“The Armenian Question” became a serious problem to be reckoned with for the Ottoman Empire even before the twentieth century, and it has, ever since its foundation in 1923, plagued the
This paper aims to take up a specific part of the question, albeit the most controversial one: the events of
The history of the “Armenian Question” can be traced back to 150 B.C., to the Armenian historian Maripas Kadina,l to 515 B.C. according to Herodotus, or even to 860 B.C., according to D.M. Lang.2 Fortunately, at least for the purposes of the present paper, this is not strictly necessary, and it will suffice to go back to the end of the 1870s, when Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire first became the subject of not one treaty but two.
1878 was the year when the Armenians under Russian rule began to carry out their new policy of approaching the Tsar for eventual Armenian independence, and of trying to bring
In 1878, the treaty of Ayastefanos was signed between
This move did not go unnoticed by the British, who saw it as the Russians’ using the Armenians as an excuse to move toward Alexandretta and
The agreement of 1907 between
By this time, of course,
The events within the Empire had a rapidity of their own. The period 1880-1915 marks the escalation of the number and brutality of Armenian uprisings and Ottoman counter-measures. British consulate reports from eastern vilayets pointed to increasing unrest among the Armenians in
The War Breaks Out
1914 brought with it expectations of an all-out war on the world scale, and this was felt acutely in İstanbul, where the leadership of CUP began to convene secretly in the War Ministry, so secret in fact that many of the members of the cabinet had not been trusted with the knowledge. The agenda, according to the memoirs of Celal Bayar, was “the elimination of non-Turkish masses, prey to negative external influence and located at strategic points”. 12 With this in mind, over 100,000 Greeks were deported to
Armenian political committees were also holding meetings to determine their own course of action in case the
After considering the contradictory policies pursued from the start by the CUP government toward the non-Muslim communities, and the Armenians in particular, in social, political and administrative matters, and taking into account the pressure exerted and the prevarications resorted to over the implementation of the reforms; the Dashnaksutiun Congress has resolved to remain in opposition to the CUP government in order to be able to criticize its political program and to conduct a determined struggle against the Party and its organization. 17
Nevertheless, Dashnak claimed that in case of war, Armenians would, as loyal subjects, offer their service among Ottoman ranks.18 The first prime minister of the Armenian Republic, Hovhannes Kachaznuni, however, would say in his speech at the Dashnak Conference in Brussels, 1923, that
1914 Sonbaharı başlarında, daha Türkiye savaşa girmediği sırada... ihtilalci Ermeni çeteleri büyük bir iştiyakla Kafkasya’da teşekkül etmeye başladılar... Daha birkaç hafta önce Erzurum’da yapılan Genel Kongre’de aldığı kararın aksine, Daşnak Ermeni İhtilalciler Federasyonu, bu çetelerin teşekkülüne ve Türkiye’ye karşı girişecekleri harekata aktif bir şekilde katılmıştır.19
In fact, according to Papazian, member of the Ottoman parliament and one of the leading members of Dashnak, the İstanbul center of the committee called for a general meeting after the congress in
On 2 September 1914, the Governor-General of Transcaucasia, Vorontsov-Dachkov, wrote to the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin:
I should like to request from you, through the exertion of your influence on your congregation, in case of a Russo-Turk war, to ensure that our own Armenians, together with the Armenians inhabiting the border regions, perform the duties that will be given to them, both under the present circumstances prevalent in Turkey and also in the future.21
In return, 180 members of Dashnak, who had been previously arrested by the Russian government, were forgiven with the intention of making use of their services in the war against Turkey.22 Russia played the “autonomy card” with great aptitude: the Armenians put their faith more and more in a Russian victory and in an ensuing occupation of the region that they deemed Armenian, which would, after the peace settlement, be turned over to them. Even before the declaration of war between the two states, Armenians flocked to Tiblis in order to enlist in the Russian army and take part against their “war of independence” against
It was far from evident, and this was not unduly surprising: caught in the midst of nationalistic maelström, it was perhaps only natural that Russian and Ottoman Armenians exhibited a certain level of deficiency in assessing the probability of gaining control over the six vilayets in
“(Rus) İmparatorluğunun menfaatleri, bağımsız Ermenistan kurulmasında değil, orayı Ruslara kanalize etmekte, bir Kazakistan kurulmasındaydı. Bunu Ermeni ihtilalcileri anlamamış, anlamak istememişlerdir... Bu yerler, bu bölgeler, Rus burjuvazisine Ermenilerden daha gereklidir.”25
