Monday, July 21, 2014

In the Shadow of 1915: Reflections on Hrant’s Assassination

 By on July 21, 2014

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The Armenian Weekly April 2014 Magazine
Seven years have passed since Hrant Dink’s assassination and those who planned his murder remain free. While the search for justice continues with a second round of trials, there seems to be insufficient political will to uncover the truth. With these new trials, I am reminded of Karl Marx’s famous adage about history repeating itself—the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Frustrating as this may be, political will is precisely what prevents the Turkish justice system from discovering the guilty parties.
Friends and admirers of Hrant are understandably angry: How can the conspirators responsible for his assassination still be unknown? How can a single murder case last so long? The reasons are suggested in a “Tweet” posted by Prime Ministerial Advisor Hamdi Kilic on Jan. 2, 2014: “There is something known as ‘state tradition’ in this country; it still exists. It’s enough to read a little history to understand this.”
Kilic is right; the obstruction of justice in the Hrant Dink case is one of these disturbing “reflexes.” If we had simply read a little history, we would have understood what was transpiring in the trials of Hrant’s attackers. For a long time, Turks protesting Hrant’s murder resisted seeing the connection with the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Some were even angered by those who tried to suggest such a link. Yet, his assassins were well aware of this connection, and that is why they killed him. In deconstructing some of the founding myths of the Turkish state, Hrant threatened its traditions, and that is why his real killers remain free. His murder, as Kilic recognized, was an example of the Turkish state’s “traditional” reflexes.

Hrant murdered in revenge for Talat Pasha
Hrant Dink was killed in revenge for the assassination of Talat Pasha, the architect of the Armenian Genocide. Everything about his murder suggested a “vengeance operation” for the 1921 conspiracy to assassinate Talat Pasha in Berlin. This, for example, accounts for the decision to murder Hrant Dink in public rather than to kidnap him, kill him, and throw his remains in some remote location—the way all the other “unknown perpetrator” crimes have been committed in Turkey. The conspirators deliberately chose to come up from behind and to shoot him in the head on the street, in front of Agos, the newspaper he edited. The operation mirrored precisely how Talat Pasha was killed. His attackers wanted revenge for the murder of Talat Pasha, and they did so by targeting Hrank Dink.
As 2015 approaches… the Turkish state will undertake a search for so-called “Good Armenians”—and it will find them! It will use these puppets as a counter-weight to the “intransigent,” “belligerent,” and “uncompromising” Armenians in the diaspora.
We know that when Yasin Hayal, one of Hrant’s assassins, was released from prison after serving his sentence for the 2004 McDonalds bombing in Trabzon, he spoke with his father about Talat Pasha. “Do you know how Talat Pasha was killed?” he asked his father, adding, “Did you know that the person who killed Talat Pasha wasn’t punished? He was set free.”
Soghomon Tehlirian, a young man who witnessed the murder of his family during the genocide, assassinated Talat Pasha in broad daylight on March 15, 1921, on a Berlin street. The assailant approached Talat and, after confirming his identity, fired his pistol at the former Ottoman Interior Minister’s head. Hrant was killed in the same fashion.
This isn’t the only similarity between the killings: Although Tehlirian attempted to flee the scene of the crime, he was quickly apprehended. In fact, those who planned the attack on Talat wanted him to remain at the scene and to surrender himself to the authorities. Likewise, documents connected to the investigation surrounding Hrant Dink’s murder suggest that the plan was for his young assailant, Ogun Samast, to remain at the murder scene instead of fleeing. Everything was supposed to be just as in 1921. The aim was both to take revenge for Talat Pasha’s murder and to remind the Armenians that the genocide of 1915 had been carried out in order to silence them. The plotters were saying, “We established this Republic on the foundation of the Armenians’ annihilation, and since 1915 we do not give Armenians the right to speak freely on these lands.”

Muammer Guler and Dr. Resit
The case of Dr. Mehmed Resit, the Unionist governor of Diyarbakir during the Armenian Genocide, further demonstrates the connection between the events of 1915 and the murder of Hrant Dink. I would like to compare this man, who was personally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Armenians, with Muammer Guler, who was the governor of Istanbul at the time of Hrant’s assassination in 2007 and was complicit in creating a climate conducive to the crime. It is then possible to extend the comparison of past and present figures to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Talat Pasha. The comparison works despite the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan attempted to resolve the Kurdish problem through peaceful means and has apologized—albeit half-heartedly and with the actual intention of needling the Republican Peoples Party and earning credit with voters—on behalf of the state for the massacres at Dersim in 1937-38.
In July 1915, the German Consul at Mosul reported to his superiors that some 2,000 Christians in Mardin and Diyarbakir, the majority of them Armenians, had been taken from their cities overnight and “slaughtered like sheep.”1 The consul claimed to have received this information from the district governor of Mardin and demanded that measures be taken to prevent such crimes. The German Embassy in Istanbul passed the information on to Interior Minister Talat Pasha, who then sent a cable to Governor Mehmed Resit, in which he repeated the information he had received, including the phrase “slaughtered like sheep.” Clarifying the target of the massacres, he issued the following order: “It is categorically prohibited for disciplinary measures imposed in regard to the Armenians to be implemented against other Christians.” And he demanded an immediate cessation to such measures “that might endanger the lives of [other] Christians.”2
Despite this cable, the indiscriminate massacres of Christians in the Diyarbakir province continued. In a July 22 telegram, Talat wrote to Dr. Resit stressing that the government’s policy of annihilation should be implemented against the Armenians, and no other Christians. He mentioned that “complaints are being received” and ordered the provincial governor to cease this practice, which “will put us in a difficult situation.”3
Armenians seeking recognition of the Armenian Genocide seek justice. Turks striving for democracy and human rights strive for freedom. The relationship between these goals is complex because they address separate problems. The attainment of one does not automatically bring about the righting of past injustices.
Nonetheless, Resit continued the massacres without differentiating between Armenians and other Christians. Finally, on Aug. 2, Talat sent a third telegram, complaining that reports of massacres continued to be received and that, “despite our having sent numerous cables, the Christians in the province continue to be killed.” He repeated that the government viewed the situation as intolerable. In the message, Talat reminded Resit that he was an official of the state and “as a [state] official, he was therefore obligated to carry out the orders he received without exception.” Finally, there was an explicit warning: Resit would be held directly responsible “for all activities and incidents by bandits and armed gangs.”4
These cables were transmitted in coded form. Their content was intelligible to only a few people, including Talat, Resit, and the government functionaries who sent or decoded them. No investigations transpired and no sanctions were imposed against Dr. Resit as a consequence of opposing or ignoring government orders that resulted in upwards of 2,000 persons being “slaughtered like sheep.” Indeed, the outcomes were the very opposite. Hilmi, the Mardin District’s official, who was opposed to the murderous actions of Governor Resit and who informed the German Consul of these crimes, was removed from his position.5 Even more significant, on account of their “successful” implementation of anti-Armenian policies in Diyarbakir, the security personnel who worked under Resit were awarded medals. A July 28, 1915 telegram orders the “promotion of some of the police and commissars who were instrumental in the arrest of Armenian committee leaders and other members in the province of Diyarbakir;” others received monetary awards or medals.6
Resit, who deported and killed thousands of Syriac and Armenian Christians from Diyarbakir and its environs, was eventually called to account—not for the mass murders he had ordered, but for keeping precious jewelry and other valuables from the deportation. An official message demanded that he “send to the capital” the confiscated items, as he had promised. An Oct. 6, 1915 telegram, with the special note “to be handled personally,” informed Resit that the government “has received reports that you have confiscated” monies, jewels, and other items belonging “to the Armenians who were deported and subjected to attack on the way.” The cable demanded information on the amount of gold and jewelry present, as well as the manner in which their records were kept. The subject that interested Talat was not the annihilation of these Christians, but the fate of the valuables confiscated from them.7
Eventually, Resit was rewarded with an appointment as governor of Ankara in recognition of his services. Yet, he was ultimately removed from this post and subjected to a criminal investigation for the misappropriation of the confiscated Armenian property and possessions. It seems that Resit attempted to purchase a seaside mansion in Istanbul with the Armenian jewelry he had confiscated, but when Talat caught word of this he had him removed from his position. The journalist Suleyman Nazif summed up the situation succinctly: “The same Resit that Talat Pasha had esteemed as a murderer…he removed from office for being a thief.”8 As Prime Ministerial Advisor Hamdi Kilic said, “There is something known as ‘state tradition’ in this country; it still exists. It’s enough to read a little history to understand this.” History shows that while the Armenian Genocide was taking place, the state praised Resit and others for murdering Christians, but condemned him for theft.
Returning to the comparison between Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler and Diyarabakir Governor Mehmed Resit, we find a similar lack of accountability. Like Resit, Guler was never called to account for the murder, but rather was rewarded for his loyal service—first with a seat as an AKP parliamentarian and later, by being appointed as Interior Minister. Ironically, he too was subsequently removed from his post for bribery and corruption. Nor was the situation different in the case of the police officials involved in Hrant’s case. All received promotions in the wake of the murder, just as in Diyarbakir in 1915. With history as our guide, we can appreciate why the real culprits in Hrant Dink’s murder have not been found.
Ninety years of state-sponsored denial have so blinded the public that we cannot conceive of the relationship between the 1915 genocide and the murder of Hrant Dink. But while the Turkish government has pushed us to forget the events of 1915, state officials have not forgotten. Turks grow uneasy at the mention of “genocide,” and calls for “genocide recognition” cause us to flee in terror before some unknown retribution. We resist using Hrant’s death as an opportunity to face up to history, to see the connection between that history and the killing of an Armenian newspaper editor. We are made to forget Hrant although he is the key—the key to the 40th chamber in the Arabian Nights fable, the one that others do not want opened, the key that is given to the heroes of those tales. We have a treasure chamber in our old houses where all of our secrets are kept. And Hrant is the key to that room. If the Hrant Dink murder case is ever solved, the secrets behind the establishment of the Turkish Republic will be revealed. But, sadly, in the present government, there is neither the courage nor the will to furnish the key, because the government is heir to these “state traditions,” and the “keepers of its secrets.”

