Sabanci University (Istanbul) just hosted an international workshop entitled "Adana 1909: History, Memory, and Identity from a Hundred Year Perspective" (6-7 November 2009). The workshop included scholars from the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Turkey. The event was sponsored by Gomidas Institute (London), Sabanci University, Istanbul Bilgi University History Department, the International Hrant Dink Foundation, and Bogazici University History Department. A capacity audience filled the lecture theatre and included professors, students, journalists and members of the public. There was simultaneous translation between English and Turkish. The papers that were presented will be published in English and Turkish editions.
In their opening remarks, Cengiz Aktar and Ara Sarafian welcomed the participants and pointed to new opportunities for holding such meetings in Turkey today. They explained that the Adana 1909 workshop was organised to mark the centennial of the Adana massacres. It began with a call for papers in Turkish, Armenian and English, and the presentations at the workshop reflected the different interests of participants.
The first paper was an unusual one, as it was a discussion of Turks who saved Armenians in 1909. The fact that Armenian were massacred was a given, and the speaker presented a sensitive examination of righteous Turkish officials who saved potential victims. The speaker used Ottoman records to show how Ottoman Armenians petitioned the state to recognise one such Turkish official for his role in saving an entire community.
This first paper took some of the sting out of the workshop, where the audience could sympathise with the Armenian victims of 1909 without vilifying "Muslims" or "Turks" as single categories. Subsequent papers followed with the same sensitivity.
Each session was chaired by a senior scholar and was followed by a discussion. The workshop thus benefited from the presence of additional senior scholars, such as Selim Deringil, Caglar Keyder, Mete Tucay and Hülya Adak.
The organisers considered the workshop a success.
The papers that were presented could be summarised as follows (not in the order of presentation at the workshop).
Some New Perspectives
Abdulhamit Kirmizi gave a well-nuanced paper discussing the fact that some Muslims saved Armenians during the 1909 massacres. The role played by such Muslims was actually acknowledged by Ottoman Armenians after 1909. The speaker's focus was Major Hadji Mehmet Effendi and his men who defended Sis, the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, from attacks by neighbouring tribes and villages. Kirmizi used Ottoman documentation to discuss such Muslims, many of whom were decorated by the Ottoman government. The actions of these officials were the opposite of other officials who encouraged the actual massacres. Another well nuanced and probing paper concerned a complex range of different factors related to the Adana massacres. It was stressed that some of these factors could only be probed in a speculative but informed manner at this stage of debates. One such factor was identified as the presence of tens of thousands of impoverished migrant workers who could not find work in Adana in April 1909. Sinan Dinçer ( Ruhr University , Bochum ) discussed such migrant workers in Adana province that season and suggested that they could have been drawn into the fighting for no other reason than to loot and steal Armenian property. The speaker stated that he was not arguing that this was a major factor explaining the massacres, but it might have been a significant contributing factor.
Views from Europe
Two presentations discussed French and German records related to the Adana massacres. Vincent Duclert (EHESS) contrasted the position of the French government following the Hamidian massacres, the Adana massacres, and the Armenian Genocide. He noted that the French government was reluctant to press the Ottoman authorities after the Adana massacres because many French officials supported the Young Turk government.
Instead, French authorities played down the issue in France. Dilek Güven (Sabanci University) discussed German consular records, as well as the records of the Baghdad Railway company. These records attested to the terrible suffering of Armenians in 1909. She noted that German policy towards Ottoman Turkey was uncertain at that time, especially as the 1909 massacres were reportedly carried out by supporters of Abdul Hamit II--whom the Germans had backed until the 1908 revolution.
Benedetta Guerzoni (independent scholar) discussed how imagery of the Adana massacres was constructed in western newspapers, with particular reference to Italy and France.
Some Armenian Sources
Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute) and Zakarya Mildanoglu (independent researcher) discussed Armenian records related to the events of 1909.
Sarafian introduced Hagop Terzian, who published a powerful report in 1912, on the 1909 events. Terzian included his own testimony in Adana city, as well as the testimonies of others in smaller communities.
Sarafian argued that Terzian's text had a certain popular force-of-argument which challenged official accounts that tried to play down the incidents. Sarafian quoted Terzian to stress the devastating role of the newspaper "Itidal" in agitating and fermenting violence against Armenians. Zakarya Mildanoglu presented the Adana massacres through the Armenian periodical press with many illustrations from different journals. His accounts included satire as a powerful tool to convey what had happened to Armenians. (Mildanoglu was also responsible for a separate exhibition of photographs depicting the Adana massacres.
These images and texts were displayed at the workshop).
The role of American missionaries as witnesses was discussed by Lou Ann Matossian (Cafesjian Family Foundation) and Barbara Merguerian (Armenian International Women's Association), with powerful papers related to events in the cities of Adana and Tarsus. Tarsus was also the focus of Oral Çalislar, a well known Turkish journalist, who presented the testimony of Helen Davenport Gibbons in her book, "Red Rugs of Tarsus." Çalislar, who has published the Turkish translation of this work, gave a personal reflection regarding his native Tarsus. (The Gomidas Institute has just published a critical English edition "The Red Rugs of Tarsus.")
Human and Material Losses
The reality of Armenian losses was stressed by Osman Koker, who gave a fascinating paper on Armenian communities in Adana province, illustrated by photographs and postcards. He included images from Antioch, Alexandretta, Marash, Beylan, Sis, Adana, Tarsus, and Koz Olouk.
Sait Çetinoglu (Belge Uluslararasi Yayincilik) gave a forceful presentation on the organisation and plunder of Armenian properties in 1909, while Asli Çomu (Cambridge University) gave a solid paper based on land records from the Adana region in the 1920s. These records gave new insights into how Armenian properties were broken up and parcelled out to Muslim refugees. The actual number of Armenian casualties during the massacres was discussed by Fuat Dundar, who raised some questions about the demographics of the Adana massacres based on his work on the massacres of Abdul Hamid II and the Armenian Genocide. The fate of Armenian orphans following the Adana massacres became a major concern for Armenian community leaders. Nazan Maksudyan gave a moving paper on the fate of such orphans, especially in "foreign" orphanages. One key concern was assimilation in government-run orphanages where the language of instruction was Turkish and not Armenian.
Literary Responses to the Massacres
The legacy of the 1909 massacres could not be explained by simple numbers for casualties or lost properties. Literature was a powerful way to convey a sense of violence, loss and trauma, that accompanied events and lingered on in the lives of survivors. Marc Nichanian (Sabanci University) and Rita Soulahian (McGill University) discussed the literary response to the Adana massacres, with particular reference to Arshagouhi Teotig, Taniel Varoujan, and Zabel Yessayan. (Unfortunately Nichanian could not be at the workshop and his paper was beautifully presented by Hülya Adak (Sabanci University).
Anastasia Iliena Moroni ( EHESS & Panteion Univ. , Athens ) discussed how the Adana massacres were presented in the Ottoman Parliament.