Kharpert 1915: A Proposal to Turkish Colleagues for a Case Study on the Armenian Genocide

Kharpert 1915: A Proposal to Turkish Colleagues for a Case Study on the Armenian Genocide 1. A PUBLIC STATEMENT FROM THE GOMIDAS INSTITUTE (LONDON) DATED 20 FEBRUARY 2007

On 16 March 2006 Ara Sarafian participated at a symposium in Istanbul University where he presented a paper on the Armenian Genocide. Following his paper, Sarafian was asked by the head of the Turkish Historical Society, Yusuf Halaçoğlu, for cooperation on joint projects concerning the events of 1915. Sarafian agreed to work on such project but Halaçoğlu did not follow up on his offer.

In a recent interview with the Turkish journal Nokta (February 2007), Sarafian was asked if there had been any cooperative work underway with Halaçoğlu. He answered that nothing had been forthcoming but that did not rule out future projects. He then voiced a possible joint project with historians working in Turkey. His offer was made in earnest and the following is a record from his notes.

"I have a very basic research proposal. Let's take a case study. The Turkish official thesis maintains that the deportations of 1915 were an orderly affair and all relevant records on those deportations can still be found in Ottoman archives in Turkey. According to the formal administration of deportations, there should be lists of all deportees, village by village, person by person, showing when people were deported, where they were sent, and how they were resettled. There should be records of their original properties and how they were compensated at their places of exile.

"So, I suggest that we take the Harput plain as a case study and allow historians in Turkey to submit relevant Ottoman records regarding the deportation and resettlement of Armenians from this area. Do these records really account for the fate of Armenians in this region? How many Armenians were deported? How many were allowed to stay behind? And what happened to them? What are the strengths and limitations to the Ottoman records at hand?

"I, for my part, propose to present a different set of records which, in my opinion, reflect why I believe that Armenians in this region were not simply deported but subjected to a policy of abuse and massacre. Again, what are the strengths and limitations of these materials? And how can we assess these two sets of information? How far do they agree or disagree with each other?

"The reason I ask to use Harput as a case study is because we have a lot of information outside of Turkey on this region, and the local history of this area was not overly complicated by major wartime disruption or Russian occupation as in the case of Erzrum or Van. A Harput case study should be a relatively straightforward exercise, which we would undertake in an open and scholarly manner.

"If we can get such a project underway, perhaps we can invite other historians to cooperate, and then expand these case studies to other regions."

If Sarafian's offer to Halaçoğlu and other historians in Turkey gets underway, it will offer the prospect of answering some very important questions relating to the events of 1915. It will also open the possibility of further cooperation between a wider network of scholars working on the Armenian issue. The importance of such an initiative cannot be overstated, but the success of such an initiative will also depend on the support it receives from other scholars, individuals and public bodies. If you would like to support this initiative through the Gomidas Institute, please contact us at



Last week the Gomidas Institute offered to begin a case study of the events of 1915 and the fate of Armenians in the Harput region of the Ottoman Empire. [20Feb07PressRelease.htm] Dr. Halaçoğlu, the head of the Turkish Historical Society, was kind in responding immediately and accepting the proposal.

In a private email, I thanked Dr. Halaçoğlu for accepting my offer and took the opportunity to explain that I will be discussing some aspects of our projected work with other parties so that I can fund raise and contact scholars to cooperate with the proposed project. I could not discuss any project with Dr. Halaçoğlu until I had an agreement in principle from him. I now have such an agreement which is noteworthy for its spirit of cooperation and academic engagement.

The core of our work and our commitment so far, based on the proposal I made to Dr. Halaçoğlu, is the following:
  1/ The Gomidas Institute will present Dr. Halaçoğlu relevant records which explain why we think the events of 1915 in the Harput region should be called "abuse," "massacre" and "genocide," and not simply a deportation program (tehcir).
  2/ Dr. Halaçoğlu will present Ottoman records which detail how deportations were implemented in Harput and its surrounding villages. He will show deportation records, family by family and village by village, accounting for the deportation and resettlement of each village from the Harput area.
  3/ We will then critically examine the materials presented in each set of records and see if either one can make a convincing case. Perhaps both set of records may have merits, or both may be flawed. We will examine the nature of agreement and disagreement between the two sets of records. We will then make these records, as well as our deliberations, open to the scrutiny of others.

The proposed work will have three key stages:
  1/ We will collect documentary materials for our respective positions.
  2/ We will examine the data presented by our colleagues on the other side.
  3/ We will then discuss the two sets of information side by side.

The Gomidas Institute is already planning for (a) the collection of published, archival and audio sources in English, Armenian and German languages related to the events of 1915; (b) the organization of such data so that they can be readily utilized by all; (c) the use of these sources to present an argument about the events of 1915 in Harput. The Institute will list much of this data on its website so that interested parties may contribute or scrutinize our work.

