By Prof. Dr. Türkkaya Ataöv*
A most recent (1983) publication by the Turkish Historical Society and written by Sinasi Orel and Süreyya Yuca, as a scholarly evaluation of the so-called “Talat Pasha telegrams” is most important for the proper assessment of the “Armenian issue”. This momentous book of unusually competent erudition critically examines all of the documents produced in the English and French editions of the Aram Andonian book, which hitherto served as the basis of many arguments of some Armenians and like-minded foreign writers. This impressive new Turkish volume sheds light on a most important aspect of the topic in question. No commentator can now stand on solid grounds without reading it and giving it due attention. I do not think that previous arguments, set forth by a group of Armenian publicists for the last sixty-three years, can be repeated. One judges it as a moral obligation to inform all concerned that it will no longer be possible to continue appraising the “Talat Pasha telegrams” in the same manner that they have been assessed before, without first seeing weighty evidence offered in this volume of 344 pages.
Without going into minute but nevertheless meaningful details, I may summarize the evidence as pointing to the assertion that the Andonian “documents” are fake. The “documents”, first printed as early as 1920, have been utilized by certain circles as “proof” of deep Ottoman Government involvement in the loss of life of Armenians in 1915. Aram Andonian was a hitherto-unknown Armenian who allegedly received those manuscripts (including the assumed orders of Talat Pasha) from a minor Ottoman official called Naim Bey, working in the Rehabilitation Office in Aleppo, Syria. The work based on them was published in Paris, London and Boston. The recent Turkish publication treats each and every so-called “document” painstakingly in terms of both form and content and offers the suggestion that they are counterfeit. The fabrication of fraudulent documents is not uncommon in history. The falsity of “Hitler diaries” was lately proven within a matter of weeks. The so called “Zinoviev telegram”, that had created a public stir in England in the early 1920’s, is now accepted as a forgery.
Andonian’s work in English (84 pp.) includes 48 and in French (168 pp.) 50 such “documents”. It is difficult to ascertain which portions of the book are part of Naim Bey’s “memoirs” and which are Andonian’s own composition, for several pages in the English edition, presented as Naim Bey’s reminiscences, appear as Andonian’s writing. In spite of the fact that the book mentions the collaboration of an obscure Ottoman official, who may not have even lived, and the authorship of another uncelebrated Armenian, its publication in several languages was, most probably, a coordinated endeavour and not an individual enterprise, especially at a time (1920) when Turkey was involved in a struggle of life and death. The book takes care to condemn the whole Turkish nation, an effort sociologically unsound and academically invalid. While in the book and in a letter of June 10, 1921, author Andonian states that the “documents” were handed to him by the “humanitarian” Turk free of charge (Naim Bey turning down all suggestions of payment), the same Andonian in his letter, dated July 26, 1937 (addressed to a certain Mary Terzian, living in Switzerland) declares that the Armenians paid for every “document” that they got from him-who is now described as an alchoholic, a gambler, a lover of money and entirely immoral. If the latter description is true, then why did Andonian wait for seventeen years to give a correct account? It may be that a realistic description would create suspicion on the very authenticity of the “memoirs” and “documents”. Andonian was not trying to protect Naim Bey, but preserve the acceptability of his “documents”.
Andonian offers two different dates as to when the got the “documents” from Naim Bey. In his book it is after the British-occupied Aleppo and in the 1937 letter before the British entry. He also suggests inconsistent motives in respect to why Naim Bey happens to possess such “documents”. In the book he suggests that they were under Naim Bey’s hands and that he was searching ways and means of averting personal responsibility, but in the 1937 letter he asserts that Naim Bey stole them to turn them into money. The recent (1981) French Dasnak publication, based on the same “documents”, mentions, in addition, that after the British entry into Aleppo, an Armenian delegation requested the Turkish authorities for permission to see the archives on the transfer of the Armenian population. It is difficult to understand why the Turks were approached for permission since such requests could then be made to the occupying power with greater ease. The Dashnak publication probably wishes to attribute more “authority” by adding, after 61 years, Turkish officials. Further, Andonian writes that he met Naim Bey at the beginning of 1916. But he also says that Naim Bey was dismissed from office again in the initial months of the same year. Now, Aleppo fell to the British in October 1918. But Andonian had mentioned that the “documents” were under Naim Bey’s hand. How can that be if he was dismissed long ago or how can he later “steal” them, especially when the same Andonian argues that the Ottoman Government “did away with all the documents pertaining to the Armenian massacre”? Following Andonian’s logic, while all documents pertaining to this issue were destroyed, a dismissed junior bureaucrat enters a government office and steals highly secret “documents”!
