Letter from a Harput (Kharpert) Armenian to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Hüsnü Gürbey and Mahsuni Gül discovered an intriguing document that has been lying in the state archives for 83 years. It is of a letter written by B.G. Karapetyan, an Armenian from Harput (Kharpert), to Atatürk towards the end of 1937. In this letter, Karapetyan outlines the events that were inflicted on the Armenians from 1909 to 1915, providing an analysis of these events. He also proposes a new system for Turkey that would respond to the peoples’ demands for freedom.

A document/letter found in the Presidential Archive coded “CA: 01019578/648214” was sent with the signature of B.G. Karabetyan from the Armenian community of Elazığ to Mustafa Kemal Pasha. The original letter is in Armenian. The copy we have is the Turkish translation without a date. There is only a mention of 19. 1. 938 at the end of the appendix in red writing. The letter consists the original writing and an appendix. Since the letter was written after the Hatay events it is estimated that it was written between 1937-38, which corresponds to the red writing in the appendix. 
“The degrading and belittling system against the non-Turkish elements in the days of the tyrannical sultanate is being applied.” And the letter goes on to say “During the period of the sultanate, non-Turks in the country were able to at least freely run their religious life and, partly, their cultural life. However, non-Turks in the country are being deprived of these basic rights under your progressive rule”, openly stating that the Republican government was falling behind the Ottoman government.
The letter states how the Ottoman State lost the First World War and came apart because of the enmity shown against the (non-Turkish) citizens by the novice administrators (leaders/bureaucrats) and heretics. Whereas according to the writer, “discriminating between the people is ignorance”.  The writer goes on to say, “You governed over countries and nations, but you lacked the ability and foresight to bind them to the state and serve them.”
The writer also makes a comparison and mentions 1915. “When Europeans invaded the former Ottoman lands, instead of repressing the peoples living there they respected their democratic rights and opted for co-existence. Whereas you massacred the Armenians and dispersed the rest to all four corners of the world, leaving them unprotected, outcast and without a homeland. As for those you remained in the country, you have deprived them of their personal and national rights, rendering them prisoners.”
According to the writer, “The problem lies in the lack of understanding on the part of the state of democratic rights and freedoms. As long as you are unable to grasp this concept, foreigners will continue to interfere in your internal affairs. A state founded on a rotten foundation can neither advance nor become stable. When we analyse Turkey from this angle today, we see that it is again on the wrong path, getting caught up in the proclamations of deceptive and conspiring states, and continues the politics of arrogance and threats.”
The writer makes a number of similar warnings and proposes the Constitution of the USA as a positive example. Without further ado, we leave you with this important and telling letter. H.G-M.G

Respected Mustafa Kemal Pasha:
I regret that I am unable to express my opinions in Turkish. However, since I am certain that you will be easily able to find an Armenian who can translate this well into Turkish, I am forced to write in Armenian. Twenty years have passed since the days oppression and disaster befell our country and I am yet to see any hopeful changes in our internal and external politics, from a progressive point of view. 

The degrading and belittling system against the non-Turkish elements in the days of the tyrannical sultanate is being applied. During the period of the sultanate, non-Turks in the country were able to at least freely run their religious life and, partly, their cultural life. However, non-Turks in the country are being deprived of these basic rights under your progressive rule. 
Religion is the only element of the soul’s solace and moral uprightness that cannot be forcibly cut from the soul of a nation, no force or measure can take it out of a nation’s heart and dispose of it. Religion, in its true sense, is the medium which demonstrates a nation’s or people’s spiritual and moral standard. It is the only thing that ensures the growth of conscience and all that is holy. If the hypocritical spiritual leaders’ immunity is protected from bigotry and exploitation then we will have chosen to reach for the true and infallible progressive path wherein people live in friendly relations with one another.

First page of the letter

Religion without faith and consideration can only lead to immorality and hypocrisy. 

It is the feeling of conscience in human beings that induces the obligation to abide by rules that propel peoples onto the path of progress by living together with mutual relations in every field of life. A nation or state that is made up of people who are convinced by the importance of the feeling of conscience and grasp its necessity and the role that it plays, no matter how small in quantity, will be undefeatable, either from inside or outside. Power and might are achieved through the birth and development of the mutual relations between various nations on the basis of righteousness and sincerity. Without this, everything is reduced to narcissism and self-deception.
After the occupation of Istanbul and the retreat of the victorious armies, a gnawing wolf entered Turkey, as it completely lost its majesty and influence. The reason why Turkey lost all these lands that it had gained through great sacrifices is that it was deprived of these virtues. 

