Clark University Conference on Armenian Genocide Historiography and Sources

Akcam (R) and Demoyan
Akcam (R) and Demoyan

From April 9-10, a groundbreaking academic workshop—titled “The State of the Art of Armenian Genocide Research: Historiography, Sources, and Future Directions”—took place in the Higgins University Center, Clark University.

The workshop was organized by Taner Akcam, the Robert Aram and Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Professor of Armenian Genocide Studies at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University; Eric Weitz, Distinguished McKnight University Professor of History and Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Professor, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota; and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).

The program brought together leading scholars, researchers, and doctoral students with the primary aim of unraveling and establishing the current state of first-hand materials, official documents, statistics, and survivor and witness testimonies pertaining to the Armenian Genocide found in various government and private archives and collections.


APRIL 9, 2010

NAASR’s Marc Mamigonian opened the workshop by congratulating the organizers and sponsors of the workshop—the Clark University Strassler Center, the Kaloosdian Mugar Chair, the Ohanessian Chair, the University of Minnesota, and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research—saying, “I think this event is…unprecedented in bringing together this group of scholars to assess the state of the field.” He then introduced the panelists for the first session.


Marc Mamigonian, moderator

Richard Hovannisian: So, Where Do We Go from Here?

Hovannisian is the Armenian Educational Foundation chair in modern Armenian history at UCLA. He has published numerous publications, including Armenia on the Road to Independence. He is the founder and six-time president of the Society for Armenian Studies, and has received many honors including election for membership in the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia.

“Until mid-career, nearly all of our evidence was harkening back and seeking affirmation of the Armenian Genocide through foreign sources. We looked for American and German missionaries, we looked at the British ‘Blue Book,’ Toynbee and Bryce, and others. And there was a certain sense of needing to find the foreigner to affirm what had occurred to the Armenians. And that the Armenian sources, even though they were not very many and they were not perhaps very accessible because most of them were written in the Armenian language and therefore were limited in circulation, were regarded as not being sufficiently compelling, or sufficiently objective to be acknowledged by the non-Armenian world, And of course…now we understand that we were quite wrong because we find that some of the worst scholarship on the Armenian Genocide is by non-Armenians, who claim to be objective because they are non-Armenian and non-Turkish and therefore they can get away with all kinds of crimes against scholarship. And so that’s where we were,” began Hovannisian.

After 1965, the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Armenians tried to coattail on Holocaust scholarship, and some still do, to validate the Armenian experience by comparing it with the Holocaust. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, a number of Holocaust scholars themselves began to expand this approach, and to take the Holocaust experience into a comparative dimension. “You know probably the names of Robert Nelson, Israel Charny, Helen Fein, Leo Cooper. These were individuals—all of them happen to be of Jewish origin, and most of them involved in the Holocaust, along with Frank Chaw—and began to look at the commonalities of the Armenian and Jewish…experiences… And none of them have the language skills, none of them have the great depth of knowledge of the field, but they did have enough background that they could see similarities of failed revolutions, of preconditions, of prejudices, etc.,” he explained. Western scholars were handicapped in that they were unable to use either Armenian or Turkish sources. At the same time archives opened in various countries, and collections of archival documentation were published in book form, microfiche, and microfilm in the United States.

Hovannisian spoke about how denial had driven him into Armenian Genocide studies. He mentioned the groundbreaking Tel Aviv conference where for the first time Holocaust scholars included other genocides. Hovannisian’s The Armenian Genocide in Perspective was based on the Tel Aviv papers, all of which—except one—were by Armenian authors. This early scholarship was descriptive in nature, in order to document and validate the factuality of the Armenian Genocide. Now, however, the descriptive phase is being left behind for the analytical phase. This is also reflected, according to Hovannisian, in the rhetoric used in opposition to the Armenian Genocide Resolution, when Congressmen who opposed it avoided the language of denial and instead used state security, national interest, and other such arguments.

Hovannisian ended his talk with a question: “What is the relationship between scholarship and advocacy? Is that a bad thing? … Should we take moral positions, or should we be like anthropologists?”

Donald Bloxham: The Armenian Genocide in Light of Comparative Genocide Scholarship

Bloxham is a professor of modern history at Edinborough University; the author of Final Solution: A Genocide, The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians; and co-author of The Holocaust: Critical Historical Approaches and Genocide on Trial: War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory. He is also the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies and co-editor of the forthcoming Modernity and Destruction, Remembering Belsen.

Bloxham reiterated one of the problems mentioned by Hovannisian, which is to try and fit the Armenian Genocide into the Holocaust model. According to him, “One of the problems of that particular comparative approach is that you’re actually trying to shoehorn certain events into a stereotype that doesn’t actually represent what the Holocaust was. … We have a picture of a kind of very Auschwitz-centric…preplanned, heavily bureaucratically predetermined Holocaust, which as recent scholarship, I think, has shown is that in its early stages it was decentralized… Of course, the Holocaust like the Armenian Genocide is an ex-post facto label attached to a whole cluster of events which have very frayed edges, frayed beginnings…”

It is more “fruitful,” he explained, to compare genocides on the micro level, taking thematic approaches: “How do we understand the radicalization of policy from one context to the other? How do we understand the function of sexual violence? How do we understand issues of mass participation?” Questions like these are much more targetable forms of comparative scholarship, he argued.

There is also the issue of tailoring a preconceived “model” of genocide onto other genocides. He said that contrary to the prevalent idea that genocides stem from a single decision to commit genocide, often they are directed by a number of “decisions.” In the case of the Armenian Genocide, pinpointing the pre-meditation or order becomes a quest to counter denialist claims.

Rouben Adalian: From Imperatives to Interpretations: Archival and Historical Analysis of the Armenian Genocide, 1965-2010

Director of the Armenian National Institute, Adalian has documented the Armenian Genocide in the United States National Archives, publishing 37,000 pages of American evidence of microfiche on the accompanying guide to The Armenian Genocide in U.S. Archives in 1915-18. He was an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Genocide and recently completed the second expanded edition of The Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Since 2007, Adalian has been coordinating the Armenian Genocide Museum of America project in Washington.

In his talk, Adalian attempted to cover the last five years of Armenian Genocide scholarship. He noted that previously, the method was to assume a continuity between the Ittihadist and Kemalist periods. “Eric Zurcher very persuasively argued that what we always thought of as a very distinct profile both cultivated by the regime itself and then by scholarship as well is that Kemal and the Kemalists represent something very different, even something that wanted to distance itself from the Ittihadist background. And it turns out that there was an enormous amount of continuity even between the two regimes,” stated Adalian.

He also spoke about the importance of Talat Pasha’s memoirs and their reconsideration in recent scholarship. In contrast to Talat, the role of Jemal Pasha must be studied more; Jemal presided “over a province where all the concentration camps and the death camps were located [and] also has a very clear record of having engaged in certain actions that seem to have helped salvage some lives,” Adalian said. Other important areas that need further research are the national economy, he argued, and the emergence of numbers—”the demographic element that was missing” before.

