The Armenian Question, 1914-1923
By Mim Kemal Öke
(Excerpts from The Armenian Question 1914-1923)
Chapter II: The Anatomy of the Armenian Question
This chapter is devoted to setting forth the general framework of the Armenian question. Armenian authors regard and interpret the actions of their compatriots in the Ottoman Empire between 1877and 1917 as signs of the rising Armenian nationalism. According to them, the 19th century was a period when there were strong nationalist movements and when national states achieved their unity in Europe; and the 20th century is a period when peoples in multi-national empires fought for self-determination, and when some of them were successful. From this point of view, the Armenian movement must be regarded as a ‘struggle for national independence’ which is still going on today. I begin this chapter by discussing the actions of Armenians in terms of the concepts of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism.’ In other words, I begin by making an analysis of this movement. I believe that the Armenian question can best be grasped, evaluated and placed in a larger world perspective, after it is treated in detail in terms of its philosophical organizational dimensions, the methods of struggle it employed, and its place in the international system.
I. The Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in Light of the Theories of Nation and Nationalism
…Ottoman and Western sources are agreed that Armenians never constituted a majority in Cilicia or in the vilayet-i sitte, the six provinces of Sivas, Erzurum, Harput, Bitlis, Diyarbakir and Van, which Armenians regard as their original homeland. Statistical data obtained between 1912 and 1922 indicates that the percentage of the Armenian population in the general population never rose above 30% in Bitlis and above 26% in Van, the two provinces where Armenians were most heavily concentrated. The available data indicate that there were 45 Muslims to each Armenian living in these six provinces. Another characteristic of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was that it was dispersed throughout the country. According to McCarthy’s research, there were more Armenians in Ankara than in Harput. Under these conditions, it is impossible to talk of an Armenia in Anatolia on account of the principle of self-determination.
This being the case, a researcher inevitably feels the need to investigate whether or not some enmity against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire may have had an impact on the development of a national consciousness in this people in the 19th century, an influence similar to the impact of anti-Semitism on the rise of Zionism in Europe. If this investigation is started from the first encounter between Turks and Armenians, it becomes clear that there is no foundation to the claim that the Seljuks invaded or conquered the lands of an independent Armenian State. Historical records show that Sultan Arparslan conquered the Ani lands in 1064. However, this principate had already been terminated by the Byzantines nineteen years before the Turks entered Anatolia. What is more, after the Armenians passed under Turkish rule, the comfort and welfare that they enjoyed far surpassed their situation under Byzantine, Arabic or Russian administrations. The Armenians, who were living under the various kinds of pressure in Central Anatolia and Cilicia as Byzantine citizens regarded the Seljuks as saviors and welcomed becoming their vassals. During the periods of the Great Seljuk Empire and of the Anatolian Seljuk state, the Armenian emirates lived in great freedom and tolerance like the other Muslim and non-Muslim vassals of the Seljuks.
This tradition was observed also by the Ottomans. The first Ottoman ruler Osman Bey permitted Armenians to be organized as a separate community in order to protect them from the pressures of the Byzantine Empire, and the first Armenian religious center was established in Kutahya. When Bursa was conquered and was made the capital, this religious center was moved to Bursa. After Mehmet the Conqueror conquered Istanbul, the religious leader Hovakim was brought from Bursa to Istanbul in 1461 and the Armenian Patriarchate was established with a royal decree. In the millet system, whose outlines were given above, Armenians were organized as the ‘Grego millet’ and were left to the administration of their religious leader. Armenians living in towns and villages in Eastern Anatolia were engage farming, Armenians in cities were engaged in commerce, working as money-changers and goldsmiths, and in construction work as contractors.” Karal writes that the Armenian community used successfully the rights and privileges granted to it, to quickly become prosperous, and that it also adopted the Ottoman culture, lifestyle and administration, and earned the right to be called ‘the loyal millet’ by winning the confidence of the Turks. Thanks to their loyalty, Armenians under Ottoman rule achieved high public positions in addition to distinguishing themselves in commerce. Especially after the Greek revolution, positions in the palace and in the foreign service which were previously given to Greeks began to be entrusted to Armenians, and they also could become governors, inspectors, ambassadors and even ministers.
Although he must have exaggerated to some extent, an author who writes about this subject argues that Armenians who already had economic power and social prestige obtained also bureaucratic power after the 1830’s or the 1840’s, that they began to participate in the reform movements and in other developments in the country not only as a demanding or influencing party, but as one which could make propositions, implement them and give direction to developments. Gurun, who compares the standing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire with the situation of their descendants living in communities in various countries in the world, argues that the latter never achieved the freedoms enjoyed by the former, and says: ‘It is obvious that the privileges present in the Ottoman Empire were nothing less than a landless autonomy.’ This author goes on to say that the practice of granting autonomy to a nation which does not have land is unheard of in international law, but that ‘these opportunities were officially given by the Babiali to the Armenian community, at a time when no state was interested in them, and there was no such subject as the “Armenian Question”.’
