Episode 49 – General Harbord Report 2 – Bias and Perception Trumped Fairness and Facts

In Episode 43, we have learned that Professor Justin McCarthy had discovered in the US National Archives in 1990 a survey of eastern Anatolia conducted in the summer of 1919 by two Americans, Captain Emory H. Niles and Mr. Arthur E. Sutherland Jr. Their account is one of the first descriptions of this region by outside observers after World War I. The document was missing. However, the author’s field notes, which the authors expressly stated, should be read in conjunction with their report. Twenty years later, Niles and Sutherland’s field notes were found in 2010 in the missionary archives of the former American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in Istanbul by another American historian, Brian Johnson. His research titled “Americans Investigating Anatolia: The 1919 Field Notes of Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland” was covered in Episodes 44 and 45. In the summer of 1919, Niles and Sutherland, employees of the aid organization called The American Committee for Relief in the Near East, or the Near East Relief for short, traveled from Mardin to Trabzon, by way of Bitlis, Van, and Erzurum, visiting 23 cities in four weeks, to determine their relief needs of the locals and how the Near East Relief could fulfill them. Their report was somehow mixed in among various papers related to the Major General James G. Harbord Commission—a survey expedition sent by President Wilson to Anatolia and the South Caucasus in September 1919 to investigate the feasibility for an American mandate over the region and the establishment of an Armenian state that would include most of eastern Turkey. Harbord and some US military officers traveled from Mardin to Tiflis but took a different route than Miles & Sutherland. Harbord relied in his report on Niles & Sutherland’s observations of Bitlis and Van, where the Armenian cruelty victimizing Muslim was at its peak and where was not “accessible” to the Harbor mission, as Harbord put it. That would be fine if Harbord did not distort Niles & Sutherland’s findings by implying that they were similar to Harbord’s conclusions. They were not. The Allies wanted President Wilson to determine the borders of Armenia and preferably assume a mandate over it. Under such circumstances, Wilson sent two American investigation commissions to examine conditions in the Near East: One to Arab lands, the King-Crane Commission, which was covered in Episode 47, and one to Eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus, General Harbord Mission, which was covered in Episode 48. King-Crane commission visited 36 cities, mainly in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, in the six weeks between June 10th and July 21st, 1919. Bias and defamation, ubiquitous in the US Protestant Missionary reports and, by extension, in the US and European media coverage, have dominated the King-Crane report. Prejudice and perception trumped objectivity and facts. The US government withheld the information because of the suggestion of independence for Arab states, which would clash with the imperialist demands of Britain and France. Thus, the King-Crane report had little effect on the American public or the international arena, although the US government discussed it at length. General Harbord was charged with studying the situation of Armenians. The mission members included one Armenian, Khatchadoorian, a translator upon whom the Harbord mission depended, and one Turk, Professor Hussein (later Pektash.) Another Armenian, Major Shekerjian, joined the mission in Anatolia as a de facto member. Khachaturian drew many of the mission reports and filled them with disparaging comments on the “character” of the Turks, but few data. Khatchadoorian was also a member, often the leader, of fact-finding missions sent to regions not visited by the entire mission. Hussein, the sole Turk, was not representative of the Turkish public opinion and certainly not a Turkish nationalist. The founding member of the “Turkish Wilsonian League,” Hussein publicly supported an American mandate for Anatolia. Archival records make no mention of his role in the mission’s deliberations. All other interpreters to occupy the mission were also Armenians: Kojassar, Ohanessian, and Serijian. Comments of Turks of Eastern Anatolia, the scene of the worst Turkish Armenian troubles, were filtered and slanted by Armenian translators. Before the Harbor Mission left, its members were given a list of persons to consult in Paris and on-site in Istanbul, Anatolia, and trans-Caucasia, who allegedly provided reliable information. The list included Armenian leaders like Bogos Nubar, Avetis Aharonian, Hovhannes Kachaznuni, Armenian patriarch, and other Armenians in Istanbul, and American missionaries like James Barton, Charles Crane, Herbert Gibbons.

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