Prof. Taner Akçam

Killing Orders Lays Bare Orders for Armenian Annihilation by Turkish Government


By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WORCESTER — Prof. Taner Akçam has been at the forefront of finding evidence confirming the Armenian Genocide and the role of the Ottoman central government in the murders for decades. His latest book, Killing Orders: Talat Pasha’s Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide, is the latest volley he has launched to bring down the curtain of denial of the Turkish government.

The book, published this week by Palgrave Macmillian, is an expanded with additional two new chapters available only in English-language translation of his book on Naim Bey, which was originally published in Turkish last year.

In it, Akçam literally shows the orders from the central government to exterminate Armenians in various parts of the country. Many have referred to the book’s explosive content which once and for all shows that not only the genocide happened but that it was done on orders of the central government, as an “earthquake” in the field of Armenian Genocide studies.

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Scholars have long established that indeed the killings were ordered by the central government but this new piece of evidence corroborates it beyond proof using original source material from the Ottoman Archives.

“The main argument I bring in the book destroys the classic denialist argument which is that there was no killing orders,” he explained in an interview this week from his office at Clark University, where he is a professor of history and holds the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. They say “the Ottoman government never meant to exterminate the population and that there is no record of it.”

Akçam said that he used two sets of documents to show the genocidal intent of the Ottoman government. One was material from the Istanbul Tribunal and the second was from the Aram Andonian collection.

In 2015, Akçam turned his attention to the documents collected by the Very Rev. Krikor Guerguerian, a Catholic priest who was born in 1911 in Turkey and survived the Genocide. In the years after the Genocide, Guerguerian scoured through the archives of the Istanbul and Jerusalem Patriarchates and found a lot of proof regarding the intentions of the Turkish authorities, including those from the Military Tribunals. His archives containing thousands of documents were preserved by his nephew, Edmund.

Regarding the documents related to Military Tribunals, which were held between 1919-1921 in Istanbul, “[Denialists] always said ‘Show us the originals, the indictment and verdict,” Akçam said. In general, these documents were cited in the verdicts and the indictments however, the original telegrams, affidavits, testimonies and the proceedings of the court are lost. Until now, nobody knows where about of these materials.

“Now in my book there are very two important central telegrams from the tribunal,” he said, one an open killing order of Bahaettin Shakir the head of Teskilat-i Mahsusa and then the order of Army Commander Mahmut Kamil Pasha.

The second set of documents were known as Naim-Andonian Materials. Aram Andonian, an Istanbul-born French-Armenian journalist wrote a book based on these materials in Armenian, called Medz Yegern, translated into English with the title The Memoirs of Naim Bey. Andonian himself was among the Armenians arrested on April 24, 1915. He survived his ordeal, lived for a while in Aleppo where he received the “memoirs” of Naim Efendi which contained hand-written copies of 52 telegrams. Andoinan received the originals of 18 of these 52 documents. He eventually moved to France, where he later headed the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Nubarian Library. Naim Efendi’s memoir as well as some original telegrams that he gave to Andonian, contained the killing orders of Interior Minister Talat Pasha.

“The Turkish government’s argument was that these documents were all fake,” Akçam said.

A book published in 1983, produced by the Turkish Historical Society, specifically took on those documents used by Andonian and so convincingly argued that those were fakes, that many Genocide scholars steered clear of them.

According to Akçam, three arguments were used to discredit the documents that Andonian had collected and published as The Memoirs of Naim Bey. The first was that a person called Naim Bey did not exist. It followed thus that if such a person did not exist he could not write his memoirs and finally that the telegrams were fakes because there were inconstancies in the Governor of Aleppo’s signatures, dates of documents and the coding system.

His book’s English-language edition, Akçam added, tackles the signatures and dates aspect of the question which was not discussed in the Turkish version, with his discovery that indeed, the Governor of Aleppo used at least five different signatures when he occupied different offices.

