The Armenian Genocide in Feature Films

( With the recent release on DVD of the major motion picture “The Promise,” greater numbers of people will be able to gain insights into aspects of the Armenian Genocide. The film, starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, and Charlotte Le Bon, was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Terry George, who had been involved in the production of “Hotel Rwanda,” about the 1990s genocide in Africa.

“The Promise” was an unorthodox production in several ways: financing ($100 million provided by Armenian-American Kirk Krikorian); massive numbers of pre-film release reviews that were either extremely negative or highly praising; and significant challenges and even genocide denialist-imposed obstacles in distribution.

“The Promise” is the most recent in almost a century of efforts to portray in feature films the horrors of genocide. Most of these films have appeared in recent decades and all are attempts to “describe the indescribable.”

Among the more notable of the feature films that deal with the Armenian Genocide are “Ravished Armenia/Auction of Souls” (1919), “America, America” (1963), “Nahapet” (1977), “Forty Days of Musa Dagh” (1982), “Mayrig” (1991), “Ararat” (2002), “Lark Farm” (2007), “The Cut” (2014), “1915” (2015), and most recently “The Promise” (2016). Often, those films are based on survivor memoirs or historical novels.

What is little known publicly today is that a pioneering Hollywood film from the silent-film era dealt with the Armenian Genocide. “Ravished Armenia/Auction of Souls” is the biographical account of a young orphan girl, Arshaluys Mardigian (later renamed Aurora Mardiganian), who, having witnessed most of her family being killed, managed to flee the massacres and later immigrated as a teenager to the United States. Her biography, titled Ravished Armenia: The Story of Aurora Mardiganian: The Christian Girl Who Lived Through the Great Massacres, was first serialized in the Hearst newspapers and later published as a book in 1918. The memoir was then turned into a film.

The historical 85-minute movie was a silent film (with subtitles). It portrayed the mass deportations, rapes, and massacres of Armenians. It had Aurora Mardiganian herself as the lead character. Remarkably, the movie also featured in actual person Henry Morgenthau, the former US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The film was shot in California in 1918 with a cast of thousands of extras. Initially titled “Ravished Armenia,” the movie was renamed “Auction of Souls.” It was, in all likelihood, the first major Hollywood picture to portray genocide. In a number of ways, it was a pioneering film. To cast a genocide survivor as the lead actress is rare. As a post-WWI film, it certainly challenged conventional mores regarding violence, rape, and nudity. It also raised the censorship issue, both morally and politically. Turkish opposition in later years reinforced the latter.

The U.S. film premieres took place in Los Angeles and New York in 1919. Although film screenings were initially numerous and well-attended, the frequency of airings diminished. Over time, copies of the film were lost or destroyed, or they deteriorated. No known remaining full copy exists today. The history books on the early silent film era have mostly ignored the movie “Ravished Armenia/Auction of Souls.” What had been an often seen and cited movie that helped to raise crucial humanitarian relief funds for Near East Relief was now mostly ignored either by accident, bias, or malevolent design.

The Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan has an important section of its exhibition devoted to Aurora Mardiganian, her memoirs, and the film. For some, Aurora Mardiganian is the “Anne Frank of the Armenian Genocide.”

Franz Viktor Werfel wrote the novel “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” which dealt with the siege of the villages of Musa Dagh during the Armenian Genocide. The novel tells the story of one of the few examples of armed resistance by the Armenians to the deportations and killings by the Young Turk regime. The episode is also one of the few historical examples of foreign power humanitarian assistance arriving in timely fashion. French naval ships in the Mediterranean saw the besieged civilians and escorted them to safety in British-controlled Egypt. Efforts by the major Hollywood studio MGM to make a film version of the novel between the 1930s and 1970s were all unsuccessful—largely as a consequence of significant foreign pressure and interference by the Turkish government, supported by the U.S. State Department. Decades later, a lower-budget version directed by Sarky Mouradian was filmed in 1982, but achieved very little distribution.

The Greek-American Elia Kazan penned an autobiographical book about the suffering of his extended family, along with fellow Greeks and Armenians, under Turkish rule. In 1963, he turned the book into the epic film “America, America.”

“Nahapet” (1977) (Patriarch, also released as “Love Triumphs” ) is a Soviet-era film based on a novel by Hrachya Kochar and describes how a genocide survivor (Nahapet) attempts to rebuild his life amid the rugged mountains of Soviet Armenia. One of the recurring scenes in the film directed by Henrik Malyan involves scores of red apples falling from a tree, rolling into a river, and floating en masse downstream. The scene is a painful symbolic reminder of the multitude of Armenian bodies thrown into the Euphrates by the Young Turk regime during the genocide.

“Mayrig” (Mother) is the title of a 1985 semiautobiographical French-language novel by Henri Verneuil (born Ashod Malakian,) a French-Armenian author and filmmaker. The story is about a multigenerational family’s efforts to survive post-genocide exile and is a powerful account of the lingering intergenerational effects of genocide, even decades later.

“Ararat” (2002) by Atom Egoyan is a multilayered, complex drama. Egoyan’s actual film portrays a fictional director making an historical drama about the heroic Armenian people’s resistance to the Turkish military siege of the city of Van in 1915. A young Armenian boy and his beloved mother endured dreadful conditions during the bombardment and siege. She later dies as a refugee, and the young boy eventually emigrates to the United States, changes his name, and becomes the prominent artist Arshile Gorky. His melancholy twin paintings “The Artist and His Mother” are iconic and play a key role in the film. “Ararat” dwells on these works of art to convey the anguish and grieving for a deceased mother and a fractured family life. Among the reoccurring threads woven into film are the enormous impact of genocide, intergenerational transmission of trauma, and the continuing pain of ongoing Turkish denial. The closing hymn “Oor es, mayr eem/Mother, where are you?” sung by international soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, is heart-breaking.

The novel “Skylark Farm” by Italian-Armenian writer Antonia Arslan was made into a film under the title “The Lark Farm” (Italian: “La masseria delle allodole“) (2007) by directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. A multi-country co-production, with a cast that included Arsinee Khanjian, the film describes intergenerational transmission of traumatic memories of the author’s extended family. It portrays a diaspora Armenian living in Italy who hopes to reunite with his Armenian family in Anatolia. But with the onset of WWI, the Young Turk dictatorship closed the border, with Ottoman Armenian civilians trapped inside to face mass deportations and slaughter. A great many perished, but some Armenian family members survived the long and perilous death marches into the Syrian Desert and eventually reached safety in Italy.

“The Cut” (2014) by Fatih Akin follows the painful odyssey of a young Armenian man who is conscripted, along with fellow Armenians, to do forced road labor, and barely survives the Turkish cutting of the throats of the unarmed Armenian workers. Now mute from the cut, this lonely survivor endures further hardship and danger and gives up hope that any in his family is still alive. He travels from one place of exile after another, eventually ending up in the United States, where to his surprise he reunites with part of his surviving family.

Garin Hovannisian’s and Alex Mouhibian’s film “1915” was released on the 100th memorial year of 2015, and the story is based on a director’s and his actress wife’s staging a play in Los Angeles about the Armenian Genocide. The historical play draws protest demonstrations outside and mysterious incidents and apparitions inside. The ghosts of the genocide from the past press powerfully onto the present in this hauntingly powerful film.