In short, prior to the last quarter of the 19th century there was no ‘Armenian Question’ for the Ottoman on the one hand, and, on the other, the Armenian subjects had no problem with their Turkish administrators that they could not solve. An important source showing that this opinion was shared in general in the Armenian community as well, is a document written by Mihran Boyaciyan, a graduate of the Mekteb-i Miilkiye (School for Civil Servants) and district head of the Castelloryso Island of the province of Cezair-i Babrisefid (the province of the Islands of the Aegean Archipelago). In his work entitled ‘Cenab-i Peygamber-i Zisan Tarafindan Musdadit ve Himayeyi Havi Hiristiyanlara Ihsan Buyurulan Abidname-yi Mubareke’ (‘The Holy Contract Granted by the Glorious Prophet to Christians Who are Entitled to Privileges and Protection’)” Boyaciyan notes that all rights and freedoms granted to non-Muslims by Islam were also recognized for all the subjects of the Ottoman Empire, beginning with the Armenians. Arguing that this state was committed to the ideal of justice, he writes:
A country without justice is like a ship without a rudder; it will be carried away by winds and waves coming from any direction, and will finally be smashed to pieces against a rock. Consequently, justice is the soul of the state. If proper justice exists in a country, God will doubtlessly grant that country his blessings, favors and love, so that it will progress and will gain fame and power…. Because justice and general security existed in the Ottoman lands in those times when tyranny and oppression reigned in the neighboring states, the Christian peoples of those states took refuge in the Ottoman State from the oppression and cruelty of Europeans, and the Ottoman State soon expanded with conquests in Asia, Africa and Europe thanks to the just application without any discrimination of the canonical law which is a living example of justice.
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III. The Organization of the Armenian Separatist Movement:
The Revolutionary Committees and Their Methods of Struggle
With the budding of nationalistic feelings among the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire, the first stage was accomplished in the way of establishing an independent Armenia. Now it was time to realize as soon as possible the goals expressed in the two quotations above. Several societies began to be formed with the purpose of establishing an independent Armenia, first in Turkey and then also outside of Turkey. At the beginning, these societies kept their real purpose secret, and pretended to be charitable societies. From the perspective of our subject, the Hunchaks and the Association of Armenian Revolutionary Societies (Dashnaktsutiun) were the most important among these societies. The Hunchak Revolutionary Party was established on Marxist principles in 1887 in Switzerland by Avadis Nazarbekian, an Armenian from the Caucasus, a female friend of his named Maro whom he married later on, and by their student friends from the Caucasus. There were many Russian Armenians among the leaders and members of this organization. The headquarters of this Revolutionary Party was later moved to London. The Hunchak Revolutionary Party declared that its goal was to ‘free the Turkish Armenia’ and Part IV of its political program makes clear the methods to be used for this purpose:
The only way of achieving our immediate goal is to start a revolution, that is, using force to upset all order in the Turkish Armenia, forcing the people to start a war against the Turkish Government with a general revolution.
The means of these activities are:
1 Propaganda: using the press, publications and oral means to spread the revolutionary ideas of Hunchak in the millet, and especially among the workers, establishing a revolutionary organization among them, and organizing revolutionary regiments.
2 Terror: using terror as punishment against Turkish administrators, secret agents, informers, and traitors. Terror must be a means and a weapon for protecting the revolutionary organization.
3 Raider regiments organization: military units kept ready to fight against … government forces. These regiments can serve as vanguard regiments during general revolutions.
4 General revolutionary organization: comprises several regular groups all of which are attached to each other to form a unity and a harmonious whole, all of which use the same tactics to advance in the same general and common direction, and all of which are administered and directed by a central committee.
5 Revolutionary regiments organization.
6 The declaration of a war by any state against Turkey should be considered as the most opportune time for the general revolution, for the immediate goal.
The Dashnaktsutiun Revolutionary Party came into being in 1890 in Tiflis in the Caucasus through the efforts of Christopher Mikaelian and his friends to unite brigands formed by Armenian nationalists in imitation of brigands which had been established in the Balkans. Whereas the Hunchaks supported the idea of an Armenia under the protection of Russia, the Dashnaks – at least during the first few years – wanted an independent Armenia. Pro-Russian Armenians did not want this; the independence of the Ottoman Armenia would mean closing the path to the Mediterranean, to Russia. The Dashnaktsutiun opened branches in Trabzon, Istanbul and Van and began to be organized throughout Turkey. According to the organizational statute of the Dashnaktsutiun which held its first meeting in Tiflis in the Fall of 1892, the areas covered by the activities of the organization were assigned to two bureaus responsible for the East and the West. The Western Bureau concentrated especially on propaganda and began to be influential in both public opinion and among decision makers in Europe by becoming organized first in Paris, and then in London, Brussels, Berlin, Leipzig, Geneva, Rome and Milan. On the other hand, the Eastern Bureau was in charge of planning and implementing terrorist and revolutionary activities in the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in spite of the difference in purpose, the Dashnaks had also adopted terror as their method of operation, like the Hunchaks.
