What is the Armenian Problem?
Although it seems as if it was a domestic problem of the Ottoman Empire, since the time it first emerged, the Armenian problem has always been closely related to foreign affairs and always more than one countries were involved in the matter. Armenians have been one of the significant ethnic groups of the Ottoman Empire and for many decades during which they did not claim any separatist-nationalist demands, benefited from vast religious and social freedoms given within the national classification of the empire.3 Since the empire has lost strength during the 19th century, foreign powers, especially the Russian Tsardom, took Armenians under their influence. Within the scope of a strategy requiring Slavic-Orthodox brotherhood in Balkans, Russia managed to drive the Ottomans back from the North and Northwest Black Sea Coasts and played an active role in independence movements of countries like Serbia and Bulgaria in the Balkans. According to the general policy of Russia, Armenians were also performing a similar role. The main purpose of Russians who anounced themselves as protectors of Armenians by claiming to have the same faith, was to establish an Armenian-dominant region in the Caucasia and to form a barrier between Turkey and Caucasia and Mid-Asia and to invade the Eastern part of Turkey as much as they could. What is more, in compliance to their policies requiring "the elimination of the Ottoman Empire which they used to call 'the Eastern Problem' without causing any instability in the international era", the USA and the European forces encouraged the nationalist-separatist movements in the Ottoman Empire and they acted as a kind of guarantor who fulfilled the desires of the ethnic-religious minorities. Having then more intense trade relations with the Ottoman Empire, Western states could more easily collaborate with the minorities, especially with the Armenians. By means of missionaries and diplomatic representatives and by also using religious feelings which were the most effective subject at the time, these states tried to exert influence upon the minorities and tried to more easily control the Ottoman Empire. While France was trying to convert Armenians into Katholic belief on one hand, on the other, while Russians enforced Orthodox-oriented policies, England and USA imposed Protestant-oriented policies. Thus, each country desired that Armenians, the last Christian minority within the Ottoman territory who did not yet gain independence, to remain under their own control, and they were all considering Armenians who settled nearly in every town of Anatolia as mediators to protect their economical and political interests in the Ottoman Empire.
Armenians renounced their first serious demand to seek independence from the Ottoman Empire was after the Ottoman-Russian War broke out between 1877 and 1878. Nerses Varjabedyani, the Armenian Patriarch, visited the Russian military base which was then reached until Yeşilköy, and begged from the Russian Tsar not to leave the eastern Anatolia and to establish an Armenian state in the area.4 Patriarch also expressed that in case the independence is not achieved, they wanted some reforms in favour of Armenians to be carried out. Although the request of the Patriarch was in compliance to Russian policies, it was too early yet to establish an independent Armenian state. Moreover, thinking of the political balance in the Middle East, the UK and other countries were disturbed by the crushing triumph that Russia gained against the Ottoman State. However, the reformation demand of the Patriarch Varjabedyani was accepted. Upon this, an obligatory reformation in areas where Armenians lived in Eastern Anatolia was laid as down as a condition (the 16th Article) in the Act of Ayastephanos signed in 1878. This condition is significant in showing for a foreign state to interfere in the internal affairs of the Ottoman State and to take on protective role for a group of minority.5 Another obligation in reforming the areas where Armenians lived was conditioned by England in the 61st Article of the Act signed in Berlin. These decisions have encouraged the Armenians and invigorated their activities in Europe.6
Armenians desired to establish a Van-centred state called "the Old Armenian Kingdom" covering the whole of Eastern Anatolia incuding Adana, and North-East Black Sea Coast. What is more, they were longing this state would spread until the inlands of Caucasia and this state would have coasts in both Mediterrenean, Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Although matching to their plans of blocking the paths of Turks, under the fear of loosing control over such an Armenian State and what is worse, in case of such a state to go under the control of the British, Russians acted with deliberation and spent effort to establish an Orthodox, Caucasian-centred Armenian state which would stay under the influence of the Russian Tsar. The sample-case of Bulgaria which occasionally act free from the Russian influence has great effect upon Russians to act like this. Russia did not want a power and population as big as that of Bulgaria to be accumulated in one state whose control would be difficult. Therefore, Russia tried on one hand to unite all Armenians to form a barrier between the Ottoman and Russia, and on the other hand tried their best for a big and homogeneous Armenian state not to emerge.