Terry George’s “The Promise” (2016) tells the story of an American reporter who befriends two young Armenians, and the three form a complex love triangle. With the onset of WWI and increasing dictatorial rule by the ultranationalist Young Turk military regime, the foreign journalist bears witness to the mass deportations and massacres of Armenians. Among the scenes portrayed is the self-defense resistance at Musa Dagh. Unlike the fate of most of their fellow Armenians, many of those inhabitants survive with the help and rescue of nearby French naval ships.

In this contemporary video-oriented era, feature films remain an important means to convey the deep and enduring impact of genocide. They can shed some light on an exceedingly dark era, but ultimately they are attempts to “describe the indescribable.”

Alan Whitehorn*

Photo: A still from Terry George’s “The Promise” (2016) (Photo: Survival Pictures)

Note: Portions of this article draw from several entries from Alan Whitehorn, ed., The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide (Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO Press, 2015).

*Alan Whitehorn is an emeritus professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and author of a several books on the Armenian Genocide, including “Just Poems: Reflections on the Armenian Genocide.” He is also the editor of “The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide.”

Canadian Museum for Human Rights Produces Film about Armenian Genocide

( TORONTO, Ontario—In partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), the Armenian National Committee of Canada co-organized the premiere of the museum’s new film about the Armenian Genocide, “Acts of Conscience: Armin T. Wegner and the Armenian Genocide” on October 13th, 2016.

Scene from “Acts of Conscience: Armin T. Wegner and the Armenian Genocide” (Photo: Armenian National Committee of Canada)
Scene from “Acts of Conscience: Armin T. Wegner and the Armenian Genocide” (Photo: Armenian National Committee of Canada)

The event took place at the Armenian Youth Centre of Toronto and attracted hundreds of community members and supporters of the ANCC and CMHR. The event was also attended by Peter Farenholtz, Consul General of Germany in Canada, MP Arnold Chan. Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Agincourt and Chair of the Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group, Councilor Jim Karygiannis, Toronto City Councilor, TDSB Trustees and a large number of activists.

After the screening of the documentary, the event featured a discussion with renowned Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who narrated the short documentary which will play in the Museum’s “Breaking the Silence” gallery.

Subsequently, remarks were delivered by CMHR president and CEO, John Young, MP Arnold Chan – who also read a statement from The Right Hon. Justin Trudeau – and Councilor Jim Karygiannis, Toronto city councilor. Closing remarks were delivered by ANCC president, Shahen Mirakian. In his remarks, Mirakian said that it is only through our concerted efforts that we can stay true to our commitment and carry on the legacy of Wegner by standing up against any forms of injustice towards humanity.

The film “Acts of Conscience” looks at the genocide through the lens of Armin T. Wegner, a German war medic who photographed and documented atrocities against the Armenian-Christian minority that were occurring around him in the Ottoman Empire during the first World War – including forced “death marches” through the desert. In the 1930s, Wegner also voiced his opposition to the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis and authored an impassioned plea to Hitler on behalf of the Jews of Germany.

Compelled by his conscience to take action despite great personal risk, Wegner’s story epitomizes the importance of efforts to combat the denial and minimization that often surround gross human rights violations.

An exhibit at the CMHR explores the efforts for recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Wegner and others. In 2004, the Canadian Parliament voted to officially acknowledge and condemn the Armenian Genocide.

The ANCC is the largest and the most influential Canadian-Armenian grassroots human rights organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout Canada and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCC actively advances the concerns of the Canadian-Armenian community on a broad range of issues and works to eliminate abuses of human rights throughout Canada and the world.

Resolution with Justice: Theriault Discusses Armenian Genocide Reparations Report

Special for the Armenian Weekly

by Rupen Janbazian

While recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the government of Turkey has been a priority for Armenian communities around the world, the notion of legal consequences that can emerge after recognition has generally been unaddressed or ignored.

Certainly, the question of reparations for losses suffered both by individual victims and the Armenian nation as a whole during the genocide has been studied by many scholars and academics over the years. However, the discourse was generally limited and included only abstract notions of territorial and monetary return. Although there have been several examples of valuable works treating the issue, none have approached the topic of reparations with a comprehensiveness and detailed analysis like that put forth by the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (AGRSG).

The AGRSG was assembled in 2007 by four experts in different areas of reparations theory and practice. In September 2014, the group completed its final report, “Resolution with Justice—Reparations for the Armenian Genocide,” a wide-ranging analysis of the legal, historical, political, and ethical dimensions of the question of reparations for the genocide. It also includes specific recommendations for the components of a complete reparations package.

According to the study group, its final report “will give Turkish and Armenian individuals as well as civil society and political institutions the information, analysis, and tools to engage the Armenian Genocide issue in a systematic manner that supports meaningful resolution.”

Funded initially by a grant from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), the members of the AGRSG are Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine O. McCalpin, Ara Papian, and Henry C. Theriault (chair). George Aghjayan serves as a special consultant.

I recently had a chance to talk with Theriault about the group’s final report. Below is the full text of our interview.


Rupen Janbazian: The AGRSG was formed in 2007 with the mission to produce an in-depth analysis of the reparations issue raised by the Armenian Genocide. Why and how was this project conceived?

Henry C. Theriault
Henry C. Theriault

Henry C. Theriault: My primary scholarly focus in the early 2000’s was genocide denial. In this connection, I had been researching and writing about Armenian-Turkish dialogue since about 2001. I was especially concerned about the encouragement of a negotiation to determine what the accepted history would be, by such initiatives as the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC). As I studied and analyzed dialogue issues more, my concerns expanded to include (1) the exclusion of long-term justice issues from most discussions about dialogue as well as concrete attempts to create dialogue between Armenians and Turks; and (2) the ignoring in the design of dialogue projects such as TARC, as well as proposals for other dialogue models, of the power differential (actually, asymmetrical domination relation) between Turks and Armenians within any dialogue context.

It became clear to me that, beyond simply ending denial, resolution of the Armenian Genocide issue requires real long-term justice in the form of reparations, including land. Only in this way can the outstanding harms, which remain devastating for many Armenians around the world, from the current vulnerability of dispersed Armenians in Syria to the poverty in rural areas of the Armenian Republic, be addressed. And, only in this way can the great power, wealth, and identity differential that resulted from the genocide be ameliorated.

I began specifically working on reparations for the genocide (and other cases of mass violence and oppression, such as the land expropriations that were central to the genocides of indigenous Americans) in 2005. In December of that year, I co-organized with famed South African human rights activist Dennis Brutus an international symposium on the global reparations movement. “Whose Debt? Whose Responsibility?” featured speakers from South Africa, Japan, and around the United States and covered reparations cases for African Americans, South African blacks, Native Americans, the Armenian Genocide, and Asian Comfort Women, as well as the question of debt relief as a form of reparation for colonialism in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Over the next year, reparations become the central concern of my scholarship, and I began to consider innovative ways to approach the Armenian case.

Jermaine McCalpin, at the time a Ph.D. student at Brown University, had given a tremendous paper on reparations at the 2005 conference, and I had thought at the time how great it would be to work together on a project. I had also become aware of Alfred de Zayas’ pioneering work on the Armenian case and soon learned of Ara Papian’s innovative engagement with the Treaty of Sèvres. I realized the potential of a team composed of this kind of range of experts to develop a proposal for long-term justice for the Armenian Genocide. Once I was able to get a small grant to support this work, I invited each of these exceptional thinkers to join with me in researching the issue, with an eye toward making a set of useful policy recommendations. They agreed and we began our work.

