19 February 2009

2751) On the Value of Turkish State Archives Relative to Task of Documenting Armenian Genocide

It is maintained by Turkish authorities that the evidence contained in these archives, civilian as well as military, does not in any way support the charge of genocide. Before accepting such a conclusion, however, one has to ask the cardinal question: how intact, complete, and reliable are these depositories that purportedly cover the entire evidence on the wartime treatment of Ottoman Armenians.1 The facts listed below cast in stark relief the dubious aspects of these archives, especially those of Yildiz, the Prime Ministry, and the General Staff. . .

a. For more than six decades the Turkish authorities had made these depositories containing material on the Armenian question inaccessible to most researchers. In fact a regime of preferential treatment was instituted. Those well-known for their pro-Turkish proclivities or open partisanship were allowed access; others were denied it, such as Trumpener and Weber, experts on modern Ottoman history.2

b. After the archives, i.e., some parts of them, were finally opened up to the public with great fanfare in January 1989, access to them remained, and still remains, restricted through the imposition of a host of conditions. Indeed, the government, i.e., the authorities administering the archives, reserve the right to control and, when necessary, to deny access on three grounds: (1) risk to national defense, (2) risk to public order, and (3) danger to Turkey's relations with other states, or to the need for maintaining normal relations between two foreign countries.3

c. Beyond these restrictions, deliberately framed in general and vague terms to allow the indulgence in arbitrary interpretations, there is the practice of selectively withholding documents for a variety of excuses. This practice is applied to those researchers who are suspected of not being in line with Turkish national interests.4

d. Despite great impediments, the post-war Turkish Military Tribunal had been able to seek, locate, and secure an array of documents, including formal and informal orders for the elimination of the bulk of the empire's Armenian population. These documents implicated the Ottoman High Command, the Ministers of Interior and Justice, and the top Young Turk leadership.5 Yet, nowhere can one find a trace of these archives of the Military Tribunal, which seem to have simply vanished. Nor is there any credible account as to who made the vast documentary corpus attesting to the facts of the Armenian genocide disappear, and how.

The conclusion becomes inescapable that what one may be able to glean from the Turkish archives is circumscribed and limited by what the authorities involved are arbitrarily and selectively willing to offer.

1 See Dadrian, "Ottoman Archives and Denial of the Armenian Genocide" [n. 1].

2 For example, author Ulrich Trumpener was denied such permission. Germany and the Ottoman Empire I914-I9J8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), Preface, pp. viii-ix; Frank G. Weber, Eagles and the Crescent (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970), Acknowledgments, p. viii; Stanford Shaw, on the other hand, had free access all this time to the same archives, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. II, Reform, Revolution and Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), Preface, pp. viii, xvii.

3 Resmi Gazete (Official Gazette), no. 20163, May 12, 1989, Cabinet Council's no. 89/14028 decision, pp. 1-6; the three conditions are contained in article 10, subsections a and b.

4 In an interview with the editor of an Armenian newspaper in the United States, Ara Sarafian, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Michigan, recounted the vexing problems of this type he had in the Yildiz archives in Istanbul. Three prominent authors, Justin McCarthy, Kemal Karpat, and Mim Kemal Oke, known for their works categorically denying the Armenian genocide, had had free access to the documents of this archive. When Sarafian proposed to check some of their published claims, statistical figures and other data, he was invariably

prevented from doing so by a variety of pretexts, including the occasional assertion that no such documents exist, or that they can not be found. In one particular instance involving Karpat's treatment of the Yildiz Perakende collection, Sarafian tried to check some material cited by Karpat, but was told that the collection was "closed" and had never been "open." Hairenik, (May 13, 1993): 5. A summary of that account also appeared in an article titled 'The Issue of Access to Ottoman Archives," Zeitschriftfur Turkeistudien 6, no. 1 (1993): 93-99.

5 Vahakn N. Dadrian, "The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution of the Authors of the Armenian Genocide: Four Major Court-Martial Series" Holocaust and Genocide Studies 11, no. 1 {Spring 1997): 32.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Government Republic of Armenia
info at ArmeniaForeignMinistry.com


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