Aside from the past, let’s take a close look at the reasons for these losses:

All these losses, even those in the last war, were the result of the inexperience of Turkey’s leaders (bureaucrats/administrators) in political affairs, a demise in conscience and morals, of hot-headedness and narcissism, and of backwards ideas such as foreign enmity. This state of affairs, which, in the end, will take us backwards, is being taken forward again with the same enthusiasm.
A leader who enjoys privileges and authority is himself harmed just as much as those who live under his governance and whose equality is neglected. However, a state that does not discriminate between the subjects that it follows up with, subjects them equally to the law and respects their social rights, and represents them on their behalf is a state whose influence and honour, gained through these sacrifices, take roots, expand, grow, rise and become immortal. Discrimination is ignorance. This factor ignorantly ruins all works, aims, hopes, and plans for the future. Since the retreat from Vienna, this politics of discrimination has led from one calamity to the next.

“What caused the massacre of Armenians?”
You governed over countries and nations, but you lacked the ability and foresight to bind them to the state and serve them. The repression, plundering, massacres, confiscations and injustices enacted both secretly and publicly brought about a violent discontent, hate, resentment, enmity and eventually uprising. There was no doubt that all this would lead to animosity, the weakening and impoverishment of the empire, its splitting and eventually to its death.

Even in this last war, when numerous states whetted their appetites and prepared plans to eat up this untouched country, you organised a deportation aimed particularly at Armenians that was unprecedented in its scale of massacres. What was the reason for this? Because you were of the opinion that we Armenians were not loyal to the Ottoman Empire.
If the conflicting interests among the ill-intentioned states had not arisen, Turkey would currently not exist. However, I fear that the conflicting interests of those states will one day align with one another and Turkey will be deprived of the chance to exist as a state. Those states have not yet acted simply due to their conflict in appetites and interests.

Don’t think that you have eliminated the most unruly and rebellious element in the Armenians through deportations and massacres along with their rights. The European states would have provided the opportunity to commit massacres against Kurds or Armenians in order to fulfil their aims through a devised agreement. The losses of Syria, Iraq and Palestine are still fresh. These countries and other such countries have been occupied by European states. How are the Europeans governing these places that are so far from their homelands – with what power, with what system? Is it through massacres or plundering? Or are they employing other means? Indeed there were clashes in the first instance between the government and its subjects. However, over time, following a division of labour, both sides approach one another in agreement, they began to understand each other and to take into account each other’s demands and rights, thus harmonising one another’s interest, forming an inter-dependent relationship that led the way to progress.

“But you are still…”
However, you, up until this day, have not been able to grasp the existence of the rights of various nations living under your governance. You are seeking various means and opportunities to eliminate the Armenians among you and abroad, confiscating their properties, closing their schools and institutions and even involving yourself in their graves.
You massacred the Armenians and dispersed the rest to all four corners of the world, leaving them unprotected, outcast and without a homeland. As for those you remained in the country, you have deprived them of their personal and national rights, rendering them prisoners. As they are unable to take advantage of the general development and progress in the country, they also fall short of contribute to that development.

It is the fear instilled by your pride that (…illegible) them. You, as intelligent and prudent leaders, should think about and consider how Armenians should have the same rights as Turks and even more in their own country. 

Last page of the letter

Armenians are rebellious, Armenians are Christians, they caused a revolution, they asked for freedom, Kurds are from another sect, they are wild, they are unruly, Turks are from the religion of Muhammad, they are Muslims, they commit massacres, they are this, they are that…as long as everyone belongs to the same country and have the same unbreakable links to that country, they are connected to the same unforgettable memories, to the same rights and powers. So why can I not make use of those rights and powers just as my Turkish neighbour does? Who established this difference and separation? It is of course the prevalent ignorant mentality and malaise of animosity, isn’t it? If Armenians hadn’t felt threatened to lose their existence then they would have had no reason to resort to rebellion and to sacrifice themselves.

You and we both know that there were other conditions and reasons that led to bowing one’s head other than just servitude. Armenians, as people of this country, wanted equal rights, and Turks responded ignorantly with weapons, threats and being unbridled in the inhumane measures that they took. If you, as the dominant Turkish class, were to have grasped the situation, then you would not be subject to foreign forces and we would not have been carried away from hopelessness by the words of others. If you had understood the situation we were in, had applied the law on equal terms and had granted rights just as other states do to their subjects, then we would have developed and reached new heights in civilisation just as they have.

“What is America doing?”
America today consists of 49 Republics and a population of 150 million, made up of various peoples, making these United States almost their own world. These united states only have a history of 150 years and yet America is the most powerful and developed country in the world. What factor has led to the progress of this country that has taken such colossal steps? The whip of despotism? Its bayonet? Massacres? It is certainly none of these. The only factor is the constitution that connects these united states together. The constitution in America is not only for its citizens, but it also ensures unprecedented privileges to non-citizens to progress and make money. Sacrifices have been made for this unique text, which has created a nation. 

