In the regions of the Ottoman Empire, a battle took place for self-determination. When the European colonial nations attempted to split up the ethnically diverse population of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish national leader Mustafa Kemal fought for independence, establishing a Turkish Republic in 1923. Years of war killed more than 2.5 million Ottomans, including over one million Armenians who were subjected to a genocidal campaign sponsored by the nationalistic Young Turk Regime.
In a letter dated October 3, 1918, and addressed to the Librarian at the Pierpoint Morgan Library, Belle da Costa Greene, Kelsey candidly expressed his concern about the situation in the Near East, anticipating the opportunity to acquire manuscripts:
I am sorry to deal with so horrible a subject, but my belief is that an expedition equipped with an Orientalist, a Classicist, a photographer and one or two missionary physicians who have lived long in Asia Minor and know the country, ought to be sent to those regions the moment conditions are so settled as to make this possible. This expedition would have as its aim to lure from hiding places and secure from unappreciative hands such manuscripts treasures yet remain in Greek or Syriac or Persian or Armenian. The possession of these, and their preservation will be a gain to science of inestimable value.
The manuscripts themselves can be picked up, as a missionary from the inner part of Armenia told me, for six or eight Turkish pounds apiece. With reference to this kind of material the case is absolutedly "now or never".
Moreover, during and after the expedition Kelsey was actively involved in American relief organizations working in those regions. He sent home numerous reports describing the horror of the situation in an attempt to get financial and moral support from the American people.
Being part of the events to commemorate WWI, the exhibit opens in the Audubon Room and North Lobby today. The display includes a selection of photographs, diaries, newspaper clips, letters, and rare manuscripts from the Kelsey Museum, Bentley Historical Library, and the Special Collections Library. It has been curated by Kathyn Babayan (Associate Professor, Department of History , Director of Armenian Studies Program) and Melanie Tanielian (Assistant Professor Department of History).