The above discussion reflects my understanding of the proposal I made to Dr. Halaçoğlu on 20 February 2007 . However, the final course of action, including all details, are subject to discussion with Dr. Halaçoğlu. I hope to see Dr. Halaçoğlu in person to discuss these matters soon.


by Nora Vosbigian  London, 7 March 2007

Today the Gomidas Institute issued its third statement on its proposal to work on a case study with Turkish historians regarding the treatment of Armenians in Harput in 1915.1 The Institute's latest statement follows a comment made by Dr. Yusuf Halaçoğlu, the head of the Turkish Historical Society, that vital Ottoman records on the 1915 deportation of Armenians - including in Harput - do not exist in Turkish archives today.

These "non-existent" records are directly related to two Ottoman decrees which Turkish official historians have claimed regulated the deportation and resettlement of Ottoman Armenians in 1915. These were the 30 May 1915 regulations on deportations,2 and the 10 June 1915 regulations on the resettlement of deportees, the liquidation of their properties, and their compensation in their places of exile.3

The Gomidas Institute had asked, based on these regulations, to examine the registers showing details of Armenians who were deported from the Harput plain, as well as the resettlement records accounting for the fate of these deportees further a field. According to these regulations, all deported Armenian had to be registered, person by person (or household by household), village by village; the properties of deportees had to be recorded and liquidated; when the deported were resettled in their places of exile, they had to be compensated in proportion to their original assets. According to these regulations, Ottoman officials had to generate meticulous deportation, resettlement and compensation records which accounted for Armenians who were deported in 1915.

On Monday 26 February 2007 Dr. Halaçoğlu appeared on CNN- Turk's "Manşet" programme where he stated, categorically, that the Ottoman records the Gomidas Institute had asked to examine did not exist. Halaçoğlu stated that : "He [Sarafian] well knows about the archives. He also knows that there are no records for each village listing persons by name. There are no such records. If there were, they would not pose a problem for us. It would be better to produce them."4 To date Dr. Halaçoğlu has not contacted and explained himself to the Gomidas Institute.

It is not clear how Dr. Halaçoğlu could make such a categorical statement about the non-existence of the Ottoman records we had asked for, given the texts of the Ottoman regulations governing deportations in 1915, or the fact that there are many Ottoman archives in Turkey, and not all Ottoman records in these archives are catalogued. Until there is further clarification, Dr. Halaçoğlu's statement only raises some fundamental questions:

1. Were Ottoman regulations on the 1915 deportations implemented according to the letter of the law? If so, why are we told that the registers related to this mass transfer of people are missing? Are all records missing, for the whole Empire, in both local as well as central archives?

2. If these regulations were not implemented, how was the movement of Armenians, the liquidation of their properties, and the resettlement of deportees regulated? Is it conceivable that none of these regulations were implemented for the whole of the Ottoman Empire from Erzeroum to Yozgat, Izmit and Kayseri? If so, where is the archival trail in Ottoman archives associated with the actual course of events?

3. Is it possible that no records were kept for either deportation or resettlement? If so, was this the case for the whole of the Ottoman Empire, and why were no records kept?

4. If records were kept and then destroyed, why and when were they destroyed? And were they destroyed for the whole of the Ottoman Empire, in both local as well as central archives in Turkey?

5. Is it possible that Dr. Halaçoğlu might be mistaken? Might some of the records we have asked for exist? Is it possible that there might be deportation records, as well as records related to the liquidation of Armenian properties, but no corresponding resettlement records?

According to Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute, London), "Primary sources outside of Turkey indicate that the 1915 deportation of Armenians and the liquidation of their properties were regulated by Ottoman state authorities. Armenians were deported under the auspices of Ottoman officials. And most deportees were killed through privations and outright massacres on their way or in their places of exile (most notably Der Zor). Our sources indicate that there never was a resettlement programme as historians defending the official Turkish thesis suggest."

The Gomidas Institute hopes that Dr. Halaçoğlu will explain why he thinks that the Ottoman deportation and resettlement registers the Gomidas Institute requested do not exist--especially those on Harput and its environs.

1. For the first two Gomidas Institute statements see and For the third statement (in Turkish) see
2 Ottoman Ministry of Interior, Department of Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants, "Regulations Related to Settlement and Board and Lodging and Other Affairs of Armenians Relocated to Other Places Because of War Conditions and Emergency Political Requirements, May 30, 1915" in Turkish Prime Ministry Directorate-General of Press and Information, Documents on Ottoman Armenians, Vol. 2 [n.d.], Document no. 12, pp. 91-93.  See copy
3 "The Regulation Concerning the Management of the Land and Properties Belonging to Armenians Who Have Been Sent Elsewhere as a Result of the State of War and the Extraordinary Political Situation" in Turkish Prime Ministry Directorate-General of Press and Information, Documents [on Ottoman Armenians], Vol. 1 [n.d.], Document no. 28, pp. 76-80. See copy
4 The Turkish transcript of what Dr. Halacoglu said is as follows: "Arşivlerin nasıl olduğunu kendisi [Sarafian] gayet iyi biliyor. Orada her köyden tek tek, isim isim kimlerin nakledilmiş olduğunu bulamayacağını kendisi de biliyor. Öyle bir kayıt zaten yok. olmuş olsa zaten bizim için problem olmaz, daha güzel ortaya konabilir."
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