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Chapter 32
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America
1958

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 34

p293 Chapter XXXIII
The Tragic Prelude

Armenian people doomed

Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, far from promising any amelioration of the condition of the Armenians in Turkey, merely served as a pretext for inflaming the Turk's hatred of the Christian element and became, ultimately, the cause of its ruin. Sultan Hamid had cunningly instigated the idea of sending the Armenian delegation to Berlin (even with the privilege of using a secret telegraph code) in order that the Armenians, instead of being placed under the direct protection of Russia, became the nominal wards of the Six European Powers collectively. In fact, however, the Armenians by this move lost the friendship of the Colossus of the North. Furthermore, their delegates were not even given a chance to be heard in the Congress. On the other hand, Russia's huge sacrifices in the war were poorly rewarded, while Austria-Hungary gained the Turkish provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which gave her supremacy in the Balkans, and an opportunity to the Germans to inaugurate their "push towards the East" (the Drang nach Osten).

With the signing of the Treaty of Berlin by the representatives of the Six Powers and the Ottoman Empire, there began the Turkish policy of the gradual elimination of the Armenians, the last Christian element aspiring to an autonomous existence. It is a fact that two separate Imperial Commissions, each headed by a ranking Pasha, with an Armenian assistant, made a tour in 1879 in the Eastern and Western provinces inhabited by Armenians, to investigate the local grievances. They even introduced certain reform p294measures, such as the induction of Christians into the gendarmerie. Seemingly, the dawn of a new era was being heralded, the Armenian activities along social, cultural, literary and educational lines seemed to gain grant impetus. But these very indications of a national or a community revival were suspiciously looked upon by the leaders of the ruling race. It was therefore not surprising that incidents and acts of misgovernment persisted. The mounted force of militia, composed of Kurds, called "Hamidiyé," after the name of the Sultan, for the defense of the eastern frontiers of Turkey, became in fact another instrument to terrorize the Christians of Armenia. Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian of Constantinople, an imposing figure upon whom the Sultan had bestowed the highest decoration and to whom the Ottoman Prime Minister and European ambassadors paid visits, made strong remonstrances and submitted reports on the misrule and hardships imposed upon his flock in their homeland. As a result on June 11th, 1880, two years after the signing of the Berlin Treaty, the ambassadors of all the Great Powers sent to the Sublime Porte an identical note, demanding the execution of the promised reforms. Then, finding the response of the Foreign Minister, Abedin Pasha, unsatisfactory, the ambassadors sent him a lengthy and documentary collective note, insisting upon immediate action towards the execution of the terms of the 61st article of the Treaty. The note, dated September 7th, 1880, was signed by Hatzfeldt (Germany), Novikov (Russia), Goschen (Great Britain), Corti (Italy), Tissot (France) and Calice (Austria- Hungary).

Diplomatic pressure ignored by Abdul Hamid

The Turkish reply to the note was nothing more than an acknowledgment of its receipt. Sultan Hamid was no longer concerned about such diplomatic pressure. Germany was insincere in it (as the Sultan knew) and Austria-Hungary followed the policy of Berlin. And Russia, in a spirit of revenge on Great Britain, was not particularly eager to see the carrying out of the specified reforms. Persecutions continued, systematically. The Armenians were dispossessed of their lands. They waited and waited, still hoping for the betterment of their lot through the good offices of the Powers. But their patience was of no avail; and in exasperation, they resorted, here and there, to armed resistance to the Kurds and to the iniquitous officials. A certain Kurdish chieftain, one Moussa Bey, burned Armenian villages, waylaid and robbed merchants and carried away p295young girls. Moved by the cries of the peasants, echoed through the Patriarch in Constantinople, the Turkish government summoned the chieftain to the capital for a pretended trial, but he was acquitted, despite overwhelming proofs against him.

Startled by the violent protestations in the European press against this travesty on legal procedure, the Sultan ordered the criminal back from his post for a second trial. This time he was "punished" by being sent on a pilgrimage to some town in Arabia, the Moslem Holy Land, for a period of time, theoretically to atone for his sins. But this faint triumph of the plaintiffs was not permitted to go unavenged. Its cost to the Armenians was the massacre, from August 21st to September 4th, 1894, of the Sassoun mountaineers, who had had the audacity to defend themselves against atrocious treatment by Kurds and Turks.

