11.7.05

149) The Roots of Armenian Violence

Paul B. Henze

Foreign Affairs Consultant, Washington, DC, U.S.A.


International Terrorism and the
Drug Connection, Ankara (Ankara -
University Press), 1984. pp. 179-202.




THE ROOTS OF ARMENIAN VIOLENCE:
How Far Back Do They Extend?

Introduction


Is there something unusual about Armenians as a people, or about their historical experience, that has made them prone to violence? How deeply rooted is Armenian-Turkish enmity? Does devotion to Monophysite Christianity predispose Armenians to hostility toward Islam? What caused Armenian nationalism to intensify in the 19th century and Armenian nationalists to resort to increasingly provocative forms of activity? Did they represent a majority of the Armenian people? Is late 20th century Armenian terrorism, among the most persistent and irrational on the international scene, the natural and unavoidable outcome of difficulties in the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?


This essay will address each of these questions in turn. In doing so, it will also raise additional questions. It cannot answer them all. Its purpose is to encourage reflection and discussion. It is also to shift all of these controversial issues to a broader historical plane and dampen some of the extreme emotionalism that has obstructed rational discourse about Armenian-Turkish relations during the past decade.



The Distant Past

Armenian history is not easy to study. It is long, complex, sometimes obscure and often controversial. There are rich records to draw upon, but texts and traditions have not been as meticulously and critically examined by independent scholars as those of many other old nations. The history of Egypt, or Greece and Rome, for example, has been written primarily by people who are not directly descended from the ancient civilizations. Texts and inscriptions bearing on the history of these societies have been studied from all possible directions by scholars who have no emotional interest in using them as a basis for glorifying the distant past of the peoples involved—though some, of course, have done so. Armenian history has been studied and written almost entirely by Armenians. The same could be said, though perhaps not to the same degree, of many other peoples, such as the Georgians, Bulgarians, and Hungarians, who have tenaciously survived the vicissitudes of history. But Armenians seem to represent an extreme case, much more so than Jews, e.g. People who write their own history tend to glorify their past and avoid objective examination of controversial features of it. Armenians have been more prone to do this than most peoples and the trend has become accentuated during the latter half of the 20th century.

It has resulted in emotional dramatization of Armenians as a martyr nation unique in their virtues from time immemorial and unique in their sufferings in both ancient and modern times. This kind of process becomes self-reinforcing, especially so among peoples whose cultural life operates in the diaspora. Poles are prone to it, but Armenians are much more so. They have projected much of their modern history into their past—and have thus transformed it into mythology.1

There are other problems with Armenian historical writing. Most of it tends to ignore the distinction between nation and state.2 The origin of the Armenians as a nation remains obscure. There is a cultural and territorial relationship to ancient Urartu, but there are important differences, especially of language. The Empire of Tigranes the Great (1st century BC), which is glorified as Greater Armenia at its maximum extent, was a short-lived and loosely organized state which almost certainly contained a minority of Armenians. It was overwhelmed by Rome in 66 BC and no single unified Armenian state ever came into being again. Division into kingdoms and principalities which were sometimes independent but more often owed allegiance to surrounding states and empires did not prevent Armenians from developing a sense of national consciousness. Acceptance of Christianity contributed to this process. It also helped Armenians maintain their distinctiveness and an orientation toward the West during a period of intense involvement with Persians and then Arabs. Like the Jews, Armenians very early in their history developed habits of living in diaspora—not only as the result of political misfortune at home but at least as much out of a sense of enterprise as traders, craftsmen and servants of foreign rulers. Armenian communities in Persian and Arab lands and in many parts of the Byzantine Empire predate the conversion to Christianity.

The Armenians’ first experience of Islam was Arab conquest of their core territories, which occurred in the mid-7th century AD and less than a century later led to the Nakhichevan Massacre of much of the Armenian nobility in 750. But Armenians as a whole accommodated successfully to Arab rule. Dvin, the capital of Arab Armenia, continued to be an important center or religious life and trade. Lands inhabited by Armenians (which seem never to have included large territories of exclusively Armenian population—they were always mixed with Georgians, Kurds, Persians, Greeks and other Caucasian peoples) were continually caught up in the great imperial rivalries and movements of peoples that dominate the history of the entire region where the Caucasus, Anatolia and Persia meet:
Byzantine vs. Arab, Persian vs. Byzantine, Arab vs. Persian. From the 11th century onward Mongols and Turks enter the scene. By this time the patterns of Armenian interaction with surrounding peoples were firmly set and did not change decisively with the appearance of these more Central Asian newcomers.

There are fascinating parallels between the Armenian relationship to the Byzantine Empire and later Armenian involvement with the Ottoman Empire. Some Armenian princes sought allies among Persians, Arabs and other Muslims against the Byzantines. Others sided with the Greeks against their Eastern rivals. Many Armenians emigrated to Byzantine territory and some rose to high positions including the imperial throne. When the Turks appeared on the scene, the Byzantine and Armenian Christians did not join to resist them. Monophysite Christianity reinforced a profound sense of competitiveness between Armenians and Greeks. The Armenian princes judged their situations in terms of traditional patterns of competition for power—habits of intense internecine political and religious strife had already become deep-seated. When Ani, capital of an important Armenian kingdom, fell to the Seljuks in 1064, its population remained and the city continued to enjoy prosperity under Muslim rule.3 As the Seljuks advanced into Anatolia following the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, they found diverse Armenian communities in many cities, where they had settled under the Byzantines. These Armenians continued to practice their professions and their religion.




