"My Hypothesis Is That Turkey Has Three Documents"

Mikayel Aharonian
Translated by Vartan Matiossian
This is an interview conducted with Dr. Ruben Safrastian, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia and corresponding member of the Academy. 

- Mr. Safrastian, let's speak about premeditation of genocide...
- Let me tell you that genocide is different from other offenses, because it has been criminalized by the UN document of 1948. The most differing circumstance that makes genocide a genocide is premeditation. How can it be proved? If it is proved that there is premeditation on the part of the state, then that is genocide. If there is no proof of premeditation, then it means that it is a case of massacre or massive killing.   

- Mr. Safrastian, how is it possible to prove premeditation? Isn't it a state plan and, without any doubt, totally secret?
- There are two ways to prove premeditation. The first is the study of the action, namely, the process of genocide. Let's say, you study the process in full and through the combination, comparison, and analysis of different episodes you come to the conclusion that there is premeditation in their foundation. The second variant is the documents. The documents, in that case, are presented as a plan, because a genocide is premeditated and has a plan. Nowadays genocide is considered a contemporary crime, and a widespread crime indeed, with the involvement of various state structures. If it is possible to reveal the genocidal plan, then there is ultimate premeditation, and if there is premeditation, then there is genocide.

- According to your calculations, are there official documents that may prove the existence of genocide?
- If we talk about concrete historical events, there have been  three documents, that is my hypothesis, that express the premeditation of genocide and present a blueprint of how to execute it. Those three documents are the following. The first is a document approved around late January-early February 1915, which represents the conclusions of a secret meeting of five leaders of the Ottoman Empire. The sixth one took notes. The participants in the meeting were Talaat, Behaeddin Shakir, Dr. Nazim, Djanpolad, Colonel Seyfi and another colonel who wrote down the details of the meeting. That document is composed of ten points and, if we look at it with some depth, in my view, it is one of the basic documents. It was first known in 1919 through Armenian newspapers. England was operating at the time in the Ottoman Empire, they wanted to put the Young Turk leaders on trial and they were preparing the trial. The documents appeared in the hands of the British at the time and was later printed in the Armenian press. Other details were discovered much later in the English archives with relation to that document. The English wanted to arrest the sixth person who had written down the document. The colonel wanted to sell the document to them. They, indeed, took the document and did not give the money, but he managed to escape or was just set free.
The second document, in my opinion, was signed on May 24 by the Entente powers, when England, France, and Russia made a special statement about Turkey, "that we have information that terrible killings are being committed in Armenian, organized by the Turkish authorities, and the members of the Ottoman government are being held personally responsible for that." That document was transmitted by news agencies through the telegraph.
Talaat worked as a telegrapher for two years in Salonica, and when he got important posts later, he took the telegraphic machine home. When any telegraphic communication came to the Ottoman Empire, he was the first to read it. One day after this declaration, on May 25, he wrote a report to the government and to the Ministry of Defense, Enver, demanding that the Ministry of Defense also participated in this work. The genocide of the Armenians had already started in February by his orders. He feared that he would be the only responsible for that order. There is an intriguing expression in that document: "To give a final solution to the Armenian rebellions, we must exile, deport them." In fact, this means that the exile is executed to give a final solution to the Armenian Question. The decision of the government becomes, actually, the second basic document; namely, they deport the Armenians to give a final solution to the issue.
And the third document is the law approved by the government in violation of their legislation. The law on deportation was issued on June 1. According to that law, the responsibility lay on the army and personally on Enver. Taleat makes such a maneuver to come dry out of the water, as they say. There is an interesting formulation in that law: "Ïf the commander of an army division settled anywhere feels that Armenians may carry any damaging operation, he is under the duty of executing the deportation of Armenians." As a matter of fact, the army is ordered to carry that deportation. At the time, all this was published in the official newspaper, and only that newspaper remained as proof; all other documents were falsified since 1918, the Turks started to distort the documents.
- Mr. Safrastian, in your opinion, what's the state of the Ottoman archives?
- You know, the Ottoman archives were in a very bad shape for a long time, because the Ottoman archives were not European archives. The Turks didn't have a tradition of maintaining archives. In the early 1930s, they even sold a part of the archives to the Bulgarians as paper. In the late 1980s, when the question of the genocide became more heated, they started to work in the cleanup of the archives and created special groups. Turgut Ozal was Turkey's president at the time. He declared that Turkish archives were open, but, at the same time, those groups started to clean the important archives. The archive of the government, let's say, was open, but the fundamental resolutions had been adopted by the Central Committee of the Young Turks.
- Does this mean that we don't have to overestimate Turkish archives?
- They can't have any influence, because the fact of genocide has already been argued, it's a fact. What has to be found in the archives to become a new discovery? In this case, we already have purpose, premeditation, and some fragments of the plan... Even if new details come out, the genocide has already been proved.
- They say that the Turkish archives are open before everybody. Is that the case for us too?
- Yes, Turkey officially says that Turkish archives are open. But that doesn't mean that all archives are open. I remember that in the late 1980s, when Turkey declared for the first time that the archives were open, a group of historians from Armenia and the Diaspora, including myself, prepared a catalog and requested a permit to study those archives from the government of Turkey. But they rejected it. They said that such a thing was not yet possible.
After that, I only know the name of two Armenians who worked in the Turkish archives, but both on subjects unrelated to the genocide. They were definitely allowed…
- Isn't there a matter of language in those archives?
-- That's a very important question. Many people think that if someone reads Ottoman Turkish, he/she may work in the Ottoman archives. That's wrong, because to master Ottoman Turkish does not mean that you can work in the Ottoman archives. Working in the Ottoman archives entails knowledge of the inner workings of the Ottoman state administrative system, which requires a lot of time. The chances of confusion grow when you don't know everything. Plus, the most important question remains: what are you actually looking for? Because it's very hard to estimate, based only on their information, the nature of the document.
- Mr. Safrastian, a final question. Certain documents have been posted in Turkish websites. Can they have any important meaning?
-- First I would like to say that those documents have been posted in several languages. First the original text, then modern Turkish and sometimes an English version. I have discovered many differences in those translations. It means that if someone do not masters Ottoman Turkish and only reads modern Turkish or English, cannot see those differences. I think it is being done on purpose. They have posted many things on the Internet, but you still have to know what you are looking for.


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