R.J.: The members of the AGRSG come from different academic backgrounds. What is the importance of having a variety of perspectives when assessing the topic of post-genocide reparations?

H.C.T.: This is a huge benefit of our group. From the beginning, we realized the value of being able to join concrete international law analyses with consideration of the ethical issues raised by the Armenian case. Too often, an international lawyer might produce a strong case on a human rights issue, but not be able to explain why his/her society or international organizations should act on the case, when ethical arguments can often motivate a broad range of individuals and even political leaders to take up an issue and turn legal possibility into reality. Just as often, in my field of philosophy, I have read compelling ethical arguments that remain academic exercises because they are disconnected from the legal and political realms in which the issues must be addressed if actual resolutions are to be enacted. Similarly, while general legal principles can be usefully applied to the genocide as a whole, the case for land return becomes that much more compelling when it is based on prior international arbitration and agreement.

Thus, Ambassador Papian’s contributions gave the legal arguments a powerful additional basis in the Wilsonian arbitral award of land to Armenians in the post-World War I period. Having a political theorist with a focus on transitional justice was just as indispensable. It is one thing to make a legal, historical, and ethical case for the rightness of reparations, but how can this rightness be made to matter in the political realities of Armenian-Turkish relations? My abstract concern with ethics and work on dialogue initiatives based on bad models had caused me to ignore this dimension of the issue; my view was that the case should be made on legal and political levels regardless of attitudes in Turkey. But this ignored a crucial potential lever in the reparations process, Turkish people themselves who wished to engage the genocide in a forthright manner with a goal of justice. As we have seen more and more Turks embrace this possibility in recent years, it would make no sense to ignore this development. Through Jermaine’s influence, the potential for Turkish transformation became an important element of the report.

I would also add that the geographic and cultural diversity of our group has been important as well. For instance, Dr. de Zayas has for decades been focused on human rights issues across the globe, and worked in the central institution trying to support them, the UN Human Rights Commission. Ambassador Papian has a deep understanding of regional political and security issues. And Jermaine brings to the table work on a number of truth commissions, particularly those in South Africa, Grenada, and Haiti, as well as the expertise gained through his writing of a 100-plus page proposal for a Jamaican Truth Commission. My own concerns about reparations for indigenous Americans, the Comfort Women, and other cases added further to the insights, historical information, and models available for our report. While the result is a report specifically focused on the Armenian case, it is informed by a host of cases across the globe.

R.J.: According to the report, the legal case for reparations is complicated and faces many obstacles. What are some of the biggest challenges that arise when analysing such a complex matter?

H.C.T.: This question could generate its own report, there are so many. Here, let me focus on two. First, any reparations scheme involving substantial material reparations, especially land, raises complex implementation questions. For instance, if land in the eastern areas of today’s Turkey is returned to Armenians, what will the status of its current inhabitants be? What about other groups who might also have claims to parts of the territory, such as Assyrians and Kurds? Is there a sufficient Armenian population to populate territory returned? And so forth. While these concerns are addressed by and, in fact, helped shape the specific proposal made in our report, this required complex analyses and adjustments.

Second, clearly the resistance by even well-intentioned Turks to any kind of material reparations, especially land, will be, at least initially, strong, while many people typically dismiss reparations for historical injustices as out of hand. The truth commission aspect of our proposal is meant to address the first problem here, while the broader question of whether the goal of reparations is just a pipe dream is addressed in the report as well. One important point to keep in mind is that ethics-based movements for political change have in fact dramatically impacted our world, as evidenced by the U.S. civil rights movement, India’s independence movement, and other such movements. The press for Armenian Genocide reparations, as part of the emerging global reparations movement, does have true potential for success, but getting people to see this takes some work.

R.J.: How does the AGRSG respond to those who believe that reparations, especially a return of land, are impractical and unlikely?

H.C.T.: Beyond what was discussed in response to your previous question, there are other ways the report addresses these challenges. For instance, we point out that the current system of international borders is based on the principle of “territorial integrity” in a way that discounts human rights and historical justice concerns. Those committed to the latter concerns should be willing to see territorial border changes. We also point out that the very notion of land in eastern Turkey being fundamentally “Turkish” land is itself an artefact of the genocide, when the land was depopulated of Armenians through mass expulsion and killing and thus Turkified. The land became “Turkish” through genocide, and maintaining an absolute view of the issue today—maintaining that the land is somehow in its very essence Turkish—is, in effect, supporting the genocidal ideology that led to this view of the land in the first place.

The report also allows for inventive alternatives. For instance, Ambassador Papian came up with an alternative model for land reparations, which would allow Turkey to retain formal title but turn historically Armenian lands into a demilitarized zone open to Armenians who wish to move to and develop economic opportunities there.

Ultimately, the strongest point in this regard is that history is filled with examples of popular movements that drove great political changes against strong powers and in an atmosphere of dismissal. Ethical rightness does matter and can be the basis of such change in the case of the Armenian Genocide, especially when it is supported by a strong legal and historical case and can be enacted by an innovative political process, as our report provides.

R.J.: Is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Republic of Turkey necessary for the return of Armenian property confiscated or lost during the genocide?

H.C.T.: If we are talking about descendants filing lawsuits for individual property losses during the genocide, then recognition of the genocide is not required. As long as an expropriation of property can be shown to have violated law at the time or to have been done without proper legal support, then a lawsuit might proceed. It would succeed because the context of genocide is not essential to the case: The same laws would apply whether or not there was a genocide occurring, though of course it was the Armenian Genocide that caused the particular property losses we are discussing. Of course, there was legal cover given to expropriation of Armenians’ property, though the legality appears to have been challenged at the time and is called into question in some recent scholarship. More to the point, even if there is proper legal support for such cases, as we explain in the report, without political support, the cases are not likely to succeed. This is especially true of domestic cases in Turkey.

But, our report is specifically not concerned with individual reparations for specific lost property. It is concerned with group reparations for the genocide itself. The kinds of property confiscations interest us only insofar as they would be part of a general group reparations settlement. We use estimates from the genocide period to make a determination of the amount of compensation for such property losses—except for land, which is considered separately.

It would seem that a group reparations process for the genocide could occur only if either (1) outside powers compelled Turkey to make reparations; or (2) Turkey recognized the genocide. But there is a third possibility, that pressure for reparations could produce a truth process in Turkey that will spur recognition.

R.J.: The AGRSG supports a truth commission when dealing with the memory of the Armenian Genocide. How does this differ from the historical commission proposed by the failed Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission or the “joint historical commission” proposed as part of the 2009 diplomatic protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia?

