An interview (October 16, 2013) with author Katia Peltekian about her just-published monumental two-volume “The Times of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the British Press (1914-1923)”
KEGHART: Did you undertake the project at your expense or did you receive financial support from Armenian or non-Armenian sources?
KATIA PELTEKIAN: I did not receive, nor did I ask for, any financial support from any Armenian or non-Armenian sources. The whole project from A to Z — including traveling, reading, scanning, copying, typing, layout and printing were all at my expense. The one thing I did not do is the cover. It was designed by my brother, a businessman by trade.
In 2000 I published my first compilation of newspaper reports called Heralding of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the Halifax Herald (1894-1922). I had sent proposals with samples of the book to a few Armenian organizations/institutions in North America, but for four years I did not hear from any of them. It was completely ignored. My father then decided to finance the printing. We distributed copies of the book free to Canadian MPs, libraries (both public and university) and some Armenian organizations in North America, Armenia and Lebanon.
Because of that experience, I decided to keep this one personal as well in order not to waste valuable time. After all, I am not a scholar in history, nor am I an expert in history. I am simply someone who loves reading books and newspapers.
KEGHART: Did you do your research in London, elsewhere, or through the Internet for example?
PK: After the Halifax Herald compilation was published, the reviews from friends were encouraging. It is my hobby to read newspapers in several languages; it doesn’t matter whether the newspapers are old or new. While working on the Halifax Herald compilation, I noticed that many of the sources used were from the British newspapers and news agencies, so I thought of collecting from the British press. Most Genocide scholars seem to focus on the American response to the on-going massacres, and little is done about the British reaction.
Therefore, in 2001, I began on a second journey to compile as much as I could from The Times (London), which was easily accessible in Lebanon (the library of the American University of Beirut where I used to teach) and at the Reference Library in downtown Toronto, where I spent my summers. After a while, I was advised to include other British newspapers that might fill some gaps. That is when I began traveling to London to work at the British Library’s newspaper archives in north London (at Collindale). After much research, I decided on The Manchester Guardian [currently known as simply The Guardian] because it did include additional information about the British reaction to the massacres, perhaps because Manchester had a substantial Armenian community at the time. Although I made eight trips to London for that purpose, The Guardian collection is not as inclusive as The Times’ collection.
My collection represents only a small portion of what the British Press has to offer. I am certain there are many other British newspapers with small details here and there, but that require a larger number of people working on such a huge undertaking.
Let me note here that the online index of The Times located much fewer news items than the manual work I did. I read The Times between 1875 and 1923 (minus a few years) page by page on microfilm and copied whatever I could find. Although the 1914-1923 volumes include just over 1,000 pieces, I have also collected over 2,500 items from The Times for the years 1875-1905 [I still have to read the few remaining years].
KEGHART: What were the major challenges of the compilation and how long did it take you to gather the material for the two volumes?
KP: I did not expect the work to be this overwhelming. Although I started with the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s, there was constant mention of “previous” massacres and of course the reason for the 1878 Berlin Treaty. Thus, I deemed it necessary to go as far back as I could. And the further back I went the more material I found.
As this is only a hobby, actually a good distraction from teaching, I did not feel any stress of deadlines. Every summer since 2001, in Toronto, I would spend my days at the library, reading and collecting and then carrying two pieces of luggage back to Beirut filled with papers. This two-volume book, 1,035 pages combined in size A4, is the result of 12 years of work.
KEGHART: Did you use everything you discovered or was some material not used because of repetition or for other reasons? Do the books include illustrations?
KP: I used every single article I found related to the Armenian massacres, persecutions, deportations and survival. Some are very short, just a few lines, and others are quite long filling up a whole newspaper page. Sometimes I found the shorter pieces to be more interesting. There were also articles that described the war fronts in the Armenian provinces, but were not directly related to the Armenian massacres. I included these as notes together with the headline and date/page where they appeared for those interested.
As for illustrations, the newspapers at the time did not print any photographs until 1922. However, I did include the many maps of the war front as well as the ones that were used during the peace negotiations.
In addition, I located a number of advertisements asking to help the Armenian refugees, some in the classifieds section, some two-three columns long, and a couple that occupied one whole page. These were also included in the book, and printed as large posters.
KEGHART: Which publications were your major sources?
KP: As mentioned before, my sources were The Times, The Sunday Times & The Manchester Guardian.
KEGHART: In addition to newspapers, were there articles and reports in academic or specialized journals? And was there a uniform attitude toward the Turkish depredations and the events at the aftermath of the war?
KP: This is purely a newspaper collection. No academic or scholarly papers were included, nor did I try to analyze any of the events.
The book includes reports about the condition of the Armenian (and sometimes other Christian) population under Ottoman rule. It includes descriptions of the on-going massacres as witnessed by foreigners and survivors themselves; and it includes reports on the status of refugees dispersed in the region. It includes over 65 short and long debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords; these debates were about the situation in Armenia, the condition of the Armenians, the necessity to help the Armenians, and the British duty to give Armenians a homeland, free from Turkish rule. It also includes many editorials, for example, demanding the British government do the honorable thing towards the Armenians; and there are many letters to the editors of the newspapers shedding more light on the Armenians.