Hrant and the diaspora
I predict that as 2015 approaches, Turkey will attempt to create an atmosphere of “reconciliation.” Appearing ready to resolve the Armenian issue, Turkey will portray Armenians in the diaspora as uncompromising “sectarians.” For this purpose, the Turkish state will undertake a search for so-called “Good Armenians”—and it will find them! It will use these puppets as a counter-weight to the “intransigent,” “belligerent,” and “uncompromising” Armenians in the diaspora. They will seek to pit their “Good” Armenians against the “Bad” Armenians of the diaspora. And they will use Hrant for this purpose, too. They will find the criticisms Hrant leveled at the Armenian Diaspora and use them without hesitation. Hrant’s own words will be exploited as a part of a new wave of hostility toward the Armenian Diaspora.
Do not be duped by this cynical scenario! Hrant criticized certain circles within the Armenian Diaspora, and some Diasporan Armenians criticized him. But he did so because he recognized that some diaspora groups could not see that the final struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide would ultimately be fought and won within Turkey itself, in Anatolia. When we spoke by telephone, he frequently urged me to “tell those friends of yours that they should come and be part of the struggle here. The genocide took place on these lands, and its recognition will also occur here.”
Diasporan Armenians don’t readily appreciate that the struggle for recognition of the genocide is linked to the struggle for democracy in Turkey. At the same time, some Turks fail to grasp that the diaspora’s struggle to attain recognition is part of the Turkish struggle for democracy. The majority of those in the diaspora are uninterested in the Turkish struggle to achieve democracy and human rights; and many struggling for democracy within Turkey are hostile toward the Armenian Diaspora’s insistence on genocide recognition.
These tensions derive from the conflation of complementary goals. Armenians seeking recognition of the Armenian Genocide seek justice. Turks striving for democracy and human rights strive for freedom. The relationship between these goals is complex because they address separate problems. The attainment of one does not automatically bring about the righting of past injustices. The United States, for example, is a free and democratic country, yet its Native American population continues to pursue justice. And the search for justice by the indigenous peoples of Australia and Canada also continues. Thus, we need to both see and understand this one thing: In Turkey today it is essential that we not juxtapose freedom and justice; we must instead create a shared language and intellectual foundation in our search for both. We do not have to sacrifice one in our search for the other.
Hrant sought to construct a shared language for his struggle and that of the diaspora. He dreamed of staging a large diaspora conference for this purpose. Hrant’s murder demonstrated the absolute necessity for this “shared language,” as well as the error of attempting to conceive of the struggle for freedom in Turkey at the expense of recognition and acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. It has shown us that this recognition must be a shared demand of people in both the diaspora and in Turkey. The struggles for freedom and justice complete one another and must not be seen as either contradicting or opposing. If we understand what Hrant was trying to do, we must bring together these two struggles as one: the diaspora’s demand for recognition of the Armenian Genocide with the struggle in Turkey for human rights and democracy. Those wishing for a democratic Turkey that respects human rights must merge their struggle with that of the Armenian Diaspora. They must invite diasporans to Turkey and join their struggle to have the Armenian Genocide recognized abroad. And they must remember: The Armenian Diaspora is not their enemy but their friend, a valuable colleague who, due to the decades of denial by the Turkish state, has unfortunately grown accustomed to looking at things through cynical and mistrusting eyes.
If Hrant had lived, he would have joined the Armenian Diaspora. This is not idle speculation; I know of that which I speak. Hrant was never ignorant of 1915 the way many of us were. Every day of his life, he experienced the connection between the genocide and what he had to face; he felt it in his very bones. When his sentence was approved, he was serious about wanting to leave Turkey and walking, with his entire family, from his hometown of Malatya, on the path of deportation taken by his ancestors, all the way to the Der-Zor desert in northeastern Syria. “Just like my forefathers, they don’t want me to remain here,” he would say. “And if so, then there’s no point in my doing so. I’ll travel the path that they took.” In other words, Hrant saw the Armenian Diaspora as one of his options. With him, we must understand that some categories are meaningless and incorrect, like the categorization of a monolithic Armenian Diaspora, single-mindedly fixed on revenge and of the overarching conception of the “evil Turk.” These need to be discarded into the dustbin of history.