Adalian’s paper noted that discussions on the Armenian Genocide often have revisionism and denialism as their starting point. However, much progress has been made in the field of Armenian Genocide studies, and to better grasp the progress made in the field and the questions that have been resolved, one needs to gain perspective on how long it has taken for the handful of Armenian Genocide scholars to reach this point.

One measure for progress is the academic conferences that have taken place and mark the milestones passed. In 1982, for the first time the Armenian Genocide became a topic at the international conference on the Holocaust in Tel Aviv. The second took place in Paris in 1984 under the auspices of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. The results were published in 1985 and 1986, one in a volume entitled A Crime of Silence sponsored by the Zoryan Institute, and the other in a volume edited by Richard G. Hovannisian and titled The Armenian Genocide in Perspective. Adalian noted that common themes run through both volumes, such as an analysis of the historical context, the role of the state and perpetrators, and the continuing legacy of genocide. However, according to Adalian,” the person who single-handedly defined the field of Armenian Genocide studies, and in some respects the discipline of genocide studies overall, is Vahakn Dadrian.” The 1998 conference at the Sorbonne in Paris, the volumes edited by Israel Charny, Hovannisian’s works, Arthur Beylerian’s volume of documents from the French archives, Gerard Libaridian’s work, Caglar Keyder’s and Erik Zurcher’s theories, and Taner Akcam’s work, among many others, have all contributed to the advancement of the field.

Oktay Ozel: Remembering the Basics: On the Necessity for a Historian’s Agenda in the Study of the Armenian Genocide

Ozel, an assistant professor of history at Bilkent University in Turkey, earned his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history from Manchester University. He has taught at Hacettepe University, Bilkent University, and last year was a visiting scholar at Harvard University. His research and teaching focuses on Ottoman demographic history, migration, rural changes, methodology and history, and historiography. He too has an impressive list of publications.

Ozel emphasized certain problems with the literature relating to the Armenian Genocide. He noted that historiography has its stages of development, that the formative years of Armenian Genocide scholarship are closing down, and that hopefully the problems in scholarship from that period are also disappearing.

He argued for the need of historians to create their own agendas, independent of political rhetoric and “popular agendas”—what he terms the “politics of genocide.” The early period of Armenian Genocide studies was tainted by “sharp political language,” a “selective reading of history,” a “selective use of sources,” “presuppositions, essentialist tendencies and political stances,” he said, and some of these problems will continue to exist. Historiography has reached a stage of maturation, though, and some historians have expressed the need to normalize Armenian Genocide studies. “The Armenian Genocide for a historian is a case of study. It’s just a subject matter of a scholarly inquiry, and it’s not a subject of a political or national cause. So if we can manage to again turn this equilibrium from cause to case, I think that’s going to be a critical development and turning point in the general history of historiography of the Armenian Genocide,” he explained.

“When we talk about nationalism or nationalists, do we think that some groups are immune to that? Nationalisms manifest themselves in various forms, in various contexts… I just want to emphasize the extreme…extremist historiographies,” Ozel explained. He also expressed the importance of micro-analyzing the facts from below, on local levels, to understand the local and regional dynamics and motives.


Ara Sanjian, moderator

Raymond Kevorkian: Armenian Materials about Massacres and Deportations (given in French, translated by Sanjian)

Kevorkian, a historian at the Université Paris-VIII-Saint-Denis’ Institut Français de Géopolitique, focused on the archives of the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople that, due to the genocidal process, were dissolved in July 1916, exiled first to Baghdad then to Mosul, and then reconstituted at the end of 1918. When the Patriarch would be away, the Bureau of Information, (Deghegadvoutyan Krasenyag, in Armenian) replaced it. So what are considered the Jerusalem Archives today are in fact the Armenian Patriarchate Archives in Constantinople, whose role was to represent the community; most importantly, they were instrumental in preparing some of the materials for the possible indictment of the perpetrators of the genocide.

(L-R) Sanjian, Kaligian, Der Matossian, Demoyan, Kevorkian, Kotchikian, and Mouradian

The Bureau of Information was directed by two individuals—Garabed Nourian, a lawyer, and Arshag Boyadjian—who were responsible for compiling the materials, including that of the Mazhar Commission and the post-war trials. These archives include materials that were officially certified by the second bureau of the second office of the Interior Ministry of the Ottoman Empire.

One of the tasks Boyadjian oversaw was establishing a network of informants in the provinces where the massacres were taking place. The materials collected by Boyadjian constitute the first corpus of primary source materials, while the second corpus is material collected by Ara Mandoyan. The Patriarchate also gathered two lists; one is a list of the people responsible for the massacres on the central level, and the second is a list of 1,500 names of some of the organizers of the massacres on the local level. The latter is divided by provinces, and aside from listing the names of those responsible, it also notes which individuals belonged to the Young Turk party, the civil functionaries, the military, the department of Specialized Affairs (Tashkilat al Maksousa) or the department in charge of “abandoned” properties.

The archives contain official documents—such as one of the chief incriminating documents by Vehib Pasha, a general in the Ottoman Army—as well as survivor testimonies. Kevorkian also noted that although Aram Andonian is known for publishing telegrams, the whereabouts of which are now unknown, equally as important is his collection of testimonials at about the same time as Boyadjian. His work was supervised by the Armenian National Union branch in Aleppo, Syria, and must therefore be considered as official documents. What Andonian has collected is in corroboration with Boyadjian’s work in Constantinople, and it focuses on the Eastern provinces, especially Syria, Mesopotamia, and the concentration camps in Anatolia.

Dikran Kaligian: The ARF Archives in Boston and the Armenian Genocide

Kaligian, who has taught history at Clark University and Regis, Westfield State, and Wheaton colleges, is the author of Armenian Organization and Ideology under Ottoman Rule, 1908-1914. One of the last scholars to have accessed the ARF archives, Kaligian noted that although he has not seen any documents from the war period, detailed indexes exist, listing the authors, recipients, and purpose of each letter or document. Compared to the pre-war period that his research had focused on, there were vastly fewer documents from the period of August 1914 to November 1918—a direct result of the killings of intellectuals and activists, and the destruction of the ARF’s organizational bodies in the provinces. The exception is in Van; due to the fact that there was a successful resistance there and Russian troops arrived, there are a number of documents originating in Van from the first half of 1915.

There are a few specifically non-ARF related documents with provocative titles. One, available for viewing online on the ARF archives website (, is a letter sent by a group of young Armenians who had escaped the deportations in Trebizond and were engaged in a battle of self-defense in the woods outside the city; it describes the atrocities that took place in the city and the drowning of hundreds in the Black Sea.