The Dashnak leader Kachaznuni himself would later admit that “Rusların gayeleri; her neye mal olursa olsun Türkiye Ermenilerini kurtarmak değildi ve hiçbir zaman da öyle olmamıştır... Biz onlara kendi arzumuzla hizmet ettik, sürüklendik, gerçekteyse onların gayelerine çalışmış olduk.”26
The Ottoman government was not ignorant of the fact that the Armenian committees were up to something - on 6 September 1914, the government sent a cryptotelegram to the governors of the vilayets where Armenians were living in greater numbers, ordering the strict surveillance of the leaders of Armenian political parties.27 The government declared state of mobilization on 3 August 1914, and the Armenians in Zeytun rebelled on 30 August, in defiance of conscription. In October, the Tsar of Russia declared war upon the Empire, Dashnak followed suit, and the Empire officially entered the war on 14 November 1914. Dashnak was quick to publish the following report in the daily newspaper Horizon:
“Today, the time has come to put an end to the bloody history of the martyrdom of the Turkish Armenians. In the changing circumstances of our own day the Armenians will have authority over their own administration and will fight with their own forces against their enemies on their own soil... Throughout history the Armenians have been extremely cautious and this caution has been frequently interpreted as cowardice or servility. Today is not a time for caution. The Armenians stand up with a clear conscience.”28
The mutasarrıf of Beyazıt sent the following message to the Ministry a week later: “26 Eylülde Rusya’daki Ermeni komitacılarından Sehpat’ın 600 Ermeni gönüllüsü ile Hoy’a gelerek Selmas’a gittikleri öğrenilmiştir. Bu Ermenilerin büyük çoğunluğu bizim uyruğumuz ve Van, Muş, Bitlis,
In the first two months of 1915, the Armenian churches in Mamuret-el-aziz began an “agitprop” activity against the Hamidiye troops, and founded the “Hoyboun (
Rus ordusu hududdan ilerler ve Osmanlı askeri çekilirse, her tarafta birden eldeki vesait ile kıyam olunacak, Osmanlı ordusu iki ateş arasında bırakılacak, mebani ve müessesat-ı emiriyye bombalarla berheva edilecek, yakılacak, Hükümetin kuvveti dahilde işgal olunacak, levazım kafileleri ördlecek. Bilakis Osmanlı ordusu ilerlerse, Ermeni askerleri silahlarıyla Ruslara iltica edecek ve kıtalarından fırarla çeteler teşkil edecek.31
Similar orders were sent to Armenian villages in the region by Armenian deputies, the patriarchate, priests, and committee members.32
In February 1915, the Armenian National Congress was held in Tiblis. The Dashnak representative gave the following report: “As is well known, the Russian government contributed 242,900 roubles at the beginning of the war for the provision of arms and the training to the Turkish Armenians as well as for organizing revolts in Turkish Armenia. It is expected that our volunteer bands will penetrate the Turkish lines, joining up with the insurrectionists and, if possible, by creating panic in the rear of the Turkish army, help the advance of the Russian troops and facilitate their invasion of Turkish Armenia.”33
The Dashnaks took the following decision at the end of the congress: “As soon as the Armenian volunteer units commanded by Antranik approach Van, the Dashnak fighters in the area will take to the mountains and unfurl the flag of revolt. The plans for the rebellion will be implemented in April 1915. The Catholicos has informed us that 10,000 armed fighters are ready to join the action.” 34
Uprisings soon spread to Zeytun, Kayseri, Bitlis, Erzurum, Mamuret-el-aziz, Diyarbakır, Sivas, Trabzon, Ankara, Van, İzmit, Adapazarı, Hüdavendigar, Adana, Halep, İzmir, and Canik.35 On 17 April 1915 the Van rebellion, which had been long in the making, finally broke out, introducing a quantum-change in the nature of events, which started to occur even faster. Van was evacuated by the Turks, and the Russian army set up a new local government, with Aram Manukyan, the head of the Armenian revolutionary committee, as the governor of Van.36 The following declaration was issued: “15 Nisan 1915 tarihinden beri Ermeni savaşçıları, Aram’ın komutası altında isyan etmişler ve 30 gün savaştıktan sonra Van bölgesine egemen olmuşlardır. Bir taraftan Rus orduları emrinde çalışan Ermeni Gönüllü Tümeni Van’a koşmak istiyor, Geri, Hamazap, Tro ve Hano gibi Ermeni komutanları, Van’a saldırmak için Rus komutamna başvuruyorlardı. Ermeni komutanları Van’a yaklaşırken binlerce Ermeni bunları gösterilerle karşıladılar. En önde özel kıyafetli papazlar bulunuyordu. Böylece Van şehri Müslümanlardan ve Türklerden kurtarıldı.”37
The internal situation was wreaking havoc on the nerves of the Ottoman government members, but international developments were no less bleak: the Ottoman army suffered a disastrous defeat at Sarıkamış in December 1914; in January 1915, the British fleet carried out manouvers at the entrance of the
“Relocations” & Massacres
On 24 April 1915, the Ministry of Interior issued an order to 14 vilayets and 10 mutasarrıflıks, to the effect that Armenian committee headquarters be closed down, their documents be seized, and their leaders be arrested; 2345 people were swiftly interned.38 On the same day, the Minister of Interior Talat Bey ordered the 4th Army commander to move the Armenians around Zeytun and Marat to the south-east of Aleppo and to Zor and Urfa.