Hrant and the word ‘genocide’
When speaking with Turks, Hrant was polite and gracious enough to avoid the word “genocide.” “I know what was done to my people,” he would say, “but if my use of the word ‘genocide’ will be used against me as an excuse not to listen to the things I have to say, then I won’t use it.” Despite his extreme sensitivity and gentility in the matter, the authorities wanted to punish him anyway, claiming that he had used it—once! Before he was murdered, Hrant told me that he wanted to turn his trial for using the word ‘genocide’ into an historical showcase. “I will state that ‘Yes, 1915 was a genocide,’ and I will then turn the trial into a history course.” But they didn’t give him the chance.
Hrant Dink was murdered because he wanted to deconstruct Turkey’s founding myths. Those who planned the murder—the real culprits—have received promotions and praise for doing so. The sensitivity the government expressed over the confiscation of Armenian property was never shown toward the lives of Armenians. On the contrary, they oversaw the annihilation of a people. And the situation today is not so different! 1.5 million-plus-1. Hrant is the “plus-1.” Failing to recognize this, we cannot understand the crime or hope to solve it. As we approach the year 2015, the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian deportations and genocide, we won’t be able to confront this crime without first admitting to ourselves that, “Yes, 1915 was a genocide and it must be acknowledged as such.” And that “Hrant was murdered because he reminded us of the million-plus Hrants of 1915.”
Let Hrant Dink be a symbol for us. Let him be our Martin Luther King. Even as others in the past have gathered closely around Talat Pasha and his ilk, and even as they today gather around Erdogan and his, let us hold fast to Hrant. Let Hrant and the “1.5 million-plus-1” be our point of divergence between our republic and their republic. This is the only way that we can claim our Islamic selves, our Turkishness and/or our Kurdishness from the hands of murders —those of yesterday and of today.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sassounian: Turkish Counter-Efforts Help Publicize Genocide Centennial

Armenians in the U.S. and around the world were needlessly alarmed by a recent article in the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper titled, “Turkish Americans prepare ‘master plan’ for 2015.”
No one should be surprised that the Turkish government and affiliated organizations worldwide have been earnestly planning to counter commemorative activities being organized by the Armenian government and the diaspora for the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015.
Tolga Tanis reported in Hurriyet’s July 5 issue that the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) will invite Turkish-American groups to Washington in September to plan “proactive and active responses” to Armenian Centennial events.
ATAA reportedly will form Turkish “activist committees” to visit “lawmakers in each state, conduct social media campaigns, keep in touch with traditional media outlets, prepare online courses, and organize countrywide networking meetings for Americans.” Hurriyet also reported that ATAA will organize “at least 20 day-long conferences in partnership with local universities and with the participation of famous Turkish-Americans like Dr. Mehmet Oz and Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent.”
As part of its “reactive responses,” ATAA allegedly plans to counter:
– Articles, books, and films on the Armenian Genocide;
– Panels, conferences, and exhibitions organized by Armenians;
– “Anti-Turkish bills” in Congress.
Before Armenians get too excited about these purported Turkish schemes, the following questions must be asked:
– Is Hurriyet accurately reporting ATAA’s plans? The Turkish media is notorious for distorting facts and making up stories. Interestingly, no such announcement is found on ATAA’s website.
– If Hurriyet’s article is fully or even partly true, is it certain that ATAA will carry out any of its announced plans, or is this simply a propaganda ploy or fundraising effort?
As a starter, it has come to our attention that at least one critical part of Hurriyet’s story is a falsehood! Ara Khachatourian, the English editor of Asbarez newspaper, reported that a spokesman for the prominent TV personality has denied that Dr. Oz is involved in any way in Turkish denialist activities.
Likewise, I am trying to confirm if the alleged report about Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent’s involvement in genocide denial is accurate. It is noteworthy that Hurriyet has already amended its initial report, adding a disclaimer, possibly after complaints from Oz and Kent about the unauthorized and inaccurate use of their names: “The two individuals whose names are mentioned in the article above (Dr. Mehmet Oz and Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent) are two prominent figures on a long list of accomplished Turkish Americans who will be invited to speak at community events. They have no knowledge of or involvement in ATAA’s plans.”
I wish Oz and Kent were actually involved in Turkish denialist efforts, which would have triggered a worldwide boycott of Dr. Oz’s TV show and Coca Cola products. This would have provided Armenians a golden opportunity for publicity on the Armenian Genocide Centennial that no amount of money could buy.
Moreover, my fervent hope is that Hurriyet’s article will turn out to be totally accurate and that ATAA will carry out fully all of the promised activities. The more often Turkish denialists raise the Armenian Genocide issue, trying to counteract the established historical facts, the more they are inadvertently publicizing the Genocide Centennial, and thereby disgracing themselves in the eyes of the world!
While Armenians are unable to make their voices heard loudly in the international arena, in an ironic twist Turkey’s influential public relations firms in Washington would be of tremendous assistance! Equally helpful are the public pronouncements of Turkish leaders, such as the one by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 23, 2014, despite their denialist content. As an unintended consequence, ATAA’s anti-Centennial efforts will prompt the international media to pay ever greater attention to the continuing injustice suffered by Armenians, by providing more coverage to the planned commemorations.
Although Turkish counter-strategies should receive adequate scrutiny, Armenians should pay more critical attention to whether they are preparing themselves appropriately to observe the Centennial in the global arena, given the immense loss of the 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. By being overly obsessed with the sinister actions of Turkish denialists, Armenians may not be focusing sufficiently on their own obligation to honor the sacred memory of the victims and to demand justice!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ferllini and Croft: The Case of an Armenian Mass Grave

By Roxana Ferllini and Alexandra M. Croft
The Armenian Weekly April 2014 magazine
The following article is aimed at both the Armenian community and the general reader, with the intention of highlighting work conducted whilst exhuming a mass grave at Tell Fakhariyah, Ras al-Ain, in Syria during the summer of 2007. Although two of the authors (Roxana Ferllini and Alexandra M. Croft) had previously published the work and results of the exhumations in a peer reviewed journal, the information, for the most part, has not made its way to a general readership outside of academia. Yet, this topic retains information of great importance, and needs to be made available to the wider public, which is why its publication is being made available through the Armenian Weekly.
The content of this article will summarize the events and results of the 2007 archaeological season, including the discovery of coins, textiles, and buttons associated with the human remains. The memorial ceremony and storage of the recovered remains at Ras al-Ain’s Armenian church is also highlighted. These exhumations represent the first, and perhaps, only, rescue of Ottoman-Armenian remains via the utilization of scientific methodology, through the application of archaeology and forensic anthropology.
However, further work in additional sites that are believed to contain human remains at Tell Fakhariyah has not been realized to date, due to time and budgetary constraints. The areas in question have also suffered damage for many decades from the farming activities and animal husbandry carried out by the Syrian Wakf (Islamic Trust).
It has been reported that the site at Tell Fakhariyah has not been damaged from the civil war that began to engulf Syria in 2011. However, the fate of the Armenian church in Ras al-Ain is not known. It is there that the exhumed remains are contained, due to shelling from the ongoing civil conflict. Other sites that contain the remains of Ottoman Armenians have not been properly exhumed; what exactly has happened in those areas in not known at present, due to the continually volatile situation in the area.
A further consequence of the civil violence in Syria is the fate of the Armenian population that has inhabited Ras al-Ain for many decades, and who were extremely helpful at the time of the excavations in various ways, including providing background information about the concentration camp created during the genocide. Changes have likely taken place with respect to the Armenian presence in Ras al-Ain, due to the exodus of the resident population of the region.
Photographs within the article illustrate not only the work that was completed on site, but the other areas within Syria that are of interest, due to their connection with the Armenian Genocide.
The article (2009, Journal of Human Rights, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp. 229-244) is reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis LLC (
During the summer of 2007 at Ras al-Ain, in northeastern Syria, forensic archaeological exhumations took place at the archaeological site of Tell Fakhriya, involving a mass grave believed to hold the remains of Ottoman Armenians, who died at a nearby concentration camp after forced deportations by Ottoman officials. The objective of the forensic analysis of these remains was to obtain biological profiles of those buried within the grave. The exhumations conducted produced a minimum of 80 individuals in various states of skeletal preservation, including adults of both sexes and juveniles. The conclusions provided interesting results, some corroborating historical accounts, whilst also creating open questions. This work is believed to be the first conducted involving forensic archaeology and anthropology in connection to investigations of the Armenian Genocide.
Roxana Ferllini has worked in the fields of forensic archaeology and anthropology for the last 20 years. Her work has been conducted under a variety of circumstances, including consultancies for police forces in the United Kingdom and Costa Rica; she was also in charge of forensic anthropological work at a mass disaster incident in El Salvador. In the area of human rights, she has worked as part of investigations concerning mass killings in Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria, and Spain. During March 2008 her participation was requested in the role of an advisor during the discussion session “Search and Archaeological Exhumations of Human Remains in the Field and Cemeteries” held in Medellin, Colombia, entitled, “The Institutional Treatment of NNs in Colombia: Interdisciplinary Proposals from the Anthropological Point of View Regarding Non-identified Human Remains.” Most recently, she was invited to contribute suggestions pertaining to guidelines included within new legislation being prepared by the Spanish government dealing with mass grave investigations. She is currently the coordinator of the MSc in Forensic Archaeological Science at the University College London.
Railway network and death camps at Ras al-Ain, Aleppo and Der Zor, the latter an important final destination point (modified from the Armenian National Institute
Railway network and death camps at Ras al-Ain, Aleppo and Der Zor, the latter an important final destination point (modified from the Armenian National Institute
Alexandra M. Croft is a graduate of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, obtaining a B.A. (Hons) in archaeology in 2004, and a M.Sc. (Distinction) in forensic archaeological science in 2005. She has been excavating since 2001, on both urban and rural sites in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East. From 2006 to 2008, Alexandra worked for Pre-Construct Archaeology, London, United Kingdom. In 2005, she began working as an anthropologist and osteoarchaeologist, which led to her involvement in the Syrian excavation during the summer of 2007. In 2008 Alexandra worked with Kenyon International Emergency Services within mass disaster scenarios as a personal effects specialist. Her specific interests include skeletal trauma; in 2007 she published with her coauthor Roxana Ferllini, “Macroscopic Characteristics of Screwdriver Trauma” in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, volume 52, number 6.
The authors wish to give special thanks to Professor Dominik Bonatz of Freie Universitat Berlin and director of the archaeological project at Tell Fakhriya, Syria, who made this important work possible and also gave kind permission for its publication; to the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus, Syria, especially the director of archaeology and excavations Dr. Michel Maqdissi; and to Terres et Cultures in France for their financial contribution. Thanks are also extended to all who participated in the excavation, in many varied roles. To Mr. M. Burza, photographer on site, and to Mr. S. Laidlaw photographer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London for his input on illustrations prior to publication.

