How did Britain’s “Armenian Question” of the 1870s become what it did in 1915? Was it simply a diabolical genocidal plan of the Turks that the Armenians be eradicated from eastern Anatolia? Or were there a series of actions instigated by external forces which altered things in such a way that the tragedy of 1915 became almost inevitable?
It is the view here that what happened in 1915 to the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire was almost entirely the result of Imperialism and Western influence. Without this there would most probably still be an Islamic State of the former kind and a substantial Armenian community within it.
Who were the Armenians?
What runs through English Liberal propaganda on behalf of the Armenians is the belief that they were a special people, marked out by their Christian heritage, to rise up above the surrounding dross of humanity, and become a rightful nation. It was indeed a historical imperative that they did so, something which had to take place if progress was to be satisfied. This, of course, is racism. But as it is spoken by moralists on behalf of the oppressed, and in the name of progress and civilisation (which is really just another name for England) it is seemingly acceptable.
There were two different areas ruled by Armenians for a short period. They were both military conquests. The Armenians arrived, probably from the Balkans, around the 7th century BC in eastern Anatolia. Armenians were not the first rulers of the areas they began to occupy – many others ruled these areas before and after eg. the Hittites. These Kingdoms only had Armenian kings and not necessarily a majority of ‘Armenian’ subjects. The character of who these Armenians were is questionable. It is said that they established the first Christian kingdom but that is only because the Armenian king Drat was converted by Gregory the Illuminator and forced his subjects to convert to Christianity en masse. If it had not been for Roman military power this conversion would have been momentary.
However, it was this conversion, around 300 AD, that marked the Armenians out, which was to make them a special people for the West 1500 years later.
Armenians and Seljuks
The Byzantine invasion in the 11th century subdued the Armenian Kingdom, and the Armenians were treated as heretics by the Byzantium Emperor. The Byzantine’s burned Ani, the famous Armenian city near Kars and scattered the Armenian populace of the region. At the same time the Byzantines settled Armenians in Cilicia (“Little Armenia”) to hold off Arabs encroaching on the Christian Empire.
However, at the battle of Manzikert the Armenians deserted the Byzantine army and went over to the enemy, the Seljuk Turks, who were coming from the east and driving the Byzantines westward, out of eastern Anatolia. The Armenian historians of the time describe their people as being well disposed to the Seljuks.
After being ruled by the Seljuks for a century the Armenians passed under the rule of a number of other peoples for about 4 centuries before the arrival of the Ottomans. During this period they suffered oppression from some Kurdish rulers.
Armenians and Ottomans
The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, after taking Constantinople in 1453, opened it to the Armenians and founded the Armenian Patriarchate there. Many Armenian clans joined the Ottomans in the city and were taken on in high position. The Ottoman’s Islamic principles dictated tolerance toward the People of the Book and the Armenians were respected for their architectural flair and prowess at banking and bookkeeping. The Armenian Patriarch was put in charge of the administrative, cultural and judicial affairs of the Armenians, along with the Assyrian Christians.
In the 4 centuries of their life within the Ottoman state the Armenians thrived and grew into the most prosperous, educated and well cared for community with the highest life expectancy. They had most of the rich merchants, financial experts, professionals and small business owners in Anatolia. Not until the 1870s and the birth of the Armenian Question in England did their position begin to become problematic within the Ottoman territories.
There are attempts to describe Ottoman oppression of the Armenians in these centuries. However, these are a product of the late 19th Century when it was felt that it should have been the case that the Armenian community suffered the cruellest of oppressions to justify an ending of Ottoman rule. And they are also a product of the sensitivity English Liberalism feels to the argument that until they interfered between the Armenians and the Ottomans a functional relationship which, while it might not have attained the highest standards of social justice proclaimed by the West, nevertheless permitted a mosaic of different peoples and religions to live together in relative harmony.
The Armenians were part of the Ottoman millet system, the organisation of the scattered communities of the Empire into non-territorial authority based on religion. The millets cared for the communities they represented in areas like social affairs, education, justice, religion, culture and welfare.
