© 1994 Dennis R. Papazian

A Review Essay

United States Official Documents on the Armenian Genocide, Vol. I: The Lower Euphrates, Compiled and introduced by Ara Sarafian (Watertown, Armenian Review, 1993), 185 pp.

by Dennis R. Papazian, Ph.D.

There is no question that the Armenian Genocide is the seminal event in modern Armenian history, an event which binds the Armenian people from all over the world together and at the same time defines the very meaning of the Armenian diaspora. The Genocide is also the focal point, even today, of Turkish-Armenian relations despite the efforts of many Turks, and even some Armenians, to dismiss it as an archaic and questionable episode of the past.

A Contemporary Problem

Many astute observers of the international scene believe, despite Turkey's expressions of indifference, that it is the legacy of the Armenian Genocide which fundamentally mars relations between the newly independent Republic of Armenia and the 70-year-old Republic of Turkey.

Despite the best efforts of the present Armenian government to downplay the Genocide and seek fresh and meaningful diplomatic and economic relations with all its neighbors, Turkey remains fundamentally hostile. Without the full and whole-hearted cooperation of Turkey, for example, an attempted blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan would have no chance of succeeding. Accordingly, it is Turkey, and not Armenia, which cannot overlook the Genocide and move on to the future.

Indeed, after 70 years of public denial of the Armenian Genocide, it is apparent that the Genocide means as much to Turkey today as it does to the Armenians, although certainly for different reasons.

Recently, I attended a series of five meeting at the prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where a large group of knowledgeable and influential people, including some representatives of Turkey, engaged in serious discussions of the international implications of the Azerbaijan-Nagorno Karabakh conflict. After one of the three-hour sessions, dedicated to trying to fathom Turkey's hostile attitude toward the Armenian Republic, a man who was decidedly pro-Turk blurted out, "By God, it's 1917 all over again. It's as if nothing has happened in the last 70 years. The Turks are currently trying to finish off the Armenian Genocide!"

It should be clear that the Armenian Genocide is not a mere episode of the past but a living problem that begs solution. Better Turko-Armenian relations, and permanent peace in the Caucasus, cannot come about until the Turks are able to confront this crime of their past.

The Turks can only be released from their suppressed guilt, which muddles their relationship with Europe and America, when they come to grips with the Armenian Genocide psychologically, morally, and politically. The resolution of the Armenian Genocide is, accordingly, as much an issue for present-day Turks as it is for the Armenians.

A Question of Evidence?

The Turks who deny the Armenian Genocide claim that it never happened, that the Armenians deserved it anyway, and that the available evidence touted by the Armenians is propaganda or forgery.

These Turkish--and pro-Turkish--deniers, maintain that there is no "official" documentation proving the Armenian Genocide and that Armenian affirmation of that crime against humanity is not meaningful in the absence of such official proof. This proof, they maintain, can only be found in the Turkish archives. Such an argument, we should observe, is faulty on the face of it; yet many unthinking people--including unfortunately many scholars and opinion makers--do not readily see its deficiency.

Serious scholars understand that individual government archives rarely contain the whole truth on any issue. Governments, which are run by politicians, will often try to cover their tracks. To understand this penchant for a cover-up, we need only to reflect on Watergate, Irangate, or now Whitewatergate in our own country--all rather trivial events in comparison with the Armenian Genocide.

An even better example, more to the point of Turkish activities, is the massive disinformation conspiracy organized and carried out by Stalin to conceal many of the horrors taking place in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and '30s. Some Stalinist documents were written to deceive the public, others were hidden away to conceal the truth, and still others were destroyed to obliterate the evidence. The criminal is not likely to present the evidence to prove his own guilt.

Despite the fanfare in 1989 surrounding the supposed "opening of the Turkish archives" to serious scholars, the Turkish archives have in reality remained closed except to a few unrepentant Turkish deniers who have randomly published a few, questionable documents. In any case, it has long been recognized by serious scholars that only the multi-archival approach to finding historical evidence is to be trusted.

Multi-archival Proof

A multi-archival approach means that the truth of the Armenian genocide is to be found not by looking solely in the Turkish archives, but rather by analyzing and comparing documents to be found in the various archives of Turkey's friends and enemies, as well as important neutral powers, during World War I. Such a study would include the archives of Germany, Austria- Hungary, Italy, Greece, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. Only by analyzing and comparing documents from various sources, from various governments, can the truth be reconstructed.

A bibliography of much of the available multi-archival documentation may be found in Richard Hovannisian's The Armenian Holocaust: A Bibliography Relating to the Deportations, Massacres, and the Dispersion of the Armenian People, 1915-1923 (2nd. ed., Belmont, MA: Armenian Heritage Press, 1980) and in other sources.

America: A Neutral Source

The work presently under review deals specifically with the numerous and trustworthy documents to be found in the archives of the Department of State of the United States of America and the papers of Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to Turkey between 1913 and 1916. These documents are especially valuable because the United States had stationed State Department officials at critical points all over the Ottoman Empire, had Protestant missionaries stationed in most of the areas inhabited by the Armenians, and because the United States did not declare war on Turkey. America, as a neutral power, would be expected to tell the truth.

