EDITORIAL: Denialist Event Held at the LSE

Armenian students learnt of a public lecture held at the London School of Economics (LSE) on March 16.

The public lecture organised by the LSE Turkish Society, featured Professor Edward J. Erickson, a military historian who specialises on the Ottoman Army during the First World War.

The lecture presented his 2013 work “Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency”. The book’s main premise is that the “relocation of the Armenian population of six Ottoman provinces was the outcome of an evolving counterinsurgency campaign set within the complexities of a world war”.

However upon learning that there would be Armenian attendees to the lecture, the hosts hastily made the event more exclusive – meaning that only a select few invitees, apart from LSE students, could attend. The question we wished to ask is why the society is closed to debate and transparent discussion?

Nonetheless, one of our sources managed to get into the audience, which, understandably, was majority of Turkish origin.

In short, the book presents the idea that the treatment of the Armenians in 1915 was a military response by the Ottomans to Armenian ‘insurgents’, rather than being driven by political or ideological notions. However the author maintains that the ‘relocations’ were a necessity, and even “Cemal Pasha went to substantial lengths to safeguard the lives and property of displaced Armenians, thereby casting doubt on the entire concept of premeditated state-sponsored extermination” (p. 227).

However Erickson’s presentation went deeper beyond this. Although not denying the Genocide outright, his thesis is that on a governmental level, there was not enough evidence to label the events as ‘Genocide’. This extended to stating that there is a distinction between ‘relocation’ and ‘deportation’, and that the Ottomans (before the Young Turk revolution) intended for the Armenians to return after the war. Erickson also believed that many Armenians returned and then volunteered to leave when Kemalism emerged in Turkey.

Upon introducing the Armenians into the picture, Erickson displayed pictures of ARF and Hnchak ‘Fedayi’ forces to the Turkish audience. Despite mentioning that many Armenians were loyal to the Ottoman Empire, our source told us that the images had a psychological effect on the audience, and were used to link Armenians to the concept of insurgency against the Ottomans.

As a military historian, Erickson approached the Genocide through a ‘middle ground’ as opposed to the denial of some scholars, or the social homogenisation argument of Akçam and Üngör, or the intentionalist argument of Balakian and Dadrian. Instead, Erickson claimed the events of 1915 followed historical tendencies of counter insurgency – such as the British against the Boers.

An insightful question from the crowd crushed Erickson’s argument that Armenians were only ‘relocated’ in the East of Turkey due to the fear of Russians reaching Adana; the audience member prodded Erickson on Halaçoglu’s research that many Armenians were also targeted in the West (in cities such as Izmir and Ankara). Erickson’s answer was that Armenians were targeted across Turkey due to their alleged sympathy with the ARF Fedayis. Erickson thus demonised the ARF and saw the relocations as partially a result of their ‘insurgency’. The professor also seemed extremely attached to the idea that many Armenians were left alone, supposedly alluding to the notion that there was no intent and thus no Genocide.

It is hard to imagine that Erickson exudes neutrality, as he has previously served in NATO assignments in Izmir, Turkey and in Naples, Italy as a foreign area officer specialising in Turkey and the Middle East. Upon further research into his academic work, we learnt that he has even endorsed works that have outright denied the Armenian Genocide – such as Guenter Lewy’s “The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide”.

We felt the need to publicise what occurred at this event, as it is obvious that the LSE Turkish Society used the book launch as a platform to promote Genocide denial. The wording of the event’s description itself furthers this, with no mention of the word ‘Genocide’. The event reflects a common recurrence of Genocide denialist panels at world-leading universities, such as at the University of Toronto, which was protested by our friends at AYF Canada.

The strength of the Armenian Societies at UCL and SOAS has prevented any Genocide denial events occurring; I feel that the Turkish and Azerbaijani Embassies to the United Kingdom have understood this in choosing which societies to endorse for events.

—Emin Moskofian

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