3236) Misuse of “Memoirs of Count Bernstorff” in Armenian Nationalist Publications


18 March 2011

*Maxime Gauin


To maintain the use of more than dubious sources (the “Andonian documents” and Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story), the Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, or more exactly three short quotations, were used by a part of the Armenian side as a corroborative proof. However, two of the three quotations from these Memoirs are tendentiously extracted of their context, and the third is just an unreliable opinion.


Andonian, Dadrian, Bersntorff, genocide, Morgenthau, Ternon, Dadrian. .

From the 1980’s, some Armenian and pro-Armenian writers refer to the Memoirs of Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, ambassador of Germany in Ottoman Empire from 1917 to 1918, as a complementary evidence of the alleged intention of CUP government to extermination Ottoman Armenians, so to support the “genocide” label. This use appeared in a precise context: the desperate attempts to defend the authenticity of crude forgeries, i.e. the “Andonian documents” [1] then the Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. [2] These attempts were made by the Armenian-American sociologist Vahakn N. Dadrian [3] (currently director of the Zoryan Institute, a think-tank close to Armenian Revolutionary Federation [ARF], after his forced retirement from State University of New York because sexual harassment) and his French follower, the surgeon Yves Ternon [4], also a great friend of ARF, who acknowledges to have been leaded on Armenian issue only by Armenian nationalist groups or individuals, and to have always refused any contact with Turkish historians [5]. Both Mr. Dadrian’s and Mr. Ternon’s argumentations on Andonian and Morgenthau are, as a whole, less than convincing [6], that is why even Armenian and pro-Armenian historians raised serious doubts on the authenticity of “Andonian telegrams” [7]; but the goal of this paper is limited to the misuse of Bernstorff’s Memoirs, published in German in 1935, and translated into English one year later. [8]

The Quotations

In the 1980’s, Mrs. Dadrian and Ternon used one quotation of Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, to corroborate the allegations of Aram Andonian’s forged documents:

“When I kept on pestering him about the Armenian question, he once said with a smile: ‘What on earth do you want? The question is settled, there are no more Armenians,’ […].”

In 1999, Mr. Dadrian used the same quotation to defend the Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, arguing that “German ambassador Bernstorff in his memoirs quotes Talât almost in identical terms”. [9]

No surprisingly, the quotation was used again, later, by others. [10]

In 1995, Mr. Dadrian used also two other quotations, in a rather different context, but also to support the “genocide” allegation [11]:

“His complicity in the Armenian crime he [Talat] atoned for his death.”

“Armenia [= Eastern Anatolia] where the Turks have systematically trying to exterminate the Christian population.”

It is hardly doubtful that if such sentences are accepted are face value, with such interpretation, they constitute a clear indication in favor of the “genocide” label, even if they represent a tiny part of the Memoirs of Count Bernstorff. Both Andonian’s and Morgenthau’s books depict Talat as a ferocious criminal; in the perspective of Mr. Dadrian and Mr. Ternon, the Memoirs of Count Bernstorff corroborate partially such an enormous allegations. However, a more attentive look gives a quite different version.


The most evident distortion is the first and the most used (“When I kept on pestering him about the Armenian question, he once said with a smile: ‘What on earth do you want? The question is settled, there are no more Armenians’”). The context clarifies the meaning of Bernstorff :

“In this connection an excellent instance is the Grand Vizier, Talaat Pasha, subsequently murdered by an Armenian in Berlin, whom I learnt to respect and liked during my service in Constantinople. A man of absolute integrity, he had unusual gifts that enabled him to climb the steep ascent from the position of telegraph official to that of leading statesman, and a statesman he was in the truest sense of the word. There was not a sign of the parvenu in his behaviour or ideas. As Grand Vizier, Talaat Pasha always gave the impression of a ‘grand seigneur’, and his political conceptions were unencumbered by any pettiness. I never knew any Turk who could fairly be compared with him. He did indeed often promise me more than he could perform. […] However that may be, Talaat usually recognized the right way, and as time went on — and especially after every visit to Europe, he became more of a match for his mighty task. If any statesman could have succeeded in reforming the old Ottoman Empire, it would have been Talaat Pasha, provided that he had been able to consolidate his power and influence. As I have mentioned above, I am not referring to the Turkish Republic of today, with which I unfortunately have no acquaintance.

