The Role of the Russian State Archives in the Armenian Issue Dr. Mehmet Perinçek

The Armenian Question and the claims of Armenian Genocide in relation to this are the primary ones among the issues that have kept Turkey and the world public opinion busy. The most important witnesses of the incidents that took place between 1915 and 1923 were the Russian Empire and Soviet Russia, in addition to the Turkish and Armenian sides. Therefore, the Russian state archives have documents that could play a significant role in determining the facts regarding the Armenian Question.

The Significance of the Russian State Archives

Firstly, the Russian Empire was inside the Armenian Question as a party until it collapsed in 1917. Russia recorded the time period before and after the forced relocation in 1915 as one of the big states that carried out a struggle to share the Ottoman State.

Secondly, during the War of Liberation, Soviet Russia fought on the same side as the Revolutionary Turkey, which was established in Anatolia. The Eastern Front of Turkey and the Transcaucasia Front of Soviet Russia united against the Caucasus barrier of England. The Soviet Archives are again a primary source in this period.

Thirdly, an important part of the Tashnak documents are in the Tsarist Russia archives because Russia used the Tashnaks. It is possible to find many documents about Soviet Armenia, which was a Soviet Republic, in the Soviet archives. Many important documents in the Armenian state archives are closed off to the researchers now. However, one can only have access to those documents through the Russian state archives. Azerbaijani and Georgian archives can be added to these.

While the observations of the German generals, British officers, and American missionaries could not overcome being “personal” even when one leaves aside their imperialist wishes, Russia was a witness to the incidents as a state in both periods. When one adds the sources of the Armenian and other republics in Transcaucasia, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Russian state archives have the most important documents regarding the Armenian Question.

In the Russian archives, there are top-secret reports and correspondence that were signed by the top authorities of the Tsarist Russia, the Soviet State, Tashnaks, and Soviet Armenia. In addition, they are effective in the international arena and are valuable as valid proofs, because they reflect the assessments of a third power such as Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia. Especially the reports and internal correspondence contain sincere evaluations of state officials to determine the truth.

The Basic Results that Emerge from the Archives

The common characteristic of the documents in the Russian state archives is that they verify the Turkish thesis and demonstrate that the claim of an Armenian Genocide is not correct. The contents of the documents on the Armenian Question in the Tsarist Russia And Soviet Russia period state archives that was reached as a result of the studies that have been conducted since 1998 (for the last eight years) can be summarized as follows:

  1. Before the First World War, there were mutual massacres both at the inter-state level and in the clashes between the people. Birinci Dünya Savaşı öncesinde ve sonrasında hem devletler arası savaş düzleminde, hem de halklar arasındaki boğazlaşmalarda, karşılıklı kırımlar (mukatele) yaşanmıştır . If one keeps it in mind that 200 thousand Armenian soldiers fought in the Tsarist Russian armies, firstly it is determined that many soldiers lost their lives in this war.

Secondly, the Ottoman/Turkish State and these gangs both had losses because the Armenian gangs collaborated with foreign states and engaged in ethnic cleansing. Thirdly, apart from the war fronts among the armies, violence was used mutually by the Armenians and the Muslim people (Turks and Kurds) and many people died.

  1. The documents prove that Armenian gangs pursued a policy of systematic massacre against Turkey, Azaerbaijani Turks, and Kurds in the region behind the Caucasus, Eastern Anatolia and Adana and Maraş regions, which were also called Cilicia between the years 1915-1920.
  2. The main parties that were responsible for both the war between the states and the mutual killings between the Muslims and Armenians were the Western imperialists and Tsarist Russia. The Big States, which wanted to divide up and share the territories of the Ottoman State, provoked the fanatic nationalist Armenian organizations to wage war. The Ottoman State, the TGNA Government and the Muslim people took war measures in this situation and fought a just war against the rebelling Armenian gangs and defended their homeland.

The Archives Where the Documents are Located

The presented documents are especially in the following archives:

  • Tsarist period documents, the military archive of the Tsarist Russia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive;
  • Soviet period documents, Central Party Archive of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (its name today is Russian Social Political History State Archive), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive of the Soviet period, Red Army Archive;
  • In addition, documents on both periods, Russian Federation State Archive.