It was not by chance that these revolutionary committees adopted terror as their method of struggle against the Ottomans. It was almost a conjunctural necessity for a nationalistic movement devoid of objective elements to adopt the most radical means for achieving its goals. We saw above that the elements constituting Armenian nationalism were unfounded. The most important point worth repeating is that the area they sought to ‘free’ was not one like Bulgaria or Greece, a country defined and delimited by a relatively unified mass. In areas called real Armenia, Armenians were living as small islands among Muslims who constituted 87% of the general population. Even if all Armenians worldwide were to be brought to this area, they would not be able to constitute a majority in Eastern Anatolia. Thus, starting with this suspicion, the Armenian revolutionary committees thought terror was necessary from two perspectives. First, actions of individual terror and mass massacres would be the most effective way of making the Muslim inhabitants of the so-called Armenia flee. just as had been the case with emigrations from Rumelia, these Muslims would be forced to desert their homes if the ottoman State failed to protect their lives, and those who would refuse to emigrate would be subjected to massacres by the Armenian revolutionaries so that the area would eventually be left entirely to Armenians. Secondly, the Armenian revolutionaries knew that they would not be able to succeed in their cause by themselves; it was impossible to make substantial changes in the international political system without the intervention and approval of external powers. The revolutionary committees believed that the powers which controlled world politics could be attracted to this subject only through ‘terrorism.’ Thus, if the people in Eastern Anatolia would be provoked enough through uprisings and if Muslims could be brought to the point of attacking Armenians, civil war would easily break out in this area. This or that measure that would then be taken by Ottoman security forces trying to stop the fighting between the Christian and Muslim subjects would be announced to Western public opinion as I massacres’ by the bureaus of propaganda of the revolutionary committees, and states would be invited to stop the ‘bloodshed.’ The Great Powers which would thus be forced to take an interest in this subject would demand that the Ottoman State introduce certain regulations in favor of Armenians in order to prevent similar events from taking place in the future. Each step in reforms would bring Armenians closer to autonomy. To put it briefly, Western intervention was regarded as indispensable for the ‘Armenianization’ of Eastern Anatolia and terrorism was regarded as the sole key to the door which would usher in that intervention under existing conditions.
The first of the uprisings which led to the second stage of the Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire broke out in Erzurum in 1890. This was followed by the Kumkapi demonstration in Istanbul in the same year, the Kayseri, Yozgat, Corum and Merzifon events in 1892 and 1893, the 1894 Susan rebellion, the demonstration at the Sublime Porte and the Zeytun rebellion in 1895, the Van rebellion and the raid on the Ottoman Bank in 1896, the second Sasun rebellion in 1903, the attempt to assassinate Sultan Abdijlhamid in 1905, and the 1909 Adana rebellion. It would be good to note certain points about these rebellions. The first point I would like to emphasize is the number of Armenians and Muslims who died during these events. Calculating roughly on the basis of differences in population between the 1890’s when the events started and 1915 when Armenians were relocated on account of the war, it will be observed that only a relatively – relative to their numbers in the general population – small number of Armenians lost their lives in this period. Armenians who were killed by revolutionary Armenians are also included in this estimate. Although it is impossible to give any definite numbers, the number of Muslims who died in this period should also be taken into account. It is recorded in some Armenian sources that in Zeytun alone 20,000 Turks were massacred. Even if these statements were considered to be exaggerated, it becomes clear that there were as many Muslims who lost their lives as there were Armenians during the Armenian uprisings. The second point I would like to stress is that Ottoman sources record that the Patriarchate harbored Armenian revolutionaries during these rebellions. It is especially noted that it was difficult to differentiate between selected young priests and revolutionaries. Third, the roles played by British and Rusian consulates should be emphasized as well. When the Ottoman forces apprehended some revolutionaries, the consuls appealed to the Sublime Porte and argued that these Armenians were their own citizens, and that it was their legal right (protected by the capitulations) to be tried at the consulates and to serve their sentences – if found guilty – at the consulates. Records also show that these trials by no means contributed to the carrying out of justice, but that revolutionaries were smuggled out of the country under the protection of the consulates and were subsequently brought back to the Ottoman State to create new incidents after having been given new identities.
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VIII. The Activities of the Armenian Organizations During the First World War
When the First World War broke out, the Armenian revolutionary committees and the Patriarchate came together to determine the policy they were going to pursue if the Ottomans entered the war. The meeting was held at the Central Armenian School in Galata, Istanbul, and some officials of the Patriarchate presided over it. The United National Armenian Congress, composed of the representatives of the Dashnaktsutiun, the Hunchak and of the other revolutionary committees decided to recommend that ‘Armenians should remain loyal to the Ottoman Government, do their military service, and not allow themselves to be influenced by outside forces.’ However, the eighth Dashnaktsutiun Congress which convened in Erzurum and which was attended by representatives from the Eastern Ottoman provinces and from various places in the world, took the decision to ‘stay in opposition to the Committee of Union and Progress and to wage a fierce struggle against it.‘ According to Ottoman intelligence, the following directions were given to the rural organizations: ‘If the Russian army crosses the border and if the Ottoman forces withdraw, uprisings will be started everywhere with the available means, the Ottoman army will be left between two fires, its buildings and administrative places will be bombed and burned down, government forces will be kept busy inside the country, the Armenian soldiers and officers in the Ottoman army will join the Russians with their supplies and arms or will desert their units to form revolutionary bands.” It thus becomes clear that the decision in Istanbul was not taken sincerely but was intended only to assure the government and not to arouse its suspicions.