The millets were never meant to be ethnicities or nations. The Moslem millet was the biggest one, containing Turks, Kurds and Circassia’s. The Armenian millet was named Militia Sadaki – “the faithful people”, to honour whom the Turks trusted as their closest and loyal associates among the Christian communities. The Ottomans had a very un-racial view of the world that was unusual for the time, when Europe obsessed about blood and stock. Marx once said that the Ottoman Empire was the only state in the world that could progress to communism without going through the capitalist phase.
The 1863 Tanzimat reform was a movement toward more western views of state responsibility. It democratised the millet system, reducing the Armenian Patriarch to an executive officer over a representative General National Assembly that could impeach the Patriarch. This was an “imperium in imperio”, representing the most developed form of devolved authority possible outside of the cessation of territory – which was impossible due to the scattered nature of groups like the Armenians, Greeks and Jews, who thrived on being mobile.
Count von Moltke rather accurately described the Armenians as “Christian Turks.” The Armenians served in significant positions within the Ottoman State through its history. Sultans often took Armenian women as wives so the Ottoman line became mixed with Armenian blood – something the English saw as “race suicide”.
At least 12 Ottoman ministers between 1867 and 1913 were Armenian. They also served as Ambassadors, Bankers, translators, consuls and deputies in the Ottoman Parliament – 14 in 1908. The Ottoman Foreign Minister in the year before the Great War was an Armenian. It is extraordinary that the belief exists about Ottoman desire to destroy the Armenians, they were such an important pillar of the Empire and its functioning.
Can it be imagined Hitler having a Jew as his Foreign Minister in 1938?
Problem of Russian Expansion
The Russian expansion in the Crimea and Caucasus between 1806-1878 had a big effect on the peoples there and on relations between Armenians and the Ottomans. Vast ethnic cleansings occurred during the Russian expansions with Moslems forced south and westward into the Ottoman Empire and Christians taking their place.
This was the first encouragement to the idea of Armenian nationalism, when they became a majority around Erivan, displacing the Moslems there.
The Tsar used the Christian Armenians as the means/justification for Russian expansion in Eastern Anatolia. He repressed Armenian nationalists within his expanding state and had no intention of permitting the construction of an Armenian entity anywhere in his territory. He realised that if the Armenian revolutionaries, who were sprouting up, were to be a disruptive influence it was better they were directed westward against the Ottomans than turning their activities toward establishing a territory in his empire.
The problem of Missionaries
The Protestant Missionaries were a major disruptive force with regard to the Armenian position in the Empire. The mainly Protestant missions began to infiltrate from the early 19th Century. They must have taken the attitude that the Armenians were not good enough Christians – rather similarly to how English Protestants looked at the loose Roman Catholics of Ireland. Gregorian Armenians were targets for conversion with the promise of education and commercial training as a prize. The Bible was translated into Armenian before it was realised that most Armenians spoke Turkish.
The Ottomans, who were presented in Christian propaganda as intolerant and brutish, strangely tolerated this missionary work. That was unfortunate because it produced a situation whereby the missionaries inculcated a view within the Armenians that they were a chosen people, marked out to be great and a nation. This engendered dissatisfaction on all sides. Armenians grew more nationalistic and became dissatisfied with the Ottoman constrictions based on religion. Local Moslems wondered why their neighbours were being singled out as a special people and provided with competitive advantages in education, training and trade.
The Armenians had been thorough Orientals sharing a common culture and customs with their Moslem neighbours, but their Protestantisation by the U.S. Missions metamorphosed them into disgruntled, semi-Europeanised Asiatics with attitude.
The second problem was that the Protestant missions became great producers, with the English Liberals, of racist anti-Turk propaganda. This depicted the Moslems as savage and uncivilised barbarians ravishing Armenian women and martyring innocent Christians in frequent horrible tortures and massacres.
All this went toward creating communal divisions within previously neighbourly communities where one group, despite being weaker, began to feel superior to the other and held the threat of foreign intervention over the head of the other, building up resentment over their special position.
