period of time. This turns the genocide into such a question, according to which it, in general, it occurred during the First World War – between Armenians and Muslims of Anatolia. This view consideers post-genocide process as a question concerning only Turkey. Meanwhile, the genocide committed against the Armenians is an issue that has affected the fate of the Middle East.
The concepts of “Arabism, Kurdism and Armenians” were “rebuilt” during the World War. Burchin Gerchek in his book “Against the Stream ” said that the factor of the Kurds who tried to protect Christians in the region was equal to one drop of water in the ocean compared to the overwhelming majority who participated, supported and were silent in the massacre. He also emphasizes that even if this part were a “significant minority”, the result could be completely different. What was the situation for the majority of Arab society?
In fact, the answer to this question is quite complicated. Even the articles contained in the book do not have a clear answer. The intense violence during World War II and the demographic changes that followed were both disastrous and constructive for the Middle East. Because, as we were able to understand, Arabism, Kurdism or Armenians in general were rebuilt during and after this forced process. Therefore, I think it is more important to consider the religious and class position, as well as the factor of the region and time. In this context, it can be assumed that the Arabs of Anatolia and Syria-Iraq-Lebanon and the Arabs of the Sherif movement, which rebelled against the nomadic tribes of Bedwin and Ottomans, had very different and changeable positions.
“Gratitude to the Arabs reigns in the books of Armenian history”
But the Armenian explanations mainly highlight the protection of Arab society, especially in Vergine Svazlian’s book ” The Genocide of Armenian People”. There have been cases when Bedouins, in order to protect Armenian children, made them unrecognizable by cutting off their hair and making a tattoo on their face. In fact, I want to remind you once again about the volatility of roles in the above-mentioned process of violence and in general about the tendencies of presenting Arabs in historiography as a savior. Books of Arab history often present Armenians as a cohesive minority that has made a great contribution to their country. Armenians are regarded as architects of the modern world or real representatives of Western civilization. Of course, we see traces of racism reigning since the end of the 19th century. Some representatives of the Arab intelligentsia, using the genocide against Armenians as a tool, emphasize that the Turks are below the racial hierarchy and that they are the main representatives of Islam. They are trying to hide the involvement of some Arabs in the crime, trying to emphasize that the cause of this violence is barbarism byTurkish affiliation. And the books of Armenian history express gratitude to the Arabs for the defensive attitude shown during and after the Genocide of Armeninas.
But it wasn’t always like that, was it?
From the article by Victoria Abrahamyan that found a place in the book, we learn that when Syria was built under a mandate, relations were not so rosy. Of course, this also applies to the war period.
The book also includes the fact of accomplices of the Arabs.
Undoubtedly, those groups that we call Arabs are also responsible for the abduction and occupation of Armenian women, the slavery of Armenian children, the attack on caravans on the roads and in death camps. But on the other hand, we see that Sharif Hussein used genocide to discredit the caliphate that was in the hands of the Turks and to reveal that he is the true master of the caliphate. In 1917, Sharif Hussein called on all Muslims to protect the Armenians as if they were theirs. After that, as Markarian notes in the book, we see the positive policy of Emin Faisal, who for a short time proclaimed an Arab kingdom in Syria. Therefore, it would be wrong to qualify the position of the Arabs as positive or negative.
What is the behavior of the Kurds and Arabs of 1915, Hamit Bozarslan in his article presents as two groups that were unacceptable by the idea of ittihatic Union and progress.
In general, looking at the relations of these groups, at the rivalry that has arisen from these relations, we understand their difference. Kurds and Armenians have shared the same territory for a long time and bear the social, political, religious, ethnic and economic burden formed here. This formed the political points of view of these groups. In this regard, I think that the issue of Armenian-Kurdish relations is still full of assumptions and I think that we still have a lot to learn. The identity of the Anatolian Arabs, who are part of these relations, is mainly based on religious affiliation, with the exception of the issue of Antakia in the late 1930s. Arabism as an identity is too little relegated to the foreground. Therefore, relations between Arabs and Armenians are formed at different points. And their main mass contacts are formed during and after the genocide. We also see this in the stories about deportation that Samuel Dolby quotes in his article. The Armenians who were evicted from Western Armenia to Syria considered the desert an unknown place, and the people living there – a completely unknown kind of people whom they had never met before. Here, in the camps located on today’s borders of Syria and Iraq, large-scale pogroms of the Bedouin tribes of the region are carried out. Nevertheless, as Dolby reveals, the desert and the way of life prevailing there gives Armenians the opportunity to escape.
The book also touches on the relations between Arabs and Armenians, especially in Aleppo. Despite the fact that in the first period there were forced marriages and rapes, then the massacre of Armenians in 1919 and the humiliating phrase “a piece of an Armenian” that continues to this day, nevertheless, Armenians were considered the closest minority compared to other communities. One of the famous historians of the Middle East, Osama Makdisi, said in one of his speeches that Middle Eastern historiography stubbornly avoids calling what happened violence against national minorities. In addition to the Genocide of Armenian pople, the Simele massacre carried out against Assyrians in 1933, or the Farhud that occurred in 1941 in Baghdad, Iraq, during which this large city was almost “cleansed” of the Jewish population, are also little-studied and unknown events. Compared to them, the massacre in Aleppo, during which the Arabs attacked the Armenians on February 28, 1919, causing serious human losses, was a massacre of a smaller scale, and it would be surprising if it were in the foreground. In any case, after the murder of dozens of Armenians, the authors of this violence were severely punished, and 35 people were executed. On the one hand, this massacre was an event in which the perpetrators were punished, did not receive the approval of the ruling Powers and compensatory steps were taken to some extent. When we compare it with similar examples, perhaps it is in some sense a “closed page”.