By the establishment of "associations" like the Hinchak, Tashnak etc. Armenians have began to incline more to have an armed struggle. While the European-based Hinchak association was triggering revolts in the Ottoman territory, in Europe at the same time, they showed these revolts as massacres committed against Armenians, just as they did in Erzurum revolt (1890) and Kumkapi events (1894). Whereas Sasun Rebellion in 1894 proved explicitly how threatening the Armenian activities have become for the Ottoman poise. What is more, the Sasun Rebellion was the first and the most outraging attempt of Armenians to carry the problem to the international era. Armed Armenian activists provoked the local people and caused bitter rows in the region and the events have been able to be settled down only by Hamidiyya Regiments. However, al these events were reflected to Europe as a massacre of 20,000 Armenians, but not as quelling of a rebellion. In these circumstances England has played a major role. The Armenian problem had become so international that an American was also indicated as a member for the commission that was constituted by Sultan Abdulhameed II for investigating the Sasun Rebellion. Although the USA did not accept this request, England, France and Russia each sent one envoy. According to the commission, the events were initiated by the Armenians and the English ambassador stated that the number of Armenians who died during the turmoil was not over 900.7 However, what's happened happened and a widespread public opinion was formed in England and Europe convincing them that a great Armenian massacre had occurred. Moreover, in April 1895, with the initiative of England, the ambassadors of France, England and Russia came together and discussed whether the reformations previously requested were realised or not. What they desired was new arrangements to be fulfilled in six cities determined by themselves and some priviledges to be granted for Armenians. What realy proposed to the Ottoman State was a diplomatic warning which was a very rare practice in the history. When the Ottoman State replied as to carry out a widespread reform in all of the territory of the State, England and other countries were not happy with this. However, the obliterate dispute between Russia and England was giving to the Ottoman State a power to resist. Whereas Armenians continued their activities in order not to fall outside the agenda of major states. They organised marches and inflictive repels in the most sensitive period of times. Nonetheless, it is not clear whether Armenians have organised such activities, just as the Bab-i Ali March on 30 September 1895, according to their own plans or incited to do so by these states. After the Bab-i Ali March, France, England and Russia continued to discuss the Armenian problem and at the end of their negotiations, they declared the Islahat Nizamnamesi (Regulation for Reformation). According to this Regulation, Christian minority would be able to, relatively to their population in the area, represent themselves in civil and security services and they would be able to have representatives also in the local administrative authorities.8
Fate of the Armenian problem was affected by Salisbury who came into power in England. After Salisbury, English policies concentrated more upon the Middle Eastern territories of the Ottoman State and set their heart on having Egypt, Cyprus, Iraq and South East Anatolia. They were planning to control the security of Straits (Bosporus and Dardanelle) by constituting an English Security Region which was supposed to start from the Dardaneles and surroundings. Moreover, with the intention of putting pressure upon the Ottoman Sultan about carrying out reformations about the Armenian problem, England attempted to send a fleet to Istanbul and suggested other European countries to join this fleet with one ship.9 However, quite openly, these British policies were conflicting with those of Russia who claim themselves as the guardian of Armenians.
The problem which was grown with the foreign support, has become bloodier and more complex by the establishment of Tashnaks who reckoned activities of Hinchaks as inefficient. The 1896 Van rebel and the attack to the Ottoman Bank were assaults committed by this establishment. Furthermore, the English initiative excited the Armenians and the Armenian Patriarch Izmirliyan spread a news amongst the Armenians telling that a European fleet is about to reach Istanbul.10 Armenians who raided the bank in Istanbul had used the same tactic of involving the European countries into the problem. Raiders demanded from European ambassadors to ensure the application of the revolution. Events caused a tension occurred between the security forces and Armenians dwelling in Istanbul. Armenian komitadjis (members of revolutionary organisation) attacked the local people with bombs in some parts of the city, however none of the responsibles were put under arrest. After attaining the guaranty they wanted, rebels were boarded on the yacht of Sir Edward Vincent, the director of the bank, and were allowed to leave the country completely scot-free.11 Although all these events were severely disapproved by the British public, the English press depicted these rebels as heros and the Ottoman Sultan who was trying to keep the peace in his territory as "a blood-thirsty monster".12 Not only the English press, but the whole Europe was regarding the case as removing of a Christian minority. Even Germany who was the closest alliance of Ottomans, looked at the event from the same perspective and by a telegraph sent to the German Emperor, they even added their comment saying that "the Sultan should be dethroned".13
Under the effect of all these progresses, Armenian events encouraged England to develop a new policy putting a pressure upon Ottoman State to carry new reforms. Despite the reform demand of England was approved by nearly all states, mainly Russia and France were clearly anxious about the future of the Ottoman Empire. Using the Armenian problem as an excuse, England tried their best to benefit most from the distruction of the Ottoman Empire and all these plans were not dismissed by Russians who were even more impatient to get a share. On the other hand, France did not want the Ottoman State to be potioned out between England and Russia. That is, the Armenian problem was only a camouflage against all of their desires. Nevertheless, thanks to the competition among these countries, Ottoman State has been able to resist longer against the Armenian problem. However, Armenian guerillas unceasingly continued their attacks. They even dared to assasinate the Sultan Abdulhameed II in 1905.
With the Western support, nearly all ethnic groups that were departed from the Ottomans gained their independence until that time when only Armenians were the non-Muslim ethnic group who could not achieve their independence. That is why, it was very normal for Armenians to seek support from Western countries. From this respect, the Armenian problem was a typical separatist movement.14 The only problem was that Armenians, being scattered all around the Empire, did not constitute any majority in any city or region.
