Letter: Archives, Anatolia and Armenia (3)

May 11, 2001

In November 1918, after the signing of the Armistice of Mudros, the Allies (mainly the British) occupied Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman state, and later arrested the members of the Ottoman wartime cabinet, whom they incarcerated in Malta with a view to trying them for "war crimes". For two years they searched the Ottoman archives, collected many "secret" documents and dispatched them to London, where they are now preserved at the Public Record Office in files FO 371/4221/ 170571 and FO 371/9158/E5523.

As no evidence was found against the accused, they were released in 1921 without a trial. Therefore, it is very doubtful that the "sealed Ottoman archives", which were ransacked by the Allies with the help of Armenian translators, can yield any result. Interesting light may be shed on Turco-Armenian relations if the Armenian and Russian documents are made available to researchers, particularly the archives of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul and the Catholicate in Echmiadzin.

As for the Armenian intentions of claiming compensation from Turkey, if the statute of limitations were to be extended in violation of the legal principle barring retrospective legislation, and this became a precedent, the former expansionist colonial powers would have to face similar claims from the indigenous people of the territories they ruled, whom they allegedly mistreated.

The Armenians, too, would not be immune for their past atrocities in eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus and recently in Azerbaijan.

In short, when the international community is faced with so many contemporary problems, it would be absurd to have to divert attention to deal with "historical grievances".

S. R. Sonyel
London

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