Armenian News Network / Groong

Filling in the Picture: Postscript to a Description of the Well-Known 1915 Photograph of Armenian Men of Kharpert Being Led Away under Armed Guard

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 13, 2011

By Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor


The well-known photograph of Armenian men from Kharpert city being led off under armed guard is slowly yielding a fuller version of the horrible story that it inevitably can reveal. We have provided in a recently published multi-authored volume evidence that conclusively fixes the picture as to exact location in Mezreh, Vilayet of Mamuret-ul-Aziz, the exact building structure from which the photograph was taken — namely the American Consulate, and the narrow timeframe of the photography. In this Postscript to that contribution we provide further information as to which segment of the Armenian male population was photographed and the date, and what happened to them. Exactly who took the photograph is not yet firmly established. There is reason to be optimistic that further concerted effort will eventually provide information to fill in any remaining blanks relating to this important symbolic, and indeed, evidentiary photograph.

A publication date of May 19, 2011 was announced for a work entitled The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks. Studies on the State Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and its Aftermath: History, Law, Memory. This hefty, multi-authored, hardcover volume, comprising some 512 pages, was edited by Tessa Hofmann, Matthias Bjørnlund and Vaseileios Meichanetsidis.[1]

The first part of the name of the publishing house for this volume, Aristide D. Caratzas/Melissa International (New York and Athens), is perhaps most familiar to those studying or following the history of the Armenian Genocide as that associated with the publication of United States of America Consul-to-Harput Leslie A. Davis’ report of February 9, 1918 to the American Secretary of State on the events in the Harput region since the onset of the World War. The report is essentially a detailed account by an eyewitness of the unfolding and execution of the Armenian Genocide at Harput by the last American official to serve in the region. Even before the Davis report book was on bookstore shelves as The Slaughterhouse Province. An American Diplomat’s Report on the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1917, edited with notes by Susan K. Blair (Aristide D. Caratzas Publisher, New Rochelle, NY, 1989) there was a furor. Virtually automatically, it met with considerable hostility by those espousing the official ‘Turkish point of view’ – there was no genocide. Ms. Blair and her family took the threats and efforts at intimidation seriously and moved. To say that they went into hiding is not an exaggeration. The reason: Anyone reading Davis’ report without prejudice would find it irreconcilable, indeed impossible, to try to rationalize any denial of the Armenian Genocide.[2]

We wrote some time back an article complete with illustrations for The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks entitled “Achieving ever-greater precision in attestation and attribution of genocide photographs.”[3]  In our contribution we devoted considerable space to a detailed analysis of a now quite familiar photograph showing men, ‘apparently’ under arrest, being escorted by armed ‘escort.’

This photograph (see Figure 1) has appeared over the years in many places, perhaps the most credible of which has been as an illustration in the Armenian translation from the Danish original of Danish Missionary nurse Maria Jacobsen’s Harput diaries. See pg. 216 [unnumbered but determined by count] of Maria Jacobsen’s, Oragrut’iwn, 1907-1919: Kharberd [Diary, 1907-1919, Kharpert], Antelias, Lebanon: Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, 1979. The reproduction of the original photograph included in that thick volume, type-set in Armenian, and also containing the Danish original diary in handwriting, includes a caption in Danish, written in Miss Jacobsen’s own hand. It reads “Armenske Maend føres ud af Byen for at draebes 1915” [Armenian men being led out of the city to be killed, 1915]. Maria Jacobsen’s work in Kharpert/Mezreh (and thereafter in service to Armenian orphans until her death on 6 April 1960 in Lebanon) is well-known and her credibility is generally unquestioned.[4]

One might well wonder, therefore, why we have felt the need to raise questions about this photograph, or even feel obliged to continue to study it?

The answer is logical and quite simple. It is better to know than not know. And, as scientists we have always respected the need to strive for meticulous accuracy in our writings. Indeed, we have attempted to make a case in whatever we have written on the topic as to why we feel this sort of work is important (see passim under the rubric of “Witnesses to Massacres and Genocide and their Aftermath: Probing the Photographic Record” on Groong). We have sought to show how perseverance can yield valuable information, and thereby enable a sharper picture to emerge. From a more professional perspective, we can perhaps do no better than to quote the late Dr. Sybil Milton, an expert in the written record and imagery of the Nazi Holocaust.[5]

                                                               “…surviving photos are an especially important documentary source for the   
                                      historian. But historians must be careful; they must analyse photos as carefully as
                                                               they evaluate textual records. Since the camera does not record events in a  
                                                               neutral or value-free way, historians must consider the setting of the photograph, 
                                                               the motives of the photographer, and the provenance of the photo” (Milton, 1999 
                                                               pg. 312).[6]  

