The great majority of Armenians were poor peasants, but a few found success as merchants and artisans. Although Ottoman society was dominated by Muslims, a small number of Armenian families were able to attain prominent positions in banking, commerce, and government. For several generations in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, the chief architects of the Ottoman court were in the Armenian Balian family. The prominence and influence of the well-educated and cosmopolitan Armenian elite had a drawback, however, in that it became a source of resentment and suspicion among Muslims.
In the 19th century Armenians struggled against the perception that they were a foreign element within the Ottoman Empire and that they would eventually betray it to form their own independent state. Young Armenian activists, many of them from Russian Caucasia , sought to protect their compatriots by agitating for an independent state. Neither one gained wide support among Armenians in Eastern Anatolia, who largely remained loyal and hoped instead that sympathizers in Christian Europe would pressure the Ottoman Empire to implement new reforms and protections for Armenians.
The activities of the Armenian revolutionaries, however, did stoke fear and anxiety among the Muslims. Anti-Armenian feelings erupted into mass violence several times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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When, in , the Armenians in the Sasun region refused to pay an oppressive tax, Ottoman troops and Kurdish tribesmen killed thousands of Armenians in the region. In all, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in massacres between and , which later came to be known as the Hamidian massacres. Some 20, more Armenians were killed in urban riots and pogroms in Adana and Hadjin in Armenians welcomed the restoration of the Ottoman constitution, and the promise of elections led Armenians and other non-Turks within the empire to cooperate with the new political order.
Over time, however, the ambitions of the Young Turks became more militant, less tolerant of non-Turks, and increasingly suspicious of their Armenian subjects, whom they imagined were collaborating with foreign powers. Antipathy toward Christians increased when the Ottoman Empire suffered a humiliating defeat in the First Balkan War —13 , resulting in the loss of nearly all its remaining territory in Europe.
Young Turk leaders blamed the defeat on the treachery of Balkan Christians. Furthermore, the conflict sent hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees streaming eastward into Anatolia, intensifying conflict between Muslims and Christian peasants over land. Fearful Armenians capitalized on the Ottoman defeat to press for reforms, appealing to the European powers to force the Young Turks to accept a degree of autonomy in the Armenian provinces.
In the European powers imposed a major reform on the Ottomans that required supervision by inspectors in the east.
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Because Armenians and Assyrians lived along the Russian-Ottoman front, both the Russians and the Ottomans attempted to recruit the local Christians in their campaigns against their enemies. The Young Turks proposed to the Dashnaktsutyun, by then the leading Armenian political party , that it convince Russian Armenians as well as those in Ottoman lands to fight for the Ottoman Empire. The Dashnaks replied that Armenian Russian and Ottoman subjects would remain loyal to their respective empires.
That was seen by powerful Young Turks as an act of treachery. Armenians in the Ottoman Empire fought alongside the Ottomans, while Armenian volunteer units made up of Russian subjects fought on the Russian side. In the areas where Ottoman and Russian troops faced each other, there were massacres of both Christians and Muslims. Although poor generalship and harsh conditions were the main reasons for the loss, the Young Turk government sought to shift the blame to Armenian treachery.
Armenian soldiers and other non-Muslims in the army were demobilized and transferred into labour battalions. The disarmed Armenian soldiers were then systematically murdered by Ottoman troops, the first victims of what would become genocide. About the same time, irregular forces began to carry out mass killings in Armenian villages near the Russian border.
Armenian resistance, when it occurred, provided the authorities with a pretext for employing harsher measures.
Most of the men who were arrested were killed in the months that followed. In May the Ottoman Parliament passed legislation formally authorizing the deportation.
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Throughout summer and autumn of , Armenian civilians were removed from their homes and marched through the valleys and mountains of Eastern Anatolia toward desert concentration camps. The deportation, which was overseen by civil and military officials, was accompanied by a systematic campaign of mass murder carried out by irregular forces as well as by local Kurds and Circassians. Survivors who reached the deserts of Syria languished in concentration camps, many starved to death, and massacres continued into Conservative estimates have calculated that some , to more than 1,, Armenians were slaughtered or died on the marches.