The Armenian Question in the Tsarist Period Documents

The documents on the Armenian Question in the Tsarist Russia archives start especially and intensively at the end of the 19th century and continue until 1919. Of course, there are also documents pertaining to the previous times. Although Tsarist Russia collapsed after the 1917 February and October Revolutions, the historical period covered by the Tsarist period archives extend to the later years as well because the White Armies, Kolchak Government, and the general Headquarters of the Caucaus Front in Tbilisi continued to exist for a while. One can classify the documents in these archives as follows:

1. The Life Conditions of the Armenians in the Ottoman State:

The documents in the Tsarist Russia archives clearly refute the claims of fanatical Armenian nationalist historians regarding the life conditions of the Armenians in the Ottoman State. According to these documents, Armenians lived under very good conditions in Turkey until the intervention of the imperialist states and especially the Berlin Conference (1878), and they were supported and protected by the Ottoman State. The correspondence of the Tsarist Russian officials show that the living conditions of the Ottoman Armenians were much better than those of the Russian Armenians. That is why Armenians fled from the Tsarist Russia and took refuge in the Ottoman State. In terms of the dominant Ottoman classes, there was never any national discrimination in exploitation. In fact, the Armenian peasants were more wealthy than the Muslims in many places. The Armenians had important positions in trade and crafts. In addition, the people who were ruled by the Ottoman State, especially the Turks, Kurds, and Armenians lived in complete harmony.

These documents prove that the propaganda that the Western states and the Tsarist Russia spread about the lives of the Armenians in the Ottoman State was spread in order to whitewash their wishes of dividing up and sharing the Ottoman country. Public opinion was created by producing exaggerated or manufactured materials reagrding the bad living conditions of the Armenians and an excuse was created for imperialist aggression.

2. The Emergence of Armenian Nationalism and its Characteristics. Tsarist Russia documents show that Armenian Nationalism developed parallel to the designs of the West and Tsarist Russia to use the Armenians against Turkey, which started especially in the 19th century. Especially the Armenian publications and documents on that period in the archives demonstrate clearly the collaborative, bigoted, and aggressive roots of Armenian nationalism. The Armenian intellectuals in the Caucasus started to dream about establishing an independent Armenian state in “collaboration” with the imperialist states as early as the end of the 19th century and they attempted to impose these ideas of theirs on the Armenians in Turkey.

3. The Role of Western Europe in the Development of the Armenian Question. Russia and Europe, which were in competition in sharing the Orient, were also in competition about who would use the Armenians. The reports that the Russian officials wrote shows the provocations of especially the British regarding the Armenian Question. According to the findings of the officials, through these methods, the purpose was to create a rift between Turkey and Russia and on the other hand, the centrifugal forces within the Ottoman State were supported. The goal was to divide up and share the Ottoman territories.

4. The Duties Given to the Armenians During the First World War. It is seen from the correspondence and meetings that they held with the officials of the Tsarist Russia that the Tashnaks imposed two missions on the Armenians within the framework of their plans of invading Turkey. The Armenians were to start a rebellion behind the front and weaken the Turkish army. This was their first duty. Their second duty was to facilitate a Russian invasion by breaching the defense line of the Turkish army through the Armenian volunteer units. Furthermore, there are numerous reports written by Russian officials on this subject. All of these plans were carried out with the Western states under the command of Tsarist Russia.

5. Dragging of the Ottoman Armenian masses behind the Imperialist Plans. The Turkish Armenians played an active role in carrying out both of the duties. The matter is not only the work of a few Tashnak terrorists. Unfortunately large Armenian masses participated in the formation of volunteer units and the rebellions. The archives are full of the applications of Armenians of Turkey sent to Russia to fight in volunteer units against Turkey. The names of thousands of Armenians are listed one-by-one in the archives, from intellectuals and doctors, to university students and ordinary peasants with Ottoman nationality. These documents are important in terms of demonstrating that the threat was not limited to the administrators and militants of secessionist organizations and in terms of explaining the reasons for the forced relocation.