Having said this, however, the sad fact is that imagery and ‘illustrative’ material in the broadest sense seem to be of less than primary importance to most of the orthodox establishment of professional historians. For example, see our detailed commentary and analytical breakdown of an obviously faked photograph purporting to show tormenting of ‘starving Armenians’ by a Turk official holding food out of their reach. “The Saga Surrounding a Forged Photograph from the Era of the Armenian Genocide Demonizing and Vilifying a `Cruel Turkish Official': A part of “the rest of the story” at

Attention may also be drawn to two other more recent examples of an apparent lack of concern for detail so far as illustrations are concerned.

One involves the use of a (to us at least) surprisingly flawed map drawn in outline placed as the frontispiece of a nominally/presumably/hopefully authoritative volume entitled A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire edited by Roger Grigor Suny, Fatma Muge Goçek and Norman M. Naimark (Oxford University Press, 2011). We leave it for interested readers to detect and evaluate the errors. The least that can be asked is whether it is too much to expect an accurate map in such a volume?

The other has to do with an image of a poster seemingly gratuitously added (we say that since we could find no specific reference in the text of the article to the image -- perhaps it was intended to be taken as a so-called ‘stand-alone’?) -- to a scholarly article written by Keith David Watenpaugh. This article was published in the prestigious American Historical Review (volume 115, no.5, December 2010 pgs. 1315-1339) in a paper entitled “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920-1927.” Figure 3 on pg. 1335 of that paper presents the ‘attractive’ poster, full page albeit in black and white (it is correctly stated in the caption that the original was issued in color) published by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACRNE) ‘entitled’ “Lest They Perish…” The photograph of the poster is also clearly described in the caption as originating from the Library of Congress, and they are credited, complete with call number. The ‘problem’ is that the poster was not accurately described Online as to artist by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and this error seems to have been accepted and retained without apparent questioning by Professor Watenpaugh as having been nominally drawn by Wladyslaw T. Benda! Polish immigrant artist Mr. Benda did indeed do a poster for the ACRNE, but not this one). The lower left hand corner of the photograph of the “Lest They Perish” poster clearly shows the name of its artist/creator, W.B. King. See

William Berdan King (1880-1927) of Paterson, New Jersey was a painter and illustrator of considerable repute. We need give no additional details on that poster except to add that the Library of Congress generally does a superb job in their cataloguing, but understandably, errors can be made. They even ask for cooperation in efforts aimed at identification etc. in their Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Ultimately, use of photographs must rest with the user.

Present-day viewers of Armenian Massacres/Genocide-related photographs are most likely apt to be familiar with or recognize photographs and other images because they have been repeatedly used, again and again. They seem to be recycled for use , and we would argue they are used mostly for their symbolic aspect. In the jargon of symbolism and visual culture, this kind of use or motivation is sometimes referred to as “affective” – that is with a concern for feelings or emotion -- rather than with their evidential, evidentiary, probative or even instructional value.[7]

But, and as has been pointed out repeatedly by many, all photographs represent but a single moment frozen in time and place. For us, the challenge has been in all our attempts to probe photographs to the fullest extent possible with special emphasis on establishing textual connections. This is especially the case when labels are lacking or perfunctory, or possibly or patently questionable—that is to say, when attestation and attribution are imperfect.

The ‘Kharpert men under arrest’ photograph has been used quite often. Ruth Thomasian’s “Project Save Photograph Archives” (Watertown, Massachusetts) founded in 1975 has generally been a prime source of the photograph for authors on this side of the Atlantic.[8]

But there are other sources of this photograph in North America, Europe and the Near and Middle East.[9]  As a result, it has frequently been regarded as being in the Public Domain and used without credits by quite a few authors to illustrate what happened to Armenian males (and/or males of other Christian minorities) as part of an all-too-familiar aspect, one might even call it a sort of ‘drill’, at the time of the massacres and/or deportations.[10]

Briefly, and to generalize quite a lot (and this is intended to apply to the Kharpert Province area under consideration here in connection with the photo) men and youth were ‘collected’ and arrested or made to assemble, sometimes under pretext of being conscripted for military or war service, led away and murdered. Older men and community leaders who could possibly serve as a source of organized resistance were arrested and led off to jail, and subsequently taken away to be murdered or deported under impossible conditions. And so on.

