Letters referring to a decision to “annihilate” all Armenians are the authentic work of Bahaettin Shakir, one of the architects of the Armenian Genocide, according to signature analysis carried out by a leading Turkish historian, published in the Journal of Genocide Research.
Prof. Taner Akçam of Clark University, Massachusetts, who has studied the genocide for decades, says the signatures on the two letters, dated 3 March and 7 April 1915, match those of Shakir on other documents. Prof. Akçam also says he has unearthed new documents from the Ottoman Archives which show initial decisions to exterminate groups of Armenians were taken by a local branch of para-military organization Tekilat-Mahsusa (Special Organization) led by provincial governors in 1st December 1914.
The Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians, was carried out during and after World War I. While present day Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the war, it continues to contest the 1.5 million figure and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
This denial – which continues despite the UN demanding in a recent Joint Allegation Letter that the Turkish government investigate the treatment of Armenians from 1915 to 1923, establish the truth and make reparations – has hinged on the patchy archival record.
The first letter studied by Prof. Akçam states that the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) “has decided to annihilate all of Armenians living within Turkey, not to allow a single one to remain, and has given the government broad authority in this regard”. The second letter reiterates this message. Previously, the letters’ authenticity was questioned but, according to Prof. Akçam, signature comparison indicates they were authored by Shakir who, as head of the para-military Special Organization, helped to plan and carry out the genocide.
“These letters indicate there was an actual, conscious decision taken to annihilate the empire’s Armenian population and that it was taken before 3 March 1915,” says Prof. Akçam. “Moreover, there were other related decisions which preceded this final one, as a series of documents we discovered in the Ottoman Archives shows.”
These documents suggest that initial decisions to eliminate groups of Armenians were not taken by the Central Committee of the CUP and/or by central government, but by governors in the provinces of Van and Bitlis.
“In their communications – both with Istanbul and with one another – the governors did not see the need to use vague language or euphemisms in referring to the annihilation of the Armenians, but spoke of it openly, even offering a number of tangible ideas regarding how such an extermination could or should be carried out,” says Prof. Akçam.
Policy decisions regarding the elimination of Armenians, while initially made at the regional level, would eventually serve to pressure the central government in Istanbul to adopt a more radical overall policy, he concludes.