Every April 24, we wait to see what the U.S. president would say about the 1915 incidents. Since the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, we have been trying to explain the Armenian issue to the U.S. The Armenian issue is widely believed to have broken out in 1915, but it came to dominate both Turkey and Europe's agendas following the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. In other words, it goes back 141 years.
Abdülhamid II had to deal with the Armenian issue during most of his reign. But he compromised on the issue. The Sultan was well aware of the political dimensions it took. So, while taking strict measures against Armenian terrorist activities at home, he also made efforts to keep the West informed.
In doing so, he often invited foreign journalists and ambassadors to the Yıldız Palace and conveyed to them both his and the Ottoman State's take on the Armenian issue. He also looked to ensure that his statements were published in foreign newspapers.
In his book "Kurtlar Sofrasındaki Osmanlı," Vahdettin Engin, a leading expert on the subject, says that as a part of Sultan Abdülhamid II's efforts to enlighten foreigners on the Armenian issue, the Sultan received the U.S. ambassador and discussed the issue.
The U.S. Ambassador, A.W. Terrell, later wrote about the meeting in the November 1897 issue of the Century Magazine.
"On the nineteenth day of last March, I went to the Yildiz Palace, to watch the Selamlık ceremony. I was received in audience by the Sultan after the ceremony and had a conversation with him that lasted two hours. I was given a cordial reception. His Excellency Sultan said many things regarding the fair treatment of the Armenian race by the Turkish government which he desired should be made known to the people of the U.S.," Terell wrote.
The Sultan said he had been much gratified to hear British Member of the Parliament Sir Ashmead-Bartlett had spoken in just terms, touching upon His Majesty's actions, in what he termed as the Armenian "disturbances."
He added the facts about the recent disturbances in Turkey have never been faithfully reported by the U.S. press. "I hoped that you would make known to the American people what I am about to say." He then went on to provide some information about the Armenians.
Armenians became wealthy
The Sultan then offered numerous pieces of evidence on the favor and partiality extended to, and of the confidence reposed in the Armenians by himself and by former sultans, to show that their religion was not the cause of their recent misfortunes.
"One Dadian, an Armenian, was given entire control of the imperial powder factory by my father, Sultan Abdülmecid. He could make gunpowder that would not throw a ball across this room. In other words, he had the army at his mercy. Thus, he grew very rich. The Oğulyan, Agop, Gümüşgerdan and Balyan families had all become rich by serving the Ottoman state," the Sultan said.
"My present minister of state in charge of the civil list, Portakalyan Efendi, is an Armenian. He has exclusive control of all public lands, and of all real estate belonging to me. Many Armenians are retained in office by him, with my approval. I will order the delivery of a list containing their names and salaries to you. After all the favors bestowed on the Armenian race by my house, which enriched them, their ingratitude was shown by plotting and organizing to destroy the Ottoman Empire. The revolutionary movement has been sustained by wealthy Armenians," he added.
During that interview, Abdülhamid II also said the following about Armenians: "During early Ottoman conquests in the Asia Minor, the Armenians, who were being crushed by repeated invasions of the Mongols and the Persians, emigrated in large numbers to Ottoman lands, and obtained protection from the Ottoman rulers. They were kindly received, hospitably treated, and received benefits in the protection of their lives and property."
"No nation that is continually engaged in war can excel in industrial and commercial pursuits. Thus, it occurred that while the early sultans were busy with conquests, all manufacturing and commercial interests were monopolized by Christian races and chiefly by the Armenians. Their religion was also tolerated, for Muslims tolerate the religion of all men who worship God," he added.
"Thus, the Armenians prospered and remained contented under Muslim rule for over 400 years. They became the manufacturers, contractors and bankers of the Ottoman Empire. They enjoyed their religion, openly worshiped for centuries in their ancient churches and monasteries, and built new ones when needed. Their patriarch could always present their complaints to the Sublime Porte, and they were always protected in the enjoyment of their own methods of worshiping God," he said.
A disinformation campaign
The U.S. ambassador in reply to Abdülhamid II said: "My government had covered the incident reported by our missionaries. The news first appeared in the daily, Independent, in December 1893. It claimed that the Armenian revolutionists intended to commit atrocities against the Turks and burn their homes in order to provoke the latter to commit atrocities against Armenians so they could evoke the sympathy of the Christian world."
"Though my government is quite satisfied that atrocities have been committed alike by Muslims and Armenians in Asia Minor, it has never been disposed to meddle with this Eastern Question in any of its phases," he said.
"I have never expressed the opinion that your Majesty instigated or ordered the massacre of Armenians, but I feel sure that their repetition would prove most unfortunate for the Ottoman Empire. Both English and American historians have done ample justice to Muslim magnanimity," the ambassador said.
"They have all contrasted the terrible butchery of 75,000 Muslim men, women and children in Jerusalem by Duke Godfrey, after their surrender, with the knightly humanity of Saladin when he recaptured the city and gave even the soldiers the privilege of being ransomed."
"When at Damascus, and looking at the splendid sarcophagus of Saladin, to which I had been admitted by an imperial will (irade), I had remembered his bearing after victory, and when contrasting his humanity with that of Christian crusaders, felt like standing uncovered before his tomb," he added.