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Letter to Editor: When a Critique of Racist Discourse Veers off Course

 

Recently I read an op-ed by Uzay Bulut in The Armenian Weekly titled “Turkey’s Genocide Denial: Four Narratives.” The article starts with an informative account of four different trends of genocide denialism in Turkey. It critiques the racist discourse that exists in Turkey primarily against Armenians, but also Greeks and Jews. At one point, however, the article veers off in another direction—when the author asks, “why is denial of genocide still so popular in Turkey?”

The eternal flame at the Armenian Genocide memorial complex in Yerevan (Photo: Serouj Ourishian)

Here, she attempts to collapse 14 centuries of Islamic history into a history of Muslims oppressing non-Muslims. She essentializes and generalizes Muslim hatred toward non-Muslims. Of course, it is easy to make an argument about Islam as a violent religion when one only points out the violent moments of its history, and disregards violence perpetrated under the name of other religions and within other religious societies. This is how typical Islamophobic arguments are advanced. In such cases one easily points out how Islam over the centuries has spread its force “by the sword” but fails to consider how Christian colonizing powers took over and Christianized at least two continents: North and South America. Do we, as a result, call Christianity a violent religion? And do we explain the genocide of Native Americans and the violent settlement of Christian Europeans on these two continents through the lens of Christianity?

To make her argument convincing, she quotes three scholars, out of whom only Dr. Yektan Türkyılmaz is an established scholar in the field of Armenian Genocide Studies. Yet, Bulut misuses even his work. She cites from a recent article of Dr. Türkyılmaz, but cherry-picks quotes from his piece. While Türkyılmaz’s article deals largely with the consequences of the Armenian Genocide on Turkey, Bulut integrates his quotes with the intent to further her argument on Islam’s primary role in both the act of committing the genocide and its denial. Bulut quotes Türkyılmaz as saying, “It is without doubt that the annihilationist consensus between the central government in Istanbul, the military commanders, governors, low-level and middle-level officials, many Kurdish tribes, and Circassian militia etc. was built on Islamic identity.” She, however, leaves out the crucial next sentence which reads, “Don’t perceive that I am establishing a causal relationship between identity-ideology [i.e., Islam] and violence.”

Bulut ignores the expanding literature on the Armenian Genocide in the past two decades that has moved away from such essentialist arguments and provided other more complex explanations for the occurrence of the Armenian Genocide, including modernism and positivism. Instead she moves to amateur writers such as Andrew G. Bostom—a right-wing anti-Muslim author—whom she wrongfully characterizes as a scholar, a title that even Mr. Bostom does not use to identify himself on his website. Bostom’s writing suggests that Muslims are incapable of starting a self-critical conversation on their own and that U.S. politicians should instead intervene. In other words, it subscribes to the Western colonialist ideology that only the white man can save the “Orientals,” in this case Muslims.

It is disturbing that such Islamophobic and Orientalist ideologies are propagated through the guise of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which for me has first and foremost been a human rights matter. The very belief that all Jews were inferior to the Aryan race, that Native Americans were savages, that all Armenians were/are traitors, etc. has facilitated genocide. Therefore, to understand genocide and recognize its human cost and immorality should translate into the conviction that no religious, racial, or ethnic group should be painted in one color. This includes to dismiss the belief that in their essence Muslims are violent. If we cannot accept this fundamental principle, we miss completely the humanistic aspect of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, to use the Armenian Genocide—to provide the very type of vitriol against another group of people—subdues and dishonors the humanistic goals in advocating for its recognition, as the article by Bulut claimed to do.

It is even more disconcerting that this is happening at a time when Islamophobia and White Supremacy are on the rise, facilitated by the Trump administration. Islamophobia, and White Supremacist ideology is unacceptable for the very simple reason that they are racist. Thus, I would like to call on the editors of the Armenian Weekly to be more diligent with fact-checking and source-checking, as well as to be more aware and responsible for the type of ideologies that are being advanced in the publication.

 

Dzovinar Derderian is a PhD Candidate in the Near Eastern Studies Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

 

13 Comments on Letter to Editor: When a Critique of Racist Discourse Veers off Course

  1. Can Mr Derderian explain how the fear of Islam can be branded as racist? And which group precisely is he accusing of ‘white’ supremacism? Besides Ms. Bulut was not branding all Muslims as violent but the ideology which they espouse and to a large extent underpinned Ottoman rulers’ oppression of their non Muslim subjects.

    • You might want to start your comments by not assuming that DZOVINAR Derderian is a man and referring to Derderian with “he” pronouns. Also, heads up, the Young Turks were not Islamists – most were actually atheists and thus did not subscribe to some imagined “violent Muslim ideology” but to a violent nationalist ideology.

