Searching for 1915: Newspaper Coverage of the Armenian Genocide -
By Dr. Alan Whitehorn -
As we approach the 100th memorial year of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, there is increasing global interest and attention to what happened to so many Armenians. There is also a desire to discover how much the world knew at that time. Armenians and non-Armenians alike are seeking to better understand the complex events of a century ago. The daily accounts from the leading foreign press at the time—such as the New York Times, the London Times, the Manchester Guardian, the Toronto Globe, and the Sydney Morning Herald—can give insight into how the phases of the genocide unfolded and how the world tried to describe the horrific sequence of events. This was a substantial challenge, as it was before the term “genocide” had been created to define the indescribable.
In teaching my university courses on comparative studies of genocide, I have often asked students to study the headlines from 1915. In so doing, they can better learn how the world began to know about such events, struggled to comprehend such horrific deeds, and searched for the words to describe such nightmarish scenes.
Of course, such original archival research of old newspapers can be daunting in terms of travel, time, access, and even technology. I know this first-hand. As a young professor in the 1980’s, I spent many hours reading the old Toronto Globe for the year 1915. I studied column after column and page after page of the daily newspaper coverage for the entire year of 1915. I peered at the articles on a microfilm reader. Systematically, I was searching for articles relating to the plight of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire for that fateful year. I took careful notes and made photocopies of the most important articles. It was an important learning experience for me as an Armenian-Canadian. It also turned out to be a pivotal moment. From that point on, I would start to write about the Armenian Genocide—even more so when confronted by the troubling, ongoing denials by the Turkish government.
Fortunately for my students and I, the pioneering work has been done by others. This means that our task today of scanning the headlines and reading full newspaper accounts are easier, the sources more accessible.
The most innovative and path-breaking work on newspaper coverage of the genocide was conducted by Richard Kloian in his 1980 monumental book, The Armenian Genocide: News Accounts From the American Press (1915-1922). Working for many years to gather diverse material and employing far less advanced technology, Kloian surveyed the American press for the key seven-year period. He focused on coverage in the New York Times, Current History, Saturday Evening Post, and the Missionary Review of the World. The volume he delivered at nearly 400 pages was epic and pioneering. It not only included a vast comprehensive account, but also a very useful five-page chronological table listing the main headlines.
The New York Times alone accounted for over 120 articles in 1915 on the terrible plight of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. This extensive coverage underlined the considerable interest by both the press and the public, and helped ensure that substantial information was available. It also revealed that there had been key and unprecedented extensive access to important and timely information, often from confidential U.S. government sources and missionary accounts. Kloian’s book has undergone a number of editions and printings and is still available. It is an essential reference work for anyone doing sustained research on the Armenian Genocide. I continue to use different editions of the book both for research and teaching.
A few years after Kloian’s influential book appeared, the Armenian National Committee (ANC) in both Australia and Canada sought to produce similar edited volumes for their respective countries. In 1983, the Australian ANC printed The Armenian Genocide as Reported in the Australian Press, a volume of just over 100 pages. It included newspaper articles from the Age, the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, and World’s News. The text was supplemented with a number of powerful photographs. A revised edition is in progress.
In that same decade, the Canadian ANC printed the bilingual two-volume set Le Genocide Armenien Dans La Presse Canadienne/The Armenian Genocide in the Canadian Press, providing about 280 pages of documents. Accounts were taken from various newspapers such as the French-language Le Droit, La Presse, Le Devoir, L’Action Catholique, and Le Canada, and the English-language Vancouver Daily Province, Toronto Daily Star, Montreal Daily Star, the Gazette, the Toronto Globe, Manitoba Free Press, Ottawa Evening Journal, London Free Press, and the Halifax Herald.
A decade and half later in 2000, Katia Peltekian in Halifax, Nova Scotia, edited the 350-page bookHeralding of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the Halifax Herald, 1894-1922. This volume covered the Hamidian massacres of the 1890’s, the Adana massacres in 1909, and the Armenian Genocide during World War I and after.
