CASE OF TURKS DISTORTING A 1915 CAPTION
TO A REAL PHOTOGRAPH
WITH THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF TWISTING THE FACTS.
This flagrant disregard for the Truth was more than enough to annoy an American Missionary physician
who was there to speak up with the full facts.
Armenian News Network
September 26, 2021
by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor
LONG ISLAND, NY
Distorting, NOT Reporting is what it’s all about when it involves Turkish officialdom and their supporters dealing with the genocides committed by their ancestors. The most one can elicit from some genocide apologists or deniers are deceptive and subdued admissions like “yes, serious inaccuracies may have emerged in various official and semi-official narratives but….” These statements are supposedly made to reflect that they are being “fair and balanced.” To quote Professor Henry Giroux of McMaster University in Ottawa, we are living in an “age of manufactured ignorance.” The Turkish government has long viewed lying as a sport. In the long run the process, lying has ultimately become a tradition, especially when it pertains to the late Ottoman Genocides and keeping the image of the Ottoman state as only slightly less admirable than perfectly pristine. After all, admitting to the attempts of their ancestors to wipe out the Armenians and other Christian populations isn’t anything to be proud of. Admission to their genocides, past or present, has become a cynical and manipulative affair in Turkey just as it has become in many other countries.
In short, euphemisms to obfuscate what provenly amount to deliberate lies are used as a matter of course; other less circumspect pronouncements don’t even aim to confuse. They are simply brazen lies. Both techniques have long been used to shape how a story is to be told.
Turkish propaganda, especially regarding the Armenian Genocide has long been, and remains shameless and second to none. Since we are writing from present-day America, where disinformation is rampant, that is, bluntly stated, saying a lot. The other Christian genocides (Assyrian and Greek) don’t even seem to merit lying about; they are by and large kept at a great distance from any conversation and remain largely undiscussed by the Turkish government. The regrettable truth is that the political reality is all that really matters. Some leaders even have the indecency to say they could care less about the ‘truth.’
We made some very important and carefully written statements in our recent posting on Groong entitled “An introduction and some background to our video “An intimate look at a bronze statue of Emmanuel Fremiet’s “Gorilla and woman” installed in Allerton Park and Retreat Center, University of Illinois, Monticello, Illinois. Appreciating more fully a marketing strategy used for the film “ravished armenia,” Armenian News Network /Groong, September 6, 2021 by Eugene L. Taylor and Abraham D. Krikorian. (See
One of the many carefully written and measured statements made in that article was as follows:-
“It is easily shown that the present-day country of Turkey not only inevitably denies that its predecessor State committed genocide, but reflexively and doggedly defends what ‘really’ happened by insisting that the Armenian minority constituted a very real threat to the integrity and security of the Empire by virtue of their being a Fifth column that clearly, and actively sided with Turkey’s enemies. One of many examples of this, was nowhere more apparent, they claim, than in Van. This assertion had nothing to do with reality by the way. (It is not our intention here to step back in time and defend to the core every statement we make. We firmly believe in our accuracy and can easily defend our views with a wide array of references.)”
We have now decided that we should follow through on this by using a particularly good example of the practice of brazenly distorting facts. Although it was long before 1915 that facts were routinely distorted in various narratives of the many different massacres in the Ottoman Empire, we have chosen to use this as an example that is emblematic of the long series of Armenian genocide denials and manipulations. Our example is by an American missionary who was on site and in a position of authority. It uses a deliberately mislabeled photograph that caused enough ruckus with the American Missionary physician to elicit an absolute refutation of a crucial part. Perhaps the most shocking (or should we say most ‘typical’) aspect of this is that after the caption had been refuted as inaccurate, it still ended up appearing in a propaganda booklet put out in Constantinople soon after, and regularly as late as 1919 (and many reprintings thereafter, the latest in the 2000s) with a caption that suited the Turkish point of view – and ignored the correction to the initial published photographs and the full truth impeccably provided. This certainly must qualify as a great example of Turks in authority and their supporters taking “eye-witness” testimony about the genocide and turning it into “hearsay.” In no way was the Ottoman Government going to lose narrative control via any views at odd with their version.