Right before Van fell to the Russians, on 2 May 1915, the vice-commander-in-chief Enver Paşa sent the following telegram to Talat Bey:
Van Gölü etrafında ve Van Valiliğince bilinen belirli yerlerdeki Ermeniler isyanlarını sürdürmek için daima toplu ve hazır bir haldedirler... ya bu Ermenileri aileleriyle birlikte Rus sınırı içine göndermek, yahut bu Ermeni ve ailelerini Anadolu içinde çeşitli yerlere dağıtmak gereklidir. Bu iki şekilden uygununun seçilmesiyle yapılmasını rica ederim. Bir sakıncası yoksa isyancıların ailelerini ve isyan bölgesi halkını sınırlarımız dışına göndermeyi ve onların yerine sınırlarımız içinde dışarıdan gelen islam halkın yerleştirilmesini tercih ederim.39
This is the first document that mentions relocation, and it is worth noting that at this late date, there does not seem to be a worked-out policy of the government with respect to what should be done with the Armenian population. Even if there was one, Enver was obviously oblivious of it. On 25 February 1915, the Supreme Military Command sent the following order (number 8682) to all its troops:
1.Ermeni efrad gerek seyyar ordularda ve gerek seyyar ve sabit jandarmalarda katiyen hidematı müsellahada kullanılmayacaklar ve Kumandanlar ve Karargahın maiyet ve dairelerinde dahi istihdam olunmayacaklardır.
2.Ordu ve Kolordu Kumandanları ve Kolordu ve Fırka Kumandan Vekileri ve Mevki Kumandanları ahali tarafindan herhangi bir suretle evamiri Hükümete muhalefet ve silahla tecavüz ve mukavemet görürlerse derakap Kuvayı Askeriye ile en şiddetli surette tedibat yapmaya ve tecavüz ve mukavemeti esasından imha etmeye mezun ve mecburdurlar. Kezalik Kumandanlar lüzum gördükleri yerde derhal idarei örfiye ilanına da selahiyetdardırlar.
3.Her yerde mutabassır ve müteyakkız bulunmakla beraber bilfiil tecavüz emaratı görülmeyen yerlerde ahaliyi tedhiş edecek tazyikattan içtinab olunmalıdır. Bu suretle itaat ve sadakatten ayrılmamış olanların zarar görmeyecekleri kanaati takviye edilmeli ve ahaliyi yese düşürerek isyana sevkedilmemelidir...40
The following communique was sent on 26 May by the Supreme Military Command to the Ministry of Interior:
Ermenilerin Doğu Anadolu vilayetlerinden, Zeytun’dan ve buna benzer yoğun bulundukları yerlerden
a)Ermeni nüfusu gönderildiği yerlerdeki aşiret ve islam sayısının %10 nisbetini geçmemelidir.
b)Göç ettirilecek Ermenilerin kuracakları köylerin herbiri elli evden çok olmamalıdır.
c)Ermeni göçmen aileleri seyahat ve nakil suretiyle de olsa yakın yerlere ev değiştirmemeli.41
At the request of the Supreme Military Command and the Cabinet, the following law entitled “vakti seferde icraatı hükümete karşı gelenler için ciheti askeriyece ittihaz olunacak tedabir hakkında Kanunu muvakkat” was enacted on 27 May:
l.lf in wartime the commanders of the army, the army corps, or the divisions should face any opposition, armed aggression, or resistance to the operations and arrangements related to the decrees of the government, the defence of the country, and the maintenance of public order, they are authorized and compelled to immediately take punitive measures through the Armed Forces, and to suppress any aggression and resistance.
2.The commanders of the army, the army corps and the army divisions may transfer and settle in other quarters any inhabitants of villages and towns engaging in spying or treason, or in view of military exigencies.
3.This law will come into effect on the date of its publication.42
It is interesting to note the similarities between the military orders and the law which they actually precede. Apparently the government felt it necessary to ratify a de facto situation into a de jure one, which also suggests that it was the army and not the government that dictated policies and courses of action.
