Syriac Narratives on the Ottoman Genocide in Comparative Perspective


  • Tessa Hofmann


survivor’s memoirs, Syriac Christians, Christian minorities, Ottoman Empire, genocide, literary narration, literary narratives


This contribution explores the narrations and narrative styles of three Syriac authors and genocide survivors from the Diyarbakır province of the Ottoman Empire: Naaman Abed Qarabashi, Ishāq bar Armalto (Armale) and Henno, comparing them with the Armenian and Greek survivors Rev. Grigoris Balakian (Գրիգորիս Պալագեան, Grigoris Palagean), Yervant Odian (Երուանդ Օտեան – Eruand Ōtean1 ), Elias Venezis and Dido Sotiriou, who all wrote and published memoirs of events they were close to. The three Syriac authors developed an antagonistic narrative shaped by biblical narrative styles, Christian martyrology and their perception of contemporary events as inter-religious war and traditional Jihad. The non-Syriac authors that have been considered here replaced, in various degrees, this approach by internalization. Greek authors from Asia Minor, such as Venezis or Dido argued, in their narrations, against the ethnic or religious ascription of guilt by emphasizing cases of solidarity between Ottoman Turks (Muslims) and Orthodox Greeks. The two Armenian authors examined here represent a middle position between Syriac moral antagonism and the differentiating introspection of Greek authors. In spite of their very different backgrounds and professions as clergyman and secular journalist, both tried to present their testimonials as documentary, unvarnished and “unliterary” as possible.
Is it possible to survive in a system based on violence and terror without the loss of human empathy and dignity? The Syriacs saw this possibility mainly in individual martyrdom. Elias Venezis and Dido Sotiriou, however, named culprits and victims on both sides of the ethno-religious divide and included Muslim rescuers in their narrations. The Armenian authors Yervant Odian and Grigoris Balakian focused their narrations on suffering as such. In the face of their numerous compatriots who had been silenced forever, they cleared their “survival debts” by writing about the unspeakable and witnessing genocidal destruction.

Author Biography

Tessa Hofmann

Dr. phil., Magistra Artium, Prof. h.c., studied philology (Slavic literatures and languages, Armenian Studies) and Sociology at the Freie Universität Berlin (FUB); 1983-2015 research associate at the Institute for Eastern European Studies of the FU Berlin; research associate in international research projects (e.g. “Out-Migration from Armenia and Georgia”, 2008-2012); since 2015 independent scholar; author of numerous publications on the history, culture and present situation of Armenia and its diaspora, on genocide research with a focus on Ottoman genocide, on minorities in Turkey and the South Caucasus (
Since 1979 volunteer human rights work, e.g. as Chair of the non-profit Working Group Recognition - Against Genocide, for International Understanding; spokeswoman of the Board of the Association for the Promotion of an Ecumenical Memorial for Genocide Victims in the Ottoman Empire.


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How to Cite

Hofmann, T. (2019). Syriac Narratives on the Ottoman Genocide in Comparative Perspective. International Journal of Armenian Genocide Studies, 4(1), 6–35. Retrieved from