An Introduction to the Armenian Question: From the Beginning to the Treaty of Lausanne

An Introduction to the Armenian Question: From the Beginning to the Treaty of Lausanne

M. Serdar Palabıyık[1]

Armenian question has been one of the most significant themes not only in Turkish history but also in the history of the Near East, particularly because of its attachment to the ‘Eastern Question’. Therefore, it is necessary to examine this question in detail in order to understand the current developments. Thus, in this article it is aimed to present the reader the background of the Armenian question from the very beginning up until the Treaty of Lausanne with which it had been resolved at least legally. In doing that, fundamental aspects of Armenian history will be referred, and then, the condition of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire will be evaluated. Following that, the emergence of Armenian question will be analyzed with special reference to its regional and international implications. Finally the relocation of Armenians and subsequent developments after the World War I will be examined.

From Ancient Times to Ottoman Rule: Two Millennia of Armenian People (13th century B.C. – 15th century A.C)

Being one of the ancient peoples of Anatolia and Caucasus Armenians had a history of three millennia, although they tend to exaggerate their past up until five millennia or so. It is assumed that they came to Eastern Anatolia and Caucasus from Trachea approximately at 1200 B.C. There is no proven relation between the Urartu civilization that had dominated the region between ninth and sixth centuries B.C. as claimed by the Armenians.

According to their folk traditions, Armenians consider themselves direct descendants of Noah, survivor of the Biblical flood. According to monotheist religions, the boat designed by Noah to survive the flood came to rest on a mountain in the Ararat range. Thus, the territory of the Armenian Plateau is regarded by the Armenians as the cradle of civilization, the initial point for the further spreading of mankind all around the world.

Moses Khorenatsi, Armenian historian of the 5th century, presents a detailed genealogy of the Armenian forefather Haik from Japheth, Noah’s son[2]. Due to these legends, even now, Armenians call themselves Hai, and their country – Haik or Haiastan, in honor of Haik. However, it should be noted that these claims are not scientific but only legendary. According to Western sources, ‘Armen’, the root of the word ‘Armenia/Armenian’, means ‘upper country’ in ancient Persian. Thus, historians and anthropologists argue that Armenians were named in accordance with the geographical region that they had been living in.

Generally, Armenians were lived under foreign rule and divided among several regional kingdoms. In 7th century B.C. Medes destroyed the Assyrian Empire. Within this turbulence, Armenia turned out to be an independent kingdom under Tigran the First. However, the era of peace ended as a number of weak and insignificant kings ruled Armenia over the following years, and finally the country became tributary to Persia. The dynasty of Hayk stopped and the kings of Armenia were henceforward appointed by the Persian kings.

Persian hegemony survived until the period of Tigran the Great, who was perceived by Armenians as the most glorious among all Armenian kings. He succeeded his father in 95 B.C., gaining full control over the vast territories[3]. Tigran’s expansion ended with the Roman and Parthian advances. In 69 B.C., the troops of the Roman general Lucullus invaded Armenia and besieged Tigranakert. As a result of these mutual assaults, Armenia lost its independence once more, divided and accepted Roman and Parthian domination.

By late 3rd century A.C., many Armenians were converted to Christianity and numerous secret Christian communities were established. Some Armenian historians argued that in 301 A.C., Armenian King Tiridates (Dırtad III) established Christianity as a sole religion of Armenia after his baptism by St. Gregory the Illuminator, who was the first patriarch of Armenia[4]; whereas many European historians argued that Christianization of Armenia must be later in time since it was only after 313 that Christianity turned out to be an accepted religion in the Roman Empire. However still, the name ‘Gregorian’ that has been used to define the Christian sect of Armenians came from St. Gregory.

A century later first Armenian alphabet was designed by St. Mesrob, who would later translate the Bible into Armenian in 434[5].

With the split of Roman Empire, Armenia was partitioned between the Byzantine and Persian Empires once more. This mutual domination was ended in the 7th century with the defeat of Sassanid rule in Persia by the Arabs.

The Arabs first invaded Armenia in 640[6]. In 652, a peace agreement was made, allowing Armenians freedom of religion. Arab domination lasted until 882, when Ashot I was solemnly crowned as the King of Armenia, but he had to recognize the suzerainty of the Caliph[7]. Therefore, still, Arabs were dominating the region and Armenians could not establish an independent kingdom due to inter-tribal rivalries.

Just after the beginning of the new millennium, Seljuk armies reached Armenian lands in their quest towards West. Starting from 1047 onwards, one after another Armenian cities fell under Turkish control. However, it was only after the Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) in 1071 that Seljuks took control of whole Armenia[8]. Two centuries later, with the decline of the Seljuk Empire in Anatolia and particularly with the Mongol invasion, starting from 1231 onwards, Armenia fell into the Mongolian rule[9]. From the beginning of the 14th century, the Mongol dominance in the region receded. From then on, numerous Turkoman nomadic tribes invade the Armenian lands.

It seems that the raids of Seljuks resulted in movement of some Armenians toward Cilicia, the region situated between the Taurus and Amanos mountains close to Mediterranean coast. However, majority of Armenians remained in Eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus. In 1080, Armenian Prince Ruben asserted authority over the local Armenian and Greek princes. Ruben became founder of a new royal house called Rubenids that ruled over Cilicia for more than 300 years. Indeed, this Cilician Kingdom was not Armenian in essence, rather its dynasty was presumed to be Armenian, and thus the Kingdom was generally named as Cilician Armenian Kingdom. This state became quite active during the Crusades and turned out to be a significant base for the crusading armies. With the rise of Mamluk Empire in the region, this Kingdom was gradually declined and finally fell into Mamluk domination in 1393.

Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (15th century – 19th century)

Although Ottoman-Armenian relations were generally started with the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and subsequent installation of Armenian Patriarchate, it might better be started with the Ottoman conquest of Bursa in 1326, since in Bursa there was an Armenian community. Many of these Armenians were craftsman, and their talent was welcomed by the Ottoman Sultans. When Edirne became the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, many Armenians were installed there[10].

When Constantinople was conquered by Mehmed II the Conqueror in 1453, he brought many Armenian families from Anatolia to Constantinople and they were installed for the economic revival of the city as was the case in Edirne. In 1461, in his return from the conquest of Trabzon, Mehmed II came to Bursa and invited the head of Armenian community, Hovakim, to Constantinople, in order to establish an Armenian patriarchate there. Ortaylı argues that this was a strategic decision for Mehmed II, who tried to balance the Greek population of Istanbul by another Christian community, namely the Armenians[11]. Therefore, it was under the rule of the Ottomans that Armenians acquired a Patriarchate in Constantinople. From then on, Armenians lived in peace up to 1880’s in the Ottoman Empire.

In 1473, with the defeat of Akkoyunlu state in Eastern Anatolia, many Armenian cities, including Ani, were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. Particularly after the emergence of Istanbul as a religious center for Armenians, Armenians who suffered inter-tribal conflicts in their home country began to migrate there for a more peaceful life[12].

In 1514, Ottoman Sultan, Selim I, defeated the Safavid Empire and occupied the western and southern regions of Armenia. Particularly, the Armenian artisans and craftsmen of Tabriz were brought back to Istanbul. In 1516, Jerusalem was also conquered by Selim I, and the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem was granted with religious freedom, which it had assumed since the conquest of Jerusalem by Caliph Omar in 7th century. In 1534, Suleyman I the Lawgiver occupied the cities, such as Van, Revan and Nakhichevan, where Armenians had been living, in his campaign towards Safavid Iran. Likewise his father, Selim I, Suleyman brought the most talented artisans and craftsmen to Istanbul.

As a result of all these population movements, by 1554, the population of the Armenian community in Istanbul reached to 60.000[13]. In 1567, the first Armenian printing house was established by an Armenian, Apkar Tıbir, who fled to İstanbul because of the repression he had faced in Italy. The first Armenian book, published in this printing house was called “Pokır Keraganutyun Gam Ayppenaran (Little Grammar or Alphabet). This was followed by many religious texts[14].

By that time, Armenians could also be seen in the ruling circles. Even it was argued that Mehmed Pasha of Armenian origin, who had formerly been the head of falconers (doğancıbaşı) of the Sultan Murad III, was appointed as the Grand Vizier in 1581[15].

In the mid-17th century, Southern Caucasus was once more portioned between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires with the Treaty of Kasr-ı Şirin in 1639. From that time, up until 19th century, Armenians lived under the rule of these two empires.

Armenian community contributed much to the Ottoman culture. Not only Armenian craftsmen and artisans revived urban economies in major cities of the Empire, but also several Armenian families were given significant responsibilities, such as coinage and gunpowder production[16]. In the major cities of the Ottoman Empire such as İstanbul, Bursa, Tokat, Ankara, Erzurum, Nakhichevan, Yerevan, or Kayseri, they composed one of the most significant economic classes through their artisans, craftsmen and merchants[17].

What is more, Armenian artists contributed much to the Ottoman music and architecture. For example, it would have been impossible for the works of many Ottoman musicians, including famous İsmail Dede Efendi, to survive, if an Armenian musician, Hamparsum Limoncuyan, had not introduced some kind of a solfége. What is more, those Armenian musicians, such as Tatyos Efendi or Bimençe, created significant artworks. In terms of architecture, nineteenth century was generally dominated by the works of Armenian architects, the most famous of which was the Balyan family. Even the imperial palaces of Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi, as well as several significant mosques surrounding Bosphorus were designed by the members of this family.

Ottoman Armenians were also brought to the key positions in bureaucracy as well. Particularly in the 19th century, twenty-nine Armenians achieved the highest governmental rank of Pasha. There were twenty-two Armenian ministers, including the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Trade and Post, with other Armenians making major contributions to the departments concerned with agriculture, economic development, and the census. There also were thirty-three Armenian representatives appointed and elected to the Ottoman parliaments, seven ambassadors, eleven consul-generals and consuls, eleven university professors, and forty-one other officials of high rank.

All in all, Ottoman rule provided Armenians with welfare and peace. However, these relations were first strained and then collapsed particularly in the late 19th century due to various reasons. The next part of the article will deal with these factors.

Emergence of Armenian Resistance against the Ottoman Empire (1800-1878):
There are several factors, both internal and external, for the deterioration of Ottoman-Armenian relations. First of all, Ottoman decline and insufficiency of reforms to make the conditions of Ottoman subjects, both Muslim and non-Muslim, better, resulted in a discontent in the public opinion. Particularly, in Eastern Anatolia Ottoman authority and control was nominal, in practice the region was ruled by provincial authorities and even sometimes by Kurdish tribes. There emerged several clashes between the Armenian and Kurdish peoples which resulted in a severe discontent among Armenians.

