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Kurds and the Armenian Genocide

By Deniz Serinci 23/4/2014
Armenians hold a candle light ceremony in Lebanon. Photo: AFP
Armenians hold a candle light ceremony in Lebanon. Photo: AFP

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – What role did the Kurds play in the Armenian genocide under the Ottomans?

On April 24 every year, Armenians worldwide commemorate the genocide, in which between 1-1.5 million died under Ottoman campaigns that began in 1915.  Turkey acknowledges that during World War I many Armenians were killed, but claims the numbers have been exaggerated, and that killings were committed by both sides.

Ugur Umit Ungor, assistant professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and an expert on the Armenian genocide, told Rudaw that some Kurdish tribes helped the Ottoman government in killing Armenians. He said that others, for example Kurds in Dersim and Mardin, resisted and helped the Armenians by giving them shelter, a hiding place or help in getting to Russian-held land.

“If many Armenians live now, it is because the Kurds in some areas protected them,” Ungor said.

“The leader of the Nurcu Movement Saidi Nursi, or Saidi Kurdi as the Kurds call him, was probably involved in rescuing hundreds of Armenian children by delivering them to the Russians,” he said.

Those who participated in the killings did so because of economic and geopolitical reasons, according to Taner Akcam, a historian at Clark University in the United States and one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and openly discuss the Armenian genocide.

“The Kurdish tribes were used by the Turkish government against the Armenians, because the Kurds claimed the same territorial area as the Armenians in eastern Anatolia. At the same time, the tribes wanted to gain economic advantages by killing Armenians,” Akcam told Rudaw.

The main responsibility for the massacres is blamed on the Ottoman State and its three leaders, Enver, Talat and Cemal Pasha.

From the 1890s the Ottoman Empire had “organized the Kurds against the Armenians under the so-called Hamidiye Regiment, which massacred the Armenians," Akcam explained.

Others were instigated to murder by religious propaganda.

“Many uneducated Kurds were told that if they kill some infidels then they will go to heaven,” Ungor said.

Some Armenians escaped the genocide by converting to Islam or by hiding, sometimes growing up in a Kurdish family. One example is Karapete Xaco, an Armenian musician born to genocide survivors.  He later moved to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, and worked for Yerevan Radio, recording hundreds of songs in Kurdish and playing a major role in developing Kurdish music.

Last year Ahmed Turk, a Kurdish politician in Turkey, declared that the Kurds have their share of “guilt in the genocide, too,” and apologized to the Armenians.

”Our fathers and grandfathers were used against Assyrians and Yezidis, as well as against Armenians. They persecuted these people; their hands are stained with blood. We as the descendants apologize,” Turk said.

Although most genocide scholars have acknowledged the Armenian massacres as one of the first modern, systematic genocides, not everyone is convinced of that. In Turkey, referring to the 1915 killings as genocide risks legal action by the state.

According to Daniella Kuzmanovic, lecturer at Copenhagen University and an expert on Turkey, many Turks fear that by admitting to genocide the state risks claims of financial compensation from the descendants of victims, or losing territory in eastern Anatolia.

But the opposition to the recognition goes much deeper: There is no mention of the Armenian genocide in Turkish schoolbooks.

“The vast majority of Turks hardly know what you are talking about when you mention the Armenian genocide, because it is not a story they were told,” Kuzmanovic told Rudaw.

The denial is also about preserving Turkish national pride and self-esteem. “To be associated with genocide means a violation of the national pride and honor,” Kuzmanovic says.

Ungor agrees.

“If you lie to a country of 80 million people for 90 years, how difficult is it now to say, ‘by the way, all we told you was a lie?’”



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Renas | 23/4/2014
At the end it was the Ottoman government which organised and committed the genocide and are guilty like Germany is guilty for the Holocaust. And where is the article about the massacres that Armenians with Russian help committed against Kurds?
The Hero
The Hero | 23/4/2014
ahmed turk, thinks that he can speak for all the Kurds. Sorry to say but i won't apologise for the armenian genocide. I haven't done anything wrong nor have my ancestors. But don't get me wrong I don't have anything against the Armenians, i just say that not all the Kurds did this only a few and they lived in small villagers and were illiterate. Do you know how easy it is to fool a illiterate, just add religion and you will get them on your side. Im happy that you mention the Kurds who helped the Armenians, because that shows how a true Kurd is and that is a goodhearted one. Why do you call ahmed turk a Kurdish politician? His name is turk and still you call him Kurdish, he is a coward and should change his last name if he really is a Kurd.
Hama Latif | 23/4/2014
I will never apologize the armenians, for something I've never done. If I'm going to apologize, then every iraqi have to apologize us Kurds for the anfal campaign, and every irianian have to apologize for the hanging of Kurds and ofcourse turkey have to apologize for every bad thing they have done to us Kurds.
Kurdistan Strong | 23/4/2014
Some Kurds contributed to the genocide, it is a fact. But they were just assassins who did it for their own benifit, has nothing to do with Kurds in general, while the Turks in general DO stand behind the genocide. The Hamidiyan brigade can be compared to SS volunteers from other coubtries than Germany; there were Dutch, Ukrainian, Russian, French, etc. SS murderers im the death camps, but everyone knows those nations didnt have anything to do with the Shoah (Holocaust), it was the Germans.
Muraz Adzhoev | 23/4/2014
The historical fact of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire should not cause doubts. However, the events of this very tragic history, in which the victims of the genocide were not only Armenians, have been poorly studied by experts due to the lack of access to reliable information and documents of the primary sources of truth. The Ottoman authorities called on Kurdish irregular troops for compulsory military service. It should be mentioned that irregular troops were not volunteer forces of the Kurdish tribes, as intentionally and on bad purpose declare all kinds of so called armenian experts. But there were the volunteer armenian armed detachments in the Russian army. Those volunteers were involved in mass killings of defenceless Kurdish elderly, women and children. Victims of the Armenian bandits were tens of thousands of Kurds, in addition to hundreds of thousands of Kurds that hardly suffered during the Turkish massacre in that tragic years. The whole story must be true. And when talking about the Yezidis, we must not forget, that they were, are and will be always primarily true Kurds by ancient origin, language and culture.
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