“Armenia on the Verge of Extinction,” Yomiuri, January 7, 1916

Japanese Media Coverage of the Armenian Genocide, 1894-1920s

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By Astghik Hovhannisyan

Senior lecturer, Russia-Armenian University, Yerevan

Visiting researcher, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

TOKYO – On November 7, 1918 the Japanese newspaper Asahi published an article titled “Mass Killings of Armenians: One Million [Killed] in One Year,” mentioning massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr.’s testimonies, and Pan-Turkic ideas.

This was not the first time for a Japanese newspaper to write about the Armenian Genocide. In fact, “national newspapers” such as Asahi and Yomiuri regularly wrote about killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire both during the Hamidian massacres (1894-1896) and the Armenian Genocide. The topic also appeared in some magazines and other types of publications. It is difficult to estimate what percentage of Japanese people was familiar with the subject, but given the fact that Asahi and Yomiuri had a large readership, we can suppose that at least a small percentage was aware of what was happening in the Ottoman Empire.

Heghine Melik-Haykazyan, an Armenian woman who traveled to Japan at the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century, in her memoir titled Travelling Around Japan (Mi Ptoyt Japonum, 1905) mentions that she met a Japanese man in Kyoto who, upon learning that she was Armenian, asked; “Of those Armenians who constantly fight against the Turks?” Astonished, Melik-Haykazyan asked if he knew about Armenians, and the man answered: “Of course. I remember there were massacres a few years earlier, and a missionary was asking for donations to send to you [your country]. How is the situation in your country now?” (p. 157). This episode also demonstrates that at least some Japanese people were aware of Armenians and their fate in the Ottoman Empire.

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The aim of this article is to describe how the Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers, as well as other publications, covered and interpreted the news of mass killings of Armenians. I want to demonstrate that while present-day Japan largely avoids this topic, Japanese media of the late 19th and early 20th century regularly wrote about it and did not make attempts to deny or undermine the facts.

From “Armenian Incident” to “Massacres of Armenians”: Asahi’s and Yomiuri’s Coverage of the Armenian Genocide

Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers were established in the second half of the 19th century (1879 and 1874 respectively), and by the early 20th century they had a large readership. These “national” newspapers started covering the killings of Armenians or, as they would often refer to, “the Armenian incident” (Arumenia jiken) already in 1894. It needs to be mentioned that this coverage was either in the form of short news stories or translations from international media, but these stories were usually placed in the front page and were visible for the reader interested in international news.

From 1894 to 1909 Yomiuri published about fifty-five such stories, and Asahi – more than fifty (the calculation based upon databases of these newspapers). Those stories mentioned the Hamidian massacres, Britain’s, France’s, and Russia’s demand for reforms, as well as massacres that followed after that, including the one in Adana in 1909. Examples of news stories or articles’ titles follow: “Number of victims of Armenian massacres reached forty thousand” (Yomiuri, December 6, 1895), “Armenian massacres started again” (Yomiuri, March 30, 1897), “Armenian Massacres: Turkey ignores calls of Britain and Italy” (Asahi, September 16, 1896), “Killings of Armenians [in Adana]” (Asahi, April 19, 1909).

The same newspapers, with longer and more detailed articles, also covered the Armenian Genocide during the First World War. This time, newspapers described the events as “massacres of Armenians” (Arumeniajin gyakusatsu). For instance, September 27, 1915, Yomiuri published an article titled “400 thousand people killed,” mentioning that as a result of massacres organized by Ottoman authorities, 400 thousand Armenians lost their lives, and 600 thousand lost their homes and possessions. On January 7, 1916, the same newspaper published an article called “Armenia on the Verge of Extinction,” mentioning about killings and forced deportations that started in 1915. This kind of articles appeared up until mid-1920s. Asahi newspaper also published articles and news stories, among them “Again, Massacres of Armenians” (October 14, 1915), “Armenians drowned in the sea” (November 3, 1915), “Turkey denies massacres of Armenians” (January 14, 1916), and “Terrible hardships of Armenians” (September 16, 1918).

“The Wretched Armenians”: Minami Hajime’s Article about Armenian Massacres

Topics: media

Articles about the Armenian Genocide also appeared in some journals and publications, among which I want to introduce “The Wretched Armenians” written by Christian philosopher Minami Hajime (1865-1940) and published in Gaikō jihō (Revue diplomatique) journal in July 1925. Below are translated paragraphs from that article (this and other translations are by the present author).

“Armenians, whose motherland is in the northwestern part of Asia, are now scattered all over the world, and their fate is extremely miserable. It could be said that for a human being nothing can be more sorrowful than losing one’s motherland, and Armenians, just like Jewish people, do exist as a race, but they might lose their homeland. It is a humanitarian issue. However, the misfortunes of Armenians have not started today, they are rather old. ……More than once Armenians have been mistreated and killed by Turkey and Russia, leading to humanitarian issues. ……Turkish diplomats say: ‘In order to solve the Armenian question, we have to exterminate Armenians from this world.’……

Already before the war [World War I], thousands of Armenians migrated to foreign countries. As they were being killed by Muslims, they had to flee to America or the Balkan countries (1895-96). However, during the First World War, even more miserable fate was waiting for them. Half of them, that is one million Turkish Armenians, were massacred under the evil plan of Young Turks. As they would say: ‘We are cleansing Turkish Armenia of its native inhabitants’. That means that their evil scenario – ‘Armenia without Armenians’ – has become reality.”

An Armenian Woman’s Story in Shimoda Barakan’s Shumi hōrō (1926)

The topic of the Armenian Genocide also appeared in Shimoda Barakan’s semi-fictional book called Shumi Hōrō, published in 1926. Shimoda Barakan was the penname of journalist Shimoda Masami (1890-1959), editor-in-chief of Mainichi newspaper. In the book, there is a chapter titled “The Armenian Woman Cursing God,” which tells a story of a female survivor of genocide. While it is difficult to say whether the story is real or fiction, it is extremely detailed and is most probably based on a true story.

They meet the Armenian woman in a tavern in Unter den Linden, Berlin, and hear her terrifying story of persecution and survival. The woman tells them that she was born in Van, as an only child of a wealthy Armenian family and lived there until she was sixteen. However, in 1915 their life changes completely. At first Turkish soldiers incarcerate Armenians, then in a few days they announce that men would be deported. “But they lied about the deportations,” tells the woman. “We later learned that Turkish soldiers, as vicious dogs chasing away sheep, took our men to the banks of the Murat River, and killed these people, who had nowhere to escape, with guns and swords.” Women and children were later expelled to Syrian deserts, and many of them died on the way there. The Armenian woman herself was sold in a slave market, but managed to escape and survive later.

The news of the Armenian massacres was covered in many countries of the world, and Japan was not an exception. In Japan, this topic appeared not only in newspapers, but also in various journals and even in semi-fictionalized books. While it is true that, as opposed to American, British, French, or Russian publications, the coverage was brief and rarely included photographs or illustrations, it is important to note that both Hamidian massacres and the Armenian Genocide were covered in Japan, and were done so without any attempts to undermine the events.

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