My purpose is not to retell, even in summary form, this history, entertaining as it is, but to underscore the fact that there is nothing in it that helps us understand Armenian terrorism in the 20th century. Armenians did not differ from other peoples living in this part of the world in their essential characteristics. They were recognized as a lively and energetic people, which explains in part their religious and political fractiousness. They were already widely dispersed. A combination of circumstances—not simply flight from the advancing Turks in Eastern Anatolia—resulted in the migration of significant numbers of Armenians to the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean coast. Here the arrival of the Crusaders created conditions favorable to consolidation of an unusual Armenian state, the Kingdom of Cilicia, which became deeply entangled in the complex warfare and political maneuvering between Muslims and Christians that dominated this part of the Near East for two centures. Though initially identifying with the Crusaders and intermarrying with them, the Armenians of Cilicia were motivated as much by anti-byzantine as anti-Islamic sentiment. Eventually both the Armenian kingdom and the Crusaders were defeated by the Mamelukes.4

Armenians and Ottomans

Consolidation of Ottoman power over Anatolia was advantageous to the Armenians who had been settled in small numbers in almost every part of the country since Byzantine times, for the Ottomans established peace for the first time in centuries over large areas and encouraged trade and industry. As the Ottoman Empire expanded, the area open to enterprising Armenians broadened. Thus Armenian craftsmen, merchants and money-changers prospered. Mehmet the Conqueror recognized the Armenian millet in 1461 with the Armenian patriarch of Istanbul as its head. When the Ottomans conquered southeastern Anatolia and Syria from the Mamecluke, the Armenians who had remained in the region after the demise of the Cilician kingdom welcomed them.

The principal problem Armenians had to contend with in the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century to the 19th was of their own making—sectarian and personal religious contentiousness. A history of the Armenian church describes a situation that arose in the 17th century:

The patriarchal dignity of Constantinople and Jerusalem, however, after the departure of the Pontiff from the former city, became an object of ambition to several restless individuals, who aiming continually at supplanting each other in that dignity, by bribing the Turkish officers, again filled the Armenian community with confusion.5

Developments during the Greek struggle for independence are recounted in the same history, written by a pro-Roman Catholic Mekhitarist:

About this period the Turkish government was involved in a war against the Greeks. When at Navarino, the Turkish fleet being destroyed by the Christians, the Sultan’s rage was at the highest pitch. He wished for some occasion to avenge himself against the Christians. This being observed by the Armenian Patriarch, he took advantage of the circumstance to proceed against the Romanizing Armenians.6

Though causing the Turkish authorities headaches with their quarrelsomeness, the Armenians well into the 19th century continued to be regarded as the most faithful of the Sultan’s non-Muslim subjects. After Greece became independent, more Armenians moved into posts in the Ottoman civil service. An Armenian study of this subject, based on Ottoman sources, comments:

There are hundreds of books on the Armenian Question and massacres but they emphasize one side of the story to the obscuring of the other side and, accordingly, one can hardly imagine after reading this type of literature that Ottoman-Armenian co-operation ever existed or that the Armenians had rendered a considerable service to Ottoman public life. My work has been, therefore, to demonstrate the great part which the Armenians took in the public administration of Eastern Anatolia and Syria in the period of the ‘Tanzimat’.. . It should be understood how much the three million Armenians of Anatolia contributed to the economic and general development of the country, apart from official service, through trade, agriculture, handicrafts and the professions.7

Outside Influences

Two very different sources of outside influence combined to cause great changes in the situation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the course of the 19th century. Like most such developments, these seemed at first of no great significance and were perceived as peripheral by the great majority of the Armenians themselves: (1) the Russian imperial advance into the Caucasus and consequent acquisition of a substantial Armenian population; and (2) foreign missionary activity, primarily American, in Anatolia, of which the Armenians became the principal beneficiaries.



From the dawn of their history, the territory of the Armenians had been seen as divided into two parts: (a) Persian Armenia and (2) Roman/Byzantine/Turkish Armenia. From the beginning of the 19th century, Russian Armenia becomes an important concept. By the end of the century, the two contrasting sections of what Armenians increasingly came to regard as their “homeland” (though they formed a majority of the population only in small districts of it) were Turkish and Russian Armenia — there were still sizable Armenian minorities in northwest Iran — was of little political consequence.

It is in these developments during the first.half of the 19th century that we find the germs — if not the roots — of the political ferment that would propel small groups of Armenians into political violence. It would be absurd to argue, of course, that late 19th century violence and the extreme terrorism of the late 20th century are the inevitable result of the incorporation of Armenians into the Russian Empire or the activities of missionaries among them. Least of alt did the missionaries, whose initial preoccupation was saving souls but who quickly turned to education and medicine as their major endeavors, have violent intentions. They were largely unaware of the political consequences of their activity. The Russians were less so, but their approach was not different from that of any other power of the time. All powers exploited the ambitions and disaffections of subject peoples to weaken their rivals. Some, more than others, continue to do so today.

Armenians and Russians

Sentimentality about “liberating” the Christians of the Caucasus played only an incidental role in the imperial Russian advance toward the south. Larger strategic goals, including a desire for trade, were primary and the Persian Empire, like the Ottoman in a condition of decline, was a major target. As early as the time of Peter the Great, Georgians and Armenians were seen by the Russians as potential military and political allies. Given the well-known trading talents of the Armenians, they were additionally attractive for the part they could play in expanding Russian commercial activity. Neither Christian nation was able to organize significant military forces to help the Russians, however, for the Georgian kingdom was rent by political strain and the Armenians were widely scattered, both among the Georgians (where they formed the largest element in the population of Tbilisi) and in the various Muslim khanates which recognized Persian overlordship. The ancient religious center of Echmiadzin remained the seat of the supreme Armenian patriarch (who was often at odds with the patriarch in Istanbul) but the population of the surrounding Khanate of Erivan was probably no more than 20% Armenian at the end of the 18th century.