    • avatar arto kouyoumdjian // September 20, 2017 at 1:21 pm //

      Dzovinar Derderian I believe is a lady.

  2. avatar Alec Balayance // September 21, 2017 at 2:19 am // Reply

    Dsovinar Derderian should read the Koran and study Islam before whitewashing this “religion”.

  3. avatar Stepan Vartanian // September 21, 2017 at 3:49 am // Reply

    Dzovinar may not want to admit it as the US state department doesn’t openingly admit but Islam is directly attached to Genocide, massacres and dislocation of people worldwide. Mostly to control worlds energy & natural resources as well as commodities. It worked so well 100 years ago that the US State Department / NATO continue to hijack the islamic faith creating proxy armies out of extremists they have fueled with hate and other #OperationGladio groups like the Gulen Movement. Ph.d candidate or not, facts are facts and there is a true hate of Armenians in Turkey this translates over to our religion as well which is used to further demonize us as enemies.

  4. The fact that the perpetrator nation of the Armenian Genocide was Muslim and the victim
    nation was Christian is a secondary fact. The Genocide was politically motivated. Religion was
    used to incite citizen vs. citizen. The motivation was to create an Anatolia free of non-Turks.
    The Kurds were viewed as a group they could assimilate , thus the “mountain Turk”
    efforts of the 20’s to the post war. Hatred adds no value to our cause. It was politically
    driven and we will continue the quest for justice.

  5. So much wrong with this op-ed, I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with, “Here, she attempts to collapse 14 centuries of Islamic history into a history of Muslims oppressing non-Muslims”.

    What did I just read? Ms Derderian, you cannot possibly be serious. Can you next answer why countless Armenians got beheaded during the Genocide for refusing to convert to Islam then?

    While it is true that the masterminds of the Genocide did not have Islam as their mission, their servants who committed the killings actually did, “in the name of Islam”. These were beneficiaries of Armenian wealth and lands. If there is Islamophobia and the religion of Islam got a bad name, how is that on us? That is not OUR problem, it is the problem of those practicing that religion. What are they doing about it, and why aren’t you complaining to THEM?

    In those 14 centuries during peace when “Armenians loved their coexistence with Islam” (your logic), can you next show, point out, explain exactly when it was that “we were lucky to have Muslims rule our nation” and more importantly, what BENEFIT we got?? This is like the Turkish logic of Genocide reasoning: “you are lucky we let you live all those years” – Oh, and what makes you so sure that you actually BELONGED on our lands IN THE FIRST PLACE!? Well let me actually answer that with single words: Invasion, Violence, Murder, Pillaging, Stealing, Conquest, Subjugation. Do you want more? This is what you are actually defending with that single passage you made.

    I am sorry to see Armenians with western leftist liberal political rhetoric trying to change what we Armenians are and what we have known to be true in our history, all in the name of some ill notion of “political correctness”.

    True, Christianity has its own ‘oppressive’ history, yet in every ‘Christian’ society, can you name a people which became less better off than what every other alternative offered? Trying to equate the oppressiveness of Christianity and Islam is preposterous. We Armenians as a whole accepted to become Christians in our history, despite that it was not a smooth transition, yet that was OUR problem in OUR nation and it is said and done. Islam in our nation is an outright foreign invasion, and is neither a natural decision on our part nor something we struggled with within ourselves. This is where the difference is.

    • “While it is true that the masterminds of the Genocide did not have Islam as their mission, their servants who committed the killings actually did, “in the name of Islam”. These were beneficiaries of Armenian wealth and lands.”

      This is an accurate fact that raises a very interesting question. The people on the ground who did the actual killing were often Kurdish, not even Turkish. They were not motivated by grandiose dreams of Turkish nationalism. They were obviously motivated by wealth and plunder. But was this enough? Would they have committed the killings had the killings not been consistent with their religious beliefs?

  6. Thank you, Stepan Vartanian, for your comments. I agree.

  7. Dzovinar owes Ms. Bulut an apology, and then some.

    First, the original article by Ms. Bulut pointed out four narratives about the Genocide of Christians the Turkish state promotes or, at selected and advantageous times, tolerates. Nobody disputes or could dispute what Ms. Bulut has written in this regard, and there is plenty of scholarship in and outside these pages which verifies it to be true. To take just one example – a few years ago, a Turkish father bravely protested the teaching in Turkish schools of an Army-made documentary called Seri Gellen which accused Armenians of committing Genocide against Turks and other Moslems and Jews. See an article from 2009 about this evil fiasco here by the estimable Ayse Gunaysu. https://armenianweekly.com/2009/03/04/learnings-from-the-sari-gelin-case/

    Every traveler to western Armenia is saddened to learn that the state has erected museums accusing Armenians of Genocide, but otherwise hiding their existence and culture. Armenian objects are called the work of others.

