The Avedis Derounian (John Roy Carlson) Archive: A Selection
Treasures of NAASR's Mardigian Library:
The Avedis Derounian (John Roy Carlson) Archive:
In November 2021, NAASR organized the webinar “The Avedis Derounian Archive at NAASR: A Vital Resource on US-Based Extremism,” made possible by a grant from Mass Humanities, which provided funding through the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). Mass Humanities is a state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. As an extension of this program we present this Library Treasures feature providing a sampling from Derounian's vast archive.
In the late 1930s and 1940s Armenian-American author and journalist Avedis Derounian (1909-91) went underground and infiltrated and collected materials on the full spectrum of U.S.-based extremist groups, particular those sympathetic to or in league with the political aims of the Nazis.
He wrote about his experiences under the pen name John Roy Carlson. His book Under Cover became a New York Times best seller with more than 20 reprintings. He also wrote The Plotters (1946) and Cairo to Damascus (1951).
Donated to NAASR after his death in 1991, the collection is one of NAASR’s most significant personal archives, comprising more than 75 boxes of unpublished writings, notes, photographs, and other materials.
His fascinating life experiences and dogged research, contained in his archive, reveal striking details about domestic fascist, pro-Nazi, and other extremist groups of that time, and how Derounian and other writers and activists worked to expose these forces.
Above: NAASR Founding Chairman Manoog S. Young and Hagop Hachikian loading up the Derounian archive for transport to NAASR.
Avedis Derounian was born in 1909 near modern-day Alexandroupoli, today in Greece but at the time part of the Ottoman Empire. He immigrated with his parents and brothers John and Stephen in 1921. The family settled in New York and Avedis, or Arthur as he was also known, went to college at NYU and received a degree in journalism.
In the 1930s he worked for various publications including World Digest, Digest and Review, and served as editor of the New York-based newspaper Armenian Spectator (which would later merge with the Armenian Mirror). He also freelanced as a writer, contributing pieces to the Herald Tribune, Modern Living, Real Detective, Popular Mechanics, Psychology, and other outlets.
Above: Article by Derounian published in the Armenian Spectator, "A Survey of the Armenian Social Literary Scene," May 26, 1938
Derounian was profoundly affected by the murder of Archbishop Tourian in the Church of the Holy Cross in New York City in December 1933 and became a vociferous anti-Tashnag (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) partisan in the divisive community strife that dominated Armenian-American life for several decades. In the late 1930s, he began his association with Friends of Democracy, founded by Unitarian minister Leon Milton Birkhead in 1937 as “a non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-profit, anti-totalitarian propaganda agency.”
Clipping from New York Daily News, December 25, 1933, reporting on killing of Archbishop Tourian
Derounian is undoubtedly most famous for his 1943 best-seller Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America (Dutton), published under the pen-name John Roy Carlson. Using a number of fake identities, Derounian infiltrated a large number of pro-Nazi and other extremist groups. He continued his exposé work in 1946 in The Plotters (Dutton), again focusing on domestic extremism, and expanded his scope in Cairo To Damascus (Knopf, 1951), turning to the Middle East and in particular to Palestine just before and just after the establishment of Israel.
One of Derounian's many magazine pieces (as John Roy Carlson), "Star-Spangled Sucker Traps" appeared in Liberty magazine in 1946 and gave a taste of his book The Plotters, which began with the working title "Veterans Beware."
Though Derounian continued writing after Cairo To Damascus, he would publish no more books. He remained active in Armenian affairs, establishing the Armenian Information Bulletin in the 1950s and continuing to engage in the rough and tumble of Armenian-American politics.
In later years, he turned to publishing, starting a press called New Age Publishers and bringing out a reprint of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story and the memoir Rebirth by Elise Hagopian Taft.
His files show him in later years in correspondence with a number of scholars and experts on the Armenian Genocide and seeking to publish definitive works, including a book on Talaat Pasha and the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, and Aram Andonian’s Memoirs of Naim Bey. Though he was unable to realize these projects they would in fact be taken up by a later generation of scholars.
Draft artwork for Derounian's planned publication of the transcript of the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian.
The spectacular success of Under Cover made Derounian/John Roy Carlson a war-time celebrity. He made countless in-person and radio appearances and spoke for many military audiences as Under Cover went through more than 20 printings.
Derounian maintained his connection to the Armenian community as well, including a talk at an Armenian-Mirror Spectator benefit in June 1943 where he spoke about "Our Common Fight."
Derounian speaking at New Castle Army Air Base, Wilmington, Delaware
Galleys of Under Cover with Derounian's revisions.
Derounian was the target of smears and death threats and received abundant hate mail, which he saved.
The Plotters, while not a runaway best-seller like Under Cover, was a successful book in its own right. Above right, Derounian promoting The Plotters on the radio program "Books on Trial," December 23, 1946.
Derounian, standing at far right, with other recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Award from the Council Against Intolerance in America, April 13, 1947. Other recipients included Frank Sinatra, standing, second from left.
Derounian maintained a busy speaking schedule in the late 1940s and early 1950s, promoting his books and discussing other topics, some of which he seems to have intended to develop into other book projects which never materialized but which exist in his archives as research materials and sometimes drafts.
Cairo To Damascus would be Derounian's last book.
Derounian was also a skilled photographer. Above: His photo essay "The Catholicate of Cilicia Antelias, Lebanon" appeared in the journal Armenian Affairs in 1950. These original prints show Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepian (1867-1952). Below: large format prints of Derounian photographs taken in Soviet Armenia in the 1950s.
Unfortunately we have found little information about Derounian's film "The Armenians in America," beyond the fact that it was shown several times. Our attempts to locate a copy have been unsuccessful.
Below, a few examples of correspondence between Derounian and various luminaries.
Derounian collected vast numbers of books and pamphlets by extremists and hatemongers of all kinds, as well as publications by writers who, like him, sought to expose them. A small sampling of examples of both is below.