Peter the Great's Caucasian campaigns resulted in no permanent gains. During the era of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) Russian southward expansion accelerated. The Crimea was conquered from the Ottoman Empire (1783) and Georgia accepted Russian protection the same year. The stage was set for a determined Russian advance into the eastern Caucasus and southward into Iran. Armenians long resident in these regions welcomed the Russian advance and were exploited by the Russians to undermine local Muslim rulers. Russia made major territorial gains as a result of the first Persian war (1804-1813) and consolidated them in the second Persian war (1826-28) just before going to war with Turkey again.8 Erivan was ceded to Russia by Iran in the Treaty of Turkmanchai in 1828. Not only did Russia acquire sizable numbers of new Armenian citizens in such territories; there had also been a steady flow of Armenians into Russian-held territory during the previous 50 years, often from locations deep in Iran. Settlement with Iran in 1828 gave this process further impetus and it was paralleled in part by outflow of Muslims from Russia’s new Transcaucasian possessions.9 From the 1830’s onward, Armenians became an important component of the Russian imperial population. As often occurs with refugees, they exerted themselves to make a new life and profited from the well-established Russian imperial principle of co-optation of non-Russian elites. During the 19th century Armenians became military officers, officials, professional people and entrepreneurs not only in the Caucasus but in other parts of the Russian Empire as well. Their numbers were steadily augmented not only by natural increase, but by immigration from Persian and Ottoman lands. Each Russo-Turkish war resulted in a new stream of Armenian immigrants into Russian territory.10 Armenians took advantage of expanding opportunities for education in 19th century Russia and developed their own cultural and educational institutions. These complemented the much older institutions Armenians had long maintained in the Ottoman Empire and in Venice. While Constantinople remained the foremost center of Armenian culture life during the 19th century, both religious and secular activity increased rapidly in Tbilisi and Baku and in major cities in the Ukraine and European Russia. Russian Armenians were not always comfortable with Czarist policies and some aspired to greater autonomy. On the whole, however, at least until the dawn of the 20th century, evolution was primarily in the direction of close identification of Russian and Armenian interests. Each of the three great Russo-Turkish wars of the 19th century brought an intensification of these trends and resulted in a more sophisticated effort on the part of the Russians to exploit Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, especially those in Eastern Anatolia, for their political and military advantage.”

Armenians and Missionaries

It has become dogma among some liberal intellectuals and politicians in America to maintain that their government is by nature imperialist and interventionist, while the American people are not. Quite the opposite conclusion would have to be drawn from the early history of the republic. The fledgling U.S. Government shunned foreign entanglements but American traders, missionaries and adventurers went off to all corners of the world and involved themselves in other peoples’ affairs with zest. None were more bold than the missionaries who founded the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810 and the American Bible Society in 1816.



The Armenians, more than any other minority in the Ottoman Empire, were what the missionaries were seeking.


The American Board was chartered to propagate the gospel in “heathen lands” and took within its purview not only the Indian tribes of North America but also Muslims, “the more benighted parts of the Roman Catholic world” and the “nominal Christians of Western Asia.”” Its first missionaries to the Ottoman Empire sailed from Boston to lzmir in November 1819. A decade later, when the American Board was already operating out of a headquarters in Istanbul, it sent its first representatives to explore “Armenia.” Eli Smith, a 29-year-old Yale graduate, and Harrison Gray Otis Dwight, 27, a product of Andover and Hamilton in upstate New York, made their way across Anatolia, visiting Tokat, Erzurum and Kars in the wake of the recent war. Russian troops were withdrawing and many Armenians were preparing to move to Russian territory. The young missionaries were shocked at the behavior of the Russian army, “a false and scandalous specimen of Christianity,” but equally appalled at the condition of the faith among the Armenians:

...an illiterate population lived in underground houses and worshipped in underground churches presided over by ignorant priests.13

When Smith and Dwight finally crossed the frontier and arrived in Tbilisi, they found conditions among Georgian Christians no better and compounded by the Georgians’ love of alcohol. Visiting a caravanserai, they found a hogshead of New England rum:

What a harbinger, thought we, have our countrymen sent before their missionaries! What a reproof to the Christians of America, that, in finding fields of labor for their missionaries, they should aliow themselves to be anticipated by her merchants, in finding a market for their poisons.14

They went on to visit Nakhichevan and Echmiadzin, where they were first received coolly but eventually participated in a religious ceremony and engaged in theological discussion with the secretary of the patriarch before departing after a five-day stay.

These initial contacts set the tone for the missionary relationship to the Armenian church hierarchy during the remainder of the 19th century. Their reception by the Ottoman authorities was less equivocal — they were welcomed by Turkish officials eager to capitalize on their desire to set up schools and spread modern education. Military setbacks both in Greece and on the Caucasian front during the 1820s convinced the Ottoman military leadership of the necessity of modernization. They welcomed help both from the missionaries and from American naval officers who established a relationship with the Ottoman Empire during this same period. These early beginnings in Turkish-American relations are worth recounting separately, but here we will consider only the Armenian aspect. The chief effort of the missionaries was directed toward organizing a high school for the Armenians which opened in Pera (Beyoglu) in October 1834.

“Still a novel institution in the United States,” the high school’s curriculum placed heavy emphasis on languages (teaching English, French, Italian, ancient Greek, Armenian and Turkish) and offered instruction in composition, arithmetic, geometry and geography, bookkeeping and the natural sciences.’5 Demand for places for students was so great that the Istanbul Armenian community decided in 1836 to organize another school, in Haskoy, with places for 500 students. The Armenian church hierarchy objected to the evangelical tone of the Haskoy school and forced its closing in 1838. But the missionaries were not to be frustrated for long by conservative “nominal Christians.” They had meanwhile set up mission stations with elementary schools at several locations in the Anatolian interior: Trabzon, Kayseri, Tarsus and at Urmia beyond the Persian frontier. The pattern was set. Missionary education among Armenians expanded steadily during the 19th century. And when new higher educational institutions were established, they were kept firmly under missionary control.