Plans began to be implemented in Russia. As it had been announced, revolutionary bands had gone into action to enhance the military power of the Tsarist forces: Armenian volunteers from all parts of the country were flocking to the Caucasus to join the Russian army, and to form regiments of vengeance. An Armenian National Bureau was established in Tiflis under the chairmanship of the mayor A. Khatisian for the purpose of organizing the volunteers. On the other hand, the Russian authorities were preparing the Armenians to join possible actions against the Ottomans. The Russian Governor General of the Caucasus, Count Varontsav-Daskov, provided military training to the Armenian volunteers. The Etchmiadzin catholicos visited the Tsar in Tiflis and said: ‘The only way to liberate the Ottoman Armenians is to separate them definitely from Turkish rule, to establish an independent Armenia and to place it under the strong protection of Russia.’ The Tsar answered him by saying: ‘Venerable father, please tell your people that a very bright future is awaiting the Armenians.’
As a matter of fact, the Russians had already begun gathering volunteers from among the Armenians in Iran and Caucasia and arming them. The first party of one thousand armed volunteers was placed under the command of the experienced revolutionary Antranik who had commanded the Armenian units in the Bulgarian army during the Balkan war. While Antranik’s unit joined the Russian forces in Northern Iran, the other three volunteer regiments had begun to march towards the Ottoman border. General Dro, who was assisted by Armen Garo, a former member of the Ottoman Parliament, commanded the second regiment and had set out to attack the town of lgdir. This army was going to constitute later on the backbone of the forces that would invade Van. The third and fourth regiments, under the command of Hamazaap and Keri respectively, were marching westward in preparation to invade Kars. The Ottomans were worried in the face of these developments. They were receiving intelligence to the effect that ‘… they want to send armed Armenians to our side to extend the organization of bands in the Ottoman lands.’ Furthermore, the Office of the Governor of Erzurum wrote that the admiration felt for the Russians ‘is beginning to spread among those in our country as well.’ It is recorded in official Ottoman publications that even before the Ottomans entered the war, British, French and even Italian Consuls, in addition to the Russians were helping the revolutionary committees to communicate with the outside world and were assisting them with money, arms, etc.: ‘Heads and members of foreign missions served them as excellent spies on our political and military situation.’ The report goes on to say:
While Armenians in foreign countries were being armed with the money of the Allies and with the help of the Consuls of these countries and were rushing to the Caucasian and Iranian borders as vengeance regiments, and while Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army were deserting their units to join the enemy with their arms, civilian Armenians began to arm and to start rebellions in every region in order to utilize their national resources in hastening the victory of the Allies and in pulling down the Ottoman Government which they believed could live only for a few more days.
As a matter of fact, rebellions broke out one after the other. The first one took place in Zeytun, and it was followed by similar uprisings in Kayseri, Bitlis, Erzurum, Mamuret-el-aziz, Diyarbakir, Sivas, Trabzon, Ankara, Van, Izmir, Adapazari, Hudavendigar, Adana, Halep, Izmir and Canik.”‘ Local rebellions continued to break out (in Urfa, Karahisar, Findicik and Yozgat) even after the Ottoman Government took the measures we will discuss below.
It is obvious that these uprisings caused a lot of suffering to the local Muslim people and left the Ottoman Government in a very difficult situation. For example, because of the collaboration in Van in May 1915 between the Armenian revolutionaries in the city, the regular Russian soldiers who came from Russia, and the Armenian volunteers, the Turkish army vacated Van entirely. The Russians took advantage of the uprisings in Eastern Anatolia and began to advance towards Erzurum in 1915. However, Russia was planning to annex the invaded lands directly to its territory instead of surrendering them to the Armenians. Russia’s real intentions became clear after Grand Duke Nicholas Romanov became the Governor of Caucasia. In the early part of 1916, three thousand Armenian volunteers were forcibly discharged, Antranik’s unit was disbanded by force, and the remaining Armenian soldiers were rendered ineffective in the Russian Caucasian Army. When the Duke assumed his new position, his first action was to place a severe censorship over the Armenian press in Caucasia and to bring it firmly under his control. As for Russia’s policy concerning the Armenians, the Duke had no intention of granting autonomy to them, and his intention was shared by Petrograd. Russian authorities who were aware that Armenians did not constitute even a quarter of the population even in the Caucasia believed that granting them autonomy would be a transgression upon the rights of the majority. They also objected to granting Armenians some privileges in the lands which came under their rule. Russians confessed that the privileges which had been granted to Armenians when these lands were under Ottoman rule had not solved the problem, but neither did they accept to make an y reforms. What is more, there was no Armenian Question according to the Duke! Consequently, there could be no question of an Armenian protectorate under the aegis of Russia.’ According to Uras, the Russians intended to make Eastern Anatolia ‘an Armenia without Armenians’; they wanted to colonize this area with Russians and to establish a Kazakhstan there. The leader of the Dashnaktsutiun, Khatchaznuni corroborated this evaluation by saying: ‘Russians did not intend to liberate the Turkish Armenians at any cost, and they never had any such goal … We served them willingly, we were misled; in fact, we served their goals.’
