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Turks Who Saved Armenians: Righteous Muslims

during the Armenian Genocide

George N. Shirinian
Zoryan Institute - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

During the Armenian Genocide, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and other Muslims were both perpetrators
and beneficiaries of the deportations and killing—but they also saved non-Muslims. This study
documents and analyzes the ways in which Armenians were rescued and the various motives of the
rescuers. Unlike previous studies, which are based solely on survivor oral histories or anecdotal fam-
ily material, this paper also utilizes missionary reports, published survivor memoirs, German con-
sular reports, archival sources, and other material. It discusses the concept of Righteous among the
Nations and it explores the application of this idea to the context of the Armenian Genocide. Wider
recognition of the phenomenon of Turks who saved Armenians can facilitate dialogue between
Armenians and Turks today, many of whom tend to view each other as enemies.
Key words: Armenian Genocide, Muslims who saved Christians, rescuers, the righteous, Turkish-
Armenian dialogue

In this paper, we explore the subject of righteous Turks who saved Armenians during
the Armenian Genocide. First, an explanation of the term Turks as used in this paper is
in order. Armenians were targeted for deportation and destruction based primarily on
their religion. As Christians, they were perceived by the ruling Ottoman elite, as well as
Ottoman Muslim society in general, as serving the interests of the Christian European
powers, who seemed intent on dismembering the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians
were believed not to share in the common concern for the welfare and preservation of
the empire. Ethnicity was much less a factor in the Armenians’ being targeted. Arme-
nians could be spared by converting to Islam, especially prior to July 1916. At the same
time, the Christian Assyrians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire were also targeted for
destruction as early as 1913.1
In some cases, the sources identify a rescuer specifically as an Arab or Kurd, for
example, and I have accepted that at face value. When they refer to a rescuer as a Turk,
however, I am aware that the term could have been used based on knowledge that the
individual was of Turkish ethnicity or as a catch-all for any Muslim; there is no way to
be sure. Therefore, in this paper, Turk is used generically to refer to an Ottoman Mus-
lim, whether they were known to be of Turkish ethnicity or not.
An explanation of the term righteous is also in order. In 2001, I published a short
essay, titled “Turks Who Saved Armenians: An Introduction,” in which I used the term
righteous Turks.2 This phrase was adopted from the Israeli practice of honoring non-
Jews who had risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust as “Righteous among
the Nations.” There, righteous is taken from the Talmudic term hasid umot ha’olam,

George N. Shirinian, “Turks Who Saved Armenians: Righteous Muslims during the Armenian Genocide,”
Genocide Studies International 9, 2 (Fall 2015): 208–227. © 2015 Genocide Studies International. doi:
Turks Who Saved Armenians 209

referring to those who, though not direct recipients of the Ten Commandments and the
Torah, demonstrated by their actions that their sense of justice and mercy was rooted in
those teachings that, according to Jewish tradition, lead to the highest degree of human
goodness.3 It is based on the idea that, whereas Jews who had saved fellow Jews were
only fulfilling a religious obligation, non-Jews had no such responsibility; therefore,
those who risked their own safety to help Jews deserve special recognition.4
To be considered “righteous,” one’s actions had to involve “extending help in sav-
ing a life; endangering one’s own life; absence of reward, monetary or otherwise; and - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

similar considerations which make the rescuer’s deeds stand out above and beyond
what can be termed ordinary help.”5 Cases are examined carefully by a public commis-
sion in Israel, headed by a Supreme Court justice and according to a set of criteria,
before the title of “righteous” is granted.6 Criteria include evidence by survivors and
other eyewitnesses; only a Jewish party can put a nomination forward; helping a family
member or Jew convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition; assistance has
to be repeated or substantial; and assistance has to be given without any financial gain
expected in return (although requiring payment for rent, food, or similar expenses is
deemed acceptable).7
It has been argued that, because the concept of the righteous originates in the
Judeo-Christian tradition while its modern use is secular, Muslims end up being ex-
cluded from the notion of righteousness because Muslim tradition is different.8 I think
this interpretation overlooks the echoes of the Judeo-Christian tradition found in Islam,
which link morality with holiness. Echoing the Babylonian Talmud (4:1),9 the Qur’an
(5:32) states, “He who saves a life it is as if he saves the entire world; he who destroys a
life it is as if he destroys the entire world.”10 A little later (Qur’an 5:151), it echoes the
sixth commandment of the Old Testament (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5): “Slay not the
life which Allah hath made sacred, save in the course of justice.” The Qur’an (16:97)
also states, “Whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, provided he is a
believer, We shall surely grant him a new life, a life that is good, and We will certainly
reward such people according to the noblest of their deeds in the hereafter.” Further-
more, there are multiple references to Turks saving Armenians, or at least criticizing the
government policy of their deportation and massacre, as being contrary to Islam.11
Moreover, there are several words in the Turkish language for the notion of righteous
and righteousness—doğru, doğrucu, dürüst, dürüstlük, hak tanır. The application of the
term righteous in the context of the Turkish rescue of Armenians is as valid for its reli-
gious origins as for its indication of moral principle.
During the years 1913–1923, not only Armenians but also Assyrians and Greeks
were subject to a deliberate policy of the Young Turk—and subsequently, the Kemalist—
regime to rid itself of these non-Turkish, non-Muslim minorities, whom it blamed for the
economic, political, and military failures of the government. This policy involved the bru-
tal deportation and massacre of these minorities as well as the confiscation of their
land, property, and wealth. In this study, I will focus only on cases of Armenian rescue,
although I do expect that there are comparable cases of rescue of Assyrians and Greeks.
There is no way to know today how many individual acts of rescue occurred in those
tragic years. The sources of information used in this paper include recorded oral testi-
monies of Armenian survivors that have been published, anecdotal family histories
about the survivors transmitted orally, written autobiographies and survivor memoirs,

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210 Shirinian

and reports of American, Danish, German, and Swiss missionaries as preserved in the
German Foreign Office archives.
In the course of this exploration, I will examine what the rescuers did, the phenom-
enon of rescue during genocide, the motivations of the rescuers, and the significance of
all this for political and social relations between Armenians and Turks now and in the
future. Ultimately, this study is a search for humanity in the midst of genocide.

Previous Studies on Acts of Rescue during the Armenian Genocide - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

The pioneering work on this subject was done by Richard G. Hovannisian. Basing his
research on the 527 oral histories collected at the University of California–Los Angeles,
he approached the question of altruism during the genocide.12 The research sample was
thus limited to evidence provided through oral histories collected from survivors who
ended up in southern California. Hovannisian found that, statistically, humanitarian
considerations were the main motivations for the majority of his cases (51.5%), while
religious considerations were among of the least important (4.3%). Three-quarters of
the interventions were by individuals unknown to the survivors.13
More recently, Shahkeh Yaylaian Setian published a study based on 15 family anec-
dotes received through a call she had placed in Armenian-American newspapers.14 The
material provided relatively few examples and little detail about acts of rescue, especially
if one discounts personal gain for the rescuer. While her book was a sincere effort to
promote Turkish-Armenian dialogue, it does not offer a comprehensive account or ana-
lysis of the issue.
To expand a little on the above description of the sources used in the present study:
they include the recorded oral testimonies of Armenian survivors living in Armenia
that have been published, anecdotal family histories about Armenian survivors in Can-
ada transmitted orally and previously unpublished, written Armenian autobiographies
and survivor memoirs published in the United States, and reports of American, Danish,
German, and Swiss missionaries and representatives of the Baghdad Railway, which
were contemporaneous with the events they describe, as preserved in the German For-
eign Office archives. In addition, information on Ottoman officials who saved Arme-
nians is aggregated for the first time in this paper. This broader collection of
information from multiple types of sources adds detail to the previous studies and gives
a more rounded picture of the nature of such rescue, such as the pervasiveness of
opposition to the genocide, the importance of religion as a motive, and the implications
of such things, particularly regarding their potential for aiding Turkish-Armenian

