Armenian News Network / Groong


 

Documentation and Attribution of Photographs as they Relate to the Atrocities and Genocide Committed against Armenians in the Ottoman Turkish Empire:

several early photos of survivors released for educational use and in soliciting funds by the American committee for armenian and syrian relief -  complete with contemporary captions and interpretations

 

Armenian News Network / Groong
September 14, 2017

Special to Groong by Eugene L. Taylor and Abraham D. Krikorian

Long Island, NY


INTRODUCTION

For those who respects facts, there never has been any question about the reality of the genocide committed against the Armenians by ‘the Turks’.  Indeed, more and more details of the Armenian Genocide are slowly but surely emerging as a result of the relentless labors of a handful of dedicated and capable scholars.  Information and facts that have long lain dormant are steadily being discovered or resurrected, minutely dissected and fastidiously interpreted. 

An impressive amount of work has been accomplished in a relatively few years.  It would be difficult to provide a bibliography of recent publications since there are so many.  The field has now evolved to the stage where reference works like dictionaries and encyclopedias of genocide are routinely including contributions on the Armenian Genocide.  Needless to say, these entries acknowledge unreservedly the genocide(s) committed in the Ottoman Turkish Empire.[Endnote 1 and Appendix at the end.]  

A wide range of publications such as these confirm that although the historical work at the level of minutiae is in the hands of a relatively few, it is moving forward unabatedly, yielding ever-greater detail, nuance and fineness of grain.  In short, the quality of all this work is such that it can be more or less readily summarized, digested and offered for use in Reference Publications.  These can serve both as underpinning for general studies, or points of departure for much broader analytical and interpretive work by a larger community of genocide scholars, writers of social histories, students at all levels, artists, poets and even film makers.

By the time we first started our work in earnest after our retirement some 17 years ago, we had read enough and knew enough to appreciate that the Armenian Genocide presented many unresolved problems that would have to be dealt with at levels and in ways that we were not qualified to carry out.  After all, we were scientists, not genocide scholars – whatever that may mean.

We appreciated all too well the simple and clear message of Dr. Gerard Libaridian, namely that full recognition of the reality of the Armenian Genocide was not an historiographic problem, it was a political one, and had to be taken seriously.  It meant that if we were to be scrupulously honest (and we always strive to be) we had to admit that we were not equipped to attack the problem head on.  (Incidentally, so far as progress on the political front in the USA is concerned, the State of Iowa recently recognized the reality of the Armenian Genocide.  In so doing, it became the 47th state to do so; only Indiana, Mississippi, and Alabama remain recalcitrant.)[2]

Given the facts of the situation, and these facts shouted out at us in stark relief quite a few years ago, we concluded that we could best play a meaningful role by facing the challenge of locating and identifying visual materials relevant to massacres, deportations, genocide and the like such as photographs, relevant imagery including posters used in fund-raising for relief of survivors, maps et cetera – in short, the entire gamut.[3]

We believed then, and still believe, that a strong, even impeccable data base is needed - comprised of so-called “stock photos” that would withstand the most rigorous examination.  The data base would enable prospective users to have access to the best quality images possible – images that are as properly attested and attributed as possible —preferably at no cost or little cost to users. 

More than a few of the existing photos of the “Armenian persecutions,” a phrase nominally justified by some because the word “genocide” had not yet been coined when what happened to the Armenians was occurring, are not as well attributed and attested as they might be.[4]

Much has been made of by Turks and those who espouse “The Official Turkish point of view” regarding what they see as the use or display of deliberately faked or contrived photos so as to depict the Armenian Genocide and to vilify the Turks.  They accuse users of such photographs of unconscionable dishonesty and assert that these photographs are not part of the historic record because they are doctored and selected for political advocacy that is shamefully unscrupulous.  The thinking, whether openly stated or implied, goes that since they are “fake” photographs, then it follows naturally that everything else being claimed is fake as well.[5]

Admittedly, more than a few problems must be faced. 