Why should such freedom not be guaranteed in other countries? Because they do not grant rights to their subjects, unlike the unconditional rights bestowed by America to its people. Turkey should also recognise the rights of the various peoples living under its governance as the sole condition that will allow for a full freedom, independent, progress and development.

If any country will have the courage to attempt at infringing the freedom of this country [USA] then be sure that everyone in that country, which has gathered its majority and minority elements without discriminating one or the other, will defend the American flag as one person with their life. Because it has accepted them wholeheartedly, as they have accept it in return.

“Has Turkey shown the same treatment?”
Has Turkey shown this kind of freedom-loving treatment towards any nation, big or small, living, being born and growing up in the borders of a sovereign power that has existed for hundreds of years? Never! What is the reason for this? Because it has granted rights only to itself and has not been willing to recognise the rights of others. This is why our country has always lived in fear and worry. It has been the scene of insurrections and it has lost many of its parts. 

A state that is established on a rotten foundation can neither advance nor be stable. When we analyse Turkey today from this perspective we see that it gets carried away by the words of deceitful and ill-intentioned states and goes down the wrong path, continuing its old politics of arrogance and threats. 

You want to expand your borders, even though the lands that you have now are uninhabitable and in a wretched state. I do not want to get into details about this because it will take a long time. You should know that all the people living in Turkey, whether Turk, Armenian, Kurd, Jew, Yazidi and all such grouped communities, are the foundational stones of this country. If the person or group that governs the country looks down on one of these foundational stones, and if they cannot withstand their group force and the sovereign power does not demonstrate its aptitude and refer to them as part of the basis of governance then it is destined to fall apart, whether in ten, twenty or a hundred years. Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, in short, all of the Balkans, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Tarablus [Libya], Cyprus etc, all of these were foundational stones of the country, whether big or small. Short-signed and improvident statecraft, devoid of the ability to govern and “alaturca” politics shook the foundations of the Turkish state by enacting repressions in these countries and thus they dissolved into separate countries. If the opportunities in the recent era of civilisation presented to you had been granted to Armenians then be sure that despite the inaptitude you have demonstrated in all areas of progress, we would have a completely different situation now and our country, as in, you and us, would now be like the United States of America. In other words, a Turkey made up of united governments. What kind of state is one that shows its ignorance by destroying, killing and eliminating a people like the Armenians, who have made themselves known to the world, are pragmatic and creative, have shown that they excel in the fields of progress and whose centuries-old works continue to shine? This is what Turks have done and continue to do. 

“Why shouldn’t it be a united state like America?”
Were you, Turkish leaders, devoid of the power and skill to apply the methods used by democratic governments vis-à-vis the peoples that made up the mass of citizens? An independent Syria, Palestine and Arabia are today going to find themselves under the mandate of other states. Could you not have formed all of these countries as an inseparable part of the Turkish state, along with Armenia and Kurdistan inside? Why shouldn’t these countries all be connected to one another with robust ties of steel as a united state, just like America? Before the declaration of the constitution, the Armenian organisation made up of fighers, the Dashnaktsutyun, were in contact with Turkish intellectuals. The success of their negotiations and their result are still vivid in my memory. In the face of this united power, a tyrannical ruler like Abdülhamit was unable to withstand and was forced to surrender. This was something that people dreamed of for years and was the cause of great joy, brotherly embraces and hopes for the future and for real freedom. However, while this divine purpose was spreading to the most remote corners of the country, the Young Turks committed the Cilicia massacre, killing all hopes, breaking peoples dreams once again, leaving insecurity to prevail as a painful truth. 

1908 and the Cilicia massacre
Turkish leaders showed their level of progress and their standards in the political field with this massacre. With jealousy in their hearts, their wild nature, which was lying dormant, awoke once more, sucking blood and tearing to pieces like a rabid tiger. The great and minor Turkish leaders were completely devoid of logic in their tempestuous minds, as their religious and national fanaticism prevented them from cherishing people and appreciating their merits. (If Armenians were left alone then in a few years they would have taken over all of Turkey’s political and economic leavers, subjugating Turks to Armenians) – with this ignorant belief you didn’t bother to think of any other approach than to commit a massacre and by resort to the bayonet and force you extinguished all hopes and dreams. It will be a source of pride and joy for you that one sector of the citizens of the country can be in competition with one another, and with envy you will attempt to incite enthusiastically, as you undermined, destroyed and ruined everything around you. This is was our Turkish citizens have accepted as their guide. If the Turkish leaders had tried to direct the people towards progress and development rather than agitating their fanaticism and governing them as an unconscious whole, then the Turkish nation would have been able to progress just like other nations. 