The Armenians, more than any other minority in the Ottoman Empire, were what the missionaries were seeking. Exemplifying the New England concept of seeking salvation through an energetic commitment to life and self-improvement, the missionaries offered exactly what an intelligent minority in the Armenian community was most eager to receive: modern education, a formula for self-development and community improvement through rational effort consistently applied. Missionary activity attracted increasingly high-quality people, both men and women, from the best of colleges that were expanding all over America. They demanded little of life except the opportunity to be effective. They were ready to settle in bleak and isolated places with their families and devote their entire lives to their calling. Armenians did not have to uproot themselves to benefit from missionary services.

The American missionaries regarded themselves as champions of religious liberty in Turkey


The missionaries were ready to accept converts from native Christians because they knew their status with the Ottoman authorities depended on strict avoidance of proselytizing among Muslims. The appeal of American Protestant Christianity to Armenians eager to modernize lay in its dynamism and openness in contrast to the conservative traditionalism of the Armenian national church. The traditional hierarchy became increasingly hostile to the missionaries after a group of Protestant converts formed a society in 1839. When these people were excommunicated by the Patriarch in 1846, the Armenian Evangelical Church with more than 1000 members was officially established. Thus a third distinct faction was added to the Armenian religious scene, for an Armenian Catholic movement had become well established in the 18th century.’6 Neither the Catholic nor Protestant Armenian churches attracted large numbers of converts but their influence on the intellectual and political life of the Armenian community was out of all proportion to their size. There was a darker side to these developments as well:

Far from acknowledging the divisive effect of their activities, the American missionaries regarded themselves as champions of religious liberty in Turkey.17

The ability of the national church to lead and discipline the Armenian community was impaired. Other factors contributed to this process but the effect of the missionaries was catalytic. While the Ottoman authorities became increasingly concerned about factionalism in the Armenian community, they did not impede the missionaries who steadily expanded their work during the 1840s and 1850s. Bulgaria became a major area of missionary expansion in the 1850s and when Robert College got under way in the 1860s Bulgarians were attracted to it like Armenians. When Bulgaria became independent in 1878, a major portion of its senior leadership consisted of Robert college graduates.18

Armenian Awakening

The awakening of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in which American missionaries played an important role was paralleled by similar developments in the Russian Empire, where urban Armenians improved their status through education and involvement in trade and commerce.

Unharrassed by missionaries and enjoying a sometimes uneven but essentially more favorable relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, the Armenian national church enjoyed a more secure position in the Russian Empire. The Czarist government realized the political advantage of having the ancient seat of the Armenian Church on its territory at Echmiadzin. Armenian intellectuals eager to explore the national heritage, restore and purify the language and spread knowledge of their history among their rural countrymen did not find themselves at odds with the religious hierarchy as frequently as their compatriots in Turkey. Contacts between Russian and Turkish Armenians expanded steadily during the 19th century. lstanbul was an important intellectual center for Russian Armenians and many traveled there. The Russo-Turkish border was not the barmier it became in the Soviet period — there was continual movement across it not only by Armenians from both sides but by the other peoples of the region as well.

The Armenians had no separate territorial or corporate status in the Russian Empire and though the Armenian element in the population of the Transcaucasus grew steadily by both natural increase and immigration, Armenians also moved to other regions. Old communities, dating from medieval times, in the Ukraine and Poland, developed new life. But political development—political ferment is perhaps a better term — came slowly in Russian compared to the Ottoman Empire, where the Armenians had been recognized for 400 years as a separate millet — i.e., nation.

The Patriarch, as head of the millet, was traditionally assisted and advised by a millet assembly chosen by the community. Several groups were recognized in the community of which the amiras (bankers, rich merchants, higher government officials) and the esriafs (small businessmen, traders, craftsmen) were most important. The new intellectual class derived from both these groups. The eastern peasantry played no role in the politics of the millet, which centered in Istanbul, nor, until the 1840s, did the Armenian laborers of the capital.19

Russian Armenians were influenced by Russian revolutionary movements which were increasingly dominated by advocates of violence

The excitement the missionaries caused with their schools — and the closing of the Haskoy school in 1838 — gave rise to a chain of events which kept the Istanbul Armenian community in turmoil throughout the 1840s. Elections to the millet assembly were hotly contested by the amiras and the esnafs, though the two eventually joined together against a new Patriarch popular with the community as a whole. The Ottoman government intervened with the result that two new assemblies, one religious and one secular, were elected. Intrigues continued and the Patriarch resigned in protest against the undemocratic working of the assemblies. The whole Armenian community joined in a mass demonstration on the Kumkapi district of the capital in 1848 to support the Patriarch, who was nevertheless replaced. It may be going too far to call this sequence of events the Armenian equivalent of the European revolutions of 1848, as some Armenian historians have done,’° but it ushered in a period of intense and constructive effort on the part of the Ottoman Armenian community to organize itself, which culminated in the codification of the Armenian National Constitution in 1860. Intellectuals with a modern education played a major role in this process.

The constitution was approved by the Sultan in 1863 and henceforth formed the basis for regulation of the religious, cultural and educational life of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire. It is difficult to argue that Ottoman mule was despotic and repressive as a matter of principle as many contemporary Armenian historians have done — in light of these developments. The effects of this constitution, as an Armenian historian acknowledges, were that it laid the groundwork for a system of public education for the Armenians of Turkey and, in doing so, helped bring about a literary renaissance that disseminated liberal ideas and thus led to stiffer opposition to Ottoman rule.”

