Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian

New Research Unearths Never-Before-Published Information About Genocide Perpetrators


ALTADENA, Calif. — A traditional book presentation which included pouring wine over the pages and blessings by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, brought Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, the coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program and director of the Center for Armenian Studies at Fresno State all the way to the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) Beshgeturian Center in Altadena on Saturday, November 6. The event was cosponsored by the Armenian Studies Program and the TCA Metro Los Angeles chapter.

Der Mugrdechian was presenting the book he had co-edited with Umit Kurt and Ara Sarafian, The Committee of Union and Progress, Founders, Ideology, and Structure.

The volume consists of five articles by five scholars; it was first introduced during a 2018 conference at California State University, Fresno.

According to Der Mugrdechian, there is not much information and research regarding the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the group in power during the Genocide. This created a perfect opportunity for the authors of the book to do in-depth research through studying the biographies of members and the group’s history in local communities.

“These scholars did very good work to help to understand the mindset what was the Committee of Union and Progress doing, what were its founders thinking, and how was it structured, which is also very important,” said Der Mugrdechian, who learned new information himself from this research.

The CUP was established in 1889 with a different name: the Committee of the Ottoman Union.

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In 1908 the Young Turk revolution ended the 32-year dictatorship of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and inaugurated a constitutional era, which was very significant for the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire.

The book shows how the Committee of Union and Progress developed from a political party ultimately to organize and perpetrate the Armenian Genocide.

Der Mugrdechian separates several important elements in studying the organization and its activities: “First, there is a lack of institutional understanding of the structure and the organization of this political party. Who were the key players? We always think of only three — Talat Pasha, Enver Pasha and Djemal [Jemal or Çemal] Pasha. The book gives important insights into the relationship among these three people and those who developed the idea of the Armenian Genocide.

The book blessing

“The second [element] is secrecy. The Committee of Union and Progress did not want people later to know their own activities. Until today the archives of the Committee of Union and Progress have never been found and studied. We have to use secondary sources, biographies, memoirs by those who wrote them but we don’t have the actual documents from the committee. We need to do more research on the connections of the leaders on the local level to understand how the orders in Istanbul get translated to the provinces and why did the people in the provinces implement those. It is a very important question because it really goes into the factor of why the genocide became so widespread,” he said.

Der Mugrdechian thinks that one of the significant factors of that period was the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into a modern state.

Each chapter of the book presents a different aspect of the Committee of Union and Progress as a separate article.

Raymond H. Kevorkian discusses how the ideology of this committee developed.

What were the factors that caused it to change its thinking? He talks about the goal of the CUP which was also to form an elitist centralized party and state. “In other words that was going to lead to the dictatorship,” adds Der Mugrdechian.

The Swiss scholar Hans-Lukas Kieser in his work talks about Zia Gokalp who, he believes, largely influenced Talat Pasha in his ideas and the instigation and planning of the Armenian Genocide. He goes even further, saying that Zia Gokalp also influenced Ataturk in the founding of the Turkish State.

“Turkey always says about the Armenian Genocide that it is not responsible because it was the Ottoman Empire, it wasn’t them. But this [article] is the argument which proves that the Turkish State is the continuation of the Ottoman Empire. It’s the same ideology, it’s the same approach. Here we are in 2021 and we know what happened last year in Karabakh and Azerbaijan. One hundred years after the end of the Ottoman Empire the spirit of Zia Gokalp would sway over the nationals in Turkey,” said Der Mugrdechian.

The research done by Dikran Kaligian in the archives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) explores the relationship between the party and the Committee of Union and Progress when they worked with each other in 1908. The goals at that time were establishing the rights of everyone as equal citizens.

“For the ARF to influence the government and the policies to improve the conditions for the Armenians, it would have to work closely with the CUP,” writes Kaligian. “Some people can criticize that today: It’s easy to look back because we have hindsight, and know what happened,” adds Der Mugrdechian.

Umit Kurt in his chapter talks about a single official in Aintab, Necmeddin Bey, who is being attacked by Armenians and

Turks because he didn’t want to accept the new standards imposed by the constitution. “The Ottoman revolution upset the whole status quo between the government, local leaders and the minorities,” said Der Mugrdechian.

For four hundred years since the 16th century Armenians lived as “second class citizens.” Now, suddenly they have to be equal citizens.

What did the Muslim leaders in the Armenian provinces think of that? “They don’t like that idea. Then comes the ultimate conclusion: Armenians are causing trouble because they are seeking reforms. Because it’s promised to them. The local leaders will eventually work with the CUP in planning and implementing the Armenian Genocide,” he summarized.

The last article is by a graduate student at Princeton University, Duygu Coskuntuna, and it is titled “Homeland and Nation Revisited: A Discourse Analysis of the Memoirs of Young Turks,” which Der Mugrdechian calls “complicated.”

Coskuntuna studied the memoirs of these figures and explores how their concepts led to practical planning for the Genocide. She explores the concept of “Turkishness.” Does it mean that every minority can be a citizen or is it limited to only religion, language and culture? What does it signify for the Armenians and Greeks?

The Committee of Union and Progress came to power facing problems and questions. The Ottoman Empire was failing and on the verge of entering a war. The core issue was to keep the empire from dissolution. This new book draws the road from 1908 to 1915 of the CUP’s ideology developing from Islamism to pan-Islamism, pan-Turkism and Ottomanism before settling on an extreme version of racism.

“The genocide was not inevitable. All steps did not lead to genocide. The Ottoman Turks could have taken other steps,” Der Mugrdechian concluded.

As part of the evening program, St. Gregory A. and M. Hovsepian School students, under the guidance of Armenian language teacher Liza Manoyan, recited patriotic Armenian poetry.

To purchase the book visit http://www.