What Happened on 24 April 1915? The Ayash Prisoners

What Happened on 24 April 1915? The Ayash Prisoners

22 April 2013

Conventional accounts of the Armenian Genocide invariably start with the arrest of Armenian community intellectuals on 24 April 1915 followed by the unfolding of a genocidal process. The recent attempt by the former head of the Turkish State Archives
Yusuf Sarinay to argue that nothing untoward happened to the men who were arrested on that date, especially the political prisoners sent to Ayash, was a clear attempt to falsify history argues historian Ara Sarafian.

Ara Sarafian is a historian specialising on late Ottoman and modern Armenian history. He is the director of the Gomidas Institute.

24 April 1915 and the Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide 1

On 24 April 1915 Ottoman authorities began the mass arrest and exile of Armenians in Constantinople. The arrested were male, and predominantly intellectuals, community leaders, and political activists. Once in the state’s custody, they were sent to internment camps in Ayash and Chankiri in the interior of Ottoman Turkey. The liquidation of a large number of these men, followed by the deportation and destruction of entire communities in the provinces of the Ottoman Empire, resulted in 24 April 1915 becoming the commemoration date for the Armenian Genocide.

Early Accounts of the Arrests

Our critical understanding of the events surrounding the arrests of 24 April rests on a range of sources. The first general survey of the killing of Armenians in 1915 was carried out by Teotig who in 1919 published Houshartsan Abril 11i (Monument to April 11), a book released in Constantinople for the first public commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.2 This book presented the names of 761 prominent victims of the Genocide, many of whom were people arrested in Constantinople on 24 April 1915.3 Some of the men who survived the arrest and exile to Ayash and Chankiri also published their memoirs in books and articles. They include Mikayel Shamdandjian,4 Krikoris Balakian,5 Aram Andonian,6 Piuzant Bozadjian,7 Avedis Nakashian,8 and Khachig Boghosian.9 Their memoirs complement Teotig’s work and are significant sources of information.

Some of the most sensitive information in the memoir literature has been provided by Turks, Kurds, and other Muslims who had first-hand knowledge of the atrocities which took place. For example, Aram Andonian relates how, while he was in hospital in Angora [Ankara], he shared a room with a Kurd from Haymana, who talked about the massacres that were taking place around Ankara. Andonian also had the company of another patient, a Turkish soldier from Beypazar, who discussed the massacre of Armenians with his visitors. It was from such sources that Andonian learned of the deaths of a group of Armenians from Ayash, which included the poet Siamanto, the cartoonist Krikor Torosian, the writer and editor Kegham Parseghian, the actor Yenovk Shahin, the kind-spirited Vramshabouh Samouelof, and Parounag Feroukhan.10 Yet another account was given of the murder of Ayash prisoners by Aram Andonian, though he did not disclose his sources of information.11 Similarly, Avedis Nakashian narrated the mass execution of Armenians at Ayash prison based on the testimony of a Turkish notable he had befriended. After Nakashian’s release from Ayash, this notable visited him in Constantinople and related that 30 of the Ayash prisoners were first sent to Angora, then deported with local Armenians, and killed outside of the city. He also stated that the remaining prisoners at Ayash prison were tied up in front of the government building and taken away. The Turkish notable was also informed of the manner in which these prisoners were murdered near Ayash. He listed some of the victims as Jak Saybalian [Paylag], Kasbarian, Shahrigian, Zakarian, Samuelov, and Smpad Piurad.12 Krikoris Balakian gave another description of the murder of the last prisoners at Ayash, citing an unnamed Armenian doctor who was told of the killings by Khourshid Chavoush, who had participated in the atrocities.13 Although there are minor differences in the various accounts, all accounts corroborate that around 14 prisoners were released and that the remaining 71 or so Ayash prisoners were murdered. Most of the victims were in either of two batches: one group was led away and killed along with other Armenians a few hours outside Angora, while another group was executed a few hours outside of Ayash itself. The names of most of these victims are listed in in Teotig’s Houshartsan Abril 11i.