However, after the Declaration of the Constitutional Monarchy this scenery was completely changed. All powers who struggled against the Sultan Abdulhameed II were unified. The most significant unification among them is the closeness established between the Ittihad Terakki (Party of Union and Progress) and some Armenians. The Armenians who were uneasy about or thinking differently from the royal policies have moved together with the Ittihad Terakki and sometimes provided thefinance for this party. In this period of time, many Russian Armenians also came to Istanbul and Armenian societies had a level of freedom of movement which they never attained before. Many Armenian schools, unions, libraries were opened all around the country, while many Armenians were appointed to high official positions in the government. Even the highest rank officials of the Ottoman government joined the meetings and openings held by Armenians.15 Despite having very good realtions with the government, a group of Armenian komitadjis chose an active armed struggle and tried again to involve the Western countries into the matter. All these developments broke out the 1909 Adana events. Adana was an important centre for Armenians to realive their old Armenian Kingdom. In another time, Russia had incited Armenians to establish a state in Klickia (the region covers the South East Anatolia and a part of Eastern Mediterrenean Coast of Anatolia)16 and France had supported the separatist movements in the area. Another reason for this region to be attractive for those states was that it was close to rail lines and ports, and was having a strategical significance in the Middle East. All these events broke out at a time when the Ottoman State was experiencing difficulties in international era. Being busy by fighting against the internal rebels, the government was also engaged in conflicts with Austria, Serbia and Bulgaria. An uprising had erupted in Crete and other countries began to interfere into the Ottoman affairs even more intensely. What they targeted was to establish an independent Armenian State with the provided external support. They impelled more Armenians from all other regions to accumulate in this area. Armenians were motivated to attain more weapons. And they even formed trained armed units. The events broke out when two Turks were killed by armed Armenians and spread to street fights. At the end of the events more Turks than Armenians were executed and even some governors took to support armed Armenians against Turks. Because, according to these governors the events are related to 31st March events and Armenians were regarded as forces supporting the Constitutional Monarchy. All these events show that Ittihad Terakki has never had any "racist" inclination to extinguish completely the Armenians. Despite all that, it was reflected to Europe as 30,000 Armenians were killed. According to the Patriarchate this number was 21,330 whereas the Turkish officials give between 1,000 and 10,000, including the killed Muslims.17
Prior to the First World War, the Armenian problem had not remained as an internal matter of Ottoman State and always influenced its foreign relations. There were two sides of the matter: Firstly, the problem was used by other countries against the Ottomans as a kind of threatening tool. By this tool, various countries, mainly Russia, England, France and USA, tried to actualise their interests upon the Ottoman heritage. Secondly, this interest which was initially started out of national interests, has transformed into an anti-Ottoman, anti-Turkish public opinion in Europe which continued for over a century. In other words, in timer, an artificial state interest has developed into a deeply rooted social matter. In Western press, the Ottoman State was used as the synonymous of the new concept of "Turkey" and in the news, the Monarch of the Ottoman State was mentioned as "the Sultan of Turkey". This, of course, caused the problem to be transferred nearly as the same to the new Republic of Turkey. That is why, it is impossible to abstract the events happened during the Republic time from those occurred during the period of Ottoman rule.
Before the First World War, Western opinion of the Ottomans was completely based upon religious and racist prejudices. All of the Western public press reflected the events from the perspective of Christian-Muslim separation. Hence, reacting in a unity of religious solidarity, Western public thought and acted according to that their brothers in faith were killed at the hands of cruel infidels. In those days, the independence struggles of Bulgarians and Greeks, and other conflicts between the Ottoman State and its other Christian subjects were the most popular matters printed in the Western and American press. In all of these news, Turks were depicted as inhumane or even as brute beings. Thus, in all aspects, the environment in Europe was ready for negatively reverberating the news about Armenians. As a consequence, even at a small case of a rebel, it was very common to see headings as "Turks v. Christian Armenians".18 Events have been spread to the world mostly from London by American missionaries and Armenians.19 In those news Turks were launched as "not keeping their words, barbarians and beasts who can heartlessly slaughter people".19 All these directing news naturally affected the Western public, but carried on for decades because of the single-sided informing of the lobby of Christian-Armenian missionaries and because the Ottomans could spend little effort for raising public awareness.20 During this political process, it was intensely emphasized that poor Armenians could only be saved by the English and American forces and many aid campaigns were organised for their sake. Most of these campaigns were started by the Armenian and missionary societies, while on the other hand lobby activities that were very close to governments and parliaments were coordinated.21 This type of campaigns and organisations inevitably affected the Ottoman policies of Western countries. It can be stated that in this period of time, there was no favour at all for the Ottomans and the matter was dealt in a completely biased way, and the decisions that are seem to be impartially taken were generated merely because of national concerns. As will be discussed further in our study, these have been heavily reflected upon the Republic term.
The First World War and Relocation Decision
At the beginning of the First World War, the situation was even more dangerous for the Ottoman State. Being engaged in a war in nearly every front, the Ottoman also had to strive against the armed attacks of Armenians and the information bureaus were warning for new rebels from other ethnic minorities. Nearly all of the European countries (especially Russia, France and England) were counting themselves as parties of the case. In other words, the case did not remain as a matter between a state and its subjects, on the contrary, it became even more complicated with the involvement of interests of other countries. For many Armenians start fighting on the side of Russians was another pain in the East part of the country. Experiencing great military and financial difficulties, the Ottoman government was not at a situation to follow a policy based upon loyalty of Armenians. In these conditions, relocation was regarded as an inevitable policy to be applied.22 Actually resettlement has always been a common method applied quite often by both the Ottoman Empire and other states and it was not peculiar practice applied only to Armenians. In the Ottoman history, including Turks, ethnic groups that are troublesome or needed somewhere else were resettled in different areas when it's necessary. The same policy was continued to be partly applied during the Republic time. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the method of relocation was neither first nor solely employed by Turks. Throughout the history, all states changed locations of populations due to economical, political, social or security concerns. This method has been used mainly for changing demographical balances and for reinforcing security. The most known relocation in the recent history is when Americans forced Japanese minority to move from the region where Pearl Harbour is, to Missisippi Valley, just the other side of the country. Unfortunately, due to the pitiful conditions of the time has turned the relocation into a tragedy and many Armenians have lost their lives on the way. According to Armenian historians, Ottoman administrators intentionally forced Armenians to that journey, knowing that they would die. At first glance, this may seem a reasonable claim, because Ottoman Empire was not even at a situation to supply its people's daily needs, let alone providing all the facilities to for hundreds of people to safely arrive to their defined destination. In those days, even major cities where many gangs appeared were lacking of security and justice. In short, it was obvious that Istanbul would not be able to complete such a relocation successfully and that serious problems would occur. However, it is debatable whether the Istanbul government was aware of this or not.