Secondly, religious strife among various sects of Armenians reached its zenith in the 19th century. Although, Gregorian Armenians continued to hold their predominance, a significant Catholic Armenian community was established so strongly that they were recognized by the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II in 1831 with the auspices of French ambassador in Istanbul and founded a separate church in the Ottoman Empire[18]. From that point on, Armenian and European Catholics were instrumental in bringing Western education to the Armenians. However, a greater force in educating Armenians and advancing their nationalist feelings was the American Protestant missionaries[19]. Therefore, particularly soon after the emergence of these missionaries in the Ottoman Empire, a Protestant Armenian community was organized under a religious authority called “Protestant Governing Board” under the auspices of British Embassy in 1846[20]. Protestant Armenians were also able to establish their own church in Istanbul. In all, Armenians were internally divided as well and Gregorian Armenians, who were still the big majority in the Empire, became reactant to the Ottoman rule because of its recognition of different sects.

Third, the decline of Ottoman Empire, coincided with the ideas spread from Europe after the French Revolution, such as freedom, equality, and nationalism, hit the Empire in the 19th century. Indeed, starting from the last quarter of the 18th century, particularly with the defeat of the Empire by Russia in 1774 and subsequent Kuchuk Kainarja Treaty, Ottoman decline entered into a phase that was impossible to recover. This decline would create a significant power vacuum in one of the most strategic regions of the world where all Great Powers of the time had an interest. The result of Ottoman decline would be a fierce rivalry among the Great Powers of the time, which came to be known as the ‘Eastern Question’.

Particularly, with the spread of nationalist ideas within the Empire, first uprisings emerged in the Balkans. Serbian revolt of 1804 was somehow suppressed; however, subsequent Greek revolt resulted in a fierce Ottoman-Russian War, at the end of which Greece acquired its independence in 1829. On the other hand, in these years, Russians not only defeated the Ottoman Empire but also Iran. After the Russo-Iran War of 1828, Russian armies not only passed Armenian territories but also crossed the Aras River into Iranian territory and threatened Tabriz. The Shah sued for peace and signed the Treaty of Turkmenchai, which brought Eastern Armenians under Russian control, drew the border at-the Arax River, and provided for the transfer of a large number of Armenians from northern Persia to Russian territory. This was the beginning of the population transfers that would give the Armenians a majority in the territories of today’s Armenia. From then on, Russians began to interfere in the Armenian affairs and claimed themselves as the protector of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire as well.

As it can be seen, one of the most significant characteristics of this period was increasing foreign intervention in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire. In other words, the interests of the Great Powers of the time clashed on the Empire. On the one hand Russia tried to reach warm seas via Balkans and Caucasus, on the other hand Britain tried to prevent this threat to his dominions in Asia. Thus, while Russia supported the nationalist tendencies in the Balkans, Britain aimed to preserve territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

In order to prevent a sudden break-up of the Empire, all Great Powers agreed that the Sultan must grant more rights to the non-Muslim subjects of the Empire, in order to make them tied to the framework of the Empire. In support of this goal they constantly demanded privileges, autonomy and independence for the Ottoman Christians. With the Tanzimat reforms, several rights were granted to the non-Muslim communities of the Ottoman Empire. However, neither Great Powers nor non-Muslim communities satisfied with these reforms.

The year 1856 is a decisive turning point in the course of Ottoman history. It marked the end of the Crimean War (1853-56), in which the Ottoman Empire, sided with Great Britain, France and the newly-established Sardinia (in some sources Piedmont), and defeated Russia. This war was not only significant because it demonstrated a temporary bulwark against Russian expansionism, but also because of the Treaty of Paris (30 March 1856), ending the war among the Great Powers of the period.

In the Article 7 of this Treaty, signatories “…declare the Sublime Porte admitted to participate in the advantages of the public law and system (Concert) of Europe [and they accepted]…to respect the independence and the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire”[21]. In other words, with this Treaty, the Ottoman Empire was admitted to The Concert of Europe, and its independence and territorial integrity was guaranteed by the Great Powers. This article is so significant that it is even used by many contemporary historians and political scientists as an indication of the acceptance of Turkey as a European state. Still, however, the Treaty of Paris would survive only two decades and this period of temporary relief ended with the disastrous War of 1877-78 between the Ottoman Empire and Russia.

The year 1856 is not only remarkable because of the end of the Crimean War and the Treaty of Paris. On 18 February 1856, just one week before the convention of the Congress of Paris to discuss the situation after the Crimean War, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid (reigned between 1839 and 1861) declared a Hatt-ı Humayûn (an imperial edict), which was later called Islahat Fermanı (The Imperial Edict of Reform). This ferman granted many rights to the non-Muslim communities living under the Ottoman rule: Muslims and non-Muslims were accepted as equal before the law; nobody would be forced to convert from his/her religion to another one; there would be no difference among the people on the basis of ethnicity, religion or religious sect; Muslims and non-Muslims would be admitted to public and military services equally[22]. Considering the British presence in India or the French presence in Algeria, it can easily be seen that this edict was beyond its time in granting such extensive rights to the non-Muslim communities living in the Ottoman Empire. Neither the British, nor the French, at that time, had adopted such an ambitious document to grant several rights to the minorities living in their colonies.