Finally on 30 May the Cabinet issues the following decree, which will be quoted here in its entirety:
Filhakika devletin muhafaza-i mevcudiyet ve emniyeti uğrunda tevali eden icraat ve ıslahat-ı fedakarisi üzerinde icray-ı su-i tesire sebeb olan bu kabil harekat-ı muzirrenin icraat-ı müessire ile inıha ve izalesi katiyen muktazi ve nezaret-i müşarünileyhaca bu emirde ibtidar olunan icraattaki isabet bedihi olduğundan tezkere-i mezkurede dermeyan kılındığı üzere muharerül esami kura ve kasabatta sakin Ermenilerden, nakli icabedenlerin mahalli mürettebe-i iskaniyelerine müreffehen sevk ve isalleriyle güzergahlarında temin-i istirahat ve muhafaza-i can ve malları ve muvasalatlarında keyfiyet-i iyvalariyle suret-i katiyede iskanlarına kadar mahacirin tahsisatından iaşeleri, ahval-i sabıka-i maliye ve iktisadiyeleri nisbetinde kendilerine emlak ve arazi tevzii ve içlerinde muhtac olanlara taraf-ı hükümetten mesakin inşası ve zürra ve muhaacin-i erbab-ı sanata tohumluk ve alat ve edavat tevzii ve terkettikleri memlekette kalan emval ve eşyalarının veyahut kıymetlerinin kendilerine silver-i münasebe ile iadesi ve tahliyesi edilen köylere muhacır ve saire iskaniyle emlak ve arazinin kıymeti takdir edilerek kendilerine tevzii ve ahhliye edilen şuhur ve kasabatta kain olup nakledilen ahaliye ait emval-i gayr-i menkulenin tahrir ve tesbiti cins ve kıymet ve mikdarından sonra muhacirine tevzii ve muhacirinin ihtisas işgalleri haricinde kalacak zeytinlik, dutluk, bag ve portakallıklarla, dükkan, hane, fabrika ve depo gibi akaratın bilmüzayede bey’ veya icarı ile bedelat-ı baligasının kendilerine ita edilmek üzere sehabı namına emaneten mal sandıklarına tevdi ve muamelet ve icraat-ı mesrudenin ifası zımnında vuku bulacak sarfıyatın muhacirin tahsisatından tesviyesi zımnında nezaret-i müşarünileyhaca tanzim edilmiş olan talimatnamenin, bitemamiha tatbik-i ahkamiyle emval-i metrukenin temin muhafaza ve idaresi ve muamelat-ı umumiye-i iskaniyenin tesri ve tanzimi ve tetkik ve teftişi ve bu hususta talimatname ahkamı ve nezaret-i müşarünileyhadan ahz ve telakki edilecek evamir dairesinde mukarrerat ittihaz ve tatbiki ve tali komisyonlar tetkil ile maaşlı memur istihdarın vazife ve salahiyetlerini haiz olmak ve doğrudan doğruya Dahiliye nezaretine merbut bulunmak ve bir reis ile biri memurin-i dahiliyeden ve diğeri memurin-i maliyeden intihap ve tayin edilecek iki azadan terekküp etmek üzere komisyonlar teşkil edilerek mahallerine izamı ve komisyon gönderilen mahallerde mezkur talimatnamenin valiler tarafından icray-ı ahkamı tensip edilmiş olduğunun cevaben nezaret-i müşarünileyhaya tebliğ edildiği ve devair-i müteallikaya malumat itası tezekkür kılındı.43
Uprisings continued to occur throughout 1915 and into 1916: in Boğazlıyan, 23 July; Maraş Fındıkçık, 1 August; Urfa Germüş, 9 August; Antakya 14 September; Urfa city center, 29 September; Islahiye, 7 February 1916; Akmağdeni, 4 April; Tosya, 9 April. Relocations, more extensive than what was initially planned, continued in great part from May to August 1915, although there were to be other relocations afterward: Armenians to the north of Erzurum and those on the Trabzon shore were moved to Ordu and Kastamonu; those to the west and south of Erzurum and to the south of Trabzon were moved to Ankara, Niğde and the Konya plateau; those to the south-east of Erzurum were moved to Elazığ, Malatya, Maraş; those in Van and Bitlis were moved to Diyarbakır, Urfa, Antep, and Adana; and those in İskenderun, Adana, Haçin, Zeytun, and Sis were moved to the south east of Aleppo, to Zor and Urfa.
There also exists an order, found in the British archives, pertaining to the manner in which these relocations were to be carried out. The 21st and 22nd articles are worth quoting, for they provide indirect evidence to the kind of “difficulties” the Armenian population had to face:
Madde 21. Göç edenlerin gerek kamplarda, gerek yolculuk esnasında bir saldırıya uğramaları halinde saldırganlar derhal tevkif edilerek Divan-ı Harbe sevkedilecektir.
Madde 22. Göç edenlerden rüşvet veya hediye alanlar veya vaad yahut tehdit ile kadınları ifal edenler, yahut onlarla gayrımeşru münasebet kuranlar derhal görevden alınıp, Divan-ı Harbe sevkedilerek, ağır şekilde cezalandırılacaklardır.44
Another law was passed in 26 September 1915 to regulate the transactions dealing with the immovable property left behind by Armenians. It is, of course, highly dubious that this law went a long way to guarantee that such transactions were carried out justly or that any returning Armenians were ensured of getting back intact what they had had to leave behind - the fact that this law was put into force long after the relocations started also exacerbates this suspicion:
Madde 1. 14 Mayıs 1331 tarihli kanun-u muvakkatle ahar mahallere nakledilen eşhas-ı hakikiye ve hükmiyenin terketmiş oldukları emval ve matlubat ve düyun, bu husus için müteşekkil komisyonların her şahıs için ayn ayn tanzim edecekleri mazbatalar üzerine mahkemelerce tasfıye olunur.
Madde 2. Madde 1’de beyan olunan eşhasın hin-i nakillerinde mutasarrıf bulundukları icaateynli musakkafat ve müstagallat vakfıyenin hazine-i evkaf ve emval-i gayr-ı menkule-i sairenin hazine-i maliye namlarına kayıtları icra edilerek her iki kısım emval-i gayr-ı menkulenin mezkur hazineler tarafından verilecek bedellerinden ba’det-tasfıye kalacak miktarı eshabına ita olunur...
