Department of State Records Relating to Turkish Atrocities Against the Armenians During World War I

By David Langbart

Records on Turkish atrocities against the Armenians during World War I can be found in a number of different records groups holding records of the Department of State.

(1) RG 59: General Records of the Department of State contains significant documentation relating to Turkish persecution of the Armenians.  The primary source is the 1910-29 segment of the Central Decimal File (NAID 302021).  File “867.4016” (Internal Affairs of Turkey. Social Matters. Race problems.) contains the most important documentation.  This file consists of approximately 6000 pages of documentation.  Additional documentation that may provide useful context will be found in other files, particularly file “867.00” (Internal Affairs of Turkey. Political Affairs.).  This file consists of approximately 16,000 pages of documentation.

There is also documentation relating to Armenia during the short period of time that it was an independent country before incorporation into USSR.  File “860j.4016” (Internal Affairs of Armenia. Social Matters. Race problems.) contains about 2000 pages of documentation.  There are also about 100 pages of documentation in File “860j.00” (Internal Affairs of Armenia. Political Affairs.)

These records are available on microfilm:

  • 867.00 National Archives Microfilm Publication M353 rolls 4-19
  • 867.4016 National Archives Microfilm Publication M353 rolls 43-48
  • 860j.00 National Archives Microfilm Publication T1192 roll 1
  • 860j.4016 National Archives Microfilm Publication T1192 rolls 4-7

Records relating to Reparations from Turkey after World War I, the so-called “Turkish Gold” file, are in file “467.00R29”.  These records are not on microfilm.

Additional materials may be found in RG 59: Unindexed Retired Office Files, 1910-1944 (NAID 1079774).  Some of this material duplicates that in the Central Decimal File.  The 1919 file contains a copy of the “Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia” by MGEN James G. Harbord and “The Armenian Question: Before the Peace Conference.”  The 1920 file contains documentation relating to the U.S. attitude toward independent Armenia and includes a May memorandum entitled “America and the Armenians.”  The 1922 files contain the “Report of the Activities of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, 1918-1922” and “A Memorandum . . . by American Committee for the Independence of Armenia Against the Proposal of an ‘Armenian Home’ in Turkey.” The 1928 files contain an August 1928 memo on “President Wilson’s Armenian Boundary Award.”  None of these records are on microfilm.

(2) Additional documentation can be found among the files of American diplomatic and consular posts in RG 84: Records of Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State.  The records for the period 1912 into the 1940s are arranged according to a decimal filing scheme and bound into one or more annual volumes.  File “800” covers Internal Affairs/Political affairs, and File “840.1” covers Social Matters/People, including race problems, racial disturbances and their suppression, and massacres.  The records of the American embassy in Turkey, including the files of the post-World War I High Commissioner, for the period 1914-1925, include 23 volumes or parts of volumes for file “800” and 15 volumes parts of volumes for file “840.1”.  The records of the various consular posts in Turkey may contain additional documentation.  None of these records are on microfilm.

It is important to note two things, however.  First, some files on the Armenian issue were destroyed when the U.S. entered World War I.  In January 1919, the American Commissioner in Turkey reported that the embassy’s extensive files covering the Armenian deportations were destroyed upon the break in relations with Turkey to prevent any compromise of the identities of persons who provided information.  (see Despatch #19, January 9, 1919, file “800”, Embassy Turkey (Istanbul), RG 84.)

Second, the files in RG 59 and RG 84 contain significant overlap.  In addition to the reporting from diplomatic and consular posts and the Department’s replies thereto, the RG 59 files include internal Department of State documentation, as well as inter-agency communications, and communications with the public.  The post files, in addition to communications back and forth with the Department, may contain additional background documentation and communications with local officials and the local public.

(3) Another source of documentation is RG 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, organized to represent the United States at the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference.  Included are the records of The Inquiry, a group of experts called on to collect and report data on various issues relating to peacemaking.  There are approximately 35 documents relating to Armenia among the records of The Inquiry.  They are listed on pages 88-90 of the inventory of RG 256.  They are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1107.  The General Records of the ACNP may also contain documentation relating to Armenia.  Documentation relating to the American Military Mission to Armenia (“Harbord Mission” is in File 184.021.  Those records have been microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M820.

One thought on “Department of State Records Relating to Turkish Atrocities Against the Armenians During World War I

  1. Thanks, David, for your precise guide to NARA holdings on this important subject. It’s good to know that 100 years after the fact NARA still has records to shed light on these terrible atrocities that still go unacknowledged in some parts of the world.

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