11 October 2006

1117) What happened to the Ottoman Armenians?

Part 1

One of the basic aims of the social sciences is to try to solve the contradictory issues and problems between people, groups, communities and societies, and their political and social systems. The problems must be fixed objectively and according to cause and effect. The other necessity during scientific research is to avoid making propaganda and invoking the wrath of one group against another. In addition, researchers should not attempt to persuade others relating to their political beliefs. While studying the political history of the world, which has consisted of many wars that have caused the loss of uncountable human lives, the documents one must depend on are primary resources rather than secondary ones. Another important step in scientific research is to use the terms, notions and concepts related to the topic in the correct form.

In this context, since 1965 there has been an unfounded allegation that genocide was carried out against 1,500,000 Armenians by the Ottoman government in 1915 during World War I. First of all, it should be remembered what kind of position the Ottoman Armenians had before and during the war.

In addition, although nearly 25 million people, including Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Britons, French, Germans and Russians, died during World War I, what distinguished the Armenians' deaths, which have been discussed for nearly 41 years, is the subject of this paper.

Ottoman Armenians organizations before the war:
After living together in peace with Turks for more than 850 years, the Ottoman Armenians were encouraged to rebel against the Ottoman state by imperialist England, France and Russia, which aimed to divide and share the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century.

Professor Langer, a diplomatic historian from Harvard University, explained how the Ottoman Armenians organized at Istanbul, Trabzon, Van, Harput, Izmir and Aleppo against the Ottoman Empire to work toward its collapse and create an independent Armenian state. Thus the Hunchak Armenian bands and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) secretly arranged revolutionary bands that could fight the government and “terrorize government officials, traitors and usurers and all kinds of exploiters” during the 1890s. [1] One of the revolutionary Armenians told Dr. Hamlin, [2] who was the founder of Robert College in Istanbul, that the Hunchak Armenian bands would:

… watch their opportunity to kill Turks and Kurds, set fire to their villages and then make their escape into the mountains. The enraged Muslims will then rise, and fall upon the defenseless Armenians and slaughter them with such barbarity that Russia will enter in the name of humanity and Christian civilization and take possession. [3]

Dr. Hamlin was shocked. He told the revolutionary that the scheme was atrocious and infernal beyond anything ever known, and he got this reply:

It appears so to you, no doubt; but we Armenians have determined to be free. Europe listened to Bulgarian horrors and made Bulgaria free. She will listen to our cry when it goes up in the shrieks and blood of millions of women and children … We are desperate. We will do it. [4]

Therefore, the Hunchak Armenians decided that social organization in the Ottoman Empire could be shifted by violence against Turks. They explained how to terrify the Ottoman government. To achieve it, their methods included “propaganda, agitation, terror organization and peasant and worker activities” led by guerrilla bands. [5] For example, the Hunchak Armenians arranged a demonstration of Bab-i Ali (the Sublime Porte), which caused much bloodshed on Sep. 18-30, 1895 in Istanbul. [6] Similarly, on Aug. 26, 1896, members of the ARF bombed the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Istanbul in an event similar to the Sept. 11, 2001 Al Qaeda ????? attack against the United States. The event at the Imperial Ottoman Bank caused an uprising by Muslims in which more than 900 Armenians and 700 Muslims died in Istanbul. Hayik Tiryakian, who was one of the people who bombed the bank, spoke about the attack:

…6 people were sufficient to begin the operation. We set out, with sack[s] full of bombs on our shoulders and guns in our hands. … The bombs were giving incredible results; they did not kill [the staff of the bank and the people around the bank] instantly, but tore their flesh apart, and made them writhe with pain and agony. We went with Garo to the president's office and wrote down our conditions. We demanded that the Powers [referring to England, France and Russia] fulfill our requests, that those who took part in this confrontation be freed; if not, we would blow up the bank along with ourselves … 3 had died, 6 of our friends were wounded. Our enemies' casualties [implying Turks] were also heavy. [7]


[1] William L. Langer, “The Diplomacy of Imperialism 1890-1902” Volume 1, New York & London Alfred. A. Knopf 1935, p.155

[2] Dr. Cyrus Hamlin was one of American missionaries in the late term of the Ottoman Empire. So he had good friendship with Armenians as well as Turks.