This constant and considerable contrast between desire and achievement induced in the Grand Vizier a delightful blend of skepticism and gentle cynicism, which increased the charm of that attractive personality. When I kept on pestering him about the Armenian question, he once said with a smile: ‘What on earth do you want? The question is settled, there are no more Armenians,’ a reply which, while admitting his own complicity in the crime, hinted that the European accounts might be exaggerated.” [12]

The most comprehensive quotation is almost self-explanatory:

1) Unlike in Andonian’s forged documents and in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Talat is not depicted by Bernstorff as a monster, a bloody villain, but, quite the contrary, as a moderate and responsible “statesman”.

2) The sentence “The question is settled, there are no more Armenians” is an expression of black humor, criticizing the distorted narrative of pro-Armenian propaganda.

3) Bernstorff does not present Talat as the supervisor of crimes perpetrated against Armenian civilians, but as an “accomplice”.

What Bernstorff means by “complicity” is explained by the context of the second misused quotation:

“His complicity in the Armenian crime he atoned for his death. On this matter he was an offspring of his nation. The statesmen of other lands have often been equally guilty in not opposing and rebuking the prejudices of their fellow-citizens, and it would be unjust to apply European standards to a Turkish statesman, even to one of the caliber of Talaat Pasha.” [13]

So, it is clear that Bernstorff blamed Talat for his incapacity to prevent atrocities committed by some Turks, Kurds, Circassians and Arabs against displaced Armenians, not for any criminal designs against these exiles.

Arrived to this point, let’s notice that the Memoirs of General Otto Liman von Sanders, chief of German military mission in Ottoman Empire (1913-1918), contain also great a praising of Talat’s character, as well as a rebuttal of central government’s guilty in atrocities committed against a part of displaced Armenians. [14]

The third and last quotation (“Armenia [= Eastern Anatolia] where the Turks have systematically trying to exterminate the Christian population” in 1915-1916) is nor distorted neither tendentiously extracted of its context, and so is the single which could be used to support the “genocide” label — however a strange “genocide”, concerning only Armenians of Eastern Anatolia, and not desired by the actual Ottoman central authorities, contrary to all the literature supporting such a label for the Armenian case. Anyway, the Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, like any other historical source, have to be submitted to internal and external critiques.

Bernstorff was not in Turkey but in USA during the Armenian displacement of 1915-1916; as ambassador in Ottoman Empire, he did quit Istanbul; nowhere in his Memoirs, he claims to have carried a particular investigation on 1915-1916 events, for instance in interviewing German officials of embassy and consulates; nowhere Bernstorff mentions the fifth-column role played from the beginning of WWI Armenian revolutionaries, a fact well documented in German sources [15]; despite his praising of Talat Pasha, Bernstorff’s prejudices about Oriental peoples (surely not worse than the average of his time, that is right) and his lack of curiosity for Turkey (he acknowledges to know roughly nothing on Kemalist Republic) are clear in his book. No one of these facts shows Bernstorff as a first-choice witness for the tragedy of 1915-1916.

More important is the fact that several German witnesses, who were in Eastern Anatolia during WWI, have a quite different version of the story. Especially, General Felix Guse argued that the goal of the forced displacement was to crush the numerous, and coordinated, rebellions of Armenian revolutionary committees which started as early as 1914; and that the atrocities against displaced Armenians were not systematic. [16] General Friedrich Bronsart von Schellendorf supported the same conclusions, and stressed on the absence of criminal designs in Talat’s policy vis-à-vis the Armenians. [17] Heinrich Bergfeld, German consul in Trabzon, whose reports are also used highly selectively by Armenian and pro-Armenian writers — including Mr. Ternon —, concluded, too, that the fate of Armenian deportees was extremely variable, depending on the quality of the escort. [18] The findings of Ernst Jäckh, a German scholar who carried out unofficial missions for German government in Ottoman Empire during WWI, corroborate these conclusions. [19]

Similarly, the journalists Gustav Hjalmar Pravitz (Swedish), George Abel Schreiner (American), and Stefan Steiner (Austrian), who investigated in eastern Anatolia — and even, for the first, in Arab provinces — testified that there was no systematic destruction of Armenians; all three stressed that bureaucratic ineptness and lack of relevant material were mostly responsible for the human losses, and that allegations of atrocities widely diffused in Western countries contained a substantial part of inventions and exaggerations. [20] Stefan Steiner witnessed also the war crimes of Armenian volunteers against Turkish civilians in 1918. [21]

Even in the Blue Book published in 1916 by the Bryce-Toynbee team [22], one can find at least one Western testimony, the statement of the missionary Mary L. Graffam, rejecting explicitly the allegation of systematic extermination, as well as any blame on top-rank Ottoman officials or Ottoman government. [23] Unlike the majority of sources used in the work of “war propaganda” (according to Arnold J. Tonybee’s proper words [24]), Graffam testified only on what she saw, and interviewed both Turks and Armenians.

The major Edward W. C. Noel, sent in 1919 to Anatolia by British government to fight the Kemalists, concluded, after investigation, that Turkish atrocities against Armenians during WWI were “isolated” — at least in the region where he travelled —, and added that the war crimes of Armenian and Nestorian volunteers against Kurds in 1916 were — at least in his region, one more time — worse and more “systematic”. [25]
So, even in neglecting the considerable body of Ottoman evidence against the charge of systematic extermination [26] and the failure of Malta’s British prosecutor to find any evidence for this charge [27], and in focusing on Western sources, the conclusion imposed by an impartial study is that Bernstorff’s allegation is prejudiced and not convincing.


In attempting to save, against all the evidence, the authenticity of crude forgeries, two of the most prominent supporters of “Armenian genocide” label misused of the Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, by distorted quotations and the elevation of one unreliable opinion until the rank of evidence. Both these authors are perfectly able to understand that they do not make an honest and scholar use of Bernstorff’s book. But such a finding will surprise nobody familiarized with Mr. Dadrian’s and Mr. Ternon’s selective, and in several cases purely misleading, use of sources. [28]
The scholar study of Armenian issue, a highly sensitive and politicized topic, aggravated far after 1916 by Armenian terrorism and use of both verbal and physical violence — until an attempt of murder by explosives — against historians who disagree with “genocide” allegation [29], needs a special attention to the classical duties of historical work. The shortcomings are certainly not coming from the Armenian side only, but the recurrent use of notorious forgeries — like the “Andonian documents”, the Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, or Mevlanzade Rifat’s book — and seriously dishonest quotations is the exclusivity of Armenian and pro-Armenian authors. [30] A real debate on the tragedy of 1915-1916 requests that scholars calling “genocide” the fate of Ottoman Armenians express clearly and definitely their condemnation of misleading propaganda; and their acceptance that those who challenge the charge of “genocide” are not necessarily lackeys of the Turkish government, mislead idiots or morally obtuse individuals. Unfortunately, excepted Hilmar Kaiser, few supporters of “Armenian genocide” label have such a scholar level. The basic fact that, since 1915, no one conclusive evidence was showed to support the charge of planned extermination [31] and, on the other hand, the strong proofs that Ottoman government severely punished several hundreds of Muslims who believed wrongly that everything was permitted during the forced displacement [32], as well as positive measures — like the protective policy of Djemal Pasha (Cemal Paşa), third figure of CUP regime, in favor of Armenian exiles [33] or the big expenses of central government for them [34] —, should however incite to humility and prudence.

The needed reconciliation between Turks and Armenian implies an impartial study of the past and a mutual, full condemnation of crimes committed from both sides. Until today, the huge historical literature “contains frequently considerable historical distortions, which takes away any value to it,” as pointed correctly Prof. Xavier de Planhol, one of the best scholars of Turkish studies. [35]The misuse of Memoirs of Count Bernstorff is just one distortion among so many others.

*Maxime Gauin is a visiting researcher at USAK.


1) The most comprehensive demonstration on Andonian’s fake documents is: Şinasi Orel and Sürreya Yuca, The Talât Pasha Telegrams. Historical Fact or Armenian Fiction?, Nicosia: K. Rüstem & Brothers, 1986 (first edition in Turkish, Ankara, TTK, 1983); it is summarized in Türkkaya Ataöv, The Andonian “documents” attributed to Talat Pasha are Forgeries!, Ankara University Press, 1984 and Jean Loyrette’s argumentation for Orly attack’s trial: Terrorist attack at Orly: Statements and Evidence Presented at the Trial. February 19 - March 2 1985, Ankara University Press, 1985.

2) On this book, see Heath Lowry, The Story Behind Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Istanbul: The Isis Press, 1990; see also Şükrü Aya, The Genocide of Truth Continues… But Facts Tell the Truth, Istanbul: Derin Yayinevi, 2010; Harry Elmer Barnes, The Genesis of the World War, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926, pp. 241-247; C. Hartley Grattan, Why We Fought, New York: The Vanguard Press, 1929, pp. 250-251; George Abel Schreiner, The Craft Sinister, New York: G. Albert Geyer, 1920, pp. XXI and 125-126.

3) “The Naim-Andonian Documents on the World War I Destruction of Ottoman Armenians: The Anatomy of a Genocide,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. XVIII, Issue 3, August 1986.

4) Yves Ternon, Enquête sur la négation d’un génocide, Marseille: Parenthèses, 1989.

5) Yves Ternon, Les Arméniens. Histoire d’un génocide, Paris: Le Seuil, 1977, second edition, 1996 (English translation: The Armenians. History of a Genocide, New York, St Vartan’s Press, 1984).

6) Michael M. Gunter, “Gunter Response to Dadrian Article,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 19, Issue 4, November 1987, pp. 523-524; “A Reply to Judith Tucker’s Excperpt of Vahakn Dadrian's Article,” id., Volume 40, Issue 4, Autumn 2008, pp. 728-729; Guenter Lewy, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005, pp. 65-73 and 140-142; Jean-Louis Mattei, Belgelerle Büyük Ermenistan Peşinde Ermeni Komiteleri, Ankara: Bilgi Yayinevi, 2008.

7) For instance: Christopher Walker, “World War I and the Armenian Genocide,” in Richard G. Hovannisian, (ed.) The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Time, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1997, p. 247.

8) Erinnerungen und Briefe, Zurich: Polygraph Verlag, 1935; Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, New York: Random House, 1936 (translated from German by Eric Sutton); Whitefish (USA): Kessinger Publishing, 2010.

9) V. N. Dadrian, The Key Elements of the Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide: a Case Study of Distortion and Falsification, Cambridge (Massachusetts)-Toronto: Zoryan Institute, 1999, p. 41.

10) For instance: http://www.imprescriptible.fr/citations/diplomates

11) V. N. Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide, Providence: Berghahn Books, 2004, p. 211, n. 19 (1st edition, 1995).

12) Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, op. cit., pp. 175-176.

13) Memoirs of Count Bernstorff, op. cit., p. 180.

14) Ottoman Liman von Sanders, Cinq ans de Turquie, Paris: Payot, 1923 (translated from German by Major Mabille), pp. 13 and 185 (original version: Fünf Jahre Türkei, Berlin, A. Scherl, 1920 ; English translation: Five Years in Turkey, Anapolis, United States Naval Institute, 1927; Naval & Military Press Publications, 2005).

15) Edward J. Erickson, “The Armenians and Ottoman Military Policy,” War in History, Volume XV, Issue 2, Spring 2008, pp. 141-167 ; Guenter Lewy, op. cit., pp. 93-94, 99 and 117.

16) Felix Guse, »Der Armenien Aufstand 1915 und seine Folgen«, Wissen und Wehr, Volume VI, 1925, pp. 609-621.

17) Friedrich Bronsart von Schellendorf, »Ein Zeugnis für Talaat Pascha«, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 July 1921.

18) Guenter Lewy, op. cit., pp. 145-146 et 178-182; Hikmet Özdemir and alii, Ermeniler: Sürgün ve Göç, Ankara, TTK, 2004, pp. 77-82.

19) Ernest Jackh (Ernst Jäckh), The Rising Crescent, New York-Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944, pp. 43-45, 134 and 163.

20) Gustav H. Pravitz, “Armeniernas läge,” Nya Dagligt Allehanda, 23 April 1917; George Abel Schreiner, op. cit., pp. 124-125; Stefan Steiner, “Armenië,” Algemeen Handelsblad, 25 May 1920 (I express my thanks to Michael van der Galiën for the translation).

21) Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile. The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims. 1821-1922, Princeton, Darwin Press, 1996, pp. 230 and 242, n. 107.

22) On the general methods of this propaganda team, see, for instance: Horace C. Peterson, Propaganda for War: The Campaign Against American Neutrality, 1914-1917, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939, pp. 53-59; and Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in War Time, London: Unwin Brothers, 1928, pp. 78-82 and 128-134.

23) The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, London-New York-Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916, pp. 305-308. To understand why Graffam’s report is unfortunately not representative of the average level of this Blue Book, see Justin McCarthy, “Wellington House and the Turks,” in The Turks, Ankara: Yeni Türkiye, 2002, tome IV, pp. 457-467; Hikmet Özdemir, Arnold Toynbee’nin Ermeni Sorununa Bakışı, Ankara, 2005; James Morgan Read, Atrocity Propaganda. 1914-1919, New Haven-London: Yale University Press/Oxford University Press, 1941, pp. 221-222; and Ahmet Rüstem Bey, La Guerre mondiale et la question turco-arménienne, Berne: Stæmpfli & Cie, 1918, pp. 95-132.

24) Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, London-Bombay-Sydney, Constable & C°, 1922, p. 50.

25) Stanford J. Shaw, From Empire to Republic. The Turkish War of National Liberation, Ankara: TTK, 2000, tome II, p. 922.

26) For example: Kâmuran Gürün, The Armenian File, Istanbul, Türkiye iş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2007 (first edition in English, 1985), pp. 237-292; Hikmet Özdemir and Yusuf Sarınay, op. cit.; Şinasi Orel and Sürreya Yuca, op. cit.

27) Guenter Lewy, op. cit., pp. 125-126; Bilâl N. Şimşir, The Deportees of Malta and the Armenian Question, 2nd edition, Ankara, 2003 ; Salâhi R. Sonyel, “Armenian Deportations: A Re-Appraisal in the Light of New Documents,” Belleten, January 1972, pp. 59-60.

28) Mary Schaeffer Conroy, “Review of Vahakn N. Dadrian, Warrant for Genocide : Key Elements of Turco-Armenian Conflict,” The Social Science Journal, Volume XXXVII, Issue 3, July 2000, pp. 481-483; Edward J. Erickson, “Armenian Massacres, New Records Undercut Old Blame”, The Middle East Quarterly, Volume XIII, N° 3, Summer 2006 ; Clive Foss, “Book Review of Vahakn Dadrian, German Responsabilities in the Armenian Genocide,” The Institute for the Study of Genocide Newsletter, Autumn 1997, pp. 12-16; Hilmar Kaiser, “Germany and the Armenian Genocide, Part II: Reply to Vahakn N. Dadrian’s Response”, Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, IX, 1996, pp. 135-40; Guenter Lewy, op. cit., pp. 46-89, 94 and 160-161; Georges de Maleville, La Tragédie arménienne de 1915, Paris: Lanore, 1988; Jeremy Salt, “Forging the Past: OUP and the Armenian Question,” Eurasia Critic, January 2010; Malcolm E. Yapp, “Book Review”, Middle Eastern Studies, Volume XXXII, Issue 4, October 1996, pp. 395-397.

29) Maria Çakırağa, Statement in Opposition to Parole of Hampig “Harry” Sassounian (C-88440), 2010; Michael M. Gunter, “Pursuing the Just Cause of their People”. A Study of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism, Westport-New York-London: Greenwood Press, 1986; Gaïdz Minassian, Guerre et terrorisme arméniens. 1972-1998, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2002; “Crude Bomb Explodes at UCLA Professor’s Home,” The Los Angeles Times, 4 October 1977, p. D1; “Armenians: Community in Turkey Worried Over Impact of Terrorism.” The Los Angeles Times, 12 May 1982, p. B26; “Armenian Terrorism: Near East Feud Rages in America,” The Washington Post, 17 May 1982, p. A1; “Press Clanger,” Times Higher Education, 29 March 1996; « Veinstein persiste mais en vain », Haïastan, June 2000, p. 10.

30) In addition to the above mentioned references, see Türkkaya Ataöv, Armenian Falsifications, New York: Okey, 2008; Cem Özgönül, Der Mythos Eines Völkermordes, Köln: Önel Verlag, 2005; Erman Şahin, “A Scrutiny of Akçam’s Version of History and the Armenian Genocide,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Volume XXVIII, Issue 2, 2008, pp. 303-319; id., “Review Essay: The Armenian Question,” Middle East Policy, Volume XVII, N° 1, Spring 2010, pp. 144-157.

31) Guenter Lewy, passim.

32) Yusuf Halaçoğlu, The Story of 1915. What Happened to the Ottoman Armenians?, Ankara: TTK, 2008, pp. 82-87; Guenter Lewy, op. cit., pp. 111 and 113; Hikmet Özdemir and Yusuf Sarınay (ed.), Turkish-Armenian Conflict Documents, Ankara: TBMM, 2007, p. 261.

33) Guenter Lewy, op. cit., pp. 196-198 and 218-220.

34) Yusuf Halaçoğlu, op. cit., pp. 71-82.

35) Xavier de Planhol, Minorités en Islam. Géographie politique et sociale, Paris: Flammarion, 1997, p. 450, n. 144.

Turkish Weekly is an USAK Publication. USAK is the leading Ankara based Turkish think-tank.



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