Madde 3. Bu eşhasın nukut ve emval-i menkule-i metrukesiyle mevsuat ve matlubatı 1. maddede zikrolunan komisyon reisi veya vekili tarafından cem ve istirdat ve tahsil ve dava ve emval-i metrukeden münaziünfilı olmayanlar bilmüzayede füruth ile hasıl olan mebaliğ sahipleri namma emaneten mal sandıklarına tevdi olunur...45
On 1 June 1915, the Ministry of Interior sent the following ciphered message to all the vilayets:
Ermenilerden zararlı kişilerle komite başlarının uzaklaştırılma ve tutuklanmaları hakkındaki talimatın bazı yerlerde anlaşıldığı ve birçok yerlerde suçlu olmayıp göze görünen kişilerin tutuklanarak bir yerden komşu diğer bir yere uzaklaştırıldıkları ve birçok yerlerde de gerçek kötü kişilerin hakkında hiçbir işlem yapılmadığı anlaşılmaktadır.46
The cipher of 14 June 1915 is especially interesting:
Erzurum’dan çıkarılan Ermenilerden 500 kişilik bir kafılenin Erzincan ile
The cipher of 22 June 1915:
Çıkartılan Ermeni ailelerden bikes kalan 20 yaşına dek kızlarla, 10 yaşına dek erkek çocukların güneye gönderilmeyerek evlatlık olarak ailelere verilmesi.48
Another cipher, sent to the vilayet of Mamuret-el aziz by the Ministry of Interior also deals with the issue of Armenian children:
Çocukların islam geleneklerine uygun biçimde Ermeni bulunmayan köy ve Kasabalarda oturan ileri gelenlere evlatlık verilmesi, şayet çocuklar birden fazla ise, temiz ve namuslu ailelerden olmak üzere, geçimini güç sürdürenlere de verilip çocuk başına aylık 30 kuruş ödenek ödenmesi, bu çocuklann kimlere verildiğinin muntazam şekilde çizelgeye dökülüp bir suretinin de merkeze yollanması.49
The cipher sent to the mutasarrıflık of Zor on 23 July 1915:
Ermeni halkınn barındırılması sırasında aynı ilçe ve liva halkının ayrı ayrı bölgelere yerleştirilmeleri ve barındırma yerlerinde Ermeni okulları açmalarına yer ve meydan bırakılmayarak çocuklarının Hükümet okullarına devam zorunluluğunda tutulmaları ve kurulacak olan köylerin birbirinden 5 saat uzak olmasına ve savunmaya elverişli yüksek noktalarda bulunmamasına itina edilmesi.50
The cipher sent to the governor of Mamuret-el aziz by the Ministry of Interior on 26 June 1915:
Korunma altında Erzurum’dan gönderilen Ermeni kafılelerinin Dersim eşkıyası tarafindan yollan kesilerek öldürüldükleri. Dersimlilerin bu şekilde ard ardına sürüp giden cinayetleri kesinlikle uygun olmayacağından gelen kafılelerin dokunulmazlıklarının sağlanması için tedbirlerin acilen alınması.
The cipher issued by the Ministry on 1 July 1915:
Ermenilerin bazılarının toplu olarak veya ferden din değiştirdikleri, bu şekilde memleketlerinde kalmaya çalıştıkları anlaşılıyor. Din de değiştirseler gönderilmeleri.51
The cipher sent to the governor of
Son zamanlarda vilayet içindeki Ermenilerin gece kentten dışan çıkarılarak koyun gibi boğazlatıldığı, şimdiye dek öldürülenlerin 2,000 kişi tahmin edildiği haber alınmıştır. Kesinlikle önlenmesi ve gerçek durumun bildirilmesi.52
Finally, on 24 October 1916, the Ministry sent the following cipher:
Şimdilik Ermenilerin başka yerlere gönderilmeleri ertelenmiş olmakla, zararlı kişiler olarak çıkarılmaları gerekenler varsa isimlerinin ve sayılarının bildirilmesi.53
Apologies are due for this lengthy bout of quotations, and a few comments are also in order. First of all, it is apparent that “civil society” itself has taken part in the atrocities committed, along with various gangs or aşirets, and government officials and military officers.54 Second, it can be seen that relocation was not regarded by the government as a means whose consequences were limited to the present: the 10% limit brings to mind Woodrow Wilson’s self-determination principle, and the Ottoman government was probably taking necessary precautions. The cipher of 23 June, while trying to ensure that the Armenians will be prevented from causing mischief by virtue of low population density, also prevents the formation of new “Armenian” regions. Third, the adoption of Armenian children by local families, while being a humanitarian practice, preventing the additional death of children due to the hardships of relocation, nevertheless constitutes a left-handed blow on Armenian identity. Fourth, it is quite tragic that Armenians had to actually convert to Islam to avoid relocation, and that even conversion proved to be insufficient. Finally, these documents hardly show, as claimed by various authors such as Süslü, Gürün or Uras, that the Ottoman government did everything to prevent the death of the Armenian population in the area. The government comes out as quite inept in dealing with the atrocities committed en route or in providing safe passage to those it was forcefully relocating. Not only that, but when other incriminating facts are also taken into consideration, it becomes excessively difficult to forge a façade of innocence for the Porte.