[3] Langer, op.cit., p.157

[4] ibid, p.158

[5] Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement, University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967 pp.110-111

[6] ibid, p.122

[7] Kamuran Gürün, “The Armenian File The Myth of Innocence Exposed,” K.Rustem& Bro.and Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd. London. Nicosia. Istanbul 1985, p.158 quoted from Vartanian's book “History of Dasnaksutyun” pp.160-163

Part 2

The position of Armenians during the war:
By 1914, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) had recruited many militants and in the spring of 1915, besieged the city of Van, massacring tens of thousands of Muslims and spearheading a Russian invasion of Eastern Ottoman Anatolia. For example, a report I obtained from the National Archives (N) proved that the ARF admitted to killing 60,000 Muslims in Sarikamis, Kars, in 1914 and massacring many Muslims who lived in Eastern Anatolia by collaborating with the Russian and French armies, which occupied eastern and southeastern Anatolia from 1914 to 1918.[1]

According to this report, the ARF explained what they had done, which was admitted by the Ottoman Armenians who had migrated to the United States as follows: In August 1914, a Turkish mission visited the ARF, which had congregated for its annual meeting at Erzurum in eastern Anatolia. Afterward, the Turkish mission suggested to the ARF that “if the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire and of Russia [make] common cause with Turkey, Turkey [will agree] to create, with a guarantee from Germany, an autonomous Armenian state by giving Erzurum, Van and Bitlis in Turkey.” However, the ARF rejected this arrangement. (p.3-4)

Meanwhile, before the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war in October 1914, Russia, through Russian Commander Count Varantzoff Dachkoff, “proposed to Armenian political organizations that if Turkey should enter the war and if Armenians [make] common cause with Russia, thereby contributing to a Russian victory over Turkey, Russia [will] incorporate in the peace treaty stipulations for the complete autonomy of the six vilayets (provinces) of Turkey,” and the Armenians accepted the proposal. Therefore, “With the Armenians' excellent fighting qualities, especially when in the presence of a hereditary enemy [Turks are implied], these troops really made the difference between success and failure to the Russians in the Caucasus." (p.7)

Another comment in the report is that more than 200,000 Armenians fought with the allies [England, Russia and France, which wanted to divide and share the Ottoman Empire] or independently, and 100,000 lost their lives. “Of the 900 college and university students, especially of those whose families were in Turkey, (p.21) that enlisted in the Foreign Legion and fought on the Western front all, but 55 were killed in action and of the survivors every one received one or more decorations for gallantry in action. Following the defection of Russia, the Armenians took over the Caucasus front -- 600 miles long – and prevented the Turks from reaching the Baku oil fields for nine long months.” (p.1)

The Armenians had achieved the plan of the ARF, which was related to Dr. Hamlin, step by step, during the war on the Caucasus front. The report says: "In 1914 … the 10th Turkish Army, on its way from Olti to Sarikamis, was held up for 36 hours at the Barbuz Pass by the first Armenian battalion, under Armenian Col. Keri. This delay enabled the Russians to concentrate their forces at Sarikamis, where Enver Pasha [the minister of war in the Ottoman government] failed utterly in his offensive.” It adds: “The Turks lost 30,000, largely due to freezing conditions. Ali Ihsan Pasha and his staff were captured and shipped to Siberia. … When Enver returned to Istanbul, he publicly announced that his failure was due to the intervention of the Armenians. … Enver told the truth. … In April, 1915 … Armenian leader Andranik fought off Gen. Khalil Bey for three days. When Russian reinforcements arrived, 3,600 Turks lay dead and wounded in front of Armenian trenches." (pp. 9-10)

As a matter of fact, this information, that 100,000 Armenians had fought against the Turks in World War I, was confirmed at the U.S. Senate as well. [2]

Finally, the ARF declared “a people's war” [3] against the Turkish government and began to implement its plan by massacring hundreds of thousands of people. According to information provided by the Turkish State Archive, more than 523,000 Turk Ottoman subjects were killed by the ARF from 1910 to 1922. [4] As is well known, American and European Armenians have been claiming since 1973 that on April 24, 1915 there was an Armenian genocide by the Ottoman government. As explained in the report, the situation is so confused that it is almost impossible to understand who massacred whom in April 1915.

