The 19th century was an era when nationalism was kindled all around the world. Dominating various religious and ethnic groups under its rule, the Ottoman Empire also had its share of this movement. Four Christian communities in Ottoman Europe including the Greeks, Romanians, Serbians and Bulgarians gained autonomy. Due to the strong support by Europeans amazed by the ancient Greek civilization, the Greeks formed an independent state in an area covering a quarter of present-day Greece's territory.
During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, the Ottoman armies were badly defeated. Russia obtained major concessions following the heaviest defeat in Turkish history. The Russians acquired the provinces of Kars, Ardahan and Batum which are on the east of the country. This depression led to the French occupation of Tunisia, the English invasion of Egypt and the Austrian control in Bosnia. With the support of Russia, Romania and Serbia achieved full independence while Bulgaria enjoyed a significant degree of autonomy. From the 18th century, Russia as standing as a formidable enemy in front of the Ottoman Empire. Under the guise of protecting Slavs and Orthodox Christians under Ottoman rule, Russia was trying to weaken the empire with the aim of accessing the Mediterranean Sea. Orthodox Christians and Slavs in the Balkans, who had been neglected by Catholic Europe, used to see Russia as their savior.
The 1878 Treaty of San Stefano signed after the Russo-Turkish War specified very harsh provisions. Being afraid of Russia's empowerment because of its Middle Eastern policy at that time, Britain helped the Ottomans to conclude a new agreement that would soften the treaty articles. In return, Britain took over Cyprus. The 1878 Treaty of Berlin is still one of the bitterest agreements in the history of the Ottoman Empire.
The Slavic nation won its independence. But what about the others? Indeed, empires do not consist of minorities, but of different nations. In the Ottoman Empire, Muslim Turks were the dominant community. However, other groups enjoyed equal legal status with Turks while subscribing to their own traditions. One of these wasArmenians which was one of Anatolia's oldest nations and has one of the oldest Christian church. Armenians adopted Christianity in the fourth century under the leadership of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. They are connected to the Gregorian sect that they belongs to is monophysite. Monosphysites believe that both human and divine attributes merge in a single body in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, dyophysites, like most Europeans, believe that Jesus Christ has two distinct natures. Similar to Armenians, the Assyrian and Maronite Churches in Syria and the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt also observe monophysitism. According to some European Christians and Russians, Armenians are therefore a heretical community.
The number of Armenians in Anatolia was high and they also inhabited almost every region within the imperial borders. The Armenian community was densely concentrated in certain eastern and southeastern provinces, but even in these cities they did not represent the majority. Four of them – Erzurum, Elaziz, Maraş and Adana extended from the Russian border to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia's plan was at least to con the Ottoman government into giving autonomy to these provinces and then turn it into an advantage in order to achieve political independence. Russia would then establish an Armenian state under its auspices and in this way, reach the Mediterranean Sea. The most convenient way to put pressure on the empire was to become the protectorate of Armenians without bothering about their heretical doctrines.
The France was conducting missionary work among Armenians from the beginning of the 16th century. Early in the 18th century, some Armenians adopted Catholicism. Upon the pressure of the French government on the Ottoman Empire, Catholic Armenians established an individual patriarch which was recognized by the state. However, they never achieved a significant number. Implementing a strict secularist policy within its borders, France always acted as the protector of Ottoman Catholics.
The principal aim of the Anglo-American schools opened in the 19th century was to promote Protestantism among Armenian students and educate them to have influence on the Ottoman bureaucracy in the future. As a result of such initiatives, only a few Armenians became Protestants.
The 1878 Treaty of Berlin embodied decisions of certain reforms in favor of Armenians residing in the six eastern provinces and granted them a kind of administrative autonomy. It did not take long for Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II to understand that Britain was not an advocate of the Armenians, but rather Britain's policy was to ensure the continuation of the Ottoman Empire, although this was never a strong desire. Russia, on the other hand, was the enemy of Britain. An Armenian state in the Ottoman lands was an advantage for Russia, but the British government was against it. This is because the Ottoman government always resisted the Armenian demands, ultimately trusting in Britain's support. Meanwhile, in case of a Russian invasion, a militia called "Hamidiye Alayları" (Hamidiye Regiments) was established among the Kurdish tribes living in the eastern part of the country to provide immediate local resistance.
However, Britain's policy changed over time. The British Government became closer with Russia, which was against the Ottoman Empire. Then Russia began to provoke nationalist movements among Armenians in the eastern regions of the Asia Minor. When the Ottoman government withdrew arms from the Armenians to avoid a possible revolt, they were confronted with the threat of armed Kurdish groups. Two political parties – the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (SDHP) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) were formed among the Armenians. The first one was in favor of political negotiations while the latter supported armed struggle . Russia was helping the ARF whose members provoked young Armenians and provided arms to the public. Armenian terrorists revealed the extent of their power to the whole world through an attack on an Ottoman bank in Istanbul and a failed suicide attempt on the sultan in 1905. Mostly with the support of Russian and English provocateurs, Muslims and Armenians fought each other during the conflicts in Maraş, Van and Adana. There were losses on both sides and houses and shops were destroyed. Of course, a great portion of the people who died was Armenian.
In those years, wealthy Armenians generally won tax tenders. Prior to 1840, Kurdish tribes were tax-collectors and Armenians earned their hatred as they became richer by collecting taxes. There were also many craftsmen among the Armenians. It was possible to find a group of Armenian artists and craftsmen in nearly all provinces and towns. Following the 1821 Greek Revolution, Greeks lost their historical recognition by the Ottoman government in favor of the Armenians. Armenians began to compete with and replace Jewish groups who used to hold national trade activities in their hands and penetrate into the army and bureaucratic administrations through brokerage. Even further, the revolutions of 1730 and 1807 are generally explained as an attempt by the Jewish community to destroy the financial power of Armenians . All these things thdew Armenians which became as unwelcome nation, in danger early in the 20th century.
