Department of Armenian Studies, Haigazian University
Contact: Ara Sanjian
Email: [email protected]
NORA ARISSIAN LECTURES AT HAIGAZIAN UNIVERSITY ON SYRIAN MEMOIRS ON THE
BEIRUT, Wednesday, 14 April, 2004 (Haigazian University Department of
Armenian Studies Press Release) – On Friday, 19 March 2004, the
Department of Armenian Studies hosted Dr. Nora Arissian, who delivered a
public lecture entitled “The Armenian Genocide in the Memoirs of the
Syrian-born Arissian is a graduate of Damascus University and received
her Ph.D. from the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Armenian
National Academy of Sciences in Yerevan. She currently works in the
Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in Damascus and is the author of “The
Armenian Calamities in the Syrian Mind: The Position of Syrian
Intellectuals toward the Armenian Genocide,” published in Arabic in
Beirut in 2002. This book presents and analyzes the views and attitudes
of 43 contemporary Syrian thinkers on the Armenian Genocide (historians,
writers, journalists, political figures, etc.), almost all of whom
condemn what befell the Armenians during the First World War.
Arissian emphasized the importance of Syrian primary documents and
periodicals in analyzing the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire
during the First World War. These sources, however, have not to date
been accorded by Armenian Genocide scholars the importance, she thinks,
they deserve, especially in comparison to data emanating from European
and American governments, organizations and individuals.
Syria was not an independent, sovereign entity at the beginning of the
twentieth century, said Arissian. It did not, therefore, have diplomatic
or official documents, through which we can analyze today an official
Syrian standpoint toward the ongoing Armenian Genocide of 1915. That is
why the memoirs and oral testimonies of individual Syrians are even more
important than usual to understand the popular attitude toward these
massacres and deportations. These sources can also help us explain the
causes behind and the events of the Genocide from an Arab viewpoint.
Arissian said that Syrian Arabs today are largely sympathetic to the
Armenian plight during the Genocide. This attitude is partly conditioned
by the pan-Turkist ideology prevalent in the Ottoman Empire at the time,
which also aimed at the forced Turkification of other non-Turkish
elements in the empire, including Arabs. Arab intellectuals explain the
Genocide committed by the Young Turks as the “logical conclusion” of
earlier anti-Armenian massacres and other instances of violence in the
Arissian classified the various Syrian sources on the Armenian Genocide
currently available into four broad categories:
a) Newspapers published by Syrians both inside the country and in exile.
Arissian’s research has uncovered 500 articles making extensive
reference to Armenians and their suffering in 33 different political
periodicals published between 1877 and 1930. (She is now compiling these
articles into a book which will be published in Lebanon soon.)
b) The oral testimonies of actual witnesses of the Armenian Genocide.
Arissian has recorded the testimonies of 25 Arab witnesses, all born
between 1880 and 1919, including some who were the children of Armenian
women deportees. The information they provided was useful as regards the
various regions from which the Armenians had been deported as well as
the relationship of the Syrians with the Armenian deportees.
c) The oral testimonies of the children of Arab tribesmen who witnessed
the Genocide. Arissian described her interviews with the sons of the
governor in 1915 of the region of Sabkha (40 km south-west of Rakka),
the chief of the Arab al-Jarba tribe, the leader of the Kurdish al-Malla
tribal confederation, and with the writer, Abd al-Salam al-Ujayli, whose
father was a village headman and a director of deportations in the Rakka
region in 1915.
d) The published memoirs of political, cultural and other public
figures. The discussion of the latter formed the last and most extensive
part of Arissian’s lecture.
Arissian argued that the published memoirs of the writer and politician
Fakhri al-Barudi (1889-1066), the revolutionary activists Fawzi
al-Qawuqji and Ahmad Qadri (1893-1958), as well as the Ottoman diplomat
Amin Arslan (1893-1958) make only passing references to the Armenians
when discussing the characteristics of the Young Turk regime in the last
years of Ottoman rule. The lecturer dealt in more depth, however, with
the works of the politician Fares al-Khuri (1877-1962), the lawyer and
political activist Fayez al-Ghusayn (1883-1968) and the cultural and
public figure Muhammad Kurd Ali (1876-1953). Al-Khuri dwelt at length on
the murder of his fellow Ottoman parliamentarians of Armenian descent,
Krikor Zohrab and Vartkes, and its repercussions in the Ottoman
Parliament. Al-Ghusayn was briefly imprisoned as a political opponent by
the Young Turk regime during the war years and finally escaped to join
the rebel forces of Sharif Husayn in Arabia. Al-Ghusayn has a number of
writings that describe the Armenian deportations and massacres, the most
significant of which is a series of articles entitled ‘The Massacres in
Armenia,’ which was first published in the Egyptian periodical
al-Muqattam and was then reissued as a 62-page booklet. In various books
that he compiled, Kurd Ali in turn described the Armenian Genocide, the
forced migration of Armenians to Syria and tried to analyze the
possibility of the acculturation of these Armenian migrants into their
new milieu. Finally, Arissian also mentioned in this last part of her
lecture that another Syrian author, Yusif al-Hakim (1879-1979),
described in his memoirs, ‘Syria and the Ottoman Period,’ the massacres
against the Armenians in Cilicia and the neighboring northern districts
of modern Syria during the failed counter-revolution of 1909, which
aimed to return Sultan Abdulhamid II to power as an absolute monarch.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, Arissian admitted
that young Syrian Arabs are not generally aware of the sources she has
researched and the information that they contain, but she expressed
commitment and some optimism that Armenians must strive to spread the
appropriate knowledge and help form a favorable public opinion.
Haigazian University is a liberal arts institution of higher learning,
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For additional information on the activities of its Department of
Armenian Studies, contact Ara Sanjian at <[email protected]>.