A Classic of Armenian Propaganda: “Blue Book”

The developments about the Armenian Problem taking place in the last 100 years show that Armenians establish all of their discourses on “Turkish hostility.” “Turkish hostility” and “smear campaigns,” which they try to create in world public opinion on the anniversaries of 24 April 1915, are among the significant indicators of this. Armenians’ history is studied on two stages: the stage before Armenians were forced into obligatory migration during World War I, and the stage after that. Today, on the 100th year of the decision of deportation, it will not be wrong to see the Armenian problem becoming one of the most important agenda topics of international politics as a success of Armenian propagandas.

There are, today in the world, a few books which thousands of writings, articles and books including claims for Armenian genocide for the purpose of propaganda show as a reference and even qualify as an absolute must. The most important of these is the Blue Book. The second is the work by Morgenthau who was the Istanbul Ambassador of the United States of America during the First World War – Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. The third is the book called Deutchland und Armenien targeting to win Armenians at the end of the war and written by Johannes Lepsius, one of the German missionaries originally from Austria. Another one of such works can be considered to be The Memoirs of Naim Bey.

The full name of the book known as the Blue Book, published first in London in 1916 and sold for two pounds, is The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16. This was the original press of the work. It was pressed a few more times later by different editors. The expression of “Documents presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs by Viscount Bryce with a preface by Viscount Bryce” gave an idea about who and which institutions prepared this. This book, which started a big “smear campaign” towards Turkey, was translated into Turkish in 2005, after 89 years. The work, prepared in two volumes, was released by Pencere Yayınları with the translations of Ahmet Güner, Attila Tuygan and Jülide Değirmenciler. The Blue Book was prepared by Wellington House, being a war propaganda office, with the approval of the British Parliament in 1916. This task was given to a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Bryce. Lord Bryce was a professor of law and a diplomat at the same time. Bryce was going to be rewarded for his “former successful studies” in later years and appointed to the Washington Ambassadorship of Great Britain. Arnold J. Toynbee, one of the most renowned historians and history philosophers of the 20th century, did the secretariat of Lord Bryce. Toynbee contributed to the preparation of this book, but when he realized this to be a propaganda book in later years, he expressed his regret for “being a tool” for it and said “if I had realized, I would not have taken part in this project.” Similarly in his memoirs, he included expressions of doubts for the truthfulness of the Blue Book and hesitations for Armenians. In the work written in 1966 by Toynbee, who passed away in 1975, there are very striking claims about the issue. According to him, the Central Powers would be shot by the propaganda weapon that Germany started against Russia. The information that American journalists invited to Germany gave was meant to reveal a horrific Russian barbarity. This was achieved. Similar to the fact that cruelties of Russians against Jews left its allies in a difficult situation, the wrongdoings of Turks would be against Germany and Austria-Hungary. That is to say Britain would defeat Germany with its own weapon and would leave Turkey’s allies in a difficult situation by revealing Turks to have committed Armenian genocide. Therefore, the “deportation and placement law” that the Turkish government put into force in the meanwhile was an opportunity not to be missed. The thought of preparing the Blue Book by Britain happened in this way and in this convenient period of time. This project is a British politics manoeuvre and Turkey is in the position of “guilty” by being the first victim of this. No matter how Toynbee expressed that he believed in the innocence of Turks and that he regretted what he had done, the Blue Book and its destructive effects are still felt and known in the Armenian Problem today. In Turkish-Armenian relations, the theme of “cruel Turk and an oppressed Armenian” generally is inspired by this book.

What is the content of the Blue Book, and how and at which conditions was it prepared? How was it able to plant hatred in Turkish-Armenian relations and how was it able to influence the masses so much? In short, what are the sources for its propaganda power?

It should be said first of all that the content of the Blue Book depends on reports by American missionaries. The book is constituted of 8 parts where a few correspondences Lord Bryce did with different positions, one map, preface and memorandum parts of editors are included. The book contains a total of 150 letters. The content of the book was enriched with a short Armenian History and seven appendixes in the last part. The letters mentioned are titled as follows:

  1. General Descriptions (14 letters)
  2. Vilayet of Van (6 letters)
  3. Vilayet of Bitlis (6 letters)
  4. Azerbaijan and Hakkiari (19 letters)
  5. The Refugees in the Caucasus (7 letters)
  6. Vilayet of Erzeroum (11 letters)
  7. Vilayet of Mamouret-ul-aziz (8 letters)
  8. Vilayet of Trebizond and Sandjak of Shabin Kara Hissar (5 letters)
  9. Sivas: The City and Parts of the Vilayet (6 letters)
  10. Sandjak of Kaisaria (3 letters)
  11. The Town of X (9 letters)
  12. The City of Angora (3 letters)
  13. Thrace, Constantinople, Broussa, and Ismid (6 letters)
  14. The Anatolian Railway (15 letters)
  15. Cilicia (Vilayet of Adana and Sandjak of Marash) (11 letters)
  16. Jibal Mousa (3 letters)
  17. The Towns of Ourfa and AC. (6 letters)
  18. Vilayet of Aleppo (4 letters)
  19. Vilayet of Damascus and Sandjak of Del-er-zor (3 letters)
  20. Documents Received While Going to Press (4 letters)

