Armenian archive digitalization might not shed light on 1915, scholars say
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/1/2011 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU
Armenia’s National Archives will begin posting documents online next month, yet some researches say the primary sources will not shed light on the events of 1915.
Armenia’s National Archives will begin posting hundreds of thousands of documents online this month, yet some researches have cautioned against optimists who say the primary sources will shed light on the events of 1915.
"Armenia was not a center of anything in 1915,” historian Ara Sarafyan, the director of the London-based Gomidas Institute, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “The administrative center of the Russian military and civil governments was in Tbilisi. That is the place to look for original records. Armenia has bits and pieces but I doubt members of the Turkish Historical Society [which hotly disputes Armenian genocide claims] even know where to begin looking."
Nonetheless, Amatuni Virabyan, the director of the National Archives of Armenia, said the documents will include many from 1915 – the year in which Armenians claim the Ottomans committed a genocide against their kin during World War I.
“The biggest reason we are transferring our archive to digital format is to present it to the attention of international researchers; the complete collection will be online by 2015,” said Virabyan, adding that their archives were already open to anyone, including a number of researchers who have already come to visit from Turkey.
Kemal Çiçek, an expert on the Armenian Desk of the state-established Turkish Historical Society, said Turkish historians and researchers were working on the Armenian archives but added that the documents there contained little information about 1915.
“It is not important that Armenia has opened their archives. The documents they have are not originals but copies brought from Russia. Let the Tashnak archives at the Jerusalem Patriarchate and Boston be opened. The mentioned archives will reveal the cooperation Tashnaks had with Great Britain, the United States and other allies [during World War I],” he said in reference to Turkish claims that rebel Ottoman Armenians were colluding with the empire’s war-time enemies.
Sarafyan also suggested 1915-related material was to be found in Jerusalem. “Armenian archives related to the genocide issue are in Jerusalem. It is where a great deal of the Istanbul Patriarchate's records can also be found today regarding the genocide issue. These materials have been cited by some Armenian historians who had privileged access to these records in the past. They are therefore relevant because of their actual content and the fact they have already been cited by some authors.”
The Gomidas Institute academic also suggested Armenian scholars conduct research at important Turkish archives such as the military archives or the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives.
“Who in Armenia [has worked on] those archives? I am not aware of anyone from Armenia working in Turkey. If you want to see good research on the genocide issue based on the Prime Ministry archives, look at the work of Hilmar Kaiser, Fuat Dündar or Uğur Üngör. Frankly, the level of scholarship on the Armenian genocide is very poor in Armenia," said Sarafyan, who has been working at the State Archives of the Turkish Prime Ministry.
[HH] ‘Boston archives limited’
But Sarafyan also disputed Çiçek’s assertion that the Boston archives could shed light on genocide claims.
“The Boston materials are archives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, or ARF. Turkish historians who claim they are relevant to 1915 are fishing,” he said. “They do not know what is in there, but it suits them to make such claims. ARF archives in Boston are limited in terms of the information on 1915. Their organization in the Ottoman Empire was paralyzed by the Ottoman government, who also had informants within Armenian ranks. However it would be good to see what these archives hold.”
The Zoryan Institute collected the private papers of people related to the events of 1915 in Boston in the 1980s, said Sarafyan.
"A lot of people gave Zoryan their private papers but they have been kept under lock and key. As a historian and an Armenian, I have always stated the inaccessibility of these records, especially as they have been collected from private individuals, is a disgrace,” he said.
The National Archives of Armenia can be viewed online starting in May at www.armarchives.am.