The Ottoman Empire, once composed of multiethnic groups, began to collapse at the start of the 20th century due to internal and external forces that applied pressure to its power base. As a result of the shift in political climate, a nationalistic policy was set into motion, which emphasized one ethnic nation with a single language and an intolerant view of other minority groups, in the hopes of reunifying the empire. By 1915 this policy was set firmly into place with a strategy that included the objective of eliminating the Ottoman-Armenian population (Waller 2007), which was considered to be a threat to political stability. The displacement and persecution of the Armenian population commenced during 1915 under the shadow of World War I. Although pogroms had taken place against this population at the end of the 19th century, claiming a large number of victims, the change of political climate caused the nature of the killings to evolve into a systematic approach, and at a much grander scale (Weitz 2003). Massive deportations took place into regions such as northern Syria and Mesopotamia. The effects of coordinated large-scale massacres, willful exposure to the harsh desert environment, thirst, hunger, and disease combined to cause the majority of the deaths (Fisk 2006). Mass killings had lessened considerably by 1918; however, they subsequently resumed at a lesser scale and ended in 1923 with the fall of the Ottoman Empire (Hovannisian 1992; Winter 2003). Resultantly, hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians perished in the process.
Field work conducted at Tell Fakhriya, 2007. (Photograph by M. Burza)
Figure 2: Field work conducted at Tell Fakhriya, 2007. (Photograph by M. Burza)
In order for this systematic approach to succeed effectively, an organized system had to be put into place (Dadrian 1986), which included selecting deportation routes and the geographic placement of facilities for the purposes of detaining and processing the deportees. Of interest here is the zone of northern Syria, and specifically the town of Ras al-Ain, the latter being situated along the modern border with Turkey, where exhumations of human remains took place in the summer of 2007. According to the oral accounts of local inhabitants, the remains were those of Ottoman Armenians associated with a concentration camp that was located in the same area during the deportation process.

Ottoman Armenians at the start of the genocide
Prior to the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian population was distributed throughout different social strata within the Ottoman Empire. There was however, a clear divide between the class of urban Armenian merchants living in large towns and cities mainly outside of Armenia, and the majority that belonged to the peasant class (Bournoutian 1994; Sonyel 1987). Those living in urban areas worked within a wide range of occupations, including banking, trading, printing, and shop keeping, whilst those residing in villages were largely engaged in agricultural activities centered around the propagation of crops of millet, wheat, barley, and tobacco, and the herding of sheep and cattle (Balakian 2005; Hoogasian Villa 1982). Habitually, men were responsible for ploughing and were still utilizing traditional methods and tools at that time (Hoogasian Villa 1982; Haxthausen 1854). Women and children would assist with gathering the crops during the harvest (Lynch 1901; Ghazarian
1997). Food processing was labor intensive, including the grinding of grain and preparing bread, milking, and churning. Women and young boys were responsible for maintaining the household water supply (Hoogasian Villa 1982; Lynch 1901).
Other activities engaged in by the Armenian population included cottage industries such as shoemaking, and many were employed as blacksmiths, tinsmiths, furriers, stonemasons, and as carpenters (Arkun 2005; Bournoutian 1998; Ghazarian 1997; Hoogasian Villa 1982; Sonyel 1987; Davis 1879; Petrosyan and Marutyan 2001). Dependent on the size of the village, some of these jobs would not necessarily be full time; hence their work activities would often alternate and return to agriculture and animal husbandry for the balance of the time (Hoogasian Villa 1982). Additionally, craft activities were a very important part of daily life, both to produce items for potential trade and sale but also as a means of sustaining a largely self-sufficient way of life through cotton and carpet weaving, lace, and embroidery (Ghazarian 1997; Poghosyan 2001a; Haxthausen 1854; Poghosyan 2001b; Sharambeyan 2001).
On April 24, 1915, the way of life and the very existence of extended family units ended when an extermination process was formally put into place with the directed assassinations of all of the influential and intellectual Armenians in Constantinople, including journalists, educators, priests, and businessmen. The purposes of this action were twofold: to kill those who were perceived as a threat to the political structure but also to commence the destabilization of the Armenian population as a whole. Some were tortured and killed while in custody, while others were openly executed in public areas. This incident set into motion further calculated events that included the disarming of Armenian men serving in the Turkish army, who were then placed into forced labor. In villages and urban areas, men were taken from their homes and once outside they were summarily executed; the balance of women, children, and older individuals were forcefully deported in what is often referred to as death marches or transported in cramped rail wagons. Meanwhile, their properties were looted, seized, or burnt, with the vast majority of individuals being expelled into the desert areas of northern Syria, Iraq, and beyond (Weitz 2003; Fisk 2006; Toynbee 1915; BBC 2003; Dadrian 1986; Slide 1997).

