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Sarafian on “Remembering Adana”

Heidi Lea
Staff Writer

Archival historian Ara Sarafian (right) with Arno Yeretzian.
Archival historian Ara Sarafian (right) with Arno Yeretzian.

The Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State hosted historian Ara Sarafian on Monday, October 12 to give a presentation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Adana Massacres of 1909. Sarafian is an archival historian specializing in late Ottoman history. He is director of the London based Gomidas Institute, which is a research and publication center for modern Armenian history.

Armenian Studies Program Coordinator Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian introduced Sarafian who has been a frequent guest speaker in Fresno. This lecture focused on the events that took place in the eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire during the month of April, 1909. Armenians living in the city of Adana were victims of unexpected, horrific mass killings, committed by Turkish mobs. This violence quickly spread to other Armenian villages in the region of Cilicia, and a total of between 20,000 and 30,000 Armenians were massacred.

Sarafian detailed this event with many new pictures, taken by German Ernst Jäckh, that captured the agricultural city of Adana and what it looked like before the massacres. Jäckh worked for German interests in the Ottoman Empire and was a Turcophile. The pictures documented some of the cotton farming and other type of work that was done seasonally in Adana, mostly by Armenian migrant workers who came to the city in early spring for the harvest season. Armenians made up approximately 10,000-15,000 of the city’s 45,000 people. The next pictures showed the complete destruction of the city’s Armenian sections, caused by both looting and fires, and the horrific fate of the innocent Armenian people.

Sarafian also discussed and read passages from Hagop Terzian’s book, Cilicia, 1909: The Massacre of Armenians (Gomidas Institute, 2009). This included graphic first-hand accounts by Terzian of how members of the Armenian community were brutally tortured and killed by the mobs. One passage described that it was nearly impossible for Armenians to escape.

Those that fled to nearby villages were killed when the massacres reached those villages. It was difficult for Turks or foreigners in these areas to save or hide the Armenians as the mobs savagely raided the cities. Sarafian explained that the importance of Terzian’s book is that it proved the massacres were not isolated events and it provided strong evidence and proof of the Armenians’ account while simultaneously showing the permanent divide that occurred between the Young Turk government and the Armenian population after the Adana massacres. This divide would lead to the Armenian Genocide that took place six years later in 1915.

Sarafian discussed the role of the Young Turk government in these mass killings. The Adana massacres were sanctioned by the Ottoman government and occurred in the form of large mobs of Turkish Muslims whose goal it was to destroy any Armenian they encountered during this swift, organized effort. Leading up to April of 1909, false rumors of Armenian uprisings and planned violence against Muslim neighbors spread throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Immediately following the massacres, the bodies were burned or dumped in the river and the Ottoman government began discrediting the numerical figures of how many Armenians were killed. Sarafian argued that all of these factors are strong proof that the government played a lead role in orchestrating this atrocious event.

The 100th anniversary of the Adana Massacres is a reminder of the devastating last years of the Ottoman Empire and the fate that many Armenians suffered, both in 1909 and throughout the Genocide. In addition to lecturing about Adana, Sarafian is organizing a conference on the subject of Adana that will be held later this year in Istanbul, Turkey. This conference will include both Armenian and Turkish historians who want to discuss this event and give them an opportunity to come together to discuss some of these periods of history within the Ottoman Empire.
Audience members asked numerous questions at the conclusion of the lecture. Then, Arno Yeretzian of Abril Bookstore in Glendale, displayed a large variety of Armenian-related books for the audience to enjoy.