Ironically, this Imperial Edict was a European project. It was designed as a part of the negotiations among Britain, France and Austria during 1855 in Vienna, through which it was agreed that the Ottoman Empire should be forced to grant some rights to the non-Muslim communities living in the Empire. Therefore, Islahat Fermanı was also cited in the Article 9 of the Treaty of Paris as follows[23]:

“His Imperial Majesty the Sultan having, in his constant solicitude for the welfare of his subjects, issued a Firman, which, while ameliorating their condition without distinction of Religion or of Race, records his generous intentions towards the Christian population of his Empire, and wishing to give a further proof of his sentiments in that respect, has resolved to communicate to the Contracting Parties the said Firman, emanating spontaneously from his Sovereign will.”

As it can be seen in the text of this article, it was aimed to establish full equality between Muslim and non-Muslim communities of the Ottoman Empire. However, the result would be quite the opposite. Non-Muslim communities generally abused these extensive rights, and due to Great Power protection, the Ottoman Empire could do nothing to prevent these abuses. As a result, from 1856 onwards, non-Christian communities gradually bettered their positions vis-à-vis and sometimes even at the expense of the Muslim communities. Economically, they eventually became the dominant groups residing within the Ottoman Empire despite the fact that their numbers were proportionally much less than the Muslims. In political terms, they became bureaucrats, diplomats, and even ministers. In other words, the relationship between the ruler and the ruled transformed dramatically.

Although many rights were granted to the Armenians within the framework of this Edict of Reform, they were not content with these rights. Therefore in 1862, they demanded more from the Ottoman Empire and sent a draft law to the Ottoman government. This draft law was evaluated and later adopted as “Armenian Millet Law” (Ermeni Milleti Nizamnamesi – Nizamname-i Ermeniyan). According to this law an assembly of 140 representatives would be established in order to discuss the internal affairs of the Armenian community and only 20 of them would be elected from the Patriarchate. The remaining representatives would be elected from the Armenian community in Istanbul and other parts of the Empire. As it can be seen, this law was significant in the sense that it revealed the disputes within the Armenian community. It was prepared by the leaders of the Armenian community against the suppressive administration of the Patriarchate[24].

Although Ottoman-Armenian relations were somehow strained in this period, there was no full-scale strife between Armenians and the Muslims. Nationalist ideas were spread through the Armenian population and this resulted in Armenian demands for reform and the Ottomans tried to respond these demands. However, these relations would deteriorate more and more and turn out to be a civil war by the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

4. Armenian Revolutionary Movements and Rebellions (1878-1915)[25]

It was the Ottoman-Russian war in 1877–1878 that awakened Armenian dreams for independence with Russian help and under Russian guidance. Toward the end of the war, when it was evident that the Ottoman armies would be defeated, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul, Nerses Varjabedian, communicated with the Russian Czar, asking Russia not to return to the Ottomans the East Anatolian lands occupied by Russian forces. Immediately after the war, the Patriarch went to the Russian camp located in the suburbs of Istanbul, and in an interview with the Russian Commander, Grand Duke Nicholas, he demanded that the Russian forces should not be withdrawn until changes favoring the Armenians were introduced into the governmental and administrative organization and regulations of these provinces. The Russians agreed to this demand, which was incorporated as Article 16 of the Treaty of San Stephano, signed after the war between Ottomans and Russians. However, this treaty did not constitute the final settlement of the Russo-Turkish war. Britain feared that its provisions for a ‘Greater Armenia’ in the East would inevitably not only establish Russian hegemony in those areas but also in the Ottoman Empire, and through “Greater Armenia”, Russia could easily reach to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, where they would threaten the British possessions in India. In return for an Ottoman agreement for British occupation of Cyprus, Britain agreed to use its influence in Europe to change the provisions of San Stephano. Hence the Congress of Berlin was gathered. As a result of this Congress, Russia was compelled to evacuate all of Eastern Anatolia with the exception of the districts of Kars, Ardahan and Batum, with the Ottomans agreeing to designate several reforms in the Eastern provinces where Armenians lived under the guarantee of the five signatory European powers.

It had been British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the Conservatives who had defended Ottoman integrity against Russian expansion at the Congress of Berlin. But with the assumption of power by William E. Gladstone and the Liberals in 1880, British policy toward the Ottomans changed drastically to one which sought to protect British interests by breaking up the Ottoman Empire and creating friendly small states under British influence in its place, one of which was to be Armenia. In pursuit of this policy, the British press began to encourage referring Eastern Anatolia as ‘Armenia’; the numbers of Protestant missionaries sent to the East was substantially increased; and in London an Anglo-Armenian Friendship Committee was created to influence public opinion in support of this new endeavor.

The 1877-78 War was a turning point in terms of Ottoman-Armenian relations since Armenian rebellions against the Ottoman Empire started after this period. Starting from 1879 onwards particularly Britain and Russia began to send notes to the Ottoman government for the effective implementation of reforms in Eastern Anatolia[26]. However, Ottoman governments preferred not to go further about the reforms, since effective implementation of them would facilitate the disintegration of the Empire. What is more, particularly after this war, almost all Great Powers opened consulates in many cities of Eastern Anatolia which complicated the issue more. These consulates began to act as mediators in the disputes between Muslim and non-Muslim Communities; but they were almost always on the side of the non-Muslim communities. This further disturbed inter-communal relations.

Another significant development of this period was the mushrooming of some Armenian political and social organizations. Indeed, since 1860s, local Armenian organizations were formed, particularly in Adana, Van and Muş, which were later united in 1880 under the name of ‘United Armenian Organizations’ (Miyasiyal Enikerotyon Hoyotis)[27]. What is more, in this decade, some more revolutionary organizations were established as well, such as the Black Cross and Armenian societies in Van and the National Guards in Erzurum.