The ARF Central Committee in Constantinople sent their last letter on April 15, 1915; however, a temporary ARF Constantinople body had been formed and generated dozens of letters to their counterparts in the Balkans in between April and September 1915.

The ARF archives also house a few letters from the Turkish section of the Western Bureau based in Constantinople and the Turkish section of the Eastern Bureau based in Erzerum, as well as documents from one overseas source—the records of the U.S. Central Committee in Boston—which includes detailed reports on what was happening in the Ottoman Empire. The Boston ARF office received these reports due to the large number of Armenian intellectuals and activists who were living in Boston, and the fact that ARF operations received funding from Armenian Americans.

The archives also contain a number of documents from 1919, when the ARF bodies in Constantinople were reformed at the start of that year, before the second phase of deportations took place. Most of these documents are in French (unlike the vast majority of the other documents), with titles such as “Doctor Behadin Shakir and the Massacres, and the Fate of Those Much Sought Documents” and “New Details on the Cilician Deportations.” There is also a 58-page document—”List of Names of Those Responsible for the Armenian Massacres”—also in French. It is presumed that some of these 1919 documents were intended to be presented to the Entente Powers as a case for restitution and the return of lands, to be part of the new Republic of Armenia. There are another 153 documents in the form of reports, letters, lists, and affidavits, in French and English, compiled and written to be presented to the Entente Powers. There are also a large number of documents from the ARF offices in various parts of Cilicia, which were reformed in 1919, and contain information on the second wave of deportations.

Bedross Der Matossian: Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchal Archive and the Armenian Genocide

Der Matossian, a history lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discussed the state of the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchal Archives and thematically covered subjects. According to Der Matossian, his talk covered only 20-30 percent of the materials found in the archives. He first noted the tendency on the part of historians to downplay Armenian sources in the name of objectivity, fearing to be labeled a nationalist historian. He pointed out issues of accessibility and the lack of professional teams that can work on Armenian archives, such as in the case of the Jerusalem archives, which is currently closed. He also noted that in the past both Father Yergerian and Dadrian had used the Jerusalem archives for their research.

What one can find in the Jerusalem archives are primary source materials and general documents. Included are documents from 1912 and 1913 that reveal the economic situation in the Berlin Treaty, once used by the Patriarchate in the Armenian Reform movement to make assessments in the reform negotiations; however, the role of the Patriarchate has been marginalized.

The archives also contain documents on the status of refugees, the indictment of those responsible, and correspondence between the second Catholicos of Sis and Jemal Pasha. There are letters sent to Zaven Der Yeghiaian from different prelates during the genocide itself, which are very rare and important. There are also documents that reveal the taboo role of Armenian collaborators in giving information on the locations of Armenian intellectuals and activists. Also housed in the archives is a detailed list of Ottoman-Turkish officials involved in the genocide, and Turkish documents on the military tribunals.

Hayk Demoyan: Russian and Armenian Archival Sources on the Genocide in Armenia

Demoyan, the director of the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute in Yerevan, spoke about important materials found there, as well as at the Yerevan History Museum, the Madenataran, Etchmiadzin, the Literature and Art Museum (which has an interesting archive on Musa Dagh), the Sardarabad Museum, as well as the Russian archives (such as the Russian Foreign Policy Archives).

The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute has a detailed list of what the refugees lost—written by the refugees and given to the Compatriotic Union, whose head was poet Hovannes Toumanian. There are also templates accompanied by photos. One especially disturbing photo that Demoyan came across was that of a boy showing the holes on his hands because he had been crucified. Demoyan also found 40 original photos of the Adana massacres of 1909. There are also lists of the Armenian and American orphanages and their orphans, noting their birthplaces. Many of the libraries and archives possess handwritten memoirs by survivors. In the 1950’s, photos and postcards were separated into different sections in the museums and, as Demoyan noticed during his research at the Literature and Art Museum, many original photographs from 1915 and 1916 were mistaken for postcards, since their backside design resembled that of postcards.

The Russian archives, on the other hand, contain materials from 1915 to 1918, when Russian governors ruled the eastern provinces. There are many photographs, most probably taken by Russian Army photographers. The Russian Foreign Policy Archives in St. Petersburg also contain a good number of materials, including reports, records, and dates collected via ethnographic expeditions sent to Tiblis and Van in 1916-17. In fact, one week before the workshop, Toumanian’s granddaughter donated a 4 page diary to the Armenian Genocide Museum of Armenia, written by an individual who had taken part in one of these expeditions.

Asbed Kotchikian: The Armenian Church in Aleppo and its Archive

Five years ago Kotchikian, a global studies professor at Bentley University and editor of “The Armenian Review,” gained access to the Aleppo archives for the first time, through a family connection in the Armenian Prelacy.

The Armenian community in Aleppo has been around since the 15th century. By the 17th century it had its church, and then a Prelacy, and for a long time was the summer seat of the Cilician Catholicos.

A key component to the existence of documents in the Aleppo archives is the Prelacy itself, where the Armenian deportees sought aid once they reached Aleppo. The refugees, most of whom came from Dikranagerd, while others were from Marash and other regions, had brought with them manuscripts and documents. However, most of the documents from 1915-16 are no longer there.

In 1916, two Ottoman officials went to Der Zor and Raqqa to conduct a headcount of the refugees, and went to the archives for consultation. Upon their return, a team was sent in to gather the archival collection and return with them to Istanbul. At that time, the unofficial acting Prelate was Father Boghikian, who managed to hide some of the documents and escape with some others. Years later, his descendents claimed they possessed these salvaged documents. Upon further inquiry, however, the descendents could not be located.

Today, the archives contain documents and correspondences from the refugee camps. Each camp was region-based (Ayntab, Ourfa, Gurun). The refugees turned to the Prelacy with their daily problems: theft, adultery, lost family members, and a variety of other grievances.

In any case, accessing the Aleppo archives is difficult. Cooperation on the part of individuals in charge of these archives is unlikely; since the materials found in the archives are largely unexplored, there is a protective tendency toward them and a fear of having them fall into the wrong hands.

Khatchig Mouradian: Early Armenian Newspaper Coverage on the Genocide, 1915-35

Mouradian, a doctoral student in Holocaust and genocide studies at Clark University and the editor of the Armenian Weekly, discussed the newspaper coverage of the genocide from 1915-35.

Mouradian focused on two Armenian newspapers, one published in Bulgaria and the other Boston. The Hayastan newspaper began its publication on March 10, 1915 in Bulgaria—publishing two issues per week—and discontinued them in September that same year. It is an important source mainly because of its proximity to the Ottoman Empire. The newspaper had reporters on the ground in areas like Moush and Van, and was able to collect a large amount of information. The Hairenik newspaper in Boston, which was established in 1896 and is the oldest continuing Armenian publication, published a special issue on the Armenian uprising in Musa Dagh as early as on the first anniversary of the uprising. A report that was prepared by the Cairo ARF, which includes further details on the uprisings and lists the names of those involved, was also published in the paper.