KEGHART: Did you find long-lost historic “nuggets”–facts and data that are important additions to our knowledge of Turkish barbarism toward Armenians and about what transpired at Sevres and Lausanne?
KP: Yes, of course. The book is filled with a lot of tidbits that perhaps experts in the field can follow up on.
Since the book spans from January 1914–just before Turkey entered the war–to 1923 at the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, it does include not only the Armenian massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks, but also those perpetrated by Mustapha Kemal [aka Ataturk] and his Nationalists. I also included a few pieces that described Kemal’s treatment of the British prisoners.
However, what was more interesting is how the British interest dwindled and almost disappeared with the Lausanne negotiations, and I will leave it to the reader to discover why.
The book’s 1920 section, when the peace negotiations were going on, is the most extensive part. Most of the articles in that year and onward are related to the peace treaties and what went on between the “Allies” and Turkey.
Of course, there are also the Russian, Georgian and Tartar intrigues in Armenia after the war, as well as the Baku massacre of Armenians after the British withdrawal from the Caucasus, despite many warnings by the British Parliament.
KEGHART: Who were the major pro-Armenian British journalists and politicians of the time? Were there anti-Armenian personalities?
KP: We all know how much James Bryce fought for the Armenian cause. However, there were also the Welsh MP Aneurin Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Mayor of London, among others who advocated the Armenian cause and brought up the issue of the Armenians and Armenia at every chance they got.
The only so-called “anti-Armenian” personalities were the British Empire’s Indian Moslem citizens. Their representatives in London were very vocal in 1921-23 demanding a “just” treatment for the Caliphate in Constantinople. In fact, some of these letters sound exactly like the current Turkish government’s allegations that no massacre of Armenians took place.
KEGHART: The book includes statements made in the British Parliament. Can you give us a brief example of a ringing statement or two made there?
KP: There are many of those as the British parliament had the opportunity to question or debate the state of the Armenians, the news of the massacres and deportations, etc. The book includes over 60 items from discussions in the House of Commons and 7 long and extensive debates in the House of Lords. These are not the “official” parliament minutes, but the proceedings as reported by journalists and reporters who attended these meetings.
KEGHART: There are several books about the coverage of the same events in North American media. In fact, you compiled one about the “Halifax Herald’s” coverage of Turkish/Armenian affairs from 1894-1922. Now you’ve produced the British counterpart. Are there similar books or books under consideration of the French, German, Russian media reports of the same events?
KP: The Halifax Herald compilation came to be because I was living and studying in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had nothing better to do on a very cold April day, since my thesis was progressing smoothly, so one day on my way back home, I just went into the Archives Library of Halifax just out of curiosity. April 24 was approaching and in Halifax, only a handful of Armenians lived (mostly my uncle’s family and brothers, actually) and I was only curious to see if any Halifax paper had printed anything about the Armenians at the time. That resulted in the large 350-page book.
I wish there were other possible compilations. But I admit, it is not the work of one person alone. Since I did this manually page by page, it usually took me around two to three hours to skim through just one month’s issues. If each person in a group takes the responsibility to scan a year’s issues, the compilation would be finished in just a few months.
Armenian youth organizations should probably take up such projects in their own communities. I am sure many unknown little pieces of information will come to light. I was quite fascinated by a few items that The Times had translated from the German press, for example. There are also a number of items referring to Italian, French or even Dutch papers.
KEGHART: What’s your next literary project?
KP: I still have more than 2,500 items that shed a more extensive light on the life of the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, including persecution and massacre, long before 1915-1916, or what we have specified as the Genocide period. It does give substantial evidence that the Turks and Armenians did not live side by side “peacefully” before WWI as the Turks claim. There were persecution, unjust treatment, and massacres of whole Armenian villages long before WWI. We should keep in mind that prior to WWI, the British were staunch allies of the Ottoman Turks; thus their reports cannot be described as biased. Whether I will proceed and work on this project that will result in a 3 or 4 volume book remains to be seen. I am not supported nor am I funded by anyone to be able to dedicate my full time on such a long and demanding project.
KEGHART: Are you planning a book tour?
KP: The only book presentation that I have for the time being is in London, UK, at the end of November.
**University lecturer, well-known journalist, and Genocide data collector par excellence Katia M. Peltekian has just published her two-volume monumental work on the coverage of the Genocide of Armenians in the British press [Volume 1: 1914-1919; Volume 2: 1920-1923]. Born and raised in Beirut, Ms. Peltekian has a BA and MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and MA in Education from Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada). She taught English at AUB from 1988 to 2005, has presented several papers at international conferences and conducted numerous teacher-training workshops in Lebanon and Jordan (1990-2010). She also taught English and Business English at Haigazian University (Beirut) from 2005 to 2012. She has published numerous articles related to the Armenians. Since 1999 as a volunteer, she has been compiling on a daily basis news about Armenians and often translating from Arabic to English for the Armenian News Network Groong. Some of the links of her work appear in Armeniapedia.