Perceiving that they would be more influential abroad with the active and direct support of the Great Powers, Armenian nationalists decided to center their organizations outside Ottoman territory, therefore establishing the Hinchak Committee at Geneva in 1887 and the Dashnak Committee at Tbilisi in 1890, both of which declared to be their basic goal the ‘liberation from Ottoman rule of the territories of Eastern Anatolia and the Ottoman Armenians’[28].

According to Louise Nalbandian, a leading Armenian researcher into Armenian propaganda, the Hinchak program stated that[29]:

“Agitation and terror were needed to “elevate the spirit” of the people. The people were also to be incited against their enemies and were to “profit” from retaliatory actions of these same enemies. Terror was to be used as a method of protecting the people and winning their confidence in the Hinchak program. The party aimed at terrorizing the Ottoman government, thus contributing toward lowering the prestige of that regime and working toward its complete disintegration. The government itself was not to be the only focus of terrorist tactics. The Hinchaks wanted to annihilate the most dangerous of the Armenian and Turkish individuals who were then working for the government as well as to destroy all spies and informers. To assist them in carrying out all of these terrorist acts, the party was to organize an exclusive branch specifically devoted to performing acts of terrorism. The most opportune time to institute the general rebellion for carrying out immediate objectives was when Turkey was engaged in war.”

Dashnak Party’s program was not much different from that of Hinchak Party. K. S. Papazian wrote of the Dashnak Party as such[30]:

“The purpose of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak) is to achieve political and economic freedom in Turkish Armenia, by means of rebellion … terrorism has, from the first, been adopted by the Dashnak Committee of the Caucasus, as a policy or a method for achieving its ends. Under the heading “means” in their program adopted in 1892, we read as follows: The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak), in order to achieve its purpose through rebellion, organizes revolutionary groups. Method no. 8 is as follows: To wage fight, and to subject to terrorism the Government officials, the traitors … method no. 11 is: To subject the government institutions to destruction and pillage.”

Soon after the establishment of these two effective political institutions, Armenian riots began. In the twenty years between 1889 and 1909 there were almost 40 Armenian rebellions or terrorist activities. Below there is a general list of these rebellions and terrorist activities:

· Musa Bey Event (August 1889),

· Erzurum Revolt (20 June 1890),

· Kumkapı Demonstrations (15 July 1890),

· Merzifon, Kayseri, Yozgat Demonstrations (1892- 1893),

· First Sasun Revolt (August 1894),

· Zeytun (Süleymanlı) Revolt (1-6 September 1895),

· Divriği (Sivas) Revolt (29 September 1895),

· Babıali Demonstrations (30 September 1895),

· Trabzon Revolt (2 October 1895),

· Eğin (Mamuratü’l Aziz) Revolt (6 October 1895),

· Develi (Kayseri) Revolt (9 October 1895)

· Akhisar (İzmit) Revolt (9 October 1895),

· Erzincan (Erzurum) Revolt (21 October 1895),

· Gümüşhane (Trabzon) Revolt (25 October 1895),

· Bitlis Revolt (25 October 1895),

· Maraş (Halep) Revolt (27 Ekim 1895),

· Urfa (Halep) Revolt (29 Ekim 1895),

· Erzurum Revolt (30 Ekim 1895),

· Diyarbakır Revolt (2 November 1895),

· Siverek (Diyarbakır) Revolt (2 November 1895),

· Malatya (Mamuratü’l- Aziz) Revolt (4 November 1895),

· Harput (Mamuratü’l- Aziz) Revolt (7 November 1895),

· Arapkir (Mamuratü’l- Aziz) Revolt (9 November 1895),

· Sivas İsyani (15 November 1895),

· Merzifon (Sivas) Revolt (15 November 1895)

· Ayintab (Halep) Revolt (16 November 1895),

· Maraş (Halep) Revolt (18 November 1895),

· Muş (Bitlis) Revolt (22 November 1895),

· Kayseri (Ankara) Revolt (3 December 1895),

· Yozgat (Ankara) Revolt (3 December 1895),

· Zeytun Revolt (1895-1896),

· Birinci Van Revolt (2 June 1896),

· The Attack on Ottoman Bank (14 June 1896),

· İkinci Sasun Revolt (July 1897),

· Assasination Attempt towards Sultan Abdülhamid II (21 July 1905),

· Adana Revolt (14 April 1909)

· Bayburt (Erzurum) Revolt (26 October 1895)

In all, all these revolts and riots were presented by the Armenian revolutionary societies in Europe and America as the killing of Armenians by Turks, and with this sort of propaganda message they stirred considerable emotion among Christian peoples. As a result of this disinformation, Great Powers decided to increase the pressure on the Ottoman government about the implementation of existing reforms and introduction of the new ones. Britain sent a memorandum about the condition of the Armenians in 11 May 1895, in which they wanted the government to release all Armenian rebels, to appoint a high commissioner for the control of implementation of the reforms, to pay reparations to the Armenians in Sason, Zeytun and other places, and many other new administrative regulations which would result in full autonomy of Eastern Anatolia from the Empire. Ottoman Empire accepted these demands; however, they can never be implemented not only because of Ottoman unwillingness due to her concern for survival, but also because of the continuous revolts of the Armenians[31]. Accordingly, Russian Consul-General in Bitlis and Van, General Mayewski, wrote in 1912 that[32]:

“In 1895 and 1896 the Armenian revolutionary committees created such suspicion between the Armenians and the native population that it became impossible to implement any sort of reform in these districts. The Armenian priests paid no attention to religious education, but instead concentrated on spreading nationalist ideas, which were affixed to the walls of monasteries, and in place of performing their religious duties they concentrated on stirring Christian enmity against Muslims. The revolts that took place in many provinces of Turkey during 1895 and 1896 were caused neither by any great poverty among the Armenian villages nor because of Muslim attacks against them. In fact these villagers were considerably richer and more prosperous than their neighbors. Rather, the Armenian revolts came from three causes: (1) their increasing maturity in political subjects; (2) the spread of ideas of nationality, liberation, and independence within the Armenian community; (3) Support of these ideas by the western governments, and their encouragement through the efforts of the Armenian priests.”

In 1908, with almost a bloodless coup d’etat, the Party of Union and Progress was able to dethrone Sultan Abdülhamid II and install Sultan Mehmed Reshad to the Ottoman throne. From then on, the Party turned out to be the most significant political actor in the Empire; and gradually, foreign policy orientation of the Empire changed from a relative balance among Great Powers to an inclination towards Germany. The result would be the entrance of the Ottoman Empire to World War I together with the Germans. Now, a new phase about the Ottoman-Armenian relations would be opened.

World War I (1914-1918) and Armenian Relocation (1915-1916)

The beginning of World War I and the Ottoman entry into the war on November 1, 1914 on the side of Germany and Austria – Hungary against the Entente powers was considered as a great opportunity by the Armenian nationalists. Indeed, before the war began, in August 1914, the Ottoman leaders met with the Dashnaks at Erzurum in order to get their support for the Ottoman war effort when it came. The Dashnaks promised that if the Ottomans entered the war, they would do their duty as loyal countrymen in the Ottoman armies. However they failed to live up to this promise, since even before this meeting took place, a secret Dashnak Congress held at Erzurum in June 1914 had already decided to use the oncoming war to undertake a general attack against the Ottoman state[33].

When Russia declared war against the Ottoman Empire, immediately, the Russian Armenians joined the Russian army in preparing an attack on the Ottomans. The Catholicos of Echmiadzin assured the Russian General Governor of the Caucasus, Vranzof-Dashkof, that “…in return for Russia’s forcing the Ottomans to make reforms for the Armenians, all the Russian Armenians would support the Russian war effort without conditions”. As soon as Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, the Dashnak Committee ordered its cells that had been preparing to revolt within the Ottoman Empire.

The Hinchak Committee instructed to its organizations in the Ottoman territory to revolt against the Empire as well. In an instruction pamphlet it was written that[34]: “The Hinchak Committee will use all means to assist the Entente states, devoting all its forces to the struggle to assure victory in Armenia, Cilicia, the Caucasus and Azerbaijan as the ally of the Entente states, and in particular of Russia.”

These bellicose proclamations were not peculiar to the Armenian political organizations. Even the Armenian representatives in the Ottoman Parliament such as Papazyan, Pastirmajian and Boyaciyan soon turned out to be leading guerilla fighters against the Ottomans. In a declaration to the Armenian community, Papazyan wrote that: “The volunteer Armenian regiments in the Caucasus should prepare themselves for battle, serve as advance units for the Russian armies to help them capture the key positions in the districts where the Armenians live, and advance into Anatolia, joining the Armenian units already there.”

As the Russian forces advanced into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia, they were led by advanced units composed of volunteer Ottoman and Russian Armenians, who were joined by the Armenians who deserted the Ottoman armies and went over to the Russians. Many of these also formed bandit forces with weapons and ammunition which they had for years been stocking in Armenian and missionary churches and schools. Within a few months after the war began, these Armenian guerilla forces, operating in close coordination with the Russians, were savagely attacking Turkish cities, towns and villages in the East; massacring their inhabitants without mercy, while at the same time working to sabotage the Ottoman army’s war effort by destroying roads and bridges, raiding caravans, and doing whatever else they could to ease the Russian occupation. The atrocities committed by the Armenian volunteer forces accompanying the Russian army were so severe that the Russian commanders themselves were compelled to withdraw them from the fighting fronts and send them to rear guard duties. The memoirs of all too many Russian officers who served in the East at this time are filled with accounts of the revolting atrocities committed by these Armenian guerillas, which were savage even by the relatively primitive standards of war then observed in such areas[35].

In March 1915 the Russian forces began to move toward Van. Immediately, on April 11, 1915 the Armenians of Van began a general revolt, massacring all the Turks in the vicinity so as to make possible its quick and easy conquest by the Russians. The Armenian newspaper Gochnak, published in the United States, also proudly reported on May 24, 1915 that “only, 1,500 Turks remain in Van”, the rest having been slaughtered[36].

Even after the revolt and massacres at Van, the Ottoman government made one final effort to secure general Armenian support for the war effort, summoning the Patriarch, some Armenian Members of Parliament, and other delegates to a meeting where they were warned that drastic measures would be taken unless Armenians stopped slaughtering Muslims and working to undermine the war effort. When there was no evident lessening of the Armenian attacks, the government finally acted. On April 24, 1915 the Armenian revolutionary committees were closed and 235 of their leaders were arrested for activities against the state. It is the date of these arrests that in recent years has been annually commemorated by Armenian nationalist groups throughout the world in commemoration of the “massacre” that they claim took place at this time.

