“Talat Pasha’s Killing Orders and Denial of the Armenian Genocide” by Taner Akçam (Kaloosdian & Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies, Clark University), March 22, 2019 (lecture summary)
Professor Taner Akçam, Kaloosdian & Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University, gave a public lecture about Father Krikor Guerguerian’s Archive, a collection of thousands of documents about the Armenian genocide that this scholar and Armenian genocide survivor collected from the 1930s to 1988. Professor Akçam and his graduate students have recently digitized and classified the collection, which is now available to the public. In his lecture, Professor Akçam focused on the history of this archive and its importance for research about the Armenian genocide and for countering enduring denial of the genocide by the Turkish government. According to Professor Akçam, the documents that form Guerguerian’s Archive demonstrate that the Armenian genocide was both an organized event and part of the Ottoman government policy. These findings are crucial, considering the fact that one of the main arguments used by Armenian genocide deniers is that the genocide was not a government policy and that there are no documents proving that this was indeed genocide.
Professor Akçam started his lecture by providing details about Father Guerguerian. Born on May 11, 1911, Father Guerguerian was the youngest of sixteen siblings, only six of whom survived the genocide. His parents were also killed in the genocide. Father Guerguerian reached Beirut in 1916, where he was taken into an orphanage and where he later graduated from university. Afterwards, he went to Rome, and became a priest in 1937. In Rome, he started working on his Ph.D. , focusing his research on the Armenian genocide, but he never completed his degree. However, because of his academic pursuits, Father Guerguerian compiled numerous important, original, and unique documents relating to the Armenian genocide, which were inaccessible to the scholarly community until his nephew made this archive available to Professor Akçam in 2015.
Professor Akçam then turned to describing the archive and its contents. According to Professor Akçam, the archive was not organized or classified when he first explored it, and original documents that Father Guerguerian collected were mixed in with materials in Guerguerian’s own handwriting. For that reason, the content of the archive is divided into documents Guerguerian had discovered in different archives (including Jerusalem archive, Boghus Nubar Library, and German, Austrian, British, and American archives) and Guerguerian’s own files. According to Professor Akçam , the most important documents are from the Jerusalem archive, which include 63 records from Istanbul military tribunals from 1919-1922, and the reports written by the Armenian Patriarchate committees for perpetrators, because original documents from the trials are either lost or hidden by the Turkish government In addition, the Boghus Nubar Library documents contain 52 original, hand-written documents that incriminate the Ottoman government, including killing orders.
Professor Akçam discussed the way Father Guerguerian collected these materials. He said that Guerguerian met Kurd Nemrut Mustafa Pasha, a former presiding judge of Istanbul Military Tribunals, in Cairo in the 1940s, and this judge told Guerguerian that materials from the Tribunals were in Jerusalem. Guerguerian went to Jerusalem, and copied everything that was in the archive. Professor Akçam confirmed the authenticity of Guerguerian’s documents after visiting the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem himself.
Professor Akçam explained the methodology he devised to organize and classify the documents, including the development of an extensive searchable index in Turkish and English for the entire archive, summaries of documents, and the transliteration of documents in Turkish and their translation into English. Today, all these documents are available, searchable, and downloadable online.
Professor Akçam then reflected on the importance of the archive. He noted that the genocide deniers either hid or destroyed all the material showing genocidal intent of the Ottoman authorities, and that they also keep denying the authenticity of some of the documents that were available. To counter that, and demonstrate the importance of documents found in Guerguerian’s Archive, Professor Akçam shared an indictment of the main trial in Istanbul, published in 1919, in which a prosecutor quoted from several original Ottoman documents that prove genocidal intention. In addition, he showed and discussed the following documents: ciphered telegrams with killing orders; a letter from Bahaettin Shakir, director of Teshkilat-I Mahsusa, from July 4th, 1915, which asks “are the Armenians being dispatched from there being liquidated?”; a testimony of Mayor of Mardin who testified against Salih Zeki who was in charge of exterminating 200,000 Armenians in 1916; and Kemal (Yozgat trial) interrogation. Professor Akçam also discussed material related to Aram Andonian and his book Great Crime, which the Turkish Historical Society marked as fake in their own publication from 1983. In this book, Andonian relied on some original documents, such as Talat Pasha’s telegrams, as well as a memoir by and documents bought from Naim Effendi, an Ottoman bureaucrat. In their questioning of Andonian’s work, the Turkish government claimed that telegrams were falsified, and that there was never a bureaucrat named Naim Effendi (and, therefore, no Effendi’s memoir). In relation to this, Professor Akçam showed examples of Talat Pasha’s telegrams from Guerguerian’s archive, which prove that Andonian was right. In addition, he discovered Naim Effendi’s memoir in Guerguerian’s Archive, and confirmed its originality.
To conclude his lecture, Professor Akçam once again emphasized the importance of Guerguerian’s Archive as evidence of genocidal intentions of the Ottoman government, and as counterevidence against the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide.
Professor Akçam’s lecture was followed by a long and lively Q&A session, which included questions about the reasons for hiding these documents and their safety; whether Raphael Lemkin was aware of Andonian’s work; the response of Turkish institutes and the government to the archive; the acceptance of his most recent book Killing Orders: Talat Pasha’s Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey; the acquisition of documents with official government seal; the availability of Ottoman military archives; whether any of his current students work with the archive; and the Armenian Patriarchate’s future plans for the documents they possess.
Summary by Badema Pitic