H.C.T.: The “joint historical commission” issue is a bit complex in the protocols, as there seems to have been some backtracking on that by the Armenian president. For those who are interested in the detailed answer to this question, Part 7 of the report, which develops the Armenian Genocide Truth and Rectification Commission idea, explains specifically why it is fundamentally different from and superior to these other approaches. In short, our idea for a truth and rectification commission is not based on any notion that the facts of the Armenian Genocide are in question—they are not—but, following the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission model, aims to provide a highly public process through which the history of the Armenian Genocide can be engaged in depth, to at once educate the Turkish public about what occurred and provide Armenians an opportunity to bear public witness to this history. What is more, the issue of reparations is contained right in the title, in the word “rectification.” The ultimate function of this commission is to help develop a reparations plan for the Armenian Genocide. This was, by the way, supposed to be what happened in the case of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission—its final stage was supposed to be about reparations. But this final stage never occurred. Our approach builds reparations into the entire truth commission process.

R.J.: The final report of the AGRSG was published in September 2014. As the chair of the AGRSG, what purpose do you hope the report will serve?

H.C.T.: The goal is four-fold. First, I hope that the arguments and evidence presented in the report will be compelling to Armenians in the Republic and in the diaspora, and motivate them to pursue reparations as a crucial component of any resolution of the genocide. Similarly, I hope that the arguments, both the legal and ethical ones, will convince third-party supporters of genocide recognition as well as third-parties who are lukewarm at best to the issue that reparations are both right and reasonable. I am particularly concerned about the tendency to dismiss reparations not just in the Armenian case but in many others as well.

Third, the report provides legal, ethical, and political arguments and approaches that can be translated directly into legal and political initiatives by the Armenian Republic and Armenian institutions around the world. My goal is that these entities use this valuable report in this way. Finally, the report provides a mechanism—the truth and rectification commission—through which the Turkish public can engage the genocide in a meaningful way. The contents of the report offer compelling arguments for contemporary Turkish responsibility for reparations (which is not at all the same thing as blame for the genocide itself). I hope that Turkish readers will take these seriously, at once overcoming resistance to a proper sense of responsibility and at the same time embracing the truth commission model as a healthy and productive avenue for dealing with the genocide today.

‘Genocide Studies International’ Examines the Armenian Genocide, Geopolitics, and Denial

( The International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute) recently announced the release of “Genocide Studies International” (GSI), volume 8, number 2, Fall 2014. This peer-reviewed journal, edited by the scholarly team of Maureen Hiebert, Herbert Hirsch, Roger W. Smith, and Henry Theriault, is interdisciplinary and comparative in nature. It welcomes submissions on individual case studies, thematic approaches, and policy analyses that relate to the history, causes, impact, aftermath, and all other aspects of genocide.

The new issue includes two articles of special interest to Armenians: “Genocide and Identity (Geo)Politics: Bridging State Reasoning and Diaspora Activism” by Khatchik DerGhougassian and “Anatomy of Denial: Manipulating Sources and Manufacturing Religion” by Dikran Kaligian.

DerGhougassian’s article looks at identity politics and state policy. Through the lens of international relations theory, he examines the divide between Armenia and the global Armenian Diaspora on the question of if and how to include the Armenian Genocide on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda. The Armenian government, eager to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey for trade and economic development, has insisted on “relations without preconditions” with Ankara. On the other hand, international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and reparations have been central to diaspora activism.

Khatchik DerGhougassian is a professor of international relations at the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a visiting professor at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan. He has also served as an advisor to the assistant secretary for planning and logistics operations in the Ministry of Defense of Argentina since 2006.

Kaligian’s article examines the allegation of “Armenian rebellion” used by deniers of the Armenian Genocide as a means to justify the claims that the Ottoman Empire’s actions carried out against the Armenians were in self-defense. Kaligian currently teaches at Regis College in Worcester, Mass. He is the author of several articles on the Armenians in the late Ottoman Empire and a book titled Armenian Organization and Ideology under Ottoman Rule: 1908 – 1914. He is also the managing editor of “The Armenian Review.”

One particularly noteworthy feature of this issue is an interview from the field with Dr. Tom Catena, a courageous physician-surgeon working in the dangerous and volatile Nuba Mountains of Sudan. This interview is provided by special arrangement with Sam Totten, who traveled to the Nuba Mountains himself to bring food to the starving population and conducted the interview while there. Catena provides eye-witness information about the effects of government aerial bombings and forced famine on the civilians of the region. He reveals amazing truths about the dire situation in the Nuba Mountains, which the West continues to ignore.

The GSI issue also includes the following articles, which illustrate the breadth of coverage of this new journal: “The United Nations and Genocide Prevention: The Problem of Racial and Religious Bias” by Hannibal Travis; “Polluting the Waters: A Brief History of Anti-Communist Propaganda during the Indonesian Massacres,” by Adam Hughes Henry; and “The Role of the Netherlands in the European Framework for an International Response on Darfur during its Presidency in 2004-2005,” by Fred Grünfeld and Wessel N. Vermeulen.

Also included are two book reviews—of The Mark of Cain: Guilt and Denial in the Post-War Lives of Nazi Perpetrators, by Katharina von Kellenbach, and Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism by Ervin Staub.

GSI’s spring issue, to be published in March 2015, will be dedicated to the Ottoman Genocides of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek peoples, and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in April 2015.

For information on subscribing to the journal, visit or contact the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies by e-mailing or calling (416) 250-9807.

Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group Publishes Final Report

YEREVAN—The Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (AGRSG) has just completed its final report, “Resolution with Justice – Reparations for the Armenian Genocide.” The report offers an unprecedented comprehensive analysis of the legal, historical, political, and ethical dimensions of the question of reparations for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, including specific recommendations for the components of a complete reparations package.

Prior to formation of the AGRSG in 2007, the limited discourse on reparations for the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide included abstract notions of territorial return, consideration of particular aspects such as insurance lawsuits, academic and other works focused on a specific part of the overall topic, and sometimes valuable short works treating the issue but without comprehensive or detailed analysis.

The AGRSG was formed in 2007 by four experts in different areas of reparations theory and practice. Their mission was to produce the first systematic, comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the reparations issues raised by the Armenian Genocide. Funded initially by a grant from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun, the AGRSG members are Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine O. McCalpin, Ara Papian, and Henry C. Theriault (Chair). George Aghjayan has served as a special consultant.

After early agreement that some form of repair is an appropriate remedy for the legacy of the Armenian Genocide as it stands today, the AGRSG prepared a preliminary report, which was released for limited distribution in 2009. Completion of the draft was followed by three symposia. The first was a panel discussion featuring three of the report authors, held on May 15, 2010 at George Mason University in the United States, in conjunction with the university’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The second was a major day-long symposium featuring the four co-authors and a number of other experts on reparations for the Armenian Genocide, conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law through its International Human Rights Law Association, on October 23, 2010. The third was a panel by two of the report authors held in Yerevan, Armenia, on December 11, 2010. The AGRSG is now issuing for broad distribution its final report, an extensive revision and updating of the 2009 preliminary report.

The AGRSG final report remains the only systematic, all-encompassing, in-depth approach to Armenian Genocide Reparations. The report examines the case for reparations from legal, historical, and ethical perspectives (Parts 4, 5, and 6, respectively), offers a plan for a productive reparative process drawing on transitional justice theory and practice (Part 7), and proposes a concrete reparations package (Parts 3 and 8). The report also includes background on the Armenian Genocide (Part 1) and the damages inflicted by it and their impacts today (Part 2). Through its broad dissemination, this report fills a crucial gap in the scholarly work and policy discourse on the Armenian Genocide. It will give Turkish and Armenian individuals as well as civil society and political institutions the information, analysis, and tools to engage the Armenian Genocide issue in a systematic manner that supports meaningful resolution.

