Bernard Lewis : biography

May 31, 1916 -

Armenian Genocide

The first two editions of Lewis' The Emergence of Modern Turkey (1961 and 1968) describe the Armenian massacres of World War I as "the terrible holocaust of 1915, when a million and a half Armenians perished".Karsh, Efraim. Islamic Imperialism: A History. page 356 In later editions, this text is altered to: "the terrible slaughter of 1915, when, according to estimates, more than a million Armenians perished, as well as an unknown number of Turks." Lewis was later one of 69 scholars to co-sign a 1985 petition asking the US Congress to avoid a resolution condemning the events as genocide.

The change in Lewis' textual description of the Armenian massacres, and his signing of the petition against the Congressional resolution, was controversial among some historians and journalists, who suggested that Lewis was engaging in historical revisionism to serve his own political and personal interests.Dadrian, Vahakn N. Warrant for genocide: key elements of Turko-Armenian conflict. 2003, page 131 The original text had already drawn criticism for what some historians believe to be its exaggeration of unity and strength among Armenians:Melson, Robert. Revolution and Genocide. 1996, page 154-5 "[Lewis] implies that both had equal military and political force at their disposal to defend their interests. The fact is that the Armenians had neither a police force nor an army".Grenke, Arthur. God, greed, and genocide: the Holocaust through the centuries. 2005, page 58

Lewis later called the label "genocide" the "Armenian version of this history" in a November 1993 Le Monde article, for which he faced a civil proceeding in a French court. He was ordered to pay one franc as damages for his statements on the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey. Lewis has stated that while mass murders did occur, he did not believe there was sufficient evidence to conclude it was government-sponsored, ordered or controlled and therefore did not constitute genocide. The court stated that "by concealing elements contrary to his opinion, he neglected his duties of objectivity and prudence"., 21 June 1995 Three other court cases against Bernard Lewis failed in the Paris tribunal, including one filed by the Armenian National Committee of France and two filed by Jacques Trémollet de Villers.« Les actions engagées par les parties civiles arméniennes contre “le Monde” déclarées irrecevables par le tribunal de Paris », Le Monde, 27 novembre 1994 ; , Princeton Alumni Weekly, June 5, 1996

When Lewis received the National Humanities Medal from US President George W. Bush in November 2006, the Armenian National Committee of America objected: "The President's decision to honor the work of a known genocide denier — an academic mercenary whose politically motivated efforts to cover up the truth run counter to the very principles this award was established to honor — represents a true betrayal of the public trust.", Armenian National Committee of America, November 22, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2007.

Lewis' views on the Armenian Genocide were criticized by a number of historians and sociologists, among them Alain Finkielkraut, Yves Ternon, Richard G. Hovannisian, Albert Memmi, Pierre Vidal-Naquet,Identity Politics in the Age of Genocide: The Holocaust and Historical Representation, By David B. MacDonald, Routledge, 2008, ISBN 0-415-43061-5, p. 241The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, By Norman G. Finkelstein, Verso, 2003, ISBN 1-85984-488-X, p. 69 Stephen Zunes described Lewis as a "notorious genocide-denier",, by Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, October 22, 2007 and Yair Auron suggested that "Lewis’ stature provided a lofty cover for the Turkish national agenda of obfuscating academic research on the Armenian Genocide". Israel Charny wrote that Lewis' "seemingly scholarly concern... of Armenians constituting a threat to the Turks as a rebellious force who together with the Russians threatened the Ottoman Empire, and the insistence that only a policy of deportations was executed, barely conceal the fact that the organized deportations constituted systematic mass murder"., by Israel Charny, "IDEA" journal, July 17, 2001, Vol.6, no.1 Charny compares the "logical structures" employed by Lewis in his denial of the genocide to those employed by Ernst Nolte in his Holocaust negationism.Charny, Israel W. Fighting Suicide Bombing. 2007, page 241

In response, Lewis argued that: {{quote|There is no evidence of a decision to massacre. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence of attempts to prevent it, which were not very successful. Yes there were tremendous massacres, the numbers are very uncertain but a million may well be likely,, "Distinguishing Armenian Case from Holocaust", Assembly of Turkish American Associations, April 14, 2002 (PDF) ...[and] the issue is not whether the massacres happened or not, but rather if these massacres were as a result of a deliberate preconceived decision of the Turkish government... there is no evidence for such a decision.Getler, Michael. , The Ombudsman Column, PBS, April 21, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.}}

Lewis stated that he believed "to make [the Armenian Genocide], a parallel with the Holocaust in Germany" was "rather absurd." In an interview with Ha'aretz he stated: {{quote|The deniers of Holocaust have a purpose: to prolong Nazism and to return to Nazi legislation. Nobody wants the 'Young Turks' back, and nobody wants to have back the Ottoman Law. What do the Armenians want? The Armenians want to benefit from both worlds. On the one hand, they speak with pride of their struggle against the Ottoman despotism, while on the other hand, they compare their tragedy to the Jewish Holocaust. I do not accept this. I do not say that the Armenians did not suffer terribly. But I find enough cause for me to contain their attempts to use the Armenian massacres to diminish the worth of the Jewish Holocaust and to relate to it instead as an ethnic dispute.Karpel, Dalia., Ha'aretz Weekly, January 23, 1998. Retrieved April 26, 2007.}}

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