One of the issues of Hayastan, in turn, provided a comprehensive region-by-region and village-by-village report that included the names and number of killed and converted individuals; the latter amounted to 835,000 people.

The reports and editorials from the Hairenik newspaper suggest that the move toward genocide was gradual, and that Armenians did not realize its scale in the early months of 1915. Even in the later months of that year, there is disbelief by several writers that there is, in fact, a campaign of race extermination. For example, one editorial expressed the editor’s refusal to believe that Krikor Zohrab was dead, or that his people were being systematically destroyed.


Ayhan Aktar: Ottoman Archives on the Question: How Effective Was the Ottoman Bureaucracy During 1915-17?

Aktar is a professor of sociology at Istanbul Bilgi University. He has published books and articles about state and non-Muslim minority relations in modern Turkey. He was one of the organizers of the conference titled “The Ottoman Armenians During the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Democracy and Scientific Responsibility,” which took place in Istanbul in September 2005. His research covers nationalism, the diplomacy of population exchange between Greece and Turkey, ethnic cleansing, and homogenization in Turkey and the Middle Eastern.

Ozel, Aktar, Maksudyan, Altug, and Ungor

Aktar painted a picture of the events from 1908-17 through documents he found in the Ottoman archives. Starting from July 1908 until 1915, all Ottoman public bureaucracy was reformed. In 1908, a new constitution was written, and within 30-35 days almost all high-level Hamidian officials were ousted or died. In April 1909, an armed insurrection took place in Istanbul, when the Liberator Army arrived from Salonica. A month later, a draft proposal on the reorganization of public bureaucracy was submitted and debated in the parliament, becoming law in July. In July 1908, army officials were required to take a new oath proclaiming their devotion to the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP); the oath ended with: “I shall support the CUP; and whomever ventures to conspire against the CUP I shall kill with my own hands; and to our beloved Padisah, who has granted us this favor; to my religion, nation, and motherland I shall give service with complete loyalty and servitude; I ensure upon my virtue and honour, placing my hand on the most glorious Kur’an; by Allah, I so swear.” So the CUP demanded complete obedience from all, which created a state of terror. According to the British ambassador’s annual report in December 1909, 27,000 officials were removed from payrolls.

Then came the Balkan wars, and another round of Hamidian officials got sacked. In 1912, Talat Pasha was appointed to the Ministry of Interior. In 1913, after the first Balkan war, a special law was passed for the settlement of immigrants. The demographic profiles of all the provinces were compiled, which was the idea of Talat and the Unionists. Their aim was to have minorities be not more than 10 percent of any given province. So, if a province happened to have 20 percent minorities, 10 percent would have to be resettled.

General Director Shukru Bey, the minister of interior affairs, was the first director responsible for implementing this new objective, and the Departments of Nomadic Tribes, Deportations, Documentation and Communication, Statistics and Personal Files, etc. were established, with offices in different regions.

Recent publications show that huge sums of money were spent in the initial efforts: 15 million kursh were spent in 1916-17, 10 million for settlement and 5 million for other expenses. Soon, however, they made increases to this budget, and within eight months the sum had increased to 210 million kursh.

Aside from deporting Armenians, other activities were overseen by these departments. The archives show that 750,000 Muslim Turks migrated from the eastern to the western provinces, although the real number was closer to 1.5 million.

The budget increase was also related to inflation. There is a Turkish saying, Aktar said: “When the government changes, the good old brothel stays the same but the prostitutes change.”

The archives also contain documents that show that army officers received bribes from deported Armenians. Some cases of trials related to these briberies are documented.

The archives also show how the CUP and local organizations of the CUP became the extension of the state, and the archives note the increase in membership of the CUP.

Nazan Maksudyan: Documentation of 1909 Adana Massacres: A Comparative Study of ‘Basbakanlik Osmanli Arsivi’ and French Diplomatic Archives in Nantes

Maksudyan received her Ph.D. in history from Sabanci University in January 2008, with her dissertation entitled ”Hearing the Voiceless, Seeing the Invisible: Orphans and Destitute Children as Actors of Social, Economic, and Political History in 19th-Century Ottoman Empire.” She then taught courses on Ottoman and European social history and history of childhood at Bodazici and Sabanci universities. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow of the Europe in the Middle East-Middle East in Europe (EUME) program of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

Maksudyan’s original study was about the aftermath of the Adana massacres, focusing on the orphans and orpahanages of Jemal and the missionaries. Her presentation draws from the Ottoman archives and French diplomatic archives on the events of the Adana massacres.

The Ottoman archival documentations represent the different governmental approaches to the events. The Ottoman government’s first stance was to pretend that the events were a minor case of reactionary forces, and its “short-sightedness, or negligence, or denial…and initial hastiness in investigations and also in prosecutions” is apparent in these documents. Yet, clear criticisms and complaints were raised both by European authorities and Armenian religious and civil authorities. The Unionist government finally changed its position and “assumed responsibility in the emergence and spread of massacres.” Continuous complaints from the Armenian Patriarchate, news accounts in both the Armenian and European press, and the publicized report of Hagop Babikian, were in fact effective. So from late June or July, the attitude of the government changed, and they were willing to charge and prosecute local officials. The archives reflect this changing attitude. Earlier documents on the massacres dating from April, May, and June do not tell much about the essence of the situation. However, since the regime allowed for criticism, that type of documentation is available and fills in for the “missing” fragments or massacres that were neglected. By the beginning of summer, two different discourses can be heard. The second discourse by the government stated that a crime was committed by Muslims against Armenians.

The terminologies for the events in the archival documents are vague. The massacres are repeatedly described as “events” and “disturbances.” These events were also often qualified as “lamentable.” In reference to the 1909 massacres in Adana, the catchword was “disturbance” (ihtishash), and early use of the word began in early May. However, state correspondence from the summer of 1909 openly refers to the “massacres” of Armenians in Adana.

Another theme in these documents concerns tranquility in the region and the spread of massacres. Although the government argued that the area was calm after the event, in actuality there was still ongoing violence, though to a much lesser scale, around Adana. Reports had come in from Urfa, Arabkir, Van, Diyarbakir, and other locations noting the violence against Armenians. Military forces were sent to many of these places to secure the area.

There are two different types of documents—one claimed that peace and security were established, while the other claimed that the constitutional government was incapable of dealing with the events in an organized manner.

The Ottomans were very much concerned with their image in the eyes of the European governments. They followed the European press closely, and refuted their claims that the government had acted irresponsibly and negligently. Some of the stories in foreign magazines were accompanied by photographs of the atrocities. During the first months, the attitude of the government was defensive, but by July the government had acknowledged responsibility in neglecting or taking part in the events. To uphold their prestige, shortly after the massacres, the provinces signed pacts of non-aggression.

