Anahit Astoyan: “Deprivation of the Armenians’ properties was one of the reasons for the Armenian Genocide…”

In 2013, senior scientific worker of the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran) Anahit Astoyan released her book “Robbery of the Century: Deprivation of Properties of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1914-19”.

According to the author, the fact that the government planned the appropriation of Armenians’ individual and collective properties is stated in the reports of survivors and foreign diplomats having served in the Ottoman Empire, as well as in the Turkish archives in which it is confirmed that the deprivation of the properties of Armenians was a major factor in the plan for annihilation of the Armenian nation.

For that purpose, on June 1, 1915, the Young Turks promulgated the Law on Deportations by which 1.5 million Armenians were forcefully deported and annihilated.

Later, the overt robbery and appropriation of all mobile and real estate properties and all the wealth of Armenians were legitimized, and this is what Anahit Astoyan has touched upon in her book.

“Hayern Aysor”: What made you publish this book?

Anahit Astoyan: Scholar Levon Vardan, author of the book “1915 and the Derelict Properties of the Armenians”, was the first to conduct research on this topic. The scholar also urged to continue research.

No matter how strange it may sound, over the past years, Turkish historians have especially started touching upon this topic. Over the past five to six years, Taner Akcam, Ungur Umit, Sait Cetioglu, Nevzat Onara and Ayshe Hyuri have published books devoted to the topic.

The Turkish authors find that the issue of the return of Armenians’ properties lies at the core of Turkey’s denial. If the Turks recognize the Armenian Genocide, they will be forced to come to grips with the reality that they are obliged to repair the material losses that the Armenians suffered. That’s why they prefer to deny the Armenian Genocide.

I have conducted studies on the economic activity of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and have revealed many interesting facts.

Armenians were the “owners” of Turkey’s economy. This was a matter of great concern for the Turks, especially the Young Turks who were worried that the Armenians would soon take over the empire as well. Armenians were the leaders in music, architecture and other spheres across the Ottoman Empire, and 80 percent of schools in the Ottoman Empire were Armenian schools.

Many historians, political scientists and foreign diplomats say deprivation of the Armenians’ properties was one of the motives behind the Armenian Genocide. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau clearly states that the main purpose of the deportations was robbery. Turkish historians say the same.

Deprivation of properties was truly one of the major goals because the government already had a lot of debts. Besides, the Young Turks had a plan to Turkify the country, and they implemented their economic policy by Turkifying the properties belonging to the Armenians and the Greeks.

“Hayern Aysor”: What research have you done to write this book?

A. A.: The orders of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of the Ottoman government on seizing Armenians’ properties and related to the committees on derelict properties of Kesaria are kept at the Matenadaran.

After the deportations of the Armenians, the process of depriving Armenians of their properties was legitimized. The orders on managing the Armenians’ derelict properties, comprised of 34 articles, were promulgated on June 10, 1915, and the Law on Derelict Properties was promulgated in September 1915. The Ottoman Parliament legitimized the appropriation and confiscation of Armenians’ properties, which were already being appropriated and seized across the country.

Later, a statue was drawn up for enforcement of this law. Committees were set up for the derelict properties on the basis of legal acts, and those committees organized the confiscation of Armenians’ properties. These documents are kept at the Matenadaran.

The records of the committees on derelict properties are very important documents and can give one the real picture of what Armenians lost.

There are many sources in the book.

After the ceasefire declared in Mudrus on October 30, 1918, the newspapers of Constantinople were full of articles that were mainly reprints from Turkish newspapers. The defeated Turks were starting to confess.

During my interviews, I always say that just the newspapers of Constantinople were enough to write a book.

The foreign diplomatic documents and the opinions of foreign diplomats also serve as sources. Materials related to the deprivation of Armenians’ properties can be found in any book devoted to the Armenian Genocide.

The recent works by Turkish historians also helped me a lot.

“Hayern Aysor”: If the deprivation of the Armenians’ properties was legitimate, does this mean that we can’t demand the return of those properties?

A. A.: The laws on derelict properties, which were annulled under pressure from countries of the Entente in 1920, were restored by the Kemals and were in effect until 1988.

The points in the Lausanne Covenant concerning Armenians properties can serve as a legal document for us. Republican Turkey expressed commitment to return the Armenians’ properties, but in September 1923, Kemal Turkey passed laws with the purpose of ruling out the application of the Articles in the Lausanne Covenant and the intervention of the League of Nations on the basis of those Articles in 1923 and 1927. With those laws, the Turks deprived the Armenians of their right to return to the homeland. A seal prohibiting return to Turkey was placed in the passports of the deportees or those who had voluntarily migrated. Thus, Turkey claimed the properties that the Armenians had left behind.

The massacres and the confiscation of Armenians’ properties continued more brutally during the years of the Kemal movement. The driving force for the Kemal movement was the Armenians’ properties. Kemal would tell everyone that people had to help him, adding that If they didn’t, then the Armenians would return and stand up for their properties.

