By Arsen Yarman
Those who defend that Armenians were in betrayal toward the state during the I. World War, therefore the decision of relocation was a just application, repeat the “Official Thesis”. However, this point of view was enfeebled upon the printing of Ayhan Aktar’s book about the memoirs of Sarkis Torosyan who participated to The Dardanelle War within The Ottoman Army.Some researchers may argue, that Torosyan’s memoirs do not agree with the reality, nevertheless, the book made the Armenians and other people belonging to different belief groups, all wearing The Ottoman Army’s uniform, visible. Arsen Yarman who sheds light to the history of this land by the books he has written before and by this one ready for publishing, will seemingly weaken the discourse of denial. The book includes the biographies of Armenian medecins on duty during that period as well.
Yarman,whose book is to be published very soon,tackles the last period of the Ottoman Empire and the first years of The Republic,dwelling upon a medical foundation never referred to before,established by Armenian medecins.
Yarman is the author of Osmanlı Sağlık Hizmetlerinde Ermeniler ve Surp Pırgiç Ermeni Hastahanesi Tarihi (2001); Sivas 1877 (2008); Palu Harput 1878-Çarsancak, Çemişgezek, Çapakçur, Erzincan, Hizan ve Civar Bölgeler (2010, 2 Cilt); Surp Pırgiç Ermeni Hastahanesi 1900-1910 Salnameleri (2012); Ermeni Yazı Kültürü: Harf Elyazması Matbaa ve Salnameler Tarihine Kısa Bir Bakış (2012) ve Sultan II. Mahmut ve Kazaz Amira (2013) answers our questions about his new book.
It’s known that your new book will soon be on the shelves.Can you give us some information about its content?
My work with the book is completed and I handed it in to the publishers. I do not yet want to pronounce its name but I can give you some information about its content. It is about developments during 1912-1922 dwelling on an Armenian medical assosiation. It illuminates the unknown,the almost never known history of The Ottoman State, The Union and Progress Party and The Republican periods from an institution not very worked upon.When I say the unknown history, I mean the information not to be found in official history. One can reach to these through Armenian bibliography, therefore there is sort of an history difficult to reach, even by most Armenians, and they are looked at as Armenians.
What sort of an assosiation is this?
An assosiation founded by a group of medical people loyal to the Ottomans in spite of The Sultan Abdulhamit’s autocracy.Believing doctors and pharmacists, working for their countries ethically and honestly. Later on, with the 1908 Revolution, they hope to build a mutual life with The Union Party (İttihatçılar). During that period,it is quite normal to organize mutual meetings, marches and celebrations for The Union Party and official Tashnags (Taşnak Partisi). However, as years passed, they find out their expectations are in vain. Relations are no more trustworthy, political life has been upside down and dissapointed people get the signals of the approaching relocation. Most of the members of the Assosiation, were deported or sent to relocation. The ongoing situation is rather strange. These medecins, are on one hand serving in the Ottoman Army at the fronts, and they are trying to trace their deported family members on the other, meanwhile trying to help the ones surviving the sufferings. What a paradox! The book tells us about the story of these intellectuals who has experienced the relocation, their contradicting feelings about identities, politics and ideology. Their ethnic and national ideologies within pragmatic behaviours and thoughts which sometimes opposes or overlaps the system. Those who read my book, will find objections against the written or told official discourse. It is so apparent that, even in 1915 one of The Empire’s most important assosiations,” The Medical Assosiation”s president is Armenian doctor. We know that from its establishment till the beginning of 1920, 9 Armenians have been presidents, and 55 others have been members of this Assosiation. All their names are one by one mentioned in the book. Here we have another paradox worth giving some serious thinking by everybody, and to my opinion it is not one very easy to solve…
How do you object to the official discourse?
One will find out that during The Balkan War, The I. World War or The Liberation War (Kurtuluş Savaşı), Armenian officers and medecins have served actively. Quite naturally, all may not be loyal all the time. Conditions they went through during the relocation, may have shaken them and disturbed their psychological balance.
We pull down a taboo in this book: We erase the lie that, Armenians didn’t do military service or didn’t serve in the army.The statement of The Minister of War (Harbiye Nazırı) Nazım Pasha, appreciating the courage and sacrifices of Armenians defending their homeland, during The Balkan Wars, has appeared in The Ottoman Press of the time. We come across a similar approach during The I. World War. The Patriarchate published a circular through the Assosiation saying; ”No betreyal to the State,everybody to do his duty adequately”.
Whatsmore, not only medecins, Armenians of all stages, brought their contributions to The Ottoman Army during the war.There are a great many numbers of Armenians who do their military service in Adana and elsewhere, in military factories, in military sewing workshops, in aeroplanes’ maintenance workshops, in road, tunnel and railway constructions and as railway conductors and station managers.
How many medecins are there in the Assosiation?
About 480 names are given in the book. The biographies of some are added, but not all of them are members of The Assosiaation. Apart from that, there are 90 pharmacists which is an important number. Most of their biographies can be found in the book as well.
Will the discourse ‘Armenians hit from behind’ be no longer an arguement?
I have never come to like this claim.During The Bulgarian Rebelion, there were Armenians in both The Bulgarian and The Ottoman Armies. The case is the same in Caucasia. There are Armenians in Russian and Ottoman Armies, they shoot each other instead of hitting from behind. They say “There was an Armenian squad in The Russian Army, and they put this forward as a proof to ‘hitting from behind’. There were Azerbaijani squads, Turkistan division and Cossack soldiers. Why aren’t they supposed to ‘hit from behind’.
