Ottoman Destruction of Three Christian Communities a Homogenization Process
AINA interviews Ara Sarafian, the founder of the Gomidas Institute (London), an organization promoting and disseminating research and scholarship on modern Armenian studies. In 2000 Sarafian edited and published The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916 (known as the Blue Book), an extensive collection of primary-source documents concerning the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocide, compiled originally by James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee and presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon in 1916.
Please tell us about your personal and academic background.
All of my grandparents came from different parts of what is now modern Turkey. So I have a personal involvement in the Turkish-Armenian issue. I am also an archival historian specializing in late Ottoman and modern Armenian history. I often go to Turkey to work in archives and visit various places of interest. Only recently I went to Ayash, outside Ankara, which was one of the locations where Armenian intellectuals from the capital were held prior to their execution. Finally, I am the director of the Gomidas Institute (London), an independent academic organization dedicated to modern Armenian Studies (www.gomidas.org).
Do you consider the 1915 genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks to be one genocide?
Yes I do, in the sense that the Armenian Genocide was part of a process of "homogenizing" a modern Turkish state. In the case of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, this was largely achieved through mass murder, but also forced assimilation of the remnants. The destruction of these three Christian communities was one aspect of the "homogenizing" process, which also included the murder and assimilation of Muslim groups as well--such as Kurds, Arabs, Circassians and Pomaks. However, in the case of Muslim groups, there were less murders and more forced assimilation, as the history of the Turkish Republic shows.
As you are aware, scholars focusing on the Assyrian Genocide are a few. Why do Genocide scholars broadly speak so little about the fate of co-victims of the Ottoman Empire genocide, as opposed to that of the Armenians? How can low-levels of interest in the Assyrian genocide amongst scholars be explained?
There are many reasons. 1. The destruction of Assyrians took place in more isolated parts of the Ottoman Empire, most notably in Hakkary-Diyarbekir; 2. Elsewhere, Assyrians were often an invisible Christian minority and seen as "Armenians" by outsiders--such as in the Harput region. They were counted as Armenian victims; 3. Many Armenian historians have not bothered to find out more about Assyrians, or they have not wanted to dilute their "Armenian narrative" by dwelling on the murder of Assyrians as a separate category; 4. Assyrians and their sympathizers have not been able to represent the Assyrian experience better. This need not be the case today, and it is not. There are more publications on Assyrians and a better understanding of their fate as a distinct ethnicity. (...)