None of the rescuers or the survivors is alive today to answer questions or explain moti-
vations. However, the examples presented below do provide information, either expli-
citly or with sufficient detail, to reasonably infer the rescuers’ motives in these cases.
In some of the examples presented below, the survivors express great reverence for
their Turkish rescuers. During my efforts to collect oral family anecdotes, however, I
found that the descendants of the survivors, who knew through their family histories
that their ancestors had been saved by Turks, were very reluctant to share these ac-
counts. Some who did tell me such stories often either asked that they be kept anony-
mous, because they feared scorn from family members, or refused permission to have
them published, out of fear of being perceived to disrespect the memory of the victims.
© 2015 Genocide Studies International 9, no. 2 doi:10.3138/gsi.9.2.03
Turks Who Saved Armenians 211

The events of 1915–1923 were catastrophic and debilitating for Armenians, not only
physically but also psychologically. This has been exacerbated by the ongoing and
aggressive denial, perpetrated by the modern Turkish state right up to today, that geno-
cide had taken place. Such denial re-victimizes and traumatizes the descendants of the
survivors. Even now, after the span of 100 years, it is still difficult for Armenians to
acknowledge that there were Turks who did good deeds during the genocide.
Owing to the limited length of a journal article, it is not possible to include or refer-
ence every example of rescue I have uncovered. By no means have I exhausted the - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:


Background to the Acts of Rescue

As Armenians were being rounded up, forced to sell their possessions—except what
they could carry—for a fraction of their worth, and led off to what for most of them
was certain death, some individual Turks hid them in their homes, while others helped
them escape to safety. It must be noted that these Turks who provided refuge and
escape did so in the full knowledge that to be caught helping an Armenian meant sum-
mary execution. Orders had been issued threatening

any Muslim who provides shelter to an Armenian with hanging in front of his
house and the burning down of that house, while government officials will be re-
moved from their posts and military men shall be expelled from the army. In either
case the offenders are to be brought before the Military Tribunal for trial.15

In Van, the governor general (vali), Cevdet Bey, is reported to have issued a general
order that stated, “The Armenians must be exterminated. If any Moslem protect a
Christian, first, his house shall be burned, then the Christian killed before his eyes, and
then his (the Moslem’s) family and himself.”16 Given such highly charged circum-
stances, today one can only imagine the difficulty of helping Armenians escape the de-
portations and massacres and the humanity and courage required to do so.
It should be noted that, prior to July 1916, some Armenians could escape deporta-
tion and death by converting to Islam. Even afterwards, it is well known that many of
the stragglers or survivors could be taken in or adopted quite openly on condition that
they convert to and profess Islam.17 Indeed, in some areas, Armenian orphans were
gathered into Turkish state orphanages in order to be turkified. This is one of the chief
differences between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust; Jews had no compara-
ble option. It is remarkable that so many Armenians chose not to renounce their
Christianity in order to save themselves.18

Personal Stories of Rescue

To provide a basis for the analysis offered in this paper, I present here four passages
that describe personal stories that are authentic examples of the various ways in which
Turks saved the lives of particular Armenians during the genocide. They were selected
because they illustrate how such acts of rescue transpired, how they were remembered
and retold, and their impact on the survivors. This will be followed by a discussion and
a typology of these acts of rescue.
The Story of Haji Khalil
This story is part of the family history of K. M. Greg Sarkissian. It was a great influence,
sending him on the path in life to become one of the founders of the Zoryan Institute.
© 2015 Genocide Studies International 9, no. 2 doi:10.3138/gsi.9.2.03
212 Shirinian

In 1915, the family lived in Urfa. This story was first told publicly at the “Problems of
Genocide” international conference in Yerevan in 1995.

Speaking as an individual, let me say that I am the son of genocide survivors. My

father is now 90, my mother 82. His father was hanged, his mother raped and
killed, and of the nine children in the family, only he and his five year old brother
The story of my mother’s family was different, atypical, but not to be neglected - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

for that reason. My maternal grandfather was hanged in front of his family, which
included his pregnant wife, my grandmother, and four children between the ages of
two and eight.
A Turkish businessman, Haji Khalil, had been my grandfather’s business partner,
and had promised to care for his family in case of misfortune. When a disaster
greater than anything either of them could have imagined struck, he kept his prom-
ise by hiding our family in the upper storey of his house for a year. The logistics in-
volved were extremely burdensome. Including my grandmother’s niece, there were
seven people in hiding. Food for seven extra mouths had to be purchased, prepared
and carried up undetected once a night and had to suffice until the next night.
Khalil’s consideration was such that he even arranged for his two wives and the ser-
vants to be absent from the house once a week so that my grandmother and her
family could bathe.
When two of the children died, he buried them in secret. He took tremendous
risks and his situation was precarious, because his servants knew what he was
doing. Had he been caught sheltering Armenians, he would almost certainly have
shared their fate. Luckily, his household was loyal and discreet, and so I was one of
the few children of my generation and neighborhood to grow up with uncles and
aunts, all of whom remember the Turk Haji Khalil. Every night, my mother used to
remember him in her prayers to the end of her life—may God bless his soul.19

Helen’s Story
This account was told to me in Cambridge, Ontario, in 2000. I call it “Helen’s Story.” At
Helen’s request (her real first name), all identifiable names have been removed.
This anecdote is set in Teheran, Iran, in the 1940s, after the end of World War II.
A young Armenian girl, Helen, had one particular friend, among all of her school
friends, with whom she shared a special affection. One day, this friend invited Helen to
her home for a birthday party. When Helen cheerfully mentioned this news to her
mother, the latter was not pleased.
Helen’s mother advised her that her friend was Turkish, and that Turks had mur-
dered Helen’s grandfather, her father’s father. They had shot him in the back while he
was out riding on horseback and while holding his sister’s hand. The horse had returned
home with him slumped over in the saddle. Therefore, she did not think it would be
respectful of her grandfather’s memory to be such good friends with this Turkish girl.
Helen’s mother told her that she could have other friends over to the house but that she
should not go to that friend’s house.
Helen made an excuse to miss the party, but her friend wanted her there so much,
she postponed it. This happened again, and again. After her friend offered to postpone
the birthday party for the third time, Helen felt compelled to explain the real reason she
kept cancelling.

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 213

The next day, the friend’s mother knocked on the door of Helen’s house. Helen’s
mother was very surprised to see her and very uncomfortable, but when the woman
asked to come in, she could hardly refuse.
The woman’s calm demeanor was obviously hiding a lot of pent-up emotion. She
began to speak directly to the point. “Yes, I am Turkish,” she said, “but my father was
also killed by Turks. During those dark days in Turkey, when the life of every Armenian
was in danger, my father smuggled Armenians to freedom eleven times. The twelfth
time, he was caught by the authorities and executed. They brought him to the centre of - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

the city and shot him. So how can you not allow your daughter to come to my house?”
As they talked, they cried together, this Turkish mother and this Armenian
mother. And after that, Helen was free to visit her Turkish friend’s house any time
she wanted to.
Helen grew up in Iran, got married, and eventually settled in Canada. Despite the
passing of time, she stated that she had never forgotten this story, and it was clear that
it still had a strong emotional impact on her many years later.20

At a Crossroad: The Story of Antik Balekjian

This unpublished story was written down by Arsho Kassabian Zakarian of Toronto and
given to me on 11 September 2014. The narrative begins at the time of Antik Balekjian’s
childhood, in the early 1890s, more than two decades before the genocide.