Following these arrests, Ottoman government adopted a decree on May 27, 1915, ordering for the relocation of the Armenians living in the war regions. This decree was perceived by the Armenians as a deliberate attempt of genocide. However, closer examination of its articles shows that it was only a temporary precaution for the survival of the Empire and the relocation would be realized with utmost care for the Armenians. Some articles of this decree are presented below[37]:

When those of the Armenians resident in the aforementioned towns and villages who have to be moved are transferred to their places of settlement and are on the road, their comfort must be assured and their lives and property protected; after their arrival their food should be paid for out of Refugees’ Appropriations until they are definitively settled in their new homes. Property and land should be distributed to them in accordance with their previous financial situation as well as their current needs; and for those among them needing further help, the government should build houses, provide cultivators and artisans with seed, tools, and equipment.
This order is entirely intended against the extension of the Armenian Revolutionary Committees; therefore do not execute it in such a manner that might cause the mutual massacre of Muslims and Armenians.
Make arrangements for special officials to accompany the groups of Armenians who are being relocated, and make sure they are provided with food and other needed things, paying the cost out of the allotments set aside for emigrants.
The food needed by the emigrants while traveling until they reach their destinations must be provided … for poor emigrants by credit for the installation of the emigrants. The camps provided for transported persons should be kept under regular supervision; necessary steps for their well being should be taken, and order and security assured. Make certain that indigent emigrants are given enough food and that their health is assured by daily visits by a doctor… Sick people, poor people, women and children should be sent by rail and others on mules, in carts or on foot according to their power of endurance. Each convoy should be accompanied by a detachment of guards, and the food supply for each convoy should be guarded until the destination is reached… In cases where the emigrants are attacked, either in the camps or during the journeys, all efforts should be taken to repel the attacks immediately.

In all, many precautions were taken for the safety and comfort of the relocated Armenians. However, still, under war circumstances, there were not sufficient food supplies, hygienic conditions as well as transportation facilities. What is more, there was not enough security on the road to the destination of relocated Armenians. Banditry was a significant threat and the convoys were attacked by Kurdish as well as Turkish bands. Together with famine and epidemic diseases, which the Muslim community had also suffered much, many Armenians died during this process of relocation.

The number of deaths turned out to be a significant matter of debate. It varies between 250.000 and 3.000.000. Especially, Armenian propagandists claim that as many as 1, 5 to 2 million Armenians died as the result of organized “massacres”. However, these numbers are mere exaggerations compared with the population statistics of the Ottoman Empire, in which the census bureau was presided by either Armenians or non-Muslim subjects of the Empire. Accordingly, Toynbee estimates the number of the Armenian losses as 600.000. The same figure appears in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s 1918 edition. Armenians had also claimed the same number before. Bogos Nubar, head of the Armenian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, declared that after the war 280.000 Armenians were living in Turkey and 700.000 Armenians have immigrated to other countries. According to the estimation of Bogos Nubar, the total number of the Armenian population before the war was 1.300.000[38]. In all, it is estimated that the number of Armenian sufferings in World War I was not more than 500.000.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, Russia signed Brest-Litovsk Treaty and evacuated Eastern Anatolia. They left the region to the administration of Armenian bands and provided them with weapons and ammunition. These bands attacked many cities, towns and villages and massacred thousands of Muslims, in order to facilitate incorporation of Eastern Anatolia to a prospective ‘Greater Armenia’. According to the archival documents, the number of massacred Muslims between 1914 and 1921 reached to 518.000. Later Ottoman forces were able to repel the Armenians and they took many Eastern Anatolian lands up until Baku with the exception of Yerevan and Etchmiazin. However, after the signature of the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, they had to retreat once again. Now, Armenian question would be resolved on the table in the subsequent diplomatic conferences.

Armenian Attempts to Establish a ‘Greater Armenia’ (1918-1922)

When the World War I ended, all the actors of the war gathered in Paris to discuss the post-World War I situation of Europe as well as of the Ottoman Empire. In 1919, Paris Peace Conference was organized and Armenians also participated to this conference with a delegation presided by Bogos Nubar. In the conference Bogos Nubar demanded almost whole Eastern Anatolia to establish an Armenian state. The provinces that were demanded by him included Artvin, Kars, Rize, Trabzon, Giresun, Tokat, Sivas, İçel, Adan, Kahramanmaraş, Adıyaman, Malatya, Elazığ, Tunceli, Gümüşhane, Erzincan, Bayburt, Erzurum, Ağrı, Van, Diyarbakır, Batman, Siirt and Muş. The area that he considered reached to 390.000 km2, which comprised almost half of whole Anatolia. Even Lloyd George, an ardent opponent of the Ottoman Empire, argued that this was unacceptable and these designs of Bogos Nubar were merely ‘fairytales’.

In 1920, Ottoman Empire was forced to accept the Treaty of Sevres, which would never be implemented. In this Treaty, a section (Section 6) was devoted to the matters regarding Armenia. With Article 89, Turkey and Armenia would submit to the arbitration of the President of the United States the question of the frontier to be fixed between Turkey and Armenia in the provinces of Erzurum, Trabzon, Van and Bitlis, and to accept his decision thereupon, as well as any stipulations he may prescribe as to access for Armenia to the sea, and as to the demilitarisation of any portion of Turkish territory adjacent to the said frontier[39]. As a result, President Wilson decided to give 120.000 km2 of lands in Eastern Anatolia to the Armenians, including the provinces Van, Ağrı, Kars, Artvin, Erzurum, Bingöl, Muş, Bitlis, Siirt, Erzincan, Gümüşhane, Bayburt, Trabzon, Rize and part of Sivas.