Firstly, there are very few photographs that serve as evidence that mass murders did take place.  The results of these mass murders have, however, indeed been photographed.  We have devoted considerable attention to the photographs of the mass murders which were taken at Lake Göljuk in Mamuret ul Aziz in 1915 by United States Consul Leslie A. Davis.[6]

And, it is true that there are photos that nominally depict actual massacre in progress or supposedly portray what did happen in an authentic manner.  Even so, these have often been carelessly captioned and are readily exposed as artistic renderings.  Others of this genre are artistic renderings generated by survivors who vividly recalled what happened.  They either drew the scenes themselves or supervised their rendition.  None of these artistic renderings, so far as we know, shows mass murder in process or progress.  It would be highly unusual if such did exist.  (We shall deal in a future posting with a few examples of such portrayals.)

Secondly, many photographs that can be attested or attributed concentrate on survivors, especially orphan children.  Such photos also often provide views of those who escaped massacre by fleeing, hiding or the like.  Others survived because they emerged from the midst of slain corpses, often by feigning death, or were unconscious and later crawled out over the dead.[7]

These are perhaps most accurately described as photographs of survivors of genocidal actions.  The number of photographs in this category are large indeed.  Also falling into that category as well are photographs of those who were taken into Muslim households for reasons that were altruistic or not-so-altruistic but then ‘chucked out’ as we irreverently put it, when it no longer suited the household.  Others did everything possible to run away and escaped from situations that were ‘troublesome’ for any number of reasons.

The lack of rigor in dealing with photographs that were available at the time of the massacres and nominal “deportations” or “relocations” have indeed created some problems.  In a word, they have provided ‘grist for the unending mill’ of those who work diligently and tirelessly to deny the reality of the Armenian Genocide.  But we have argued that they did not really emerge as a result of mischievous intent.  It was essentially the case then, as even nowadays in many instances, not a high priority to go out of one’s way to get all the facts of the case, given any particular photograph or image.  This does not only apply to the Armenian case.  After all, conventional modern historians have never thought that images were really important and many still do not.  Few seemed to have worried about such ‘minor details’ which occurred over a hundred years ago.

We will not dwell on the matter of careless use of poorly attested or misattributed or unattributed photographs or imagery by professionals who draw salaries in their posts.  When all is said and done, errors made regarding alleged time frame when atrocities or persecutions occurred are not earth shattering.  Indeed, there is imagery dealing with a ‘rich’ range of atrocities against Armenians spanning many years, not just the Hamidian massacres of 1894 to 1896, the Cilician or ‘Adana’ massacres of 1909 and ultimately the Armenian Genocide (spanning the years 1915 to 1922), if we may be permitted to use a perverted word ‘rich’ to draw from.  They vary also as to location and intensity.

Inadequacy of photographs presented have been oftentimes used as a lynchpin to cast aspersions on the reality of the massacres and genocide – indeed a genocide which the official Turkish point of view proponents claimed from the outset had never occurred.  They doggedly insist these photographs have long been used, and are still being used to support a fanciful, imagined non-existent genocide!

The late Dr. Sybil Milton, an expert on images and film from the Nazi era recognized that even such images generated much later than those of the Armenian Genocide period, were not as well attested or attributed as one might suspect.  Indeed, we have drawn particular attention in one of our publications to the fact that had photographs and film records not been ordered by General Dwight D. Eisenhower after he had seen the Ohrdruf subcamp of Buchenwald, one would probably encounter more concerted efforts to deny the Nazi holocaust waged against the Jews, the Sinti and Roma (gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, asocials, homosexuals, the handicapped, political dissidents, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war between 1933 and 1945.

Outside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. one can read in chiseled stone what Eisenhower wrote in 1945:-

“The things I saw beggar description.  The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering... if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to change these allegations to propaganda.”[8]

Dr. Milton summed up very succinctly the problems that poorly attested or authenticated photographs presented.