The present time is optimal for release of the report. The 100th anniversary year of the beginning of the Genocide, 2015, will see greatly heightened international political, academic, media, artistic, and public interest in the Genocide. In addition, in the past few years, reparations for the Genocide have gone from a marginal concern to a central focus in popular and academic circles. Much of that focus has been on piecemeal individual reparation legal cases. This report represents a decisive step toward a much broader and all-embracing process of repair that is adequate to resolve the extensive outstanding damages of the Genocide. Furthermore, genuine, non-denialist engagement with the legacy of the Genocide is growing in Turkey. Finally, in the past decade, there has emerged a global reparations movement involving numerous victim groups across an array of mass human rights violations. The Armenian case has a place within that movement.

The complete final report will be available in PDF format online. The Executive Summary and Introduction of the final report are already available on the site.

Inquiries about the AGRSG and its report can be directed to Henry Theriault at, +1 (508) 929-8612, or Department of Philosophy, Worcester State University, 486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602, U.S.A.

1. The positions taken and perspectives expressed in the report are those of the AGRSG members alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Genocide Encyclopedias and the Armenian Genocide

by Alan Whitehorn*

Special for the Armenian Weekly

The two key human rights concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” have their roots in the response to the Young Turk mass deportations and massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Following the April 24, 1915 mass arrests of hundreds of Armenian political, religious, and community leaders in Constantinople and their subsequent exile and deaths, and the massacres of multitudes of other Armenian civilians, the Entente allied powers of England, France, and Russia on May 24, 1915 warned that the Young Turk dictatorship would be held accountable for the massacres and the “new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization.”

In 1921, Soghomon Tehlirian was put on trial in Germany for having assassinated Mehmet Talat, one of the key Young Turk triumvirate responsible for the deportations and massacres of the Armenians. Raphael Lemkin, a young Polish university student, who would later become a lawyer, wondered why there existed domestic laws to deal with the murder of one person, but no international law to punish those responsible for the mass killing of a million or more persons. During the 1930’s, Lemkin suggested the twin concepts of “vandalism” and “barbarism” to deal with such crimes. The former dealt with the destruction of cultural artifacts, while the latter related to acts of violence against defenseless groups. By 1944, these twin concepts had merged into his proposed international term: “genocide.” The new concept, along with “crimes against humanity,” would become a key pillar of international law.

With the introduction of the two crucial legal concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide,” it remained for scholars and prosecutors alike to apply these principles to specific cases. Over time, there emerged the need to compare different historical and contemporary examples. Pioneering analytical and comparative books, such as Irving Horowitz’s Genocide (New Brunswick, Transaction Books, 1976) and Leo Kuper’s Genocide (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1981), were penned in this regard. Before long, the field of genocide studies emerged and was formalized with the birth of the International Association of Genocide Studies (IAGS) in 1994. However, a challenge familiar to many in comparative politics arose; given that most individuals and scholars lack the global expertise to know sufficient details about all of the major case studies, there was an urgent need for encyclopedias and dictionaries on genocide.

Drawing intellectual inspiration and editorial guidance from Israel Charny, a pioneering project was launched. In 1999, the two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide, (Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 1999) was published. With substantial input by Rouben Adalian, the encyclopedia included two-dozen entries about the Armenian Genocide and the Ottoman Young Turk regime. The encyclopedia also contained several thematic entries that cited reference to the Armenian case. Adalian led the way with 17 entries that he penned on such such as the Hamidian Massacres, Adana, Musa Dagh, the Young Turks, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry Morgenthau, Sr. Other prominent authors included Vahakn Dadrian (Armenian Genocide documentation and courts martial), Roger Smith (Armenian Genocide denial), Robert Melson (comparison of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust), Samuel Totten (genocide films and literature), Peter Balakian (poetry on the Armenian Genocide), Sybil Milton (Armin T. Wegner), and Steve Jacobs (Raphael Lemkin). The two volumes were not only pioneering, but remain quite useful even today. This is a testament to their strong scholarship and the continued importance of the topic.

Soon after the appearance of the English-language two volume Encyclopedia of Genocide, a French-language one-volume version appeared: Israel Charny, ed., Le Livre noir de l’humanite: Encyclopedie mondiale des genocides (Toulouse, Editions Privat, 2001). For the most part in the French edition, the entries on the Armenian Genocide and other genocides were the same, but there were a few additions and deletions. Overall, students of the Armenian Genocide were exceptionally well served by the two editions.

The three-volume set edited by Dinah Shelton, titled Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (Detroit, Thomson Gale, 2005), provided extensive material on the Holocaust and attempted to be more inclusive of other genocides. However, the coverage on the Armenian Genocide (with under 10 full entries) was less in this 3-volume account than in the earlier and smaller English and French Encyclopedia of Genocide. Nevertheless, the entries were written by prominent figures: Vahakn Dadrian (Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Talat), Dennis Papazian (Armenians in Russia and the USSR), Michael Hagopian (Armenian Genocide documentary films), Atom Egoyan (Armenian Genocide feature films), and Peter Balakian (poetry, including a section on the Armenian Genocide).

The cluster of entries was stronger on the arts angle of the Armenian Genocide than the history or sociology. For example, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. addressing the Holocaust was listed, but not Henry Morgenthau, Sr. on the Armenian Genocide. The entry on Benjamin Whitaker was an important one, but remained silent on the Turkish government’s powerful efforts to thwart the UN’s Whitaker Report, which contained an important historical reference to the Armenian Genocide. The encyclopedia did, however, include an entry by Christopher Simpson on German missionary Johannes Lepsius and his brave report during World War I on the Armenian massacres. On another positive note, some of the thematic entries provided references to the Armenian Genocide.

The one-volume account edited by Leslie Horvitz and Christopher Catherwood, Encyclopedia of War Crimes and Genocide (New York, Facts on File, 2006), contained only one main entry on the Armenian Genocide and one partial reference in the entry on “crimes against humanity.” This was inadequate coverage of one of the major genocides of the 20th century. It seemed that the pattern had become one of declining coverage. But that was about to change.

The two-volume collection co-edited and co-authored by Samuel Totten and Paul Bartrop (with some assistance from Steve Jacobs), titled Dictionary of Genocide (Westport, Greenwood, 2008), saw a return to more comprehensive coverage. While no Armenian Genocide specialist authors were listed as contributors, the volumes included at least 40 entries on the Armenian Genocide and covered a wide range of topics. Entries dealt with the key perpetrators (Abdul Hamid II, Committee of Union and Progress/CUP, Ahmed Djemal, Ismail Enver, Mehemet Talat, Mehemed Nazim), famous places and incidents (Adana, Deir ez Zor, Forty Days of Musa Dagh), key humanitarian figures (Johannes Lepsius, British Viscount James Bryce, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, German military medic Armin T. Wegner), international reaction (British and the Bryce Report on the “Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire,” American on the formation of the “Armenian Atrocities Committee”), films (“Ararat,” “Voices from the Lake,” “Armenia: The Betrayed”), genocide centers (Armenian Genocide Institute Museum, Zoryan Institute), Armenian Genocide denialist authors (Bernard Lewis, Justin McCarthy), links to related Ottoman genocides (Assyrians, Pontic Greeks), and the Holocaust. It is a highly readable set of volumes that provides useful summary information about the Armenian Genocide. However, some readers would want more detailed entries, and that was about to appear.