Death marches and Ras al-Ain
The majority of those who perished during the deportations died along forced marching routes, where it was customary for the dead to be abandoned and left unburied where they fell (Abbamontian 2007; BBC 2003; Dadrian 1986). The exact number of those who died is not known with certainty; however, it is estimated that approximately one million perished, a figure accounting for some 48 percent of the estimated total Armenian population at the time (Weitz 2003; Waller 2007).
Several methods were utilized to kill those being deported, yet it must be kept in mind that the physical environment into which these individuals were being forced was not only harsh but also one to which they were totally unaccustomed (Toynbee 1915). The combination of starvation and the lack of access to water were the main means used to kill the deportees; however, other methods included the killing of children through blunt force trauma, and with weapons such as bayonets; many were thrown into rivers by their own mothers before they were able to be killed. Pregnant women and old men were whipped and beaten during the marches (Arissian 2007; BBC 2003). Some families were bound up and thrown into rivers, or simply allowed to drown, with the Euphrates River being one of the most heavily used for this purpose (Fisk 2006; Weitz 2003). Others were burnt alive, beheaded, and mutilated by the means of a variety of weapons such as knives, swords, bayonets, clubs, and stones.
Many suffocated in caves, whilst dead bodies were placed into wells to contaminate potential water sources. Torture was openly practiced, in addition to the crucifixion of young women; gang rape and forced submission to sexual acts in order to procure food, water, and protection for other members of the group was also reported. Money had been confiscated, thereby leaving individuals unable to buy privileges, and often without any manner of clothing. Once dead, everything considered of value was taken from the bodies (Fisk 2006; Slide 1997; Waller 2007; Weitz 2003; Mugerditchian 1918; Kevorkian 1998a; Daily Mail 2007). These acts were reasonably straightforward to achieve as the environment in which they were conducted offered a propitious opportunity to commit the said killings en-masse (Dadrian 2003; K´evorkian 1998b).
Those who had survived the long journey south were gathered in concentration camps that were set up at prescribed points. It is reported that over 20 of these camps existed during these deportations; the majority located within what today comprises the northern borders of Syria and Iraq, an area known for its harsh and unforgiving desert environment. Such a camp was located at Ras al-Ain, and others further south, for example at Der Zor, which was a main and final destination point (Figure 1). The conditions in the camps were extremely dire, with diseases such as dysentery and typhus being rife (Daily Mail 2007; Armenian National Institute 2008; Arissian 2007; Nichanian 2007).
Accounts outlining the critical nature of the situation were conveyed by survivors, missionaries, foreign railway workers and foreign officials from the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In Syria, in the areas between Ras al-Ain and Aleppo, the arrival was reported of children, adults, and the elderly suffering from starvation, lack of clothing, and disease (Arissian 2007; Dadrian 1986; Daily Mail 2007). Despite this, photographic testimonies are few, as in the early part of 1916 the Turkish authorities forbade the recording of the events by camera (Armenian National Institute 2008).
Originally, Ras al-Ain had been a rather small village, situated north of the River Habur; however, the village grew and gained importance when the railway was constructed. The area was inhabited in the early part of the 20th century by groups of different ethnic backgrounds, who were either sedentary or nomadic. Some of these groups participated (as also happened in other areas along the deportation routes) in aiding the Ottoman Empire commit human rights abuses at different levels. Because of its geographical location and connection to the railway network (Figure 1), Ras al-Ain became an ideal arrival point, administrative center, and location to form a concentration camp (Armenian National Institute 2008; Kevorkian 1998b). The arrivals of Ottoman Armenians occurred by foot and by train, in extremely cramped wagons that held between 60 and 85 individuals indisposed to any means of personal hygiene. The majority emanated mainly from the western zone of Turkey (Yernon 2002; Kevorkian 1998a, 1998b, 1998c).
Once the concentration camp at Ras al-Ain was in place, torture, rape, massacres, and further deportations took place on a large scale (Fisk 2006; Kevorkian 1998b). There are various statements pertaining to the number of deportees arriving at Ras al-Ain; for 1915 it was reported at 4,500 (Toynbee 1915). At the beginning of February 1916, the number was estimated at 20,000, and by mid-February the estimate rose to 50,000 (Armenian National Institute 2008).
Survivors and those who witnessed the local conditions indicated that the camp was just outside the village, set upon a hill with thousands of makeshift tents, some of which barely provided sufficient cover from the scorching sun or the coldness of winter. Life was harsh, and often with the most basic of necessities, with the perpetual fear of physical aggression and of looters stealing the few remaining possessions the individuals may have managed to retain. Deportees died daily for a variety of reasons with some of the bodies remaining within the tents. Individuals who had managed to retain some material possessions used their funds in order to live in somewhat better conditions and to buy protection (Kevorkian 1998a, 1998d; Yernon 2002).
The large-scale killings took place in two waves, divided into those who died before November 1915 and those who perished between March and November of 1916; in the latter case, orders had arrived directly from Constantinople as the administration wanted the deportees to be eliminated (Yernon 2002; Kevorkian 1998b). According to the Armenian National Institute (2008) by mid April of 1916, the massacres in Ras al-Ain had taken the toll of 70,000 victims.
One survivor stated that at the beginning of March 1916, deportees were ordered to move on and to leave whatever they had behind; many were killed through the effects of beatings if they did not move quickly enough. These convoys were composed of groups, as the deportees were not sent out en-masse. Whilst on the road demands were still being made for money, with some victims having their stomachs slashed in order to search for coins (Kevorkian 1998d). Others were drowned in various rivers including the River Habur; after the genocide, skeletonized remains were reported along the bank of this river; although it has changed its course over time (Fisk 2006; Nichanian 2007).
During the respite from mass killings between December 1915 and March 1916 it is pointed out that between 13,000 to 14,000 Armenians continued to die. This occurred as a result of starvation, as many tried to subsist on the garbage they could find, and also from diseases, which turned any otherwise minor illness into a serious condition. Typhus was endemic among the deportees, with no medical attention being provided in order to eliminate further propagations. During that period, deportees who could provide a trade became involved in market activities such as crafts, providing for a few the means of shaping their lives somewhat for the better, and to enable the purchase of temporary protection (Yernon 2002; Kevorkian 1998c).
The above information is valuable in order to draw up a background upon which the events at Ras al-Ain took place; yet, it must be kept in mind that these sources do not necessarily spring from careful conducted censuses, but from estimated figures. What these sources do clearly illustrate pertains to the episodes of killing en masse, the modes utilized, and the living conditions within the camps.