The “Bulgarian Horrors” of Liberal England became the template for the resolution of what was now being called “the Armenian Question”. The Bulgarian rising of 1876 was utterly unsuccessful but produced a successful result. The Bulgarians massacred a number of Balkan Moslems and when the Ottomans retaliated by killing a few thousand Bulgarians Liberal England went into uproar at the Christian deaths (whilst remaining silent over the Moslem ones).
The Russians, aware of the Liberal outrage in England, seized their chance of intervening and liberated the Bulgarians from Moslem rule in a war that took them to the gates of Istanbul. In this war of 1877-8 Moslems were ethnically cleansed and killed in large numbers.
This became the template for the Armenian revolutionaries – Christian uprising, Ottoman counter-measure, Liberal outrage, Imperial intervention, eradication of Moslems. That was the desired process. One thing for certain was that such a process would inevitably result in great inter-communal violence, ethnic cleansings and the massacre of innocents.
This has been seen in the Balkans ever since. It was not a product of Ottoman authority. A hundred years after the Ottomans left there is still ethnic conflict there. However, Liberal England produced the view that it was “the Turk” who was the problem and once he disappeared “bag and baggage” things would be fine. That has proved to be a false assumption.
The Armenian revolutionary societies, the Dashnaks (Federation) and Hunchaks (Clarion), that grew up in the latter part of the 19th Century, were not products of the Armenian communities in the Ottoman territories; they were external impositions from Russia and Geneva. They were products of the Tsarist system of oppression and were modelled on the Narodniks, advocating terrorism and assassination, to provoke over-reactions from the authorities.
They prepared themselves for insurrection with arms smuggling through the porous and shifting Tsarist/Persian/Ottoman borders. They were inspired by fierce revolutionary literature that was filled with hate for Moslems and not conducive to peaceful co-existence.
These groups had little concern for the wishes of ordinary Armenians, whom they extorted money from and often killed. They were idealist, highly nationalistic and fed on popular writings, like Raffi’s ‘The Fool’ preaching the eradication of the Turkish oppressor and Kurdish harasser and an irredentist programme of capturing the “Six Vilayets” in Ottoman territory where there was a substantial Armenian minority.
The big problem was that within the “Six Vilayets” (Van, Bitlis, Erzurum, Diyarbakir, Harpoot and Sivas) of the Ottoman territories nowhere were the Armenians a majority. They represented only 20% of the population at best. But this did not stop the Armenian irredentists claiming other areas including Cilicia and Trabzon as well as the “Six Vilayets” in 1919 for a state known as Magna Armenia, which was getting on to be half the size of present day Turkey!
It was an impossible program, highly undemocratic in nature, and a recipe for catastrophe, if attempts were ever made to implement it. That is probably why the formal demand, even of the revolutionary groups, was for autonomy, rather than separatism. Autonomy sounded more reasonable, could elicit support from the West, and could be turned into separatism if authority could be gained. Ordinary Armenians could be got to support it without fearing for the worse.
A Dashnak offensive was touched off in the 1890s by British moves to impose reforms on the Sultan in eastern Anatolia. This time the Russians were suspicious of Lord Salisbury’s initiative for joint action on the Armenians’ behalf, fearing the establishment of the nucleus of an Armenian state, under British protection, on their borders.
The Dashnak/Hunchak offensive began in Sasun in 1894 with a small massacre of Turks, provoking a larger counter-massacre of Armenians. So things proceeded on the Bulgarian model. This was followed by the celebrated storming of Ottoman Bank in Istanbul in 1896 by Pasdermadjian et al, other risings, and a later attempted assassination of Sultan Abdul Hamid (the first car bomb in history). The perpetrators of many of these events were spirited out of the Ottoman State with the help of the Western powers and subsequently pardoned by the Sultan. Those caught up in the inter-communal violence that these Dashnak operations provoked were not so lucky.
The problem with the Bulgarian template was that the Armenians did not constitute a majority like the Christians in the Balkans. In the Balkans the Christians were capable of driving out the majority of the 2.5 million strong Moslem community and killing about 600,000 of them but the Armenians would only be capable of establishing a Christian state in the event of an enormous catastrophic event engulfing the Ottoman State.
Also in the 1890s the British had not yet reversed their Foreign Policy. The Armenians had to wait on Edward Grey and the Liberal Imperialists for that. And so provocative risings were ineffective, put down with force and local Moslem retaliation, and only served as propaganda in the Anglosphere.
Liberal England, which was very Christian moralist, and disunited since it had lost the Roman demon, unified itself through hatred of the Turk. The first great manifestation of this occurred in 1876 with the St James’ Hall meeting in Westminster over Bulgaria.
Really this was a Christian antagonism toward Islam but much of the Islamic world was held by Britain – the Great Mussulman Empire. The basis of this was the view that Christian people’s constituted superior forms of civilisation and should be saved by England and established as nations. Turks should be driven out of ‘Christian lands’ ‘bag and baggage’ as Gladstone put it.
In December 1878 a massive meeting of Liberal England took place in Westminster in response to the events in Bulgaria. All Britain’s premier historians took part and the full range of Protestant churches were united in a way that that they hadn’t been since the days of anti-Papist solidarity. This meeting, which led to the formation of the Eastern Association, was notable for the extravagant use of racist rhetoric against the Turk. Although politicians were excluded Gladstone addressed it. The anti-Turk propaganda displayed by the moralists of Liberal England was not surpassed by the Nazis in relation to the Jews half a century later. And there was plenty of anti-semitism as well, directed at the Prime Minister, Disraeli.
The problem was that this moralism conflicted with England’s Great Game with Tsarist Russia. In 1896 George Curzon described this ‘fatal philanthropy’ within British Liberalism that was encouraging the Armenians to believe they could establish a national state and that Britain would intervene on their behalf. Curzon, speaking for Lord Salisbury’s Government in the British Parliament, described this incitement of the Armenians as not only detrimental to England but also catastrophic for the Armenians if it ever took place.
It also must have had a very detrimental effect on the relations the Ottomans had with their minorities. Liberal England was speaking of a people it obviously would exterminate from the face of the earth without compunction, given the chance. That is something that the Turks would have to bear in mind if the bit came to the bit and England threatened the existence of the Turks. It served as a warning to the Turks and it would have put the message firmly in their mind that it was kill or be killed if Liberal England ever came calling at their door.
For most of the 19th Century Britain supported the Ottoman Empire as a giant buffer in the region against Russia coming down to the Straits at Constantinople. The point was to deprive the Russian state of the warm water port it needed for trade and economic development and to block the Russian Navy from the Mediterranean. Disraeli blocked the Tsar’s advance in 1878 at the gates of Constantinople with the threat of war. The gains made by the Russian armies in the war and imposed on the Sultan at San Stefano it were rolled back at the Congress of Berlin. Britain ripped up the treaty between Tsar and Sultan and replaced it with one which was guaranteed by all the Great Powers, staying the Russian ambitions.
Under the Cyprus Convention of 1878 England furthermore guaranteed the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, with the threat of war on Russia if it ever attempted to whittle away the Sultan’s territory. And all the time England helped itself by lopping off bits of Ottoman territory for itself e.g. Egypt. Its mantra was ‘the Russians shall not have Constantinople’ as the Jingo music hall song put it.
Under the Treaty of Berlin’s Article 61 the British took on the role of protector of the Armenians. Although it was felt in England that this gave the British Government the right to cajole the Sultan into reform to rebalance things in favour of the Armenians this was never pushed with any vigour. Lord Salisbury famously said that he could beat 6 Sultans on the open seas but he could not get the Royal Navy across the Taurus Mountains so the Armenians ought to forget about provoking in the hope of deliverance from England.
This tended to have a calming effect on Armenian revolutionary provocations and led to a relatively stable period in relations between 1897 and 1909.
Dashnaks and Young Turks
After the failure of the 1890s risings and Britain’s refusal to aid the Armenians the Dashnaks changed tactics and allied with the Young Turks, who were organising themselves to place the Sultan under a constitution and establish a limited monarchy in the Ottoman Empire. The Dashnaks attended Ottoman opposition conferences from 1902 and the CUP congress in 1907 and pledged to respect the territorial integrity of the Empire, reject foreign interference, and work exclusively within a constitutional framework.
In 1908 the success of the Young Turk revolution and calling of elections to parliament put the former insurgents into parliament in Istanbul. Pasdermadjian represented Erzurum as a deputy. The Dashnak/Young Turk alliance was reaffirmed at the 1911 World Congress of Dashnaks held in the Ottoman capital.
However, the Dashnak motives were opportunist. They toned down any secessionist objectives and placed their separatist aims on the long finger. The Young Turks agreed to the Dashnaks pursuing their separate programme for autonomy within the Constitution but probably knew a break would come in the future. It all depended on whether the Young Turks could stabilise the Ottoman State in the face of Imperialist designs on their territory and if internal nationalist movements could be subdued.
The Ottomans attempted to rebalance things in the east in favour of the Armenians but always ran up against the powerful Kurdish clans – the majority in the area – whom Abdul Hamid had institutionalised as a defence force in order to tame them.
Revolution in British Foreign Policy
The revolution in British Foreign Policy conducted by Sir Edward Grey and the Liberal Imperialists was the major factor in the Armenian catastrophe. Without it there would have been no catastrophe.
It was understood within the British State that intervention to aid the Armenians would lead to disaster, and not alone to the Armenians. This was also understood within the Armenian Insurrectionary groups as Pasdermadjian says in his ‘Why Armenia Should be Free’.
However, Grey was not interested in a war to help the Armenians. His war was about destroying Germany. But in the course of it the Armenians were likely to be destroyed in a more fundamental way than Germany.
The fundamental effect of Grey’s Foreign Policy, which was about procuring the “Russian Steamroller” to smash the Germans in a future 3 front European war, was in removing the British block on the Russian expansion down to Constantinople. This made the Armenian state building project a possibility by, for the first time, aligning powerful Imperialist allies against the Ottoman State and having the potential to create the kind of catastrophic situation only through which an Armenian state might be established.
Libya and the Balkan Wars
W.T.Stead, the famous English Liberal, drew attention to Edward Grey’s failure to uphold the ‘Public Law of Europe’ as indicative of something more lying behind the 1907 British agreement with Russia that met the eye. Stead was a Gladstonian and the most ferocious anti-Turk in England and had campaigned for decades for an accommodation with the Tsar. He saw the 1907 agreement with Russia as a triumph for his years of campaigning but then began to see it as a nightmare scenario. When he saw Grey let Italy grab the Libyan part of the Ottoman Empire he knew something was rotten in the state of England.
Stead argued that England had preserved the peace and security of the east for half a century by not allowing a free-for-all to develop in relation to the Balkans and the Ottoman territories generally. Of course, England had acted in its own interests in this and hypocritically carved off bits of the Sulltan’s territory for itself, including Egypt. However, by blocking the Russians in the Crimean War, the subsequent Peace of Paris, the Treaty of Berlin and the Cyprus Convention (and other foreign vultures) it had preserved what Gladstone had called the ‘Public Law of Europe’.
Stead began to realise that the great continuity in British Foreign Policy, which the Liberal Imperialists had pledged to preserve by keeping the Gladstonians out of the British Foreign Office, was actually being secretly eroded by Sir Edward Grey. And this, Stead feared, would lead to disaster for everyone.
The Yanikoy Watershed
After the Ottomans were defeated in the Balkan Wars of 1912/13 and the Moslems were cleared “bag and baggage” from the Balkans Istanbul was forced to submit to a scheme of autonomy for the “Six Vilayets” under the supervision of 2 European Inspectors, under pressure by the Imperial Powers. This was to begin in mid-1914.
In effect this signalled a future partition of the Ottoman Empire by the Imperialists on the lines in which Britain and Russia had carved up Persia in 1907. The Ottoman Government were therefore reluctant to sign and resisted a fuller implementation of a Russian plan. However, they found England no longer willing to protect them from the Russians and had to rely on Germany to help them. Finally they were forced to submit to the imposition which gave the International Inspectorate enormous rights within the eastern provinces, of dismissal and appointment of officials and other matters of interference.