One could argue that for Armenians the photograph has taken on the task (burden?) of constructing a reality. Since those few survivors nowadays of the Armenian Genocide were children at the time of the Armenian Holocaust, one could only make the claim with difficulty that the photograph is exhibiting or reflecting some sort of clear memory of what happened. It is all too true that sad family narratives and ‘histories’ have played and continue to play a major role in perpetuating the perceived reality attending the viewing of such photographs by descendants of genocide survivors. This is arguably all the more reason to obtain as many facts as possible about such photographs.

No doubt, the symbolism of the photograph has become very understandable to many knowledgeable about what happened to the Armenians of Asia Minor during the Armenian Genocide. But we would argue that there is little that is unassailably obvious that can be gleaned from that photograph, especially by anyone who knows little or nothing about the details of a significant part of the genocidal process that was put in place in the Ottoman Empire at the time of the Genocide. In a word, it is not a classic, iconic genocide photograph that is obvious at first sight to the uninitiated by virtue of a vigorous and ‘telling’ assault on one’s eyes such as the photograph of a little Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto with upraised arms and a gun seemingly pointed directly at him by a Nazi soldier.[11]

Little rigorous examination and analysis seems to have been carried out on the ‘Kharpert men photograph’ before our work to seek out or to provide greater details about it, or to even be in a position to confirm that it concerned the Kharpert region without any doubt whatsoever. We do not say this in a negatively critical way because the means to carry out such an examination and critical assessment have not been readily available to most. Indeed, we would have gotten nowhere were it not for the access that we had to important period photographs given to us by our friend the late Miss Mary Masterson of Carrollton, Kentucky.[12]

We were able by comparison between and among pictures (some published and others unpublished) to establish that the ‘Kharpert men under arrest’ photograph shows some Armenian men of Kharpert city, as taken down into the lower town and provincial capital Mezreh/Mamuret-ul-Aziz, onto a thoroughfare named Ambar Yol [Granary ‘Street’]. This photograph was taken without any doubt from an upper window in the United States Consulate building in Mezreh where Leslie A. Davis was the United States Consul in 1915. (He served from 1914 to 1917). We also explained that the photograph dated from a period somewhat after the often stated “April 1915.” We also gave reasons why we believed June to early, mid-or late July was considerably more accurate. Some details of the early and later publication record for the photograph were given as well. Indeed, Danish historian Matthias Bjørnlund in Copenhagen, one of the editors of the ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume,’ called our attention to a small, scarcely known 1920 book with the photograph. This may well be the first time the photograph was printed in a publication.[13]

In our ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume’ paper we also gave several citations where the photograph has been used with varying captions and also on book covers (see our footnote 10 in that work).

Use of the Imagery

The following are a few examples of the kinds of questioning that might emerge concerning the kind of caption and level of detail given in some more recent publications using the photograph. These examples given here supplement the ones already provided in footnote 10 just referred to.

The selections that follow comprise an ‘update’ of sorts, but in a context more specific to this Postscript. It will be instructive to see that the more general the caption to this photograph is or has been, the less demanding it becomes to justify the description. Conversely, the greater the detail in the caption, the more legitimate it is to ask “On what basis is this statement made? What evidence is there to think it is reliable and accurate?”

We start with an example of a caption that is clearly very general, and progress to more detailed and extensive captions, culminating with our own rather comprehensive extensive caption as delineated in the ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume.’

We find a copy of the photograph on pg. 134 of an English translation abstracted from a massive 966 pg. illustrated memorial volume on Everek and its suburb Fenese (located in Armenian Gesaria, today Turkish Ili of Kayseri). It was published in Armenian in Paris in 1963 and is entitled “Hishtakaran Everek-Fenesei” [Memorial volume, Everek-Fernesi]. There the caption reads “A step to uncertainty: a scene from the Deportations which was reminiscent of the “Death marches” throughout Turkey in 1915-1916.” (The source of the photograph is uncredited.)[14]

The caption is indeed general, and some might say adequately subjective, perhaps even generic.

Next:- The ‘Kharpert men under arrest’ photograph is used on the cover of an excellent, and detailed legal analysis by British Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Robertson, dated 9 October 2009, ending up in his strong defense of using the word “genocide” to describe the events of 1915 and thereafter. It is entitled Was There an Armenian Genocide? Geoffrey Robertson QCs opinion with reference to Foreign & Commonwealth Office Documents which Show How British Ministers, Parliament and People Have Been Misled. It has the caption on pg. 1 “front cover – Kharpert, Historic Armenia, Ottoman Empire 1915. Armenians being marched to prison in nearby Mezireh under the guard of armed Turkish soldiers. Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown, Massachusetts, courtesy of an anonymous donor.” [15] So far as we are concerned, the caption is totally acceptable, and is especially so in view of the evidence we now have in hand. The supposed date of April 1915 has been fortuitously omitted. Whether the armed guard was comprised of armed soldiers or troops (as opposed to police, military police or gendarmes of the Gendarmerie) is a moot point so far as this caption is concerned but they were probably police.

