29 January 2009
In this paper I intend to trace cursorily the background of the incidents that took place in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in 1915, that caused a great tragedy to the people of Anatolia, especially to the Turks, other Muslims, and Armenians. I also intend to examine that tragedy, its instigators, causes, effects, and how it was exploited by Britain's wartime propagandists, in the light of new documents that have come to my notice during recent studies. I hope that my conclusions may contribute to a better understanding of the Turco-Armenian relations, and of how those amicable relations were disrupted and exploited by external and extremist forces immediately before and during . . the fateful years of the First World War.
Following the upsurge of the Young Turk Movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Armenian extremists and revolutionaries, who had been creating havoc in the Ottoman Empire since the early 1880s ', joined forces with the Young Turks and helped them in their revolution. In exchange for this help, they hoped that their Turkish comrades-in-revolution would grant the Armenians some kind of geographical autonomy. Hence, after the restoration of the constitution, both of the Armenian extremist organisations, the Hintchak and the Dashnak2, promised to give up their revolutionary activities and to cooperate with the Young Turk organisation, the Committee of Union and Progress3, to implement the constitution.
At first the relations between the Young Turks and the Dashnakists were cordial. This is confirmed by Cemal Pasha, who recalls that Maloumian (Aknouni), one of the Armenian leaders he met in Istanbul in 1908, frequently spoke to him of the Russian danger which hang over the Armenians' head. The Hintchakists and the Reformed Hintchakists, however, 'most of whose leaders', according to Cemal Pasha, 'had been bought by the Russians, sought no rapprochement with the Turkish committees, and aimed at an Armenian state under Russian protection'. The representatives of these 'Russian committees', who received money from the Russian consulates which 'took an active part in the revolutionary organisations', and even the ecclesiastical party, had begun to declare that the protection of the Tsar was preferable to that of the Caliph, observes Cemal Pasha *¦
Soon the Dashnakists began to increase their power, especially in the Province of Van. Its chiefs - Aram, Papazian, Sarkis and Ishkhan - were Russian Armenians whose ideas, according to British Vice-Consul Captain Dickson, were those of 'advanced socialism, amounting to anarchy', current among certain classes in the Caucasus who used terrorism as a means of attaining this end. These men, Dickson believed, 'with their uppishness and insolence' and their habit of dictating to all and sundry', were not likely, by their leadership, to make the Armenians more popular among the Muslims, under the new regime. The insolent way in which these Dashnak leaders were trying to dictate to the Government, and to Muslim tribal chiefs, with threats to get them punished if their orders were not obeyed, had further irritated all the Muslims. Captain Dickson, too, deplored this attitude of the Armenians. He wrote to British Ambassador Sir Gerard Lowther on 30 September 1908:
'...The Armenian in subjection, such as I have seen him, is an unsympathetic, mean, cringing, unscrupulous, lying, thieving curd; given his freedom, he loses none of these bad qualities, but in addition becomes insolent, domineering, despotic. He is endowed with a sort of sneak-thief sharpness, which among ignorant people in these parts passes for intelligence' 5.
Armenian extremists were still bringing arms and ammunition surreptitiously into the country, and intriguing with the Russian authorities. Dickson reported that Armenian terrorists called Fedai' (fedayi - self - sacrificing), were coming to Van from Russia and Persia, and many of them were going to those countries from Van.
'Supposing the new regime continues', declared Dickson, 'then the Turkish Armenians will enjoy an unheard-of liberty, while the Russian Armenians have only a half freedom... Thus Russia will be placed in an awkward predicament with her Caucasian subjects. It appears to me that she may have the choice of two ways of remedying this: she may grant the Caucasus a more liberal constitution, or she may make the Turkish Armenians discontented with the Turks and their new regime by intriguing and stirring up dissension in Turkey. It is too early to say if Russia intends to take either of the two courses, but the fact that the Armenians here are entirely controlled by these Russian "fedai", who have socialistic ideas very unpalatable to the Moslems, may be worth bearing in mind'.
With these pertinent remarks the British vice-consul on the spot was only prophesying about the plans which Russia was preparing for the Ottoman Empire in order to destabilise its eastern provinces, and this indicates that a handful of Armenian extremist leaders were ready to help Russia put this plan into execution, without giving much thought to its consequences. Yet, despite the economic situation in some parts of the Empire, the restoration of the constitution had greatly ameliorated the position of the Armenians, as confirmed by Vice-Consul Captain Dickson.
The Dashnakists had cooperated with the Young Turks with the hope that, in return, they would obtain some measure of decentralization that would go far to establish one or two 'purely Armenian provinces', but as the regenerated Ottoman Government was aiming at the establishment of a united Ottoman nationality without distinction of race or religion, their disappointment was great. Even Vice-Consul Dickson believed that the aims of the Dashnak Society were 'preposterously ambitious', and that they hoped for the establishment of an Armenian republic, formed out of the portions of Turkish, Russian, and Persian provinces, from which the non-Armenian elements would gradually be excluded. Dickson informed . .