The Sultan's government was now dealing, not with rival foreign ambassadors whom he could play one against the other, but with secret societies which were exhorting their people to resistance, and occasionally supplying them with firearms. In one of his letters to his chief, the Premier, French ambassador Cambon wrote from Constantinople, "By dint of saying that the Armenians were plotting, the Armenians finally began to plot. By dint of saying that Armenia did exist, the Armenians finally came to believe in the reality of her existence, and thus, in a few years, secret societies were organized which exploited, for the benefit of their propaganda, the vices and faults of the Turkish administration; and which spread over all Armenia the idea of a national awakening and independence."1

Desperate acts by Armenian Committees

Two "revolutionary" committees were formed outside Turkey; one in 1887 in Geneva, Switzerland, which was called "Hentchakist," after the title of the party's monthly publication, the Hentchak (the Bell); the second, founded in Tiflis, Russia, in 1890, was called Dashnaktzoutoune (Federation), with a monthly organ, the Droshak (the Banner). Both parties numbered among their members fine, patriotic and sacrificing men, but rash and senseless demonstrations made by some of their leaders gave the Sultan a pretext for bloody reprisals. Moreover, the extreme socialistic doctrines injected by both parties into the movement of liberation alienated the sympathy p296of some friendly governments, especially Czarist Russia. However, public opinion in Western Europe and in Russia was stirred to such an extent by pro-Armenian groups and personalities that the Six Powers again united in forcing upon Abdul Hamid a project of reforms on May 11, 1895. The reforms were to be executed in the six Armenian provinces, Erzerum, Van, Bitlis, Diarbekir, Sivas and Kharput. Scarcely had the paper been signed when secret orders were issued from the palace of the "Red Sultan" for the general massacre which took place in 1895 and 1896. The number of the dead, almost all of them able-bodied men, reached 100,000 — according to the conservative estimate of the British Blue Book, 63,000.

Raid on the Ottoman Bank

None of the Powers signatory to the Treaties of reform projects dared to take any active measures in response to the cries of the victims of barbarism. A small group of Armenians in Constantinople, in desperation and in the hope of arousing Europe to action, made a daring attack on the Ottoman Bank in Galata in 1896, seized it and barricaded themselves inside, holding against the Turkish police and military forces. The young desperadoes, persuaded by the officials of foreign embassies, who guaranteed safe-conduct for each of them, gave up their conquest, and were shipped away to some European port. Even this factual demonstration failed to help the Armenian cause; but it gave the Sultan an excuse to intensify the persecution and to murder 8,000 Armenians in the Capital, under the very eyes of the Ambassadors.

It has been subsequently asserted, on good authority, that the Turkish secret police knew beforehand of the projected raid on the Bank, but the camarilla of Yildiz Palace permitted the attack, in order to inflame the Turkish populace of the Capital and to alienate the European sympathizers of the Armenians. By a coincidence, the British Fleet was at that time in the Aegean Sea, not far from the mouth of the Dardanelles.

Turkish Revolution and Constitution

Already an internal turmoil was simmering amongst the Turks themselves. During the next ten years, the secret society known as the Young Turks took the form of a party which called itself "Ittihad Vé Terakki" (Union and Progress). Its object was the overthrow of Sultan Hamid, whose despotism had exceeded all bounds, p297exasperating even the Moslems. Under the leadership of Niazi and Enver, the standard of revolt was raised in Macedonia in 1908. One after another, detachments of troops sent against the small band of rebels joined them, and to the amazement of all, "like leaves before the wind, the power of the Sultan was gone." The "Old Fox of the Yildiz Palace, making a quick about-face, side-stepped, proclaiming a constitutional government like that of 1876, which he himself had suspended four years after his accession."