Next:- Journalist and author Chris Hedges has used the photograph in a newspaper article entitled “Severing a Link, Word by Word. As Language Erodes Armenian Exiles Fear Bigger Loss”, New York Times 6 July 2006 pg. B1, B5. “Armenian immigrants to the United States say that younger generations are losing a grasp of the Armenian language. Such a loss, they say, will make it harder to understand events like this march of Armenians to a prison in Harput, Turkey, in 1915.” [PROJECT SAVE is credited for the photograph].

One could ask if the location ‘Harput’ refers to the city of Harput/Kharpert or the Province? As it turns out, and as we have proven in our ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume’ article the photograph was taken for sure in the lower [in altitude] and smaller (about half-in size) ‘twin’ city of Mezreh from a window of the American Consulate. And, nitpicking aside, the caption in Hedges’ article is certainly essentially quite acceptable.

Next:- Sabrina Tavernese, in yet another newspaper article gets into a slightly more difficult position in her “Nearly a Million Genocide Victims, Covered in a Cloak of Amnesia.” New York Times International 9 March 2009 pg. A6.[16]  The caption under the photograph states “Ottoman Armenians are marched to a prison by Armed Turkish soldiers in April 1915. About 972,000 Armenians disappeared from the population records in 1915 and 1916.”

We have drawn attention already to the fact that we have shown that the photograph derives from a date considerably later than April 1915. It seems to have been wrongly assumed by Ms. Tavernese that because April 24 is generally observed as the beginning of the attempted destruction of the Armenians in Turkey, April is taken as the time of onset of arrests ‘everywhere.’ In the interest of precision, some arrests, though not anywhere near as many as that discernible from the photograph, were indeed made in the April timeframe). Thus one could say that in the photo of the arrested Armenian men of Kharpert the date has ‘transmigrated’ to April. As to the victims, just where so exact a number, and the perception of their disappearance from the nominal “population records” originates need not be discussed here.

Another example of the inclusion of detail that is essentially unsubstantiated follows. Some 10 years ago, Rouben P. Adalian wrote an article on the Armenian Genocide for inclusion in a special section entitled “Teaching about Genocide” in the Washington, DC-based journal Social Education, put out by the National Council for the Social Studies. The caption reads:- “Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire, 1915. Armenians are being marched out of town to a prison under guard of armed Turkish soldiers. An anonymous German businessman took this photograph from his window.”[17]

The use of Kharpert in this caption has been commented on. Indeed the men had been marched out of Kharpert city to the lower twin city or provincial capital Mezreh and were headed for jail in that small city. Attributing it to “an anonymous unidentified German businessman” invites a request for evidence, as does the statement armed Turkish soldiers. Perhaps it merely reflects a story about the image that has persisted. That aspect needs probing but we are in no position to investigate that. We would maintain that those who espouse the involvement of a German should provide evidence to that effect. In our article in the ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume’ we address this issue in greater depth, albeit without any sort of resolution. Journalist Robert Fisk has drawn attention to “the German Deutsche Bank” archives photographs (see his “The Unforgotten Holocaust” in The Independent (London) 28 August 2007). The fact remains that the photograph was taken from the American Consulate building where U.S. Consul Davis was resident. It would be very interesting indeed if a reliable German connection for the photograph could be made.

Finally, we present here a nominal ‘caption’ as published in the ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume.’ It is admittedly long but the whole idea was to provide as much detail as possible so one could distill from it a shorter but still satisfactory and accurate caption!

“Reproduction of a photograph taken in Mezreh, Mamuret-ul-Aziz Vilayet, Turkey, some time in mid-June to mid-July 1915, from a window of the U.S. Consulate building facing “Granary Street.” The road, called Ambar Yol in Turkish, going south-southwest, but eventually to Baghdad, was a major thoroughfare used by the Turkish Post etc. These Armenians under armed guard were most likely some of the older men the city of Harput and were most likely en route to the jail building or the government building, neither of which was very far away. The scene typifies what happened all over the Ottoman Empire during the period of the Armenian holocaust. Once under detention, the men frequently underwent torture, and more often than not, usually under cover of darkness they were taken out and slain. Miraculously, a few were able to escape with their lives by such means as feigning death under piles of dead bodies. They were later able to provide gruesome details. While some have asserted that the photograph was taken by a German engineer in Harput [Mezreh], it is equally plausible that American Consul Leslie A. Davis took the photograph, or even a visitor at the U.S. Consulate. The earliest known publication of this photograph, captioned in Danish and already mentioned above, is “A group of Armenian men taken out of town to be killed.” [En Skare armeniske Maend føres ud af Byen for at draebes.] is in Amalia Lange’s work published in Danish in Copenhagen, dated 1920 “A Page from Armenia’s History:K.M.A. 1910-1920.”]