“Until my book there was no evidence found to prove the existence of Naim Bay,” he said. Evidence from the Ottoman archives showed that in fact, “he existed and that the memoir was authentic I showed that the telegram published by Andonian was authentic,” Akçam said.

But will this new evidence change minds at the top levels of the Turkish government?

“It is a major blow to Turkish denialist arguments. However, denialism has nothing to do with facts and the truth,” he noted while adding “The Turkish government will continue to deny the Genocide. They have to find new ways.”

One other idea investigated in the book is that the cover-up for the Genocide started almost as soon as the orders for the Genocide were issued. Akçam cited the case of Krikor Zohrab, one of the most famous victims of the Armenian Genocide. Zohrab, an influential writer and member of Parliament, was arrested in June 1915 in Istanbul and executed in July of the same year in Urfa by the authorities. “When Zohrab was killed in July an internal doctor report suggest that he died of a heart attack. The priest in Urfa confirmed that Zohrab died from health-related issues,” he said.

The assassin of Zohrab, Cerkez Ahmed, himself became a real problem when he started bragging about his deed, and therefore he himself was hanged.

“Denialism is not denial of facts but creating their own facts,” Akçam explained.

Akçam found a treasure trove of documents which had been put in the Ottoman archives after 2012.

“Why did they put them in the archive? I think it was human error,” he said. Among the documents they put in the archives were those with two- and three-digit codes, which only in 1983 they published a book denying their existence

“I check the archives regularly as a historian and talk with people,” he said. “We knew that after 2012 new materials were put there and decided to work on the Guerguerian and Andonian materials.

The perpetrators’ documents are crucial to explaining the actions, he said. “The victim testimonies are as important as the perpetrator materials. Until recently scholarship was not used in analyzing the perpetrator materials.” Last decade, there is a growing scholarship, young scholars from Turkey or elsewhere are working with these Ottoman materials.

The Guerguerian material has been known and around for decades. However, they were never catalogued. The Armenian Assembly of America has one set of the documents and because they were not catalogued, it was not possible to look through them in a quick period of time. It was only through the help of Guerguerian’s nephew that Akçam was able to have the material scanned and catalogued by students.

He plans to put the catalogued Guerguerian documents online once the work is finished by his students.

Killing Orders was originally published in Turkish, but received “total silence” in Turkey. “It is the usual reaction of the government and the denialists.” In addition, with the current atmosphere of media intimidation, there was not much coverage about it besides some progressive Internet news portals.

He added, however, that changes to the Turkish narrative will not be immediate.

“I don’t know whether the book will have an immediate impact on politics in the short term,” he said.

For many years, the general public in Turkey has gotten more and more informed about the history of the Armenian Genocide. Now, however, “My fear is this development has been reversed now,” he noted. “There is no free media, press, almost no freedom of speech and there is an authoritarian regime.”

In addition, he noted, the war on the border with Syria is boosting the jingoistic spirit among the population and taking up more of the attention, therefore the issue of the Armenian Genocide has vanished from the public dialogue.

“They are even arresting people calling for peace in social media,” he said.

He urged that the Armenian community pay homage to both Guerguerian and Andonian, to recognize them as “pillars of Armenian Genocide research.”

“My call to the Armenian community is to recognize and honor these two individuals. They were monumental in the field of Genocide research. I am basically reintroducing the work they did,” Akçam said.

He has written several books on the Armenian Genocide, including The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide with Umit Kurt and translated by Aram Arkun, New York and Oxford, 2015; ‘Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire, Princeton University Press, 2012; Judgment at Istanbul: The Armenian Genocide Trials, with Vahakn Dadrian, Berghahn Books, New York 2011, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalistm and the Armenian Genocide, Zed Books, 2004,  and A Shameful Act: Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, New York: Metropolitan Books, November 2006.

Akçam is planning to tour in support of the book.

The book, which is dedicated to Hrant Dink, the assassinated editor of Agos, is available on Amazon.

The Armenian Mirror-Spectator’s Aram Arkun contributed to the book.

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