6. The Policy of Massacre and Looting of the Armenian Volunteer Units. Hundreds of reports written by the generals and officers of Tsarist Russia and the hundreds of of court records and verdicts of the Tsarist military courts show that the Armenian volunteer units committed brutal massacres against the Muslim people and looted their property during the First World War.   According to the documents, these practices were systematic. Even the Russian commanders who used the Armenian gangs were appalled by this savagery. Many Armenian officers and soldiers were tried at the military courts of the Tsarist army because of this and they were given the death sentence. It is also important that these massacres and lootings started before the forced relocation.

7. “Armenia without Armenians” Project of Tsarist Russia. The internal correspondence of the Tsarist officials prove the plans of Russians to push the Armenians to attack the Turks, to get them killed and to settle Don Kazaks in the area after an invasion. Tsarist officials called this project “Armenia without Armeinans.”

The Armenian question in the Soviet Documents

Although the documents in the Soviet archives mostly belong to the period after 1917, they also contain many comments of the Soviet officials that assess the past events.

1. The Armenian Question is a question of imperialism. Top level leaders of the Soviet government such as Lenin and Stalin, and Armenian Bolshevik theoreticians made many evaluations regarding the essence of the Armenian Question. According to these assessments, which were reflected in the correspondences and reports, the Armenian Question was used by the Imperialist states in the dividing up and sharing of Turkey. Turkey defended itself against being divided up and shared and fought a justified war. Those who are responsible for the tragedy that was experienced are the Imperialist states, which pursued a policy of using the Armenians and the Tashnaks, who let the Imperialists to use them instrumentally for their plans.

2. The Role played by Tashnak Armenia and the Policy of Ethnic Cleansing. Soviet leaders found that Tashnak Armenia built a wall between revolutionary Turkey and Soviet Russia as required by the British policy and that it was one of the pawns of imperialism in the region after the First World War. Tashnak Armenia served as a base in realizing the plans of the West in the East.

Soviet documents also prove the ethnic cleansing that the Tashnaks carried out within the boundaires of today’s Armenia. The Tashnak government eliminated an important part of the Muslim population in the name of creating a “pure” national state. In addition, the Muslim population in Adana, Maraş, which was named Cilicia, was slaughtered systematically under the protection of the French.

The Armenian population also took its share from the Tashnak dictatorship. The fact that the Armenian people also suffered from the Tashnak oppression is proven by the Soviet documents.   

3. The Turkish-Soviet Alliance and the Destruction of Tashnak Armenia. As demonstrated clearly by the Soviet documents, the Tashnak government was ended as a result of the cooperation of the Turkish Army and the Red Army, and the Soviet Government was established. The operation of the Turkish Army towards Armenia, which is named as genocide today, was supported by the Soviet officials and was deemed to be a progressive operation. This operation of Turkey was considered to be within the scope of the defense of the homeland.

It is for this reason that today Armenian nationalists attack the Soviet leadership as much as they attack Talat and Enver Pasha. The Russian Armenian Union gathered the documents that support this in a book named “The Protectors and Collaborators of the Armenian Genocide” and deemed Lenin and Stalin as the collaborators of the so-called “Armenian Genocide.” The Armenian Diaspora and the political and scientific circles emphasize that Russia has equal responsibility with Turkey, they publish this, and they hold meetings. It is imperative to underline here that the Armenian circles aim at condemning Russia on the basis of the Soviet State. 

4. The Nazi-Manipulated Policy of the Tashnaks During the Second World War. In the Second World War, the Tashnaks played the role they had played in the First World War. This time they were next to Hitler’s Germany. The Tashnaks committed a new crime against the people of the region by forming volunteer units for the fascist German armies.

5. The Fact that the Muslim Population was Much Higher Than the Armenian Population. Both Tsarist Russia and the Soviet documents prove that the Muslim population in the region was incomparably higer than the Armenian population before the forced relocation.

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