Another story that the archives tell us is the relative strength of the civil society and freedom of press. In the aftermath of the Adana massacres, the freedom of religious authorities, local notables, and non-Muslim members of parliament was apparent. But public criticism was strong, especially by late May and early June. Even the Armenian Patriarchate, which had established its own investigative committee, openly criticized the position of the government and accused several of its officials of negligence. Its report became public in mid-June, and its findings published in a number of newspapers. Religious community leaders—Catholics, Greeks, Protestants, Assyrians, and Chaldeans—from Adana sent complaints and petitions to Istanbul, and civil leaders and notables from Adana sent letters to the capital as well. Meanwhile, the Armenian press of Istanbul published highly critical articles. Even pro-government newspapers felt comfortable enough to translate criticisms that had appeared in European newspapers. This shows the relative freedom of the press in the early years of the Unionist regime; however, there was a limit to this openness, and in July there were instances of censorship, the closing of newspapers, etc.

The Adana massacres led to an administrative reorganization in the government, especially in the areas of security, executive, and legislation. The government worked for a new legal apparatus (with the example of the province of Romania) that aimed to increase transparency and establish a civil legal bureaucracy to mend the blow to its reputation caused by the massacres in Adana.

The French Diplomatic Archives do not contain materials that are new to researchers. Since the French vice consul was not in Adana, the information they collected are from other sources, reports, and newspaper articles, which are also found elsewhere. However, its richness lies in the authorship. “While the Ottoman archives carry the colder language of the state and the bureaucracy, the French consul assumed more of an interpretative position and commented on the events from their own perspective, which can be at certain points inspiring,” explained Maksudyan. These archives also contain original copies of many of the documents produced in the province, such as complaint letters written by the Patriarchs or Prelates, invitation cards sent by Jemal to the Committees for Reconciliation, and testimonial letters written by the French inhabitants of these cities.

Seda Altug: Armenian Genocide in the Syrian Sources

Altug studied economics at Bogazici University. She received her master’s degree from the history department of the same university. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Utrecht University in the Oriental studies department. Her research interests include state-society and inter-communal relations in French Syria, and border and politics of memory in present-day Syria.

Altug’s research covers the period of the French Mandate—from the 1920’s to the early 1940’s—and explores what the Syrian Arab sources reveal in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. Being the intended location for the deportations, and the initial refuge for the survivors, one would assume that the various Syrian archives would possess a great deal of information on the Armenian Genocide.

Of the estimated 240,000 Armenian survivors, 70,000 hid in or around Aleppo and 5,000 survivors hid near Mosul until the Ottoman retreat in 1918. Most still hoped to return to their homes around the time of the Mudros armistice, signed on Oct. 30, 1918. About 120,000-150,000 did return to Cilicia, but were soon evacuated by the French in late 1921. A second mass Armenian exodus, of about 80,000 survivors from Cilicia, took place in 1921 to Syria and Lebanon. The last group of Armenian survivors, about 10,000 individuals from Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Mardin, Sirnak, and Cizre, reached French Jazira between 1929 and 1930.

Since the Ottoman-Syrian archives are no longer there, the archives Altug explored were in the Violette Djebedjian Library in Aleppo; the Gulbenkian Collection; the AGBU Aleppo archives, and the archives of the Cercle de la Jeunesse Catholique Aleppo, which has been closed for several years.

The Djebedjian Library is a unique collection. It started in 1971 under Robert Jebejian, and contains documents—reports, maps, photos, and a newspaper collection—from 1919 onward. In addition, it houses a semi-secret archive, which Altug did not have access to. Since 1990, these documents have been published in volumes called “Keghart.” They also include eyewitness accounts from Syrian-Arab nationalists, and the works of Aleppan historians.

The AGBU collected newspaper reports that date from the time of the genocide. The Syrian press is an under-explored source, said Altug, who divided it into two categories: the pre-1920 Syrian press and the post-1920 Syrian press.

The pre-1920 Syrian press includes incredibly detailed news about the misery and poverty of the deportees, as well as a number of interviews. For instance, the Al-Takkaddum newspaper has detailed accounts of the killings. Editorials in general speak of a Turkification process, and present both Arabs and Armenians as its victims. They write of the famine in the Arab nations and the killings of Arab intellectuals.

The post-1920 Syrian press is marked by a revision of discourse. With the imposition of French rule in Syria, in place of depicting an Armenian-Arab joint victimhood in the Syrian press, Armenians have become scapegoats for the problems of the time, such as poverty, unemployment, disease, and moral degeneration. They are labeled as parasites contaminating Syrian society. Syrians feared that Armenians were looking to establish a new homeland in their lands, and parallels were drawn between Armenians and the Zionist movement. Finally, nationalist Armenian parties, namely the Hnchak, Dashnak, and Ramgavar parties, released statements assuring the public that Armenians were just visitors, victims, and had no political interest or claim in the country. After 1930, the previous discourse disappeared.

Ugur Ungor: Skeletons in the Closet? Notes on the Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Archives of the Republic Period

Ungor studied sociology and history at the Universities of Groningen, Utrecht, Toronto, and Amsterdam. He finished his Ph.D. at the department of history of the University of Amsterdam. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for War Studies, University College Dublin.

Ungor noted three aspects of the Armenian Genocide that were important in the Republican period: survivors, perpetrators, and censorship.

Ungor grouped the survivors into converts and non-converts. Before 1915, Armenians were considered potentially Tukifiable. The archives show that there was a growing essentialism towards Armenians. The converts were no longer fully trusted—”and the Turkifiability decreased.” The attitude towards the Armenians became “essentialized” and “racialized.” Armenians were “seen as unchanging and unchangeable in their supposed disloyalty towards the state.” Ungor talked about Fethiye Cetin’s recent book My Grandmother: A Memoir; Cetin’s grandmother was an Armenian convert, forced to keep her identity silent. There are numerous other Armenians who had similar fates, which suggests continuity.

The second theme in the republican archives is the perpetrators. The archives show how the murderers blended back into society, becoming doctors, imams, teachers, mayors, and craftsmen.

The perpetrators were compensated specifically with Armenian property. The names of some of the previous owners are found in the archives. It is important to note that some of these perpetrators, like Shukru Bey, who were responsible in carrying out the Armenian Genocide, implemented similar tactics towards the Kurds in the 1920’s and 1930’s, except with a stronger ideology. These perpetrators must be studied as organized crime lords, said Ungor. “I think we know next to nothing about the ordinary perpetrators and their biographies. There is so much known in other cases of genocide. Unfortunately, I think we are lagging behind.” Ungor, however, has identified some of the families involved in the mass killings, and noted that competition between these families increased the intensity of the genocide. “The moment that Talat Pasha creates these power differentials, and claims basically that Armenians are fair game, these families think that, well, if we don’t rob them and kill them, then somebody else will grab their property.” These family competitions, he added, existed before the genocide and after it.

