12 February 2007
The Armenian question, being one of the most important issues which left its mark upon time in the last 50 years, originated due to the effects of imperialism that is the outcome of the rivalry between England and Russia during the Russo-Ottoman war (1877-1878). Like the other Christian elements in the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians tried to establish an independent state.
Living under the rule of the Ottomans, the Armenians who are wholly void of fear, spread throughout the Empire, felt secured in terms of their lives, chastity and property, while being free, peaceful and happy with respect to their religious sects and in wealth with respect to economy. They dealt with trade and art as well as money changing and goldsmith, and having a position in private services and security. They were appointed to take part in direction of the institutions such as the mint and gunpowder factory and called as “millet-i sadıka”; the loyal folk. The Ottoman Empire treated equally to its subjects, neither privileged one over another nor interfered to their business.
The Armenians, who the Ottoman Empire never interfered in terms of religious and social issues, lived in ease and peace until the 19th century.
Since being exempt from military service, they gained significant posts in the commercial life and money by standing in the forefront. They were appointed with formal and private duties with the state. In the 16th century Mehmed Paşa who is of Armenian origin was selected as the vizier, in the 18th century the goldsmiths of the seraglio, the ministers of the mint, the doctors and the ministers of the gunpowder factory were all selected from the famous families of Armenian community.
The required permissions to the Armenians were given in order to have the necessary financial opportunities to enforce religious, cultural, educational, and charity stuff. In the case that they could not finance them, Ottoman administration helped them and helped Armenians financially.
From time to time, Armenians have some disputes within their community. In these cases, they applied to the Ottoman administration in order to find a solution in favour of them. On the contrary, Ottomans were always impartial about the Armenian groups and their internal problems. Administration tried to be helpful about the immediate solution of disputes between Armenians that arise from the alteration of beliefs and cults.
The rights that were given before about the method of the selection and appointment of clergy were clearly applied. By doing so, prevention of any kind of abuse and continuation of the religious freedoms of the society were preserved.
All the privileges given to Patriarchy by our predecessors were all respected and no pressure was allowed on those who changed their religion.
A regulation was prepared concerning the Armenian community in 1860. According to this regulation, which was endorsed by the government in 29 March 1862, the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire was to be governed by the decisions taken by an assembly composed of 140 members in Istanbul. 20 of the members were to be selected among the Armenian clergy, 40 of them outside from Istanbul and 80 among the Armenians in Istanbul. The preexisting religious assembly of 14 and the political assembly of 20 were not to be abolished. But their members were to be selected to the assembly of 140.
A new era for the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire had begun with this new regulation. It is also very important in the context of showing how much the Ottomans were of good will and tolerant with Armenians.
The Armenian issue was not the result of the needs of the Armenians but the clash of interests of big powers on the region. The fact that the big powers presented the “issue” like a problem of humanity and Christianity was to disguise their aims, also affected the Armenian Church. The Armenians including the Armenian Patriarch who seek independence could not see the games played on them.
With Article 16 of the Ayestefanos Agreement signed after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Ottoman War (1877-78), and later article 61 of the Berlin Treaty which replaced it, the Ottoman Empire accepted to make reforms for the Armenian people. So, the Armenian issue; entering into international agreements became a problem which cannot be settled within the framework of Ottoman sovereignty and turned into a problem that could be used as a tool of interference by the United Kingdom and Russia for colonial purposes. Armenians could not get what they wanted after the Berlin Agreement, established committees and organizations through the end of 1880s. It was become their objective of the Armenian committees to use Armenian people for their purposes against the State by using terrorism and other means on the loyal Armenians to the Empire. The most important of those committees were Hinchaks and Tashnaks. It was time to act to achieve their goals. They would attract the attention of the European countries through uprisings and establish an autonomous state just like Bulgaria after a possible European intervention.
Hinchaks opened branches in many cities of Anatolia starting from Istanbul in 1890s. The agents who came from Europe speeded the idea of uprising among Armenians, increased the members, and collected money.
Until the end of 1893, all of the cities and even villages had their own committees. Anatolia was divided into provinces and each of these was governed by a regional commission. Their members were appointed by the grand council and names of these people were not even known by the village committees. Even the ordinary members of committees were selected in a strict secrecy. Every member was forced to donate money to central treasury according to the capacity and take an oath to sacrifice their lives for “the case”.
The committees, which tried to use Ottoman Armenians in direction of their objectives, had seen the terror as the most effective method. Armenian movement tried to become independent, but failed. However, not having legitimacy, its provocative and violent aspects gained basis. That is why, not only the Ottoman Muslims but also the Armenians suffered from the Armenian terror.
To find more followers and supporters, and financial resources, Hinchak and Tashnak committees threatened their coreligionists and put pressure on them. Those who did not want to join to committees were threatened and those who resisted were followed and killed or wounded by these groups. They sent letters of threat and demand donations from merchants and shopkeepers. These letters were sent to foremost people of Armenian communities in Istanbul, Erzurum and other big cities
With the accomplishment of the establishing committees in 1880s, the attacks of Armenian committees against Armenian people started. In these terrorist attacks, it could be understood that different ideological sections were targeted.
The organizations of Hinchak committee in Istanbul proved very successful. Bringing committee members from Anatolia, they carried out assassinations in Istanbul. Attacks of Armenian terrorists against Armenian people occurred frequently apart from Istanbul in where the Armenian committees were powerful. Cities like Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, Tokat, Yozgat, and Merzifon are the ones that these incidents took place. While Tashnaks were effective in the cities of Istanbul, Van and Erzurum; Hınchaks had conducted these activities in the regions of Istanbul, Yozgat, Tokat, Merzifon and Bitlis.
Translated by Meryem DOGAN and Hasan Selim OZERTEM from Turkish Language of Dr. Recep Karacakaya, ‘Ermenilere Yonelik Ermeni Suikastlari’ (Armenian Assassinations against Armenians), ((Istanbul: 47 Numara yayincilik, 2006), pp. 11-16.
Dr. Recep Karacakaya
12 February 2007
Journal of Turkish Weekly(JTW)