Antik Balekjian was a little girl in Gesaria (Kayseri) when her life and her kinder-
garten and elementary schooling were cruelly interrupted eighteen times because of
Turkish authorities entering her house with search warrants. When the raids oc-
curred, Antik would get a glimpse of what the gendarmes did to her father and her
house. Her mother would push her out of the side door and whisper instructions
for her to go to either one of her married siblings or the next door neighbor, so she
would not witness the barbaric attacks on her father, the merciless vandalism of
their house, and her parents’ humiliation. Each time, their house was ransacked
and left in ruins. Her father was beaten up by the gendarmes, who demanded he
reveal the hiding place of his stepson (Antik’s stepbrother), Hovhannes, who was
falsely accused of manslaughter.
Hovhannes had stuck flyers on government buildings asking for justice and
equality for the Armenian people from the Ottoman government. Eventually, he
was captured and hung [sic] for a crime he never committed, in 1890. His death
caused a gaping hole of sorrow in the hearts of the family members.
Gesaria’s population consisted of Armenians, Turks and Greeks. Her father,
Master Garabed Balekjian, was a consultant to civil engineers. Young civil engineers
from all three communities came to their house for consultations and advice. Dur-
ing these visits, Antik brought the visitors Armenian coffee and desserts with a
glass of cold water on a tray, as was the tradition. Her father never turned down
any of these young engineers, in spite of his turbulent life. He was generous, honest
and encouraging with his advice and instructions.
Antik, the youngest of nine children, was never spoiled. She always felt a sadness
in her heart for missed schooling because of the turmoil in her home life caused by
those raids. She helped her mother in household duties and weaved carpets in her
spare time. She mastered that art. She even weaved with silk and her handiwork
was sent to Istanbul for sale. She married a fabric designer and printer, Haroutiun

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214 Shirinian

Kassabian, in 1904. At the beginning of World War I, her husband was drafted into
the Ottoman army.
In 1915, nineteen caravans were formed from the Armenian population of
Gesaria. Antik was among them, along with her disabled mother-in-law, and three
sons, ages nine, six and one. They were sent on the forced marches, like the rest of
the Armenian population in all the provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Along the
way, people were robbed, killed, kidna[p]ped, raped and tortured. They were ex-
posed to all kinds of climates and weather, without shelter, deprived of water and - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

food. Death was imminent.

Antik, with her family, experienced fear, uncertainty, hunger, loss, humiliations
and torture. When their caravan arrived at one of the many crossroads, a gendarme
was dividing them into two groups. While waiting for further orders, a Turkish
man approached her and asked, “What are you doing here?”
At first, she did not recognize him and looked at him bewildered. He added,
“Remember me? I used to come and see your father, Ousta (Master) Garabed for
advice. You were a little girl then. Each time you brought in coffee and Armenian
desserts. I have never forgotten your father’s kindness.” Then, she vaguely remem-
bered him, and said, “I don’t know why they brought us here and why they are di-
viding our caravan.”
He whispered, “The ones who are going south will be slaughtered soon. Go with
the other group. I will talk with the assigned gendarme, and if you have a gold coin
on you, give it to me and I will bribe him.” She found one of the very last coins she
had on her, which she had sewn in her skirt’s hem. She gave it to him, hoping his
risky intervention would not cause him problems. She knew the authorities would
consider it treason.
Out of the nineteen caravans from Gesaria, only two partially survived. Few of
the survivors were able to tell what they witnessed and experienced. Most were
unable to verbalize the horrific years up to the end of their lives. The persecution of
the Armenians continued till 1923, and even after with the change of governments.
Antik, with her sons, finally was able to leave Turkey with the utmost difficulty and
find refuge in Egypt in 1922, where she settled.
Antik Balekjian Kassabian was my paternal grandmother and also my primary
caregiver. She told us, her grandchildren, about her life in Gesaria, her house,
brothers and sisters, her missed schooling, her bridal trousseau, her new home with
her husband, her carpet weaving and her in-laws. When we would ask her about
the forced marches, she would say, “I feel that there is a bitter smoke coming out of
my nose.” She recalled the wail of the crying mothers, whose babies were slaugh-
tered in front of their eyes, or the young daughters dragged away to slavery or rape,
the disabled left behind on the road without help, the hungry children mocked, the
churches burnt, the houses looted, the forceful conversions to Islam and the endless
insults and humiliations. Her husband, my grandfather, was poisoned to death in
the Turkish army. Her own mother and mother-in-law did not survive the Geno-
cide. She lost siblings, nieces, nephews, godsons, relatives and neighbors.
She remembered the ugly and inhumane acts of the Turkish authorities and gen-
darmes during raids in her home and during those marches. She also remembered
with gratitude the Turkish engineer’s kindness and intervention, which steered her
destiny. She prayed for his soul until the end of her life.

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 215

Nowhere in the Qur’an: A Further Adventure of Antik Balekjian

This unpublished story was written by Kassabian Zakarian and was given to me on
16 May 2014.

Aji tutun geliyor bournoumdan, bitter smoke is coming out of my nose, my

Turkish-speaking Armenian grandmother, Antik, used to say whenever she told us
of the forced march and the Armenian Genocide stories. Now, I can understand
that her reliving the memories was beyond tears, beyond being upset, that even her - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

nose reacted to her emotions, to the scenes that she witnessed and to the experi-
ences she lived. Unlike my father, her middle son, she was able to tell us about the
horrific years of hunger and thirst, fear, looting, losses, sickness, bitter cold, burning
sun, murders, death, kidnappings, rapes and forced conversions to Islam. During
these dreadful years of torture, stories of human kindness, miracles along with stor-
ies of perseverance, hope and prayer stand out.
The responsibility for three minor-aged sons, ten, six and one, and her mother-
in-law, almost blind and incapable of walking, turned my shy, thirty-two year old
grandmother to a lion ready to protect her cubs. She learned by heart an important
phrase and recited it whenever she saw any danger from the gendarmes, bandits or
other aggressive groups. The phrase was “the families of soldiers are in trust of the
nation.” Then she would add her husband’s number and division. He was drafted
into the Turkish army in 1914, and the death marches started in 1915. Turkish was
her mother tongue. In her native Kayseri/Gesaria, speaking Armenian was forbid-
den. The punishment was extremely harsh. Whoever was caught, their tongue
would be cut off. This is not a fable. Later in my research, I found this fact docu-
mented and verified by survivors.
Among the few stories of human miracles, there is one that stands out in my
mind. Their caravan arrived at a Turkish village; by that time their number was less
than half of the initial group. People had died of being exposed to extreme weather
conditions, to sickness, young girls and women were kidnapped, the very old and
the babies could not survive, families had been separated. My father had become
very sick. He had high fever, chills and diarrhea. My grandmother kept changing
his soiled cloth[e]s and wrapping him tightly with whatever she found to stop his
chills. She knew she was losing him. They found a shelter in a Turkish peasant wo-
man’s barn. The landlady, Fatiya, asked her what was wrong with the boy. Antik
told her his symptoms with trembling lips. Fatiya asked them to settle in and she
would be back soon. Indeed, she came back shortly, holding a bowl of hot soup, a
bundle with warm sand and home remedies. She instructed Antik to wrap the
warm sand around the boy’s abdomen. She visited them three times daily, each
time she brought the soup, the warm sand and the home remedies. A few days
later, the fever broke, and in two weeks’ time, he was almost normal. Unfortunately,
marching orders came soon after and they had to leave to an unknown and fearful
Fatiya had parting words for Antik. “Though I am a peasant woman, I am an
Imam’s daughter, and I know how to read. Nowhere in the Quran does it say that
we should kill the Christians, who know God. What these gendarmes are doing,
killing children in front of their parents, depriving the caravans of shelter and
water is against Islam. According to our religion, the destitute and the disabled
should be protected and cared for. I saved your son, so God will have mercy on me

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216 Shirinian

and return my four sons home safe from the war.” The two mothers embraced
tightly and parted.
The memory of Fatiya remained with my grandmother to the day she passed
away at age 90. She prayed that Fatiya’s soul would always rest in Heaven. Loulsa-
ren ichindeh yatsen she repeated many times, meaning, may she lie among lights.
She was eternally grateful to Fatiya and never forgot her human kindness.