The third topic ever-present in the republican archives is censorship. “I don’t think there is a solid monograph on the developmental process of denial from 1915-2010… There is a construction of a universe or society of denial,” explained Ungor. The archives show that certain books about the Armenian Genocide were categorically prohibited from entering the country, such as Garabed Gabikian’s book, and after 1917, the Hairenik and the Armenian Weekly were also prohibited from entering the country. Also in the archives are orders to confiscate and destroy certain books.

We must know more about the killers to really understand the cruelty and sexual violence, said Ungor. There are few sources about the perpetrators, however, including interviews with Turkish soldiers engaged in massacring Kurds from the 1920’s to the 1930’s, which allows a peak into the perpetrator angle. Oral history, through the stories of individuals in remote villages in Syria and eastern Turkey. is a useful way to add ethnographic detail to the study of genocide. We need to better understand the relation between mass murder and dispossession, he concluded.

Oktay Ozel: The ATASE Archive

The ATASE archives are semi-open archives, or “seemingly open archives.” The World War I collection includes information on the Armenian deportations. One of Ozel’s students conducted research on the Teshkilati Mahsusa, which he shared with Ozel, who in turn shared it with the audience. The archives house many of the missing documents important to Armenian Genocide studies. The documents that were taken from the Armenian Prelacy archives, which Kotchikian spoke about, are probably located in the ATASE archives, according to Ozel. The archives contain correspondences between the army headquarters in Istanbul and the army commanders and civilian administrators in the provinces. The documents are filed under larger categories, and when applying for permission, researchers must provide archivists with keywords to locate certain documents; the whole file remains inaccessible.

Ozel’s student discovered information on the operations of the Teshkilati Mahsusa during World War I. He found out that the name of Tashkilat al Makhsousa had changed at some point, from the Office of Eastern Affairs. The Tashkilat al Makhsousa was the central organization where some prominent individuals of the time were employed as experts in languages; among them was Mehmet Fuat Koprulu, the founder of modern historiography in Turkey. On the local branches of the Tashkilat al Makhsousa, researchers can obtain fewer materials, and the archivists are more selective as to who may access them. There are some files on the local militia, which shed light on what militia was active where, and probably, Ozel added, once the research is complete, we can see a map of militia activities in the different regions. Ozel noted that there are record books on the deportations and deportees at the local level; however, as of now, those files remain inaccessible.

Taner Akcam: Some Observation on the Ottoman Interior Ministry, Second Department of the General Security Documents

The Interior Ministry has two important parts. One of them is the Cipher Office, the office from where short telegrams were sent to the provinces. These telegrams were always labeled “Confidential and to be taken care of personally…” and asked specific questions, explained Akcam. Researchers, however, do not know where the responses to these questions are kept. Akcam saw the answer to only one question. The telegram, dated from the end of September 1915, asked whether there were any Armenian journals or magazines being published in the provinces. There were 32 different telegrams sent in response to this question, all saying a simple “no.”

Other questions asked for details, such as: How many Armenians have been deported? How many remain? How many came from other cities? How many of them are Protestants? How many Armenians are Catholics? How many Armenians are Gregorians?

We know the answers to these questions exist, said Akcam, since some of the answers to these telegrams are mentioned in Talat Pasha’s memoirs published by Murat Bardakci.

There is a “disproportianality” in the Ottoman archives, he noted. For example, there is a whole file on a boy that had sent a love letter, in Armenian, to a girl. The letter, however, contained a line that was critical of the Ottoman Turkish government. “We have in a file investigations on this poor boy,” Akcam said, “…and the girl who was supposed to get this letter, and the detail about their relationship. And the police asked the girl, ‘Did he kiss you? Did he kiss you?’ ‘No please don’t tell my Mom, she doesn’t know about us.’ All these details…in this one file!” But there is not a single document pertaining to how the deportations began.


Thomas Kuehne, moderator

Peter Holquist: Traces of the Armenian Genocide in Russian-Language Collections of the Former Russian Empire and Soviet Union

Holoquist is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. His talk focused on the Russian and Soviet archives. What follows is a brief summary of his presentation.

Kuehne, Holquist, Kieser, and Gust

Over half of the Russian state military’s historical materials are on World War I. A major collection in these archives is the military governor generalship for the areas of the Ottoman Empire that were occupied by the Russians, from 1915-18. These documents paint a vivid picture on the ground on the post-1915 massacres. There are interrogations with Turkish prisoners of war, and inquiries into the 1915 massacres. The Archives for Foreign Affairs is another important source because it was the ministry that generated the 1915 note on the genocide to the Allies, and it houses the documentations used in support of this note, as well as the information the Russians were receiving on the slaughters.

The second most important collection is found in the Georgian National Archives in Tbilisi. Their massive collection includes information about refugee communities, especially Armenian, but also Kurdish and Assyrian.

The Russian archives contain traces of reports, oral testimonies of survivors, and photographs. They reveal what the Allies knew at the time and what they did about it, and the general dynamics at play.

Hans-Lukas Kieser: Missionary Sources on the Ottoman Armenians in the 1910’s

Kieser is a scholar of Ottoman and Turkish history, and is Privatdozent of modern history at the University of Zurich.

In terms of human proximity, missionary sources give another perspective on the events before and during the genocide, which according to Kieser makes them the second most important sources, after the Armenian ones. The missionaries had solidarity with the victims, and their accounts can be described as being rooted in participatory observations on the ground, generally with a long experience in the area, and possessing a large network.

The number of such sources is enormous. For each region and town there is a possibility of finding missionary sources, explained Kieser, of Protestant missions of different denominations and Catholic missions. These are NGO archives, so they are professional archives. There are such sources at Harvard, Stanford, and many other places.

Kieser focused on mostly Protestant sources, and some Catholic sources. However, important Catholic missionaries were expelled due to the fact that many were French. There are also Swiss sources and other sources, but in terms of quantity, the main ones are American missionary sources.

Wolfgang Gust: The Documents of the German Foreign Office and the Armenian Genocide

Gust is a former journalist with a German news magazine who has dedicated his retirement to researching the Armenian Genocide in the German archives. He was 50 years old when he first heard about the Armenian Genocide, after being the editor of a newspaper for 20 years.

The German archives possess many handwritten documents. Since they are written in a Germanic dialect, however, very few have ventured to read them. Gust explained that on one occasion, it took him many weeks to find the meaning of a single word. He found documents about Armenians in the German Services; for this reason, the Germans tried saving these Armenians, but they only succeeded in a few cases.

Many of the documents are in the process of digitization and are posted on, a website created and maintained by Gust and his wife. Tho are currently the only ones exploring these archives for documents related to the Armenian case.