Exhumations at Tell Fakhriya, Ras al-Ain
In the summer of 2006 archaeological excavations were conducted at the site of Tell Fakhriya (meaning “pottery sherd mound”), located to the south of Ras al-Ain and at the source of the River Habur (Tell Fecheriye 2008). During the field work, archaeologists under the direction of Prof. D. Bonatz, from Freie Universitat Berlin, unearthed several human remains close to the surface. These were believed to be part of an Armenian mass grave due to the excavation of coins found in context and also on oral accounts from the local Syrian-Armenian community, who indicated it to be a mass grave containing remains from the Armenian Genocide. Additionally, the locals pointed out the existence of a concentration camp nearby during the time when the deportations were in active progress. The authors became involved with the same group of archaeologists during the field season of 2007 (Figure 2) and carried out forensic exhumations, and the biological profiling (sex, age, stature, and individual traits) of the victims where possible; moreover, it was deemed important to determine the presence of and possible causes of trauma.
Although witnesses reported seeing bodies in various states of decomposition during the time that the events were actually taking place, and more recent generations of visiting Armenians reported the presence of skeletal remains (Fisk 2006; Weitz 2003), it is believed that this was the first intervention in which victims of the Armenian Genocide have been exhumed and properly documented using a forensic archaeological and anthropological approach.
When the forensic work commenced in the field, the area had suffered severe alteration due to many factors taking place over several decades, these being mainly the effects of agricultural and human intervention (Figure 3), causing the human remains present to become commingled, incomplete, and in some cases fragmented. Additionally, the effects of weathering caused variation in bone preservation, but the great majority of remains were in good enough condition to handle and analyze. The majority, 84 percent, were found in clusters, that is, bodies found in groups ranging in number from two individuals to seven. There was no continuum as expected for a mass grave; this was believed to have been a partial consequence of the area being utilized by the local population for many years, with many of the remains being lost, made incomplete or damaged in the process.
Figure 3: Agricultural area showing tilling next to archaeological site.
Figure 3: Agricultural area showing tilling next to archaeological site.
The above circumstances altered their original positions and contexts of the human remains, both within the grave site and the relationship of the individuals to each other. However, there were two striking exceptions to this: during the exhumations two adults, an adult male and female, were found in situ as they had been put to rest at the time of burial. They were not next to each other, consequently they were not buried in relation to one another; however their resting position was the same, that is, supine with both arms flexed at the elbow and forearms crossed over the abdominal area (Figure 4). The fact that these two bodies were in such positions indicates care during burial.
References to burial practices at the camp at Ras al-Ain were not obtainable; yet, there are accounts from other regions, which indicate that among the refugees there were individuals who would act as gravediggers; few had the means to have their loved ones buried by deported priests in single graves (K´evorkian 1998c, 1998e, 1998f). If one can imagine similar situations at the camp in Ras al-Ain, the discovery of these two individuals would seem to substantiate statements from local oral accounts that the grave in Ras al-Ain was used to deposit the victims as they died, perhaps some from disease, starvation, or from single violent attacks, rather than being a mass grave utilized to dispose of the bodies in haste after mass killings as witnessed in places such as Rwanda.
Figure 4a: Male with arms crossed over abdominal area.
Figure 4a: Male with arms crossed over abdominal area.
Additionally, there were few personal belongings or material goods recovered during the exhumations of 2007, except for several buttons, a small amount of textiles, a semicircular metal type material, a finger ring, and a few coins. Based on respective experiences with other mass graves related to human rights abuses, and on archaeological burial and disposal sites of varying types, the authors would have generally expected to find more personal artifacts, particularly those indicating the presence of clothing at the time of deposition, despite disturbance. The lack of personal objects on this site appears to reinforce the evidence that suggests that deportees were quite literally stripped of any items of value on the journey to or at the concentration camp itself. The limited remains that are suggestive of the presence of clothing (buttons) would appear to indicate that the majority of individuals were buried naked. However, an interesting exception to these findings was the female discovered in situ, undisturbed and exhumed with a metal finger ring, degraded fabric pieces (Figure 4b and Figure 5) with a metal stud, one button, and a coin. This female was buried with money, jewelry, and potential clothing, elements that were respected by those that buried her (despite the benefits that such objects could have bought for others in the camp or for someone who may have chosen to remove them from her). Such findings appear to further substantiate the accounts of those with means receiving special funerary treatment.
Figure 4b: Female with arms crossed over abdominal area.
Figure 4b: Female with arms crossed over abdominal area.
Once the remains were exhumed, they were packed and transported for analysis.

Laboratory work
The laboratory work was conducted in Ras al-Ain, in a physical space provided for this purpose utilizing basic anthropological equipment including an osteometric board for stature estimation, callipers, and consulting literature. The authors analyzed the remains exhumed from 2006 and 2007; although they were not involved in the exhumations conducted during the prior year.
Because the majority of the remains were found commingled and incomplete, each associated cluster of commingled skeletal remains was inventoried carefully, taking into consideration duplicate skeletal elements and corresponding features, in order to arrive at a minimum number of individuals (MNI). Once the number of individuals were identified, the biological profile of each was determined, which in some cases was partial as they were represented by one or a very few bones.
The osteological analysis resulted in a minimum of 80 separate individuals recognized from 31 loci (26 of these worked by the authors in 2007). The breakdown by age for those exhumed in 2006 resulted in a minimum of 26 individuals, 13 adults and 13 juveniles from five loci (the term juvenile is used here to refer to young individuals as opposed to adults). From the 2007 exhumations, a minimum of 54 individuals were recognized, comprised of 29 adults, 18 juveniles (including 3 infants), and a possible fetus. Five individuals were too badly degraded to provide enough skeletal information to ascertain adult or juvenile status with certainty, and one individual was borderline juvenile/adult (estimated at being above 14-19 years of age). Of the overall total, only 20 percent of individuals presented sufficient morphological traits to attempt to determine the sex; the final breakdown came to three males, three possible males, one intermediate, eight females, and one possible female. The higher representation of females and juveniles seems to be in accordance to the population composition sent on the death marches.
Remnants of black textile found on the female’s chest. The color might not be the original one as modifications in tones may occur through time (also see Figure 4b).
Remnants of black textile found on the female’s chest. The color might not be the original one as modifications in tones may occur through time (also see Figure 4b).
Positive identifications were impossible to conduct as there was no manner of establishing the identities of those buried at Ras al-Ain, and consequently no prospect of tracing possible living relatives.
Three aspects to note pertaining to the remains analyzed are the overall lack of paleopathological conditions, the lack of verifiable perimortem trauma, and the low number of cranial and dental remains recovered. In the first instance, this may be due to the incompleteness of the remains (Waldron 1987). Three separate individuals exhibited paleopathologies; one lumbar vertebra exhibited a Schmorl’s node (a defect created by a herniated vertebral disc) (Aufderheide and Rodriguez-Martin 2003); and one second cervical vertebra exhibited morphological distortion, with the causation not identified. Finally, a set of associated ribs presented marginal growth on the inferior border, perhaps part of a set of indicators for a particular condition, but not identified. No antemortem fractures were noted. In relation to perimortem trauma there was only one example, a wound to a rib on the ventral side possibly caused by a sharp instrument; the rib could not be associated with a particular individual and was recovered during the 2006 field work. This find lead the authors to believe that the remains for the most part belonged to Armenians who lost their lives through starvation, thirst, and disease and not through violent deaths; yet it is necessary to point out that the remains were incomplete and probably missing the bones that may have displayed evidence of perimortem trauma.
Analysis of the remains also highlighted that there was a noticeable lack of cranial and dental elements; rather puzzling, as they were only found in 33 percent of the total loci worked on. Despite the levels of commingling and degradation of the skeletal remains, the authors would have expected to have recovered a higher level of dental and cranial elements as a pattern of high-preservation levels of these features has been previously noted (Stojanowski et al. 2002). In addition, past archaeological experience has illustrated to both authors that even if skulls have become fragmented and have been disturbed since deposition, certain robust portions of the skull have a high survival rate and will therefore represent the presence of that particular skull during anthropological analysis. These generally include the petrous portions of the skull (protective structure for the inner ear), which preserve rather well due to their sturdy composition (Waldron 1987). In addition, teeth are also an extremely durable element of the human skeleton and have a high frequency in the archaeological record; on a site where skeletonized remains have been disturbed, a scatter of teeth is often apparent.
Ceremony held at the Armenian Church in Ras al-Ain. (Photograph by M. Burza)
Ceremony held at the Armenian Church in Ras al-Ain. (Photograph by M. Burza)
On this particular site, the only skull portions discovered were fragmented, and with a minimum of 42 adult inhumations, it may have been expected that many teeth were to be recovered, even if they could not be assigned to said individuals. There were however, few teeth found, and many of the loci contained none. In contrast to the low frequency of these robust dental and cranial elements, other bones, which typically have a low representation in the archaeological record, due to their small size and light structure, such as the scapula (Waldron 1987; Stojawoski et al. 2002), were present. Both adult and the more fragile juvenile scapulae were recovered and were often in better condition than the small number of dental and cranial remains present, illustrating that the skeletal structures preserved at Tell Fakhriya in part do not reflect the usual patterns reported in the literature. The unique taphonomic features of a site are vital to consider when studying assemblages in terms of making an assessment of differing types and levels of preservation, and whilst agricultural activities may account for most of the alterations at the site, it does not fully explain the inconsistencies as to what would normally be expected from the bodies exhumed.

