Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is A Long Overdue Controversy Finally Settled: Aram Andonian's Infamous Naim Bey's Real Identity Is Now Considered Revealed

Friday, January 18, 2008

Armenian Genocide historian Dr. Hilmar Kaiser has set himself as an authority of the Armenian Genocide during the past decade. The bulk of his research is conducted in primary archival material. As of 2005, Kaiser is meticulously conducting research at the Directorate of Ottoman Archives in Istanbul (This interviewer also has been conducting research there since 2005), Turkey, which is now open to historians worldwide, after a 10 year hiatus. When he emailed me regarding his findings about the identity of the infamous Naim Bey, I was more than compelled to conduct this interview with him. Naim Bey was the source of the telegrams that presented proof of the intentional genocidal policies of the Young Turk government and especially that of Talaat Pasha, then Minister of Interior of the Ottoman Empire. Andonian, a journalist and himself a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, published his famous "Naim Bey's Memoirs"1 in 1920. Since the 1980's The Turkish side has devoted much time and effort to undermine the authenticity of Naim Bey's telegrams. Moreover, Turkish scholars have gone as far as to proclaim that Naim Bey himself is nothing more than a fictitious character and perhaps a figment of Andonian's imagination.

Garabet Moumdjian:Let' s start with the quintessential question: Who
was Naim Bey?
Hilmar Kaiser: According to Aram Andonian, Naim Bey was an Ottoman official who had been involved in the Armenian deportations from Aleppo to Der Zor. After the war, he supplied confidential information and a series of documents and renditions of documents to Aram Andonian. The information and the materials were later published by Andonian together with a part of his own memoirs in 1920.

G.M.: And who was Aram Andonian?
H.K.: Aram Andonian was a well-known journalist in Constantinople. On April 24, 1915, he was arrested together with other Armenian intellectuals, politicians, clergy, businessmen, and Armenians who had been taken due to a confusion of names. Luckily for Andonian, he belonged to the group that was detained at Tchankiri. This group had better chances of survival than those at Ayash, who were almost all killed. Andonian escaped from deportation and spent time in hiding in Aleppo. He was one of the first Armenians to secure evidence on the genocide. His papers are kept at the Nubarian library in Paris and are of supreme importance for research on the Armenian Genocide.

G.M.: Why is the identity of Naim Bey so important?
H.K.: Evidently it is critical to identify all officials that were involved in the Armenian Genocide, particularly those who were responsible for the execution of the deportations. This holds truer for Naim Bey as he was Aram Andonian's informant and the data provided by him stands today at the core of an important debate.

G.M.: What is this debate about?
H.K.: For decades, Naim's information and the documents he supplied were seen as the principle proof for the Armenian Genocide. In 1983, Turkish authors published a book doubting the veracity of the documents and Naim Bey's existence.2

G.M.: What were their arguments?
H.K.: The two authors brought forward a number of technical aspects. For instance, they claimed that Talaat's signature on the documents were fake. And, indeed, the signatures were not Talaat's. But this fact was misunderstood by many. After all, the materials carrying Talaat's "signature" were supposedly telegrams received by officials in Aleppo. They were not faxes or letters, so it was impossible to have Talaat's original signature on the papers. The authors also compared the style of central authority documents with the work of provincial scribes.

G.M.: Was all criticism answered?
H.K.: Not really. The two authors rightly pointed out that we do not have access to any of the originals. They were either lost or misplaced. This fact severely limits the value of the material for historians. I, for my own part, use Aram Andonian's own memoirs in my work but do not engage the documents. The Turkish authors also claimed that Naim Bey never existed as they had not found a personnel file for him.

G.M.: Did you find Naim Bey's file?
H.K.: No. The two Turkish authors seem to have thought that Naim must have been an official of the central authorities. But recent research in the Ottoman archives showed that many, if not most, of the Ottoman officials working around Aleppo and along the Euphrates had been locally hired, even as part-timers, and they were temporary employed for the deportation work. I did not find a personnel file. We have hardly any evidence from the Ottoman provincial authorities at all. In other words, we depend on incidents were local evidence made its way into the files of the central authorities. In the case of Naim we were lucky that such a case exists.

G.M.: Then, who was Naim Bey?
H.K.: Naim Bey was a relatively young man in 1916. He was 25 or 26 years old, born in Silifke. In 1916, he worked in Meskene as a deportation official responsible for the dispatch of Armenians to Der Zor. At the time a scandal erupted. Some Armenians had succeeded in bribing officials and managed to escape with the latter's help to Aleppo or avoid further deportation towards Der Zor. The authorities in Aleppo got wind of the affair and ordered an inquiry. Naim Bey managed to keep out of trouble but we know from Aram Andonian that he had taken bribes as well.

G.M.: What is the importance of this discovery?
H.K.: The new Ottoman documentation confirms the information Andonian gave to a surprising high degree. This adds considerably to Andonian's credibility even though we still have no originals of the materials supplied by Naim Bey. Moreover, the new evidence confirms that the deportation officials were locally hired. Equally important is to show that the Turkish writers' information is flawed and their research is not the last word on the topic. With the identification of Naim Bey an important stone missing from the mosaic has been uncovered and must be put back in place.

G.M.: Do you expect to find the original documents any time soon?
H.K.: The identification of Naim happened some 25 years after the publication of the Turkish book. This alone shows you how slow progress is. However, it happened 17 years after the start in the Ottoman archives and only three years after the archives became available again, following a 10 year interruption. You, Mr. Moumdjian, have been at the archives and have conducted research there. You know how time consuming the process is. We are able to get only 25documents per day after ordering them a day in advance. It's a tedious process that has to be done anyways.

G.M.: Are you hopeful to find the documents in the future?
H.K.: Today, the Andonian material is not as important for historians as it had been decades ago. The documentation obtained from the Ottoman and other archives has replaced Andonian's publication in current debates. Certainly, Andonian's material could be a 'smoking gun' if proven to be true. But that is not the focus of or a few documents. The crime was highly complex and we need to process large volumes of evidence from a variety of sources. This takes time and is a slow process given the lack of available funding. The identification of Naim Bey is an important step in the right direction but it won't be the last important new finding. It strongly underlines the importance of Ottoman documentation and work in Turkish archives.

G.M.: Lastly, since you identified Naim Bey, can we at least know his real name? Did Aram Andonian use a pseudonym in order to keep his real identity a secret?
H.K.: Garabet, I know why you ask that question? I will elucidate Naim Bey's identity issue through a special lecture with document presentation on my next visit to the Los Angeles area. But for now let me answer by this: It gets even better than you think. Andonian's Naim Bey's name is NAIM BEY.



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