When legal and administrative measures prepared for the relocation are taken into consideration, it can be seen that, the Ottoman government "theoretically" took every precaution in order to protect the relocated Armenians. According to these laws, even the train tickets of migrants would have to be supplied. They were allowed to sell their goods and many articles were written explaining details of how to settle back their lands when they come back. Even workshop tools were provided for them to work in the place they will settle. In spite of idealistically prepared law and official correspondence, it can be said that the relocation had to be employed hastily before all the preparations were completed. However, one should ask at this point that is it any different in today's Turkish Republic? According to written legal codes, we live in a perfect country. However in practice, thousands of people are killed or injured either by murders or road accidents. From this respect, it seems that modern Turkish officials who allowed the construction of such fragile buildings (as we witnessed during the Izmit eartquake) are much less reliable than Ottoman officials who applied the relocation decision. That is, it is not adequate just to find the responsibles or just cogitate. In such cases, the intention and purposes of administrators should be the main concern.
It is very clear that the intention of Ottoman officials were nothing to do with genocide or racism. Such a judgement would be totally opposite to the Ottoman administrative rules and customs. What is more, since they were engaged in a military attack, Russian troops killed many migrating Armenians as well as the Armenian gangs. Here it can be stated that, it was Armenian gangs themselves who induced the relocation with their destroying activities in the Eastern Anatolia and caused local Muslim population to migrate especially from Van towards the West part of the country. Although not generally mentioned, during these migratory movements, many Muslim have lost their homes, lands and even their lives. The most crucial result of these attacks was to initiate an active fights between the ethnic and religious sects living in the area. Thus, when all negative conditions of the war and the region and the weakness of the Ottoman Empire were added by these ethnic and religious conflicts, administrative executives of ottomans fell in even more troublesome situation which caused them to experience serious problems during the relocation of Armenians.
According to Turkish historians, the number of Armenians who died during the relocation changes between 10 thousand to 350 thousand, Armenian historians amplified this number to 1,5 million even to 2 million. They even increased this number to 2,5 million during a discussion held in Wales. As it is known that the population of Armenians living within the Ottoman boundaries was not even 1,5 million and as a large number of Armenians have safely reached their destination, we can see how emotional and how exaggerating the Armenian historians behave. In the same way, the Turkish historians who inclined to show the number of deaths as too low are also acting in a reactive manner. In conditions where epidemic was widespread, famine was considered as normal, health services were very poor, weather conditions were very cold and bitter and upon all that while the ethnic group under our consideration was engaged in a rebellious act, the number of deaths would not stay at few thousand. However not all of these deaths were occurred because of the relocation. All death occurances well before the relocation and after have also been included in the 1915 cases. Yet, some Armenian researchers are spending great effort to show even the deaths or losts occurred during the war as a result of relocation. They list all Armenians who died during the collapse of Ottoman Empire and depict them as if they were victims of a single act. What is more, hundreds of Armenians who previously migrated from the Ottoman territory are shown as died or lost. Those who record the lost ones in the Ottoman lands, do not record their migration to Europe, Russia, Armenia, Middle East or North America. They display the first part of the account but not the next. If we would make the same account for the Muslim population, we could easily reach a judgement proving a massacre of over 10 million Turkish and other Muslim subjects of the Ottoman State. Moreover, during the last period of Ottoman Empire, the number of Turks and Muslims who were killed in Balkans and Caucasia was over 5,5 million. Yusuf Halaçoğlu, head of the Institution of Turkish History, explains that about 10,000 people died because of the attacks happened during the relocation:
"According to Ottoman archives, about 500,000 people were forced to relocate and around 500,000 were migrated to Caucasia on their own consent. The relocation process carried on for nine mounths. Talat Pasha thought of Konya first. But afterwards they have been resettled in Syria. Nobody is definitely sure about the number of died Armenians. There are people claiming 800,000, or 1 million or even 1.5 million. These are all false. Before 1915, we know that there were 1.5 million Armenians according to the Patriarchate. If you compare those who returned in 1919 and those who didn't, you can calculate the highest possible number of Armenians who died on the way. There is a report written by the Halep ambassador of the USA stating that they provided aid for 486 thousand Armenian migrants all registered with their names. All these official documents deny the assertions of 1 million death cases... In 1921, as stated by the British consulate in Istanbul, the whole population of Armenians in the world was defined. This was done by the UN to determine the budget to be appropriated for Armenians. They recorded that 827 thousand of relocated Armenians were Turkish citizens. They also claim that "95 thousand Armenians were forced to change their religion to Islam, during the period of Kemalist Turkish Republic". When you add the 150 thousand who live in Istanbul, only then you get a number just over a million. The number of those who died from illnes was about 100 thousand and those who were killed during attacks were 10 thousand." 23
Number are a great nuisance in claims related to Armenians, but the real important problem is that if those death cases were murders or not. According to Armenian blames, the Ottoman administrators are Turkists and intended to eliminate the Armenians under racist motives. According to their allegations, just as the "genocide" crime that was committed by Germans against Jews in the Second World War, Turks did the same for Armenians. Some Armenian writer go eve further and assert that the Ittihad Terakki leaders had actually been planning this for a long time and they found the war environment as a good opportunity to actuate their plans. Since 1915, all developments that paralised and terminate all Turk-Armenian relations are all based upon these allegations. In other words, according to Armenians, Turks "have committed the first genocide experienced in the history" and they have even been an inspiration for Hitler.