One indication of this comes from the speech delivered by Talat Paşa at the last congress of the CUP, on 1 November 1918: “...herhalde böyle bir hayli tehcir vukuatı olmuştur. Fakat Babıali bunların hiçbirinde evvelden verilmiş bir karar üzerine hareket etmiş değildir... Demek istiyorum ki, her yerde tehcir muntazam bir şekilde ve yalnız zarurutin icbar ettiği derecede yapılmıştır. Birçok yerlerde çoktan beri teraküm etmiş olan adevetler bu vesile ile infıalk ederek katiyen arzu etmediğimiz suiistimallere sebep olmuttur. Birçok memurlar haddinden ziyade zulüm ve şiddet gösterdiler. Birçok yerlerde bigayrıhak birtakım masumlar da kurban oldular. Bunu itiraf ederim.”55 It can be argued - indeed, has been argued- that the individual involvement of some officials (whose number, apropos, is 1397 - most of these were given sentences by the court, including capital punishment) does not incriminate the government itself; that they were duly punished, so the argument goes, shows that the government was expressly against the massacres. Members of the government, however, were not spared indictment, and four of the leading members of the CUP, after in absentia trials (because they had fled after the war), were sentenced to capital punishment. In 1919, the Turkish National Congress in İstanbul published a slim volume entitled The Turco-Armenian Question/ The Turkish Point of View, which denied that the Turkish people had any part in the massacres, claiming that it was the doings of a few CUP members, that most of them have been caught and punished, and that the leaders escaped punishment only because they had fled to Germany:
The guilt of the Unionist organization which conceived and deliberately carried out this infernal policy of extermination and robbery is potent. Its leaders rank among the greatest criminals of humanity... most of the officials who acted as agents of the Unionist organization in its campaign of extermination and spoilation against the Armenians have been arrested and are under judgement. If the principle culprits have escaped it is due to the collusion of the German authorities in
Coming from the Turkish Congress, these are heavy words indeed. Even though it is necessary to discount the exaggerated tone due to the eagerness of the “Hürriyet ve İtilaf” government to please the victors of the war, the fact remains that even in 1989, the official Turkish statements on the issue, while contesting some of the punishments dealt in 1918, tacitly approved the verdict for the four “İttihatçı”s:
İngilizler ve Fransızlar İstanbul’un işgalinden sonra Ermenilere karşı girişilen “katliamın” sorumlularını cezalandırmak amacıyla tutuklamalara girişmişler, Osmanlı Hürriyet ve İtilaf Hükümeti, İttihat ve Terakki Partisi ve yöneticilerine olan düşmanlığı nedeniyle işgal kuvvetlerine bu hususta elinden gelen her yardımı yapmıştır. Tutuklananlardan bir kısmı İstanbul’da yargılanmış, bir kısmı ise Malta’ya sürülmüştür. İstanbul’daki mahkeme İttihat ve Terakki’nin dört yöneticisini gıyaplarında idama mahkum etmiş, ayrıca üç kişiyi daha idam cezasına çarptırmıştır. Bu son idam cezalarının yalancı tanıkların ifadelerine dayanılarak verildiği daha sonra açığa çıkmıştır.57
The Ministry of Interior informed the Prime Ministry on 17 December 1916 that by the end of October 1916, 702,900 people had been relocated.58 25 million kuruş had been spent for this purpose in 1915, and another 86 million until the end of October 1916; it was stipulated by the Ministry that 150 million kuruş would have to be spent until the end of 1916.59
The process of relocation was a tragedy-inflicted one: hundreds of thousands of Armenians died because of sickness, hunger, the cold, the hardships of the journey, but also because of atrocities committed by local people, bandits, and even officials. The number of casualties has long been a matter of heated debate, and the estimates vary immensely, from 300,000 to 1,500,000. Below is a selected list of such estimates:
600,000 - J. McCarthy (for the period 1912-22), Toynbee, Encyclopedia Britannica (1918 ed.)
300,000 - Esat Uras, Kamuran Gürün, Bogos Nubar
500,000 - E.J. Zürcher
1,500,000 - Encyclopedia Britannica (1968 ed.)
It seems that an estimate of 300-600 thousand would be accurate. The last figure (cited by the Encyclopaedia) is quite off the mark, since the total number of Armenians living within the Empire before the war is estimated to be around 1,300,000. For purposes of cynical comparison, it should be noted that 600,000 people died in the Empire during combat at the front, and over 2 million people died during the war, away from the front, due to other reasons. The table below provides the population figures for the six vilayets that were claimed by Armenians.60
name of vilayet
no.of Muslims, 1893
no.of Armen., 1890s
no. of Armen., 1914
Clearly, Armenians did not constitute the majority in any of the six vilayets. The 1914 census puts the total number of Armenians in the Empire at 1,294,856, and the total population at 18,520,016, which yields an overall percentage of 6.9 for Armenians.61 These figures show that, even with the winds of self-determination that blew in the days of the First World War and afterward, and even with the Armenian version of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Treaty of Sevres, it would have been very difficult for the Armenians to obtain autonomy or independence in the East Anatolian area.