Effecting closure
Rituals are important events within any given social group; however, the characterization of each ritual varies depending on the cultural context in which it occurs (Handelman and Lindquist 2005) as they are acknowledged according to cultural practices. Yet death is an event that is recognized by all societies, and mortuary rites in most cultures assist in providing closure and acceptance, thereby aiding the grieving process. Within the context of the past century to the present day, there have been major events such as natural disasters, wars, terrorist acts, and human rights abuses that have brought about the deaths of millions of people, along with destruction to their established ways of life and social ties with members of their communities. Resultantly, such circumstances may not provide the opportunities for burials, and to grieve for the dead as prescribed culturally (Katz 2001). In the case of the Armenian genocide, the burials of the victims were not a matter of large scale or individual choice, and the majority of those who survived, or who follow in successive generations, are unaware with any certainty as to where their loved ones lie.
In September 2007, the remains exhumed at Tell Fakhriya were taken to the local Armenian Church for a proper funerary ceremony (Figure 6). Here, for reasons already stated, there was no individual identification of the bodies; therefore it might not be considered as a rite of separation (Huntington and Metcalf 1979), as no close kin was possible.
Plaque commemorating the Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria.
Plaque commemorating the Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria.
Yet, the Syrian-Armenian community expressed appreciation for the work conducted, and also a deep feeling of relief on behalf of the victims as they were finally receiving a proper ceremony and place of rest.
Although 93 years have lapsed since the commencement of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian communities have collectively carried forth the memories of those lost by keeping the events that took place alive in the public mind. This has been accomplished by erecting monuments and plaques (Figure 7) and by holding an annual day of remembrance on April 24th (Weitz 2003; Fisk 2006). This day of commemoration is held and appreciated globally by Armenian communities, serving to ease their sense of loss and frustration, with the events of the past still marking their lives in every respect in the present (BBC 2003).

The forensic work conducted at Tell Fakhriya produced interesting results. Historical records, mirrored with recollections from the local Syrian-Armenian community at Ras al-Ain, appear to corroborate some of the authors’ findings at the mass grave site. These results appear to positively confirm the presence of a camp and a nearby mass grave located upon a hill on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain, Syria.
Furthermore, the exhumation of two individuals that were carefully buried, with one individual retaining items of value, reinforces the assertion that those of means were able to afford the luxury of burying their loved ones with dignity.
Conversely, the relative lack of cranial and dental remains in generally anticipated quantities presented an interesting departure from what has been previously observed by the authors. Additionally, bones, which according to the literature should be less inclined to good preservation, were recovered in better condition than would have been expected.
This paradox cannot be readily explained. Although the area has been actively utilized for human activities over several decades, such as agriculture, this does not present an adequate explanation for the inverse presence of certain recovered remains.
In addition, archaeological excavations were conducted at Tell Fakhriya in 1940 under the direction of C. McEwan from the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago (McEwan et al. 1958). In 1955, a short excavation was undertaken by A. Moortgat (Max Oppenheim Foundation) and another by Abd al-Masih Bagdo (Department of Antiquities and Museums of Hasseke) and A. Pruss (University of Halle) during 2001. However, the areas worked on in prior activities in the area did not encompass the site upon which the authors conducted their work (D. Bonatz, pers. comm.). Therefore, the relative lack or surplus of certain remains cannot be readily explained as a result of prior disturbance due to archaeological activity, thereby presenting an interesting open question that may never be satisfactorily resolved.
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Bedrosyan: The Genocide of the Pontic Greeks

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The annihilation of the non-Turk/non-Muslim peoples from Anatolia started on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of 250 Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. Within a few months, 1.5 million Armenians had been wiped out from their historic homeland of 4,000 years in what is now eastern Turkey, as well as from the northern, southern, central, and western parts of Turkey. About 250,000 Assyrians were also massacred in southeastern Turkey during the same period. Then, it was the Pontic Greeks’ turn to be eliminated from northern Turkey on the Black Sea coast, sporadically from 1916 onward. The ethnic cleansing of the Pontic Greeks got interrupted when the Ottomans ended up on the losing side of World War I, but their real destruction resumed in a well-organized manner on May 19, 1919. This article will summarize the tragic end of the Pontic Greek civilization in northern Turkey—a series of events less researched and documented than the Armenian Genocide, but equally denied and covered up by the Turkish state.
Pontic Greeks continuously inhabited the southern coast of the Black Sea in northern Anatolia since pre-Byzantine times. The ethnic cleansing of the Pontic Greeks followed the same pattern as the Armenian deportations and massacres: Citing security threats and suspicions of possible cooperation with the Russians, in the spring of 1916 the Ottoman government ordered that all Pontic Greeks be removed from the Black Sea coastal towns to 50 kilometers inland. Of course, in the case of the Armenians, the deportation orders were not only in the eastern war zone, but applied to every region in Turkey. The Pontic Greek deportations were carried out by the Special Organization (Teskilat-i Mahsusa), the same governmental organization that carried out the Armenian massacres, manned by convicted killers released from prisons. Documents show that the longer the prison term, the higher the rank given by the government for these criminals in carrying out their destructive tasks. Naturally, the Greek deportations soon transformed from relocation to robbery to mass murders. But because the Pontic Greeks had observed the fate of the Armenians a year ago, they got their defenses organized and resisted the deportations by taking to the mountains wherever they could. As a result, the deportations and massacres in this “First Phase Massacre” resulted only in 150,000 deaths, eliminating a third of the Pontic population until the end of the war.
The “Second and Real Phase of Massacre” that saw the organized destruction of the Pontic Greeks started in earnest with the arrival of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Samsun on May 19, 1919. He met with the well-known mass murderers of the Armenians of the Black Sea region, such as Topal (Lame) Osman and Ipsiz Recep, and secured their cooperation in starting a terror campaign to get rid of the Pontic Greeks from northern Turkey. These two murderers, originally smugglers of illegal goods, had gained notoriety in 1915 when they rounded up Armenian men, women, and children in large boats, took them out to sea, and dumped them overboard to drown, then boasted that the “smelt season will be bountiful this year with lots of food for them.” As the Pontic Greek men had taken to the mountains, these two murderers went after the Greek women and children who had remained in the villages. Various methods of mass murder were implemented. It was common to take the entire population of villages to caves nearby, seal the entrance of the cave, and burn them alive, or use gas to suffocate them inside. Any male Greeks caught were thrown, alive, into the coal furnaces of steamships through the funnels. Churches became incinerators to burn alive as many Greeks as could be stuffed into the building. The extent of the tortures and massacres the Greeks endured even disturbed the local Muslim population, who petitioned the Ankara government to remove these murderers from the region. Eventually Ataturk brought them to Ankara, where Osman became his personal bodyguard. Yet, when Osman shot a member of parliament for criticizing Ataturk, and then threatened Ataturk himself, he was executed.
There were also the so-called “Liberation Courts” (Istiklal Mahkemeleri) set up in cities across the Black Sea region to try Greek rebels. These courts passed arbitrary decisions that almost invariably resulted in death sentences, with no defense or appeals allowed, and hangings carried out immediately. Among the victims of these courts were hundreds of Greek teachers in the American and Greek schools of the region, prominent community leaders, clergymen, and, tragically, entire members of the Merzifon Greek high school football team, only because the team was named Pontus Club, which was deemed sufficient reason to label them a rebel terrorist organization. Ataturk then appointed Nurettin Pasha as commander of the Central Army to mop up any resisting Greeks from the entire Black Sea region. This man, also known for his sadistic tendencies, destroyed thousands of defenseless Greek villages. Among his “accomplishments” was the arrest of a Turkish opposition journalist who had criticized Ataturk; Nurettin Pasha then had his soldiers tear the journalist alive limb by limb. He was also at the head of the army units that entered Izmir (Smyrna) in 1922, where he arranged for the lynching of the Greek head of the clergy in the same manner, and then began the Great Fire that destroyed the entire city.
Between May 19, 1919, and the end of 1922, the Pontic Greek population was decimated by 353,000 in the following cities:
Amasya, Giresun, Samsun: 134,078
Tokat: 64,582
Trabzon: 38,434
Niksar: 27,216
Sebinkarahisar: 21,448
Macka: 17,479
There was also a violent campaign to Islamize the Greeks; quite a number of them converted to Islam under threats and torture, followed by Turkification. With the 1924 Lausanne Treaty, the few remaining Pontic Greeks were included in the 1,250,000 Anatolian Greeks “exchanged” for Muslims in Greece, thereby completely emptying the Black Sea region from its historic Greek civilization. All the names of the Greek villages and towns were changed into new Turkish names. Turkish language was forced upon all the converted Greeks, Hamshen Armenians, Laz, and Georgian minorities.
And thus began a century-long brainwashing campaign of single-state, single-nation, single language, single-language policy. The May 19, 1919 date of Ataturk’s arrival in Samsun as a national holiday celebrating Youth and Sports Day was adopted in 1937, copying the German Nazis’ superior race policies, to demonstrate the athleticism and beauty of the Turkish race. The extent of racism was evident in the statement of then-Justice Minister Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, who said, “Turks are the masters in this country. The remaining peoples have only one right in this country, to be the maids and slaves of the real Turks.”
As recently as in 2008, then-Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul echoed the same racist sentiments in Turkey: “If the Greeks had been allowed to exist in the Aegean and Black Sea regions, and the Armenians all over Anatolia, would we be able to have a powerful national state today?” The chief murderer of the Pontic Greeks, Topal (Lame) Osman, is still regarded as a hero by nationalist Turks. His statue was recently erected in Giresun by one of the Eregenekon deep-state leaders, retired general Veli Kucuk, himself responsible for the “mysterious disappearance” of dozens of Kurds, and the assumed mastermind behind the organized assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Kucuk was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for plotting the overthrow of the Erdogan government as part of the deep-state trials, but was recently released from prison by Erdogan (following the falling out between Erdogan and the religious leader Fethullah Gulen, whose followers were among the prosecutor team and police forces who had arrested Kucuk).
It has now become clear that the Turkish state’s policy to create a single nationalist state with a single religion and language has failed miserably. Within Turkey, Kurds could not be assimilated, and the grandchildren of the hidden Islamized Armenians and Pontic Greeks are starting to “come out” to find their roots. Outside Turkey, the Armenians continue to demand justice and restitution for the 1915 genocide. Assyrians have also started to get organized in various European states to demand their rights. In 1994, the Greek Parliament recognized the Pontic Greek Genocide on the 75th anniversary of the 1919 events. There is now a vast body of common knowledge regarding the true facts of the genocidal events that took place in Turkey from 1915 to 1923, and they can no longer be covered up by the denialist policies of the Turkish state.