There has been an allegation that after the entry of the Ottoman Empire into World War I, a so-called Armenian genocide paralleled the genocide of Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II. As Professor Bernard Lewis mentioned, this allegation is unfounded because what happened to the Ottoman Armenians was the result of a massive Armenian armed rebellion against the Turks, which began even before the war broke out, and continued on a larger scale.

"To make this a parallel with the holocaust in Germany you would have to assume the Jews of Germany had been engaged in an armed rebellion against the German state, collaborating with the allies against Germany. That in the deportation order the cities of Hamburg and Berlin were exempted, persons in the employment of the state were exempted and deportation only applied to the Jews of Germany proper, so that when they got to Poland they were welcomed and sheltered by Polish Jews." [5]

The Russian occupation continued from 1914 to 1916 in the eastern region. Consequently, it means that it was impossible to massacre Armenians who lived in eastern Turkey in 1915 because neither the Ottoman government nor the army had control over the region. Afterward, it is probable that the German and Ottoman governments, which were allied with each other during World War I, decided to deport the AFR members and their families temporarily to Syria, which was a province of the Ottoman Empire and far from all active fronts at that time.

Finally, the Ottoman government had to deport them at the insistence of the ARF on May 27, 1915. However, during the deportation some Armenians were killed in revenge by Kurdish tribes and by local officials whose members and relatives had been massacred by the AFR between the 1880s and 1915. The situation in the region is well described by Gen. Harbord: "In the territory untouched by war from which Armenians were deported, the ruined villages are undoubtedly due to Turkish deviltry, but where Armenians advanced and retired with the Russians their retaliatory cruelties unquestionably rivaled the Turks in their inhumanity." [6]

[1] National Archives (N) RG 59 Records of the Department of State Relating to Political Relations Between the United States and Turkey, 1910-1929 Roll No: 6, M : NO:365 Document No:711.672/473, and Date: June 7,1926, Herbert Adams Gibbons “Armenia in the World War,” 1926, New York.

[2] Congressional Record Proceedings and Debates -- Senate, Volume LXVII, Part-1, March 17, 1925, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1926, p.292

[3] Nalbandian, op. cit. p.156

[4] The New York Times, April 18, 2005

[5] Gunay Evinch, “The Armenian Cause Today,” The Turkish American, Vol.2 No.8, Summer 2005, p. 24

[6] Maj. Gen. James. G. Harbord, U.S. Army, Conditions in the Near East, Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia, Presented by Mr. Lodge, April 13, 1920 -- Ordered to be printed, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1920, p. 9

Part 3

The Armenians after the armistice:
After being deported by the Ottoman government to Syria, the Armenians restarted their fight against the Turks by collaborating with the French Army, which was located in the Levant. They formed an Armenian Legion and massacred thousands of Turks. The chief of the bureau of operations of the French troops explained how the Armenians killed Turks. He describes the military quality of an Armenian soldier while fighting against the Turks as capable of learning quickly and as having a passion to bear arms and for military exercises, proud of his volunteer's uniform and impatient to meet the Turks.[1] Col. Romieu, the other French commander, also explains how the Armenians killed Turks during the funeral ceremonies of Armenians on Sept. 20, 1918 as follows:

"The Armenian battalion approached the objective assigned using an obstinate assault; it maintained itself stubbornly under the shadow of the hills of Arara[t], which the Germans had converted into the most powerful point of Turkish resistance in this region, and it was right at this point that the Turkish line of resistance was broken. … The magnificent behavior of the battalion, not withstanding its losses, made it possible for us to fulfill the mission that had been entrusted to us … our Armenian heroes, who fell in the first line, facing the enemy [Turks are implied] … rest in your glory." [2]

In short, although there was not any genocide during World War I, Armenians and Muslims massacred each other because of the imperialistic aims of the British, French, Russians and Germans.

