“Publishing this book, I’m aiming to refute all accusations and reproaches directed at both the faith of Islam and Muslims and to prove that what happened to the Armenians should be attributed to the members of the “Ittihad ve Teraki” [Committee of Union and Progress] who, having taken over the helm of the Turkish state, are steering it for their own nationalist fanaticism, being jealous of the Armenians. Islam is not an accomplice in their activities.”
The testimonies of Faiz El-Ghusein (1883–1968), a lawyer and the son of one of the leaders of the El-Sulût bedouin tribe in the Hauran region of Syria, plays a significant role among the Arabic-language primary sources on the Armenian Genocide. Not only do they carry great weight, presenting the facts, but also study the reasons why the Young Turk government carried out the Armenian Genocide, as well as the forms and methods of killing Armenians, while shedding light on other important circumstances.
Faiz El-Ghusein served as governor (kaymakam) of the Kyakhta (Gerger) district of the Malatya sanjak of Kharberd province (the vilayet of Harput or Mamuret-ul-Aziz) for three and a half years before World War I. He then worked as a lawyer in Damascus, representing Hauran in the local assembly and later served as an assembly committee member.
Faiz El-Gusein was arrested in Damascus in July 1915, on the order of Djemal Pasha, charged with spreading anti-Turkish propaganda. However, he never reached Erzurum, his designated place of exile. He was forced to remain in Diyarbekir until February 1916, after which he fled. Despite facing numerous difficulties, he managed to reach Deir ez-Zor, then Basra, going to India from there.
It was in the course of these movements that Faiz El-Ghusein met Armenian refugees. He got to know about their helpless and tragic situation and talked about the Armenians with numerous Turkish officials, high-ranking military officers and well-known people. The tragedy of the Armenians shook Faiz El-Ghusein, who didn’t understand the reason behind what had happened to them.
He wrote his booklet, "Massacres in Armenia" based on what he saw on the way to exile and reliable testimonies he obtained during his stay in the city for about six and a half months. He noted that what he saw and heard was only a small part of what happened to the Armenians.
Faiz El-Ghusein stated that the heinous crime, committed by the Turks with all brutality, contradicted the Islamic Shariat, the basis of Islam. He wrote that Muslims must rid themselves of the government that ordered the destruction of innocent women, children, and the elderly, otherwise, they would be complicit in a crime unprecedented in history, that no nation had ever committed, even in the darkness of the Middle Ages.
He witnessed how the Turks, along with the annihilation of the Armenians, seized their property, removed crosses from churches turning them into warehouses, sold valuable Armenian books or packed groceries with their pages. The author, realizing the importance of his work, stated in the preface of his book: "[I] conceived the idea of publishing this book, as a service to the cause of truth and for a people oppressed by the Turks."
The lawyer's profession obliged Faiz El-Ghusein to present events with the greatest accuracy and, in the question of spreading information, to rely on "trustworthy sources", making his testimony more credible and important.
The booklet spread quickly. It was translated into different languages, published and re-published under various titles: "Massacres in Armenia", "Martyred Armenia", “An Arab Muslim’s testimony concerning the Armenians’ innocence and massacres”, “From the heroic Armenians’ past” etc. It was first published in Arabic (Bombay, 1917). It was later reprinted several times and translated into different languages: French (Geneva, 1917), English (London, 1917 and New York, 1918), German (Zurich, 1918 and Potsdam, 1922), Spanish (London, 1918), Italian (Milan, 2004), Russian (Moscow, 2007), Persian (Los Angeles, 2016) and Turkish (Istanbul, 2019). A large volume made up of a collection of translations of Faiz El-Ghusein's memoir was compiled as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Arabic original has been reprinted several times: in Beirut in 1988, in Aleppo in 1991, in the appendix of the Arabic version of the Egyptian journal "Arev" ("Sun") in 2003 and in Damascus in 2014. The book was translated into Armenian in 1920 from English and published in Isfahan. It was also translated from Arabic with annotations in 1971 in Damascus and from French to western Armenian in 1965.
The publication of the book in various languages has made the significant events of the Armenian Genocide accessible to the general public. Faiz El-Ghusein’s testimonies of are also important in the sense that he was a representative of Islamic society, a devout Muslim and proficient in Islamic law, who believed that the crimes committed by the Turks were against Islamic laws and religion.
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During the brief period of Syrian independence (1918-1920) after World War I, Faiz returned to Damascus and served as private secretary to the Syrian king Emir Faisal bin Al-Hussein I. After the French mandate in Syria was established in 1920, he worked in the Damascus judicial system, and, after retirement, as a lawyer. He published a book titled "My Memories of the Arab Revolution" in Damascus in 1939, in which he provided some details about the events that took place in Diyarbekir, as well as information about the deportation and extermination of Armenians in Bitlis and Sebastia.
Faiz El-Ghusein described the Young Turks’ actions against the Armenians as criminal. In his testimonies, he used the following phrases: "the deportation of Armenians with the purpose of extermination", "the government undertook the massacre of Armenians, ordering the governors to exterminate the Armenians", "an official was assigned to manage the extermination of the Armenians" and so on. He stressed, with such legal emphasis, the fact that the genocide was planned and coordinated. It is these formulations that define the term genocide, from the point of view of international law, in the UN Convention of December 9th, 1948.
Faiz El-Ghusein, as a well-educated individual and humanitarian, recognised that it was imperative to hold the Turkish government accountable, after the war, for its genocidal policies. He believed that it was his duty, as well as the duty of witnesses like him, to inform the wider public about the crime of the Armenian genocide and to work towards preventing future ones.
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As a sign of gratitude from the Armenian people, an urn containing soil brought from Faiz El-Ghusein's grave was placed in the Memory Wall with a plaque in the Armenian Genocide Memorial complex.
Narine Margaryan, Ph.D. in History
Head of the Armenian Genocide Source Studies Department and Academic Secretary of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute