Akçam Confirms Authenticity of Andonian Papers in Explosive Talk about New Book
By Alin K. Gregorian
BELMONT, Mass. — Prof. Taner Akçam delivered an explosive, exciting talk on Thursday, October 6, on his findings which quelled any doubts about the veracity of one of the premier works on the Armenian Genocide by survivor Aram Andonian.
The Andonian book, Medz Vojire (The Great Crime), came under sustained attacks by Turkish scholars and a 1983 book raised so many concerns that even most Armenian scholars were afraid to use it as a resource.
Andonian was arrested on April 24, 1915 and during his incarceration, he was sent to a concentration camp in Meskene, where he first met Naim Effendi (Bey), an officer there. He survived the camp and later met Naim again in Aleppo in 1918. At that point, Naim was sympathetic to the plight of the Armenians and gave Andonian telegrams and documents which showed how high up the chain of command the orders for the extermination of the Armenians led.
He published his book in the 1920s in France, where he moved.
Akçam’s book, The Memoir of Naim Bey and Talat Pasha Telegrams,” which had been released in Turkey just two days prior to his talk at the First Armenian Church in Belmont, takes on the naysayers. He addressed every point raised in the book by Turkish “scholars” Sinasi Orel and Sureyya Yuca, which first and most convincingly put forth the argument that the book was a fake.
One of the most important points that Akçam made was that the entire research he conducted took place at the Ankara state and military archives, a source that the Turkish government and population cannot discount.
“The Ottoman archives are one of the most important sources, I’ve always said,” he added.
Akçam said that as a matter of fact, the book was originally suggested by the Turkish authorities. “In the 1990s, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said, ‘you’re a historian, work on it.’ That is my innocent defense,” much to the delight of the crowd.
Another major help to Akçam was the collection compiled by the Very Rev. Krikor Guerguerian, a Catholic priest and survivor of the Armenian Genocide, who had one of the largest collection of materials on the Armenian Genocide. As Akçam noted, Guerguerian was the pioneer in the field of studying the Armenian Genocide. In 1965, the self-trained researcher published a detailed analysis of the Andonian text in Beirut, verifying it.
The denialist argument was based on three points: there was no such person as Naim Bey; there is no actual memoir, since a non-existing person cannot write a memoir; and the so-called Talat Pasha telegrams, like the alleged memoir, were invented by Andonian.
Although noted researcher Guerguerian (who use the penname Kriger) in 1965 published a detailed examination of Andonian’s materials and Vahakn N. Dadrian in 1986 published a lengthy response to Orel and Yuca, in general the scholarly world ceased using the memoir and telegrams as trustworthy sources. Until now, the claims against Andonian have remained unanswered and have become the cornerstone of denialism.
Naim Effendi Offers Help
Naim Effendi had secretly copied many Ottoman documents by hand (perhaps to deflect blame should there have been repercussions for the mass extermination). Naim sold his collection to Andonian, who proceeded to publish them in Armenian. An English and French translation followed. Akçam cautioned, however, that the only serious edition is the Armenian one, with the French translation decent, but the English one full of errors.
There are 52 handwritten copies of Ottoman records and 21 original documents in the book. The documents were ciphered (in a numerical code) and Andonian also published the key for the documents.
Most incriminating were the telegrams from Talat Pasha, who specifically orders the extermination of Armenians. One order that Akçam showed, verified in his book, dated from September 22, 1915. The order was for the elimination of all rights for Armenians on Turkish soil, such as the right to live and work, which “have been eliminated. Not one is to be left, not even the infant in the cradle; the government accepts all responsibility for this.”
One by one, Akçam took on the three main arguments of Orel and Yuca.
The central point of the deniers is that a person called Naim effendi does not exist. Akçam said that his research showed that Naim was a real officer and there are various documents in the Ottoman archives to prove it.
In fact, he said, he first found a document on Naim Bey in the Turkish Military Archives in Ankara, ironically in as part of an eight-volume collection published in 2007 to refute Armenian claims. It was in the seventh volume, on the investigation of army officers. The text related that in the spring and summer of 1916, the Meskene concentration camp experienced a larger-than-usual number of escapees, all of whom headed to Aleppo. The minister of interior, Talat Pasha, had initiated the inquiry to understand how the prisoners escaped. In that investigation was the account of one “Naim Effendi, age 26, from Silifke,” a former dispatch officer at Meskene and later the store house officer in Aleppo.
Another telegram, the order by Talat to kill Krikor Zohrab, the writer and parliamentarian, bears the same signature. The telegram is now in the Boghos Nubar Library in Paris.
At the bottom of the document are the signatures of Mustafa Abdulhalik, the governor of Aleppo, and Abdulahad Nuri, the director of the Deportation Office. Naim Effendi’s name appears twice. In the first note is written “Ask with an official communiqué Naim Effendi,” while the second states “preserve this Naim Effendi.”
Akçam went on to list more and more documents in the Andonian book, including telegrams from Talat complaining that American consulates were obtaining secret information regarding the goings-on in the Ottoman lands.
Some of the incriminating documents listed by Andonian were photographed and saved for posterity by Guerguerian. “Now they are gone,” Akçam said.
The Turkish “debunkers” used the discrepancies between the Andonian text and the Guerguerian material as proof that the documents are forged. One major reason for the discrepancies, Akçam said, is that Andonian did not use all the material at his disposal, deeming some less important.
In addition, some of the pages were sent by Andonian to Istanbul Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan, who had filed suit against the government. The suit never got anywhere and “we don’t know where those passages and papers are,” Akçam said.
Thus, Akçam noted, the two main argument raised by deniers have collapsed. “They accused the Armenian community of a crime by falsifying, fabricating history,” he said. “They need to swallow their pride and apologize.”
He next went on to take on the possible charge that they would say Naim Bey was a gambler and accustomed to taking bribes. He explained that for that very purpose, he combed through the Ottoman archives for close to one year on 10 different subjects.
With a PowerPoint presentation, he showed some of the letters and dispatches, which sought the elimination of specific families, such as the Hazarbetyan, Amiralyan, Çaglasyan and Discekenyan families. “There are Ottoman documents with the exact same names and a telegraph that came from Talat,” in the Turkish archives, he noted.
In yet another specific verification from the Andonian book, Akçam found documents from a Soghomon Kuyomyan or Soghomon Effendi, who was related to a deputy called Nalbantian. Nalbantian appealed to Talat and other deputies for his relatives’ safety. “Talat ordered Soghomon to stay in Aleppo,” to be safe, but somehow, officers sent him to Deir Zor, where he and his family perished.
“The information on Soghomon is in the Turkish archives,” Akçam said. “It is the exact same story.”
Other documents showed, “with dozens of corroborative entries in the Ottoman records” the orders by the governor of Aleppo and Talat for the transfer of orphaned Armenian children from Aleppo to Sivas and Istanbul, killing Armenian children in and around Meskene and Raqqa, forcing out Armenian railway workers and their families around Aleppo and taking care of the issue of having the dead lying openly along the deportation route, etc.
Akçam spent much time similarly debunking technical objections raised by denialists on what type of paper the Ottoman officials used, as well as the ciphered messages’ codes. For example, he said, the Turkish authors denying Andonian’s work suggested that the specific key he cites to decipher the letters was not used during the years he cites. By diligence and thorough research, Akçam said he found many examples corroborating Andonian’s work.
In short, he concluded, “There is nothing to lead us to doubt [the documents’] authenticity.” In fact, he added, arguments against them are “complete and utter nonsense. It is BS.”
“It is proven beyond a doubt that Naim Effendi’s documents were very real,” he said.
Akçam credited Prof. Vahakn Dadrian with taking up Andonian’s defense in 1986.
He also praised Naim Bey for being “very sympathetic when it came to Armenians.”
Currently Akçam said that he is working on the English translation of the book, which he expects to be published anywhere from a year or two later.
Akçam is the holder of the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. He is the author of several books, including The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.
The lecture, held at the First Armenian Church in Belmont, was co-sponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and the Friends of the Kaloosdian-Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. NAASR also provided financial support for Akçam’s research, presented publicly for the first time in this lecture.
Akçam’s lecture was preceded by introductory remarks by NAASR Academic Director Marc A. Mamigonian and Steven Migridichian, President of the Friends of the Kaloosdian-Mugar Chair.