Denying the Fate of Armenian Victims: Yusuf Sarinay and the Arrests of 24 April 1915

Despite the evidence at hand presented in an article titled, "What Happened on 24 April 1915? - The Circular of 24 April 1915 and the Arrest of Armenian Committee Members in Istanbul,” the senior Turkish archivist Yusuf Sarinay dismisses any notion that these Armenians were abused or killed and claims to think that there was no general persecution of Armenians in 1915.14 While Sarinay’s sentiments are not new (the denial of the Armenian Genocide is official policy in Turkey), they merit a response due to his standing as a Turkish state intellectual and Head of the Turkish State Archives. Furthermore, since Sarinay, as a scholar and top archivist, insists on the legality of these arrests and rejects any charge of mass killings, then he should be expected to account for the men who were taken into state custody and verify that they did not disappear. His ability, or failure, to engage his subject in a creditable manner is a test of his own standing as a scholar, as well as the standing of the Turkish institutions he represents, most notably the Ottoman State Archives that he heads.15

Sarinay presents his work as an investigation of the arrest of Armenian "committee members” in Constantinople on 24 April 1915. Although he does not provide proper evidence, he argues that these men belonged to political and revolutionary societies and cooperated with Allied powers against the Ottoman Empire;16 he insists that the guilt of these men was beyond question because of the watchful eyes of Ottoman security agencies;17 and he explains the extraordinary treatment of these prisoners was because of heightened tensions caused by the Allied landings at the Dardanelles in April 1915.

According to Sarinay, the number of men who were initially arrested was estimated to be around 180 and this number rose to 235 between 24 April and 24 May 1915. These prisoners were sent to two locations in the interior of the Empire: an open prison in Chankiri and a high-security prison in a military depot at Ayash. Around 100 of these prisoners were sent in the first convoy to Chankiri and subsequently this number rose to 140 people. In the case of Ayash, he estimates the number of prisoners to be around 60–70 people.18 While his initial estimate of prisoners is correct, he does not seem aware of a second dispatch of prisoners to Ayash and Chankiri following the arrests of 24 April 1915. The first group that left Constantinople constituted the bulk of prisoners, while a second group made up of around 30 people were sent a few days later via Ankara.19

Once arrested and exiled, many of the prisoners petitioned Ottoman authorities and a number of them were released because, as Sarinay explains, they were found to be innocent, foreign nationals, or ill.20 Once again he intimates that the prisoners were afforded the full protection of Ottoman law and humane consideration.

The Chankiri Prisoners

One of Sarinay’s core references is a report by the Chankiri chief of police listing the names of all 155 prisoners sent to Chankiri—including those who were no longer in Chankiri when the report was written.21 This report is probably the most complete list we have of Armenian prisoners sent to Chankiri following the arrests of 24 April 1915.22 The list seems highly creditable in light of other primary accounts related to these arrests.23

However, while Sarinay succeeds in identifying the prisoners who were sent to Chankiri, he does not discuss their fate after they were ‘discharged’ from Chankiri. Practically all of the prisoners had been ‘discharged’ from Chankiri by the end of August 1915. Instead Sarinay simply credits the Chankiri police report’s notes about the dispatch of prisoners to other locations. This abrupt end is most astonishing given that Sarinay’s apparent purpose is to take issue with the Armenian Genocide thesis. His avoidance of any discussion of the ultimate fate of these prisoners while in state custody is remarkable. He avoids any consideration of the political nature of the arrests, the illegal treatment of prisoners, and the murder of so many of them. At least 39 of the prominent prisoners sent to Chankiri never returned to Constantinople, while the number of the lesser known victims has never been established.24