After the Treaty of Sevres, Armenians attacked Eastern Anatolia once more to occupy the lands that they were promised. However, they were defeated by the forces of Kazım Karabekir. In December 1920, Turkish nationalist forces and Armenians signed the Treaty of Gumru, with which contemporary Turkish-Armenian borders were almost determined. However, in these days, Armenia was incorporated to the Soviet Union, thus the Treaty of Gumru could not be ratified. However, in 1921, first with the Treaty of Moscow with Russia, and then with the Treaty of Kars with Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, the borders determined by the Treaty of Gumru were accepted by all parties.

With the Turkish victory in the War of Liberation, a new phase was opened regarding the Armenian question. Particularly, this question was resolved with the Treaty of Lausanne. However, closer examination of this Treaty extends the scope of this article and would be the subject of another article written by Rtd. Ambassador Gündüz Aktan, which is also available in this CD.


[1] Expert, ASAM, Institute for Armenian Research,
[2] Genelkurmay Askeri Tarih ve Stratejik Etüt Başkanlığı, Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu, (Ankara: Başbakanlık Basımevi, 1992), p. 3
[3] Pars Tuğlacı, Tarih Boyunca Batı Ermenileri: Cilt I (287-1851), (İstanbul: Pars Yayın, 2004), s. 1
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., p. 9
[6] Ibid., p. 17
[7] Ibid., p. 24
[8] For a detailed account of Seljuk-Armenian relations see, Ali Sevim, ‘Selçuklu ve Ermeni İlişkileri’, (Yeni Türkiye, Vol. 7, No. 38, Special Issue on Armenian Question, pp. 595-601)
[9] For a detailed account of Mongol-Armenian relations see, Mehmet Ersan, ‘Selçuklular Döneminde Türk Ermeni İlişkileri’, (Yeni Türkiye, Vol. 7, No. 38, Special Issue on Armenian Question, ss. 603-615), particularly 611 ff.
[10] Ibid., p. 143
[11] İlber Ortaylı, ‘Osmanlı Ermenileri’, (Yeni Türkiye, Vol. 7, No. 38, Special Issue on Armenian Question, pp. 630-632), p. 631
[12] Two of these significant migrations were realized in 1486 and 1487, Tuğlacı, op. cit., p. 164
[13] Ibid., p. 178
[14] Ibid., p. 187
[15] Tülay Reyhanlı, İngiliz Gezginlerine göre XVI: Yüzyılda İstanbul’da Hayat (1582-1599), (Ankara: Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı Yayınları, 1983), cited in Tuğlacı, p. 191
[16] Ercüment Kuran, ‘Tarihte Türkler ve Ermeniler’, (Yeni Türkiye, Vol. 7, No. 38, Special Issue on Armenian Question, pp. 616-620), p. 617
[17] Enver Konukçu, ‘Osmanlılar ve Millet-i Sadıka’dan Ermeniler’ (Yeni Türkiye, Vol. 7, No. 38, Special Issue on Armenian Question, pp. 621-629), p. 623
[18] Genelkurmay Askeri Tarih ve Stratejik Etüt Başkanlığı, op. cit., p. 26
[19] Justin McCarthy and Caroline McCarthy, Turks and Armenians: A Manual on the Armenian Question, (Washington D.C.: Committee on Education, Assembly of Turkish American Associations, 1989), p. 31
[20] Genelkurmay Askeri Tarih ve Stratejik Etüt Başkanlığı, op. cit., p. 26
[21] For the full text of the Treaty of Paris, see treaty_paris_1856.htm
[22] For the full text of this Imperial Edict, see Enver Ziya Karal, Osmanlı Tarihi, (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1977, Volume 5), p. 266
[23] See, treaty_paris_1856.htm
[24] Turgay Uzun, ‘Osmanlı Devleti’nde Milliyetçilik Hareketleri İçinde Ermeniler’, in Hasan Celal Güzel (ed.), Osmanlı’dan Günümüze Ermeni Sorunu, (Ankara: Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, 2001), p. 167
[25] In this section of the article, the web site of Ministry of Foreign Affairs is mainly referred. URL:
[26] Recep Karacakaya, A Chronology of the Armenian Problem with a Bibliography (1878-1923), (Ankara: Directorate of State Archives Publication, 2002), pp. 4-5
[27] Genelkurmay Askeri Tarih ve Stratejik Etüt Başkanlığı, op. cit., p. 73
[28] For a compact information about these political parties see Turgay Uzun, op. cit., pp. 170-172
[29] Taken from the URL: For a more compact analysis of the Hinchak Party program, see Genelkurmay Askeri Tarih ve Stratejik Etüt Başkanlığı, op. cit., pp. 77-82
[30] Taken from the URL:
[31] Musa Şaşmaz, ‘Ermeniler Hakkındaki Reformların Uygulanması’, in Hasan Celal Güzel (ed.), Osmanlı’dan Günümüze Ermeni Sorunu, (Ankara: Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, 2001), p. 173
[32] Taken from the URL:
[33] Taken from the URL:
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] For the full text of the Treaty of Sevres, see


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: