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Cemal Pasha's Role in the Armenian Genocide

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The UCLA Promise Armenian Institute presents the second in its Distinguished Lecture Series, "Cemal Pasha's Role in the Armenian Genocide" by Professor Taner Akçam of Clark University. This lecture is co-sponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), the Ararat-Eskijian Museum, the UCLA Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History, and the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies. Professor Ronald Grigor Suny of the University of Michigan will serve as the discussant for this lecture.

Thursday, October 22, 2020
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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Registration for this webinar is required and free. To register, please click here.

One popular view of Cemal Pasha among non-historians has emphasized his role as one of the “Three Pashas” (along with Talat Pasha and Enver Pasha) who were largely responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide (1914-1923). Yet in scholarly writings, many historians have argued that, although Cemal Pasha was very harsh in his treatment of Arabs and Jews, he opposed the annihilationist policies directed toward the Armenians. In fact, the prevailing view has been that Cemal Pasha not only tried to treat Armenians well but actively worked to rescue them, to the extent that his efforts opened a serious rift between him and the Unionist government in Istanbul. The testimonies of some survivors of the Armenian Genocide appear on the surface to support this latter view. For example, two Genocide survivors are quoted as follows: “Talat sent Cemal the [following] order...from Istanbul: Not even a dog should be left on the streets. In other words, annihilate the Armenians; but [Cemal] acted cleverly and killed all the stray dogs; As for the Armenians, [he ordered] ‘Change your names as if you’ve become [Muslim] Turks… I will send a telegram [to Istanbul] stating that ‘No Armenians remain here, all have already converted, and there are no Armenians left to kill.’” 

According to new research by Professor Akçam, neither oft-repeated view of Cemal Pasha is entirely accurate. There were no major disagreements between the authorities in Istanbul and Cemal Pasha over Armenian policy; rather, they were in nearly complete accord. Indeed, in many aspects the latter’s policies can be seen as more radical than those of his collaborators in Istanbul. In his talk, Professor Akçam will present a reevaluation of Cemal Pasha’s role in the Armenian Genocide in light of recently discovered Ottoman documents. Professor Ronald Grigor Suny will provide commentary on this work, followed by Q&A.


Taner Akçam
Taner Akçam is the Kaloosdian and Mugar Chair in Modern Armenian History and Genocide in the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. Akçam is widely recognized as one of the first Turkish scholars to write extensively on the Ottoman-Turkish Genocide of the Armenians in the early twentieth century. His latest book is Killing Orders: Talat Pasha’s Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide (Palgrave 2018). He is the founder of Krikor Guerguerian Online Archive, located at:


Ronald G. Suny
Ronald Suny is the William H. Sewell, Jr. Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Michigan and Emeritus Professor of Political Science and History at the University of Chicago. He was the first holder of the Alex Manoogian Chair in Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan, where he founded and directed the Armenian Studies Program. He is author of The Baku Commune: Class and Nationality in the Russian Revolution; The Making of the Georgian Nation; Looking Toward Ararat: Armenia in Modern History; The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union; The Soviet Experiment; “They Can Live in the Desert But Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide; Red Flag Unfurled: History, Historians, and the Russian Revolution; and co-author with Valerie Kivelson of Russia’s Empires; Stalin: Passage to Revolution; and Red Flag Wounded: Stalinism and the Fate of the Soviet Experiment. He is currently working on a book on the recent upsurge of exclusivist nationalisms and authoritarian populisms: Forging the Nation: The Making and Faking of Nationalisms.


(Photos provided by Professors Akçam and Suny)

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, The Promise Armenian Institute, The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), The Ararat-Eskijian Museum, The UCLA Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History