    Dzovinar apparently does not like some of the things Ms. Bulut – a native of Turkey – has to say about the history of Islam and Dhimmitude in trying to explain how Turkey and the OE came to be so virulently anti-Christian. One wonders if she would protest the same sorts of things had Ms. Bulut said them about Hinduism, Christianity or Animism. Prob. not.

    In this respect, Dzovinar is an adherent of the notorious Bernard Lewis school, which asserts, often with the hearty approval of the Turkish state and its good friends, that dhimmitude just wasn’t that bad. He never lived a dhimmi life, and neither has Dzovinar, but the point is that there are deep cultural schisms between Turkish Moslems and native Christians which may explain why the murder of Christians could be accepted and even celebrated by the common Turk, who often slit throats and raped women at the behest of the local imam. We have all heard the stories that after prayers on Fridays, the mobs would pillage and kill Armenians in the 1890’s and during the AG. Yes, Dzovinar, the impetus may have come from leaders who cared little about Islam, but they did know that the dirty work would be done in the name of Allah by the common man. Thought experiment: do we really think the Triumvirate could have promoted a 1915 Genocide of Moslem Kurds or Arabs? No, we don’t. Islam was the special sauce that was necessary.

    What is unfair about Dzovinar’s piece is her fashionable and politically correct assertion that Ms. Bulut is a racist or has written a “racist discourse.” This tells us more about what Dzovinar thinks, than fact. Reasonable minds may differ about Dhimmitude, Islamic Conquests though history and violence in Islam against Christians et al, but there is no basis to go the extra mile and brand Ms. Bulut a racist or an islamophobe.Being critical of a religion and its adherents does not make a person a racist or a phobe. Just doesn’t.

  8. Criticism of Islam is not the same thing as criticism of Muslims. Islam is a religion, in other words a set of ideas. And ideas exist to be criticized and debated. But that doesn’t mean that we should assume that any given Muslim person adheres to the worst ideas of the religion.

    Not only is it ahistorical and immoral to brand Muslims (as opposed to Islam) as inherently violent, it is also strategically misguided. There are millions of hidden Muslim Armenians in Turkey. A few thousand have bravely revealed their Armenian identity publicly. These Muslim Armenians, within Turkey, will be the ones to stimulate change within the country. What is the point of alienating them?

    Furthermore, do we really want to align with the anti-Muslim American and European right-wing? The same group that sides with Azerbaijan (and, yes, when push comes to shove, Turkey) over Armenia every single time?

  9. I don’t recall the islam’phobic’ aspects of Bulut’s article however, I also felt it was quite simplistic and did not take into account recent Armenian Genocide scholarship like Derderian states. There has been many articles in the past few years dealing with Denial and Bulut’s article was on the weak side and old news in terms of scholarship.

  10. Can someone please explain how a righteous Turk who is risking her own life, and putting her family in danger, standing up against her own government and country’s policies and denials, a Muslim herself is ‘islamophobic’? Why even a respected publication like Armenian Weekly is allowing a platform for people to berate those who risk everything to stand up and tell the truth, help their fellow human beings get justice for those who were denied justice?
    This is puzzling to me. Maybe I missed something, but I can figure this out.
    Perhaps Ms Derderian can explain how is possible that a Muslim Turk is ‘islamophobic’ and someone with Ms Bulut’s credentials is not qualified to make observations coming from her obvious personal experience. Then Ms Dererian somehow linked that article to her one sided personal view on the current political/social climate in the USA, dragging the current US administration in this too.
    Can we have an honest, discussion on this topic, something that impacted every Armenian’s life for generations without dragging labels, personal attacks, conspiracy theories or talking points of one political party or the other? Are some Armenians in the US, no longer capable of separating their political views and affiliations from historic facts and being objective?
    If anything I felt that Ms Bulut’s article lacked discussing other factors, and tactics/polices Turkey implemented and implements today to crush any attempt to get facts to the average person inside Turkey and to the world outside Turkey, but I can understand. No one can cover this in one article, but I had nothing but admiration for Ms Bulut and thanks to her bravery, leaving cultural, politics, personal opinions aside and standing up to tell the truth. Something unfortunately Dzovinar was incapable of doing.
    This is dangerous, and Dzovinar of all people, given her academic status should know better than going down that path.
    Very disappointed reading this.

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