 “Even otherwise punctilious scholars routinely publish Holocaust photographs without identifying the event, date, or authorship of the image, although they would never handle written records in this cavalier fashion.”[9]

 

SOME BACKGROUND ON THE PHOTOGRPAHY BELOW

A major problem confronting anyone who wants to categorize photographs in any sensible way is that one hardly knows where to begin when starting from scratch or wishing to fact check.  In our own case, the avenues open to various approaches have been disparate and often unexpected.  One has to cast a broad net so to speak.  This is much easier said than done.  It is also very rare to encounter photographs in collections which include negatives.[10]

One can try to sort by timeframe, location or specific place, specific events(s) depicted or characterized.  The difficulty is that there is much potential over-lap – much like the proverbial déja vu all over again!  The Armenians underwent so many movements that were very erratic and disruptive, if we choose for the moment to describe them very euphemistically.  Figuring out who was where, when, and why is always a problem.

Much information is available for study and evaluation, but much is confusing, and imagery is not nearly as well labeled as desirable, if indeed it is labeled at all, and there are inevitably a number of pitfalls that one can fall into.  Even library entries of items in places that one would normally expect to be expertly cataloged are not always reliable.[11] 

 

PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN THE CAUCASUS

What we give below is a summary description that we have found helpful throughout our studies in gaining and maintaining a broad perspective on what was happening and when, especially in the Caucasus. 

But, before we present this summary, and set the scene so to speak, we will start with a few words taken from a letter written to people back home by a young woman volunteer worker, Amy Burt from Oakland, California, stationed in the Caucasus.

Her non-description “description” of what she encountered during her service is short and clear –

 “…the hordes of freezing, starving humanity old and young was too terrible to describe.”[12]

We shall see that the Caucasus is of special significance for the photographs that we are presenting here.

 

A SKETCH OF RELIEF EFFORTS THAT WERE NEEDED

Now, we take the reader to the straightforward summary entitled “Armenian and Syrian Relief.” We provide this in double quotes.  This summary was printed in an issue of the New Armenia (1917) and should provide readers a ‘map’ so to say of the events of the period.  In our opinion, this digest offers the most clear-cut summary of the situation.[13]

“Twenty thousand fatherless children of Armenian and Syrian refugees in the Caucasus are in need of immediate aid to save them from demoralization and starvation…”  “There are 300,000 Armenian and Syrian refugees from Turkey, mostly women and children, as the men were massacred by the Turks. 

“The Turks made three drives against Russia, which brought into the Caucasus, which is Russian, large numbers of refugees.”  In 1914 more than 60,000 Armenians fled the Russian advance.  The next year 30,000 more migrated.

“The third drive is known as the Alashgert campaign of July, 1915.  The Armenians of the district of Alasghert in Turkey were by it compelled to flee to the Caucasus.  It also caused the evacuation of the city of Van by the Russians.  This city had been defended in April and May by the Armenian population against a strong Turkish army.  Russian aid had arrived just in time to save it, and the Turks ran away, but when the Russians heard of the Turkish advance towards Alashgert, fearing their line of retreat might be cut off, they evacuated Van and retreated to the Caucasus, taking with them all the Armenians and Syrians there.

“This was by far the largest influx of refugees.  They were attacked by Kurds on the way and 7,000 were killed.  About 20,000 died of cholera, typhoid, and typhus after reaching Russia.  The total number of refugees from Van and vicinity was about 200,000.  In these ways some 300,000 people came to the Caucasus in great destitution, after losing large numbers, especially of men, and all their possessions.

“Relief work by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief began in January, 1916, and is still going on and growing in extent and importance.  The Russian government has helped the refugees generously, having given them up to the present nearly $10,000,000.  This supplied them with food, paid their rent, and made it possible to provide for 5,000 orphans, but owing to the financial difficulties of the government this aid is now cut off.”[14]

We make no pretense that the aforesaid summary presents a full picture, but for the time being it will have to do.

 

A WORD ABOUT THE IMAGES INCLUDED HERE

The photos below (published initially one to a single page) derive from the so-called “First Series” put out by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief entitled “Sixteen Striking Scenes”[15]

It will be obvious that we have not included all sixteen images.  We have selected only seven.  These we believe are the most “striking”.   As an aside, we would hardly have selected the word “striking” to describe the photographs but on checking the Oxford Dictionary of the English language we read that 

“That which strikes the attention of an observer; producing a vivid impression on the mind; telling, impressive, unusually remarkable.”

