A Turkish historian has unearthed a “smoking gun” telegram he says is evidence of an Armenian genocide during the First World War.

After many years of trying to access crucial Ottoman Empire documents related to the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, Taner Akcam, a history professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, finally discovered a photographic record of a telegram dated July 4, 1915.

The telegram, written under Ottoman letterhead and coded in Arabic numbers, reads: “Are the Armenians who were deported from there being liquidated? Are the troublesome individuals whom you have reported as having being exiled and expelled being eliminated or merely sent off and deported? Please report back honestly.”

Akcam said he compared the Arabic codes written in the telegram with other known codes used by the Ottoman interior ministry at the time, and found matches.  

The existence of that message, quoted as part of the evidence presented at post-war military tribunals in Turkey, was long known to historians. But the original telegram remained elusive for scholars like Akcam.  And the fact that most of the original documents from the tribunals vanished in the years since has been used to support the arguments of genocide denialists, Akcam told CTVNews.ca.

He vividly remembers the day last summer when he finally got his hands on the microfilm copy of the telegram – the closest he’s gotten to the original document, which remains in an archive held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“It was a rainy day,” Akcam recalled in a telephone interview from his office at Clark University. “It was pouring rain, and I saw this telegram in the archive. I ran outside and I stayed under the rain for 15 minutes maybe, opening my hands in the sky, (saying) ‘Thank God I found it.’”

Akcam was finally able to analyze the document after years of sleuthing. Priest Krikor Guerguerian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, had photographed the original documents at the Armenian Patriarchate in the 1960s and then brought the microfilms to the United States.  Akcam eventually gained access to the entire microfilm archive in 2015, thanks to Guerguerian’s nephew, and then began the painstaking task of cataloguing everything.

Akcam doesn’t believe that his discovery will lead to any immediate changes in Turkey’s stance on the issue. For more than a century, the Turkish government has denied that the genocide took place, saying that the Armenian deaths were simply part of the chaos and brutality of the First World War.

And even though many countries around the world, including Canada, have recognized the Armenian genocide, Turkey hasn’t felt enough global pressure, especially from the United States, to do the same, Akcam said.

He hopes the discovery of the damning telegram will change all of that. For decades, U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump, have avoided using the word “genocide” to describe what happened.

“This is like a stone that you throw in the water,” Akcam said. “The waves slowly, slowly come to the shores…The waves will hit sometime.”

Akcam said he hopes to publish Krikor Guerguerian’s microfilm archive, which contains many other important documents, online sometime in the fall.