We concluded the material for a caption in the ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume’ with the following statement:-“Clearly an extensive and detailed paper trail is associated with this photograph. There is much yet to learn from this and similar genre photographs.” (Our italics for emphasis here).

A Postscript to the Photograph

We have provided considerable, but we feel very necessary, background here for our bringing up to date what we have learned since publication about this photograph.

Enter Miss Ruth Azniv Parmelee, M.D.

Ruth A. Parmelee was born in Trebizond, Turkey 3 April 1885 and died in Concord, New Hampshire on 15 December 1973 at the age of 88. She had served first as a medical missionary and educator of nurses in Harpoot. She later went back to Turkey with the first group of ACRNE volunteers as a physician doing relief work, again in Harpoot. Still later after being ‘deported’ from Turkey by the Kemalists (in the eyes of some “for having saved too many Armenian and Greek babies”), she served in Greece caring for refugees and orphans and training nurses etc. for several decades. Her parents, Moses P. Parmelee and Julia Farr Parmelee, were missionaries and served in Turkey many years. It was Ruth’s plan to follow in their footsteps. Dr. Parmelee earned her M.D. degree at the University of Illinois in 1912 and received additional training in Philadelphia. In the spring of 1914 she and her mother arrived in Harpoot after journeying some 300 miles by spring carriage (yaili in Turkish) from Samsun on the Black Sea coast having disembarked and continued by steamer from Constantinople.[18] See Figure 2.

Her first official duty, as she states in her privately printed 1967 autobiographical account of years spent in Harput/Mezreh 1914 to 1917 entitled A Pioneer in the Euphrates Valley, was to deliver Consul [William W.] Masterson’s and his wife’s baby daughter [Mary Carroll Masterson] with the help of nurse Miss Margaret Campbell (cf. pg. 6-7 of the 1967 privately printed original, and pg. 5 of Sarafian’s ‘re-release’ in 2002.)[19]

Mary Masterson’s mother told her that her father had made a special request that a physician trained in obstetrics and gynecology be sent to Harput. Consul Masterson felt that mortality among mothers and newborns and even youngsters, including those of western missionaries, was too high.

Dr. Parmelee knew both Armenian and Turkish (she was also being tutored in Turkish by an Armenian in view of the years she had been away from Turkey). While she spent much time in Mezreh at the Annie Tracy Riggs Hospital in 1914, in the winter of 1914 she and her mother relocated to Harput where she held clinics for women and taught hygiene to students in the Girl’s Department of Euphrates College. From very early June onwards she and her mother moved to the ‘Garden’ above but very near Harput city (about a mile distant); she traveled back and forth—and sometimes to Mezreh. Thus she was in an excellent position to hear and see what was transpiring in ‘the City’—both generally and specifically. In fact, she kept a diary. The entries are not long but they are to the point, and very interesting.[20]

Because it is more readily available, we think it better to cite her official typed statement with hand corrections which she submitted upon return to the United States at the request of Dr. James L. Barton of the ‘American Board’ The Inquiry Document No. 811 (Stamped ‘Property of the Inquiry’) and also stamped rec’d Nov 3 1917, with the indicator Atrocities, Turkish (handwritten) and stamped yet again June 21, 1918. (See a scan of a microfilm of the original document in Appendix A reproduced from United States National Archives, College Park, Maryland.) For a printed version, see Ara Sarafian’s compilation of Barton’s assemblage of eyewitness statements entitled “Turkish Atrocities” Statements of American Missionaries on the Destruction of Christian Communities in Ottoman Turkey, 1915-1917 pgs. 56-61. Appendix A derives from group RG 256, Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. Roll 39.

Dr. Parmelee’s statement is entitled “A Visit to the Exile Camp in Mezereh” [Underneath she adds in handwriting that “Title refers to first paragraph.”]