Striking may have simply been a word then in common use.  Most of us use the word striking in the context of physical beauty – worthy of a second or even more glances.

But the fact is from what we read in the first image of “Sixteen Striking Scenes”, not many photographs were available at the time.  So far as we know, this “First Series” is the only one released under that designation or rubric.  Of course, there were many more photographs taken, both informal and professional, that were released over the years.  That is a story unto itself that will have to remain for another day to tackle and relate.

In our Appendix we have included in its entirety following the Endnotes section, scans from the Congressional Record entry on the formalization of the relief organizations and their genesis.  One will surmise that the history provided on page 3 is pertinent for people such as ourselves seeking to place photographs in a specific time frame.

In summary, at the time the “Sixteen Scenes” were released, one had to do with what one had.  Parenthetically, we will one day provide some far more ‘striking’ examples that we have collected and placed in three-ring file folders labeled seemingly cavalierly “Tear Jerker Photos” – no disrespect meant for such serious and tragic imagery. The designation is self-explanatory.  No need to go into that just now.

We also believe that it is important for us to point out emphatically that use of rather restrained, measured, even diplomatic language (for lack of a better word) in the legends was deemed necessary for the following reasons.

(1) The main fear was that use of too blunt and direct language would annoy ‘the Turks’ and further arise their ire causing even more violent actions.  It would make it much more difficult to minister aid and relief to survivors.  There is much evidence of considerable waffling (to use a very accurate word) as to whether relief would be allowed directly to Armenians.  In areas controlled by Turkey, efforts were constantly afoot by the likes of Enver Pasha and others to secure aid for anyone deemed as needy (usually not Armenians) through the Turkish central government.  That is another story unto itself.  And to make it perfectly clear , at the outset NO AID was permitted.  This position eased with time under pressure and the appreciation on the part of the Turk leadership that it would do no good to the Turkish cause if it was recalcitrant on that point.  It would indeed be difficult, even impossible to reconcile the great need of the Armenian orphans etc., and the argument proffered, namely that carefully planned and executed “relocations” by the Ottoman government had been carried out.

(2)  The other reason is that the full extent of the Turkish actions were not yet completely appreciated. Westerners could not fully appreciate or want to believe despite it being said over and over again, that the “death of a nation” was really in progress.  As soon as the genocide began, the Turkish government began denial of what it was.  We dare to say that ‘the Turks’ were experts at denial and propaganda.  (That too is yet another story.)

(3) The mess the world is in today and the ongoing genocides of ‘others’ owes much in our opinion to the impunity that so characterized and still characterizes the genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians.  Again, that is yet one more story.

 

SELECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS

We again emphasize that the pictures were selected because they are particularly relevant and instructive.  The captions or legends were all re-typed from printed pages of copies because the quality of the prints was not as good as the glossy photo prints which we present here.  The typeface is inevitably much clearer and better using a modern word processor than that which was achievable years ago with letter press.  We tried to pick a font which was equivalent to the ‘original.’ 

We again state that the scans of photographs presented here derive not from the printed or distributed version of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief publication.  They derive mostly from quality period photographs that were unearthed by the late Karekin Dikran, originally from Beirut, and later from Denmark.  He interacted with a number of individuals at the time we corresponded with him and it seems likely that there are a number of ‘sets’ available since he and a very few others were generous in their distribution.[16]  The photographs we elected not to present here are really not worth mentioning in our view.  They are hardly “striking” enough to suit us.  Recall the old adage that “If you cannot get what you want, You better want what you can get!”