The Armenians had applied to England (in addition to Russia) at the beginning of the war. On 12 November 1914, Bogos Nubar Pasha suggested collaboration to the British authorities in Cairo with the following words: ‘Armenians in Cilicia are ready to enlist as volunteers to support a landing in Iskenderun, Mersin or Adana. Armenians in mountainous areas can also provide valuable support; they will rebel against Turks if they are supplied with arms and ammunition.’ Further, the Russian Ambassador in London submitted to England a request of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs that ‘England and France should collaborate in sending to Iskenderun the arms and ammunition that Armenians can use against Turks.’ In its response, England was content to say ‘If the Russian Government is certain that Armenian revolutionaries can really be useful to the Allies, it can also supply these arms to them by the Black Sea.’ Similar subsequent proposals were also rejected.” There were two causes which determined England’s negative attitude. First, with the treaty that they had concluded, London had given Cukurova and its vicinity to France; it was consequently careful about taking any open action in this area in order not to make its ally suspicious. Second, England had opened the Dardanelles front against the Ottomans and the strategy of splitting Ottoman Anatolia into two with a campaign from Iskenderun had not yet won the full approval of the Ministry of War.
Contrary to official statements, England did not refrain from secretly helping some Armenians. As early as 1905, it had approved the establishment of the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Egypt under the leadership of Bogos Nubar Pasha. This society held a meeting in the summer of 1914 and decided to send six Dashnak revolutionaries who were among its members to Adana to make preparations for a revolution. These revolutionaries held meetings with churchgoers in Adana and promised that arms would be supplied for them from Greece which was under British protection. Cyprus, which was also under British protection, was another important place of asylum for Armenian revolutionaries. The British had opened an Armenian school also in Cyprus, and the intention was to send its graduates to Anatolia to Initiate a revolution. Furthermore, according to Ottoman records, the Zeytun rebellion and then the disturbances which broke out in Maras, Urfa and Adana had been created with British protection and support. The admirals in the nearby British fleet were in regular communication with Armenians in Adana, D6rtyol, Yumurtalik and Iskenderun.”‘ The British had promised the revolutionaries to launch a landing as soon as the revolution would start.”‘ As a matter of fact, a detachment of 60 English soldiers came to the Adana province on 23 January 1915, but it had to go back to the ships because it encountered armed resistance. Even after the Fourth Army forced the Armenians in this region to emigrate in the direction of Aleppo and Damascus, the British established contact with them and used Lawrence of Arabia in an attempt to make them rebel again.
As has been mentioned above, the French regarded the Adana and Iskenderun region as their area of influence and felt suspicious about any movement by the British directed at this region, even if indirectly, through Armenians. In fact, the French themselves wanted to orient the Armenians. When the Armenians in Cukurova went into armed conflict with the Ottoman army and were defeated, they withdrew to Cebel-i Musa (the Musa Mountain) near the Syrian coast. The French naval forces carried them from there to Port-Said. Applications were made to England, Italy, Russia and Algeria to accept nearly five thousand Armenians had to be trained and organized into regular military units before they could be used in furthering the war goals of the Allies.” After this, the manner in which the Armenian revolutionaries were to be used, was negotiated between Georges Picot and General Clayton. The establishment of an Armenian Legion in the French forces was accepted in principle by both governments and Cyprus was being considered to be the headquarters of this Legion. While these negotiations were still being held, the commander of the British armed forces in Egypt had already sent to Salonica ‘a group of the Armenians who have been lounging in camps for twelve months so as to not waste the funds used for feeding and sheltering them!’ Finally, France approved on 15 November 1916 the project of establishing the Legion D’Orient and initiated the necessary preparations. After this Legion, consisting of Armenian revolutionaries, was put through a tough military training program in a camp 58 kilometers away from Famagusta, it was sent to the Palestinian Front together with the Allied forces under General Allenby’s command in 1917, it fought in the Caucasus in 1918, and it invaded Cukurova together with the French forces in 1919.