When the Great War broke out, the ruling Committee of Union and Progress arrested Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1914 and exiled them to Anatolia. Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army were gathered at places like concentration camps under the name of "labor battalions." With the Tehcir (Deportation) Law on May 14, 1915, Armenians living near the Russian front were forced to migrate to Syria to prevent them aiding the enemy. In fact, the Armenians supported the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. Besides, they wholeheartedly supportedthe deposition of Sultan Abdülhamid II who was a roadblock in their path to autonomy.Armenian-French historian Albert Vandal described Sultan Abdülhamid II as a bloody emperor – "Le Soultan Rouge" (The Red Sultan), with reference to his red beard. The Deportation Law was not only practiced on those near the Russian front, but all Armenians across the country. The Armenians exempted from the exile were either Catholics or members of the Hunchakian party who had good relations with the Committee of Union and Progress. Some Armenians tried to escape from the exile by using their Muslim background as an excuse, but they failed. Approximately 1 million Armenians were deported to Syria. Halfof them either died or were killed on the road.
Local Kurds were the first group that celebrated the news, as some Kurdish tribes contributed the outrages during the deportation, they also seized the property left by the Armenians. They regained their financial power in the region.
As the allies of the Ottoman government, Germans were certainly informed about the exile. They even encouraged the Committee of Union and Progress to exile the Armenians in the case that the Armenian militia could provide local support to a possible Russian invasion. Jewish-descendent archaeologist, businessman and the head of Germany's Intelligence Bureau for the Middle East, Max von Oppenheim, was one of the architects of this exile. However, they probably did not realize the true extent of the exile. Nevertheless, they took the exile as a model in World War II and developed it with German discipline. Indeed, the exile of the Armenians was seen as a victory of the Jewish lobby, which had sided with the British all along. After two centuries of rivalry, the absence of the Armenians was filled by the Jews. Well-known Jewish deputy, Emmanuel Caraso, who disclosed the deposition of Sultan Abdülhamid II, was the confidant and banker of Grand Vizier Talat Pasha. Even further, Talat Pasha entrusted all his fortune to Karaso while fleeing abroad. Caraso was one of the people who advised the government to exile the Armenians. Today, the Jews including Israel seem to be on the side of Turkey regarding the exile issue. Of course, the money which has been paid to Jewish foundations in the U.S. and other countries to carry out lobbying activities from discretionary funds by Ankara plays an important role in this.
During World War I, the plan was to establish a Christian Armenian kingdom in Cilicia (Southern Anatolia) and Syria similar to that designed during the Crusades and to enthrone Jamal Pasha, who was the governor of Syria and a prominent member the Committee of Union and Progress.
Jamal Pasha was a French sympathizer and his relationship with other Committee of Union and Progress members was not good. It was rumored that the French supported the idea of establishing an Armenian kingdom and the Russians and Ottomans made an agreement in regards to this project and approved the exile. However, the project did not take place as the British were opposed to the idea. After all this, Jamal Pasha became a relentless enemy of the exiled Armenians.
The Armenian militia who were brought by the Russians while they were invading Anatolia tried to avenge the exile by massacring the Muslim population. However, the Armenians were left alone both in the military and diplomatic field upon the withdrawal of the Russians. Once the Soviet Union and the government in Ankara reached an agreement, the Armenian issue was put aside. Ankara was of greater importance for the Russians than Yerevan. Besides, good relations with Ankara left Georgia and Azerbaijan, along with Armenia to the influence of Moscow. Today, Russia is one of the leading countries that does not want the Armenian problem to be solved because if the problem is solved, Armenia will open up to the West through Turkey and it will no longer be a place where Russia has a free hand.
Great Britain and the U.S. decided to remain silent regarding the exile. It was said that the exile took place in secret and they were informed long after the fact---after which fact??. The U.S. did not do anything except take Armenian children to their country to bring them up as Protestants under the guise of humanitarian aid. The American public opinion maintained a negative stance against Turks due to the propaganda of the exiled Armenians. However, this negative atmosphere changed with the pressure of American businessmen, and Washington began supporting Ankara because the Standart Oil Company, which forecast that Mosul would be left to Turkey, made deals with Ankara. Moreover, the U.S. government accepted that it was not possible to establish a country for minority Armenians in the east in accordance with the report of General Harbord, who was sent to Anatolia in 1919 to meet with Mustafa Kemal. The Senate issued a decision in that direction.
An Armenian state in the east of Anatolia which would be under the control of Russia even though it was autonomous was against the Middle Eastern policies of Great Britain. On top of that, it was worrying to have a satellite state under the control of the Russians bordering the petroleum basin in Mosul, which was controlled by Great Britain. When the Ottoman Empire surrendered in 1918 and Istanbul was occupied, the actors of the exile were put on trials and punished by the courts established with the pressure of the British. Some of them were exiled to Malta by the British, but after a short while they were released to join Ankara. This is a sign of how serious the British were about the Armenian issue. Besides, the exile was the will of global capital and a part of the nation-state project was cut out for Turkey. Great Britain and the U.S. were the centers of this global capital, therefore they could not side with the Armenians even if they had wanted to. Thus, the Anglo-Americans have always maintained certain coolness towards the Armenian issue and this colors their approach even today.
In the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, what happened to the Armenians was not elaborated upon; above all, autonomy was not even mentioned. All that happened was that the victims were given one year in regard to the demand for their return and the compensation of their property because the friendship of Ankara was so important that it could not be sacrificed for the sake of either the Armenians or the Kurds. In this way, the great powers took advantage of the Armenians and the Kurds and did not care about them once they were done with them.