The Ayash Prisoners

Sarinay’s account of the Ayash prisoners is much more problematic than his account of Chankiri prisoners. Starting with the statement that there is no complete list of the Ayash prisoners in the Turkish archives, Sarinay estimates the number of these prisoners to be around 71 people.25 This estimate is probably correct in regards to the initial number of prisoners but it does not take into account the additional 13 men who arrived a week later.26 Having estimated a figure of 71 prisoners, Sarinay generates the names of 71 supposed inmates using an Ottoman report (which surprisingly includes no details about its provenance, authorship, and date).27 While the Turkish archives estimate the date of this document as 14 Sept. 1920 [30.Z.1338], Sarinay states that it was prepared by the Constantinople General Directorate of Security, Ismail Djanbolat, "probably around August 1916.”28 This report lists the names of 600 Armenians who were wanted by Ottoman authorities, including those who were already noted as dispatched to Ayash or Chankiri on 24 April 1915. Sarinay mentions the names of three more prisoners who had been sent away from Ayash (and were therefore not found on the list of 600 prisoners, or his list of 71 Ayash prisoners).29 As we show in our appendix, the prisoners sent to Ayash numbered around 85 people.

A comparison of the original list of 600 men wanted by the police to Sarinay’s list of 71 prisoners at Ayash raises some basic issues: (1) Some of the names are wrongly or poorly transliterated to the point of non-recognition in Sarinay’s work. Adom Yardjanian [Siamanto]  is listed as "Avram Bazcayan,” Yenovk Shahen is "Penodo S[h]ahin,” Artin Kalfayan” is "Artin Kalenderyan,” etc.; (2) Eight people Sarinay lists as Ayash prisoners, supposedly on the basis of the list of 600, were wrongly included. The list of 600 did not say they were sent to Ayash. These are Artin Hatsakordzian, Hagop Kufedjian [Oshagan], Ardashes Ferahian, Aram Hadjian, H. Palandjian, Hamazasp Panosian, Parsekh Dinanian, and Nshan Kaldjian; (3) Conversely, four men who were sent to Ayash according to the list of 600 do not appear on Sarinay’s list. These are Hampartsoum Boyadjian (Mourad), Krikor Torosian (Kevo), Krikor Armouni, Haroutiun Djangiulian. (4) As mentioned earlier, the number of Ayash prisoners was significantly more than 71, and it is surprising Sarinay does mention references to them in the Turkish archives. Most of these people were actually discharged from Ayash; those discharged include Avedis Nakashian,30 Levon Shamdandjian,31 and Servet Margos.32 There is also the case of Khachig Boghosian who appears in Sarinay’s lists for both Ayash and Chankiri. As Boghosian explains in his memoirs, he was first sent to Ayash and then transferred to Chankiri.33

The most bewildering part of Sarinay’s article is his claim that the 71 Ayash prisoners he lists remained there until 1918. He actually does not present evidence to support this central assertion. Instead, he states that the Ayash prisoners "apparently were kept under arrest throughout World War I…. Only after the signing of the Mudros Armistice did Karnik Madukyan, Krikor Hamparsumyan and Pantuvan Parzisyan receive the chance to be released on November 10, 1918. The rest were freed after the Allied Powers took control of the Ottoman Empire following the armistice.”34 This is a breathtaking and brazen statement; for one thing, the three Armenians who were released in 1918 were not amongst the 71 prisoners under discussion, nor on the list of 600 Armenians who were wanted by the Ottoman authorities.35 Sarinay’s inability to provide any actual evidence to make his point is worth noting.

In both cases regarding Chankiri and Ayash, there is a clear list of prisoners who were arrested and disappeared while in state custody. These lists comprising of 39 prisoners from Chankiri and 71 prisoners from Ayash should have been the heart of Sarinay’s contention that no injustice befell the Armenians who were arrested and exiled on 24 April 1915. Instead, he avoids a serious appraisal of the fate of the men who were arrested and exiled.

