There is a politician up in Canada by the name of Stephen Stiles who, besides being a world class jerk, should be an object lesson to us all. A member of the Alberta provincial legislature, he has said that he has "never seen anything in the way of documentary evidence to prove . . . that Jews were necessarily persecuted" by Nazi Germany. Case closed.
Considering all the evidence available, documentary or otherwise, it seems certain that nothing could convince Stiles that what happened happened. He prefers to believe otherwise and I would prefer to believe that he is not only an aberration, but unimportant as well. After all, the evidence of the Holocaust is so overwhelming, it could not possibly be denied.
That, at least, is what I thought until recently. But then not too long ago, I found myself sitting at one end of an enormous table in the embassy of Turkey. At the other end was the ambassador himself and what he was telling me was that the crime I had always thought had happened, simply had not. I am speaking now of the systematic murder of over one million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks.
I had mentioned this genocide in a column--mentioned it only in passing --and mentioned it thinking that it was a given--that no one could possibly dispute that it had happened. In 1915, in the midst of the First World War, a beleaguered and disintegrating Ottoman Empire had turned on its Armenian population, banishing them from what was historically Armenia to what is now Syria--murdering them, starving them and leaving them unprotected to bandits and killers along the way.
But the ambassador said this had not happened. Sure, there were "incidents" and, yes, the Armenians had been banished. But what the world persisted in calling a genocide was actually a civil war--one with atrocities on both sides and one in which the central government in Constantinople lost control of its own troops and could not protect the Armenians. There never was a policy to exterminate the Armenians, the ambassador said.
And so I sat at the table unable to prove that one of the great crimes of history had actually been committed. I mentioned some books I had read. The ambassador smiled. Exaggerations, he said. Reports based on hearsay and given wide currency by England and America which were, after all, Turkey's foes in World War I. This was true, he said, of the reports filed by the American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, and as for the accounts written by Arnold Toynbee, well, he later revised them.
Do not for a minute get the idea that I was being singled out for special treatment. From 1915 to this day, the Turks--Ottoman or otherwise--have categorically denied that their government was responsible for the wide-scale murder of the Armenians. And it seems that one of the responsibilities of the ambassador is to rebut this accusation wherever it surfaces. He has probably written more letters to the editor than anyone in the country.
Of course truth matters. And after the lunch, I read some more about Armenia and talked to some more people, but the fact is the ambassador dented my confidence. There is so much to know, so much of it complicated and in foreign languages and I am busy, oh so busy. I do not have time to read further --read the three books the ambassador gave me nor the ones the Armenians have suggested. And so year by year, person by person, the genocide blurs, doubt corrodes it, and the easy word "alleged" creeps in to mock the Armenian anguish.
None of this would matter--certainly not to the Armenians of 1915, the Jews of the 1940s or the Cambodians of just yesterday--if it was not for the fact that to control the present and shape the future, you have to first alter the past--take possession of it and rob it of its lessons.
This the Turks, for their own reasons, are doing and this, Holocaust revisionists like Stiles are also doing. As for him, he would be a joke to me if it was not for that lunch at the Turkish embassy. I learned something there. The last victim of any genocide is truth.