A Typology of Rescue - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

Generally speaking, the ways in which Turks rescued Armenians can be listed according
to seven broad categories of rescuers: Ottoman officials who refused to act against the
Armenians; those who hid Armenians in their homes for an extended period of time;
those who helped Armenians with food, medicine, and shelter for a short period of
time; those who helped Armenians en route in the deportation caravans; those who
helped Armenians to escape deportation; those who adopted children and treated them
kindly, as their own family; and those who married young girls or arranged their mar-
riages to their sons.
A comparison of the types of rescue in Mordecai Paldiel’s study of the Holocaust
reveals some overlap with the Armenian case, but also significant differences.21 Paldiel
also identified seven categories: raising protest or alarm (including an SS officer who
attempted to expose the horrors); foreign officials helping Jews escape with visas; shel-
tering and hiding; subterfuge (including by German officials); sheltering of children;
acts by members of the clergy; and rescue of individuals during death marches. Shelter-
ing refugees, intervention by officials, and special consideration for children are found
in both cases. Religion is a factor in Paldiel’s study only insofar as it was practiced by
members of the clergy, whereas during the Armenian Genocide, it was a factor among
Muslim religious leaders and lay people. (However, this is not to say that there are not
cases of pious rescuers in the Holocaust documented elsewhere.) Most significantly,
there was no possibility of Jews knowingly marrying or being adopted into gentile
Let us now review examples of the types of Armenian rescue. Understanding the
types of rescue will help us understand the motives of the rescuers.

Ottoman Officials Who Refused to Act against the Armenians

The number of Ottoman government or military officials who refused to implement the
orders to deport and massacre the Armenians or saved Armenians in other ways is
remarkable. Such officials were usually dismissed from office and, in some cases, were
murdered. The following recollection about the sub-district governor (kaymakam) of
Rakka is illustrative:

The kaimakam was so good to the Armenians, and for this he would be dealt with
badly. The higher authorities finally chased him away from his post in Rakkah.
They had telegraphed him one final warning to deport all Armenians to the Der-el-
Zor for massacre. He refused. In addition to the humanitarian reasons, the Arme-
nians had built and revived his whole town. Without their industry and education,
Rakkah would have been with the war reduced to a barren waste. Already, with the
Turkish men at the front and the Armenian men dead, the lands were lying useless,
the sparse harvests rotting; food was in great shortage. Business had come to a jolt-
ing halt. The few businessmen still open were often run by Armenians under

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 217

Turkish landlords or a few Armenians forced to convert to Mohammedism and

live as Turks because their trade was indispensable. Nevertheless, the Young Turk
government kicked this kind kaimakam out one day . . . It was as if the Armenians’
success was precisely what rendered them an enemy.22

The names of such people as Bedri Nuri (lieutenant governor of Müntefak), Mehmet
Celal Bey (governor general of Aleppo and Konya), Ferit (governor general of Basra),
Ali Suat Bey (district governor [mutasarrıf] of Deir es Zor), Hüseyin Nesimi (mayor of - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

Lice), Hasan Mazhar Bey (governor general of Ankara), Reşid Paşa (governor general of
Kastamonu), Şabit (deputy prefect of Beşiri), Faik Ali Bey (Ozansoy) (district governor
of Kütahya), Mustafa Bey (Azizoğlu) (district governor of Malatya), Cemal Bey (district
governor of Yozgat), and others who tried to alleviate the suffering of the Armenians
deserve to be remembered today.23 It is even reported that Ahmed Rıza, a member of
the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP, Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti) and presi-
dent of the Senate, dared protest against the massacre of the Armenians and was in-
stantly ordered imprisoned by Talât (though saved thanks to the intervention of
others)24 and that Hayri Bey, the sheikh ul-Islam, “had the temerity to criticize his col-
leagues’ policy of massacre of the Armenians.” For this and other disagreements with
the government, he was arrested, tried in civil court, and executed. Whether one was an
opponent of the CUP or a CUP insider, failure to support the party’s policy toward the
Armenians meant one’s own demise.25
Turks Who Hid Armenians in Their Homes for an Extended Period of Time
One of the most courageous and humanitarian types of rescue occurred when a group
of Armenians was hidden in a Turkish home for an extended period of time. The com-
plicated logistics and the risks are illustrated in the following passage from “The Story
of Haji Khalil,” given above.

Food for seven extra mouths had to be purchased, prepared and carried up unde-
tected once a night and had to suffice until the next night. Khalil’s consideration
was such that he even arranged for his two wives and the servants to be absent
from the house once a week so that my grandmother and her family could bathe.
When two of the children died, he buried them in secret. He took tremendous risks
and his situation was precarious, because his servants knew what he was doing.
Had he been caught sheltering Armenians, he would almost certainly have shared
their fate.

Such sustained efforts over an extended period of time entailed great risk and suggest a
great commitment on the part of the rescuer, both in terms of the caring for the shel-
tered individuals and to moral and humanitarian principals. Such narratives may call to
mind the renowned story recorded in the Diary of Anne Frank, which relates the experi-
ence of a Jewish family being hidden from the Nazis in the Netherlands during World
War II, and have strong emotive appeal today.

Turks Who Helped Armenians with Food, Medicine or Shelter for a Short Period of Time
Another type of rescue was helping Armenians with food, medicine, or shelter for a
short period of time. This type of rescue was one of the more frequent occurrences and
is illustrated by the following anecdote about an incident that took place in Bzhnkert
village, province of Van:

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218 Shirinian

My uncle’s wife, Paydsar, took us to the barn. The Turk neighbor’s wife covered the
barn door with straw and hay, so that they might not find and kill us. Our neigh-
bor’s eight-year-old daughter, who had gone away from her parents, was caught by
three Turks and raped in our yard. We saw all that through the haystacks. In an
hour she died. The following night that Turk woman took us: five–six children, to
her house, fed us, kept and sent us to Van by night. We stayed there until the
deportation began.26 - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

This type of rescue, even though taking place over a relatively short period of time,
still entailed considerable risk and considerable commitment to moral and humanitar-
ian principals. The fact that the rescuer was a neighbor of the Armenians adds the extra
dimension of saving someone the rescuer knew personally.

Turks Who Helped Armenians en Route in the Deportation Caravans

As the Armenians were very vulnerable en route in the deportation caravans, they were
subject to continual robbery, mass murder, kidnapping, and rape. This was often inten-
tionally orchestrated by the government, for instance through use of Special Organiza-
tion personnel. The smallest act of kindness could save a life. In addition to the
anecdote related in “At a Crossroad: The Story of Antik Balekjian,” given above, an epi-
sode related in an oral testimony is illustrative.