She relates:

“Among the groups of men to be gathered up and imprisoned in Harput during June 1915 [we won't go into the implications of Julian versus Gregorian calendar here] was one group of middle-aged and old men. What a shout of anguish arose from the neighborhood when they saw this group of men being taken down the hill to the prison at Mezereh. Among this number was one man, by name of Hagop Benneyan, a man so feeble that a trip to the market and back was sufficient to tire him; when the officers came to arrest him in his home, he begged them to kill him right there, for he said he could not take the journey. But they obliged him to go to prison with them and then out on the road. He left behind an aged wife and three daughters of rather feeble health. When the families of this quarter of the city were sent into exile, these four feeble women had to go with them. Word came back afterwards the two older women of the family, the mother and the oldest daughter, had succumbed by the roadside and the two younger daughters who had been teachers in our school, had been seen wrapped about each other, utterly naked, on a burning plain near Oorfa.

“In this same company of elderly men was a middle aged man, well known to me, Minas Berberian, who was suffering from hernia and not fit to take a long journey on foot. No very definite news came back from this company, but we had every reason to fear that their fate was the same as that of every other company of men sent out under similar circumstances.”

Dr. Parmelee continues:-

“The most authentic news that we had of the slaughter of a company of men sent out from prison was brought by our own druggist. His group of 800 men had been taken out not many hours from Harput, bound together in groups of four, and under strong guard. This man (Melkon Lulejian, brother of Professor Donabed Garabed Lulejian) found himself cut loose from his bonds, and escaped from the midst of the killing. His companions who were not able like himself, were being deliberately killed by their own guards.

“On May 1, 1915 the first group of influential Armenian men were gathered up and put into prison. This company included merchants, priests, college professors etc. The names of the latter were Tennekejian, Boujancanian, Lulejian, Soghigian. The first three of those mentioned, suffered terrible torture.[21]

“One procedure which was used to torture Prof. L.[ulejian] was to throw him into a fearfully ill-smelling Turkish closet, after having beaten him unconscious.”

And so on.

Concluding Remarks

We believe that the picture puzzle of the ‘Kharpert men under arrest’ photograph has largely been solved, through Dr. Parmelee’s description of the middle-aged and old men under arrest. It will be obvious that our selection of text from Dr. Parmelee’s report (and confirmed in her diary) does not constitute direct evidence for a caption to the photograph, but it surely stands up to scrutiny as evidence derived from deductive reasoning. By access to a substantial range of records and accounts, dates of arrests and ‘deportations’/slaughters (published and unpublished) we came to a measured conclusion, and we stand by our selection of that information for a caption. Rigorous comparison, followed by acceptance, rejection, partial or temporary elimination of an especially relevant particular has served us in good stead. The process of elimination as to which group of arrested men was photographed, coupled with fastidious matching of textual materials has, in fact, been rather straightforward. More accurately it was “straightforward” once the relevant materials were assembled. Comparison and elimination is a long accepted standard approach for such work.

The other arrests that we know about involve younger, fitter men (including Armenian soldiers in the Turkish military), and in far larger numbers. These were also said to have been under “strong guard.” To be sure, we do not know whether photographs of other arrests in Harput/Mezreh exist. Maybe Yes, maybe No. One could argue for instance the following scenario. Since there was no hard evidence that the ‘early’ arrests would be followed by murder, the idea of photographing them either as evidence of the arrests or as general documentation had not been viewed as urgent, or even thought of. Once it became absolutely certain as to what was happening, the opportunity to photograph was taken advantage of. In other words, arrests of old men were occurring as a ‘final’ act of getting rid of the Armenian males. We will not belabor here the view that we have already expressed in our ‘Ottoman Greek Genocide volume’ article – namely that Consul Leslie A. Davis may well have taken the photograph.[22]

Close examination of the photograph will show a broad line of relatively few men, with some apparent stragglers toward the end of it, suggesting that they were not able to keep up. The photograph, while not what we would consider high quality, shows no blurring due to motion. If the men had been moving along briskly, it might well have been difficult to take a photograph without at least some blurring. This is, obviously, not a posed photograph. More than a little blurring due to movement is often encountered in candid snapshots or photographs of the period. Another noteworthy feature of the photograph is that several men appear dressed in traditional garb in contrast to the more western clothing usually (but admittedly not inevitably) worn by “elites”. On the other hand, if they were arrested on very short notice, which they were, they might well have been in ‘house garb.’ Even so, all in all, this group hardly fits the description of an arrest of fit men of fighting age, or of elites including clergy and professors etc. Indeed some of the men decidedly look more than a bit bent over. The fact that the number of guards needed to keep them under ‘control’ is rather few further suggests that they were compliant. And, we would argue that they were definitely not the first, large group of influential men of Kharpert city which included professors, priests, merchants etc.

