Akçam Honors Rev. Krikor Guerguerian, Announces Digitalization of Guerguerian Archival Collection, at ALMA Lecture


By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN — Prof. Taner Akçam presented a lecture with slides on the legacy of the work of Rev. Krikor Guerguerian on the Armenian Genocide, and announced the digitalization of the latter’s collection, at the Armenian Museum of America (ALMA) on May 11. There was a large audience present at this talk, titled “The Story Behind the Smoking Gun.”

Guests were welcomed by Michele M. Kolligian, president of the ALMA Board of Trustees. Marc Mamigonian, director of academic affairs of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), introduced Akçam, who at present holds the Robert Aram and Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester.

Akçam dedicated his talk to the memory of Guerguerian, who was born in 1911 in Gürün, Sepasdia (Sivas). After witnessing the murder of his parents and surviving the Genocide, he collected materials to document its history for half a century. He died in 1988.

Akçam traced a direct line from Guerguerian’s work to his own by declaring that “the torch in the field of Armenian Genocide research was lit by Fr. Krikor Guerguerian and carried on by Richard Hovannisian, and most especially Vahakn Dadrian. I consider Dadrian my mentor and the founder of our field. I took over the torch.”

Akçam explained that Guerguerian embarked on his research career in 1937. Almost each year afterwards, he traveled to various countries, including Turkey, in order to collect materials. He used the penname Krieger when he published works, largely in Armenian. He also had an unpublished volume planned called Armenocide.

Akçam has been finding useful original documents in Guerguerian’s archival collection, now held by his nephew Dr. Edmond Guerguerian, a psychiatrist in New York City. This collection has been digitalized by Berc Panossian with support from a number of Armenians such as Hirant Gulian and Armenian organizations like the Jerair Nishanian Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and NAASR. Copies are held in a number of institutions, including the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute in Yerevan.

Akçam found two different categories of materials: documents from various archives, including Austrian, British, German, French and American, the Nubarian Library in Paris, and that held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem; and Guerguerian’s own materials.

Much of the valuable material comes from the post-World War I Ottoman court martial trials which the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople obtained. These copies ended up in large part at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where Guerguerian accessed them. He learned about them through Kurd Mustafa Pasha (nicknamed Nemrut, or grim-faced).

This man was one of the judges of the court martials, who became a member of the Society for the Rise of Kurdistan (Kurdistan Teali Cemiyeti), established in 1918. After several criminal investigations targeted him he escaped in 1920 to Cairo, where Guerguerian lived. Kurd Mustafa Pasha told Guerguerian that copies of the court martial materials were sent to Jerusalem.

Akçam added that the Guerguerian collection had been microfilmed by the Armenian Assembly of America in the 1980s. Furthermore, both the Zoryan Institute and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation archives in Watertown had a copy of microfilms that were independently made of the full set of Jerusalem documents. While the former microfilm is not accessible to the public, the latter two organizations’ copies seem to have altogether disappeared, while the Jerusalem Patriarchate collection itself is not at present open to the public.

Vahakn Dadrian benefited greatly from Guerguerian’s work, Akçam said, and in addition, in 1974 Dadrian went to Jerusalem to himself copy some materials. Dadrian, and later Akçam, used these items extensively. Now, a professional team has also transcribed around 800 pages of the Ottoman materials Guerguerian collected. Akçam said that while some transcriptions would be placed online, he would reserve others to allow his students to use and publish before others.

Akçam said that in the past, when Dadrian or Akçam quoted the Ottoman court martial indictments, Turkish and other denialists would counter by demanding the originals, which they did not have. At the same time, they would point to official Ottoman documents created during the process of the Genocide deliberately as part of an effort of fake “fact” creation.

Akçam, like many other scholars, referred to the seminal work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot to describe this process of denialism. The Ottomans and then Turkish nationalists destroyed or hid materials in their own possession, created their own sources, and then wrote their own narrative and history.

The documents from Jerusalem copied by Guerguerian allow countering this. Akçam gave the example of telegrams from Bahaettin Shakir and Mahmut Kamil cited in the main court martial indictment and published on May 5, 1919. The former was sent from Erzerum, where Shakir was, to Sabit Bey, governor of Elazig (Kharpert), in July 1915, and asked, “Are the Armenians dispatched from there being liquidated?”

The Shakir telegram had been quoted at the time in the New York Times. The rediscovery of Guerguerian’s copy has become Akçam’s “smoking gun” of his lecture title because it is now very hard, he said, to dispute its validity. The Ottoman letterhead on Guerguerian’s copy indicates its authenticity, Akçam explained, along with the four-digit codes used for cipher telegrams, which correspond with those used in other documents in the Ottoman archives today.

In fact, some of the telegrams in the Guerguerian archive are also available in the Ottoman state archive. Akçam discovered 50 such telegrams, which again shows the authenticity of the Guerguerian collection. Furthermore, telegrams on the same topic confirm one another, and question and response telegrams have been found.

Aside from court proceedings, including testimonies and interrogations, cipher telegrams sent by the Ottoman Interior Ministry or army commanders, and telegrams from the provinces to the Interior Ministry, there are also the materials of the Ottoman investigatory commission sent to Anatolia in autumn of 1915.

Guerguerian’s collection is leading to many publications decades after his death. Akçam used Guerguerian’s microfilms of Naim Bey’s telegrams from the Nubarian Library in Paris and the latter’s handwritten memoirs to prepare a book on Naim Bey which has been published in Turkish, and soon will appear in English translation.