Sarinay’s failure includes ignoring Ottoman records in the Turkish archives. For example, while the Chankiri police report stated that the former editor in chief of Sabah newspaper, Diran Kelegian, was due to leave Chankiri for Izmir in August 1915,36 Krikoris Balakian describes how Kelegian was actually sent to a court-martial in Diyarbekir on 12 October 1915 and killed on the Halys river [Kizil Irmak] in Sivas. His source is the Turkish manager of the tobacco regie in Chankiri.37 Kelegian’s removal from Chankiri is also noted in Turkish archives, which include a telegram stating that Kelegian had left on his way to Diyarbekir on 29 October 1915.38 He was later located in Iskilib kaza (Sivas),39 and an inquiry in 1919 requested information about his fate in Amasya (Sivas).40 Clearly, even extant Ottoman records in Turkish archives show that Kelegian was not sent to Izmir as the Chankiri police report suggested. Similarly, while the Chankiri police report states that a group of prisoners consisting of Roupen Chilingirian (the writer Roupen Sevag), Onnig Maghazadjian (a book-binder), Taniel Chiboukirian (the poet Taniel Varoujan), Artin Boghosian (baker), and Vahan Kehyayan (blacksmith) were due to go to Ayash, Sarinay does not mention that these people were reportedly killed within a matter of hours upon leaving Chankiri. News of the killing of these men spread almost immediately amongst the remaining prisoners in Chankiri. Mikayel Shamdandjian states that they received news of these killings that same night. He describes how the local military police chief Nureddin and the CUP secretary Oghuz were amused by the killings, while the governor’s deputy was furious about it. These details were conveyed to Shamdandjian and others by the deputy governor. Shamdandjian states that the killing was organized through the chete Arabadji Ismail, who had been at the crime scene two hours before the crime, trying to instigate the killings. The provincial governor, Reshid Pasha, who was against these killings, arrested 11 peasants for these murders.41 Krikoris Balakian also gives a very detailed account of the killing of these five Armenians.42

In the case of Ayash, the 71 prisoners that Sarinay claims survived in prison until 1918 include Parsegh Shahbaz. Yet, his fellow inmates in prison state that Shahbaz was sent to a court-martial in Mamuret-ul Aziz and add that he was murdered while in prison.43 A number of records in the Turkish archives also place him in Mamuret-ul Aziz (but say nothing of his eventual fate).44 Even Sarinay mentions, in passing, that Shahbaz was sent for imprisonment to Mamuret-ul Azız (Elazıg), although he still includes him amongst the 71 prisoners he claims remained in Ayash until 1918.45 A further group of Ayash prisoners, Dr. Nazaret Daghavarian, Khachadour Maloumian (Agnouni), Karekin Chakalian (Khazhag), Sarkis Minasian, Roupen Zartarian, and Haroutiun Djihangiulian were similarly sent to be court-martialled in Diyarbekir and were murdered on their way.46 All of these men were obviously never seen again and recorded as victims of the Armenian Genocide by Teotig.47 Yet Sarinay maintains that they remained in Ayash until 1918 upon which they were supposedly released alongside other prisoners.48


We have discussed two opposing historiographical traditions regarding the arrest of Armenians in Constantinople on 24 April 1915. The first is set against the background of the Armenian Genocide and draws on specific works related to the fate of the arrested. The disappearance of so many people amongst the arrested was first recorded by Teotig in Houshartsan Abril 11i, while additional accounts from memoirs have given us more detailed information about the process of the arrests, the exile of prisoners, and the ensuing disappearance of victims. Some of the details in the information could be debated, but the evidence as a whole is compelling and points to the mass abuse and disappearance of prisoners.

Alongside this historiographical tradition is a darker tradition of the continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide by official Turkish historians. It is within this tradition that Yusuf Sarinay presents his case. He insists on the guilt of the arrested and states that nothing untoward happened to them. However, as we have argued above, despite his greater resources as Head of the Turkish State Archives, his discussion is contrived and the evidence he presents does not support his conclusions. While he accounts for most of the men who were arrested, he fails to show any evidence that even hints that some of them might have been alive after 1915 - let alone any evidence that they re-entered public life after 1918. Sarinay’s work raises disturbing questions, which he seeks to mask, about the lack of information in the Turkish archives concerning the fate of the Armenian political prisoners who were sent to Ayash in 1915.



