Episode 24 – 1915 Events 1: What Really Happened Before, During, and After

Turks and Armenians have lived in peaceful co-habitation in Anatolia for about a millennium. The dispute we recently hear about refers to the events of the last 160 years. So, what happened that destroyed the peace of many centuries between the Turks and Armenians? World renown historian Professor Justin McCarthy, in his Testimony of May 15, 1996, at the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on International Relations, gives us a glimpse. I only changed the word “deportation” to “relocation”, to stay loyal to the definition of each term. I quote: “…Actions of the Russian Empire precipitated the conflict. In 1800, Armenians were scattered within and beyond a region that now encompasses Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Eastern Turkey. In (most,) Armenians were a minority which had been under Muslim, primarily Turkish, rule for many centuries. The Russian Empire had begun the imperial conquests of the Muslim lands south of the Caucasus Mountains. One of their main weapons was the transfer of populations – relocation. Russians ruthlessly expelled whole Muslim populations, replacing them with Christians whom they felt would be loyal to a Christian government. Armenians were a major instrument of this policy. Like others in the Middle East, the primary loyalty of Armenians was religious. Many Armenians resented being under Muslim rule, and they were drawn to a Christian State and to offers of free land (land which had been seized from Turks and other Muslims) … In Erivan Province … a Turkish majority was replaced by Armenians. In other regions such as coastal Georgia, Circassia, and the Crimea, other Christian groups were brought in to replace expelled Muslims. There was massive Muslim mortality in some cases up to one third of the Muslims died. The Russians expelled 1.3 million Muslims from 1827 to 1878. One result of this migration, serving the purposes of the Russians, was the development of ethnic hatred and ethnic conflict between Armenians and Muslims… Armenians cooperated with Russian invaders of Eastern Anatolia in wars in 1828, 1854, and 1877. When the Russians retreated, Armenians feared Muslim retaliation and fled.” The condition was worsened by rebellions of Armenian revolutionaries which, according to the Armenian historian Louise Nalbandian, started in Zeitun in 1862. Numerous armed, secessionist groups, which would be called terrorists in today’s parlance, were established between 1862 and 1890. Some among them were the Union of Salvation, The Black Cross Society, Protectors of The Fatherland, Armenakan, The Hunchakian Revolutionary Party, and The Armenia Revolutionary Federation (also known as the Dashnaks.) Prof. McCarthy’s congressional testimony continues: “…The situation was exacerbated in the 1890s in which cities in Eastern Anatolia were seized and many Muslims and Armenians were killed. Intercommunal warfare between Turks and Armenians in Azerbaijan during the Russian Revolution of 1905 added to the peoples’ distrust of each other. Muslims and Armenians were now divided into sides, antagonists. Each group believed that in a war they would be killed if they did not kill first, a classic self-fulfilling prophecy… Armenian revolutionaries, many trained in Russia, attempted to seize main Ottoman cities in Eastern Anatolia. They took the city of Van in April 1915 and held it until Russia invaders arrived, killing all but a few of the Muslims of the city and surrounding villages. In the countryside, Muslim tribesmen killed the Armenians who fell into their hands. Armenian and Kurdish bands killed throughout the East, and massacre was the rule of the time. Russian and Ottoman regular troops were less murderous, but they too gave little quarter to those viewed as the enemy…The killing went on until 1920. Many more died of starvation and disease than from bullets… In the province of Van, 60% of the Muslims were lost by war’s end…When the Russians and Armenians triumphed, all the Muslims were exiled, as were all the Armenians when the Ottomans triumphed. The Ottoman government also organized an official relocation of Armenians in areas under their control… the relocations were not acts of one-sided genocide…” When the Ottoman Empire was attacked by the most powerful armada of the time, a joint British- French naval force, at Dardanelles and its survival at stake, the Ottoman-Armenians in the East, instead of coming to the rescue of their state, chose to take arms against it and even joined the invading Russian enemy armies. If those Armenians stayed loyal to their country, the temporary resettlement order of May 31, 1915, would not be issued.

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