When the Russians began to withdraw from the Caucasus Front following the 1917 Revolution, the Armenian Legion acquired more importance in the eyes of the British. On the one hand, it was thought that it was possible for the Ottomans to expand towards Central Asia through the Caucasus, and, on the other, revolutionary movements had appeared in the Turkish regions in the Russian Empire. These developments could permit the realization of Pan-Turanism. This could not only lead to the Ottomans taking over the oil fields in the Caucasus, but the awakening of Turks could also serve as an inspiration to the other peoples of Asia and the British Commonwealth of Nations could consequently be left face to face with several rebellions in the colonies. England which wanted to stop the advance of the Turks because of these worries thought of benefiting from the Armenians in doing so. On 24 November 1917, Sir Mark Sykes underlined as follows the view of his government: ‘Just as the Arabic movement is a response to Turkish Islamism, the Armenian Question is in fact a measure (of the British) against Turanism. England thus became the chief supporter of the Armenian movement when the Russians withdrew from the stage. The British war cabinet applied to Russia on the one hand to send Armenian soldiers to the Caucasian Front, and, on the other hand, applied to the United States Government to help send or the same area the Armenian volunteers from that country. In the meantime, it was re-arming the Armenian volunteer regiments and using them to fight against Turkish forces. It is interesting to note that England avoided making any concrete promises to Armenians although it exploited them. Arsianian writes that the British drew nearer to the Armenians towards the end of the First World War in an effort to bring the fighting to a close in their favor. According to this author, the British promises to Armenians were exactly like their promises to Arabs in Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia; they were made with the purpose of encouraging the war efforts of the Armenians, to influence neutral states in favor of England, and to excite the separatist tendencies in ethnic minorities under the rule of these neutral states so as to make their enemy, the Ottoman Empire, collapse from the inside.
A detailed evaluation of the Armenian Question will be presented in the conclusion of this study. However, it would be useful to present at this point some of our tentative conclusions. It becomes clear in the light of the documents discussed above, that in fact the Armenian Question was not a struggle for self-determination impelled by the need for independence. In reality, it was a dimension of the ‘Eastern Question’ which will be defined below as a synthesis of the bundle of projects the Great Powers had developed with the purpose of making the Ottoman Empire collapse and disintegrate, by using minorities and separatist movements, and then partitioning it among themselves. This view should not be understood to mean that the Armenian movement was entirely devoid of internal dynamism, or, to put it in another way, that Armenian national’ ism – no matter how empty the elements it was based on may have been -was supported only by certain Armenian circles. What I want to emphasize at this point is that international factors were more influential than nationalistic motives in the Armenian ‘awakening.’ Furthermore, it has become clear that this movement was shaped so as to serve the imperialist interests of the Great Powers and was oriented by these Powers against the Ottomans. As is known, most civil wars have broken out when internal causes and external incitements converged. Deutsch proposes as follows to differentiate between a ‘real revolution’ and ‘war by proxy’: ‘If … there is a clear quantitative preponderance of domestic motivations, recruitment, and resources, we may speak of an authentic internal war or revolution. If outside manpower, motives, money and other resources appear to constitute the main capabilities committed to the struggle on both sides, then we are inclined to speak of a ‘war by proxy’ – an international conflict between two foreign powers…’ As has been discussed above, foreign incitements and interferences were more important than internal factors in the activities of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. On account of this, the Armenian Question emerges during peace as the Great Powers used to interfere with the Ottoman State in a factor which order to weaken it and to bring it under Western influence. On the other hand, it emerges during war as a dimension of the goals of the Allies to use Armenians by proxy to make the Ottoman Empire collapse internally. How serious Armenians were in their demand for independence will be analyzed in the next chapter. However, in the form presented by the Great Powers, the Armenian Question was not a promise of ‘liberty’; it was based upon the goals of the Allies to annex some of the Ottoman lands. The activities of the Armenian revolutionaries in the Ottoman Empire should be evaluated within this general framework.
What is more, the activities of the Armenian revolutionaries seem to have been efforts aimed at eradicating a race (the Turks) or aimed at carrying out a one-sided feud, instead of being a struggle for liberation. From the outset, the efforts of the Armenian revolutionaries within the Ottoman borders took the form of terrorist and destructive actions aimed at mass murder, cruelty and genocide, so that no other interpretation of them is possible. Armenian activities started during the reign of Abdulhamid II as individual acts of terror, and then developed into assassinations and surprise attacks. The element of brute force in these activities increased steadily, culminating in mass rebellions and widespread fighting during the First World War. Furthermore, when the Ottoman army withdrew from Eastern Anatolia after the 1915 Sarikamis defeat, Armenian revolutionaries initiated a series of cruelties in this area. Although the Russians occupied Eastern Anatolia as an enemy, nevertheless they were constrained by the rules of war. However, when they returned to their country in 1917 after the Revolution, Armenian revolutionaries were unchecked in this area for about a year until the Ottoman forces returned to Erzurum in 1918. During this period, Armenian revolutionaries executed massacres on the local people which is recorded in historical documents. For example, let us look at a report dated 21 March 1918 which the Commander of the Third Army submitted when he entered Erzurum and Erzincan: ‘They were completely and systematically destroyed and burned down by Armenians, even the trees were cut down, and they are like a building entirely consumed by fire in every sense of the word.’ As for the people who had been living in Erzurum and Erzincan:
Those who were capable of fighting were taken away at the very beginning with the excuse of forced labor in road construction, they were taken in the direction of Sarikamis and annihilated. When the Russian army withdrew, a part of the remaining people was destroyed in Armenian massacres and cruelties: they were thrown into wells, they were locked in houses and burned down, they were killed with bayonets and swords, in places selected as butchering spots, their bellies were torn open, their lungs were pulled out, and girls and women were hanged by their hair after being subjected to every conceivable abominable act. A very small part of the people who were spared these abominations far worse than the cruelty of the inquisition resembled living dead and were suffering from temporary insanity because of the dire poverty they had lived in and because of the frightful experiences they had been subjected to. Including women and children, such persons discovered so far do not exceed one thousand five hundred in Erzincan and thirty thousand in Erzurum. All the fields in Erzincan and Erzurum are untitled, everything that the people had has been taken away from them, and we found them in a destitute situation. At the present time, the people are subsisting on some food they obtained, impelled by starvation, from Russian storages left behind after their occupation of this area.