So by the 1860s prospects looked brighter for the Armenians than at any previous period in their history. Relative peace and prosperity in both the Ottoman and Russian empires led to a substantial increase in population in the cities and in the countryside. But it is important also to recall that the newly educated teachers, professional men and entrepreneurs—the movers and shakers who secured the 1860 constitution and inspired the rebirth of community life in both Russia and Turkey—were only a very small proportion of the total population. Rural Armenians in Anatolia and the Caucasus still led lives unchanged from age-old patterns.22

Evolution Toward Violence


In 1862 a rebellion against the Ottoman authority broke out in the district of Zeitun (Zeitin), an isolated region in the eastern Taurus where an Armenian community had lived since the time of the Cilician Kingdom. It had been granted autonomy by Sultan Murat IV in 1618. “Since Zeitun still remained semi-independent, it was probably considered a suitable center for political agitation by the Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople and Russian Transcaucasia.”23 Trouble had first developed here during the Crimean War when an ideological preacher, Hovagim, came to arouse the population. To get financial backing he set out for Russia. He was arrested in Erzurum and hanged as a wartime traitor.

The 1862 troubles developed over the governments efforts to collect taxes and settle Muslim refugees in the district. Another adventurer, Levon, who claimed to be a descendant of the last Citician dynasty and sought assistance from the French government, figured in these disturbances. Some of the Muslims of the region also had grievances against the central government. The Pasha of Marash brought in an army to enforce order but was unable to subdue the Armenians. They sent a delegation to Istanbul to negotiate. Meanwhile an Armenian emissary had gone from Istanbul to Paris to persuade Napoleon Ill to press the Porte to call off the military expedition. Conservative Armenian leaders in Istanbul intervened with the same aim. The military expedition was abandoned and Zeitun was left to its autonomy. All the factors that entered into this complex local situation — which did not, except for the Armenian factor, differ greatly from many similar episodes of local unruliness in an empire where the authority of the central government was often difficult to enforce in the provinces — have never been studied. The affair was declared a victory for Armenian nationalism and widely publicized among Turkish and Russian Armenians:

The Zeitun Rebellion. . . became the first of a series of insurrections in Turkish Armenia. . - which were inspired by revolutionary ideas that had swept the Armenian world. The Zeitunli insurgents had had direct contacts with certain Armenian inteliectuals in Constantinople who had been influenced by Mikael Nalbandian, a visitor from Russia to the Turkish capital in 1860 and 1861.24

In what is known of the troubles in Zeitun in the summer of 1862, we can see all the elements that combined to generate an inexorable movement toward violence during the final decades of the 19th century:

• Growing nationalism fostered by intellectuals and disseminated through an increasingly numerous and efficient Armenian press.
• External exacerbation of regional situations by outside agitators who improved communication with each other from year to year.
• The Russian factor — passive, as far as we know, in respect to events in Zeitun — the Armenians were seeking Russian help. During the Crimean War, however, the Russian government has been active in encouraging the Armenians of Turkey to serve its interests.25
• The European factor — the successful appeal to the French government
• A confused response by the Ottoman authorities — a combination of overreaction and hesitancy, followed by withdrawal under foreign pressure and then passivity; poor coordination between Istanbul and provincial authorities.
• Growing Muslim hostility, fed in large part by the vast flood of North Caucasian Muslim refugees who were given asylum in Turkey following the defeat of Shamil in 1859 and Russian operations against the Circassians in the 1860s. At least half a million of these destitute and bitter refugees were settled in Anatolia betwen 1860 and 1870. They resented growing Russophilia among the Armenians, in some cases brought anti-Armenian prejudices with them from the Caucasus, and were often not under effective governmental discipline.

The 1860s and 1870s brought an explosion of Armenian literary and journalistic activity. A second and then a third generation of educated Armenians in both Turkey and Russia welcomed ideas from the West, including revolutionary doctrines that were fashionable in Europe. The missionaries were no longer a primary channel for intellectual stimulation of Armenians. Russian Armenians were influenced by Russian revolutionary movements which were increasingly dominated by advocates of violence, such as Narodnaya Volya. Much Armenian literary activity was concerned with questions of language purification and modernization, history and poetry, but political activists made skillful use of seemingly benign intellectual undertakings and contacts between groups in both countries to lay the groundwork for agitation and rebellion.

If the Ottoman government had been as oppressive as most modern Armenian historians claim in retrospect it was, this activity could hardly have taken place


If the Ottoman government had been as oppressive as most modern Armenian historians claim in retrospect it was, this activity could hardly have taken place in such unhindered fashion. Compared to the international travel controls and internal security arrangements of the Turkish Republic (and most modern states), let alone the extreme limitation on travel and all forms of communication which the Soviet Union has always enforced, it is astonishing to read how easily Armenian journalists, propagandists, political agents and churchmen serving the nationalists’ revolutionary cause moved across borders and maintained contact with each other in the latter half of the 19th century. The result was that all of the currents affecting the growth of Armenian nationalism combined to propel it toward making demands and creating expectations that greatly exceeded the capacity of any of the elements of authority to satisfy.

As the direct influence of the missionaries declined—though their schools and community services continually expanded—a modus vivendi with the national church evolved. Recognition by the Ottoman authorities after 1850 of separate status for the Armenian Protestants reduced the friction between them and the traditional church hierarchy. During the 1870s and 1880s, nationalist intellectuals became less hostile toward the national church, and the church less hostile to them. Both accepted each other as an essential component of the process of national self-assertion. Both contributed to the process of creating exaggerated expectations about where Armenian nationalism could lead.

Balkan Developments

For more than 400 years the Ottoman Empire had functioned as a remarkably effective multi-national state, but in the 19th century everything began to come apart at the same time. No Ottoman territory remained unaffected by the currents of nationalism that grew to flood strength, though the Turks themselves were the last to experience the phenomenon. Troublesome as they were, areas of Armenian population were a backwater compared to the Balkans, where ferment had been intensifying ever since the Greek independence struggle and the Empire had suffered extensive territorial tosses. The Russians and European powems were constantly drawn into Balkan affairs.