How do Armenian medecines approach the 1908 Revolution?
With great enthusiasm. Not only doctors but all The Armenian Nation welcomes the Constitutional Government. Medecins play an important role in this exuberance. The Unionists and The Tashnaks organize mutual meetings, marches and celebrations.Doctors are active participants in all of these.
Why do the relation between The Unionists and The Tashnaks deteriorate?
This is not easy to explain shortly, but the last reason can be summed up as follows: The Unionsts want The Tashnaks cause a revolt in Caucasia. When The Tashnaks refuse, their relation breaks. During one of their last meetings in Erzouroum, they said that this revolt was aimed to weaken The Russian Army. Tashnaks argue saying, ’we are Ottoman citizens, we don’t interfere with Caucasia’. This topic is told in details.
What sort of a path do the medecines follow during this process?
On the Ottoman’s side at the beginning. People who served at important posts establishing the Ottoman medecine, change sides and become Unionists upon the atrocities of Abdulhamid in 1895. Ruptures begin in 1912. Some are sent to relocation, some dies and some survives in 1915. Those who survive become Unionists. They mobilize to help the orphans, widows and the sick during the Cilician events, between 1918-1921. Then, thinking the sole liberation is Armenia in Caucasia, they begin to help by giving ideas or helping medically. On the aftermath of the Sovietization of Armenia, a greater part runs away with the invasion of Istanbul by Kemalists. Those who remain, make peace with the system, they even become too much in its favour. Some of those become members of The Parliament of The Republic then.
Why are they so much involved in politics?
These people grow in the 1890ies. It is impossible to stay away from politics during those periods. On the other hand these medecins studied in France, experienced democracy and participated in several activities. Writing the book, we mentioned about their republican and and democratic ideas, inspired by what they had seen in France. And moreover, doctors are at the forefront, beginning from the top stages of Unionists, they too make politics.
Are there any data about at which fronts Armenian medecins serves?
Yes.There are detailed memoirs of four doctors at fronts. One of these begins his mission in The Dardanelles (Çanakkale) to end up at the Southern Front (Güney Cephesi). We included the summary of his diary. The places he went, his testimonies, incidents etc. We checked his memoirs to find out that they match with our information at hand. Through his daybook, we can tell that he follows his deported family’s sufferings, while at war at the front. And not only this one,we included numerous medecins’ biographies at the last part of the book. One can clearly follow at which fronts they have served.
Did this Assosiation have any publications?
A medical magazine called Tarman (Remedy) for two years.It was published between January 1, 1920-July 7, 1922. We can divide this publishing roughly into four parts. The first, for medical articles, discussions, newcomings in the world of medecine.Social issues such as, the state in which The Armenian Hospital is, charity measures for widows and orphans, marrying those girls who come back from relocation. The second part for political articles. The third, for announcements, advertisments and subscriptions. And the fourth part, for meeting notes and reports about works done by The Armenian Assosiation.
Can you give us some examples about health problems, activities and progresses of the period through this publication?
Above all, the story of this Assosiation’s establishment which is the orbit of this book, can be followed on a large scale. At first, medecines who act with the Ottomanist idea and the equality feeling of Constitutionalism, when they find out that they are being discriminated, they understand the need of such an assosiation’s establishment. When it is founded in 1912, its aim is basically to strenghten the solidarity and communication of Armenian doctors and to see to fast solutions for problems of their profession. With the beginning of The I. World War, it co-operated with Hilal-i Ahmer, The Red Crescent (Kızılay), -let us not forget that its founder, its biggest donators, kermess organizers for fundraising in Istanbul and elsewhere in the country, were Armenians. It co-operated with The Red Cross and other Ottoman institutions.This, in a way is the repetition of the happennings during The Balkan War. For example, The Assosiation opened courses for hospital nurses, in order to cover the deficiency of The Ottoman Army. Parts of services of the two Armenian Hospitals in Istanbul and hundreds of beds were reserved fort he use of The Ottoman Army.
What will your final words be about your book?
First of all I want to state that I dedicate my book to Associate Professor Dr. Vahe Aliksanyan. For, he is a member of our society who could not become a professor, although he fully deserved it. The book he had written was taught in medical schools for 25 years, and he revised it every year. I also thank him as, he has checked the work done for translating the medical terms into Turkish.
I want to thank the historian Christopher Neumann, who wrote the preface for the book. He so accurately, put down the things we want to do by this work that, it will be well-directed to leave the word to him. ”In this sad situation, that prevents the Ottoman or Turkish history be fully understood, the importance of someone self taught like Arsen Yarman (as if there are many of his kind) who is self educated, meddling with the history of the community and society he belongs to, soars. Arsen Yarman, handled several important topics productively these last years.He created source texts. This time he examines the contents of Tarman in detail, the contributors, and medicinal and social issues. This overall work, published in Western Armenian, offers an important source difficult to reach, to both social and academic historians’ attention. Apart from the points I tried to mention above, this valuable work that contains so many appealing informations, adds precious knowledge to the history of Istanbul City and to the history of the modernities of Turkey. I congratulate both the writer and the reader of the book”.