The view that has sometimes been put forth by apologists or those seeking to raise ever-higher the bar for conclusive evidence ‘demonstrating’ that a ‘genocide’ of the Armenians had occurred is that admittedly harsh actions were for the most part directed at able men of fighting age who had shown themselves to be ‘revolutionaries’ or dissidents, or were otherwise deemed untrustworthy to the Ottoman Empire. Here a group of older men, some, according to Dr. Parmelee, sick and quite incapacitated is involved.

We hope that the information provided in this Postscript will cause interested readers to realize that the more usual historical outlook in connection with this photograph may now be changed significantly, and we would say should now be changed. We leave it to readers to come up with their own rendition of the information that we have provided in a more concise fashion — reduced to an accurate caption — should they wish to do so.

In conclusion it is worth re-stating that photographs will not ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the Armenian Genocide. Any remaining ‘problem’ in connection with the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a political one, not one of historiography, or even impeccable attestation and attribution of photographs.[23]

Nevertheless, we believe that carefully attested and attributed photographs can make a difference in getting some important points across to the readers and viewers.


Thanks are due first and foremost to our late friend Mary C. Masterson, whose ashes rest along with the remains of her father and mother, in Carrolton, Kentucky at IOOF Cemetery. We thank the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford for access to Dr. Ruth A. Parmelee materials, and to Oberlin College Archives for similar access to their files and materials. The United States National Archives, College Park, Maryland deserve special thanks as well. It is always a pleasure to work there.


[1] For additional details from the publisher see Also for a volume profile and list of topics covered refer to

[2] For specifics as published in a newspaper article entitled “Account of Armenian Massacres Provokes Diplomatic Storm” by Kate McKenna in the New York Times Sunday December 3, 1989 Long Island Weekly Section 12, pgs. 1, 16-17 see Also refer to “Author Defends Book on Armenian Killings” by John Johnson in The Boston Globe 18 April 1990 pg. 4. And again, refer to “Haunted by an Old Horror: A Family’s Ordeal. Shedding Light on a 1915 Genocide Has Forced a Virginia Writer into the Shadows” by Paul Fahri in The Washington Post, Sunday 26 May 1991 (Section Style pgs. F1, F4.)

[3] See The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks, pgs. 359-434.

[4] See Maria Jacobsen Diaries of a Danish Missionary Harpoot, 1907-1919. Translation into English from the original Danish by Sister Kristen Vind, and ‘silently edited’ by Ara Sarafian, (Princeton and London/Reading, England: Gomidas Institute Books Taderon Press, 2001).

[5] Dr. Milton was a very broadly based and accomplished historian. See an obituary for her in Central European History vol. 34 (no. 1), 157-159 (2001). Her excellent paper entitled “Armin T. Wegner polemicist for Armenian rights and Jewish human rights” published back in 1989 in The Armenian Review is as interesting as it is informative, and merits careful reading. See Sybil Milton, "Armin T. Wegner Polemicist for Armenian Rights and Jewish Human Rights," The Armenian Review 42, no. 4 (1989): 17-40.

[6] Sybil Milton. Photography as evidence of the Holocaust. History of Photography 23 (no.4), 303-312 (1999).

[7]  Refer to Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, 4thedition by William C. Burton 2007, McGraw-Hill, New York, pg. 755 for complete definitions of evidential, evidentiary, and pg. 477 for the term probative urus+for+evidential&source=bl&ots=2QzOx73AG&sig=Qah1dtZzCMnIKLJPl9CKBO6jDpw&hl=en&ei=ennKTcfwCOH40gGMwKTzCQ&s a=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&sqi=2&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=f alse


[9] For example, it has appeared in generally authoritative volumes in the Greek language. At least one of them identifies the men as Greeks, and cites the source of the photograph as a person with Greek surname in the New York area.

[10] One ‘internet poster’ has claimed that the photograph as being in the Public Domain because it was published before January 1, 1923 in the United States by the American red cross (sic). . We have not taken the trouble to check out such an assertion. Most will know that so much that is posted on the Internet is unreliable, and especially flawed so far as imagery is concerned, that one could spend several lifetimes sorting them out.

[11] This single photograph is the focus of an entire book by Richard Raskin, A Child at Gunpoint : A Case Study in the Life of a Photo (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004). This photograph has been viewed by some as one of the most haunting pictures of the Nazi Holocaust. The idea that a child is seen as a threat is very telling. See

[12] See The photographs were in her mother’s collection and had been taken while she was in Harput/Mezreh as the wife of the penultimate United States Consul to Harput, William W. Masterson.

