By Stefanie Pousoulides, ’21

This past month I have worked toward doing preliminary research for my senior thesis on the response of the League of Nations to the Armenian Genocide. Although I had initially planned to examine the archival materials of the League of Nations in person, shifting that research online has caused me to recognize how I could connect an online oral history archive with the documents available through the online League of Nations archive, analyzing how Armenian Genocide survivors discuss their experiences during and after the genocide, in relation to the solutions the League provided. I have also completed an annotated bibliography of sources pertaining to areas of research like the history of the late Ottoman Empire, the League’s humanitarian efforts, interwar minority rights treaties, refugee resettlement plans and the Ottoman courts-martial after the war.

Raphael Lemkin. Source: The Durham Herald-Sun (Sunday, September 21, 1941)

Regarding the League documents, I have been able to collect League reports of their humanitarian work via the Commission on the Deportation of Women and Children in Turkey, Asia Minor and the Neighbouring Countries (which was established to carry out the provisions of the never-ratified Treaty of Sevres) and the Commission for the Protection of Women and Children in the Near East. Biases of commission members and of their partnering organizations prompted a response by the Turkish Minister for a need to fact-check the claims made by League officials in statements and Assembly resolutions based off of the commission reports. The exchange of the letters between the League Secretary General and Turkish Minister are digitized, in addition to the League commission reports they reference.

The digitized materials also included the reports of other commissions that dealt more specifically with Armenian refugee resettlement in the Soviet Union and the French mandate of Syria and Lebanon. These include reports by the High Commissioner for Refugees Fridtjof Nansen and the Armenian Refugee Resettlement Commission. I also found published minutes from the Permanent Mandate Commissions sessions pertaining to the Armenian communities resettled in Syria and Lebanon, where some Armenian refugees became citizens.

I also found various telegrams, letters and petitions directly from Armenian individuals and organizations to the League, in contrast to the aforementioned materials that were solely from the League’s or state actor’s perspective. The League’s Minorities Commission reviewed petitions from Armenians pertaining to issues ranging from individuals’ claims for minority rights protections to a proposed investigation by Armenian Catholic leadership into the situation of Christians in Turkey.

Armenian correspondence to top League officials, unrelated to the Minorities Commission, included letters and telegrams from the Armenian Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, the Armenian Delegation to the Lausanne Conference and the Armenian National Union of America. The set of correspondence that stood out to me the most was the letters of the president of the delegation of the Armenian republic and the president of the national Armenian delegation condemning the Allied Powers’ unfulfilled promise to Armenians for a national home. The letter was at the time of the Lausanne Conference, and they pled for the Allies to reconsider how the Treaty of Lausanne did not mention Armenians, Armenia nor any sovereign territory for them to live, noting at the end of their letter that the League Council is “supremely qualified to defend the rights of peoples.”

Although I have not been able to find digitized primary sources pertaining to the Ottoman courts-martial, I have been able to find digitized League materials that mention the early work of Raphael Lemkin, whose work largely influenced the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Prior to coining “genocide,” Lemkin used the terms “barbarism” and “vandalism” to describe mass, intentional atrocities, influenced by his knowledge of the violence against Armenians. I found a 1935 report of the League’s Committee for the International Repression of Terrorism that cites Lemkin’s work and uses the terms barbarism and vandalism to define terrorism. I have not yet encountered a secondary source that connects Lemkin’s concepts of vandalism and barbarism with the League committee in the 1930s.

Now that I have collected these sources this summer, my next step is to reflect on common themes in the testimonies of the oral history archive and the documents of the League archive, along with the annotated bibliography. I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to work on this research this summer.