I am not blaming or accusing the Turkish people as a whole for being used to committing massacres. It is not their fault, it is the fault of those who govern them. If Turks have lost their knack and ability to work efficiently and progress then it is not their fault, but it is their leaders who have for centuries with the enchantment of religious fanaticism dulled their capacity to act with conscience, correct judgment and initiative. The Turkish people are yet to free themselves of this deplorable mentality and spiritual condition. In the past they committed massacres against Armenians to bring to ruins places that were prosperous in the slightest and now they are doing the same to Kurds. 

A virtuous reversal of affairs would constitute the most honourable part of the future Turkey. Ideas, and especially the predominant ideas, will become more serious, they will abandon arrogance, they will think according to the Zeitgeist, they will ensure harmony between all the essential elements working for the prosperity of the country, they will take the country to the height of real civilisation by taking the path of progress. If such ideas are advanced then the feelings of hate and revenge as well as all kinds of ill-intentioned plans will be rendered purposeless. This is the only path to take. Give autonomy to Armenians, Kurds and all peoples living in this country, void of any political games or secret motives. Only then will a true and fearless Turkey with a future, like the powerful united governments of America, come into being. 

I sincerely look forward to your reply. Respectfully: (A Harputlian)

Note: In order to preserve the original language of the letter we have done as little as possible to interfere with it. (H.G.-M.G.)

Appendix to the letter: Iskenderun Question (Alexandretta)
You were recently disappointed by the fact that Armenians did not accept the case that you have brought forward regarding the Iskenderun issue and this led to some newspapers in Istanbul hurling threats against Armenians living outside of Turkey.

Are you making accusations because some Armenians outside of Turkey are opposed to your supposed patriotic politics? If your politics is not fake then what is the point of the threats that emanate from it? The memory of fear and horror in the hearts of those living on the other side of the border is so fresh that you should not expect unconditional trust so easily from these people who have lost their love ones and everything sacred to them. Trust is developed not through words but only by clear actions. 

By closing down and appropriating the printing houses belonging to Armenians who want to start life anew, by rendering it impossible for schools to survive, by confiscating everything and event forcing people to change their languages and names, you are doing everything in your power to infringe people’s most basic rights. While on the other hand, you want to convince the world that you are respect everyone’s rights based on equality by painting over the world’s eyes. Even if the official bodies of some foreign states choose to ignore this glaring reality or pretend to believe in your progress so they may actualise their malevolent goals, do not forget to convince us of your sincerity and to imbue hope in us. 
In short, if you want to change the opinion of those living inside or outside the country and to give them hope that they will enjoy real freedom in the near future, then you should immediately begin to implement the aforementioned autonomy model that incorporates all peoples.

Only then can the state because a true state – transparent and free of all kinds of hypocrisy and malevolent purposes. Only then can you go above and beyond yourselves, growing and expand state, taking its ideas and goals beyond its borders. This is how the solid and unshakeable foundations of the state will make it possible for all others to adopt this shared goal. This sincere writing of mine might seem hard to swallow for you and those who think like you, but I, as a witness, a researcher and a follower, can see no other way for nations to progress and other nations (of course, I mean developed nations) have already gone down this path and are moving ahead confidently and unrivalled, marking success in all fields. There is no other way out. Force and toughness is destructive. Only a harmonised strength of well-meaning and reasonable competition can be constructive, creative and gratifying, as an expression of the honour and success of the people. History is our, and the whole world’s, teacher. Whoever acts against this teacher and against the laws of nature will see only harm. Whoever bases their actions on the rules and laws, applying the laws of equality to everyone fairly, will live on. Whether it’s the schools, churches, languages, traditions, capabilities, individual or social qualities and virtues of the Armenians or other nations [one word missing], Turkey will save and it is not by Turkifying everything. On the contrary, if they are given full freedoms in a powerful and united Turkey, if correct policies are implemented vis-à-vis all the component of the common division of labour within the borders of your imagination, we will have an eternally stable and lawful entity. Will you have the foresight and sense to grasp and implement all of this? I do not know, but if you politicians change the political lens through which you see everything and use the eyes that nature has given you to analyse history, then you will manage this.

Note by Agos

As the letter mentions how Turkey was attempting to incorporate the Iskenderun sanjak into its borders, it follows that it was written in 1938. However, we have still not managed to find out the forename of the person who wrote the letter. Perhaps the name and surname were written in the letter but the state registered it as B.G. Karapetyan. We do not know. It is possible that the writer was living in the USA at the time as he brought forth the example of the USA. Our friend Ararat Şekeryan proposed that his name may have been Bedros as in his research he found an individual named Bedros Garabetyan who was a teacher at a school in Harput in 1897, but this is only a theory at the moment. Special thanks to Leon Aslanov for his great work in translation.

(Translated by Leon Aslanov)


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