By Harut Sassounian,
Publisher, The California Courier
Last week’s column on the 1909 Fatwa issued by Egypt’s top Islamic cleric condemning Turks for massacring Armenians in Adana drew widespread attention. The article was posted on websites in many countries, including Pakistan, India, Israel, France, Russia, Lebanon, Armenia, and the United States.
Although my columns are often translated and reprinted in the Turkish media, last week’s article broke all records. It appeared in summary form in dozens of Turkish newspapers and websites. In addition, prominent syndicated columnist Taha Akyol wrote a lengthy rebuttal published in Hurriyet, CNN-Turk, and other publication. Akyol is a right wing journalist who switched his allegiance from the ultra-nationalist Alpaslan Turkes, leader of the Grey Wolves, to Pres. Abdullah Gul and his ruling Islamist AKP party.
Akyol describes me as “one of the Armenian Diaspora’s fiercest leaders,” and “a Tashnak militant.” To prove to his Turkish readers that I am a “radical” Armenian, Akyol quotes from an earlier column in which I had stated that Armenians could regain Western Armenia someday when unexpected developments take place in that region, creating a power vacuum. Akyol was joined by former Turkish Ambassador Omer Engin Lutem in denouncing my views on Western Armenia. While calling me an “extreme nationalist,” Amb. Lutem depicted me as someone “highly admired and frequently read by Diaspora Armenians. In addition to the value of his writings, he is a person that must be taken seriously because of his influence over the Armenian Diaspora.”
In his article, Akyol uses standard denialist tactics by reducing the number of Armenian victims in Adana and mischaracterizing the killings as a clash between Armenians and Turks. In reality, 30,000 Armenians were killed by Turkish mobs which had been whipped into frenzy by Ismail Hakke, the Mufti of Bahce, a town near Adana. Akyol’s gross misrepresentation of the facts is contradicted by the July 31, 1909 decree of the Council of Ministers of Ottoman Turkey which placed sole responsibility for the massacres on the shoulders of provincial Turkish officials.
In a vain attempt to make his distorted views more credible, Akyol reports that he consulted Prof. Kemal Cicek, Director of the discredited Turkish Historical Society, who “had published a book last month titled, ‘The Adana Incidents of 1909 Revisited.’” In fact, the book was published a year ago, and Cicek is not the author, but editor of a volume consisting of papers presented at a 2009 Ankara conference. In response to Akyol’s question as to whether the Turkish Mufti had issued a Fatwa, Cicek reportedly stated: “I studied the Adana court records. Armenians had made such claims at the time, but no such documents or witnesses were found. There is absolutely no such Fatwa.”
Contrary to Cicek’s claims, there are a number of references confirming that Ismail Hakke, the Turkish Mufti, did issue a Fatwa to legitimize the atrocities. Dr. Ali Osman Ozturk, Professor at Canakkale’s “March 18 University,” wrote the following in the Milli Folklor Journal (2009): “The government hanged the Mufti of Bahce in Dortyol because of the Fatwa he had issued, stating that ‘Armenian blood and property are helal [religiously sanctioned].’” Historian Raymond Kevorkian also mentions the Turkish Fatwa in his monumental book, “The Armenian Genocide, a Complete History,” by referencing two sources: Z. Duckett Ferriman’s “The Young Turks and the Truth about the Holocaust at Adana, in Asia Minor, During April, 1909,” and the Turkish parliamentary commission’s report by Judges Fayk Bey and Haroutioun Mosdichian. Dr. Vahakn Dadrian also refers to several Fatwas issued by Muftis in various Turkish towns, including the Mufti of Bahce, who “surpassed in intensity and scope the atrociousness of the rest of his colleagues.” Dadrian then quotes the German newspaper Berliner Tageblatt which reported the eyewitness account of German engineers: “The Mufti had excited and agitated the fanatical and criminal rabble of Bahce and its environs.”
To his credit, Akyol does not deny the Fatwa issued by the noble Egyptian Grand Sheikh Salim al-Bishri of al-Azhar. Akyol admits the possibility that the Arab Sheikh had issued such a Fatwa. I can assure him that such a Fatwa exists, since I have in my possession a photocopy of the document, excerpts of which were published in translation in my last week’s column. Akyol also acknowledges that the Turkish Mufti of Bahce was in fact hanged for his crimes in Adana!
Over a 100 years later, the Fatwa of Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar remains a most valuable document, particularly in these turbulent times. Copies of this righteous Fatwa along with the compassionate Decree issued in 1917 by the Sharif of Mecca should be disseminated by the Armenian Republic, church leaders, and civic groups to all Muslim states, their Ambassadors, media, and mosques worldwide, particularly in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Arab world.