March is Armenian Genocide Memorial Month and a new book recounts the history of the Adana massacres which took place during the 30 years of genocide against the Christian minorities of the then-Ottoman Empire. The Horrors of Adana: Revolution and Violence in the Early 20th Century by historian Bedross Der Matossian is available in bookstores and online.
On April 14-17 and April 25-27, 1909, brutal massacres shook the province of Adana, located in the southern Anatolia region of modern-day Turkey, killing more than 20,000 Armenians and 2,000 Muslims.
Despite the significance of these draconian events and the extent of violence and destruction, these atrocities — known as the Adana massacres — are largely missing from Turkish historical narratives.
In The Horrors of Adana: Revolution and Violence in the Early 20th Century, historian Bedross Der Matossian presents one of the first close examinations of these events, analyzing social, political, and economic transformations that culminated in a cataclysm of violence in Adana and beyond.
Der Matossian, Hymen Rosenberg Associate Professor in Judaic Studies and Vice Chair of the Department of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, provides voice and agency to all involved in the massacres— perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. He uses primary sources in understanding these two waves of massacres, many sources previously unseen. Drawing from documents in more than a dozen languages (including Armenian, Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Ottoman, Ladino, Italian, French, German, Greek, Russian, Polish, and English), Dr. Der Matossian develops an interdisciplinary approach to understand the rumors and emotions, public spheres and humanitarian interventions that together informed this complex event.
One of many significant details brought to light by Der Matossian’s research include confirmation that the indigenous Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were not plotting to carve out an independent state- a narrative often employed to justify the exterminations. On the contrary, victims were resisting the massacres in self-defense. Drawing striking comparisons to the 1894 Dreyfus Affair, Der Matossian reveals how courts-martial authorities following the massacres sought to indict the victims and were often themselves organizers of the atrocities. Ultimately, the most significant perpetrators of the Adana massacres did not receive their deserved punishments.
The archival evidence studied by Der Matossian also reveals the many ways in which public sentiment was manipulated and masses were influenced to discriminate against minorities in the Adana region.
Der Matossian’s well-written and meticulously researched book, utilizing rare documentation from six different archives, employing an interdisciplinary perspective and an objective, conversational tone, offers insights into this untold history. The Horrors of Adana is a sequel to Der Matossian’s prior, award-winning book, Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire, published by Stanford University Press, and is certain to become a major resource for the study of the subject.
The historical contexts presented in The Horrors of Adana offer a window into how and why post-revolutionary societies become prone to bloodshed and how ordinary men can become perpetrators of violence. The main perpetrators of the massacres went unpunished and then six years later to the very month the Armenian Genocide began, eventually claiming 1.5 million lives, and again the perpetrators went unpunished.