In the internet age, it was inevitable that an online encyclopedia of genocide would emerge. The American educational publisher ABC-CLIO recently created a large database on genocide that was primarily intended for high school students and teachers, but would also be valuable to university students and professors. Entitled “Modern Genocide: Understanding Causes and Consequences,” it is available for an annual subscription fee. Developed in consultation with an advisory board comprised of Paul Bartrop, Steven Jacobs, and Suzanne Ransleben, the database continues to grow and be updated. At the current time, it contains seven main entries on the Armenian Genocide (Overview, Causes, Consequences, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, International Reaction) by Alan Whitehorn. There are also several discussion essays by various authors (including Colin Tatz and Henry Theriault) on Armenian Genocide recognition and how well the genocide has been known, and about 70 individual subject entries. Entries include pieces done by Rouben Adalian, Paul Bartrop, Zaven Khatchaturian, Robert Melson, Khatchig Mouradian, Rubina Peroomian, George Shirinian, Roger Smith, and others. However, not as many Armenian Genocide specialists have contributed as one might have expected. In addition to the encyclopedia entries and genocide timeline, there are some primary source documents and photos. The online database provides useful insight on the Armenian Genocide. It also suggests what might be possible if all of the entries were to be gathered together into a separate encyclopedic volume that is focused on the genocide. Unfortunately, this is something that has not yet been done, but that one hopes will occur before 2015.

Quite significantly, all of the genocide encyclopedias together show that the Armenian Genocide constitutes an important case study, as it is included in each and every genocide encyclopedia from the first to the most recent. This reflects academic consensus among genocide scholars that the mass deportations and killings of Armenians constitute genocide. These important scholarly reference works thus provide significant academic documentation that can serve to repudiate the Turkish state’s repeated polemical denials of the Armenian Genocide. Accordingly, these genocide encyclopedias ought to be cited by scholars, jurists, and citizens alike. The European Court of Human Rights, in its recent (Dec. 17, 2013) flawed decision on Armenian Genocide denial, should have been aware of such key academic reference works. If they had, their reasoning, in all likelihood, would have been different. Without a doubt, these encyclopedias’ coverage of the Armenian Genocide remind us that time is long overdue for the Turkish government and its citizens to face the dark pages of their history.

*Alan Whitehorn is an emeritus professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and author of a several books on the Armenian Genocide, including Just Poems: Reflections on the Armenian Genocide.

Photo caption: Drawing intellectual inspiration and editorial guidance from Israel Charny, a pioneering project was launched. In 1999, the two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide, (Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 1999) was published.

ABC 7.30 airs feature on Turkish Gallipoli ban threat against Australians

(, SYDNEY) – Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), aired a powerful feature on Australia’s connection to the Armenian Genocide, and the recent threats made by the Turkey’s Foreign Ministry to ban Australian politicians from attending ANZAC Day centenary commemorations in Gallipoli.

The feature was part of the prime-time “7.30” program (WATCH THE FEATURE BY CLICKING HERE), and was prepared by the ABC’s Chief Defence Correspondent, Michael Brissenden.

The threat to ban Australian politicians was initially made after the country’s largest state’s parliament (New South Wales) adopted a unanimous motion to recognise and condemn the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian genocides perpetrated by the Ottoman-Turkish Empire.

In the 7.30 program, Turkey’s Consul General in New South Wales, Ms Gulseren Celik, confirmed the threat. Since the threats were made, politicians including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, Rev. Fred Nile and Marie Ficarra have condemned them as an attempt by Turkey to muzzle allies from recognising a dark chapter in the country’s history.

During World War I, countless numbers of Australian Prisoners of War recorded witnessing the mass deportations and massacres of the Armenian people. Turkish Consul General Celik also claimed that these testimonies are fabrications of history; a claim denied by some of Australia’s leading historians, including Dr. Peter Stanley, the pre-eminent expert on Australian WWI history.

This intertwining of Australian and Armenian histories was covered in the 7.30 feature, which included direct quotes from prominent Australian ANZACs, one of whom ended up a Minister in government.

The Armenian National Committee of Australia’s Executive Director, Vache Kahramanian, remarked: “The 7.30 feature provides a powerful insight into the extent that the Turkish Government is willing to go to deny the Armenian Genocide.”

“We thank Michael Brissenden and the ABC for covering an important part of Australian and Armenian history, which will set the foundations for continued education of mainstream society,” he added.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 21/08/2013

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

The Turkish government uses the centenary celebrations at Gallipoli to try to shut down criticism of the Armenian genocide.

Transcript of the broadcast

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Turkish Government is threatening to ban a group of Australian politicians from the centenary celebrations at Gallipoli in 2015 in what some see as a bald attempt to rewrite its own World War I history.

It goes back to May this year when the New South Wales Parliament passed a motion recognising the Armenian genocide, carried out by the Ottoman Turk regime, in which an estimated million and a half people died.

The move infuriated Turkish authorities, who are now threatening retaliation.

National security correspondent Michael Brissenden has this exclusive report.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, REPORTER: Every April, Australians in their thousands make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli to commemorate the national mythology forged on the beaches of Anzac Cove. What few Australians realise is that the day coincides with another anniversary of an even more tragic episode in history.

PETER STANLEY, MILITARY HISTORIAN: So as well as the myths that we seem to find ourselves unable to escape from, we also want to embrace the truth of Gallipoli, and the fact is is that the Armenian genocide happened almost within days of the invasion of Gallipoli.

COLIN TATZ, VISITING FELLOW, ANU: In my view, it’s both. It’s the 100th anniversary of the genocidal events and the 100th anniversary of the famous Gallipoli landings.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: On the eve of what Australians call Anzac Day, Armenians around the world hold their own day of remembrance to mark the wholesale annihilation of Armenian Christians in the dying days of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

FRED NILE, NSW LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: And they just eliminated people systematically, community by community, village by village. And in fact it’s interesting when Adolf Hitler planned to have the genocide of the Jews, there were some questions asked, and he said himself, “Don’t worry, who remembers the Armenian genocide?”

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Fred Nile has just returned from a tour of Armenia with a cross-party delegation.

FRED NILE: Well I think we have to deal with the truth and I hope Australia is mature enough to do that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the response from the Turks to the motions passed by both houses of the NSW Parliament recognising and condemning the Armenian genocide has been blistering.

GULSEREN CELIK, TURKISH CONSUL-GENERAL, NSW: These people want to hijack this very special bond, the Turkish ANZAC spirit, this is their target.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Turkish Consul-General has written a lengthy and angry response to the NSW Parliament, condemning what she describes as the baseless allegations of genocide.

GULSEREN CELIK: There certainly is no scholarly consensus on the events of 1915. There are quite a few number of non-Turkish historians who do not accept the genocide thesis.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The genocide debate has long inflamed passions on both sides. The description “genocide” has consistently been dismissed by the Turks as a one-sided representation of history.

Despite reports at the time of mass evacuations of Armenian villages far from conflict zones, evidence of forced marches, eyewitness testimony and countless academic investigations.