Notable Muslim Turks and Kurds would provide funding for the Kemal movement, the victory of which led to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

“Hayern Aysor”: Can we estimate our material losses?

A. A.: The human brain is incapable of that. In one of the chapters of my book, I have noted an approximate estimate with facts converted into figures.

There are also different committees that have done calculations. Besides the demands that the Unified National Delegation presented to the Paris Conference in 1919, which were drawn up by foreign experts, it is impossible to make correct calculations.

Let me bring up an example. After this book was published, a woman came to the Matenadaran. Her grandfather was from Van. She had brought the booklet from the branch of the Ottoman Bank in Van for which she had deposited 7,000 pieces of molten gold. If an average person could deposit that much gold in the bank, what about the others? How much money could rich and famous people have in banks?

There is a tremendous amount of material losses that are the wealth that was accumulated through centuries and millennia of hard work.

In the orders on derelict properties there was a specific point that concerned the theft of Armenian Church properties and cultural assets, which is immeasurable.

Based on Turkey’s data, prior to 1914, the Armenians in Turkey had 2,538 churches, 451 monasteries and 2,000 schools. The wealth kept in these institutions was also appropriated, robbed and destroyed. This is a severe loss not only for Armenian culture, but world culture as well. I have estimated the losses. Based on the data, there were 30,000 pix and 600,000 objects for rituals.

The Turks are getting rich off us to this day. The majority of Armenians were certain that the displacement was temporary. They all kept their riches somewhere “safe”. For 100 years, the Turks have had a “gold fever” as they destroy even the foundations of Armenian churches, homes and cemeteries. They have been conducting searches with special devices to this day.

The Turks didn’t just Turkify the economy at the expense of Armenians’ properties. Armenian properties make up 32-35% of Turkey’s national capital, according to Turkish historians. The Turks paid a large portion of foreign debts and filled the government’s empty treasury. There are facts stating how the government’s budget was increasing during the years of war when it should have been the opposite.

They organized the Kemal movement, the victory of which led to the establishment of modern-day Turkey. The Republic of Turkey was established on the basis of the Armenian Genocide, as well as material, military and political gains.

The Armenians have mourned so much for the loss of fellow Armenians that they haven’t attached importance to material losses, which goes to show once again the morality of the Armenian nation.

“Hayern Aysor”: Did other countries help deprive the Armenians of their properties?

A. A.: It’s very strange. Before 1914, the newspapers of Constantinople and Zmurnia were filled with advertisements of foreign insurance companies. Starting from the mid-19th century, the country saw an increase in the number of foreign insurance companies that had Armenian customers. The 63 foreign insurance companies based in Turkey had Armenian customers, and they received the sums for insurance in gold. The insurance companies had branches in all major cities. They also appropriated our properties. New York Life Insurance was the only company that returned small amounts of money.

There were also banks in Turkey. As I mentioned, the major part of Turkey’s economy was in the hands of Armenians, and Armenian merchants and manufacturers were working with banks. The banks also appropriated the Armenians’ sums. There are facts stating how German banks appropriated the derelict properties of Armenians as well.

“Hayern Aysor”: Which facts had a greater impact on you while you were writing the book?

A. A.: I have come across very hard facts, and it’s always hard for me to remember them. It’s the most horrible ransom. Those riding the caravans of Armenians would pay a ransom to cross a street, bridge or travel from one village to the next and would constantly distribute gold. A gendarmerie commander once confessed that he had received 40 boxes (containing 20 liters) of gold from an Armenian caravan.

People would give ransoms to become Islamized. Famous wealthy Ibranosyan gave a building equivalent to 15,000 Turkish lira to convert to Islam, and we still have to find out how many Islamized Armenians there are.

It is known that 63,000 children, 250,000 Armenian women and ladies remained in Turkey and, according to Morgenthau, most of them were in the harems. Only 10,000 of them could be brought back through the efforts of employees of the American Relief.

People were spending huge amounts of money to be executed, just for that one bullet.

You are aware that there was a special organization for criminals during the Armenian Genocide. The Young Turks would collaborate with special organizations of criminals from prisons under the condition that the Young Turks would be relieved of criminal persecution, if they shared the loot of the Armenians.

Based on data from the U.S., there were 300,000 and I have estimated that each of them received 15,000 pieces of gold. If we multiply that number, then just the special organization received 70 billion Turkish gold…

The facts say it all. The only thing left for me to do is to hope many will touch upon this topic. Although I have tried to give the whole picture of the deprivation of the Armenians’ properties, but this is just a small part.

The English version of the book will soon be released at the initiative of the Matenadaran and by state order.

Հուսով եմ նաև, որ գիրքը Հայ դատին ևս իր նպաստը կբերի…

I also hope the book will serve as a contribution to the solution to the Armenian Cause….

Interview for Horizon Weekly of Canada by Lusine 

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