To begin at the beginning, we examine an article entitled “Exterminating the Armenians” that appeared in the Leslie’s Digest for October 9, 1915 on pg. 767. Accompanying it was a photograph captioned “Armenians Fighting for their Lives” (Figs. 1a and 1b.) Note that the photograph credits the well-known, non-Turkish firm Underwood & Underwood as the source!
The photograph’s caption describes the image as showing “Armenian entrenchments in “The Gardens,” a suburb of Van, in Asiatic Turkey during the recent siege by the Turks. Taken unaware and many of them massacred, the Armenians fled to the American Mission Compound, fortified it and directed their fight against the Turks from that place until the Turks retired.”
(See Fig. 1b. below for an enlargement of the photograph.)
The next step in the story appears in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, October 14, 1915 in a section that was regularly featured under the broad title “The Trend of Public Opinion” presented by journalist Charles Bates Strayer. It included an article with the same photograph that appears in Fig. 1a. and 1b. above. Here, shown in Fig. 2., the scene was described as “Armenians defending themselves from the Turks.” It continues “Scene in the trenches of the Armenians in “The Gardens” just outside of the city of Van, Asiatic Turkey, during the recent siege of that place by the Turks. The majority of the Armenians who were Christians fled to the American Mission Compound and directed their fight from that place. The Turks abandoned the siege after heavy loss.”
The saga continues. On October 18, 1915 in the New York Times one finds on pg. 8 a letter to the Editor written by one Zia Mufty-Zade Bey, an attaché to the Turkish Embassy. A little digging shows that he was the son of a Reschid Pasha, later described as “formerly Foreign Minister and new Turkish delegate to London.” Zia Mufty-Zade Bey’s letter was published with the heading “The Kind of Armenian a Turk Knows.” The heading continues, “They betray their rulers, take refuge in Christian missions, and have to be dealt with as dangerous rebels.”
This letter was commented on by a New York City Armenian named O.T. Malghazouny who wrote a letter to the New York Tribune 4 November 1915 pg. 10 drawing attention to the “absurd utterances” in Zia Mufty-Zade Bey’s letter. Expectedly, this, in turn, was responded to by yet another letter from Zia Mufty-Zade Bey on Nov. 9, 1915 on pg. 8 of the Tribune with the heading “Christians under Moslem rule.” The heading then goes on to tip off the reader saying that “Zia Mufty Zade Bey answers the charges of an Armenian critic who championed the Armenians.”
Enter to the story the defender of the truth of this caption and story Missionary Doctor Dr. Clarence Douglas Ussher. Dr. Ussher was born in Aurora, Illinois on September 5, 1870. He graduated from Kansas Medical School and entered into Mission service for the American Board, going to Harpoot in 1898. He continued to Van in July, 1898 and married Elizabeth F. Barrows in June 1900. Sadly she died of typhus July 14, 1915 in Van. She was born in Caesaria to a prominent missionary family.
War conditions and the virtual shut-down of operations for Armenians in Van prompted Dr. Ussher to leave Turkey. He returned to America, reaching New York October 14, 1915. One can only guess at what narratives he was exposed to upon his return concerning news about what was happening in Armenia. We believe that he kept up with what was in the news, and submitted a letter to the New York Tribune that was published on Friday, November 12, 1915 pg. 8. (See Figs. 4a. and 4b.) It was interesting that the Tribune published on the same page, directly above the letter from Ussher a cartoon captioned Herod- “For how much less I became infamous”. (See Fig. 3.).
For those interested in Herod the Great, (see Park, 2013 in the References).
The heading for Ussher’s letter is “An American Eyewitnesses’s story of the ghastly crimes committed by the Turkish authorities.” Unfortunately, the newspaper page on which the letter is printed is not of the greatest quality (some sections are very light rendering it near-impossible to read) but we have used an option available to us of using a very early source that is vastly easier to read.
Figs. 4a. and 4b. show Dr. Ussher’s letter in two parts. Since it may be difficult for some to read these copies of the letter to the newspaper we have re-typed it in full following the images of the letter.
THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES
An American Eyewitness’s Story of the Ghastly Crimes Committed by the
To the Editor of the Tribune.
Sir: This morning’s Tribune has a letter from His Excellency Zia Mufti-Zadi Bey in reply to a letter from a Mr. O. T. Malghazouny, published November 4. I do not happen to have seen the letter to which he refers, but inasmuch as I was in Van during the entire siege and in close touch with both Moslems and Christians, I beg you to give this letter publicity equal to that given to Zia Bey’s letter in to-day’s issue.
I note that he draws attention to the fact that Mr. Malghazouny “does not deny the rebellion of the Armenians at Van.” I have been told that Zia Bey published in “The Times” in October a letter in which he made the charge that the Armenians of Van rebelled and that the Ottoman government was suppressing rebellion in the measures it took against the Armenians. He used a photograph published in “The Literary Digest” of October 9 as proof that the Armenians aided them. It is unfortunate that those in prominent official positions, like Zia Bey, should be misinformed and endeavor to protect the good name of their governments by errors in statement.
Permit me to say, first, that “The Literary Digest” by the explanation under the above-mentioned photograph misinformed Zia Bey. This stated that the Armenians, taken unawares and many of them massacred, fled to the American Mission compound, fortified it and directed their fight against the Turks from that place until the Turks retired. The first part of this statement is true, the latter part utterly false. The trench photograph was a full mile from the American mission compound. The compound was never fortified in any way, and all through the siege its neutrality was maintained.
No armed man was permitted to enter the premises, even cartridge belts being removed at the gate when men with revolvers desired to come to see some relative or friend. No shot was ever fired from the American Mission at the Ottoman forces or any others, and the Americans were so determined to preserve the neutrality and extra-territoriality of their premises that they assured the Governor General, Jevdet Bey, a brother-in-law of Damed-Enver Pacha, that they would themselves shoot anyone who dared to fire from the American premises be he Christian or Muslim, civil or military.
During the siege there were more than twenty Ottoman soldiers in the American mission hospital and six thousand Armenian refugees, mostly women and children, in the mission compound. After the siege the Armenians brought us about one thousand Mussulman refugees, men, women and children, and a number of wounded and sick Turkish soldiers, and all were tenderly cared for by American and Armenian Christians and the Russian Red Cross workers.
As to their revolution or rebellion of Armenians as a cause of the massacres and other atrocities by the Turkish military, the facts are as follows: From the beginning of the mobilization it was made perfectly evident that it was the determination of the government to ruin the non-Muslims. The men were removed from their homes and shops and then their houses and shops were plundered in the name of the government. Cooking utensils, copper vessels, bedding, clothing, food and other things, even bric-a-brac, were seized, and the meanest Turkish gendarme was given powers supposed to lie only in the hands of a court martial.
Both in the Army and out of it many Armenians were shot down, and payment of “badal,” or exemption money, was no protection. Americans would have rebelled under one-tenth of the provocation, but Armenians did not. Turkish officers took Armenians out of the ranks, on the march, tied them to telegraph poles and shot them, with no better excuse than the accusation that they wanted to desert. Self-respecting and faithful Armenians in the Army were disarmed and made the slaves of Turkish soldiers. Sickness and starvation were rife among them, and their starving families at home were uncared for by the government. Murders of Armenians in the Army were frequent. There were desertions, but the Kurds deserted in much larger numbers. I wonder would not Zia Bey have deserted under such circumstances, when it was evident his government did not trust and did not want him?
In spite of all this and a thousand times more, of which I must not write, the Armenians did not rebel. I could tell of petty massacres and the terrorizing of communities by police and gendarmes. The Armenian leaders pleaded with the downtrodden, exasperated Armenians not to resist or in any way give the government an excuse for severe measures. The extermination of the Armenians had been decreed by the Constantinople authorities, the leaders of the Young Turks, whose motto is “Turkey for the Turks.” First the leaders of the people were to be removed, and four of the leading Armenians, invited by the Governor General to hold a peace conference to bring about harmony in Shadakh, where foully murdered the first night en route, by the governor’s orders. Soldiers were sent to Shadakh with orders to wipe out the Armenian population and no secret was made of the orders. The Armenian member of Parliament was seized and deported. The inhabitants of the villages of Haigatsore were massacred by the governor’s special regiment, and mutilated women, girls and even infants, who after days in the mountains were brought to our hospital, testified to the ruthlessness of the attack.