Added to this difficulty was the unwillingness of the Entente Powers to give any portion of the contested region to the Armenians. The Russians, who by July 1916 had occupied Köprüköy, Hasankale, Erzurum, Rize, Sümene, Trabzon, Mamahatun, Gümüthane and Erzincan, made it clear as early as May 1915 that they had no intention of setting up an autonomous Armenian state - Romanov, the new governor to Transcaucasia, forced the majority of Armenian volunteers to leave arms, dismantled Armenian troops, distributed the remaining Armenian soldiers within the Russian army, and heavily censured the Armenian press in Transcaucasia.62 The Russian Foreign Minister Sazanov told the Russian Ambassador to Paris, Isvolsky, on 18 May 1915 that
“Ermenilerle yapılan görüşmeler sırf akademik bir mahiyettedir. Zavariefe hiçbir muayyen program verilmemiştir. Kilikya’yı müstakil Ermeni sınırları içine almak hususunda onun projesine verilecek cevap, Kilikya’da Fransız menfaatlerinin üstünlük kazanmasından dolayı, Ermenilerin orası hakkıdaki arzularına yardım edemeyeceğimiz tarzında olabilir.”63
In 1916, when the Russians invaded
The Sykes-Picot Agreement, however, had divided the pertinent area among the Entente powers. Erzurum, Van, Bitlis; the area to the south of Van, between the Euphrates, Muş and Siirt; plus the Black Sea Coast from the west of Trabzon up to a point to be determined later, were given to Russia; lesser Armenia (the Cilicia region) was left to France.66 It was only after the Soviet revolution, when Russia withdrew from war, that the idea of an independent Armenia appeared once again on the international agenda.
Armenian nationalists had been heavily deceived, and the toll had been deadly. In a speech addressed to the Armenian Congress in
The Armenians greeted the Russians with ringing bells and with their priests dressed in their ceremonial robes. In this war, too, the Armenian people took their place beside the Russians... The war broke out and volunteers came from everywhere, from
In Conclusion: The Making of the 1915 Massacres
There are a number of serious questions that any study of the massacres of 1915 has to address; all of these questions are intertwined and center around the Question: what really happened? How many Armenians were killed? Who killed them? Who was responsible? Why did it happen? Was this genocide, an organized massacre, or an assortment of haphazard attacks? What documents are there to prove that the CUP planned the whole affair? The list goes on, but this much is probably enough to convey its drift.
There are three main versions of the story. The “Turkish” version sees it as “a stab in the back” - the Armenian people had been living with the Turks peacefully for centuries, having been granted privileges that other minorities in the Empire or Armenians in other empires did not have. Süslü, for example, cites the number of Armenian schools in the Empire in 1914 as 2300 according to Khatchadourian and 2000 according to Kevork Mesrob. He adds that these schools enjoyed superior rights in comparison to Muslim schools, and that in
The “Armenian” version tells the story of “the cry for freedom of a persecuted nation”. After centuries of oppression, the time had come for freedom for the Armenian people, but once again, they could not avoid persecution. Relocations, according to this narrative, were not limited to Eastern Anatolia, and Armenians everywhere were put under great pressure and were forced to move, even though not in as big groups as in the East. The involvement of the government is seen as obvious, it being only natural that those who planned, organized and carried out the massacre of around one million people would make sure that no incriminatory documents were left behind.
The “internationalist” narrative shifts the level of analysis to a Big Power game: when elephants make war, the grass gets crushed beneath them; when they make love, it’s again the grass that gets crushed.
Fortunately for historiography, it is possible to go beyond these narratives. It is known, for one thing, that as late as 2 May 1915, Enver Paşa did not know what to do with the Armenians, and asked the government for directives. The army, on the other hand, seems to have dictated the relocation policy and its manner of execution to the government. Together these two considerations seriously limit the time frame for the pre-meditation of a massacre. They do not, however, make organized massacre impossible.
Talat Paşa says in his memoirs that the decision for relocation was taken by German military authorities in the Ottoman Empire, and that afterward they would find the “precautions” of 1915 by the CUP to be highly insufficient.7° This can be used to support the second consideration above, which would in turn make it possible to infer that German officers in close contact with Ottoman military command were influential in at least the drafting of the relocation policy.
There also seems to exist some indication that perhaps not the government per se but an inner circle of the CUP led by Talat wanted to resolve the Eastern Question by annihilating the Armenians, and used relocation as a means to camouflage this policy. Some of the provincial party leaders participated in the atrocities committed by Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’s leader (and member of the CUP Central Committee) Bahattin Şakir.71 Members of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa were trained for this operation by the War Ministry.72 The intellectual background for such a cleansing had been in the making since the days of İzzet Paşa, who authored Abdülhamit’s Armenian policies and was convinced that the only way to solve the problem was to get rid of the Armenians.73 The discourse of the day, in the 1910s, as evinced by newspaper articles, was marked by a plethora of such statements, some made by the CUP members and army commanders themselves.