A letter added to the end of the book is made up of a writing coming from the Armenia and Syria Help Committee of America. When looked at any of the letters constituting the content of the book, it is not difficult to understand that it contains similar scenes which most of the other letters contain. It is easily understood that the letters are from the same person or persons. Incidents mentioned and the style and wording are the same in all letters. Ottoman soldiers are described as murderers and looters who attack villages, kill men and abduct girls and women. The expression, “according to the statement of a witness” is very often used in the book. The claims, such as Christians were exposed to unheard tortures by Kurds and Turks, unimaginable torments and massacres were done, masses are brought to unknown places and nothing is heard from them, are frequently repeated in the book. These statements are written in such a skillful and touching way that it is impossible for a person who reads the letters to be non-reactive. This condition of the book has a great impact on the formation of the image “oppressed Armenian – cruel Turk.”

These letters, which are presented as the statements of witnesses, but actually depended on the reports of missionaries in the American help committee and projected as very important documents, are exact propaganda materials. The British government had fake letters which were inspired by the reports of American missionaries prepared for the purpose of reinforcing its own position in the war environment and drawing the USA into the war. The complete of the Blue Book has the purpose of propaganda. All of its content is published without the need for review being felt. People who made the publishing of the book possible had not even seen Turkey’s lands; just as Morgenthau wrote his book called “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” without going to Anatolia and by living in Istanbul with what he heard from American missionaries and Armenian translators[1].

As Prof Dr Justin McCarthy, a demography expert and professor at Louisville University, has also pointed out, many letters in the Blue Book were written by the same person. McCarthy, after the code names at the bottom of most of the letters in Blue Book were solved, has determined that these originated with either Armenian terrorists or what American missionaries had written. According to this, out of 150 letters, 59 were written by missionaries, 52 by Armenian terrorists and 7 by the Dashnak leader. The owners of the other 32 letters are either fake people or, as McCarthy also expresses, those who send letters repeatedly with a code name.

This fiction, set for showing a nation, first the Ottoman Empire and then the Republic of Turkey guilty before history, has largely succeeded. The Blue Book is the masterpiece for Armenian problem becoming an unsolvable problem today. Under the leadership of Lord Bryce and with the efforts of Arnold Toynbee, the collection was completed in a few months and published hastily. The fact that the Turkish government sent Armenians who complicated the war conditions to different places by the law of deportation and placement eased the way for the Blue Book to gain success. The deportation and placement law put into force was abused “masterfully” by the British. The timing was arranged well and the documents Lord Bryce obtained through American missionaries and Armenian terrorists were transformed into an effective propaganda book by the skills of Toynbee. The reliable (!) personality of Lord Bryce also increased the reliability (!) of the book.

The fact that the Blue Book is a work for propaganda has been presented by many local and foreign researchers and scientists apart from McCarthy. The correspondences between James Barton, the general secretary of the missionary organization known as the American Board, and Lord Bryce, who is in charge of the Blue Book, have documented that this book had been written for the purpose of propaganda. Despite all these, these letters are accepted as legal texts and found credible in many places of the world. This result eliminates the reliability of international politics, which desires the solution of the problem to be against Turkey.

It has been confessed by Toynbee that the Blue Book was a propaganda tool: “This is a propaganda book… Nothing more.” Furthermore, in 1925, British Foreign Minister Austin Chamberlain made serious criticisms of the Blue Book in his explanation in the House of Lords and said that the book was prepared as, “completely baseless war propaganda.” However, these explanations done right after the World War did not make the popularity of the Blue Book go down and did not eliminate its reliability among some Western countries. The developments taking place till today confirm this. Armenians were able to take advantage of this situation and they used this “colourful book” as their reference in most of the pieces written. For instance, according to Ara Sarafyan, who did critical republishing of the Blue Book after reviewing it in 2000, the book is “full of realities.” While Sarafyan defends Armenians, he actually reveals the truths about the book as follows: “A large part of the book is constituted of the statements of witnesses from Turkey in the Ottoman period. The author is law professor Lord Bryce. Another author is Arnold to be a great historian later on. The architects of British theses on Armenian problem were these people… American Foreign Ministry had released these recordings to public opinion to be able to make the public hear the bad conditions the Armenians were in towards the end of 1915 and collect help for them. The British captured these documents and used these for their own benefits including propaganda…”

However, the Blue Book did not have the same influence in all of Western public opinion. There are numerous Western scientists who think the book does not reflect reality and do not avoid explaining this to the world. For example, the thoughts on the Blue Book by Andrew Mango, who produced significant works on Turkey and Atatürk, are as follows:

“Two books were published by the British government to be able break the German propaganda which was strong at the time and influence the American public opinion in favour of the Allies. One of them spoke of what German did to Jews and the other talked about the cruelties done to Armenians. Both were books which were prepared during the war and completely for the purpose of propaganda. After all, Arnold Toynbee who was one of the two writers of the book on Armenian problem expressed the one-sidedness of the book with his later confessions. No historian saw this book as an important document. The book contained the documents given to American Consulate by Armenians. Most of these were documents including the opinions of missionaries. There was no information about Turks or given by those from Turkey. One-sided. Something one-sided cannot be important.”

