On 28 April 2005, after months of preparation, the Turkish Grand National Assembly launched a new initiative to deny the Armenian Genocide thesis, with an attack on the 1916 British Parliamentary Blue Book, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-17. The Turkish effort soon turned into a debacle, raising questions about the judgment of Turkish Parliamentarians when dealing with Armenian issues.
1. The British Parliamentary Blue Book on the Armenian Genocide
The Turkish Parliament and the Denial of the Armenian Genocide
The British Parliamentary Blue Book, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16, was the first systematic thesis on the Armenian Genocide. It consisted of : (a) a significant collection of documents relating to the treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire between 1915-16,
(b) a detailed account of how these records were collected and used in the report, and
(c) a detailed analysis of the systematic destruction of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and beyond. In 2000, the Gomidas Institute published a critical edition of this ‘Blue Book’, with a detailed examination of the original work. This edition :
(a) traced the reports in the book to their original sources and gave clear citations where the original materials could be found,
(b) examined how documents were accepted for inclusion in the British report, and
(c) checked the final printed texts for their fidelity to their archival originals.
The subsequent critical or “uncensored” edition of the Blue Book became the essential edition of this work. It identified the United States Department of State as the main conduit of information from the Ottoman Empire – including American consular reports from interior of the Ottoman Empire. The Gomidas Institute’s evaluation of
these United States records on the Armenian Genocide were also published as a separate volume, United States Records on the Armenian Genocide 1915-17.
26 According to these published and archival sources, the 1916 Blue Book was the result of a meticulous academic exercise that lent itself to serious examination.
2. Turkish Grand National Assembly demands an apology and retraction from the British Parliament (April 2005) On 28 April 2005, after much commotion in Turkey, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16 became the focus of a controversy created by members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA). In a letter to the British Houses of Parliament (‘the Letter’) the TGNA claimed that:
(a) the 1916 report was a forgery produced for British propaganda purposes during World War I,
(b) the British Parliament was responsible for the Armenian Genocide thesis as we know it today; and
(c) British Members of Parliament should publicly rescind the 1916 report.
The Turkish letter was forcefully worded and bore the signatures of practically all 550 Turkish Parliamentarians.*
3. British Foreign and Commonwealth Office tries to avert emerging scandal
The TGNA Letter was sent to the Hon. Michael Martin MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons in London, who was asked to bring it to the attention of British Members of Parliament. Mr. Martin forwarded the Letter with its enclosures to the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, adding that he
had to ‘remain politically impartial’ in such matters, adding that he wanted someone at the FCO to deal with it. Mr. Martin also stated that he had placed a copy of the letter in the Library of the House of Commons.*
Meanwhile the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) commissioned its own independent appraisal of the TGNA’s allegations. Retired British diplomat David Miller was asked to examine the Turkish position with reference to original records at the UK National Archives. Miller found the TGNA position untenable and his
findings were printed in the semi-official Journal of the Royal United Services (Aug. 2005).*
On 8 July 2005, the British Ambassador to Ankara, Sir Peter Westmacott, also responded to the TGNA on behalf of the FCO.* Sir Peter wrote to speaker Bülent Arınç, explaining that the FCO could not comment on the 1916 work because it was a ‘Parliament-owned document’ and informed Mr. Arınç that copies of the TGNA’s letter and enclosures were placed in the Library of the House of Commons “to which historians have access.” Sir Peter then questioned the main axiom of the Turkish letter by adding: “the Foreign and Commonwealth Office understands that whilst the publication of the Blue Book may have been regarded as desirable at the time in the context of the war effort [i.e. for propaganda purposes], none of the individual reports has been refuted; and few have suggested moral or intellectual dishonesty on the part of the authors, Lord Bryce and Arnold J. Toynbee.”
British authorities did not circulate the TGNA letter among British MPs and the British ambassador’s letter to Bülent Arınç was a warning to the TGNA to desist in their anti-British initiative – lest the FCO was forced to make a public statement. While the FCO silenced the TGNA, the continuing media-frenzy in Turkey alerted a number of British MPs to the Turkish petition in the library of the House of Commons. Soon, a cross-party parliamentary group was convened and examined the TGNA’s allegations.
4. British MPs issue a written response and invite members of the TGNA to a face to face meeting On 27 January 2006, 33 British MPs responded to the TGNA letter.* Their detailed response was sent to the speaker of the TGNA, Bülent Arınç, and the Turkish embassy in London. In this letter, the British MPs stated the reasons
for their rejection of the TGNA’s position regarding the 1916 Blue Book and suggested a face to face meeting with Turkish Parliamentarians. The British response was based on a detailed brief from the Gomidas Institute,* as well as the FCO’s unofficial assessment published in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute. Both reports were sent to the TGNA for their consideration.
No member of the TGNA responded to the British response, including the invitation for a face to face meeting. On 18 July 2006 a second invitation was sent to individual members of the TGNA by direct email. Once more, no member of the TGNA responded.
5. Authorised Turkish translation of Blue Book released in Ankara. TGNA Members avoid any substantive engagement
In 2008 Gomidas Institute commissioned an authorised Turkish translation of the Blue Book and on 26 June 2009 Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute) and Lord Avebury (House of Lords, London) presented the authorised translation at a press conference in Ankara. The release was sponsored by the Human Rights Association (Ankara) and the
Freedom of Thought Association. All Turkish Parliamentarians were invited to the event and permission was obtained to send individual copies of the book to all members of the TGNA. The book release was attended by 27 diplomats from the UK, USA, Russia, and Switzerland, as well as leading dissident intellectuals, such as Ismail
Besikci, Ragip Zarakolu and Temel Demirer. However, no members of the TGNA or their advisers chose to be present to explain their case against the Blue Book. All 550 copies of the Turkish translation sent to the TGNA were also refused delivery and sent back to the publishers.
