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Five Noteworthy Armenians

Sevgi Zbeyde GRBZ

In a recent article by the Dow Jones Newswire's Spencer Swartz, in response to Turkish Foreign Minister's Abdullah Gul's statement "Do they know the (Ottoman Empire's) foreign minister at the time was Armenian, along with many (Ottoman) ambassadors?" the following important question is asked: "I wonder who are these elusive (no name) Armenian politicians in the Ottoman Empire and what happened to them?"

I should begin by pointing out, as Murat Bardakci wrote in his column for the Sabah newspaper, that in fact Mr. Gul made a somewhat important factual mistake, as the Foreign Minister during the relocations was Said Halim Pasha, not Gabriel Noradunkyan, who served in that position from 1912-1913.

That having been said, I think the spirit behind Mr. Gul's comments is still a valid point. Although Noradunkyan was not the Foreign Minister during the relocations, he did serve during a time when the treasonous activities of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation were at a peak. Ever since the late 1800's, Armenian revolutionaries had been fighting for the establishment of an independent Armenian state. For example, the infamous ANTRANIK, who massacred many innocent Turkish civilians, had been involved in revolutionary activity since 1888 and even lead a group of 230 Armenian volunteers against the Ottomans during the Balkan Wars, the very same years Noradunkyan was Foreign Minister.

Thus, even during a sensitive period of time, Armenians were still trusted to hold important government positions. On the website of The Turkish Weekly [1] there is a very long list of over 330 not so "elusive" names of Armenians who had served in the Ottoman Government around the time of World War I. Many of them did serve in key positions in a variety of Ministries of the Ottoman Government, including Foreign Affairs, Finance, Treasury, and Parliament. It was only after the massacre of over 100,000 Turks in 1914 and early 1915, followed by the Armenian rebellion in Van which paved the way for the Russian occupation of Turkish cities, that a desperate Ottoman government unable to protect their borders and citizens decided to relocate Armenians from the combat zone to other areas of the Empire.

While researching the fate of all these Armenians would be quite an extensive task, I would like to address the question of "what happened to them" by considering the lives of five noteworthy Armenians from that period: Gabriel Noradunkyan, Garegin Pasdermajian, Krikor Zohrab, Bedros Kapamajian, and Berc Keresteciyan.

GABRIEL NORADUNKYAN was born in Istanbul in 1852. In 1908 he served as the Minister of Trade, and then from 1912-1913 he served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Noradunkyan moved to Europe prior to the 1915 Armenian relocations, and as the head of the Armenian National Committee representing the Armenians in Lausanne, was an ardent supporter of the establishment of an independent Armenian state in Anatolia. After the Treaty of Lausanne was signed, he moved to Paris, where he headed up a variety of Armenian aid organizations before passing away in 1936.

GAREGIN PASDERMAJIAN, also known as "Armen Garo," was born in Erzurum in 1873. A member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak Party), which he joined in 1895, Pasdermajian was a key planner of the armed attack on and seizure of the Ottoman Bank, Istanbul in 1896. After being pardoned by the Sultan for his role in the scheme, he went to Europe for scientific education. In 1903-1905 he organized Armenians against the Tatar Turks in the Causacus. When the Young Turks came to power, he became a Ottoman Parliamentarian from Erzurum in 1912. However, when World War I broke out in 1914, he quit and led Armenian units aiding the Russian army in the Caucasus, working closely with the infamous General Drastamat Kanayan and contributing the massacre of Turkish civilians in Northeast Anatolia. He later became a member of the Armenian delegation to Paris in 1919, as well as Armenian Ambassador to the United States. He also had a fundamental role in Operation Nemesis, an Armenian terrorist network aimed at murdering Young Turk leaders after the war. He died of natural causes in 1923.

KRIKOR ZOHRAB was an Armenian writer, lawyer and intellectual, born in 1861 in Besiktas, Istanbul. In 1914, he was elected to the Ottoman Parliament as the Representative from Istanbul. He was arrested on June 3, 1915 and ordered to appear before a court-martial in Diyarbakir together with another Armenian member of the Ottoman Parliament, Vartkes SERENGULYAN. However, en-route, their party was attacked by a group of bandits led by Cherkez Ahmet, Nazim and Halil. Both Zohrab and Serengulyan were murdered. The murderers were tried and executed in September 1915 by one of the Young Turk leaders, Cemal Pasha, in Damascus.