Despite such individual inclinations, the events did not evolve into a full-fledged genocide, if that is any comfort. The Armenians were not, except perhaps sporadically, cast as an inferior racial group, and the relocation policy never included all the Armenian population of the Empire. There was a peculiar rationality to it, which, for example, the Holocaust lacked - it made sense, as the official explanation had it, that it was dangerous for the integrity of the Empire to let the Armenians, whose affinity with the Russians was no secret, to remain close to the front line, giving them ample opportunity to sabotage the Ottoman army.
The conditions were ripe, then, for a massacre - the Germans, the army, the core of the CUP, the intellectual climate, the animosities among the peoples all met in unison on the matter of Armenians. The existence of ample motive and circumstance, however, does not prove the crime, and direct evidence is indeed lacking, even though such a lack is easily justified on grounds of precaution; it is also known that many decisions were taken orally, “şifahen”, in government and military circles. That the German archives are purged and are of no help on the issue is telling, but does not quench the thirst of the historian for “hard cold facts”. From such a point of view, it seems very difficult to pin down the culprits, or to describe the precise mechanism of events.
But then, how much does this matter? The one hard cold fact remains that 300-500 thousand people died between 1915-1916 due to a state policy. There comes a point when assertions to the effect that such a policy was crucial, that the Armenians deserved to be relocated, that many of those who died were not killed directly by civil or military servants, that other people died as well during the war and in greater numbers, are all irrelevant. At such a point, it is more relevant that eighty years have not been enough to come to grips, officially and publicly, with what was definitely a traumatic experience for the whole population.
lEsat Uras; The Armenians in History and the Armenian Question; Documentary Publications, İstanbul (1988); p.225.
2In Kamuran Gürün; Ermeni Dosyası; Türk Tarih Kurumu,
3Azmi Süslü; Ermeniler ve 1915 Tehcir Olayı; 100. Yıl Üniversitesi (1990); p.45.
4Mim Kemal Öke; Ermeni Sorunu 1914-1923 (Devletin Dış Politika Araç Alternatifleri Üzerine Bir İnceleme); Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, İstanbul (1991); p.79.
5Dr. Heinrich Pudor,
6Kazım Karabekir; Cihan Harbine Neden, Nasıl Girdik ve Nasıl İdare Ettik; Ystanbul (1934); s.90.
8See Öke; p.76; Uras; pp. 713-784; Gürün; p.168; Kazım Karabekir; Ermeni Dosyası; Emre Yayımları, İstanbul (1994); pp. 133-146; Taner Akçam; Türk Ulusal Kimliği ve Ermeni Sorunu; İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul (1992); p.97.
11Feroz Ahmad; The Young Turks;
121n Akçam; p.115.
14I will return to the matter of population figures; suffice it to say that in the area they claimed, Armenians did not have the majority or even a plurality even before the relocations and massacres of 1915.
15Uras reports this date as July, but August seems to be the more probable date.
18H. Erdoğan Cengiz; Ermeni Komitelerinin Ahval ve Harekat-ı İhtilafyyesi; Başbakanlyk,
191n Süslü (1990); p.39
20In Uras; p.858.
25B.A. Boryan, in Süslü (1990); p.69.
26 0ke; p.104.
31Cengiz; pp. 96-7.
32Süslü (1990); p.103.
35Cengiz; pp. 216-366.
36Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu; p.220.
38Süslü (1990); p.106.
43Gürün; pp. 214-5.
54For the involvement of officials, see the discussion of Talat Paşa’s speech, below.
55Gürün; p.223. Italics mine.
56The Turco-Armenian Questionl The Turkish Point of View; the National Congress of Turkey,
57Dokuz Soruda ve Cevapta Ermeni Sorunu; Dış Politika Enstitüsü,
58Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu; p.261.
60The figures are taken from Gürün; pp.85-104. The second column gives the range of estimates for the Armenian population for the 1890s, and these figures are obtained from Lloyd, Cuinet, Lynch, the 1893 census and official Ottoman estimates; the Patriarchate figures are excluded because they exhibit a heavy bias.
61Gürün; p.104. Other figures for the total number of Armenians are as follows: 1,152,367 (Cuinet, for 1894); 1,475,011 (French Yellow Book, for 1893-96); 1,229,007 (Stanford Shaw, for 1914); 2,560,000 (Armenian Patriarchate, 1913). It seems prudent to accept 1,300,000 as a good estimate.
62 Öke; p.103.
63Kazım Karabekir; Ermeni Sorunu; Emre Yayınları, İstanbul (l994); p.150. 64Uras; p.862.
65Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu; p.240.
68Süslü (1990); p.50.
69R.C. Craige to Lord Curzon, 13 July 1921, British Archives 371/6504/8519; in Dokuz Soru ve Cevapta...
70Cemal Kutay; Talat Paşa’nın Gurbet Hatıraları; İstanbul (1983); v.III, p.1197.
71Eric Jan Zürcher; Modern Türkiye’nin Tarihi; İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul (1995); p.171.
72Mete Tunçay in Akçam; p.108.