When one considers fairly that, at the same period of time, 90,000 Turkish soldiers froze to death in Sarıkamish, Caucasia, and ten thousands of local people died from epidemics, can understand much better all these tragic events. Hundred thousands of loss was not a case only happened in the Ottoman territory. In 1919, more than 200,000 Armenians died from starvation and epidemics in Erivan, a region which was ruled by Armenian Tashnaks. Richard Hovanisian describes thr first independent Armenian state as a "death country".24 However, the same author cannot believe that the same number of Armenians also died of the very same natural causes like famine, starvation and epidemics during the rule of Ottomans and only thinks of "genocide". A newspaper was reflecting the events of the day as such:
"People were satisfying their hunger with cats and dogs. There have been even cases that starved mothers who had to eat the inner organs of their dead babies."25
In short, it was very possible for many thousands of Turks, Kurds or Armenians to died out of natural causes and that was what happened. Even so, when such cases are politically considered with hidden intent, or in other words, when political strategies are formed over corpses, even such deaths can be seen as "genocide".
As another dimension of the matter, events occurred after the First World War have proved that how correct was the relocation decision even if it would have taken for security concerns. In South East, Armenians formed alliance with the French and attacked and killed their neoighbours with whom they had lived peacefully for hundreds of years. The bloody rebel that broke out in Van and Armenians supplied all supports to Russian invadors and all other armed attacks done by Armenians are all proves that they were ready to use weapons against the local people. That is, it is impossible to depict the scene as elimination of disarmed Armenian people by armed Ottoman forces and we can easily say that if a Western country would encounter with a similar situation, they would take much more serious measures to protect their security. The Armenian leaders officially announced that they were engaged in a military war anyway. During the negotiations in Sevres, Armenians requested to be accepted as a "combatant part of the war", a declaration of their own which clearly proves that Armenians, just like Germans, Russians etc. were one of the actors of the First World War.
It is quite clear that the problem is much more complicated than the allegations of both sides and there are defective and ill-intentioned people in either sides. Nevertheless, if not serving to a political purpose, to present the event as a "genocide" or "ethnic clensing" is at least simplifying the matter. However, clashes are shown in the history in a single-sided way. All events are reflected to the world public only in the way dramatized by Armenians and Western countries. Thus, just as happened for the Greek and Bulgarian independence wars, Armenian events also portrayed as a typical sample of "Turkish barbarism". Surely the war physocology has contributed a lot to this emotional reactive diagnosis. Especially England has used the events as a tool for negative propaganda to push the Ottoman-German alliance into a very difficult platform. The British spent extra effort to use the Armenian problem against the Ottoman in order to persuade the USA to enter the war. According to McCarthy, by picturing the events as a great genocide, the English politicians were trying to persuade Americans to defend Western values and Christianity against an inhumane front.26 However, in a very short time, everybody believed these hyperbolised propaganda materials and 1915 events carved into memories as "a dark stain in the history."
Organised Armenians living in Europe and North America have played a major role in presenting the 1915 events just from the views of Armenian partisans. In addition to public pressure, Armenian businessmen and persons who have arms in the media manipulated the European and American press and appropriated their own emotional and reactive perceptions for the whole Western public. Secondly, at this time of period, all news about the Ottomans were flowing to the West through the minorities. News sources of many newspapers and magazines were English, American, French, Armenian, Greek agents who were working with Armenians and as expected all the news were very biased. Our researches that we conducted in the archives of The Times, Washington Post and New York Times show that all news related to the Ottoman lands were merely emphasizing a concept of religious conflict. A significant amount of news tell stories about the oppression of Muslim government applied upon Christian subjects. In most of the news, Armenians especially named as "Christian Armenians."
Another factor that influenced the events to be launched as a big massacre, even as a genocide, is the propagandas spread by Armenians who settled in European countries after the relocation. On the contrary to their claims, sych a number of Armenians achieved to reach their destinations alive that a highly considerable Armenian diaspora was formed in Lebanon, Cyprus, France and America. The 1915 events, now became a kind of legend, have been used by some institutions and groups to continue a vendetta between Armenians and Turks and to form and survive an Armenian identity in the diaspora. As a result of all these attempts, a generation raised who adopted the Armenian claims as their missionary action and turning the Armenian problem into the most significant factor of their existence, Armenians, sometimes violently, expressed their allegation very often in countries where they live. Began with mainly humane and religious memories, this process continued to be overstated with cinema films, written works, demonstrations, meetings etc. and in time, these efforts have become the only source feeding the West about the Armenian problem.27 Deeply believing all these allegations related to the 1915 events, Bedros Afeyan lists the Armenian accusations claimed to be committed by the Turks as below:
1. They closed down all Armenian associations and organisations, exiled their members to out of cities and wipped them on the way.
2. They collected all weapons.
3. They provoked Muslim population especially in places like Van where revolutionist activities occurred and they organised crimes against Armenians.
4. They, appearently, charged military forces with a duty of protecting Armenians, but they actually played roles in massacres.
5. All men under 50, religious officials and teachers were killed, girls left alive for use of ......
6. All families isolated and kept away from food and drinking water.
7. All Armenians working as government officials were either executed or fired.
8. Armenian members of Turkish Army were killed.
9. All these activities started off in every place at the same time and Armenians were not given enough time to defend themselves.
10. All these actions were commanded and executed in a determined way, and all what has been done were denied. 28
All these allegations show how harsh and insensitive belief Armenians have about Turks. We say "belief", because there is neither an evident truth that can be reasonably discussed, or something persuasive, but there is a legendary notion which turned into a mere belief. Although everybody accepts the tragedy occurred at the time, to deny the allegations of Afeyan, it would more than adequate to read only the Armenian books. Books explaining the history of Tashnaks and Hinchaks are full of photos of heavily armed Armenian rebels. Van, the city mentioned by them was invaded by Armenians.... However, as we mentioned earlier, beliefs can never be discussed. If you attempt to discuss people's beliefs, they will take it as the most humiliating insult. Just as, Armenians regard the normal discussions about the so-called Armenian genocide as "denial" and label such discussions as a great crime. In this process one should definitely note the responsibility of Turkey as well. In other parts we referred to this side of the matter.