While being deported, Aghavni observed hundreds of young women commit sui-
cide by drowning themselves in the Euphrates. She said the rivers were awash with
bodies of people who had been killed by the Turks, as well as those who had
drowned themselves. At one point, in despair, she left her children on the riverbank
and threw herself in the river, but a relative saw her and solicited the assistance of a
kind gendarme who pulled her out of the water. As she had lapsed into uncon-
sciousness, the next thing she remembered was the gendarme slapping her on the
back trying to revive her, and her young daughter crying in a thin voice, “Gen-
darme, don’t hit Aghavni. Don’t hit Aghavni.” The gendarme was an older man
with a real conscience, she said. In fact, he gave Aghavni three gold pieces and in-
structed her, “Take it and don’t throw yourself in again.”27

Sometimes, the good intentions of the civilian Turkish population were thwarted
by the gendarmes. According to one report, “Between Marash and Aintab, the Moham-
medan population of a village wanted to distribute water and bread to a transport of
about 100 families, but the soldiers accompanying the transport would not permit
this.”28 Another report from Aleppo related the following:

A short while ago, the Armenian emigrants coming from the interior were led
through the town, and the inhabitants were strictly forbidden to refresh those
dying of thirst in the heat with a drop of water. Eyewitnesses confirm that an old
woman, who collapsed from exhaustion, was forced to move along by a gendarme
who kicked and whipped her. When a woman came out of a neighbouring house
with a glass of water, the gendarme knocked the glass out of her hand and at-
tempted to mistreat the old woman again. She dragged herself past another few
houses and died there. Despite this, it is strictly forbidden to give the people bread
or even water. Two men who attempted to do so in two different places received
official letters threatening them with court-martial.29

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 219

Helping Armenians to Escape Deportation

Helping Armenians to escape deportation, even without hiding them in one’s home,
was still fraught with danger, as “Helen’s Story,” given above, illustrates. As the Turkish
woman related,

My father was also killed by Turks. During those dark days in Turkey, when the life
of every Armenian was in danger, my father smuggled Armenians to freedom
eleven times. The twelfth time, he was caught by the authorities and executed. They - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

brought him to the centre of the city and shot him.

Adopting Children and Treating Them Kindly, as Their Own Family

There are many stories told by survivors of Turks, Kurds, and Arabs who took Arme-
nian boys and girls in as family members. They also sometimes took in these children’s
mothers, if they were alive. They were clothed and fed, and they were educated in
the ways of Islam, in preparation for their formal conversions. In return, those over
12 years of age were expected to work as maidservants and do household chores.30 But
they knew that they would be killed if they did not convert to Islam.31 In such cases, it
is recorded that some Turkish families helped the child escape.32
While the safety of a kind Turkish home would seem to be highly desirable to these
uprooted Armenian children, it was not always perceived as such. In the words of one
Armenian survivor of the genocide,

Although such arrangements were often benign, they were a form of absolute slav-
ery, for if the master or any member of the family disliked the refugee-servant, they
could turn the unfortunate into the street to starve, to be enslaved by the soldiers,
or, as was later done to Acabie, hand her over to the authorities to do with as they
saw fit.33

At the same time, such arrangements were often not benign, and the child was used for
forced labor or as a concubine and had little recourse.
Marrying Young Girls to Heads of Families or Their Sons
Some of these children were integrated into their adoptive Turkish families and were
married to the heads of families or to one of the sons. After the end of the war, the Lea-
gue of Nations undertook a humanitarian program called the “Rescue Movement.” Its
purpose was to reclaim Christian children who had been absorbed into Muslim homes,
involuntarily married, or forced into servile concubinage and to reunite them with their
family members or place them in League-approved orphanages. Some of the girls were
content with their new lives, had had children in these marriages, and chose to remain
with their Turkish families willingly. Others left when they could, some even leaving
their children behind.34

The Motives of the Rescuers

From the examples provided below, it seems that personal friendship, religious piety,
humanity, altruism, and courage were elements in the various decisions to save Arme-
nians. We know in some cases it was because of long-standing personal friendships.35
Yet, as Hovannisian found, there were many cases where Turks helped Armenians who
were strangers. The rescuer in some cases planned the rescue ahead of time,36 and in
other cases reacted spontaneously.37 They could be powerful government officials or

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220 Shirinian

humble individuals who helped out a pitiable individual they encountered. Let us now
review examples of the types of motivation of the Turkish rescuers.

Personal Friendship
Personal acquaintance and family friendship are a recurrent motive in the survivors’
stories of rescue. A typical example that took place at Ras ul-Ain is described below.

While we were there, a Turkish officer came and asked us where we were from. We
said: Harpoot-Kessirik. He said, “Which one of you is from Kessirik?” I said that I - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

was. He asked my name, and I told him that I was the daughter of Sargis and
Gohar Aslanian. He said, “You are the daughter of Sargis Aslanian?” I answered,
“Yes.” A kind look came over his face as he said, “I have visited your home many
times to see your father about official town business, and your father has been very
hospitable to me on many occasions. In fact, I recall once your father gave me
some figs and dates to take home to my child. There was a little girl who came and
took them out of my pocket and ate some of them. Yes, you must be that little girl.”
He smiled as he recalled the incident. I confessed that I did not remember that, but
said, “Well, effendi, since you say that you have eaten at our table many times, then
please save me and take me to Halab (Aleppo) or put me on a train, so that I may
go there.” It was known that Halab had trains going in and out of it. He told me to
stay where I was and that he would return with some food. He came back with
food and told me that if he were assigned to remain there, he would save me out of
respect for my father. However, he was sent away from that area and did not

Religious Piety
Religious piety was certainly a motivating factor for some. Islam calls for the protection
of conquered non-Muslims. This protocol, known as dhimma, is a direct result of con-
quest and is linked to a protection pact that suspended the conqueror’s initial right to
kill or enslave followers of the tolerated religions, provided they submitted themselves
to pay the tribute (cizye).39 It should be noted that this protection was ascribed to the
Prophet, which means that it fulfilled the will of Allah. To transgress it represented a
breach of religion—an important point because the non-Muslim’s right to existence
within the context of Islamic law no longer depended on the whim of a potentate but,
henceforth, was rooted in a divine command.40 An official pronouncement on the
importance of Muslims protecting non-Muslims is found in the following statement:

Indeed, the Prophet strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other
faiths. He said: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or
curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes any-
thing from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain
against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)41

On another occasion, the Prophet sent a message to the monks of Saint Catherine in
Mount Sinai:

This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who

adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by
myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my
citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 221

compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their

jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their
religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should
anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet.
Verily, they (Christians) are my allies and have my secure charter against all that
they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims
are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to
take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be pre-
vented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the
nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the

German vice-consul Hermann Hoffmann-Fölkersamb in Alexandretta reported to his

superior, “According to reports from reliable people, all kinds of Muslim voices can be
heard condemning the atrocious acts, particularly those against women and children, as
a sin against the commandments of Islam. These opinions are particularly apparent
amongst the Arab Muslims.”43
On 30 April 1918, the sharif of Mecca called for the protection and support of the
Armenians within his domain. He wrote, in part, the following:

From Al-Husayn Ibn ‘Ali, King of the Arab Lands and Sharif of Mecca and its
Prince to The Honorable and Admirable Princes—Prince Faisal and Prince Abd
al-’Aziz al-Jarba—greetings and the compassion of God and His blessings. This let-
ter is written from Imm Al-Qura (Mecca), on 18 Rajab 1336, by the praise of God
and no God except Him. . . . What is requested of you is to protect and to take good
care of everyone from the Jacobite Armenian community living in your territories
and frontiers and among your tribes; to help them in all of their affairs and defend
them as you would defend yourselves, your properties and children, and provide
everything they might need whether they are settled or moving from place to place,
because they are the Protected People of the Muslims (Ahl Dimmat al-Muslimin)—
about whom the Prophet Muhammad (may God grant him His blessings and
peace) said: “Whosoever takes from them even a rope, I will be his adversary on the
day of Judgment.” This is among the most important things we require of you to do
and expect you to accomplish, in view of your noble character and determination.
May God be our and your guardian and provide you with His success. Peace be
upon you with the mercy of God and His blessings.
Al-Husayn Ibn ‘Ali44

Similarly, basic human decency was a motivating factor for others. A “report by a German
public official from the Baghdad Railway” stated, “It should not be forgotten that there
are also Mohammedans who disapprove of the atrocities carried out against the Arme-
nians. A Mohammedan sheikh, a respected personality in Aleppo, said in my presence,
‘When people speak of how the Armenians are treated, I’m ashamed to be a Turk.’ ”45
Dr. Martin Niepage, the German missionary, reported the following from Aleppo:

Mohammedans, too, of more sensitive feelings—Turks and Arabs alike—shake

their heads in disapproval and do not conceal their tears when they see a convoy of
exiles marching through the city, and Turkish soldiers using cudgels upon women
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222 Shirinian

in advanced pregnancy and upon dying people who can no longer drag themselves

An American missionary in Adapazar reported in September 1915 that “there was

one Turkish soldier outside the church in tears. He said he had been crying three days
and nights because of the awful treatment of the Armenian people.”47

Personal Gain
There are cases in which the rescuer derived a tangible benefit. Sometimes, a bribe of - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

cash, gold, or jewelry provided the motivation to rescue an Armenian. The role of gold
coins in the survivability of Armenians being deported is noteworthy. There were many
instances when a gold coin could bribe a gendarme or a civilian to help a deportee find
the path to safety. An example is found in “At a Crossroad: The Story of Antik Balek-
jian,” given above.
In a mixture of religious piety and self-interest, one survivor told the story of two
Turks who found him foraging for water. They offered to take him to their village. One
of the old Turks said to the other, “Listen, my sons and your son are fighting at the
Baghdad front. I’ll take this Armenian boy, rescue him from death, and Allah will save
our sons from the enemy’s bullet.” They took the boy to their village of Hyulumen, near
Antep. The villagers were divided about whether to keep the boy or kill him right away.
In the end, the boy was kept, nurtured back to health, and it turned out that he was the
second Armenian boy the old Turk had rescued.48
Women, girls, and boys taken by Ottoman officers and ranking soldiers were
brought into the men’s own households or were passed to state officials, who gave or
sold them to elite and middle-class homes in the major cities of the empire. This was
consistent with a mid-nineteenth-century Ottoman policy of placing Muslim refugee
girls and boys with elite Ottoman families as “foster children” (beslemeler), a process
known in Ottoman legal parlance as evlatlık.49 In many cases, the rescuer kept the sur-
vivor for forced labor in his business, on his farm, or in his home. Male children worked
in the fields. Girls worked in the home as maids.
Assuming the property of an Armenian was another motive. The government is-
sued a law that whoever took and kept a 12-year-old child from an Armenian family
would be allowed to take the family’s property.50
In the case of female survivors, sexual exploitation and slavery were major factors,
and in some instances, the survivor became married to the rescuer or to the rescuer’s
children.51 We are still only beginning to learn about the large number of Turks and
Kurds who are discovering they have an Armenian grandmother and of dönme (con-
vert) Armenians who live as Muslim Turks, the so-called gizli Ermeniler, or “hidden

The Meaning of Rescuers

These acts of heroism, altruism, and kindness stand in stark contrast to the cruelest
savagery displayed by the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. Their importance
is great for several reasons. First, they are strong evidence of the genocidal treatment
of the Armenians by the Ottoman government. Second, they illustrate that, while
there was indeed a genocide, many Turks, at all levels of society, did not support it.53
Third, these stories serve to reassure us of the human potential for courage and vir-
tue.54 While these stories do serve as evidence of human goodness, they cannot and

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 223

should not be used to counterbalance the record of cruelty and horror in some quanti-
tative manner, as if they somehow reduced the immensity of the killing or the inten-
sity of the horror. In fact, there are relatively few documented examples of the
Turkish rescue of Armenians when compared with the number of atrocities that have
been documented and the number of people who died. The quality of human good-
ness they evidence, however, may give some comfort to us all.55
Many Turks today feel that the Armenians blame them unfairly. They are taught to
believe that there was no genocide of the Armenians. It is ingrained in their upbringing - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

and culture. They are taught that whatever may have happened, the Armenians were to
blame because they were disloyal, or they justify such extreme measures because it was
wartime, or they claim that not only Armenians but Turks, too, suffered. The facts do
not bear these rationalizations out.56 Taken in their entirety, the Ottoman archives and
Western sources complement each other and confirm that the CUP did deliberately
implement a policy that intended to destroy the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman
Acts of rescue carried out during times of mass atrocity have a unique meaning,
their importance amplified beyond the individual actions. Just as genocide may be con-
sidered the ultimate crime against humanity, as a corollary, acts of rescue during geno-
cide may be considered a sort of ultimate affirmation of humanity, and the
extraordinary circumstances of such rescue imbue the rescuer with special adulation
and reverence.58 Commemorating Turkish rescuers in the Armenian Genocide can
make the events of 1915–1923 more approachable for Turks who have been taught to
treat them as a taboo subject. It can help expose these individuals to the facts of what
happened, providing a more mutual understanding by Armenians and Turks of this his-
tory, which is still aggressively contested by the Turkish state and its supporters. It can
help change the monolithic view that many Turks and Armenians have of each other—
as disloyal rebels or murderers, respectively. Ultimately, it can be an important factor in
making possible dialogue between the two peoples, leading to reconciliation.
If patriotic citizens of Turkey truly want to defend their national honor, they must
make a genuine effort to face the truth about one of the darkest pages in their history.59
While that truth may be very unpleasant for Turks to face, learning that there are stories
of righteous Turks, and that Armenians also know these stories, handed down from
their grandparents and parents, can make it possible to establish a new, different, and
more positive relationship between the two peoples.60 Accepting and openly acknowled-
ging these stories will only help Turkey find its place among the democracies of the
modern world.61
From a broader perspective, scholars have questioned how people can commit
genocide, and how other people can stand by and do nothing in the face of such gross
violence and injustice.62 They remind us that we, as individuals, have a moral responsi-
bility to establish, in modern society, a universal atmosphere that engenders and pro-
motes the sense of caring for others.63 They argue that focusing efforts on healing,
forgiveness, and reconciliation after genocide can facilitate the prevention of other
It is hoped that by recalling these examples of how individual Turks behaved mor-
ally and altruistically toward their Armenian fellow citizens under the most difficult cir-
cumstances, we may all draw a lesson on how people can feel caring and empathy for
others. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Yad Vashem identifies 21 Armenians

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224 Shirinian

as Righteous among the Nations—rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. Some of them
were motivated by the memory of the Armenian Genocide. These rescues took place in
various locations of the Armenian Diaspora—Austria, Crimea, France, Hungary, and
Ukraine.65 The study of righteous individuals and acts of humanity in the midst of
genocidal events provides us with uplifting examples of how one good deed can beget
another and gives us hope that, even in the darkest circumstances, humanity can tri-
umph over evil. - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

George N. Shirinian is executive director of the Zoryan Institute. He is co-editor of Studies in Comparative
Genocide (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1999) and editor of The Asia Minor Catastrophe and the Ottoman
Greek Genocide: Essays on Asia Minor, Pontos and Eastern Thrace, 1913–1923 (Bloomingdale, IL: Asia Minor
and Pontos Hellenic Research Center, 2012).