COLIN TATZ: There is categorical evidence from scholarship around the world that what happened between 1915 and 1922 was a genocide of the Armenians, the Pontian Greeks and the Assyrian community to the extent of roughly one half of their total population.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Colin Tatz is one of the world’s most prominent genocide scholars. He’s vilified by Turkish nationalists and his research has been challenged by the Turkish Government.

COLIN TATZ: Never in history has a nation state been so dedicated to the eradication of what they call a lie.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And the Turkish state has hit back with a threat to the one event that has for decades now underpinned our close diplomatic relations. A Foreign Ministry statement says the proponents of this motion will no longer be welcome at the Gallipoli commemorations.

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT (male voiceover): “These persons who try to damage the spirit of Canakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Canakkale ceremonies where we commemorate our sons lying side by side in our soil.”

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The local council at Gallipoli has also made it clear that critics will not be welcome at the centenary celebrations in 2015.

GALLIPOLI LOCAL COUNCIL (male voiceover): “We announce to the public that we will not forgive those who are behind these decisions and that we do not want to see them in Canakkale anymore.”

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So the Premier and members of the Parliament will not be welcome at the 2015 celebrations?

GULSEREN CELIK: Well, I think one should read the press statement of our ministry carefully.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well the press statement says they won’t be welcome, so one would assume that they won’t be given the visas to go.


FRED NILE: I’m not gonna have a heart attack if I can’t go there, but I think it’s unfair to have some blanket ban on all members of the NSW Parliament.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the motion passed by the NSW Parliament is a moment the Australian, Armenian, Greek and Syrian communities have been waiting for for some time.

Panayiotis Diamadis has been collating evidence and eyewitness accounts of the genocide written by Australian POWs captured by the Turks. Most were held in empty Armenian churches in emptied out Armenian villages.

PANAYIOTIS DIAMADIS, UTS: “Turkish soldiers armed with whips were driving the women and children into the sheep trucks. It was evidently intended to transport them to some distant concentration camp.”

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That’s one of many accounts written by POWs who returned. Another one of them was Colonel Thomas White, who later became a politician and a minister in the Lyons Government. His eyewitness account describes passing columns of Armenians being marched to certain death in the desert. Dead bodies littered the side of the road.

The Turkish Consul-General describes the claims that Australian POWs witnessed genocide as a fabrication.

GULSEREN CELIK: They were imprisoned in western part of Anatolia, so they could not witness the so-called genocides.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And even here at the Australian War Memorial, there’s almost no mention of the Armenian genocide.

The link between the ANZACs, Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide is a sensitive area for all, wrapped as it is in the legend of two nations who cling to the significance that this one military campaign has had on their national identities. Turkish officials are frequent visitors here and Armenian Australians have long been critical of the influence they believe the Turks have had on how the memorial has depicted Australia’s First World War experience.

PETER STANLEY: I think the Turks are expecting that the friendship that we forged through Gallipoli, which is genuine, is enough to paper over our knowledge of the Armenian genocide. But the fact is it isn’t, because Australians want to know the truth about the First World War, and the truth about the Great War is is that 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

LEIGH SALES: Michael Brissenden reporting.

Turkey’s “race codes” and the Ottoman legacy


The revelation that modern Turkey continues secretly to classify its citizens according to religious criteria reflects the weight of the Ottoman past. It also has implications for those in the middle east seeking a state based on equality before law, says Vicken Cheterian.

Only days before the verdict in the latest “Ergenekon” trials in Turkey, an equally important but far less publicised scandal was revealed by a small-circulation newspaper: the Armenian-Turkish weekly Agos. The paper, which established its reputation under the editorship of Hrant Dink, who was assassinated in January 2007, revealed on 1 August 2013 that the Turkish state was using “race codes” in official statistics to codify the religious belonging of its citizens.

The newspaper made the discovery after a family had applied to register its children with an Armenian school in Istanbul, and were then asked to prove that they had the so-called “2 code”. Agos went on to claim that the Turkish government codified its minority citizens  according to numbered categories: “1” for Greeks, “2” for Armenians, and “3” for Jews. Some Turkish newspapers, picking up the story, added that Assyrians were filed under “4”, and “others” under “5”.

A week after Agos’s revelations, Turkey’s interior ministry confirmed the practice. In a communiqué it declared: “A minority citizen’s race status is given to the education ministry depending on the nationality or race information taken from the state register of the Ottoman period.” Turkish official sources confirm that the practice has continued since 1923: that is, since the establishment of the modern Turkish republic. Although there have been rumours and allegations, this is the first time Turkish state officials have openly admitted to it.

At first glance it is surprising that for nine decades the Turkish state has been operating “race codes” that enable it to collect information about the religious identity of its citizens. After all, the state still pretends to be secular: that is, to upholding the separation of political institutions (and especially the practice of justice) from influence by individual and collective religious beliefs. But the revelation also draws renewed attention to the continued power of the Ottoman legacy in modern Turkey, and is too important to be buried under the media’s never-ending stream of headline news.

The Ottoman contradiction

At its heart, what Agos has exposed highlights the internal contradictions of the Ottoman empire, and thus its failure to reform itself in the 19th-century – a tragedy that has left its marks on post-Ottoman political systems. Indeed, the failure is freshly relevant today with regard to political battles both in Turkey and across the entire middle east. The outcome of these battles – whetherbuilding the rule of law, or allowing the “Arab spring” to decay and ultimately collapse – will depend to a great extent on how far the post-Ottoman inheritance is understood.

The decline and fall of the Ottoman empire is a long story, but two key points stand out. The first is the the empire’s incapacity to create conditions of equality to its subjects. The Ottoman state was constructed as theocratic. The majority, ruling religion was Sunni Muslim, but the “millet system” also recognised confessional communities (mainly Rum [i.e. Orthodox Greeks], Armenians and Jews as well as Muslims); these were guaranteed religious freedom and self-rule in exchange for loyalty.

The power of the empire weakened throughout the 19th century, and the theocratic nature of its political system became increasingly pronounced. Around 40% of the population of the empire was then non-Muslim, mainly belonging to various Christian denominations, yet they were not admitted to be equal under the Ottoman juridical system. For example, Muslims but not Christians had the right to bear arms, a rule that reflected a division of labour whereby the former served in the army and state bureaucracy while the latter were mainly artisans, traders, and farmers.

The empire’s growing crisis, including its financial problems, led to increased taxes being imposed on the Christian population, igniting successive revolts that were met by outright massacres. Any struggle between Muslims and Christians, for example between Armenians and Kurds over land in eastern Anatolia, tended to remain unequal, for only the former group was armed and supported by the state bureaucracy. This formed the background of European powers’ intervention in Ottoman internal affairs, where they both demanded reforms and advanced their own imperial interests.

The Ottoman state made various reform attempts. The most important was the “tanzimat” that began in 1839, which aimed at guaranteeing all Ottoman subjects civil rights. The declaration of Hatt-i Humayun in 1856 affirmedequality of treatment regardless of religion or creed. Yet neither equality nor guarantees of security resulted, for both the Sultan himself and powerful religious networks sabotaged the reforms’ application. It was often the case that a formal declaration of reform was the prelude to great violence against minorities.

Here is the second important point about Ottoman decline: legal reform had no impact in practice, in fact it could even have the opposite effect. In the end, the inability of the Ottoman state to reform led to its demise. The Balkan peoples revolted one after the other, and by then continuous Ottoman massacres and threats could not save the empire.