Summarising the international connections of Armenian problem during the Ottoman rule, wa see that the Armenian problem did not remain as an internal matter and it became a substantial factor effected nearly all international relations of Ottoman Empire. This was the outcome of Armenian efforts to involve many foreign states into the problem and also of the fact that those countries saw the Armenian problem as a means of control over the Ottoman state. The only factor that can be regarded as a "favor" to the Ottomans was the conflicting interests of the big powers and the Armenians not constituting a majority in any region.
England was closely related with the all regions in its then colony India. Since 1840, England was acting as a protector for Protestants. Especially after Salisbury came into power, England changed strategy and did not tolerate Russia to play the only and the most important role in the Armenian problem. Because Russians could do the same in Caucasia and the Middle East, what they did in Balkans and could blockade England. For these concerns, the Englishmen "tried to form their own type of Armenians" and supported Armenian revolts in the direction of their own plans. English government also used the excuse of defending the Ottoman state against Russia by claiming that Ottomans could not resist on their own, and benefited from the Armenian problem, captured some of Ottoman territories like Cyprus. However these British plans caused fear in Russia. Russians were wanting to establish an Armenian state, but they were worried that this state would enter under the influence of England. For this, bringing all Russian-advocator Armenians together in Caucasia, Russia was pursuing to constitute a power land which would stretch until Adana in the South Anatolia. Whereas France, on the other hand, was following a policy over Katholic Armenians. They were trying their best to capture the biggest share from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and were regarding the Armenian problem as a very usefull means for this purpose. The French military activities in the Klichia region during the First World War and during the Independence War distinctly depict this intention of theirs. Armenians who went to France and Lebanon after the events, showed a sign that they will play the major role to continue the problem. Another actor of the problem during the Ottoma rule was the USA. The interest of the USA was appeared first as economical concerns. As America was only engaged with Armenians in trade relations, this caused them to receive only single-sided and biased news about Ottomans. Moreover the USA, trying to spread Protestanism through their missionaries, have been an inseparable part of the problem when many Armenian migrants settled in America after the events.
In conclusion, the Armenian problem was more than being a problem between Muslims and Armenians, but was a factor which was used to form international balances against the Ottoman Empire. In time elapsed, both Ottomans and Armenians had great losses while European powers and America increased their territories and influence.
A Genocide, A Massacre or A Defense?
Since all of later debates are correlated with the relocation desicion and the 1915 events have been denoted as genocide, to evaluate the aspects of this genocide before analysing the Republic period would be elucidating. Earlier in our study, we saw that Armenian policies of the government during the Ottoman rule were full of troubles. This must not be found peculiar, because as the administrative system of the state got weakened and as inner and outer enemies got more organised than the state itself, the relations of the state with non of its ethnic minorities could be continued as before. Problems lead in time other problems to arise and this vicious circle carried on until the collapse of the Empire. Although it was being able to rule over its ethnic minorities very peacefully and facilitatively before, now stricken with panic, Istanbul government started to apply some violence to both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities who acted disloyally to the empire. The discovery of nationalism which first appeared as Ottomanism and then as Turkism had definitely a negative effect on this process. The immature nationalist actions of the Ittihad Terakki accelerated the destruction of peace rather than providing it. It is known that Ittihad Terakki members who came into power by force after dethroning the Sultan Abdulhameed Khan II were more inclined to violence and military action, and were cold to dialogue and democratical solutions. In this atmosphere, problems which could be solved very easily became even more complicated and this was most strongly perceived for the Armenian problem. The government of the time most of members of which were military officials reacted the Armenian and other rebels by only using military weapons and tools and nearly comletely neglected the social and political dimensions of the problem. The last ring of this chain of mistakes was the 1915 relocation. As a result of these mistakes, the Armenian nationalism very easily turned into a separatism and Armenian seaparatists started to gain advocators even in rural areas. As mentioned earlier, before, Armenian separatists could not have any supporters within the Armenian bourgeois and rural areas and their activities were restricted into a small group of people. However, as the problem began to appear as a kind of ethnic war between Muslims and Christian Armenians, the Armenian separatist actions changed in time, into a mass movement. This was just what armed activists like the Tashnaks and Hinchaks wanted and the Ottoman state was deceived by its own policies. Especially the application of the 1915 decision for relocation strengthened the consciusness of Armenians having a separate identity. The inadequecy of the government and the immaturity of the administrators were clearly indicating that such a mass movement of people would end in a calamity. Just as, various officials within the government warned the responsibles for not giving and not applying such a decision. Nevertheless, the decision was put into practice and warned concerns occurred and many people have died on the way from either illnesses, hunger or cold. Some other deaths occurred during the relocation, because some officials, local leaders or local groups either attacked or did not perform their responsibilities for Armenians due to their hatred grown with murders committed by Armenian komitadjis in their areas. In short, in 1915 a great tragedy was experienced, thousands of Armenians had to leave their homes, families separated, people lost their beloved ones. This migration flared up the hatred between Armenians and Turks and being remained in the midst of such an hostility, Armenians who do not have anything to do with any political conflict also felt that they are oblidged to take the side of Armenians.