Andonian says that the “documents” in question are authentic. Not stating why and how the reader should accept them as such, he nevertheless feels this omission and in a letter dated June 10, 1921, and addressed to the law years of Soghomon Tehlirian (who assassinated Talat Pasha in Berlin) he gives “guarantee” of having seen the originals of these “documents” and that some “documents” had been countersigned by Mustafa Abdülhalik Bey, the Governor of Aleppo.
It is necessary to state initially that, in contradiction to what some foreign circles believe to be true, these “documents” do not bear any order to massacre, hand-written or signed by Talat Pasha. Andonian tries to explain such involvement indirectly through the “notes” and “signatures” of Governor Mustafa Abdülhalik on “documents” allegedly given or sold by a man called Naim Bey in Aleppo. A question that comes to mind is the authenticity of the signature. Andonian replies to this that its authenticity was established by the Armenian Society in Aleppo. Knowing that Aleppo was occupied by the British and then transferred to the French and that both were now hunting the guilty”, several Ottoman officials already having been arrested, why did Andonian and the Armenian Society in Aleppo not include British and French representatives in this “committee of experts” and receive the timely solid backing of both in this most important “discovery”? This was exactly what the victorious powers were looking for! But may be such an investigation never took place because it could never take place… Under the circumstances, the question of the authenticity of the “documents” was mentioned in the very first meeting with Tehlirian’s lawyers in 1921 in Berlin. The Armenian circles relied on the opinion of a certain Dr.W.Rössler, who was appointed Germany’s Consul to Aleppo during the First World War with the support of Dr. Johannes Lepsius, known for his deep sympathies for the Armenians. But even Dr. Rössler said that although the “documents”, within the general contents of the book, given the “impression” of being authentic, it was very difficult to say the same for the individual telegrams, not knowing how the authenticity of such documents might be established and realizing that the author is under the spell of his emotions and not objective. Even Andonian himself admitted, in his letter of July 26, 1937, that Dr. Rössler found his book devoid of objectivity. He admits that his product is not a historical work, but a propaganda piece. And that the Armenian Bureau in London and the Armenian National Council in Paris have made use of his manuscript freely as they wished. What Andonian says in this connection, years after the printing of his book, shakes the very foundations of his publication and the “documents”.
Further, many foreign circles take it for granted that the German court which tried Tehlirian, Talat Pasha’s assassin, had accepted or had even endorsed at least some Andonian Naim Bey “documents” as authentic. But the minutes of the court proceedings show that the Court has neither accepted them as evidence, nor judged them as authentic. Tehlirian’s lawyer Von Gordon withdraw them, and the Prosecutor said that the use of false documents cannot mislead him and that he know how so-called documents carrying the signatures of high dignitaries were later proven to be fabrications. One can assert at this particular point that the “documents” still preserve the status of being Andonian’s personal production, especially when it is established that the originals are nowhere to be found. In his 1937 letter, Andonian says that they are probably lost.
Governor Mustafa Abdülhalik whose signature is supposed to appear on several “documents” was deported to the Island of Malta by the British after the war. He was acquitted. Abdulahad Nuri, another Ottoman official whose signature appears on the Andonian “documents”, was not even sent to Malta. Can we be correct in attaching importance to certain “documents” that the occupying British, in the heated atmosphere of immediate post-war days, did not take seriously? Can it be that at least some of the “originals”, especially prepared by Andonia and his friends, were destroyed to prevent their later detection as being fake?
Did Naim Bey, the hero of the “documents”, exist? Search of the Prime Minister’s Archives in Istanbul, among the Yrade-i Seniye (order) files and the Official Gazette gives no evidence of the appointment of a man by that name to the Rehabilitation Office in Aleppo. However, one can locate in the same archives some of the names that Andonian mentions. It is quite possible that Naim Bey never lived. If he has, he must have been a very minor official, for Andonian also states that he was “entirely unimportant”. But how can such an unimportant person have access to such significant and top secret material?