The CUP/Young Turks were attempting to stabilise the Empire, which was under pressure from insurgent nationalisms promoted by the Great Powers, by centralising the state. This was not ‘Turkification’ but simply a taking on of a feature of western development to end the ‘ramshackle’ character of the traditionally easy-going Ottoman state and ward off disaster.
The Tsar’s archive reveals that Russia began arming and making plans with the Armenian revolutionaries from 1908. It seems that the understanding with Britain in 1907 gave the Tsar a green light to make contingencies for a future Russian expansion into eastern Anatolia.
Armenian contribution to the War
The Ottomans offered the Dashnaks a deal at the outbreak of the European war. At their conference held in Erzurum, in Ottoman territory in July 1914, they were offered autonomy if they stood by the Empire and fought against a Russian invasion. Pasdermadjian admits that the Armenians would have been treated lavishly if they had accepted the offer.
The Dashnaks refused to state their position. Some were probably tempted to accept. However, the more vigorous elements like Pasdermadjian, Antranik and Dro etc. had already decided to throw in their lot with the Imperialist Powers in order to establish Magna Armenia, despite knowing the catastrophic results of failure.
By then arms were being smuggled in and infiltration across the border was taking place. Plans made in conjunction with the Tsar’s intelligence services were finalised. Once the Ottomans entered the War in November 1914, after attempting to preserve neutrality, substantial attacks on Ottoman military and civilian targets took place in Zeitun, Erzurum, Sivas and most seriously of all, in Van. The Dashnaks cut telegraph poles and lines of communication, sabotaged installations, ambushed Ottoman forces in transit to the front, took cities, massacred civilians in villages denuded of Moslem menfolk. Armenian men dodged the draft and whole units deserted the Ottoman army with their weapons. Around 20,000 Armenians began military action behind the Ottoman lines in late 1914, rising to 50,000 whilst about 200.000 or more Armenians fought with the Russians.
In the winter of 1914/15 the Armenians played a crucial part in the Sarikamish disaster when an entire Ottoman army of 80,000 was lost. In April 1915 the Armenians assaulted the city of Van and began to exterminate the Moslem population. Around 100,000 Moslem civilians were killed by Armenian insurgents between August 1914 and June 1915, when the relocation policy was instituted.
Then the British began the Gallipoli landings, putting the Turks in dire peril, on multiple fronts. A fight for survival had begun.
What happened on 24th April?
This is “Armenian genocide” day – on which nobody actually died. What happened was the internment of a couple of hundred Armenians connected with the Dashnaks. Quantities of arms were seized and suspects were moved by train to various locations and mostly placed under house arrest or told to report to police regularly. A bit like the Falls Road curfew and Internment operation of the British Army in 1971 minus the killing and brutality.
Those detained were granted a living expenses subsidy. Most detainees were subsequently released and survived the war. Only a minority, around 20, were subsequently hung as traitors.
The relocation or forced migration of Armenians did not begin until June 1915.
Forced Migration policy
The forced migration policy is the centrepiece of the “genocide” allegation. It is suggested the Ottomans sent the Armenians on death marches into the deserts. The Turks acted in accordance with standard military practice. The most civilised power in the world, that had been the greatest critic of the Turks, had used a forced migration policy only a decade earlier in South Africa. And it used it again 40 years later in Kenya.
There was no evidence of a premeditated plan on the Ottoman’s part to remove the Armenians. The forced migrations were improvised because of the situation that developed. A Law was passed openly to declare the state’s intention and so that preparations could be made. Time was not always available in war areas, like the east, where Russian armies were close. However, it was insisted that convoys were guarded and life protected. A major problem was that most of the gendarmerie that would guard the columns had to be pressed into military service due to Armenian action behind the lines.
Not the whole Armenian population was relocated, mainly those in the warzone and immediately behind the lines. Elsewhere migration was selective. Catholic and Protestant Armenians were less likely to be moved. Around 350,000 were totally exempted. Armenians in Istanbul were largely left alone and Moslems in the east were also moved. Armenians in the west were allowed back once the Gallipoli assault was beaten off. Convoys had their priests, canteens, and were provided with oxen and carts. Missionaries kept a watchful eye. Armenian possessions were neatly stored and labelled to await their return. All these things tend to suggest there was no genocidal intent. Individual Turks and Kurds did a lot of bad things to the relocated people, of course. Kurdish bands who were beyond the authority of the state, and who were outlaws in a war situation, resisting conscription, attacked many of the convoys. Ottoman employees robbed and killed people and there were some massacres in areas conducted by civilians.