Until this point, it is impossible not to acknowledge the Armenians to be right. One major duty of a government is to differentiate between those who are righteous and those who are wrongful. The state is oblidged to protect its citizens. The state can take decisions like relocation, but the lives, properties and honours of migrants are under the security of the government and it is responsible for protecting these values. The Ottoman State has set a bad examination in this matter. It should have been guessed that many people could die or encounter with attacks on the way to their destination. When looked from this point of view, it is obvious that the Ittihad Terakki and the Ottoman State which was ruled by them owe an apology to Armenians who were Ottoman citizens. However this apology can never be a apology for neither "genocide" nor "massacre". The truth of the matter is, that apology was partly fulfilled and many Ottoman officials who were faulty in applying the relocation were either executed or punished. They have even gone so far in punishment that they sentenced much more men to death than Nurenberg Courts. Amongst the punished ones, there were also those who did not have anything to do with the events or who did not deserve such punishments.
"Should the Turkish Republic officially apologise for these events?" If it is ecessary, there is no problem in doing so. Because the state which is the continuation of the Ottoman Empire is Turkey. This is perceived as this by both the whole world and Turkish citizens. Turkish Republic should accept the faulty pages of the history as they claim to be the owner of a glorious, highly honoured pages of their history. The noble behaviour that uplifts nations and states is to be able to admit their sins as well as their good deeds. Such an attitude will never humiliate neither Turkey nor Turks. On one side of the coin, there are the sufferings of Armenians and Ottomans exceedingly served the sentence for this. While Armenians living many hardships on one hand, on the other, partly because of wrong policies of Ittihad Terakki, an Empire has melted away like a piece of ice. Similar mistakes costed lives of ten thousands of Ottoman soldiers in Sarikamish and Ottomans lost all their well-educated people in every front. Nonetheless we must again say that genocide is a matter of cultural and social level. 1, even 2,5 million people cannot be massacred by one or two persons decision as it is claimed. Yes, may be Ottoman officials did make a mistake, but definitely this mistake cannot be named as "genocide" or "massacre". It can be at most a negligence and there are no states on earth which do not have such mistakes.
However, there is another side to the coin:
Did the Armenians not Exhibit any Blameworthy Act and Weren't They Responsible at all?
While Turks owe an apology, are Armenains innocent and completely free from guilt?
First of all, the most important factor that triggered the events in 1915 was the Armenian revolts and their terorist movements. The number of Muslims who were killed by armed Armenians was over 500.000. Furthermore, at the beginning of the events, many Armenian Ottoman citizens have also been victims of Armenian terror. Besides, Jewish Ottomans were also affected by the Armenian raids and a great number of Jewish people had to leave their homes in the Eastern Anatolia and some of them were killed. Until the First World War, especially in the Eastern Anatolia, ten-thousands of Armenians secretly passed into Russian nationality and started to carry Russian passports. Arsenals that were built by Armenians and fromts they fought against the Ottoman State are not a secret and all these perfidious activities are still presented as something honourable by Tashnaks and Hinchaks. In other words, as a state has some duties and resposibilities, citizens also carry some duties and responsibilities and foremost of them is loyalty. On account of this, Turkish officials expression of "the Armenians have not been loyal, on the contrary betrayed the Ottoman State" is neither merely emotional, nor a meaningless expression. There are mutual responsibilities in the relationship between a state and its citizens and the essence of this relationship is loyalty. In some sectors, the Armenian society could not show this loyalty, contrarily have been involved in every distructive activity against the state. They openly pronounced their intention of establishing a separate state and organised within themselves for this cause. They designed separate flag and composed their own anthem, they formed armed military detachments, prepared weapons and munitions, set military and diplomatic alliances with other countries, terror attacks became their daily practice, with every activity, they openly expressed that they do not recognise the Ottoman authority, they dared to attempt to assasinate the President (Sultan) of the Ottoman Empire, raided Muslim villages and killed many people civilians, occupied one of the major cities of the country (Van) and by the start of the First World War, they acted together with Russian military forces.
In summary, these events can never be connected with and seen similar as the events experienced by Jews in Hitler's Germany in the Second World War. Here, there is not a case that some innocent unarmed people to be subjected to some cruel practices applied just out of racist incentives. The event is mainly a suppression of a rebellion and practices of defense of one nation in a war situation. When the matter is justly considered from this respect, we see that Armenians have been very fortunate and highly tolerated: If they would activate such a big rebel and terorist action in the USA, France or in any other country, even today, the punishment they would get definitely would not be relocation. Even today's USA would apply such harsh precautions and punishments that could not be compared with the measurements taken by the Ottomans. The applications of Americans involving the genocide of Indians, the relocation of the Japaneese, brutal practices in Guantanamo and Abu-Ghurayb are all examples that they would reply such actions much more severely.