Andonian’s “documents” are full of various factual mistakes, omissions and contradictions that give him away. One of such blunders stems from his ignorance concerning the difference between the Rumi (Julian) and the Miladi (Gregorian) calendars. To change from the former to the latter, one adds 584 to the years and 13 to the days, so that Rumi September 3, 1331 becomes Miladi September 16, 1 915. (Up until 1316 or 1900 only 12 days were added). The Rumi year starts on the 1st of March. Since January and February are the last two months can only be found by adding 584+1 or 585, so that, for instance, January 5, 1331 becomes January 18, 1916. In the Ottoman Empire, New Year was the 1st of March -until 1917. A law, adopted on February 1917, did away with the 13 days of difference, but kept the difference between the years. The Miladi year system was adopted in 1925 during the Republican ear, and 1341 became 1925. Not knowing the intricacies of this system, Andonian committed serious errors in putting “appropriate” dates on the “documents”. His first “document” bears the date of “February 18, 1331”. But in the Miladi calendar, it is not February 18, 1915, the Rumi date needed to be February 18, 1330. The “document” with February 18 or March 2, 1916 as the date fails to serve Andonian’s purpose since he quotes this “document” to prove premeditation or a government pre-plan of the transfer of the Armenian population. To serve Andonian’s purpose, the letter ought to have been written before the transfer, but with the date it has on it, it looks as if it was written nine months after the transfer had begun. One is led to think that if Andonian or his helpers had known such complexities, they would have put a much earlier date.
The second “document” bears the date of March 25, 1331. But since the first “document” is dated February 18, 1331, it can only be March 25, 1332. While referring to the first “document”, the date is “corrected” as February 18, 1330, but Andonian has already given himself away. This must be the reason why Andonian leaves out the “original” of the first “document” from the English edition of the book and mentions only November 15, 1915, as the date of the second “document”. No Ottoman official ever commits such mistakes, especially in the higher echelons.
In an attempt to attribute pre-planning to the Ottoman Government, Andonian asserts that the Armenians never thought of insurrection. He emphasizes that such a thought never passed through their heads. But abundant genuine Turkish documents and many Armenian sources show the contrary. For instance, Bogos Nubar Pasha, the Head of the Armenian Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, in a letter dated November 30, 1918 to the French Foreign Minister S. Pichon, simply states that the Armenian military detachments fought against the Ottomans as belligerents
In both documents, a besmele (in the name of Allah) sign appears on the top. This was customary in those days. But the first “document” misses the long letter of “sin” and the dot for the “b” ought to be on the right, not in the middle. Both signs are bigger than usual, and the sign depicting “Allah” is falsely written. It is of course not unusual for an Armenian, who is Christian, to write out such a clumsy besmele, not having written it before.
The English and the French texts of the same “documents” have conspicuous differences in wording, with several omissions or additions. For one, dates differ. A paragraph that starts with “Dr. Nazim Bey writes” in the French version cannot be found in the English publication. Some sentences change places, for instance, going from the sixth paragraph to the second. Omissions or additions are too many to be considered typographical errors. The “documents” are poor in Turkish grammar and language. They are full of expressions referring to the Turks as if they are blaming themselves. In some cases, the English of French version of a “document” is printed with no “original”. The copies of these “telegrams” do not exist in the Prime Minister’s Archives in Istanbul. One may suggest that the copies might have been destroyed.