Margaret Anderson: Ernst Jackh: Portrait of an Enabler

Anderson is a professor of history at UC Berkeley. The documents once possessed by Ernst Jackh, a conman, are not worth bothering with, said Anderson. Once a journalist, Jackh had made a business out of name dropping and self-promotion, describing himself as an agent of international peace. Anderson’s presentation was one of the more humorous ones of the day, and contained a warning: “Don’t bother with Jackh!”

Matthias Bjornlund: What Do the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian Archives Tell Us About the Genocide Period and Its Aftermath?

Bjornlund is a Danish historian and freelance researcher specializing in the Armenian Genocide and related issues, particularly as documented in Danish archival sources. He is currently working on a book about Denmark and the “Armenian Question” from 1900-40.

The Scandinavian archives, he explained, contain court documents and interpretations, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and many documents on the Hamidian massacres and the Adana massacres of 1909.

Also in these archives are photographs, many of which can be viewed online.

The Danish National Archives contain boxes of photographs, many unlabeled and therefore out of context. There are also relief worker documents, dating from the Abdul Hamid massacres to well beyond the genocide. There is also the Karen Yeppe collection. In addition, one may find about 100 survivor testimonials.

There is also quite a bit of material in the Scandinavian archives, Bjornlund said. Even documents from the period that do not mention the Armenian Genocide speak of a “Kemalist project” or a “Turkish project.”




Taner Akcam, moderator

Eric Weitz: Historical Context of the Armenian Genocide

Weitz is a historian of Germany and modern Europe at the University of Minnesota, where he holds the Charlotte Ohanessian Chair in the College of Liberal Arts. In recent years his work has extended to the history of politics of genocide, crimes against humanity, and international human rights. He has published extensively on these topics.

Weitz reiterated some of the points from the previous day, namely, the need for local studies and more in-depth studies about the decision making process of the CUP. He noted that research in this direction has already developed in the past 15-20 years. Weitz aimed to situate the Armenian Genocide in both a broader context—prior to, during, and after the genocide—and a specific context—of nation and state building, population politics, and the modern era.

Weitz’s talk focused on Germany’s imperial politics in southeastern Europe and in the Ottoman Empire. He noted that the first genocide of the 20th century had, in fact, been committed against the Herero and Nama by the German military in southwest Africa; and that in the Armenian Genocide, the German elite had played an accommodating role and was largely supportive of the Young Turk effort to annihilate the Armenian population. “Germany, at least since 1897 and most likely before that, had defined the Ottoman Empire as the preeminent site of German imperial influence. That was Germany’s goal, and the Ottoman Empire was more important in this regard than the roughly half dozen explicit colonies that Germany established overseas from the mid 1880’s until 1919 when it lost its colonies,” Weitz explained. “In the Ottoman Empire, the German elite saw an area where it thought it could expand its economic influence. It thought it could contest the great European powers. This was going to be the prime site of German expansion abroad, in the minds of those who counted: the Kaiser, the military cabinet, the Foreign Office, and many intellectuals connected to them. And for those individuals, their second objective after their larger imperial goals was to guarantee the stability of the Ottoman Empire because they were very fearful of the decomposition of the empire through ethnic and national conflicts. And that meant that the German elite, by and large, abandoned its Christian brethren.” Weitz went on to note that German diplomats constantly complained about the Armenians, calling them the “Jews of the Orient,” and would even say that “the Armenians and Greeks do to the Turkish peasants what the Jews do in Europe—they are money lenders, they are exploiters, they are all of these sorts of things.”

Aram Arkun: Armenian-Language Primary Sources Published on the Genocide: A Preliminary Survey

An independent historian of modern Armenian history, Arkun has served as assistant director and co-director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center of the Armenian Church, assistant editor of the quarterly magazine Ararat, and has taught courses at a number of universities.

Arkun’s original talk was about the printed and published Armenian sources about the Armenian Genocide. There weren’t many major bibliographies on Armenian sources until very recently, he said, and the ones that do exist are not very well known. These bibliographies categorize everything under the rubric of the Armenian Question, and they start with 1878 and reach modern times. He estimated that there are at least a thousand or so works that are related to the genocide issue, many of which have not been sufficiently used. These works have been published in various geographical venues; some are rare books, and some were testimonies and articles published in periodicals around the time of the genocide. He added that unpublished diaries and memoirs likely still exist in people’s possession, and may someday come to light. One of the first works that attempted to frame the Armenian Genocide as an event, and to create a narrative understanding of it, was published after the genocide by a man called Sebouh Agouni, who also worked for the newspaper Jamanak. Agouni was one of the intellectuals arrested and deported during the genocide, said Arkun, and his work set up a “template”; Raymond Kevorkian’s voluminous work is in some sense a continuation of that work. Agouni examined the situation in the various Armenian provinces, using all Western observer and foreign sources that were available at the time, including some Ottoman sources, the Armenian Patriarchate’s archives, and individual accounts.

After World War II, there was another period of reassessment of Armenian Genocide scholarship, said Arkun, when “Armenian intellectuals felt that time had gone by and everything was sort of being lost.” This brought about a renewed effort. Soon after, in France, two volumes were published—collections of survivor accounts that were transcribed. Only a small number of these sources have been translated into Western languages, whether they are memoirs, collections of documents, and even depictions of the psychological state of people. Arkun also emphasized the importance of accessibility of these archives—a point stated over and over again by various presenters.

Henry Theriault: Gender and Genocide: New Perspectives for Armenian Genocide Research

A philosophy professor at Worcester State College, Theriault’s recent publication is titled “Genocide Maturation and the Challenge of Definition,” which is forthcoming in the Journal of Metaphilosophy.

During his talk, Theriault expressed the need for the study of violence against girls and women as part of a comprehensive study of the Armenian Genocide. The survivor testimonies that mention sexual assaults, sexual slavery, and domestic slavery; the U.S. archival documents; and the Bryce-Toynbee report all suggest that the rape of Armenian girls and women was extensive, to the point of it becoming mundane. He noted that there has been very little written about this aspect of the genocide, and said his goal was to convince those present that future research on the Armenian Genocide—in order to be fully comprehensive—had to analyze that aspect of it.

Some sources, such as Ara Sarafian’s collection of U.S. archival documents, are tied to the Bryce-Toynbee report, and reveal what was happening to women and girls; they’re often euphemistic and not detailed, but nevertheless sufficient. A second item that specifically focuses on gender is Miller’s An Oral History of the United States, which sets aside half a chapter to discuss the specific targeting of women and girls during the genocide. Eliz Sanasarian’s 1989 paper “Gender Distinction in the Genocidal Process: A Preliminary Study of the Armenian Case” and Katharine Derderian’s 2005 “Common Fate, Different Experience: Gender-Specific Aspects of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-17” also discuss this aspect. The problem with Derderian’s article is that it takes a model that was based on the Bosnian Genocide and applies it to the Armenian Genocide.