The political failure

What happened after collapse? What is most striking about the post-Ottoman political systems is that amid much talk of “modernism”  and “secularism”, the old practice – of regimes considering their people as subjects who were part of a millet, rather than as citizens enjoying legal rights – continued.

The legacy was powerful. In 1908, with the Ittihadist (Young Turk) revolution in Turkey, the first “modernising” party had come to power in Istanbul, and planned a new political order. Most Ittihadist leaders were avowed atheists, but nevertheless they denied equality in law between Muslims and gavur(infidels), and launched a campaign of annihilation against religious minorities (Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks).

The Turkey led after 1923 by Kemal Ataturk – hailed by many in the west as a model of authoritarian modernism – declared itself to be secular even as it discriminated against – and secretly “coded” – religious minorities (which after war, genocide and expulsion collapsed). In the 1927 census, non-Muslim minorities constituted 2.5% of the Turkish population, down from 20% in 1906. In a country of 75 million today, the proportion is not more than 0.1%). The number of Armenians in Turkey is estimated at 60,000, Jews at 5,000, Assyrians at 3,000, and Greeks at 2,000.

The coding of the minorities has consequences. There is anecdotal evidence that even grandchildren of converts from Christianity to Islam (which often happens under duress) are not only “filed” by state officials, but also regarded with suspicion: descendants of converts have been barred from accessing certain jobs, such as within the military, diplomatic service, or even as civilian pilots.

The policy of discrimination against minorities was also exercised collectively. This is shown by the controversy around the (Greek) Haghia Triada monasteryon Heybeliada island with its theological school, confiscated by the Turkish authorities – along with 1,410 other properties belonging to minority foundations – in 1971. The confiscation of half the lands of the (Assyrian) Mor Gabriel monastery in 2008 is a more recent example, an act that is threatening the viability of this 1,700-year-old foundation.

This practice has not ended, despite continuous official claims. On 5 July 2013, the Mufti of Trabzon entered the Haghia Sophia church in the city with a group of believers, both to pray and to “reconvert” this former Byzantine church (it was turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest, then in 1964 into a museum). There is increasing pressure to change Istanbul’s Haghia Sophia, now a museum, into a mosque.

When Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab entered Jerusalem he visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to receive the keys of the city from the Patriarch Sophronius. When he heard the call for prayer he hurried to leave the church and pray outside. When the priests invited him to pray inside the church he declined, saying that if he prayed inside the church Muslims after him would take that an excuse to convert the church into a mosque.

Yet, the example given by such companions was soon forgotten. Politics is the art of balancing power relations and making compromises, while religion is supposed to provide people with guidance of a “higher”, moral type. The constant mixing of religion with politics has both failed to alleviate politics and corrupted religion by involving it in the daily practice of power and the crimes associated with it. In the 19th-century Ottoman world the major division of inequality was between the ruling Muslim majority and the Christian millet; in the middle east today it is upheaval and chaos caused by the disintegration of the political space on confessional lines, pitting Sunni and Shi’a Islam against each other, as a veil behind the developing power-struggle.

The next Arab model

This new Turkish scandal is relevant in two ways to the current debate over the Arab upheaval. The first is the much-discussed issue of whether Turkey can provide a role model for the future Arab political system. Both before and after the Arab spring, many argued that Turkey represented a harmonious synthesis between Islam and democracy, and suggested that Arab political currents should learn from it. Now, a series of events – the violent treatment of the Gezi park demonstrations, the latest Ergenekon episode and its attention to Turkey’s “deep state”, the record numbers of imprisoned journalists, followed by the scandal of the race codes – shows that Turkey itself is moving further away from the rule of law, and is hardly in a position to suggest solutions for others.

The second area where Turkey is relevant is the revived debate about secularism. Many in the middle east associate secularism with political systems such as Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria, and Nasserism in Egypt. It’s true that Lebanon continues to be a classic post-Ottoman system, in which the millet system survived and prospered; but the other three states also operated the millet system while pretending to be secular and modern – much like Kemalist Turkey. The Kemalist model also failed in other ways; although it managed to eliminate its Christian millet, it could not assimilate Turkey’s Kurdish population in spite of several decades of imposed “Turkification”.

Just like the nationalist regimes of the past, the Arab political movements that have emerged since 2011 continue to be ambivalent when it comes to the rule of law. Although they demand freedom, it is not clear what kind of institutional set-up many of those movements are seeking.

If the rule of law is the aim, then every citizen in that system should be treated equally in face of the justice system. It s not possible to have the rule of law for only one section of society, while other sections are treated as second-degree based on their religious beliefs (or lack of belief). In this domain, the question of race codes is a reminder that Turkey is still living under the long shadow of the Ottoman empire. For their part, the Arab political movements have still a long journey to make before they evolve from members of a milletinto citizens.

ACF sponsors publication of volume on Armenia and post-WWII Soviet-Turkish relations

The Armenian Cause Foundation recently sponsored the publication of the book by the National Archives of Armenia. The book details an insufficiently studied episode of the Armenian Question, namely the demand by the Soviet government that Turkey return Kars to Armenia in 1945 as a pre-condition for signing a new treaty of friendship between USSR and Turkish Republic.


YEREVAN – The Armenian Cause Foundation recently sponsored the publication of the book by the National Archives of Armenia. The book details an insufficiently studied episode of the Armenian Question, namely the demand by the Soviet government that Turkey return Kars to Armenia in 1945 as a pre-condition for signing a new treaty of friendship between USSR and Turkish Republic.

The publication, entitled “Armenia and the Soviet-Turkish Relations in Diplomatic Documents, 1945-1946,” is comprised of two sections and includes an introduction by Dr. Arman Kirakossian who edited the volume.

Dr. Kirakossian’s introduction presents a comprehensive summary of the Russian-Turkish, Armenian-Turkish and Soviet-Turkish relations from the 1878 San Stefano treaty to the collapse of the Soviet Union, including the attempt to re-open the Armenian Question in 1945-1946. The introduction contains maps related to the different phases of the Armenian Question.

Dr. Arman Kirakossian, the editor of the book
The first section of the volume includes a special file entitled “Occupation of the Armenian territories by Turkey” that was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1946.

The file – White Paper No. 410 – includes the correspondence on that subject between the Soviet Foreign Ministry and Soviet Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, a detailed account of the history of the Armenian Question, reports on the repatriation, Diasporan organizations, and contains letters addressed by private individuals and organizations to the leaders of World War II allied nations, Soviet Armenian government, and to the post-WWII peace conferences.

The second section contains US, Soviet, British, and Turkish diplomatic documents in 1945-1946 and protocols of the 1945 Potsdam Conference where the US, Soviet, and British leaders discussed issues related to Turkey, Soviet-Turkish relations, and Black Sea straits.

Dr. Levon Mkrtchyan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Armenian Cause Foundation, speaking at the launching of the book
The volume contains a biographical guide and index.

The archival background of the documents listed in the volume was prepared by Dr. Amatuni Virabyan. Dr. Arsen Avagyan, journalist Tigran Liloyan, historian Kristine Melkonyan and editing director of the Armenian Encyclopedia Hovhannes Ayvazyan provided support during the preparation of the volume.