Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Of dhimmitude and defiance

Ninety-two years ago today, the Turkish Interior Ministry ordered a roundup of Armenian leaders and intellectuals, most of whom were soon killed. This is widely recognized as the opening of the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal campaign against the Armenian people – but in fact, the slaughter began even earlier, as Vahakn Dadrian noted in his 1999 book “Warrant for Genocide” (Page 152):

“It is significant that before the Ittihadists in 1915 formally embarked upon the destruction of the Ottoman Armenian population at large, they targeted and eliminated first and foremost the Armenian population of Zeitoun and its environs.”

Why Zeitoun? Because during an earlier series of massacres of Armenians in 1894-1896, the residents of that city mounted so spirited a resistance to its Muslim assailants that, according to Dadrian, “the ranks of the Turkish Fifth Army Corps, consisting largely of Circassians, officered by Turks, were decimated. In the words of the British consul at Aleppo, Henry Barnham, the Corps ‘suffered a very heavy defeat, with at least five thousand killed.’” This was accomplished against a force of 50,000 by some 6,000 Armenians “[r]elying on old flint-locks and muzzle loaders” and edged weapons, which a French observer reported that “they handle ... with an unbelievable dexterity.” (Page 80)

Several factors favored the Zeitounlis in their 1895 resistance, including the region’s mountainous topography and homogenous population, and their martial spirit. But all of these would have come to naught had it not been for their “ongoing love affair with their weapons.” As Dadrian relates, “Describing the rifles, knives, and swords decorating the walls of every home, a chronicler in 1887 portrayed these abodes as little ‘garrisons rather than homes,’ with people running around in the city always armed, and every male and female over ten being capable of using an assortment of firearms.” Moreover, Zeitoun was a community of enthusiastic hunters, “and the skills acquired in hunting ... were easily transferred to the type of warfare in which Zeitoun Armenians distinguished themselves ... they lurked and lured, and when they struck, they rarely missed.” (Page 79)

So severe was the punishment they inflicted on the Turks that by late 1895 and early 1896, Sultan Abdul Hamit actually requested the intervention of the European powers “with a view to ending the fight. ... virtually begging for the cessation of hostilities so as to spare the terrible losses and suffering of his troops” (Page 81). Thus were the Zeitounlis able to avoid the fate of upwards of 200,000 of their fellow Armenians who fell victim to the Muslim onslaught.

The “Muslim” characterization of the attacks is made advisedly – for, as Andrew Bostom has pointed out,

“Contemporary accounts from European diplomats make clear that these brutal massacres were perpetrated in the context of a formal jihad against the Armenians who had attempted to throw off the yoke of dhimmitude by seeking equal rights and autonomy. For example, the Chief Dragoman (Turkish-speaking interpreter) of the British embassy reported regarding the 1894-96 massacres:
‘…[The perpetrators] are guided in their general action by the prescriptions of the Sheri [Sharia] Law. That law prescribes that if the "rayah" [dhimmi] Christian attempts, by having recourse to foreign powers, to overstep the limits of privileges allowed them by their Mussulman [Muslim] masters, and free themselves from their bondage, their lives and property are to be forfeited, and are at the mercy of the Mussulmans. To the Turkish mind the Armenians had tried to overstep those limits by appealing to foreign powers, especially England. They therefore considered it their religious duty and a righteous thing to destroy and seize the lives and properties of the Armenians ....”

The Zeitounlis in particular violated yet another aspect of their putative status as dhimmis by having the temerity to keep and bear arms. Under the original dhimma (pact of “protection” for conquered non-Muslims), drawn up by the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, and quoted in the tasfir (Quranic commentary) of Ibn Kathir, the conquered Christians agreed (among much else) that “We will not ... collect weapons of any kind nor carry these weapons.” (This is cited by both Robert Spencer in “Onward Muslim Soldiers” [Page 141] and Andrew Bostom in “The Legacy of Jihad” [Page 130]). This rule is repeatedly mentioned throughout Bat Ye’or’s histories of dhimmitude; for example its application in 1454 in Cairo, where its strictures included “not possessing any weapon” (Page 114, “Islam and Dhimmitude”). And it was still in force against Christian Armenians in Turkey in the 19th century, as Dadrian noted in “Warrant for Genocide” (Page 9) when writing of “the denial to them of the right to carry arms in a land full of outlaws armed to the teeth.”

Nor is the Islamic imperative to disarm the infidel a thing of the past. As recently as 2002 Ibn Kathir’s proscription was repeated almost verbatim in a sermon at a Mecca mosque by Sheikh Marzouq Salem al-Ghamdi, who specified “conditions” for resident infidels requiring that they “do not ... arm themselves with any kind of weapon ...”.

In this context, the remonstrances of Muslim commentators in the wake of the Virginia Tech killings, such as the editorialist for the Saudi “Arab News” who decried Americans’ “obsolete right to carry guns” bear a particularly malign aspect. In view of such inimical elements of Islamic belief as verse 9:29 of the Quran, which mandates that infidels are to be fought until they “feel themselves subdued” – and in view of the grim fate that the Zeitounlis were able for a time to forestall – they deserve from Americans nothing but defiant scorn.

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