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1915: The Deportation of the Assyrians in Ottoman Documents

by Dr. Racho Donef — Sydney, Australia. 2004.

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2004 at 06:45 AM CT

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The deportation of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 is a well documented historical event. Many Armenians scholars have meticulously collected documents to prove that these deportations, as the Turkish government prefers to call them, was part of a well-orchestrated campaign as a means to annihilate the Armenian population.

As far as the deportation and genocide of the Assyrians is concerned, there is still a great deal of research that needs to be carried out. The Ottoman archives have many documents which need to be identified and studied in the historical context

The following five documents from the Ottoman Archives, which, to my knowledge, have never been published retain the Deportation of Assyrians as a connecting thread. All documents are telegrams sent from the Ministry of the Interior of the government of Ittihat and Terakki (Union and Progress), mostly known as Young Turks. The telegrams are sent to the governors in the provinces of Van, Mosul, Diyarbakir, Mamuretu’l Aziz, Halep (Aleppo) and Bitlis. The documents show that all Assyrian denominations be it Nestorian, Chaldean or Syriac Orthodox and Catholic, have been affected by the turmoil of deportations. Although the telegrams make no mention of massacres, the telegram of 7 October 1915 (Document 5) acknowledges that many villages around Mardin, Midyat and Diyarbakir were empty. No doubt these villages were once populated by Christians. The term used in the telegram “deserted” somewhat masks the turmoil that preceded. The Christian inhabitants of the “deserted” were either massacred or had to flee to avoid the fate decided by the Young Turks. The government having caused evacuation of the villages through physical elimination and then sought to repopulate villages with Turks from the Balkans, inevitably altering the ethnic make up of the region.

These documents are translated and appended below with the hope that more knowledgeable researchers working on the Assyrian question of 1915 make a more competent use of them than this writer can. Great care and research has been undertaken to render the content from the Ottoman Turkish to English. However, it should be borne in mind that this is not a translation by an Ottoman scholar.


These documents have been located through the tireless efforts of Jan Bet-Sawoce.


Translation: Racho Donef

Department of the Interior
Cipher office


Babiali <1>
Ministry of the Interior
Office of the Directorate of Public Security
General ........
Private: Number: 104

Ciphered telegram to the Province of Van

It is very urgent.

The position of the Nestorians have always remained doubtful for the government due to their predisposition to be influenced by foreigners and become a channel and an instrument. Because of the operation and efforts in Iran, the consideration of the Nestorians for the government have increased. Especially those who are found at our border area with Iran, due to the government’s lack of trust of them resulting in punishment … their deportation and expulsion from their locations to appropriate provinces such as Ankara and Konya, to be transferred in dispersed manner so that henceforth they will not be together in a mass and be settled exclusively among Muslim people, and in no location to exceed twenty dwellings and on the issue of settlement, with the proviso that the government will not undertake to provide any type of support, to be permitted to stay and transmit the communication to the appropriate Province and after the dispensation of the matter to depart from Van.

26 October 1914 <2>




Ministry of the Interior
Office of the Directorate of Public Security
General: ........
Private: 62

Ciphered telegram to the Province of Mosul

It is appropriate for the care and sustenance of the Syrian and Chaldean women and children who are not Armenians, who reportedly have arrived from Başkale and Siirt on 23 July 1915, to be undertaken by their own community.

28 July 1915




Ministry of the Interior
Office of the Directorate of Public Security
General: ........
Private: 5310

Ciphered telegram to the Provinces of Diyarbakır, Mamuretü’l Aziz <3> and Alleppo

It has been understood from the submission from the Command (?) that some members of the Syrian Catholic Community have been removed from their localities. To inform on whether or not these events took place.

28 August 1915 Minister



Ministry of the Interior
Office of the Directorate of Public Security
General: ........
Private: 91

Ciphered telegram to the Province of Mosul

It has been observed that, in the 16 October 1915 dated, 684 numbered edition of “Zuhur Newspaper”, printed in Bagdad, has published a telegram regarding the removal of the Nestorians sent from your Most High Province to the Province of Bagdad and henceforth … the need not to give the opportunity for publication of official correspondence and telegrams of this sort has been communicated to them and the matter has been given serious consideration.

Date 5 December 1915 Minister



Ministry of the Interior
Directorate of Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants <4>

Ciphered telegram to the Province of Bitlis

Date 30 October 1915

As there are deserted villages around Mardin and Midyat, the Province of Diyarbakir has been informed that the immigrant members <5> of the Division Public Order Cavalry, may settle there and that efforts to be made to dispatch them.

Ministerial Correspondence

Date 7 November 1915



<1> Another name for the Sublime Port; the central office of the Imperial Government of the Ottoman Empire.
<2> The dates in the original documents are given in the Rumi calendar, a financial year calendar used in the Ottoman bureaucracy in its later period. This is an alternative Islamic calendar, which also starts in the year 584 but it is a composite. The dates here have been converted to the Julian/Gregorian calendar.
<3> Elaziğ in the Turkish Republic.
<4> This is an organization established in 1913 to assimilate the Kurdish tribes as well as settle Turkish refugees from the Balkans.
<5> More than likely Turks who have emigrated from Balkan countries.


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