There were, as should be more widely known, several American consular officials stationed in the Ottoman Empire before and during most of World War I. These consuls, and their aides, were assigned to posts in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Aleppožall areas into which both the Armenian survivors of the death marches from the interior of Anatolia were herded as well as where those brought from the Aegean coast in cattle cars were amassed for their own death marches.

American officials were also assigned to posts in Mersin, Kharberd (Kharpert), Trebizond, and Samsun, places in which the Armenians were either killed or driven out on the death marches. Americans were also stationed in Adrianople, Constantinople, and Smyrna, important administrative and commercial centers of Turkey.

There were also other Americans living and working in the Ottoman Empire, most of whom worked for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which operated several schools, orphanages, colleges, and missions in the interior and along the periphery of Turkey. Still other Americans in Turkey represented American businesses, including some of the then major tobacco and oil companies.

The Evidence

The collection of American documents under review, ably edited by Ara Sarafian, is the first of an intended five-volume series. It contains the reports of contemporary American eye- witnesses, written while in Turkey or immediately after returning to the United States.

Volumes I-III will contain reports from the interior of the Ottoman Empire, volume IV will have eyewitness reports sent to Ambassador Morgenthau or directly to the State Department by American missionaries or those closely associated with them, and volume V will contain further dispatches from Ambassador Morgenthau to the Department of State.

The Documentation

Specifically, volume I concentrates on the "lower Euphrates," namely the provinces of Aleppo, Beirut, Damascus, Zor, Mosul, and Baghdad, areas inhabited mostly by affable Arabs, through which the survivors were driven on their way to their deaths in the burning desert of Der er Zor. Volume II will deal with the provinces of Adana, including the city of Mersin; of Aidin, including Smyrna; of Edirne, including the city of Edirne (Adrianople); and of Trebizond, including Samsun and the city of Trebizond. Volume III will cover Mamuret-ul-Aziz, including the city of Kharberd and the surrounding region.

Volume I's importance lies in the fact that the American consul in Aleppo not only was concerned with the Aleppo province, but also had responsibility for the traditional Armenian areas of Urfa, Aintab, Marash, and Zeitun. Aleppo, as has been observed, was at the major convergence point for the survivor caravans coming from the north, east, and west, and the departure point for the death caravans which were sent on to the desert of Der er Zor. The other American consulates covered in the first volume were on the peripheries of the so-called "resettlement zone" outlined by the Ottoman government for the alleged "deportees."

These American documents prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that the real purpose of the Ottoman government was not the "resettlement" of the Armenians, but rather their total destruction and annihilation. Resettlement was cynically reserved for Muslim refugees.

Turkish Falsification

Ara Sarafian conveniently includes three Turkish documents, gleaned from pro-Turkish printed sources, as addenda to the first series. These documents relate to the safe resettlement of some 800,000 refugees from the Russian front to the interior, and to the settling of nomadic tribes on "vacated lands."

Turkish authors have claimed that these refugees were Armenian and that the Turkish government resettled them in a humane fashion in the interior away from the war front in the east. Closer study of these documents, however, shows that these refugees were not Armenians but rather Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds.

These Muslims refugees were settled on the lands left vacant by the forced expulsion of the Armenians. They were given the homes, stores, shops, and goods taken from the Armenians. Local nomads were settled on the remaining vacated Armenian lands.

These Turkish documents prove, by indirection, that the Armenians were expelled from Turkey to make room for Muslim settlers, refugees from the war front with Russia, and local nomads! They also prove, if any published Turkish documents can be trusted at all, that the Ottoman government was capable of managing a benign resettlement program if it chose to do so. Obviously, that was not the case with the Armenians. They were to be eradicated.

The American Documents

The American documents in his collection clearly show that the Turkish authorities had no intention of resettling the Armenians but rather were intent on their destruction. Most of these documents are communiques from Jesse B. Jackson, American Consul in Aleppo, to either Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, or from Jackson to the American Secretary of State, Robert Lansing. They also include reports from John E. Merrill, President of Central Turkey College at Aintab, Charles F. Brissel, American Consul in Baghdad, Stanley Hollis, American Consul in Beirut, F. H. Leslie, American missionary in Urfa, and many others.

A review of the documents reveals a progressive understanding by the American observers that a wholesale genocide, unprecedented even in Turkish history, was being carried out against the Armenians. As Jesse B. Jackson, consul at Aleppo wrote to U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau in Constantinople in June 1915, "It is without doubt a carefully planned scheme to thoroughly extinguish the Armenian race."

The Armenian Review, its assistant editor Vincent Lima, and the editor of the present series of documents, Ara Sarafian, are all to be commended for this excellent collection. While many of these documents have been available in other forms, this is the first time that they have been printed in a convenient book in a systematic way.

The paperback volume is 185 pages long, and it includes five maps, illustrations, tables, notes and an index. Most Armenians will want the whole series, and it would be an appropriate gift for libraries, journalists, and political figures.

The book may be ordered from the Armenian Review, 80 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown, MA 02172-2012, for $15.00 plus $2.50 shipping.

[March 1994]

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