1 This article is a work in progress, part of a broader project on the arrests of 24 April 1915. It was originally published in Turkish translation in Agos (30 May 2012).
2 Teotig (comp. and ed.), Constantinople: O. Arzouman, 1919. April 24 was April 11 in the old calendar then in use.
3 Teotig continued to publish information related to the Armenian Genocide in his yearbooks, especially Amenoun Daretsouyts 1916–1920.
4 Mikayel Shamdandjian, "Recollections from Chankiri,” in Teotig’s Monument to April 11. Also see Mikayel Shamdandjian, Hay Mdki Hargu Yeghernin, Constantinople: O.Arzuman, 1919.
5 Krikoris Balakian, Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915–18, trans. Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
6 Aram Andonian, Exile, Trauma and Death, trans. Rita Soulahian-Kuyumjian. London: Gomidas Institute, 2009.
7 Piuzant Bozadjian, "To Ayash,” in Teotig, Monument to April 11.
8 Avedis Nakashian, Ayashi Pandu. Boston: Hairenik, 1925, reprinted by Ghougas Garabedian, Beyrout, 1978.
9 Toros Toranian, ed., Yeghernen Verabrogh Halebahay Kaghoutin Yerakhdavoru: Doktor Khachig Boghosian (1875-1955). New York, 2006. This publication includes an autobiography by Khachig Boghosian covering his experiences of 24 April 1915 and its aftermath.
10 Aram Andonian, "Hampartsoum Hampartsoumian,” in Almanach de Renaissance, Paris, 1920, pp. 65-83.
11 Aram Andonian, Exile, Trauma and Death, p. 57.
12 Nakashian, Ayashi Pandu, pp. 168–69.
13 Balakian, pp. 94–95.
14 International Journal of Turkish Studies, Vol. 14, Nos. 1 & 2 (Fall 2008), pp. 75–101.
15 Yusuf Sarinay is currently the head of the General Directorate of State Archives (2001); member of Executive Board of Turkish Military History Commission (2002), member of Board of Directors of the European Branch of the International Archive Council (2004).
16  Sarinay, "What Happened on April 24, 1915?" p. 78.
17  Ibid.
18  Ibid., p. 79.  
19  See the works of Andonian, Balakian, Boghosian, Bozadjian and Shamdandjian, Nakashian cited above.
20  Sarinay, "What Happened on April 24, 1915?" p. 79.
21  This report was dated 24 August 1915 and enclosed in a communication from the Kastamonu governor’s office to the Ministry of Interior on 31 August 1915. See Dh.EUM.2Shb, 10/73. This police report also appears in T. C. Basbakanlik Devlet Arsivleri Genel Mudurlugu, Osmanli Belgelerinde Ermenilerin Sevk ve Iskani, (1878-1920), Ankara, 2007, Report no. 182, pp. 232-238. The English translation of the Ottoman document appears as an appendix to Sarinay’s article but it does not include vital information appearing on the last page which dates and identifies the authorship of the report.
22 The transcription and rendition of Armenian names into Latin script should be corrected. See our Appendix I.
23 These invaluable sources (which Sarinay does not mention) are Teotig’s "Monument to April 11,” Boghosian’s autobiography in Toranian, ed., Yeghernen Verabrogh Halebahay Kaghoutin Yerakhdavoru, Balakian, Armenian Golgotha, Andonian, Exile, Trauma and Death, and Bozadjian, "To Ayash.”
24  The aforementioned 39 prisoners were prominent individuals, such as artists, community leaders, well-to-do individuals, and members of political parties. Their social standing was probably the main reason why Teotig noted them as victims in his book. However, there were also men at the other end of the social spectrum who were overlooked by Teotig. One comes across such lesser-known characters in Aram Andonian’s accounts mention a butcher wearing his bloodied apron (Garabed Tashdjian, survivor), a Catholic Armenian who vociferously denied being