As a matter of fact, Professor Richard G. Hovannisian, an expert on the Armenian issue from the University of California, criticizes the European Powers on the Armenian issue without discussing the ARF massacre of hundreds of thousands of Muslims before and during World War I. But he states that after the Central powers lost the war in 1918, there was a small Armenia in existence and the desire of Armenians was that Turkish Armenia be added to the existence of the one in the southern Caucasus. According to him, the realization of this hope was dependent on the ?benevolence? of the Allies, who were the victors of the war. He adds, ?The key determining the course of that independence was in the hands of the nations of Europe and America.? [3]. He implies that although these nations promised justice to the Armenians, they ignored the representatives of Armenia in Western Europe in late 1918.

Though Bliss [4], extremely and subjectively blamed the Ottoman government on the Armenian issue, he shares a similar idea with Hovannisian by questioning the European Powers and Russia of that time. He believes that they might have prevented the massacres if they had made the correct decision. [5]

American Gen. James Harbord, who wrote the report about eastern Anatolia after visiting the region in 1919, confirmed the massacring of both sides. He says that the situation of the Turks was worse than that of the Armenians. [6] According to Harbord's report, before the war the population of Turkish people in Armenian provinces had been 1,750,000; after the war there were 1,000,000 left. [7] In the report, after objective observation, Harbord's Commission says that:

"Some Turkish officers were pointed out to us by American missionaries as having refused to carry out the 1915 order for [Armenian] deportation. That order is universally attributed to the Committee of Union and Progress, of which Enver Bey, Talat Bey and Djemal Pasha were the leaders. A court has been sitting in the capital practically since the armistice, and one man and an unimportant subordinate, has been hung. Talat, Enver and Djemal are at large and a group of men charged with various crimes against the law of war are at Malta in custody of the British, unpunished except as restrained from personal liberty." [8]

Although they had not been found guilty by the British court in Malta, both Talat Bey and Djemal Pasha were killed by Armenian terrorists in Berlin and Tbilisi in the early 1920s.

In my opinion, which side first began to massacre the other and who killed more than the other is not as important as who encouraged the Armenians and Muslims, who were equal subjects of the Ottoman Empire at that time, to massacre each other for the sake of expanding and exploiting the desires of imperialism. It was catastrophic that both innocent Turks and Armenians died during World War I. Consequently, it is understood that War World I caused the massacre of too many people as current wars do in the world. According to U.N. figures, more than 50 ethnic or religious massacres or genocides occurred in the 20th century, and some of them are still continuing. Therefore, every person who identifies himself/herself as a human being must struggle to stop wars through nongovernmental organizations by supporting the United Nations to prevent the most shameful events of the 20th century from occurring in the contemporary world.


[1] N (National Archives) ?RG 59 Records of the Department of State Relating to Political Relations Between the United States and Turkey, 1910-1929" Roll No: 6, M : NO:365 Document No:711.672/473, p.18,21

[2] ibid, p.20

[3] Richard G. Hovannisian, ?Armenia on the Road of Independence,? University of California Press, 1969, p. 242

[4] He was one of the Christian missionaries in the late 19th century in the Ottoman Empire.

[5] Edwin Munsell Bliss, ?Turkish Cruelties Upon the Armenian Christians,? Monarch, Chicago, 1896 p.557-558

[6] Major General J.G. Harbord, ?Plain Pact About Asia Minor and the Trans-Caucasus,? The New York Times, Feb. 22, 1919

[7] ?Report to Maj. Gen. James. G. Harbord, US Army Chief, American Military Mission to Armenia on Political Factors and Problems,? Capt. Stanly, K. Hornbeck, Ord. Dept., United States, on board USS Martha Washington, Oct.16,1919, p. 6

[8] Harbord, "Conditions in the Near East," p.10

October 11-12-13, 2006
Opinion by Professor Nursen Mazıcı
ISTANBUL - TDN Guest Writer


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