For over a century, Turkey has denied any involvement in the organization of the Armenian massacre in what historians have long accepted as a genocide that began in 1915, while World War I spread to continents. The Turkish discourse of negation revolves around the argument that the original documents concerning the courts after the war, which condemned the instigators of the genocide, could not be found.
At present, Taner Akçam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, who has been studying genocide for decades by compiling documents from around the world to establish the state’s complicity in the massacres, says he has Discovered an original telegram relating to the trials, in the archives held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
“Until recently, the smoking gun was missing,” says Akçam, “It’s the smoking gun”. He described his discovery as an “earthquake in our domain,” and said he hoped to remove the last stone from the wall of Holocaust denial.
The story begins in 1915 in an office in the Turkish city of Erzéroum, when a high-ranking official of the Ottoman Empire wrote a coded telegram to a colleague on the ground, asking for details on deportations and executions. Armenia, in eastern Anatolia, the most eastern part of contemporary Turkey.
Later, a deciphered copy of the telegram helped condemn the leader Behaeddin Shakir for planning, an act that researchers have long referred to and which Turkey has long denied: the planned massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the leaders Of an Ottoman empire on the decline, an atrocity widely recognized as the first genocide of the 20th century.
And afterwards, without knowing how, most of the original documents and testimonies under oaths of trials disappeared, forcing researchers to rely only on the abstracts available in Turkish official journals.
Mr. Akçam said he had little hope that his new discovery would immediately change things, given Turkey’s fossilized policy of negation, at a time of political unrest, while its President Recep Erdogan leans Even more towards the nationalist. But Mr. Akçam’s whole life’s work consisted in denouncing, after fact, document by document, the negations of Turkey.
“My firm belief as a Turk is that democracy and human rights in Turkey can only be established by confronting history and acknowledging its misdeeds,” he said.
He developed his thesis that most of the chaos that seizes the Middle East today results from a mistrust between communities born of historical misdeeds, which no one wants to confront.
“The past is not the past in the Middle East,” he said. “This is the biggest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East.”
Eric D. Weitz, a history professor at City College in New York and an Armenian Genocide expert, called Mr. Akçam “the Sherlock Holmes of the Armenian Genocide.”
“He has accumulated evidence on evidence,” Professor Weitz added.
Where was the telegram for all these years, and how Mr. Akçam found it, is a story in itself. With the Turkish nationalists about to take power in 1922, Armenian leaders in Istanbul sent 24 boxes of hearings to England for their preservation.
The recordings were kept there by a bishop, then taken over in France and later in Jerusalem. They remained there until the 1930s, in the midst of an enormous amount of archives, mostly inaccessible to researchers, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Mr. Akçam said that he had tried for years to access these archives, but without succeeding. Instead, he found a photographic record of the archives from Jerusalem to New York; Held by the nephew of a now deceased Armenian monk who had survived the genocide. While investigating the genocide in Cairo in the 1940s, monk Krikor Guerguerian met a former Ottoman judge who presided over the post-war trials. The judge told him that many of these boxes had failed in Jerusalem, and so Mr. Guerguerian went there and took photographs of everything.
The telegram was written under the Ottoman heading and coded in Arabic characters: the groups of four-digit numbers were the words. When Mr. Akçam compared it with the known codes of the then Ministry of the Interior, found in an official archive in Istanbul, he realized that they corresponded, reinforcing the likelihood that many other telegrams Post-war trials can be verified in the same way.
For historians, trials were only one piece of evidence that emerged over the years – including the reports in several languages of diplomats, missionaries and journalists who witnessed the events under their care Eyes – this establishes the historical fact of the massacres and called it genocide. Turkey has long resisted the word genocide, saying that the sufferings of the Armenians had taken place in the chaos of a world war, a war in which Turkish Muslims also underwent trials.
Turkey also maintained that the Armenians were traitors, and had plans to ally themselves with Russia, an enemy of the Ottoman Empire.
This position is deeply entrenched in Turkish culture – it is a norm in school courts – and polls have shown that a majority of Turks share the government’s position.
“My approach is that whatever evidence you put before Holocaust deniers, Holocaust deniers will remain Holocaust deniers,” Bedros Der Matossian, a historian at the University of Nebraska and author of “Shattered dreams of Revolution; From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire [Fragmented Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence at the End of the Ottoman Empire] “.
The genocide is commemorated every year on 24 April, the day of 1915 when a group of Armenian notables from Istanbul were regrouped and deported.
This was the beginning of an enormous massacre, which involved forced marches in the Syrian deserts, summary executions and rape.
Two years ago, Pope Francis spoke of the massacre as a genocide and had to face a storm of criticism from inside Turkey. Many countries, including France, Germany, and Greece, have recognized the genocide, causing the breakdown of diplomatic relations with Turkey every time.
The United States avoided the use of the word “genocide” in an effort not to alienate Turkey, an ally of NATO and a partner in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East. Barak Obama had pronounced this word as a candidate for the presidency, but he did not do so during his term of office.
This year, dozens of leaders at the congress signed a letter urging President Trump to recognize the genocide.
But he is unlikely to do so, as Trump recently congratulated Erdogan on his victory in a referendum that critics say is fraudulent. Mr. Shakir, the Ottoman leader who wrote the incriminating telegram discovered by Mr. Akçam, had fled the country when the military court found him guilty and sentenced him to death in absentia.
A few years later, he was shot down in the streets of Berlin by two Armenian killers described in an article in The New York Times as “thin men, stretched thin and swarthy, carpet in a porch.”
By Tim Arango
The New York Times
22 April 2017