Although we never met Karekin, we communicated by email for some time (he contacted one of us -ADK- some years ago and we kept up a correspondence and interaction).  Before he died, he shared on discs a range of photographs and other works that he had obtained and collected  -  including many of the genocide commemoration posters he produced.  These posters are among the most vivid productions we have ever seen.  He had an incredible eye and gift for color.  We never did get a response to queries such as “How do you get such vivid colors and vibrance?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Totten, Samuel and Paul R. Totten (eds.) 2009. The Genocide Studies Reader.  xvi, 552 pgs. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, New York and London.  Reference to the Armenian Genocide is scattered throughout, referred to by scholars as Passim; [entries contributed by 24 distinguished authors].  2015.  Armenian Genocide in Modern Genocide.  The definitive resource and document collection.  Volume 1: Armenian Genocide, Bosnian Genocide, and Cambodian Genocide (Paul R. Barotrope and Stephen Leonard Jacobs, eds.) ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California; Denver, Colorado; Oxford, England, pgs. 3-178; Kaiser, Hilmar. 2010[2013] Genocide at the Twilight of the Ottoman Empire, in The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies (Donald Bloxham and A. Dirk Moses, eds.) Oxford University Press, Oxford, pgs. 365-385.

[2] Indeed, it can be argued that virtually all or at least most unacknowledged genocides constitute political problems not historiographic ones!   

[3] See our various postings on Groong under the rubric `Witnesses' to Massacres and Genocide and their Aftermath: Probing the Photographic Record at http://www.groong.org/orig/Probing-the-Photographic-Record.html

 [4] See Krikorian, Abraham D. and Eugene L. Taylor (2011) Achieving ever-greater precision in attestation and attribution of genocide photographs, in The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks.  Studies on the state-sponsored campaign of extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor, 1912 – 1922 and its aftermath: history, law, memory (Tessa Hofmann, Matthias BjŅrnlund, Vasileios Meichanetsides, eds.) Aristide D. Caratzas, New York & Athens, pgs. 389 – 434; Tessa Hofmann and G. Koutcharian (1992) ‘"Images that horrify and indict": pictorial documents on the persecution and extermination of Armenians from 1877 to 1922’ in The Armenian Review, 45, 53-184.

[5] For the case of a faked photograph using composite, overlay and re-photographing techniques see Krikorian, A.D. and Taylor, E.L. (2010, February 22) The saga surrounding a forged photograph from the era of the Armenian genocide demonizing and vilifying a "cruel Turkish official": a part of "the rest of the story." http://www.groong.org/orig/ak-20100222.html.  One should also be aware of a long, drawn out affair over a contested photograph of a hanging alleged to be of Armenians.  The Turkish side was adamant in its insistence that the photograph was not properly attested or attributed and tried to effect its permanent removal.  See “Records Relating to the Removal and Replacement of Armenian History Exhibit Photographs, Ellis Island Museum of Immigration, Statue of Liberty National Monument.” The partial file may be accessed at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/40944520.  It covers a period from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. It was a lengthy, nasty affair.

[6] See “United States Consul Leslie A. Davis’s Photographs of Armenians Slaughtered at Lake Goeljuk, Summer of 1915” by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor, pgs.169 -197 in  Festschrift Wolfgang zum 80. Geburtstag (Ed. by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach) 2015. Verlag Dinges & Frick, Wiesbaden. [This paper has been made available on the Internet through the kind permission of Muriel Mirak-Weissbach who allowed us to post it on Groong April 7, 2017. The Festschrift volume was prepared in honor of German Journalist and Scholar Wolfgang Gust on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday, 2015.].  (See Armenian News Network / Groong, April 7, 2017 http://www.groong.org/orig/ak-20170407.html)

[7] One of us (ADK) had a female relative who had been thrown into a well along with the dead.  Being wounded but still alive, she was able to dig out from amongst the bodies.

[8] For full citation of the relevant literature see pg. 391 of the first entry in Endnote 4.

When we visited the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum in Abilene, Kansas a few years ago, we learned that his parents were initially Mennonites (River Brethren sect) but then, when he was still a youngster, they turned to the so-called Watch Tower Society whose common designation became the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They pointed out that when he was inaugurated President a Watch Tower printed Bible was used when he took his second oath of office.  In his adulthood, Ike became a communicant of the Presbyterian National Church.  We wonder whether Eisenhower knew then that the Nazi’s had so escalated their persecution not only of Jews but also of the “International Bible Students” [Jehovah’s Witnesses] - people such as his parents.  Probably not.