The events of —16 were witnessed by a number of foreign journalists, missionaries, diplomats, and military officers who sent reports home about death marches and killing fields. The Armenian Genocide laid the ground for the more-homogeneous nation-state that eventually became the Republic of Turkey. By the end of the war, more than 90 percent of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were gone, and many traces of their former presence had been erased. The deserted homes and property of the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia were given to Muslim refugees, and surviving women and children were often forced to give up their Armenian identities and convert to Islam.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Armenian Genocide
Tens of thousands of orphans, however, found some refuge in the protection of foreign missionaries. The Armenian Genocide had both short- and long-term causes. Turkey has steadily refused to recognize that the events of —16 constitute a genocide, even though most historians have concluded that the deportations and massacres do fit the definition of genocide—the intentional killing of an ethnic or religious group.
While the Turkish government and allied scholars have admitted that deportations took place, they maintain that the Armenians were a rebellious element that had to be pacified during a national security crisis. They acknowledge that some killing took place, but they contend that it was not initiated or directed by the government.
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Major countries—including the United States, Israel , and Great Britain—have also declined to call the events a genocide, in order to avoid harming their relations with Turkey. In government officials in Turkey offered condolences to the Armenian victims, but Armenians remained committed to having the killings during World War I recognized as a genocide.
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Armenian History and the Question of Genocide
Regarding the massacres in eastern Anatolia in , the fact that thousands of Armenians were deliberately killed is not in question. However, the facts about who the perpetrators were and the level at which decisions were made to kill Ottoman-Armenians are in question. Moreover, the larger question about whether there was or was not a centralized plan of extermination remains hotly contested in academia. Unlike the evidentiary trail historians have followed investigating the Holocaust, there is, in late , no authentic documentary evidence available that conclusively answers these questions.
Rather, there is a body of speculative conjecture based on the presumption that correlation equals causation — these are not truths, these are arguments by assertion. In terms of the extant scholarship today, there are six major theses about why the mass killings of Ottoman-Armenians occurred in eastern Anatolia in , which I reviewed in my book on the topic. All six embrace the same existing evidence but weigh it and interpret it differently.
These are, in no particular order:. What can actually be proven? First, there were many, many well-documented episodes of localized massacres of Ottoman-Armenians. Second, many Ottoman officials actively helped to save large numbers of Ottoman-Armenians.
Fourth, the Ottoman army used contemporary practices of relocation employed by the British in the Boer republics, the Americans in the Philippines, and the Spanish in Cuba as an operational counter-insurgency approach which I review in detail in my latest book. What cannot be proven at the present time? First, the number of Ottoman-Armenians who were killed or died as a result of relocation, and second, the motives of Ottoman officials at national, provincial, and local levels who participated in the relevant events. There is a large amount of archival evidence that has been excluded from the Armenian version of the narrative.
Much of this evidence is inconvenient for the Armenian diaspora because it provides counterpoints to the notion that an actual genocide occurred. The exclusion of inconvenient evidence has led to a mythology about World War I that presents the entire Ottoman-Armenian population solely as victims. British, French, Russian, and Turkish archives provide ample probative evidence on a number of facts that do not support the case that a genocide took place. I will briefly review some of them here. Please keep in mind that I am not providing the full story here, but rather reporting established facts that counter the narrative that recently took the U.
House of Representatives by storm. Ottoman authorities had reasons to be gravely concerned by the activities of Armenian revolutionaries and their external sponsors and supporters. In the late s, the Ottoman-Armenians formed a number of secret cell-like terrorist revolutionary groups called committees. The well-armed Armenian Revolutionary Committees the Dashnaks and Hunchaks in particular actively rebelled against the Ottoman state in and And these Armenian Revolutionary Committees were encouraged to rebel and were supported by the Russians , British, and French.
As the war dragged on, prominent Armenians both Ottoman and Russian Armenian citizens led Russian-based conventional Armenian military forces against the Ottomans.