[13] The book or booklet is very rare and no copy either in Danish or Swedish is listed formally as existing in any library in the United States, cf. WorldCat. Et Blad af Armeniens Historie, Kvindelige Missions Arbejdere 1910-1920. [A Page from Armenia’s History: K.M.A.([Danish] Women Missionary Workers)] Nr. 115, Copenhagen, 80 pages, 1 table, illustrated, 1920. We again thank Mr. Bjørnlund for his making this important information available to us. The book was also published in Swedish and it is equally rare as the Danish. We have not seen the copy in the National Library of Sweden, cf. Ett Blad ur Armeniens Historia, Danska K.M.A. 1910-1920, Stockholm, 79 pages, illustrated, 1920.

[14] Aleksan Grigorean (Sedrak Garakeozean), Hishatakaran Everek-Fenesei(P`ariz: Everek-Fenesei Mesropean-Rubinean Hayrenakts`akan Miut`ean Kedronakan Varch`ut`iwn, 1963). Aleksan Grigorean and Richard Norsigian, Evereg-Fenesse: Its Armenian History and Traditions (Evereg-Fenesse Mesrobian-Roupinian Educational Society, Inc.), Detroit (1990).

[15] See

[16]  So far as we have been able to determine, this was notprinted in the New York Times ‘regular’

i.e.domestic edition.

[17]   Rouben Adalian, "The Armenian Genocide: Context and Legacy," Social Education 55, no. 2, pgs. 99-104 (1991). See especially pg. 102.

[18]   From archival and other materials on Missionary and Relief worker biographies and autobiographies in our files, e.g. “Deported: a story of relief work at Harpoot” by Dr. Ruth A. Parmelee, ’07 in The Oberlin Alumni Magazine (October 1922 pgs. 13-16.)

[19]  Ruth A. Parmelee, A Pioneer in the Euphrates Valley (self-published, 1967). Ruth A Parmelee, A Pioneer in the Euphrates Valley, New ed., (Princeton and London: Gomidas Institute, reprinted 2002).

[20] Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, California, Parmelee Papers, Box 1. We need not give the diary entries here. We plan to reflect on them in some detail on another occasion.

[21] The precise details may never be known as to what happened to Professor Garabed Soghigian. There are a few conflicting accounts. See for instance Harry G. Sogigian, The Uprooting and Rebirth of the Soghigian Family. Five Letters From professor Garabed Soghigian Euphrates College, Kharpert, Turkish Armenia to Cousin Kevork G. Sogegian (Worcester, Massachusetts: Harry G. Sogigian, 2006) pg. 24 for a summary account by a relative:- “He was jailed, weakened, released and died.”

[22]  Accounts of what happened in Kharpert region are numerous and need not be reduced to bibliographic format here. These range from official reports to personal memoirs, e.g. Consul Leslie A. Davis’ dispatches and accounts in the US National Archives (passim Report edited by Susan K. Blair). That and other records compiled and edited by Ara Sarafian are full of details. Timeframes consistent with those given within and among other accounts may be found in such works as that by Esther Mugerditchian (1917-1918) . What the diary of Dr. Parmelee has to say about the period is very clear cut (Krikorian and Taylor in process).

[23] This succinct and to-the-point concept derives from Dr. Gerard J. Libaridian who voiced it many years ago. See We believe that no better reference to understanding how denial can become ‘institutionalized’ and be reduced or end up as a political problem to be forgotten may be given than Was There an Armenian Genocide? Geoffrey Robertson QCs opinion with reference to Foreign & Commonwealth Office Documents which Show How British Ministers, Parliament and People Have Been Misled (October 9, 2009). Even so, Vahakn N. Dadrian, in our opinion the foremost scholar of the Armenian Genocide, optimistically suggests that the Official Ottoman record of “acknowledging, documenting, and prosecuting the centrally organized mass murder of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire …may serve to dismantle the entire edifice of the Turkish culture of denial.” This refers to Vahakn N. Dadrian’s and Taner Akçam’s 2008 book published in Turkish by a Turkish University, dealing with the proceedings of the Military Tribunal and Courts Martial held in Constantinople after the war. The volume, entitled Tehcir und Taktil [“Deportation and “Killings/Destruction”] [of the Armenians…] is yet to appear in English. Some reference to this work may be found in Dr. Dadrian’s paper, "The Armenian Genocide as a Dual Problem of National and International Law," University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy (Minneapolis) 4, no. 2 (2010): 60-82.


From group RG 256, Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. Roll 39

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