[9] Milton, Sybil, 1987.  The camera as weapon, voyeur, and witness: photography of the Holocaust as historical evidence, in Visual Explorations of the World, selected papers from the International Conference on Visual Communication (Martin Tuaregs and Jay Ruby, eds.), Rader Verlag, Aachen, pgs. 80 -114. at pg. 82.

[10] The detailed and carefully researched works of Raymond Kévorkian are especially valuable in trying to deal with locations and time frame.  See especially The Armenian Genocide. A complete history (2006, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, viii, 1029 pages!)  As it turns out, the photograph on the dust jacket of the English-language edition is incorrectly attested.  We wrote a ‘paper’ and posted it on Groong, the Armenian News Network on September 22, 2015 entitled Correction to a Photograph of “Armenian Widows with their Children” Wrongly Dated 1915.  It actually dates from 1909. Plus a comment on why it is important to get an accurate ‘paper trail’ for photographs. We can again say that this is an irony.  We have stated that we doubt that Dr. Kévorkian had much say as to what went on the cover.

We shall also point out to readers that we have devoted more than a little time correcting descriptions to images and photographs in the Library of Congress collections.  See our Groong entries at http://www.groong.org/orig/Probing-the-Photographic-Record.html

[11] The images that comprise the Near East Relief photo materials of Laurence Howland MacDaniels and his wife, Frances Cochran MacDaniels are exceptional in that there are many negatives.  We studied this collection some years ago.  The efforts of these studies may be seen, but only in a relatively small part, at http://dcollections.oberlin.edu./cdm/landingpage/collection/relief These photographs give a very good idea of what was happening in the Kharpert area in particular. 

[12] From a letter from Amy A. Burt to relatives back home in Oakland, California.  To be found in the Gertrude A. Anthony Papers at UC Berkeley in the Bancroft Library Archives (actually used by us in 2005 at a temporary site when Bancroft was being refurbished and made earthquake-tolerant.)  See Gertrude Anthony Papers, 1906-1968 at BANC MSS 2002/207 cz Box 1 and Box 2.

[13] Excerpted from a summary statement entitled “Armenian and Syrian Relief” published in The New Armenia vol. 9, no. 21 (1917) pgs. 332.

[14] We do not make any attempt here to draw attention to, much less enumerate and describe the heroic efforts made by Armenians in places in Russia outside of the Caucasus such as Moscow and Petersburg.  The Tiflis and Baku communities provided relief as well of course.  Certainly, summary accounts exist but this is beyond the scope of this presentation.

[15] 1916 or 1917.  Sixteen Striking Scenes: illustrating the suffering and need in Armenia and other parts of Western Asia. American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.   Consisting of 34 unnumbered pages. One page of description and others of reproduced photographs, and one outline map in black and white.  The WorldCat cataloging also states that the entry includes portraits [sic! but for us there are no portraits.  We would argue that close-up photos of children do not qualify as “portraits”!] 22 cm.  New York City: American Committee for Relief in the Near East. This is a rare document.

[16] As an example, a Greek fellow, whose ancestry included Greeks from the Pontos area, was an incredible internet ‘buddy’ to ADK.  He had a wonderful Kurdish wife.  Both were interested in all of the Ottoman Genocides - Greek, Armenian, Assyrian.  He made himself sick with his Ottoman Greek genocide studies and felt that he had to withdraw from work and email communications.  He stated that he had to get away from it all.  Attempts to locate him in England have so far failed.  This is mentioned to underscore that studies on the visual aspects of all this can be, and often are, overwhelming.  He has been sorely missed by us.  His selflessness was exemplary.  Disappointingly, there remain many who are reticent to share and some who are very “territorial”.  One will be aware of those who even go so far as to place copyright notices on images they mistakenly claim to own.  Most seem not to know that many replicates of photographs often exist in various collections, and frequently in better condition than the one(s) nominally ‘copyrighted’. Our late friend from Singapore, Professor A.N. Rao, used to describe such people as being among those who “jealously guard their ignorance.”

 

 

APPENDIX

 

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