Only at the sixth village, when it was evident that a general massacre was on, did the Armenians begin to resist. There less than half a dozen young men held the attacking force off until some of the women and children could escape to the mountains. This was April 17 and 18. Soldiers and gendarmes had been quartered in nearly all the villages and instructed to complete the massacre on Monday, the 19th. The Kaimakam of Arjesh, trusted by the Armenians, called the men to the government building and, marching them out under guard in companies of fifty, shot down two thousand five hundred, regardless of their having paid their “badal” and contributed in many ways to the government.
These rumors reaching Van, it is not strange that the Armenians were uneasy and ready to defend themselves when attacked on Tuesday, April 20, and they did defend themselves heroically throughout a siege at twenty-eight days. About sixty men in the walled city and twelve hundred in the garden city, variously armed with every kind of firearm, ancient and modern, except machine guns and cannon, held off the Ottoman forces and artillery till the Turks fled. Then they burned the Turkish quarter, less the Turks should return and renew the attack. They did not know that a Russian army was approaching until two days after the siege was raised. With their lack of proper arms and ammunition, the Armenians would not have dared to rebel and attack the trained Turkish army.
Knowing what I do of Turkish official reports, I am not surprised that Zia Bey is misinformed, and I trust this statement of facts will change his opinion on some points, I can vouch for the above statements from personal knowledge.
CLARENCE D. USSHER, M. D.,
Chief of Staff of the American Red Cross Hospital at Van, Turkey.
East Hartford, Conn., Nov. 9, 1915.
Quite early on, the Ottoman government decided to put out some propaganda that sought to explain what was happening at the hands of the Government. The first ‘apology’, only 8 pages long (not shown), was entitled “Verité sur le movement Révolutionnaire…” (1916). It had no illustrations. At the other extreme, in terms of propaganda, two short volumes were published in late 1916 in Constantinople which were largely comprised of images supposedly proving that the Armenians were revolutionaries. We show the covers of these in Figs. 5a. and 5b. Each clearly states that the contents are presented with commentary and captions in Ottoman Turkish, in French, in German, and in English.
Fig. 5a. Fig. 5b.
This work with a range of rearranged titles and covers went through a number of reprints, some as late as 2003. None of the reprints or the originals had very good quality images.
On page 53 of book 1 is a photograph (Fig. 6.), whose caption in English reads “Armenians fighting in the trenches against the Turks for the purpose of facilitating the occupation of the city of Van by the Russians.” The source of the photograph is not given but it is clear that it is a clipping from what we have shown above as Fig. 2.
A few other photographs from western sources all make it clear that the Turkish perspective on the entire matter is that Armenians are in revolt and have taken cowardly refuge in the American Compound.
It has always been a source of amazement to us that those who put the illustrated propaganda booklets together felt obliged to use an American source with a distorted caption to tell their ‘side’ of the story. One would have thought that there were plenty of opportunities to take more telling photographs and used them instead of resorting to a publication put out in America?
(Anonymous) Vérité sur le movement révolutionnaire arménien et les mesures gouvernmentals. (Constantinople, 1916). No publisher indicated. 16 pgs., 1916. (Harvard University’s copy bears a mark of its origin with the stamp of the British Chief Postal Censor).
(Anonymous, 1916) Die Ziele und Taten armenischer Revolutionäre = The Armenian aspirations and revolutionary movements= Aspirations et mouvements révolutionaires arméniens = Ermeni ȃmal ve harekȃt i ihtiliyyesi tesȃvir ve vesȃlik.
Evénénements insurrectionnels qui ont nécessité le déplacements des Armeniens. (Constantinople, 1919). No publisher indicated. 54 pgs. , University of Toronto Library copy indicates that it was presented as a gift from the Turkish Embassy.
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