6. Ankara’s long silence and the Gomidas Institute’s initiative After a hiatus of four years, on 17 February 2013, the Gomidas Institute announced a new initiative to address the official Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide. This initiative included Blue Book issue as a case study of denial. On February 19th, the Human Rights Association (Istanbul) held a press conference in Istanbul, where Ara
Sarafian and Ragip Zarakolu discussed the current status of the Blue Book issue. Both speakers stressed that the focus was no longer demonstrating the academic interity of the Blue Book (that has already been clearly demonstrated), but on the manner in which official Turkey has made false assertions for which they do not wish to
be accountable. Following the press conference, many participants accompanied Sarafuan and Zarakolu and sent copies of the Blue Book to the speaker of the Turkish Parliament and members of its human rights commission, with a request, once more, that they re-examine their position and issue a statement on the TGNA’s 2005 petition
against the British Parliament and the British Parliamentary Blue Book on the Armenian Genocide.
Talaat Pasha’s Report on the Armenian Genocide What are Turkish State Intellectuals Afraid of ?
1. Talaat’s report on the Armenian Genocide In 2008, Murat Bardakci published a set of private papers from Talaat Pasha’s personal archives. He had obtained
these papers from Talaat’s family, so that the documents had not been screened prior to their release by Turkish official historians. Bardakci pointed out one statistical document in these papers indicating that several hundred thousand Armenians were still in the Ottoman Empire at the end of 1916 [sic, 1917], while around a million
Armenians had disappeared. He pointed out that the presence of several hundred thousand Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1917 disproved the Armenian Genocide thesis. He also insisted that those who had disappeared had probably fled or emigrated elsewhere sometime after 1914.
2. Initial analyses and debates A number of Turkish commentators criticised Bardakci’s analysis of Talaat’s statistics, but they were not in a position to take their criticism further. Meanwhile, official Turkish historians attacked Bardakci and played down Talaat’s statistics on Armenians as unimportant. They cleary wished to muffle serious discussion.
3. Stating the Obvious
The first extended analysis of Talaat’s statistics was presented in April 2009 by Ara Sarafian in The Armenian Reporter,* where he argued that the Talaat’s statistical document looked like an estimate of the number of victims of the Armenian Genocide. Following further investigation in Ottoman archives, Sarafian took his analysis further:
he showed that Talaat’s document was actually based on a survey Talaat had ordered in February 1917, as well as further Ottoman materials, to calculate the number of Armenians who had disappeared in the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1917. Sarafian called his analysis of Talaat’s untitled report “Talaat Pasha’s Report on the
Armenian Genocide” and placed it on the internet for further discussion.*
4. No response from Turkey
The publication of Talaat Pasha’s Report on the Armenian Genocide enraged Bardakci, who did not rise to a debate. Instead, he embarked on a personal attack against Sarafian, while official Turkish historians remained silent. The Gomidas Institute responded by publishing a Turkish translation of the offending work and launching it
in Istanbul. The Turkish translation, like the English translation, was also placed on the internet for free download. Once more, neither Bardakci, nor Turkish state intellectuals, rose to a discussion.
5. Talaat Pasha’s Report on the Armenian Genocide completes a key void in Turkish archives today.
Talaat Pasha’s Report on the Armenian Genocide poses a serious challenge to deniers of the Armenian Genocide. The document was found in Talaat’s private papers, and the authenticity of its content can be established with 28 Ottoman records in Turkish archives today. This report puts the number of Ottoman Armenians in 1914 at over
1,500,000 people. This figure is significantly more than the number of Ottoman Armenians claimed by official Turkish historians. The report also finds over one million of these Armenians missing by 1917.
What Happened on 24 April 1915? The Ayash Prisoners
The Disappearance of Armenian Political Prisoners and a Trail of Disinformation
Yusuf Sarinay claims that the Armenians who were arrested in the Ottoman capital on 24 April 1915 had posed a threat to the security of the Ottoman Empire and were taken into protective custody. He suggests that Turkish archives can account for the fate of these prisoners and argues that practically all of them survived until 1918, when
they were released. He specifically argues that this was the case with the political prisoners sent to Ayash.
Sarinay’s work matters because he is a former head of the Turkish State Archives and part of the Turkish academic establishment. His work has included the declassification of Ottoman records related to the treatment of Armenians during World War I. For these reasons, any criticism of his work and integrity assumes a greater relevance because of his institutional affiliations.
Our detailed criticism of Sarinay’s article is a matter of record: we not only take issue with his work at a histriographical level, but also reflect on the nature of our disagreement, even within his narrow context of his Ottoman records. Sarinay’s article is not the product of a legitimate academic inquiry, it is a contrived account that
has been staged to disrupt legitimate scholarship on the Armenian Genocide. In this sense, it is one of many staged accounts by Turkish state intellectuals to service the denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Our critique of Sarinay’s work thus serves two purposes: To take issue with Sarinay’s assertions regarding the arrests of 24 April 1915 and the fate of the political prisoners sent to Ayash; and to point out Sarinay’s work is a denialist work whose purpose is outside legitimate academic inquiry.
Since publishing our critique of Sarinay’s work, first in Turkish and then English, he and his supporters have refused to rise to a debate.
Sarinay article (English translation). Critique of Sarinay’s article in Agos.