One of the interesting points is the fact that although Khoibun (a Kurdish nationalist organization founded on October 5, 1927 in Lebanon) is put forward as Kurdish-Armenian relations, the Arab-Armenian alliance was much earlier and possibly much stronger.
In fact, I think these alliance initiatives are the means by which the book opens the door for future research. For example, at the first Arab Congress convened in Paris in 1913, Arab reformers seeking to transform the administrative structure in the Ottoman Empire declared in the final declaration of the congress that they were in solidarity with the demands of decentralizing the Armenians. In Shule Jan’s article, we see that similar political alliances are being established at the local level. According to Jan, one of the important leaders of the Gnchakians, Aghasi, writes in his memoirs that some Arab Alawites not only supported the organization in Antakia, but also joined the organization. We have seen that the Arab Alawites of Samandag provided logistical support to the resistance of the Armenians of Musa Dagh in 1915.
The book also contains important turning points regarding the tension between Arab nationalists and Armenians. For example: “Every Syrian should know that if the threatening presence of Armenians continues to be tolerated, Syria and Lebanon will henceforth be called “Armenia”. What other statements were spread among nationalist Syrians, a significant part of whose population were refugees?
As Victoria Abrahamyan noted in her article, the French mandate regime established in Syria after 1919 had a great influence on the mutual construction of national identity between Arabs and Armenians. In this context, of course, the fact that the Dashnaks tried to completely link the fate of the Armenians of Syria with the French mandate has its share in the growing hatred of refugees towards Arab nationalism. The French mandate in Syria and the League of Nations use Armenians demographically and politically to legalize their mission in the country and create a group of reliable and loyal population. The Parliament, in order to consist of as many Frenchmen as possible, gives Armenians the right to vote and be elected, decides to resettle new Armenian refugees and, finally, gives Armenians citizenship. In contrast, Arab nationalists are developing a discourse very similar to the rhetoric of the current anti-Syrian refugees. There is an opinion that Armenians are guests and exploit resources, and, finally, an independent Armenia will be created on the territory of Syria. This divisive rhetoric reaches a dangerous level, and the fabrications that the French Armenians allegedly participated in the suppression of the anti-French uprising in Syria in 1925 prepared the ground for an attack on a refugee camp in Damascus, as a result of which about 50 Armenians were killed. Meanwhile, we know from Abrahamyan’s article that, as always, the facts do not coincide with these conversations against refugees. In fact, the number of Armenians in the French forces was quite small, and a significant part of the Armenians supported the uprising.
Indifference has long been felt not only to Arab society, but also to Arab works and original sources. What is the reason for this?
In fact, the biggest and most practical reason for this in Turkey is the very small number of Arabist researchers. But even when we get out of this practical reason, when we look at Middle Eastern historians in general, we see that the political nature of the Genocide of Armenian people was an important obstacle. During a very important period, the genocide could not occupy an important place in the books concerning the history of the Middle East. Nevertheless, recent works show that the genocide is now viewed from a more general point of view, and Arabic sources are used in this sense.
Many important primary sources cited in the book have been translated into Turkish for the first time. Moreover, one of the interesting questions is that 1915 shows that other elements of the empire felt threatened with destruction. For example, Deputy Finance Minister Hassan Fehmi Bey showed the deportation of Armenians, which was the reason for the Pontic Greeks to resist the forces of Ankara.
What a turning point the year 1915 brings to Arab society.
Organized by the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire
Sharif Hussein’s son Faisal, in a letter to Jemal Pasha, notes that the Arabs are now afraid of the Turks because of their harsh policy towards the Arabs and openly says: “I do not want the fate of my nation to be similar to the fate of the Armenians”. In general, we clearly see that many of the Arab intellectuals felt the same fear as Faisal. As Nora Arisyan shows in her book article, not only Faisal, but also many famous Arab people make this comparison. For example, the famous writer Khalil Jibran in his letter notes that what was done to the Armenians was in Syria, and that the Armenians were killed by the sword, and the Lebanese were starved. Undoubtedly, qualitative similarities in the general policy towards Arabs and Armenians caused this fear. If the representatives of the Armenian intelligentsia arrested during the war became victims of murders on the way of deportation, then the Arab reformers convicted by Jemal Pasha were hanged in the squares of Damascus and Beirut. If hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forcibly deported to the southern regions of the empire, then five thousand Arab families with no political influence and activity were exiled to the provinces of Anatolia (Western Armenia) for political reasons. Deportation meant for Armenians the slaughter and captivity of men under the pretext of military service, and for the Arabs of Syria and Lebanon – deliberate starvation, terrible poverty and the attack of grasshoppers. However, it should be noted that this meant the destruction of the Ottoman myth not for all Arab intellectuals. As we can see in the topics presented by Professor and founder of the human rights study Watenpo, Arab historians or some Arab nationalists who led the anti-imperialist struggle against France, the belief in the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into a Turkish-Arab empire did not fade even after the war. We also know that they even had a political vision of cooperation with Turkey of Mustafa Kemal. In this context, the solidarity of Turkish and Arab nationalists during the national struggle and the political influence of Turkey on mandates in Syria, especially in Aleppo, is noteworthy.