1. The name Assyrians, as used here, is intended to refer to Assyrians, Nestorians, Chaldeans, and Syrian/
Syriac Christians. Hannibal Travis, “ ‘Native Christians Massacred:’ The Ottoman Genocide of the As-
syrians during World War I,” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 1,3 (2006):
327–71, 350n2, doi: 10.1353/gsp.2011.0023. For an explanation of the significance of the different As-
syrian denominations, see David Gaunt, “The Complexity of the Assyrian Genocide,” Genocide Studies
International 9,1 (2015): 83–103, doi: 10.3138/gsi.9.1.05.
2. “Turks Who Saved Armenians: An Introduction,” rev. ed., Zoryan Institute, 2001, http://www. (accessed 11 Aug 2015). At
the time, I was unaware that Donald Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller had already used the term in
their own work. Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, Survivors: An Oral History of the
Armenian Genocide (Berkeley: U of CaliforniaP, 1993), 182. I also did not know that Pietro Kuciukian
had founded, in 1996, the International Committee of the Righteous for the Armenians’ Memory.
Pietro Kuciukian, “Why Armenians Should Honour the ‘Righteous’ of the Armenian Genocide,”
Études arméniennes contemporaines 2 (2013): 117–124.
3. Mordecai Paldiel, Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women Who Defied the “Final Solu-
tion” (Rockville, MD: Schreiber, 2000), xii.
4. Paldiel, Saving the Jews, 273.
5. Martin Gilbert, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (Toronto: Key Porter, 2003), xv–
xvi; Nechama Tec, “Righteous among the Nations,” in The Holocaust Encyclopedia, ed. Walter La-
queur, assoc. ed. Judith Tydor Baumel (New Haven : Yale UP, 2001), 569–74, 569–70.
6. “About the Program,” Yad Vashem, (ac-
cessed 11 Aug 2015).
7. Wikipedia contributors, “Righteous among the Nations,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https:// (accessed 11
Aug 2015).
8. Fatma Müge Göçek, “In Search of ‘the Righteous People’: The Case of the Armenian Massacres of
1915,” in Resisting Genocide: The Multiple Forms of Rescue, ed. Jacques Semelin, Claire Andrieu, and
Sarah Gensburger (New York: Columbia UP, 2011), 33–49, 37–8.
9. See also Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 47, Eliyahu Rabbah 11, and Yalkut Shimoni on Exodus 166, as well as
Talmud Sanhedrin 37a, where alone, the focus is on Jews in particular.
10. The appearance of this passage in the Quran is open to other interpretation. See Archie Medes, “Does
the Koran Forbid the Killing of Non-Muslims?,” Patheos,
daylightatheism/essays/does-the-koran-forbid-the-killing-of-non-muslims/ (accessed 11 Aug 2015).
11. See, for example, Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (Madison and Tea-
neck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), 51; and the story below “Nowhere in the
12. Richard G. Hovannisian, “The Question of Altruism during the Armenian Genocide of 1915,” in Em-
bracing the Other: Philosophical, Psychological, and Historical Perspectives on Altruism, ed. Pearl M.
Oliner, Samuel P. Oliner, Lawrence Baron, Lawrence A. Blum, Dennis L. Krebs, and M. Zuzanna Smo-
lenska (New York: New York UP, 1992), 282–305; Richard G. Hovannisian, “Intervention and Shades
of Altruism during the Armenian Genocide,” in The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics, ed.
Richard G. Hovannisian, (New York: St. Martin’s, 1992), 173–207.
13. Hovannisian, “Question of Altruism,” 295, 297, 300.

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 225

14. Shahkeh Yaylaian Setian, Humanity in the Midst of Inhumanity (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2011).
15. Key Indictment of the Extraordinary Military Tribunal, file 13, document 1, Takvîm-i Vekâyi, 27
Nisan 1335, 4–14 (Karârnâme), quoted in Vahakn N. Dadrian and Taner Akçam, Judgment at Istan-
bul: The Armenian Genocide Trials (New York: Berghahn, 2011), 278.
16. Clarence D. Ussher, An American Physician in Turkey: A Narrative of Adventures in Peace and in War
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917), 244.
17. Hovannisian, “Intervention and Shades of Altruism,” 180. A good example of how this worked in prac-
tice is provided in a survivor memoir originally published in 1939: Elizabeth Caraman, Daughter of the
Euphrates, 2nd ed. (Paramus, NJ: Armenian Missionary Association of America, 1979), 176–256.
18. It has been estimated that as few as 5–10% of Armenians were converted and absorbed into Muslim - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

households. Ara Sarafian, “The Absorption of Armenian Women and Children into Muslim House-
holds as a Structural Component of the Armenian Genocide,” in In God’s Name: Genocide and Reli-
gion in the Twentieth Century, ed. Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack (New York: Berghahn, 2001), 209–
21, 211–2.
19. Kourken M. Sarkissian, “The Story of Haji Khalil,” Zoryan Institute,
dialogue/The%20Story%20of%20Haji%20Khalil.pdf (accessed 14 Aug 2015).
20. Helen, interview with author, April 2000.
21. Paldiel, Saving the Jews.
22. Heghine Abajian, On a Darkling Plain (Fair Lawn, NJ: Rosekeer, 1984), 64.
23. See Wolfgang Gust, The Armenian Genocide: Evidence from the German Foreign Office Archives, 1915–
1916 (New York: Berghahn, 2014), 80–2; Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and
the Question of Turkish Responsibility (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 4, 164, 166–7; Taner Akçam,
The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Otto-
man Empire (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012), 394–5; Hilmar Kaiser, “Regional Resistance to Central
Government Policies: Ahmed Djemal Pasha, the Governors of Aleppo, and Armenian Deportees in
the Spring and Summer of 1915,” Journal of Genocide Research 12,3 (2010): 173–218, 174, 181, 184–5,
193, 205; Raffi Bedrosyan, “The Real Turkish Heroes of 1915,” Armenian Weekly, 29 July 2013, http:// (accessed 11 Aug 2015); Racho
Donef, “1915: Righteous Muslims during the Genocide of 1915,” 2010,
1900/20101105a.html (accessed 2 Mar 2015); Rober Koptaş, “Türkler ve Müslümanlar, bu kan cinaye-
tlerden dolayı ağlıyor,” Agos Gazetesi, 30 July 2010; Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks and the Ottoman
Nationalities: Armenians, Greeks, Albanians, Jews, and Arabs, 1908–1918 (Salt Lake City, UT: U of
Utah P, 2014), 81–2.
24. Foreign and Political Department of the Government of India, “Memorandum on Intellectual and
Political Forces in the Ottoman Empire,” January 1917, 22, IOR/L/PS/18/B267, India Office Records
and Private Papers, British Library, London, UK,!l!
ps!18!b267_f001r (accessed 14 Aug 2015). In 1912, during a period of violence against the Armenians,
the sheikh ul-Islam had ordered the senior clerics in the provinces of Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, and
Mamuret-ül-Aziz to use their influence to prevent crimes against the Armenians, as such actions were
“contrary to the precepts of holy law.” Dikran Mesrob Kaligian, Armenian Organization and Ideology
under Ottoman Rule, 1908–1914 (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2009), 143.
25. See Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle
East (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2014), 52–3; Foreign and Political Department of the Government of
India, “Memorandum,” 24. For more on Hayri Bey, see Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks: The Commit-
tee of Union and Progress in Turkish Politics, 1908–1914 (London: Oxford UP, 1969), 148–9.
26. Patrick Avetis Saroyan, testimony, in The Armenian Genocide: Testimonies of the Eyewitness Survivors,
ed. Verjiné Svazlian (Yerevan: Gitoutyoun, 2011), 147–8, 147.
27. Miller and Touryan Miller, Survivors, 96.
28. W. Spieker, report, 2 September 1915, 1915–09–03-DE-002, in Gust, Armenian Genocide, 351–7, 357.
29. Chairman of the Baghdad Railway in Constantinople Franz Johannes Günther, report to chargé d’af-
faires of the embassy in Constantinople Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath, October 1915, 1915–11–01-
DE-001, in Gust, Armenian Genocide, 431–4, 434. It is not clear if Dr. Martin Niepage’s report from
Aleppo that “a Swiss engineer was to have been brought before a court-martial because he had distrib-
uted bread in Anatolia to the starving Armenian women and children in a convoy of exiles” was about
one these two individuals. Martin Niepage, The Horrors of Aleppo Seen by a German Eyewitness (Lon-
don: T. Fisher Unwin, 1917), 15–6.
30. Satenik Nshan Doghramadjian, testimony, in Svazlian, Armenian Genocide, 326–9, 328.
31. Ibid.; Caraman, Daughter of the Euphrates, 219–25.
32. See, for example, Caraman, Daughter of the Euphrates, 226ff.