Foreign observers who witnessed the events, including Russian Officers who did not desert their lines, submitted detailed reports proving the genocide to Ottoman commanders who received them as prisoners of war. What is most important is that they stated in their reports ‘the massacres did not happen by chance but were planned.’ At the end of the war, the German author Dr. Weiss, his Austrian colleague Dr. Stein and his Turkish colleague Mr. Ahmet Vefik visited Trabzon, Kars, Erzurum and Batum between April 17th and May 20th 1918 to record the cruelties. Their writings not only show the scope of Armenian activities, but also reveal their goal and true nature.
On the Tools of Foreign Politics( . . . . )
The Truth About the Armenian Events that Occurred in the Ottoman Empire and in the Republic of Turkey
The Armenian revolutionary committees realized that the Armenian Question was buried in history with the Eastern Military Campaign and the Lausanne Peace Negotiations. Consequently, they henceforth carried on their struggle with assassinations of a political nature. As early as 1919, when the ‘Second Congress of Western Armenians,’ blessed and opened by Catholicos George 5th, convened in Yerevan between the February 6 and 13, the People’s Tribunal which was established condemned to death in absentia, the officials of Constitutional Turkey, Talat Pasha, Cemal Pasha and Said Halim Pasha, as well as other officials such as Dr. Nazim, Bahattin Sakir, and Cemal Azmi Bey. Teams of assassins were formed and were given the duty of assassinating these individuals wherever they were to be found. On 15 June 1921, the Turkish intelligence service learned that an Armenian revolutionary committee with its headquarters in Switzerland and branches in Paris and Istanbul was established with the purpose of assassinating Turkish leaders. In the terrorists’ list of leaders to be assassinated were those individuals whose deaths had been decided at the Armenian Congress, those leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress, and some administrative and military officials, including Mustafa Kemal Pasha.
As far as we know, Armenian revolutionaries twice dared to plot against Ataturk’s life after the Turkish Republic was established. In the first attempt, Manok Manokian, a member of the Armenian revolutionary committee in Greece, set out in April 1925 from Salonica to go to Istanbul. His two coconspirators followed the Iskenderun and Adana route and were supposed to meet him in Ankara. However, the Turkish security forces caught Manokian on time and he was executed on 5 May 1925. Two years later, terrorist Mercan Altunian and half a dozen co-conspirators were surrounded by the Turkish security forces on September 14th at the Yildiz Nightclub before they could reach Ataturk in Dolmabahce. In the fighting that broke out, two of the terrorists were killed, and two policemen also lost their lives. According to the British Ambassador in Turkey at that time, Moscow which was getting more and more concerned about the fact that Turkey was establishing closer ties with the West had organized this plot behind the screen.
In reality, the Turkish authorities had been receiving for some time intelligence reports from various sources that Armenians were preparing to carry out terrorist attacks. A piece of news received from Beirut on 3 1 January 1920 stated that the Armenian revolutionaries had opened an orphanage in that city where they were bringing up young children with the idea of vengeance against Turks and that they were being conditioned to attempt to take back Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia in the future. The period between 1923 and 1974 was thus the incubation period for the Armenian terrorist actions during which intense propaganda was used to bring up Armenian youths with a hatred for the Turkish people. In the meantime, the 1920’s also witnessed successful and unsuccessful attempts of political terrorism. What is striking is that although Armenians seemed to be behind these plots against Turkish statesmen, some of the Great Powers incited, encouraged and supported these actions.
Let us now dwell upon the killing of Talat Pasha because it was the first act of this kind. Following the occupation of Istanbul by the Allied Powers, the British exerted pressure on the Sublime Porte and brought to trial the Turkish leaders who had held positions of responsibility between 1914 and 1918, for having committed, among other charges, an ‘Armenian Massacre, the ones who were caught were put under arrest at the Bekiraga division and subsequently exiled to Malta. The Pashas who had held the highest positions in the administration and whose names were at the top of the execution lists of the Armenian assassination teams could be condemned in absentia because they had gone abroad. However, the British were determined not to leave them alone. The British had intelligence reports indicating that they had gone to Germany, and the British High Commissioner pressured Damad Ferit Pasha and the Sublime Porte to demand from Germany to return to Turkey Talat Pasha, Enver Pasha, Cemil Pasha, Said Halim Pasha, Dr. Nazim, Bahattin Sakir and Cemal Azmi. As a result of efforts pursued personally by (Sir) Andrew Ryan, a former Dragoman and now a member of the British intelligence service, Germany responded to Turkey stating that it was willing to be helpful if official papers could be produced showing these persons had been found guilty, and added that the presence of these persons in Germany could not as yet be ascertained.