The Balkan States that Broke Away (1822-1913)

The Balkan States that Broke Away (1822-1913)

A critical period began in the mid-1870s when insurrection in Bosnia and agitation in Serbia brought European pressure on the Turks to accelerate reform. The French and German consuls in Salonika (still Turkish) were murdered by a mob in May 1876. Istanbul riots broke out and Sultan Abdulaziz was found dead under mysterious circumstances. The Ministers of War and Foreign Affairs were murdered by a disaffected army officer. Serbia declared war on Turkey. The new Sultan Murat proved unstable and was replaced in August by Abdulhamid. Meanwhile a revolt had been planned in Bulgaria with hope of Russian intervention but was betrayed to local Ottoman authorities. Irregular troops were mobilized locally to crush it, and carnage ensued.

What came to be known as the Bulgarian Horrors caused a furor in the British and European press, and a wave of concern about the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire swept Europe. Armenian activists were eager to capitalize on the situation, but they attracted little attention except among their compatriots in Russia. In Russia, too, the main concern was for the Balkan Slavs. Czarist ministers sensed an opportunity to avenge the defeat in the Crimean War. The Turks, however, quickly gained military superiority over the Serbs but were forced by a Russian ultimatum to agree to an armistice. Britain, in spite of strong public pressure over the Bulgarian Horrors, did not abandon her long-standing policy of supporting the Ottoman Empire against Russian desires to deal it a death blow.26

Britain was instrumental in convening a six-power conference in Istanbul at the end of the year to try to stave off a Russian declaration of war against Turkey. The conference approved a declaration of independence for Bulgaria which had actually been drawn up by the American consul general in Istanbul, Schuyler,27 and wrestled with formulas for guaranteeing the security of Serbia and Montenegro. Russia was determined not to miss the opportunity to advance its interests in the Balkans more decisively and declared war in April 1877.

Fighting in the Balkans proved tougher than the Russians had expected. They suffered two serious defeats at Plevna before they prevailed over Turkish forces and moved on to Edirne in January 1878. On the Caucasian front, the Russians advanced rapidly after war was declared. They made a more determined effort than in any previous Russo-Turkish war to exploit the Armenian population of eastern Anatolia, and many Armenians responded. Turkish battle losses were heavy, and concern about security of rear areas was high. Kars was captured, but Erzurum and Batum held out until after the armistice had been signed at Edirne. The Russians advanced to Catalca after the armistice, but the British fleet moved up to prevent occupation of Istanbul. Russia rushed to impose a peace treaty on Turkey, which was signed at San Stefano on 3 March 1878. The Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul tried to persuade the Russians to include provision for an independent Armenian state in eastern Anatolia in this treaty in recognition of Armenian services to Russian interests during the war. The Russians were more interested in their own territorial expansion and understandably apprehensive — in light of cooperation between Russian Armenians and anti-Czarist revolutionaries — about the effect an independent Armenia might have on Russian Armenians. (Here we see the same combination of attitudes that led to the Bolshevik throttling of Armenian independence in 1920—21.) So the Patriarch had to settle for Article XVI of the Treaty of San Stefano in which the Porte promised reforms in areas of Armenian population and protection against Muslim attacks which were linked to arrangements for Russian troop withdrawal.

Britain and Austria were not about to let Russia get away with the San Stefano treaty — the main point at issue was not Armenian interests or Russian territorial ambitions in the Caucasus, but the Greater Bulgaria Russia wished to establish. The European powers insisted on an international settlement of the Russo-Turkish war. A conference convened in Berlin in June, and Armenians built up naive hopes that it would result in a revised treaty more favorable to their interests. Instead, the requirement linking reforms and protective measures to Russian troop withdrawal was dropped, and the Armenians were thus deprived of legal basis for requesting Russian intervention in the event of disagreements with Ottoman authorities over reforms or local incidents. In return for abandoning Greater Bulgaria, Russia was awarded Batum, Kars and Ardahan, so Turkey, as well as the Armenians, lost in the Treaty of Berlin.28

Maximalist territorial claims were pressed ever more vigorously



Unrealistic Armenian expectations over the Treaty of Berlin, when frustrated, left nationalist activists resentful and contributed to further radicalization of the Armenian nationalist movement during the next decade. The Treaty of San Stefano has gone down in Armenian annals as an example of great power perfidy, a precursor of the abortive Treaty of Sèvres at the end of World War I.

Bulgaria had gained independence. Bulgarians were a people whom Armenians regarded as having a much less distinguished history than their own. If Bulgaria deserved to be independent, why not Armenia? Revolutionary nationalists who embraced such argumentation in the 1880s and 1890s willfully avoided facing the essential difference between their situations and that of the Bulgarians. Though there was serious controversy about Bulgaria’s proper boundaries,29 and though Bulgaria contained sizable minorities, the newly independent country was nevertheless a coherent geographical entity inhabited by a majority of Bulgarians.

Nothing comparable existed in territories claimed by the Armenians. They were outnumbered by Muslims in every one of the six eastern provinces traditionally called Armenian. In the city of Erzurum, which many nationalists regarded as their natural capital, Armenians were a distinct minority. Only the city (not province) of Van held an Armenian majority, but in the surrounding districts Muslims predominated. An independent Armenia would inevitably contain only a minority of Armenians unless the Muslims were expelled.30 What about Muslim rights? Occasionally Armenian nationalist publications addressed the subject, but no formulas were ever agreed on. So maximalist territorial claims were pressed ever more vigorously — and unrealistically — by Armenian journalists and political agitators during the i880s and 1890s as first the relatively moderate Armenakan, then the radical Marxist Hunchak, and finally, the eclectic Dashnak parties, were formed. All were declaredly revolutionary, and the last two advocated terror as a means of advancing the fight for independence.