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226 Shirinian

33. Ibid., 179.

34. See Keith David Watenpaugh, “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and
the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920–1927,” American Historical Review 115,5 (2010):
35. See, for example, “The Story of Haji Khalil” and “At a Crossroad” above.
36. See, for example, “The Story of Haji Khalil” and “Helen’s Story” above.
37. See, for example, “At a Crossroad” above.
38. Johar (Helen) Aslanian-Mamigonian, testimony, in Svazlian, Armenian Genocide, 253–6, 254.
39. Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 41.
40. Ibid., 51. - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

41. “Rights of Non Muslims in Islam,” Al-Siraj,

page27.html (accessed 14 Dec 2014); “The Tolerance of the Prophet towards Other Religions (Part 1 of
2): To Each Their Own Religion,” Religion of Islam,
tolerance-of-prophet-towards-other-religions/ (accessed 14 Dec 2014). Abu Dawud was a noted collec-
tor of prophetic hadith (collections of the reports of the teachings, deeds, and sayings of the Prophet
Muhammad) and compiled the third of the six “canonical” hadith collections recognized by Sunni
Muslims, the Sunan Abī Dāwūd.
42. “Rights of Non Muslims in Islam.”
43. Hoffmann, report, 8 November 1915, 1916–01–03-DE-001, in Gust, Armenian Genocide, 504–17, 515.
See also, for example, the story above “Nowhere in the Qur’an.”
44. Harut Sassounian, comp., The Armenian Genocide: The World Speaks Out, 1915–2005; Documents and
Declarations (Glendale, CA: 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee
of California, 2005), 12. Cf. V. Melkonian, An Historical Glimpse of the Armenians in Iraq (Basra,
1957), 16, cited in Christopher J. Walker, Armenia: The Survival of a Nation, rev. 2nd ed. (New York:
St. Martin’s, 1990), 364.
45. German public official from the Baghdad Railway, report, c. 10 September 1916, 1916–09–10-DE-001,
in Gust, Armenian Genocide, 637–40, 640.
46. Niepage, Horrors of Aleppo, 7–8.
47. James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915–
1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Vis-
count Bryce, uncensored ed. (Reading, UK: Taderon, 2000), 416.
48. Souren Sargsian, testimony, in Svazlian, Armenian Genocide, 315–26, 322–3. Cf. Fatiya’s statement in
“Nowhere in the Qur’an,” above, where part of her motivation in rescuing Antik and her son was that
“God will have mercy on me and return my four sons home safe from the war.”
49. Watenpaugh, “League of Nations’ Rescue,” 1324–6.
50. Stepan Zakar Stepanian, testimony, in Svazlian, Armenian Genocide, 271–2, 271.
51. Hovannisian, “Question of Altruism,” 288ff.; Hovannisian, “Intervention and Shades of Altruism,”
177ff.; Eliz Sanasarian, “Gender Distinction in the Genocidal Process: A Preliminary Study of the
Armenian Case,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 4,4 (1989): 449–61, 453–5; Sarafian, “Absorption of
Armenian Women”; Matthias Bjørnlund, “ ‘A Fate Worse Than Dying’: Sexual Violence during the
Armenian Genocide,” in Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century, ed.
Dagmar Herzog (London: Palgrave, 2009), 16–58, 24.
52. See, for example, “2.5 Million Islamized Armenians Estimated in Turkey,” Asbarez, 29 October 2014, (accessed 29 Oct 2014);
Ayşe Gül Altınay and Fethiye Çetin, The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of “Lost” Armenians in
Turkey, trans. Maureen Freely (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2014); Tim Arango, “Hidden Arme-
nians of Turkey Seek to Reclaim Their Erased Identities,” New York Times, 23 April 2015, http://www. (accessed 15 Aug 2015); Aida Avetisyan,
“Growing Number of ‘Hidden Armenians’ Reveal Their Identities in Turkey,” Asbarez, 5 November
(accessed 6 Nov 2014); Ferda Balancar, The Sounds of Silence: Turkey’s Armenians Speak (Istanbul: Hrant
Dink Foundation, 2012); Fethiye Çetin, My Grandmother: A Memoir, trans. Maureen Freely (London:
Verso, 2008); Gayane Mkrtchyan, “Reclaiming Identity: More ‘Hidden’ Armenians in Turkey Return to
Their Origins,” ArmeniaNow, 29 October 2014,
turkey_hidden_cryptoarmenians_identity_diarbekir (accessed 29 Oct 2014); Sarafian, “Absorption of
Armenian Women”; Vercihan Ziflioğlu, “Akdamar Rite Spurs Search for Armenian Legacy in Turkey’s
East,” Hürriyet Daily News24 September 2010,
438&n=armenian-legacy-in-the-east-to-resurface-2010-09-24 (accessed 15 Aug 2015); Vercihan Ziflioğlu,

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Turks Who Saved Armenians 227

“Armenians Claim Roots in Diyarbakır,” Hürriyet Daily News, 23 October 2011, http://www.
(accessed 19 Oct 2014).
53. In this regard, cf. Karl Blank of the German Christian Charity Organization for the Orient, who wrote,

On 13 April, a new transport arrived from Zeytun. This time the Muslims were held back
slightly because the way in which they had behaved towards the first transport had not met
with the approval of many Turks. Some told me directly that it was incorrect to behave like
this towards the poor people, but, they said, from our side we can do nothing about it. - Friday, June 03, 2016 8:14:23 PM - IP Address:

[German missionary Karl Blank], report to German Christian Charity Organization for the Orient
Director Friederich Schuchardt, 14 April 1915, 1915–05–27-DE-001, in Gust, Armenian Genocide,
191–3, 193. Similarly, German consul Heinrich Bergfeld reported from Trebizond, “In respect of the
Turkish population, on the whole it must be said that very many Turks are not in agreement with the
expulsion of women and children.” Bergfeld, message to Bethmann Hollweg, 9 July 1915, 1915–07–07-
DE-002, in Gust, Armenian Genocide, 240–4, 242.
54. Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner, “Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe,” in Encyclopedia of Genocide,
ed. Israel W. Charny, vol. 2 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1999), 496–9, 496.
55. Harold M. Schulweis, foreword to Mordecai Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews
during the Holocaust (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1993), ix–xv, xii, xiii.
56. See, for example, Akçam, Shameful Act, 4–10. On Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, see, for
example, Vahakn N. Dadrian, The Key Elements in the Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide: A
Case Study of Distortion and Falsification (Cambridge, MA: Zoryan Institute, 1999).
57. Akçam, Young Turks’ Crime, xxiii.
58. Ron Dudai, “ ‘Rescues for Humanity’: Rescuers, Mass Atrocities, and Transitional Justice,” Human
Rights Quarterly 34,1 (2012): 1–38, 6–8.
59. Taner Akçam, “The Genocide of the Armenians and the Silence of the Turks,” in Studies in Compara-
tive Genocide, ed. Levon Chorbajian and George Shirinian (London: Macmillan, 1999), 125–46.
60. Taner Akçam, “Is There Any Solution Other Than a Dialogue?” in Dialogue across an International
Divide: Essays Towards a Turkish-Armenian Dialogue (Cambridge, MA: Zoryan Institute, 2001), 1–30.
61. Akçam, Shameful Act, 12–3.
62. See, for example, Israel W. Charny, How Can We Commit the Unthinkable? (Boulder: Westview,
1982); Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 375ff.; Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews
during the Holocaust (New York: Anchor, 1994), xiv–xx; Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil: The Origins of
Genocide and Other Group Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989), 166–9, 274–83.
63. Oliner and Oliner, “Rescuers of Jews,” 499; Ervin Staub, “Preventing Genocide: Activating Bystanders,
Helping Victims Heal, Helping Groups Overcome Hostility,” in Chorbajian and Shirinian, Studies in
Comparative Genocide, 251–60, 258–9.
64. James Waller, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, 2nd ed.
(Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007), 283.
65. “Armenian Righteous among the Nations,” Yad Vashem,
tions/righteous-armenian/index.asp (accessed 14 Aug 2015).

© 2015 Genocide Studies International 9, no. 2 doi:10.3138/gsi.9.2.03