With great determination and skill, Peltekian has now followed up her earlier Canadian volume with a new 1,000 page two-volume set titled, The Times of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the British Press. This collection covers the period 1914-23 and includes hundreds of entries from both the Times and the Manchester Guardian. As with earlier volumes, it contains an exceedingly useful multi-page chronological summary of the headlines. This overview table, along with selected excerpts, proves quite useful in the classroom setting.
For those wishing to have a scholarly annotated account of the press coverage, Anne Elbrecht published Telling the Story: The Armenian Genocide in the New York Times and Missionary Herald: 1914-1918. Her book, a former MA thesis, was printed by Gomidas Press and offers a chronological comparison of the press coverage in the New York Times and the Missionary Herald. It is a highly readable volume.
Vahe Kateb’s MA thesis, “Australian Press Coverage of the Armenian Genocide: 1915-1923,” analyzes the press coverage in Australia and explores a number of key genocide-related themes in the Victoria-based the Age and the Argus, Queensland’s the Mercury, and in New South Wales’ the Sydney Morning Herald. Kateb’s thesis is a valuable analytical study that should be more widely distributed and published as a book.
As we approach 2015, at least one major new project is underway to comprehensively collate international press coverage on the Armenian Genocide. Rev. Vahan Ohanian, vicar general of the Mekhitarist Order at San Lazzaro in Venice, is coordinating a multi-volume project that will cover the Hamidian and Adana massacres and the 1915 genocide. Several prominent genocide scholars will pen the introductions to the different volumes. This project, along with the earlier volumes, are essential in assisting the world to be more informed about the Armenian Genocide. Accordingly, it would be helpful if university libraries and Armenian community centers and schools acquired these volumes. They will help us to remember 1915 and prepare for the historic memorial year of 2015.
List of publications mentioned in article
Richard Kloian, The Armenian Genocide: News Accounts From the American Press (1915-1922)(Anto Printing, Berkeley, 1980 [1st], 1980 [2nd], 3rd ), 388 pages for 3rd edition; also Heritage Publishing, Richmond, n.d.; with 392 pages).
Armenian National Committee, The Armenian Genocide as Reported in the Australian Press (ANC, Willoughby/Sydney, 1983; 119 pages)
Armenian National Committee of Canada, Le Genocide Armenien Dans La Presse Canadienne/The Armenian Genocide in the Canadian Press, Vol. 1, 1915-1916 (ANCC, Montreal, 1985; 159 pages).
Armenian National Committee of Canada, Le Genocide Armenien Dans La Presse Canadienne/The Armenian Genocide in the Canadian Press, Vol. I1, 1916-1923 (ANCC, Montreal, n.d. c1985; 121 pages).
Katia Peltekian, Heralding of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the Halifax Herald, 1894-1922(Armenian Cultural Association of the Atlantic Provinces, Halifax, 2000; 352 pages).
Katia Peltekian, The Times of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the British Press, Vol. 1: 1914-1919 (Four Roads, Beirut, 2013; 450 pages/976 pages total for two volumes).
Katia Peltekian, The Times of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the British Press, Vol. 2: 1920-1923 (Four Roads, Beirut, 2013; 426 pages/976 pages total for two volumes).
Anne Elbrecht, Telling the Story: The Armenian Genocide in the New York Times and Missionary Herald: 1914-1918 (London, Gomidas, 2012; 235 pages).
Vahe Kateb, “Australian Press Coverage of the Armenian Genocide: 1915-1923” (MA thesis, University of Wollongong, 2003).
Alan Whitehorn is an Armenian-Canadian author and academic. He is a grandson of an orphan of the Armenian genocide. Dr. Whitehorn is Professor of Political Science at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. He is also a cross-appointed professor at Queen’s University in Kingston and an Associate of the Institute for Humanities at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver/Burnaby.