Another point to be clarified in the "genocide" accusation claimed by Armenian groups is the close relationship between racism and genocide. Genocide is a product of racist thoughts and motives and implies effrots of elimination of a group (religious, ethnic, etc.) just because they belong to that group. From this respect, genocide can be evaluated as the invention of the West. When the Jewish genocide is taken under consideration, we can see that the massacre was done for no evident reason. According to German racists, Jews were bad just because they are Jews and although they were not engaged in any armed attempt against Germany, they were tried to be wiped out merely because they were Jews. Whereas, the Turkish Nationalism that were blamed by committing Armenian genocide, do not carry hatred incentives at all. On the contrary, Ittihad Terakki members, the first Turkish nationalists, who were accused of being racists came into power with the support of Armenians and some other ethnic minorities. Nearly every member of Ittihad Terakki had one Armenian friend or neighbour and even during the time the 1915 events happened, they continued their friendship and even some of the members took shelter in homes of the Armenian neighbours at the time they were inquired after for badly treating the Armenians.29 Most of the relocated people turned back either to their original homes or to Istanbul either on the way or because they did not like the place they were sent. Obviously, if there would be a genocide occurred, if Armenians would be killed wherever they were seen just because they were Armenians, such scenes could never be seen. Another example is this; in the days when so called "genocide" events were happening, some Armenians were admitted into the Ottoman army additionally to high ranks and this decision was signed by the foremost characters of the Ittihad Terakki. Another example showing that Armenians were occupying some important positions in the Ittihad Terakki government can be given with Jamal Pasha who was one of those who were accused of maltreating Armenians. When he started his official duty in the Maritime Ministry, Jamal Pasha helped the Armenian parliament member Hallachyan Afandi to be assigned as the Law Consultant of the Ministry.30
There innumerable evidences showing that the Ottoman society was nothing to do with racism and that racism is a very improbable case for the Ottomans. Nevertheless, the most striking one of these evidences is the 1915 Chanakkale (Dardanelles) War. Interestingly coincided with the Armenian rebel and relocation, this war is may be "the purest the most virtous war" of the history. This is not stated only by the Turks but also expressed by those who came to Dardanelles for fighting. After fighting for ours, the very humane treatment of Turkish soldiers to their captives of war and the way they preferred their captives to themselves and shared their water and drink with them, the way they ate old bread while they gave the fresh ones to the captives, all show that Turkish soldiers did not hate even their enemies. What is more, most of the Ottoman soldiers who were fighting in the Dardanelles were from Anatolians and their offsprings who were claimed to massacre the Armenians. In this period of time, old or young all men were either at other fronts or in Dardanelles. That is, nearly only women were remained back in dwelling areas. In this case, is the genocide was practiced by women? At a time when the Empire give its all effort and struggle into defending itself, did these unarmed people, mostly women, killed their of 1 million or as claimed by others, 2,5 million Armenian neighbours? We must also remind here that in the Dardanelle front, there were also Armenians at the side of the Turks defending Dardanelles and they contributed a lot for sinking an armor-plated warship at a critical situation. Again during the relocation term, there were Armenians who joined the Ottoman Army and performed their duties as captains. Namely, the Ottoman society in 1915 was completely away from being racist. It is impossible to mention any racist trend against especially Armenians at that time.
Lastly, all these examples show that, to present the events happened at a time when the word "genocide" was not even invented as "genocide" is not right at all. It is true that there were some defects and negligence in the Ottoman employment of the relocation decision. We know that there were also some administrators who knowingly caused some death cases. But these were not the results of an official elimination policy, but were the results of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire in which it fell during its collapse. Decisions and applications of this state which could not even protect its own citizes in big cities, should be considered from the respect of these conditions. While making evaluations and comments about these events, one should also take the war and the incessant Armenian raids under consideration. It is possible to weep for Armenian losses, to commemorate them in grief and even officially apologise from the Armenians. But how about the Turks and Muslim losses that have never been commemorated? Hundreds of thousands of people who were not even carrying any guns were killed just because they were seen as hindrance before the dream of establishment of an independent Armenia and solely and only because they were different; Isn't it humanly necessary to feel also sorrow for them?
Consequently, it is obvious that both sides owe a sincere apology to each other. To perceive the events from a single side, and above all, accusing one side of committing genocide will never contribute anything to restore the faults occurred in the history and even more, will incite feelings to re-practice similar faults in the future.
Could the Ottomans be Racist? Could They Commit Genocide?
After hundreds of years, the Ottoman Empire has collapsed slowly but with a loud noise. Under this distruction people were greatly suffered. Istanbul governments displayed great mistakes, too. If they would not do all those mistakes anyhow, such a grand Empire would not collapse so suddenly. However, both due to the state ideology, and because of the concept of "Turk" has developed differently than the Darwinist processes in the West, it is well proven that a genocide is completely out of the question during the Ottoman rule. Turks' character is not suitable at all for to be racist or committing genocide. This definition must not be taken as a nationalist or a chouvinist slogan. It is true that the Ottoman Empire was 'mainly' consisted of Turkish citizens. From their language to their race, Turks were the original owner of the Empire. However, to be an Ottoman, it was not at all essential to belong to the Turkish race and the Empire was closely connected with thousands of tribes and nations. When the administrative staff are taken into consideration, iy can be seen that the managerial boards of the Ottoman Empire has always been much more colourful than that of Roman Empire. In such an empire, racism would mean self-denial. The religious and political ideology of the Ottoman Empire did not allow them to carry out any racist or discriminative action. From this respect, a dutifull, virtuous Muslim tribe would be much more important and priviledged than any disobedient, improper Turk. Just as when the Ottoman history is examined, it will be seen that, during the domestic conflicts, Ottoman Sultans straggled mostly against Turks and Muslims rather than fighting against non-Muslims and non-Turks. Turkish losses in civil wars are uncomparably more than the losses of any other ethnic groups.
For the Ottomans to be racist is impossible also from perspective of actual balances. For a state whose economical, administrative and social life are dependent upon facilitating many faiths and ethnic groups to live together, to give preference to only one ethnic group and to try to eliminate the others would be fatal and inconceivable. Completely opposite to what is assumed, even at the time when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, it was based upon the unity of many ethnic and religious groups and one the most significant of those groups were Armenians.
Under the light of all these evaluations, we can state that everybody who knows even slightly about the Ottoman history and who have a little knowledge of Ottoman civilisation will definitely confess that the Ottoman Empire has always been an antidote for racism, let alone to be racist.
- Turkish - Armenian Relations
- American Academicians' Declaration (May 19, 1985)
- Turkish diplomats killed by armenian terrorists
- Questions and Answers
- Western perception towards the issue
- How the armenian issue came about?
- Armenian Terror
- What is the Armenian Problem?
- Armenian-Azerbaijan Conflict
- So Called Armenian Genocide
- Karabakh Conflict
- Khojaly Massacre
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