The matter is not as simple as that. Signatures on the “documents” are also fake. For instance, the genuine signature of Mustafa Abdülhalik Bey is different from his supposed signatures in the Andonian books. Further, the Cipher Books at the official archives disclose that no such telegrams were sent on such prescribed dates. In some cases, two fake “telegrams” bear the same number, which is impossible. In one of the French “documents” the number of the dead Armenians is quoted as 95,000; in its English translation, the number goes up to 100,000. Some of the “documents” could not be signed by Mustafa Abdülhalik as the Governor of Aleppo, simply because he was not the Governor then. The Governor was Bekir Sami Bey, the former starting duty on September 27, 1331 (or October 10, 1915). Not knowing this, Andonian apparently had Mustafa Abdülhalik “signing” many “documents” previous to his taking up duties in Aleppo. There are genuine documents, for instance the one dated September 22, 1331, in the Turkish archives signed by Bekir Sami as the Governor of Aleppo. Mustafa Abdülhalik could not have signed a fake document, dated September 3, 1331, as the Governor of the same city, 19 days prior to that date (that is, September 22, 1331). There are also cases, in which Andonian’s “documents” match the copies in the archives only in terms of dates, but not the number, nor the subject matter. For instance, the cipher telegram dated September 3, 1331 ought to have been numbered 78 and not 502. And its subject matter is the need to dig artesian wells in several places on the Sinai. Some of the writings are on the kind of paper used in foreign schools or easily available from the local P.T.T. offices; such papers were never used as official records. Andonian also forgets that with each 1st of March as the New Year, official correspondence began to be numbered from 1; Andonian’s numbering, however, continues, frequently adding to these further blunders of date. One of his common errors is that he never adds 13 to the days of the month to find the miladi dates. Not knowing the actual cipher used by the Ottoman Government, he frequently made up his own, which does not correspond to the cipher system available in the archives.
The two “telegrams” that are frequently referred to and attributed to Talat Pasha are the ones numbered 819 and 1181 in Andonian’s book. The former is dated March, 7, 1332 (or March 20, 1916). No such telegram was sent from the Ministry of Interior to the Governor ship of Aleppo on that day. The only telegraph which bears this date is nevertheless numbered 9, and its subject matter is the Armenians in Antep. Andonian has again erred, having forgotten that documents begin being numbered with 1 starting with the 1st of March. It is unreasonable to think that 819 telegrams might have been sent from Istanbul to Aleppo within a short span of 7 days. Moreover, on that very day, a different kind of cipher was being used for official correspondence than the one apparently made up by Andonian.
As to the second “notorious telegram” it is suspicious that number 1181 does not appear in the French and the English “texts”. The Turkish and the English “texts” bear September 16, 1915 as the date while the French version is dated September 15, 1915. Here, Talat Pasha “refers” to the total destruction of all Armenians and “uses” a style of language that is meant to be a “confession”. On that day, a telegram was indeed sent, but it was numbered 84, not 1181, and its subject was the postponement of the transfers of the Armenians working on the railroads. Andonian’s cipher system again fails to correspond with the system used then. Andonian was slanderously careless with the numbers of his “documents”. The one we are dealing with now bears “1181”, but his other “document” dated September 3, 1331 is numbered 502, and still a third dated September 29, 1331 is identified as 537. How can a document, squeezed in between these two dates, namely allegedly written on September 16, 1331 be registered as 1181?
Gérard Chaliand and Yves Ternon in their book entitled Le Génocide des Arméniens, state (on p. 136) that the Andonian “documents”, if authentic, have particular importance. This is how authentic they are! Incidentally, the first photograph that these two French writers offer their readers (on p. 147) as depicting Enver Pasha is of course incorrect; the picture is of Djemal Pasha -just to give an idea how reliable some documentation’s may be!
The Governor of Aleppo, who seems to figure out prominently in Andonian’s book, was exiled to Malta by Britain on June 7, 1920; his exile number was 2800. The British searched the Ottoman archives, used the Armenian Church reports, resorted to witness accounts and finally applied to the Government of the United States requesting the latter to provide them with evidence, if any. Official replies on June 1, 1921 and July 23, 1921 expressed regret that they could not find proof to convict any of the detainees at Malta.
But these momentous developments did not prevent the Daily Telegraph for instance, from publishing in its May 29 1922, issue some of the Andonian “documents”. After all, Turkey was then in the midst of a national liberation movement.
Had these “documents” not been concerned with the Turks and the Armenians, no historian, writer, correspondent, politician, or any commentator would have even touched them. It is obvious that, objectively speaking, there is enough doubt, to say the least, as to their authenticity. Authors Orel and Yuca have reproduced several authentic document, which further destroy whatever remains of Andonian’s made-up telegrams.
*Dr. Ataöv is Professor emeritus of International Relations and a former Director of the Department of International Relations at the University of Ankara (Turkey). He is member of the Executive Council of the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Geneva).