Istanbul continued to be the most important seat of Armenian activity. It had the most active intellectual, professional, and commercial Armenian population, but they were still a distinct minority in comparison to the Turks. What was to be the relationship of Istanbul Armenians to an independent Armenia? Many wished to have nothing to do with the notion. Others paid it lip service. Some sensed the disastrous potential revolutionary activism held for Armenians everywhere in the Ottoman Empire. But their zeal kept Armenian revolutionary nationalists from acknowledging, in practical terms, the fact that the Armenians have been for the most part a diaspora nation since at least medieval times.31



The Road to Ruin

So by the end of the 1880s we see the roots of Armenian violence — and violence against Armenians — in full view. Violence became inevitable because the Armenian demands which were most vigorously pressed had become irrational, impossible of attainment. The irrationality did not deter the Czarist government from supporting Armenian extremists for their own political purposes even as they increasingly restricted the activities of Armenian nationalists in their own territories.

Armenian nationalists — always a minority of the total Armenian population, whether in Turkey or Russia — continued to write, to agitate and to plot, to seek—and often to find — what they regarded as foreign support for their aspirations and their struggle.

For an Ottoman bureaucracy hard pressed to meet demands for political and administrative reform among subject peoples as well as Turks, maintenance of order in outlying regions became increasingly difficult. Once clashes began to occur and order broke down, no one — government or local communities — possessed the physical strength, the political skill, or the powers of persuasion to contain disaster. It was not only the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire who were affected, but Muslims as well. Everyone lost.

Armenian communities in many parts of the world — notably in France and the U.S.— have been remarkably equivocal about (if not openly supportive of) such terrorism




When war broke out in 1914, the Russians again encouraged Armenian expectations and exploited the eastern Anatolian Armenians as a fifth column. In the end they did not intervene to protect the Armenians when Ottoman authorities, in a life and death wartime situation, moved to deport them, nor were the Russians about to protect their collaborators against the vengeance of local Muslims when Ottoman authority collapsed. As had happened so often before during the preceding 150 years, Russia was willing to exploit Armenians for her own purposes but unprepared to make sacrifices on their behalf.

Armenian embitterment and chagrin at the disaster which intemperate and irrational nationalism brought on the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire have persisted through three generations. Violence against Turkish officials in the 1920s proved to be a less characteristic reaction than the publicity campaigns and lobbying which long prevented resumption of U.S.-Turkish relations, though the U.S. had never actually declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Soviet rule with collectivization and purges brought violence and the threat of it to the Soviet Armenian Republic, and tensions between the Armenians of the Caucasus and the Muslims and Georgians of the area are still said to persist. But Armenian violence and the threat of it were absent from the international scene until the early 1970s when Armenian terrorists began assassinating Turkish diplomats and attacking Turkish offices abroad under extremely irrational circumstances. This campaign has gained momentum, and the terrorists have gained skill. There are many reasons to suspect that the campaign is part of the massive effort to destabilize Turkey and destroy democracy there to which the Soviet Union devoted major resources during the 1970s — and which may still not have been entirely abandoned.

Armenian communities in many parts of the world — notably in France and the U.S.— have been remarkably equivocal about (if not openly supportive of) such terrorism. The terrorists are remembered in Armenian church services, and large sums are collected in Armenian communities for their defense when they are put on trial. The climate for this astonishing advocacy of violence is maintained by an emotionalized version of Armenian history which is propagated in the ethnic press, taught in cultural programs, and pressed on school authorities for inclusion in curricula. Even in the 1970s, it has been hard to find a more extreme version of what one American historian has called “creedal passion”” which provokes populations to irresponsible behavior. Armenian-origin intellectuals and journalists have become viciously intolerant of non-Armenian-origin colleagues who do not accept their biases and who venture to question Armenian statistics or try to examine Armenian, Ottoman, and relevant Russian historical records according to recognized standards of objectivity and respect for methodology.

One is driven to wonder, for example, whether an essentially honest example of scholarship such as Louise Nalbandian’s Armenian Revolutionary Movement, which originally appeared more than 20 years ago, would even be published by a scholar of Armenian origin today.






1 A good example of this process is the work of a rare non-Armenian scholar-enthusiast, David Lang, Professor of Caucasian Studies in the University of London, Armenia, Cradle of Civilization (Third, Corrected Edition), London (Allen and Unwin), 1980.

2 This important distinction is carefully defined in a recent authoritative work by Hugh Seton-Watson, Nations and States, Boulder, CO (Westview Press), 1977, where the Armenians are discussed as a “diaspora nation,” inter alia in pp. 383-391.

3 See “The Shaddadids of Ani-Dvin, Ani and Trade-Routes” in V. Minomsky, Studies in Caucasian History, London (Taylor), 1953, pp. 104-106.

4 A convenient summary history of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia is available in T.S.R. Boase (ed), The Cilician Kingdom of Armenia, Edinburgh/London (Scottish Academic Press), 1978, pp. 1-33.

5 Rd. Dr. James Issaverdens, History of the Armenian Church, Venice (Armenian Monastery of St. Lazarus), 1875, p. 243.

6 lbid., p. 345.

7 Mesrob K. Krikorian, Armenians in the Service of the Ottoman Empire, 1860-1908, London (Rout-ledge & Kegan Paul), 1977, pp. 2-3. The author’s reference to “three million Armenians of Anatolia” is an interesting example of mythology adopted by an author who goes to considerable lengths to avoid it. The Armenian Patriarchate claimed an Armenian population of 2,100,000 in the entire Ottoman Empire in 1912. Ottoman census figures, as cited in Stanford J. and Ezel K. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. II, London New York (CUP). 1977, p. 205, indicate that the total Armenian population of the empire during the period 1882-1914 never exceeded 1,300,000. The most thorough study of this complex subject yet to appear, Justin McCarthy, Muslims and Minorities, the Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire, New York/London (NYU Press), 1983, concludes that official censuses undercounted and develops formulae for compensating for the under-counting, arriving at an Armenian population of 1,493,276 in 1912 (p. 112).