Sassounian: Turkey’s Support Declines in Congress after Blunders at Home and Abroad

Due to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s widespread human rights abuses of his own citizens and foreign policy blunders vis-a-vis Armenia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Syria, Turkey has lost much of the support it once enjoyed in the United States and, indeed, around the world.
The most recent evidence of this downturn is the adoption of House Resolution 4347 (Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act) on June 26 by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Because of souring relations between Ankara and Washington, the U.S. government refrained from spending its political capital on the Hill to prevent the bill’s passage.
In addition, inter-Turkish feuds such as the one between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric with extensive influence in Turkey and abroad, have deprived Ankara of important grassroots support in the United States. Gulen-affiliated groups did not lift a finger to bail out Erdogan’s government from a humiliating defeat in the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Due to another internal political dispute, the Turkish Coalition of America refused to sign the joint letter sent by three other Turkish-American groups to House Committee members opposing House Resolution 4347. In a desperate search for supporters, the Turkish groups recruited the Azerbaijan American Council, which has no business sticking its nose in a matter involving the status of Christian churches in Turkey, to their lobbying efforts. By signing such a hostile joint letter, the Azeri group further antagonized Armenians worldwide, ultimately making it more difficult to reach a fair settlement in the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict.
Finally, the Turkish government’s clash with Israel after the Mavi Marmara attack, as well as the recent angry letter by Turkey’s new ambassador, Serdar Kilic, to the American Jewish Committee for recognizing the Armenian Genocide, deprived Ankara of any lobbying support it used to receive in Congress from the Israeli government and some Jewish-American organizations.
In the absence of all support from its traditional allies, the Turkish government could only rely on its hired guns—highly-paid U.S. lobbying firms—and implement the standard Turkish tactics used in opposing any initiative that Ankara deems to be against its interests:
1) object firmly to any anti-Turkish initiative to prevent its consideration;
2) if Step 1 does not work, propose amendments to dilute the initiative;
3) even after diluting the initiative, pressure the committee members to vote against it.
In the case of the churches bill, the Turkish government failed to block its consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was unable to collect enough votes to defeat the measure. The only thing left for Ankara to do was to have some members of the Congressional Turkish Caucus propose amendments to dilute the bill. This tactic had a modest success because California Cong. Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tried to reach a consensus on the bill and went out of his way to accommodate the handful of dissenting members of Congress. After all, who in their right mind would oppose a bill that called for the return of religious properties to their proper owners?
This is the second major defeat that Turkey suffered in Congress in the last three months. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had adopted an Armenian Genocide resolution with a vote of 12-5 on April 10, an indication of the declining Turkish political clout in Washington. One simply needs to read two recent articles in the New York Times (“After Opening Way to Rebels, Turkey is Paying Heavy Price”) and the Wall Street Journal (“An Unhelpful Ally”) to see the degree of damage Erdogan has caused to his country’s reputation.
In addition to the loss of clout, the Turkish government is wasting the millions of dollars it pays each year to high-powered but apparently useless American lobbying firms that make big promises, pocket large amounts of money, and deliver practically nothing. When will the people of Turkey demand an account from their corrupt and irresponsible leaders who are throwing away Turkish citizens’ hard earned tax dollars in a vain attempt to whitewash their genocidal history?
Pundits are predicting that despite Erdogan’s dismal record both at home and abroad, he is expected to be elected president next August. Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, and other oppressed ethnic and religious minorities are only too happy to see Turkey ruled by an incompetent leader who will bring the country to its knees!


Tomorrow is the annual observance of Independence Day, a day when Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The founding fathers believed in the fundamental truth that God rules over nations as well as individuals. In contrast to those political systems that proclaim man's reason to be the basic principle of society, the Declaration of Independence proclaims the sovereignty of God. May we as a nation, and our government leaders, continue to be guided by this fundamental principle.
"On behalf of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and the entire Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, we wish all of our readers a happy Independence Day.

"For well over a century now, Armenians have been blessed to merge our way of life with the bounty and liberty of this great nation of America. On these shores our people found a refuge from persecution, but also a land that would sustain and strengthen us as we sought to honor our heritage, and worship our Lord.

"This Independence Day, we renew our prayers, asking God to bless this land and her people, so that she may continue to be the great beacon of hope to our world, and a nurturing friend to our young homeland."
~~from the eNewsletter of the Eastern Diocese, July 3, 2014
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