The opinions of Justin McCarthy on the book are as: “The British propaganda office prepared the Blue Book. This is a war propaganda book. And the book starts with a big lie. They want to show Turks as bad. It is a book of hostility. The people in the book are given with nick-names, but it is understood that the same person is projected as three different people. This situation clearly shows that the proofs presented are also fake. It is stated in the book that all Armenian women were raped. When considered, 80% of the population exposed to deportation stayed alive. Yes, there are people killed and raped. But even one single example does not indicate that there was genocide here. In histories of Armenian nationalists, Armenian revolutionist activities at the time and Dashnak and Hunchakian riots are not mentioned. If you mention only one side killed, then a result of “there is genocide” appears. Ottoman archives on the issue are more consistent. There are thousands of documents in Ottoman. In the form of ‘Implement the law, protect the lives and properties of Armenians’. But there is no document of ‘Kill the Armenians.’ In comparison with Armenian documents, Ottoman documents are real documents. Who is deceiving whom? It is shown that the number of Armenians killed is 1.5 million. This number is even higher than the total of Armenian population in Ottoman Empire. According to this, Armenians were supposed to die twice.” The statements of McCarthy leave no need for further explanation or argument.

Taner Akçam who supports the Armenian theses on the issue, also accepts that a significant part of the documents in the Blue Book is based on the reports of American missionaries and revolutionist Armenians. McCarthy strikingly rejects the claim of Akçam that “missionaries don’t lie”: “I can’t know which missionaries he is talking about, but those whom I know often lie. There are of course those who say the truth. He says that genocide is suitable to the historical course of Turks, such an approach resembles a house of sand; it looks good when looked from outside, but it collapses by a severe wind.” Indeed, these remarks by McCarthy summarize very well the role the Blue Book played in the Armenian Problem. As it is a book of propaganda, when looked at from the outside, it is understood from the phases of the book till today that the Blue Book had a great impact on people and affected them deeply. The Blue Book is like a proof for why Armenians, who could not show a real document on genocide till today, embrace this book so much.


[1] As it is focused on the Blue Book here, there is not much information about other propaganda books. However it would be exact to state that American ambassador Morgenthau would be refuted by another American Admiral Bristol after a while. The “War Diaries,” part of the documents Bristol had, is full of documents which disprove what Morgenthau wrote and even accuse him of writing fake reports.


American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, Armenia, the Word Spells Tragedy, American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (1917), New York.

Arnold J. Toynbee (2005), Hatıralar: Tanıdıklarım, trans. Deniz Öktem, Istanbul,

Arnold Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, London, 1923.

Enis Şahin, “Ermeni Meselesi ve Türkiye: Neler Yapılmadı veya Neler Yapılmalı?”, http://www.stradigma.com, 12 May 2003, No. 3, Ankara, April 2003.

Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, New York, 1918.

James L. Barton, Story of Near East Relief. New York, 1930.

American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief. Armenia. New York: Amer. Comm. for Armenian/Syrian Relief, 1917.

Justin McCarthy, “Ermeni Terörizmi: Zehir ve Panzehir Olarak Tarih”, Uluslararası Terörizm, Ankara University, Ankara, 1984.

Lepsius, Johannes, Deutschland und Armenien, 1914-1918: Sammlung diplomatischer aktenstucke, (Germany and Armenia, 1914-1918: A Collection of Diplomatic Documents), Potsdam, 1919.

Lepsius, Johannes, Le rapport secret du Dr. Johannes Lepsius, president de la Deutsche Orient mission et de la Societe germano-armenienne, sur les massacres d’Armenie. Paris, 1987.

Richard G. Hovannisian, The Armenian Holocaust: A Bibliography Relating to the Deportations, Massacres, and Dispersion of the Armenian People, 1915-1923. Cambridge, 1978.

Sinasi Orel-Süreyya Yuca, Ermenilerce Talat Paşa’ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü, Ankara, Ankara, 1983.

The Memoirs of Naim Bey: Turkish Official Documents Relating to the Deportations and Massacres of Armenians, London, 1920.

Viscount Bryce-Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16, Documents presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with a preface by Viscount Bryce, London, 1916.

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