May 2 2011

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
Hurriyet 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 Cicek, 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 Dundar or Ugur Ungör. 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.

'Boston archives limited'

But Sarafyan also disputed Cicek'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

From: A. Papazian