Talaat Pasha, the architect of the migration policy, established commissions in late 1915 to investigate abuse and crimes, and ended the policy in the winter of 1915/16. Thousands of Ottoman officials were subsequently tried for maltreatment of the Armenians and about ten per cent were hung. These included commanders who failed to protect columns. The Armenians tried no one for massacring Moslems. Criticism can be made about the inadequacy of the operation and the failure of the commissions to punish all war criminals but it is a fact that the Ottomans had no intention of annihilating a race.
The forced migration policy adopted by the Ottoman State to deal with the Armenian insurrection was a western military measure employed to solve a military problem. It was outstandingly successful. Once the insurgents behind the front were separated from their mass base the small forces available to the Ottomans mopped up the Dashnak bands.
About 650,000 Armenians were relocated to Syria/Iraq. Around 400,000 went east to Russian territory under the influence of the war. Russia refused them right to return when they took the territory in which they lived. Over 160,000 died in this relocation which took place entirely outside Ottoman territory. Around 500,000 Armenians were counted by US observers in 1916 in Syria/Iraq. It appears, as far as we can be sure, that over ¾ survived their forced migration. Around 400,000 Armenians remained in their homes at the time of the Armistice in 1918, out of the pre-War Empire’s population of 1.6 million.
The Numbers Game
This is a hugely contentious area. There were about 1.6 million Armenians within the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and around a million survived the war.
The nearest likely total death toll of Armenians is 600,000. This figure is usually inflated to 1.5 million and it is inferred that it came about exclusively from Ottoman massacre and death marches i.e. an intentional policy of genocide. However the 600,000 described includes all deaths, military and civilian, from all circumstances – natural, violent, starvation, disease etc. and takes in the entire period between 1914 and 1922. Hundreds, of thousands died in the Russian/Armenian retreats in the east and the French retreats in Cilicia. The British naval blockade produced widespread starvation and death from disease in Syria, and elsewhere. The Royal Navy’s official history of its Blockade claims that it was more successful in Ottoman territories than against Germany – and it achieved a million deaths in Europe.
If we look at the 600,000 casualty figure closer we find that less than 250,000 of these casualties occurred outside of military conflict and inside territory controlled by Ottoman forces. The other 350,000 plus occurred in places and events outside Ottoman responsibility, like Armenian migration in war conditions, the collapse of the Republic of Armenia, the French retreat in Cilicia in the dead of winter and Russian retreats, when Armenians fled with the Tsarist forces. And we must also take out legitimate military casualties, of Armenians serving with the Tsar or as franc tireurs.
Something that is never done is comparing mortality rates – since Moslem casualties are of no consequence to the promoters of the Genocide word. Mortality was comparable, at around 40%, in both Moslem and Armenian communities in eastern Anatolia. In the West about 25% of the Moslem population perished. In the areas of the eastern provinces, where the major conflict with the Armenians occurred, around 1.2 million Turks and Kurds were killed with a mortality of 60% in places like Van. Armenians massacred Moslems and Moslems then massacred Armenians in the destabilisation caused by the Great War and the shifting lines of battle. It was a war of extermination in which often the attitude was kill or be killed.
After the Tsarist collapse in 1917 the Armenians were forced to hold the front themselves. The Dashnaks, without Imperialist allies, could not hold the territory and were gradually driven back by the Turks. Massacres were conducted against Moslem civilians, particularly around Erzurum. A Dashnak state, the Republic of Arafat, was founded in early 1918. A peace treaty was signed by the Armenians with the Turks at Batumi, who were now pressing on the borders of the new state. The Armenians then began fighting the Azeri/Tartars for control of Baku.