England was not pleased with this response, and embarked upon hunting down the Unionists with its own methods. The British intelligence services finally identified Talat Pasha in Stockholm where he had gone for a few days. The British intelligence first planned to apprehend him in Berlin where he was planning to return, but then changed its mind because it feared the complications this would create in Germany. Another view in the British intelligence was that Talat Pasha should be apprehended by the British navy in the sea while returning from Scandinavia by ship. At the end, it was decided to let him return to Berlin, find out what this famous Unionists was trying to accomplish with his activities abroad, and to establish direct contact with him before giving the final verdict. Nine days before Talat Pasha’s assassination, Aubrev Herbert, a British intelligence agent had a short meeting with him in a park in a small German town. This meeting corroborated earlier intelligence to the effect that Talat Pasha was seeking support from Muslim countries to help Mustafa Kemal’s movement, that he was organizing abroad a serious opposition movement against the Allied Powers, and that he was soon intending to take refuge in Ankara. What is more, Talat Pasha also dared to make the threat that he was going to incite the Pan-Turanist and Pan-Islamist movements against England, unless she signed a peace treaty favorable for Turkey. This courageous action of Talat Pasha made the British very anxious. Their intelligence service established contact with its counterpart in the Soviet Union to evaluate the situation. Talat Pasha’s plans made the Russian officials as anxious as the British. The two intelligence services collaborated and signed among them the ‘death warrant of Talat Pasha. Information concerning his physical description and his whereabouts was forwarded to their men in Germany. However, it was decided that Armenian revolutionaries carry out the verdict. As a matter of fact, Talat Pasha was assassinated with a single bullet on 5 March 1921 as he came out of his house in Hardenbergstrasse, Charlottenburg, Berlin, by an Armenian revolutionary from Erzurum named Soghomon Tehlirian. Seven weeks later, the event was distorted in court, and the trial was transformed into a forum for accusing the Turks on account of the Armenian Question. At the conclusion of the trial, the Turks were pronounced guilty because of the false telegrams attributed to Talat Pasha and the false witnesses who testified. Because of the opinion initiated at this trial, where the Turkish side was not represented, the Armenian assassinations which have continued until our day, have been enjoying a political atmosphere which has helped to justify the crimes and to let the murderers go free. As a matter of fact, Said Halim Pasha was killed in Rome on 6 December 1921, Bahattin Sakir in Berlin on 17 April 1922, and Cemal Pasha in Tiflis on 21 July 1922, in assassinations similar to Talat Pasha’s; and the same chain of murders has been directed at the Turkish diplomats since 1973.
When these attacks against her representatives broke out, Turkey failed to grasp immediately the meaning, goals and nature of this Armenian phenomenon and consequently remained silent for several years. Finally, the argument that the Armenian Question may be connected with inter-state terrorism began to be propounded in recent years. It thus follows that Turkey is faced with a band of Armenians which have been brought to the point of being capable of all kinds of destructive actions by the use of one-sided propaganda, which identifies its Armenianism with enmity for the Turks, and whose actions enjoy the approval of large masses of Armenians. These militant groups are not the supporters of any one political ideology either. It is because of this, that the task of explaining the nature of the Armenian Question in history falls to the lot of Turkish intellectuals. The essential point that must be clarified by taking into account historical realities, is that the Armenian Question was never a national struggle for independence based on a promise for such independence. As has been demonstrated in the previous chapters, the Armenian events were not an expression of the nationalism of a group, of or its struggle for self-determination; they constituted a direct war controlled by the Great Powers and aimed at making the Ottoman Empire collapse from within. Knowing clearly the truth behind isolated acts of terrorism without getting muddled by any theoretical considerations would be useful even today. Secondly, it must be admitted that various states may be behind the Armenian events that occurred in the past and happening today, and that these states are supporting the militant Armenians as well. Both the consideration of some historical truths and the theories of ‘Psychological War’ that we referred to in the chapter on ‘Theoretical Approach’ have made it clear that states do employ, in addition to the classical methods available, strategies which are combinations of propaganda and destructive activities to further their interests in foreign politics. The geo-strategic situation of Turkey and her economic potential have always attracted the interest of many states, friendly and hostile alike. Furthermore, history is full of examples of states which attempted to solve their internal problems by exporting them to other states, or which attempted to divert the attention of their public opinions from problems inside the country to abroad. Whatever the reason might be, states which want to control Turkey’s foreign policy or which think that the implementation of certain policies by Ankara conflicts with their own goals will always attempt to keep alive problems such as the Armenian Question which have become part of history in order to leave the Turkish Governments in a difficult situation in world politics and to also take advantage of such matters to obtain what they want from Turkey. History has demonstrated that no element was ever exploited in such a planned, programmed and conscious manner as the Armenians. It thus follows that we have to take into account the foreign policies of states aimed at Turkey and consider the Armenian Question from the viewpoint of the inter-state political system in order to be able to make some sense of it. Unless this is done, it is impossible to explain why the Armenian file was opened in the past or today.