Could an Armenian solider have served as a lieutenant in the Ottoman Army at Gallipoli during World War I?
That question is at the center of a lively debate in the Turkish media. According to his memoir, Sarkis Torossian was a graduate of the Military College and a decorated Ottoman officer who served at multiple fronts. Learning that his parents and sister were deported and died in the Armenian Genocide, Torossian changed allegiance. He joined the Arab rebellion in Palestine and Syria and fought with a French battalion against Kemalist forces in Cilicia. Torossian immigrated to the United States in 1920 where, in 1947, he published his memoir, From Dardanelles to Palestine: a true story of five battle fronts of Turkey.
Reaction to the recent Turkish publication of Torossian’s memoir has been intense. Bilgi University Professor Ayhan Aktar initiated the translation and provided a lengthy introduction. Two Sabanci University historians have been at the forefront in discrediting the memoir, claiming that much of it was fabricated. In a series of articles in the Turkish press, Professor Halil Berktay criticized Aktar’s introduction and faulted the accuracy of Torossian’s description of the battle at Gallipoli. Professor Hakan Erdem finds even more to criticize in his recent book on Torossian, “Gerçek ile Kurmaca Arasında, Torosyan’in Acayip Hikayesi“. 1 He claims that Torossian did not graduate from the military academy, did not fight in the battles he describes, and that he immigrated to the United States in 1916, not 1920. Professor Aktar responded in a series of articles published in the newspaper Taraf.
Hürriyet has reported on the debate, and the journalist Taha Akyol has written admiringly about Erdem’s book. Having followed the debate, I stepped in to champion the memoir as authentic. Akyol dubbed me a “hired intellectual,” summarizing my position as ideological and “pro-Armenian.” I responded in a piece published in Taraf on December 24, 2012 (see in English). Berktay reacted with ad hominem attacks against me in Taraf.
In the meantime, I met Sarkis Torossian’s granddaughter Louise Shreiber. She gave me two original Ottoman documents that pertain to war medals awarded to Torossian. One of them has Enver Pasha’s original signature, the other has the stamp of the 21st Army Corps Command. My interview with Ms. Schreiber and the documents were published in the newspaper Radikal. Berktay and Erdem claim the documents are forgeries; indeed, some experts on Ottoman language have raised serious concerns about their authenticity. Professor Edhem Eldem from Boğaziçi (Bosporus) University has conducted a textual analysis that revealed spelling errors and the use of terms not typical for Ottoman bureaucratic documents. Eldem’s article, published in the February edition of Toplumsal Tarih –Journal of Social History. My response to Eldem and others has been published in an online newspaper, T24.
In a note to Halil Berktay, Hakan Erdem expressed his doubts over my latest article especially over a document belonging to Torossian. The document in question is Torossian’s military draft and health record from 1942. I had claimed that Hakan Erdem had published the wrong document as an “unfortunate act” thinking it was Torossian’s and I had presented another document as the correct one. The importance of all this is that in the document that I published the words “scar on left side of head” appear. Hakan Erdem and Halil Berktay insist that the document Hakan Erdem published is correct and accuses me of forgery. My answer is here.
1 Translation: “Torosyan’s Strange Tale: Between Reality and Fiction” ↩
My Torossian Articles
Original Torossian Documents
1929 Library of CONGRESS Registration Card/1929 Library of Congress Kayžt Kartž
1930 United States Federal Census/1930 Nüfus Sayžmž
OTTOMAN DOCUMENT/Abdülkerim Pasha
OTTOMAN DOCUMENT/Enver Pasha
Passenger Manifest 23 Dec 1920/Yolcu Listesi 23 Aralžk 1920 – 1
Passenger Manifest-23 Dec 1920/Yolcu Listesi 23-Aralžk 1920 – 2
SARKIS TOROSSIAN WW2 Draft Registrations-Askerlik Yoklama-1
SARKIS TOROSSIAN WW2 Draft Registrations-Askerlik Yoklama-2
US NATURALIZATION PAPER/Vatandaşlık Belgesi Resmi Giriş Tarihi