However, the British then began to force the Turks into an armistice at Mudros at the end of 1918. This was turned into a surrender and occupation by the Imperialist powers. Prominent Ottomans were interned in Malta and the British, holding the Ottoman archive, attempted to establish war crime trials. The Pope attempted to secure the release of those accused of war crimes against the Armenians. The British, despite holding the Ottoman archives and having access to Ottoman territory, could find no evidence against the Turks and had to release them. There were no orders to annihilate found and no mass graves discovered.
At the Peace Conference the 2 Armenian delegations claimed Magna Armenia, a giant Armenian state in which the supposedly exterminated Armenians were going to somehow form a majority in the era of self-determination and Wilsonian Principles. Pasdermadjian produced his publications to argue this case, outlining the supreme and unnecessary sacrifice the Armenian Insurrection, had made in the Imperialist cause. He argued that the Armenians, being a special Christian people with the highest form of civilisation in the region, deserved a state for their efforts, with the best of the Imperial Master races. The Turks were no longer deserving of governing anyone, as Liberal England and Christian America had claimed for decades and the Kurds could be tamed, being uncivilised dross of a people, in the Dashnak view.
To the disappointment of Wilson the US Harbord Mission he sent to ‘Armenia’ did not recommend the establishment of an Armenian state. Major General Harbord, a hard-nosed military man was deeply suspicious of Britain palming off Armenia in order to entangle US in a quagmire, while it walked away with Palestine and Mesopotamia. So he recommended an Allied occupation and mandated of the entire Ottoman territory. He knew Britain would not accept.
President Wilson was let try to establish his own Armenia by the British, who went off to establish the more fruitful projects of incorporating Iraq and Palestine into their Empire. The President failed to convince America, now aware of the Imperial land-grab and double-dealing that had been going on behind the Great War Fraud, of the viability or worth of the Armenian project. President Wilson wanted to establish Armenia – but the Senate, which has the Constitutional right on treaties, rejected the Mandate in June 1920.
However, the Treaty of Sevres was still imposed on Sultan in August 1920 with Armenia in it. The British sent Wilson off to work out how he was going to establish his Armenia, knowing he had no power to enforce it. Lloyd George enlisted the Greeks with irredentist promises of land in Anatolia to impose Sevres on the Turks, saving British blood and treasure, but putting the Greek population in great danger if the Megali adventure came unstuck.
However, the Turkish resurgence under Ataturk, put paid to the Treaty of Sevres that was going to impose an Armenian state in the area. From September-December 1920 there was a Turkish-Armenia War. Armenia was driven back and surrendered and signed the Gumru Treaty with present borders recognised. The Dashnak Republic collapsed and was incorporated into the Soviet Union by Stalin. The Soviets concluded a treaty with the Turks and assisted their struggle with the Imperialists.
The Turks then drove the Greeks (Britain’s catspaw) from Anatolia, defeating the Italians and French along the way. The French evacuation of Cilicia resulted in massive Armenian casualties, despite Ataturk’s statement of no harm coming to them.
The Treaty of Lausanne, which had no mention of an Armenia, was signed with the Turks, as a final peace settlement, after the Turks had driven out the French, Italians and Greeks and humiliated the British Empire at Chanak. The Armenian state in the Caucasus began to disintegrate with great loss of life and was only rescued from self-destruction by being incorporated into the Soviet Union.
The dream of the Armenian Insurrection to establish Magna Armenia, incited by Britain’s Great War on Turkey, turned into a nightmare that only seems to be capable of exorcism by applying the label of “genocide” to it, to cover up what was a terrible and catastrophic miscalculation, incited by Imperialism.
Hovhannes Katchaznouni, first Prime Minister of Armenia, in his report to the Dashnak party conference of 1923 put it like this:
“We had created a dense atmosphere of illusion in our minds. We had implanted our own desires into the minds of others; we had lost our sense of reality and were carried away with our dreams… We had embraced Russia whole-heartedly without any compunction. Regardless of a positive basis of fact, we believed that the Tsarist government would grant us a more-or-less broad self-government in the Caucasus and Armenian vilayets, liberated from Turkey as a reward for our loyalty, our efforts and assistance… The Turks knew what they were doing and have no reason to regret today. It was the most decisive method of extirpating the Armenian Question from Turkey.” (pp.38-9)