Armenian and was teased about it (Apig Djanbaz, killed), a baker (Artin Agha Boghosian, killed), a former municipal dogcatcher in Constantinople who spoke in a naïve and broken mixture of Armenian-Turkish (Artin Asadourian, survivor), and a number of Turkish speaking tobacco smugglers who spoke with much bravado (names and fate unknown). These were all cases of ordinary individuals who stood out of the ordinary crowd, and undoubtedly there were many others who have been forgotten. Similarly, Krikoris Balakian, who was imprisoned in Chankiri and published his memoir-account in 1922, could only name 70 of the Chankiri prisoners, while he could name most of the Ayash prisoners. This is probably because the Ayash prisoners were more prominent individuals. Since the recent release of the Chankiri police report, a large number of the lesser-known Chankiri prisoners can be named.
25  Sarinay, "What Happened on April 24, 1915?” p. 80.
26  See Boghosian’s autobiography in Toranian, ed., Yeghernen Verabrogh Halebahay Kaghoutin Yerakhdavoru, pp. 40–41 and Bozadjian, "To Ayash,” p. 199.    
27  See BOA.DH.EUM.2.Shb, 67/31.
28  Sarinay, "What Happened on April 24, 1915?” pp. 81–82. Sarinay’s dating of this document creates new problems for him, though he does not address them. For example, the report prepared by the Chankiri chief of police states that most of the prisoners in Chankiri had left that prison before September 1915, while another list of prisoners he cites to name the prisoners at Ayash names dozens of Armenian prisoners in Chankiri in 1916. Krikoris Balakian states that practically all prisoners left in the summer of 1915, while he left in the last group of Armenians—including local Armenian families—in February 1916.
29  The three prisoners who were released from Ayash, according to Sarinay, were Hayg Tiryakian (wrongfully arrested for his namesake—the real Tiryakian was in Chankiri and came forward); Dr. Allahverdian, who was arrested instead of his son; and Akrik Kerestedjian, who was sent to Zor but soon released. Sarinay also includes Akrik Sarkis Kerestedjian on his list of Chankiri prisoners, p. 81
30  BOA.DH.ShFR, 480/96.
31  BOA.DH.EUM.2.Shb, 8/88.
32  BOA.DH.ShFR, 52/254.
33  Boghosian, p. 41-42.
34  Sarinay, "What Happened on April 24, 1915?” pp. 81–82.
35  According to Balakian, Andonian, and Nakashian, most of the Ayash prisoners were killed around August 1915.
36 The Directorate for Pubic Security in Constantinople identifies a Diran Kelegian who had been sent to a court-martial in Diyarbekir and inquired about his fate in Sivas. See Dh.SFR, 95/45, 186.
37  Balakian, Armenian Golgotha, p. 69, 113-4. Kelegian is also listed as one of the victims of the Armenian Genocide by Teotig.
38  BOA.DH.ShFR 57/92, 57/44, 57/156
39  BOA.DH.ShFR, 608/97
40  BOA.DH.ShFR, 95/45 and 95/186
41  See Shamdandjian, “Recollections from Chankiri,” p. 216. Also see Aram Andonian, Exile, Trauma and Death, pp. 15–17.
42  Balakian, Armenian Golgotha, pp. 100–102.
43  See Nakashian, Ayashi Pandu, p. 155.
44  See BOA.DH.ShFR 53/320, 54/5, 54/188.
45  Sarinay, “What Happened on April 24, 1915?” p. 81.
46  Nakashian, p. 157-160; Bozadjian, 207.
47  The removal of these men for a courts martial in Diyarbekir is also mentioned amongst Ottoman records in Turkish archives. See BOA.DH.SFR, 54/5, 475/60. The Directorate of General Security even asked the governor of Diyarbekir, Reshid Bey, if these prisoners were alive in a telegram dated 1 November 1915. BOA.DH.ShF, 57/216.
48  See Sarinay’s list of prisoners in his Appendix 3, pp. 100-101.

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