8 This history is comprehensively treated, with remarkable objectivity, by Muriel Atkin in Russia arid iran, 1780-1828, Minneapolis (U. of Minnesota Press), 1980.

9 For a useful short analysis, with statistics, see George A. Bournoutian, “The Population of Persian Armenia prior to and immediately following its Annexation to the Russian Empire: 1826-1832,” Washington, 1980 (Smithsonian Institution/Wilson Center, Kennan Institute Occasional Paper 91).

10 W.E.D. Allen & Paul Muratoff, Caucasian Battlefields, a History of the Wars on the Turco-Caucasian Border, 1828-1921, Cambridge (CUP), 1953.


11 Ibid.

12 James A. Field, America and the Mediterranean World, 1776-1882, Princeton (PUP), 1969, pp. 92-93.

13 Field, op. cit., pp. 156-57.

14 Eli Smith & H.G.O. Dwight, Missionary Researches in Armenia, including a Journey through Asia Minor and into Georgia and Persia. Vol. 1, pp. 21 5-16, as cited in Field, op. cit., p. 157.

15 Robert I. Daniel, American Philanthropy in the Near East, 1820-1960, Athens, Ohio (Ohio Univ. Press), 1970, pp. 46-47.

16 A contemporary evaluation of the influence of Armenian Catholics provides a measure of the importance of this group:
The Roman Catholic branch of the Armenian Church has done much more for literature and civilization than the original body. Few Catholics are found in Armenia itself, excepting at Erzeroom and other cities, where a remnant remain; while at Constantinople a great number of the higher and wealthier Armenians give their adherence to that creed. Their minds are more enlarged, they are less Oriental in their ideas, being usually considered half Franks by their more Eastern brethren...
Cited from Robert Curzon, Armenia: a Year at Erzeroom, and on the Frontiers of Russia, Turkey and Persia, London (John Murray), 1854, p. 227.

17 Daniel, op. cit., p. 51.

18 Field, op. cit., p. 362ff.

19 The immediately preceding discussion and that which follows draw heavily on Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement, Berkeley/Los Angeles (Univ. of California Press), 1963.

20 e.g., Nalbandian, op. cit., p. 45.

21 Nalbandian, op. cit, p. 48.

22 Curzon, who lived among them for a year in the 1850s, found little to admire in Armenian life. His views are typical of dozens of other 19th century travelers of many nationalities:
Ignorance and superstition contend for mastery among the lower classes of Armenia, whose religion shows that tendency to sink into a kind of idolatry which is common among other branches of the Church of Christ in warmer climates. . . Their manners and customs are the same as those of the Turks, whom they copy in dress and in their general way of living. - .More than 100,000 Armenians are settled in Constantinople; these are not so ignorant, and are, even in appearance, different from those of their original country, who are a heavy and loutish race, while [those in Istanbul] are thin, sharp, active in money-making arts, and remarkable for their acuteness in mercantile transactions. - - The superiority of the Mahometan over the Christian cannot fail to strike the mind of an intelligent person who has lived among these races - . - This arises partly from the oppression which the Turkish rulers in the provinces have exercised for centuries. . - this is probably the chief reason; but the Turk obeys the dictates of his religion, the Christian does not; the Turk does not drink, the Christian gets drunk; the Turk is honest; the Christian is a liar and a cheat; his religion is so overgrown with the rank weeds of superstition that it no longer serves to guide his mind...
Curzon, op. cit., p. 221, pp. 232-235.
A German traveler in the Caucasus nearly 20 years later had somewhat similar observations on the condition of the Armenians there:
The Armenians, numbering about 600,000 souls. . . have no special dwelling-place in the country; they are everywhere to be found. With them the line of separation between the peasant and the remaining population is still more sharply defined than with the Tartars. The peasants, who in the governments of Erivan and Elizavetpol have intermixed with the Tartars, can, in outward appearance, scarcely be distinguished from them. The Armenian of the town is, however, of quite another stamp. He is the merchant par excellence. There is scarcely a single village in the country where one or more Armenians are not playing the part of Jews. . Sly, pliant, persevering, seldom if ever conscientious, they monopolise all transactions in business, and speedily become the bankers and tyrants of the place. Still it must not be concluded from this that there are no honourable exceptions among those whose intelligence and energy have conferred signal benefits upon the country...
—Baron Max von Thielmann, Journey in the Caucasus, Persia and Turkey in Asia, London (John Murray), 1875, Vol. I, pp. 40-41.

23 Nalbandian, op. cit., p. 69.

24 Nalbandian, op. cit., p. 71.

25 C.F. Allen & Muratoff, op. cit., p. 84.

26 For a good short summary of these complex events, see Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801-1917, Oxford (Clarendon Press), 1967, pp. 448-459.

27 See “The Independence of Bulgaria” in Field, op. cit., pp. 359-373.

28 Nalbandian, op. cit., pp. 82-83.

29 The Macedonian question stilt generates strain between Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece.

30 Some of these provinces also contained small groups of other Christians and heterodox sects such as Yezidis.

31 Their attitude is reminiscent of the territorial claims ASALA makes today, the granting of which would result in cession of up to one quarter of Turkey’s national territory, where 7-10 million Muslims and no Armenians live, to the Soviet Union!

32 Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics — The Promise of Disharmony, Cambridge, MA (Harvard Univ. Press), 1981, pp. 85ff.

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© Holdwater
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