International Journal of
Middle East Studies

Vahakn N. Dadrian, “The Armenian Question and the Wartime Fate of the Armenians as Documented by the Officials of the Ottoman Empire’s World War I Allies: Germany and Austro-Hungary.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 34, no. 1 (February 2002): 59-85. Official reprint, 27p. $6.00US, $9.00Cdn.

The Zoryan Institute is pleased to announce that, following a long and extensive review by specialists and their subsequent recommendation for publication, the editors of the International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) have just published in their February 2002 issue an article by Prof. Vahakn Dadrian, Director of Genocide Research at the Zoryan Institute. Titled “The Armenian Question and the Wartime Fate of the Armenians as Documented by the Officials of the Ottoman Empire’s World War I Allies: Germany and Austro-Hungary,” this article appears in the official publication of the large Middle East Studies Association. This latest study by Dadrian will reach numerous Turkish historians who are members of that association, and currently are teaching in universities throughout North America, Europe, and especially in Turkey. IJMES is published by the august Cambridge University Press, and is a leading and most prestigious journal in its field.

Following an elaborate and methodical presentation of a large body of official German and Austrian documents, Prof. Dadrian concludes, “By any standard of definition, [the wartime fate of the Armenians involved] an act of genocide.”

In his introduction, Dadrian argues that owing to the politicization of this field, Armenian and Ottoman Turkish sources have been unnecessarily rendered controversial. Therefore, it is best to rely on sources found in the state archives of Imperial Germany and Imperial Austro-Hungary, the staunch military allies of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. These documents are invaluable, argues Dadrian, not only because they emanate from sources that are identified with the perpetrator camp, but mainly because they were not intended for public consumption but rather for internal use.

The study comprises the following main themes: The Portents of the Unfolding Armenian Question; The Kurdish Factor; The Exacerbation of the Armenian Reform Issue in the Pre-war Years and the Rudiments of Premeditation; World War I as a Major Catalyst and the issue of Armenian Culpability; The Antinomic Nature of the Provocation Argument; The Resolution of the Armenian Question Through the Wholesale Liquidation of the Armenians; The Instruments of Supervision and Implementation; Conclusion.

The research is supported and corroborated by 115 endnotes, some of them very extensive, and primarily involve German and Austrian archival material. To illustrate the importance and accuracy of the first-hand accounts of the high-ranking officials of these two empires who were stationed in the interior of Turkey, especially in such centers of deportation and massacre as Trabzon, Erzurum, Adana and Aleppo, Dadrian provides the original German texts.

This research is the product of some two dozen trips to such archival centers as Bonn, Potsdam, Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany, and Vienna, Austria over the last twenty years.

In addition to the massive use of German language documents, the study contains several references to official French documents, especially the reports of veteran French ambassador to Turkey, Paul Cambon. From such documents we learn, for example, that already during the 1894-1896 Sultan Abdul Hamit-era massacres, Ottoman authorities, according to Cambon, were contemplating the deportation of the Armenians en masse to Mesopotamia (p. 63).

Equally important are the key Ottoman documents Dadrian utilizes in his conclusion, especially those provided by Third Army Commander Vehib Pasha and Aleppo’s governor-general Mehmed Celal. Vehib, a Young Turk Ittihadist himself, in his deposition at the Turkish Military Tribunal, explicitly states that the Armenians were subjected to a centrally organized mass murder, the architects of which were the members of Ittihad’s Central Committee. Moreover, he unequivocally declares that the entire campaign of wholesale extermination was premeditated (kasden) and was carried out under the supervision of the government (hükümetin tahti altinda). Finally, Vehib stresses the fact that the planned mass murder was accompanied by the pillage and plunder of the goods and properties of the Armenians (Ermenilerin katl ve imhasi ve mallarinin yagma ve gasbi) (p. 77).

Dadrian underscores a fundamental fact: the plan to exterminate the Armenians had very little to do with isolated instances of wartime acts of Armenian espionage, sedition, disloyalty or subversion, but rather with a pre-war Ittihadist decision to resolve, at the first opportunity, once and for all, the troublesome “Armenian Question” that had plagued the Ottoman Empire for decades. Thus, the Armenian Reforms issue is placed at the center of the Turko-Armenian conflict. This issue assumed its most grave character in the wake of the first Balkan War, at the end of which the Turks had lost most of the European portion of their empire, and became severely fearful about losing the eastern provinces to the Armenians, who were agitating for sweeping reforms in those provinces.

In this connection, Dadrian uncovers a remarkable historical fact. Already in 1856, six-time Grand Vizier Koca Mustafa Reshad had warned the Sultan that should he yield to European pressures and grant the non-Muslims “equality,” there would inevitably erupt “a huge massacre” (bir mukatele-i azîme). He did not believe that the non-Muslims, preordained to be dominated (milleti mahkûme) could be the equals of the Muslim overlords (milleti hâkime). A similar view was expressed in 1915 by Ziya Gökalp, the chief Ittihadist ideologue. He declared that Islam mandates domination, that the non-Muslims can never be the equals of the Muslims unless they convert and become Muslims. Speaking of these reforms meant to provide equality for the non-Muslims, Dadrian produces evidence showing that Cemal Pasha, member of the Young Turk triumvirate, warned the Armenians during the period marked by agitation for reforms, 1912-1913, that should the Armenians succeed in securing such reforms, at least 300,000 Armenians were likely to be massacred by the Muslims in the eastern provinces for which reforms were being sought.

The most trenchant feature of this article is the presentation of overwhelming evidence of German corroboration of the charge of genocidal intent and genocidal outcome. Four consecutive German ambassadors consistently and emphatically inform their central government that under the guise of “deportation” the Turkish authorities are bent on wiping out the bulk of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire and that in the end they succeeded in this design.

Given the present Turkish stance of denial regarding the Armenian Genocide, as well as the tacit support of this stance by other governments for political expediency, this powerful article and its irrefutable documentation effectively demolishes the hollow arguments of the deniers. It is indeed bound to pave the way for academics and politicians alike to embrace the legitimacy of the argument that the Armenians were indeed victims of the first major genocide of the twentieth century at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

Prof. Vahakn Dadrian is Director of Genocide Research at the Zoryan Institute and the author of numerous articles and books on the Armenian Genocide and comparative genocide.