Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Missing Ottoman Archival Records on the Genocide of the Armenians in 1915

An anlysis of the real issues:

London, 7 March 2007: Today the Gomidas Institute issued its third
statement on its proposal to work on a case study with Turkish
historians regarding the treatment of Armenians in Harput in 1915.
The Institute's latest statement follows a comment made by Dr. Yusuf
Halaço?lu, the head of the Turkish Historical Society, that vital
Ottoman records on the 1915 deportation of Armenians--including in
Harput--do not exist in Turkish archives today.

These "non-existent" records are directly related to two Ottoman
decrees which Turkish official historians have claimed regulated the
deportation and resettlement of Ottoman Armenians in 1915. These
were the 30 May 1915 regulations on deportations.

...And the 10 June 1915
regulations on the resettlement of deportees, the liquidation of
their properties, and their compensation in their places of exile.

The Gomidas Institute had asked, based on these regulations, to
examine the registers showing details of Armenians who were
deported from the Harput plain, as well as the resettlement records
accounting for the fate of these deportees further a field. According
to these regulations, all deported Armenian had to be registered,
person by person (or household by household), village by village; the
properties of deportees had to be recorded and liquidated; when the
deported were resettled in their places of exile, they had to be
compensated in proportion to their original assets. According to
these regulations, Ottoman officials had to generate meticulous
deportation, resettlement and compensation records which
accounted for Armenians who were deported in 1915.

On Monday 26 February 2007 Dr. Halaço?lu appeared on CNN-
Turk's "Manþe" programme where he stated, categorically, that
the Ottoman records the Gomidas Institute had asked to examine
did not exist. Halaço?lu stated that : "He [Sarafian] well knows
about the archives. He also knows that there are no records for
each village listing persons by name. There are no such records.
If there were, they would not pose a problem for us. It would be
better to produce them."

To date Dr. Halaço?lu has not contacted and explained himself to the
Gomidas Institute.

It is not clear how Dr. Halaço?lu could make such a categorical
statement about the non-existence of the Ottoman records we had
asked for, given the texts of the Ottoman regulations governing
deportations in 1915, or the fact that there are many Ottoman
archives in Turkey, and not all Ottoman records in these archives
are catalogued. Until there is further clarification,
Dr. Halaço?lu's statement only raises some fundamental questions:

1. Were Ottoman regulations on the 1915 deportations implemented
according to the letter of the law? If so, why are we told that the
registers related to this mass transfer of people are missing? Are
all records missing, for the whole Empire, in both local as well as
central archives?

2. If these regulations were not implemented, how was the movement
of Armenians, the liquidation of their properties, and the
resettlement of deportees regulated? Is it conceivable that none
of these regulations were implemented for the whole of the Ottoman
Empire from Erzeroum to Yozgat, Izmit and Kayseri? If so, where
is the archival trail in Ottoman archives associated with the
actual course of events?

3. Is it possible that no records were kept for either deportation or
resettlement? If so, was this the case for the whole of the Ottoman
Empire, and why were no records kept?

4. If records were kept and then destroyed, why and when were they
destroyed? And were they destroyed for the whole of the Ottoman
Empire, in both local as well as central archives in Turkey?

5. Is it possible that Dr. Halaço?lu might be mistaken? Might some of
the records we have asked for exist? Is it possible that there might
be deportation records, as well as records related to the liquidation
of Armenian properties, but no corresponding resettlement records?

According to Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute, London), "Primary
sources outside of Turkey indicate that the 1915 deportation of
Armenians and the liquidation of their properties were regulated by
Ottoman state authorities. Armenians were deported under the
auspices of Ottoman officials. And most deportees were killed
through privations and outright massacres on their way or in their
places of exile (most notably Der Zor). Our sources indicate that
there never was a resettlement programme as historians defending
the official Turkish thesis suggest."

The Gomidas Institute hopes that Dr. Halaço?lu will explain why he
thinks that the Ottoman deportation and resettlement registers the
Gomidas Institute requested do not exist--especially those on Harput
and its environs.

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