Enthusiastic crowds of both Turks and Christians, believing that the millennium had come at last, joyfully embraced each other in public gatherings. An era of justice, equality and brotherhood had apparently dawned. The Ottoman Empire thenceforth would belong to all its citizens, without discrimination as to race or religion. However, the success of the Young Turks had to face a reaction. External and internal dangers threatened the new regime. Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece seized Crete; Bulgaria, backed by Russia, declared herself independent. There were revolts in Albania and Arabia. And in the midst of all this confusion, the supporters of the Sultan set to work. The troops in Constantinople mutinied and killed some officers, declaring their loyalty to the Sultan-Khalifa and to the Sheriat (Moslem sacred laws). They renounced the new constitution and drove out the Ittihad. This counter-revolution was crushed by the arrival of the army of Macedonia, commanded by Mahmoud Shevket Pasha, who sent Sultan Abdul Hamid to Salonika, there to spend the rest of his life in the Villa Allatini. The Committee of Union and Progress was again in power, under a triumvirate, consisting of Enver, Talaat and Jemal. Javid, a Jew of Salonica turned Moslem, one of the founders of Ittihad, was entrusted with the portfolio of Finance. He was later believed to have played the traitor, selling to the Germans the control of the Baghdad Railway.

The Ottoman constitution was re-established, with Muhammed Reshad as the new Sultan-Khalifa. But the tragic destiny of the Armenians of Turkey seemed to have been inexorable. No ethnical group forming part of the Empire hailed with greater joy the proclamation of the constitution than did they. At the very moment when the Young Turks were menaced by the last abortive schemes of the Red Sultan, a new massacre took place in 1909 at Adana and in other parts of Cilicia, under the complacent eyes of the authorities, in concert with the Young Turks. Thirty thousand Armenians were p298butchered, cities were sacked and villages blotted out. The armed mountaineers of Zeytoun survived the holocaust, because they were prepared to exact a heavy toll before giving up their lives.

Turks plan Extermination of Armenians in Turkey

Having entered the First World War in October 1914 on the side of Germany and her Allies, the Turkish Government decided to exterminate the entire Armenian population in Turkey, especially in the interior of the country, and thus settle the Armenian question once and for all. The war offered the best opportunity for the execution of this diabolical scheme, since the European nations were busy with the mortal conflict and therefore powerless to stop them from their intended barbarity.

The first signal was given by the arrest and deportation of the intellectuals of Constantinople and their subsequent murder in a remote area. Then followed the systematic massacres in towns and villages of all young and able-bodied Armenians; the remainder, old people, women and children, were ordered to leave everything behind and march into exile. The columns started out accompanied by soldiers and by wild Kurdish horsemen who, on the way, indulged in brutality hard even to conceive, killing mercilessly and as fancy took them, and selling the women as slaves after bestially violating them.

After months of horrible torture the survivors reached the Mesopotamian desert where most of them died from hunger, thirst and the scorching sun. Over one million Armenians perished while the fiendish plan of destruction was carried out and another half a million succeeded in fleeing over to Caucasia or somehow surviving in Syria and in adjacent regions.

During those tragic days the Armenians defended themselves valiantly whenever local conditions permitted. Such examples of exceptional courage were to be seen in the self-defense of the Armenian population of Zeytoun, Sassoun, Van and Shabin-Karahissar. Remarkable was also the epic of the 4000 Armenians of Moussa-Dagh, who from the heights of this mountain drove back the Turkish assaults until they were rescued by French battleships.

Turkey profited with impunity by the crime of 1915 since Turkish Armenia was now completely evacuated of her population according to the original program of wholesale massacres and mass deportation.

p299 "The attempts made to find excuses," says James Bryce, "for wholesale slaughter and for the removal of a whole people from the home leave no room for doubt as to the slaughter and the removal. . . . The disproval of the palliations which the Turks have put forward is as complete as the proof of the atrocities themselves." ("The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire," by Viscount Bryce, London 1916.)

In the words of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee: ". . . the intermittantº sufferings of the Armenian race have culminated in an organized, cold-blooded attempt on the part of the Turkish rulers to exterminate it once and for all by the methods of inconceivable barbarity and wickedness." ("Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation" by Arnold J. Toynbee, London, 1915.)


The Author's Note:

1 Documents Diplomatiques. Affaires Arméniennes, 1893‑1897. No. 6.


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