Interestingly, many Armenian websites, such as one for the Armenian Church [2], assert that "he was murdered by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915, as the outset of the Genocide." This is a prime example of how historical fact is completely distorted by Armenians. The Ottoman government did not murder Zohrab, on the contrary, the Ottomans executed Zohrab's murderers!

BEDROS KAPAMAJIAN was born in 1840 and elected the mayor of Van on February 2, 1908. Kapamajian was a loyal Ottoman, who opposed the Armenian revolutionary Hunchak and Dashnak parties. Unfortunately, the Armenian Patriarch was plotting with the Armenian revolutionaries to organize an uprising that would trigger European intervention on behalf of the Armenian nationalists. As part of these plots, a series of fires broke out in Van, in which the homes of some Armenians also burned. The Patriarch asked Kapamajian to send a report to the Ambassadors of the European States stating that the fires and provocation were caused by Muslims, and that the lives and property of Armenians were in imminent danger. However, Mayor Kapamajian instead sent a report telling that this was not the case and that the fires were started by the Armenian Dashnak revolutionaries.

The Dashanks were angered by Kapamajian's loyalty to the Ottomans, and thus they put him on a black list, along with other loyal Armenians, marked for assassination. Tragically, Mayor Kapamajian was assassinated by his own son, a member of the Armenian revolutionary Dashnak party, on December 10, 1912.

BERC KERESTECIYAN was born in 1870 in Istanbul. His father, Migirdic Keresteciyan was the manager of the customs office in Istanbul, and his uncle Bedros Keresteciyan served as the manager of the External Communications office until 1880, and then manager of the Translation Office of the Finance Ministry until his death in 1909.

Berc Keresteciyan himself was one of the co-founders of the Turkish Red Crescent and general manager of the Ottoman Bank. However, he is most well known for being "the Armenian who saved Ataturk's life." In 1919, Keresteciyan met with Mustafa Kemal Pasha's attorney Sadettin Ferit Bey and warned him of a possible assassination plot:

"You are, I believe, both the attorney and close friend of the Esteemed Pasha. The ship that the Esteemed will be taken to Samsun will be sunk by a British torpedo boat outside the Bosphorus. Please convey this warning to the Esteemed Pasha." As a result, Mustafa Kemal instructed the captain of his ship, the Bandirma, to stay as close to shore as possible. Fortunately for the Turkish people, Ataturk thus safely reached Samsun, where he would begin to unify and organize the Turkish people to fight for their liberation against the occupying Allied forces and their allies.

But Keresteciyan's services did not end here. In the early 1920s, Ataturk wrote to Keresteciyan asking for the procurement of some direly needed funds. Keresteciyan withdrew 15,000 liras from his own personal bank account and gave it to Ataturk, thereby facilitating the purchase of some badly-needed missing firing mechanisms for artillery.

In 1934, Keresteciyan was elected to the Turkish parliament as a representative from Afyon, thereby becoming the first Armenian member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and served in that capacity until 1942. After the surname law passed the Turkish Parliament, Ataturk gave him the last name "Turker" in recognition of his unforgettable services to the Turkish nation. Berc Keresteciyan Turker passed away in 1949.

FIVE ARMENIANS, FIVE DIFFERENT FATES

One advocated the cause of Armenian nationalism from Europe, passing away naturally after the war.

One was a terrorist and traitor, despite himself serving in the Ottoman Parliament, who also passed away of natural causes.

One was an Armenian nationalist whose murderers were executed by the Ottoman government.

One was murdered by Armenian militants for remaining loyal to the Ottomans.

And one was a true Ottoman patriot, who saved the life of the famed Turkish leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and continued to serve the Turkish people long after the war, passing away in peace on his native soil.

As these five examples show, the situation is much more complex and intricate than the one-sided, black-and-white version Armenians today would have you believe.

Sevgi Zubeyde Gurbuz

Footnotes:

[1] http://www.turkishweekly.net/articles.php?id=114

[2] http://www.armenianchurch.net/diocese/organizations/zohrab.html

07/04/07 03:20

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