Theriault discussed the physical and psychological consequences of rape, both for the victims and the victim community. Teenage girls sometimes committed group suicide to avoid being raped on the deportation marches. Rape was very much central to the Armenian Genocide, concluded Theriault, and was at times the primary motive for the perpetrators. The sexist ideology was there waiting for the genocidal ideology to take hold.

Ronald Grigor Suny: What Is to Be Done? Future Work on the Armenian Genocide

Suny is the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History, the director of the Eisenberg Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Michigan, and emeritus professor of political science and history at the University of Chicago. His research fields are Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, nationalism, and ethnic conflict in the South Caucasus.

Suny spoke about the challenge of organizing similar conferences and workshops in the past, namely, the Workshop on Armenian Turkish Scholarship (WATS)—which, he said, prompted “vicious accusations” against the organizers and participants. “There were claims that these dissident scholars were traitors to the nation—tavajans—or that ‘Suny was worse than a Turk!’” Speaking about the first WATS conference that took place in Chicago in March 2000, titled “Armenians and the End of the Ottoman Empire,” Suny noted that some of its aims were to challenge the idea of the “proprietary nature” of tge scholarship, and to also challenge the tendency by some scholars to guard and protect “an orthodox vision.” That orthodoxy, he added, did not address the causes of the genocide, instead focusing on proving the factuality of the genocide; even Armenian Genocide scholarship, then, was defined by deniers of the genocide. Furthermore, Turks were essentialized by Armenians, so much so that it was sufficient to say “the Turk,” and the rest was understood. At the same time, various events—”Zeitoun in the 1860’s, or Sassoun, 1894, 1909, 1915, 1920”—were all understood as being the same single genocidal event. This, he said, was what WATS attempted to dispel.

When Turkish and Armenian scholars came together in these discussions, moving beyond denialism, the causes of the genocide began to be explored. The causes, he said, had been more of a topic in Turkish history than in Armenian history because it dealt with the perpetrators, the government, and the masses. Comparative and social scientific approaches were then explored, and scholars began “theorizing problems of motivation and intention,” that is, whether the Armenian Genocide could have been a “rational instrumental act” or if there were “emotional affective aspects to it.” They also began “filling out the empirical landscape” and questioning ideas of continuity, and national and religious explanations. The other objective of WATS was to have “public sphere effects”; to this end, journalists were always invited to participate in the meetings.

The second conference that Suny mentioned was the conference held at Bilgi University in 2005, independent of the WATS conference, but which involved a number of the Turkish scholars that had been instrumental in WATS.

“What’s happened is, there is now an active, and I think, legitimate public sphere in Turkey around this issue, which had hardly existed. When we invited those first people to come that first time to Chicago, I thought, ‘Who are these people? I don’t know them!’… And it turned out they were all from the Left. They were all former Marxists and…Maoists in some cases. Many of them, like Taner [Akcam], had been in jail, and all had been questioned by agents of the state.” Suny noted that it was important to question the rationality or instrumentality as a single explanation of genocide, and to look more carefully at the role of emotions—or what Suny called “affective disposition, the emotional environment within which people make choices, which they construct [for] their friends and enemies to explain Young Turk mentality.”

Suny ended his talk by stating that Turkish historians and “those renegade sociologists who are among us” will become increasingly dominant in the field, moving it toward a “Turkish dominated historiography.” This, according to Suny, will be a positive development, since Turks know both the language and the geography, and have the resources and accessibility—which means that “Armenians have to work harder.” Secondly, he added, “the study and acceptance of genocide, in Turkey at least, is an important political step…and a major political intervention…a project of the left… It’s about deconstruction and the questioning of unquestioned assumptions. … [It] has a subversive quality. … Turkish scholarship on the genocide…deeply questions the accepted narrative of Turkish nationalism, Kemalism.” For Armenians, however, he said that the scholarship can be a confirmation of a certain Armenian identity, the identity of a “victim,” of isolation, of one who is betrayed by others—the effects of which can be a “pulling inward” and “a case for nationalist exclusion.” Armenian scholarship, he concluded, has been deeply implicated in the production of Armenian nationalism. Isolation and exclusion have been the norm for Turkey and Armenia, which has a bearing on their scholarship. The task ahead is to work together and put an end to “narrow mindedness, narcissism, and self-hatred.”


Taner Akcam and Eric Weitz,  moderators

Taner Akcam began by saying a few words about the workshop. He noted the importance of continuing the discussion begun by Hovannisian and Bloxham during the first session, which addressed the general problems of Armenian Genocide research and how to contextualize the Armenian Genocide within the general field of genocide research.  He suggested that scholars place the problems in Armenian Genocide research within the problems of genocide research in general—since Armenian Genocide research has suffered from the same problems as the general field.  There are two major points, he said: one is “definitionism,” in other words, the 48 definitions of “genocide,” which made it impossible to work with the term and explain the social process.  “What happened was…over the decades, each scholar came up with their own definition…  This created a wrong methodology in social science,” explained Akcam.  Thus, the process was made to fit the definition, and not vice versa.  The second problem, which affected overall genocide research, was the emphasis and quest to pinpoint the final decision, which according to Akcam is “not important at all.”  A different approach, he argued, entails looking for “structures, patterns, continuities, and breaks in a process,” which are also useful in addressing questions of premeditation and intent.  “My conclusion here is, that  we should go to old Lemkin—when he really developed his ideas [of] genocide as a process on two levels.  One is the destruction, and the second is the assimilation process,” added Akcam.  So scholars today should, and some have, started to focus on understanding the process—an important step forward.  Another point for discussion was what nationalism meant to the Armenian and Turkish sides, as well as what was next for Armenian Genocide research. The floor was then opened for discussion.

All photos are courtesy of NAASR.

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in Political Science and English and her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts (Boston).
Nanore Barsoumian

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Ms. Barsoumian, for attempting to summarize this extensive and productive workshop.  I want to make one minor correction–I actually was editor or editor-in-chief of ARARAT quarterly–and bring out several points raised by myself and others that are worthy of public attention.  In the final session, I and others spoke about some possible projects that could be practically accomplished.  There are a number of archives that need preservation and ideally digitalization, and money should be raised by our community for this purpose.  There are also state archives accessible to researchers in theory, the use of which would benefit from financing.  Finally, there are some archives like that of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation which have been inaccessible for at least a decade or more to most researchers.  Although at present a partial digitalization of its holdings has begun, this is not a substitute for full and unimpeded access to materials from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  I hope this policy will be reconsidered by the ARF.  Unfortunately, many other Armenian collections and archives present similar obstacles to researchers.  Archives in the Republic of Armenia recently have presented a refreshing contrast.

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