The Memoirs of Naim Bey
The third pillar upon which the charge of Armenian genocide rests is Aram Andonian's Memoirs of Naim Bey. Aram Andonian was an Armenian, employed as a military censor at the time of mobilization in 1914. After his April 1915 arrest and deportation from Istanbul, he made his way to Aleppo where he obtained a permit for temporary residence. After the British liberation of the city in October 1918, Andonian collected the testimonies of Armenian men, women, and children who had survived the deportations. As he relates the story, he also made contact with a Turkish official named Naim Bey, who had been the chief secretary of the deportations committee of Aleppo. Naim Bey handed over to Andonian his memoirs, which contained a large number of official documents, telegrams, and decrees, which, he stated, had passed through his hands during his term of office. Andonian translated these memoirs into Armenian. After some delay, they were published in Armenian, French, and English editions.
The documents reproduced in Naim Bey's memoirs are the most damning evidence put forward to support the claim of genocide. Particularly incriminating are the telegrams of the wartime interior minister. If authentic, they provide proof that TalÃ¢t Pasha gave explicit orders to kill all Turkish Armeniansâ€”men, women, and children. One telegram dated September 16, 1915, notes that the Committee on Union and Progress had
decided to destroy completely all the Armenians living in Turkey. Those who oppose this order and decision cannot remain on the official staff of the empire. An end must be put to their [the Armenians'] existence, however criminal the measure taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex nor to conscientious scruples.
The utter ruthlessness of TalÃ¢t Pasha is a recurring theme in The Memoirs. Such a demonization, though, represents an important change from the way many Armenians regarded TalÃ¢t before 1915. On December 20, 1913, for example, British embassy official Louis Mallet reported the Armenians had confidence in TalÃ¢t Pasha, "but fear that they may not always have to deal with a minister of the interior as well disposed as the present occupant of that post." Similarly, the German missionary Liparit described TalÃ¢t as a man "who over the last six years has acquired the reputation of a sincere adherent of Turkish-Armenian friendship." Even the American head of the international Armenian relief effort in Istanbul recalled that TalÃ¢t Pasha always "gave prompt attention to my requests, frequently greeting me as I called upon him in his office with the introductory remark: â€˜We are partners; what can I do for you today?'" TalÃ¢t Pasha may have turned into a vicious fiend, but the opinions of his contemporaries do not support this characterization.
There are many doubts as to the authenticity of the documents reproduced in Naim Bey's memoirs. Several Armenian scholars suggest that a German court authenticated five of the TalÃ¢t Pasha telegrams during the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, who assassinated TalÃ¢t Pasha in Berlin on March 15, 1921. However the stenographic record of the trial, published in 1921, shows that defense counsel von Gordon withdrew his motion to introduce the five telegrams into evidence before their authenticity could be verified.
Two Turkish authors, Şinasi Orel and SÃ¼reyya Yuca, who undertook a detailed examination of the authenticity of the documents in the Andonian volume, suggest that the Armenians may have "purposely destroyed the â€˜originals,' in order to avoid the chance that one day the spuriousness of the â€˜documents' would be revealed." Orel and Yuca argue that discrepancies between authentic Turkish documents and those reproduced in the Naim-Andonian book suggest the latter to be "crude forgeries." In addition, the two authors could find no reference to Naim Bey in the official registers and cast doubt on his very existence.
When The Memoirs were published in 1920, Armenian activists described its author as an honest individual driven to make amends for his misdeeds. But according to a letter composed by Andonian in 1937, Naim Bey was addicted to alcohol and gambling, and the documents he provided were bought for money. To have "unveiled the truth about him," Andonian wrote, "would have served no purpose." More likely, it would have undercut the very effectiveness of The Memoirs. Nobody would have believed the word of an alcoholic and gambler who might have manufactured the documents to obtain money.
The documents contained in The Memoirs of Naim Bey depict both the Young Turk leadership and the general Turkish public as ruthless and evil villains. These materials were to influence public opinion in the United States and Western Europe and to provide the Armenians lobbying at the Paris peace conference with ammunition to support their calls for independence. That is why the Armenian National Union, formed under the leadership of the veteran Armenian statesman Boghos Nubar Pasha, purchased the documents and entrusted Andonian with bringing them to Europe. While telegrams from the Naim-Andonian book were included in a dispatch sent to London in March 1921 and also in the dossiers of the Malta detainees, the British government never made use of these telegrams. The law officers of the crown apparently regarded the Naim-Andonian book as another of the many forgeries that were flooding Istanbul at the time.
Turkish authors are not alone in their assessment that the Naim-Andonian documents are fakes. Dutch historian Erik ZÃ¼rcher, writing in 1997, argued that the Andonian materials "have been shown to be forgeries." British historian Andrew Mango speaks of "telegrams dubiously attributed to the Ottoman wartime minister of the interior, TalÃ¢t Pasha." It is ironic that lobbyists and policymakers seek to base a determination of genocide upon documents most historians and scholars dismiss at worst as forgeries and at best as unverifiable and problematic.