Did the Armenian Dashnaks make a terrible mistake in 1914? Was there an alternative course open to the Armenians in which they would have gained far more than they ended up with, between 1918 and 1924? Would they have secured the safety and continued existence of the Armenian people in their traditional homelands by acting differently than they did? Was there no other way possible but collaborating in the destruction of the Ottoman state and organising an insurrection to facilitate it? Might the Armenian future have been far better if they had not done what they did after August 1914?
These are questions which the Armenian lobby does not want to face up to. They seem to be just too much to contemplate given what happened to the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the road the Dashnagtzoutiun chose to take. It would be just terrible to think that perhaps the wrong turn was taken at the crossroads and another road may have led to a less glorious/disastrous outcome.
Pasdermadjian’s Candid Admission
I first came across this issue when I read two small books written under the revolutionary pen-name of “Armen Garo” (Armenian Hero). The Armenian insurrectionary Dr. Garegin Pasdermadjian published these as he waited in Washington for his nation to be granted a territory for its Great War service, by the victorious Allies in Paris. The books were called Why Armenia Should Be Free (1918) and Armenia and her Claims to Freedom (1919).
Why Armenia Should Be Free describes an Armenian Insurrection, beginning in late 1914, that, it is argued, contributed substantially to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and which was viewed by Pasdermadjian as being well worth the lives of the hundreds of thousands, or more, it consumed, because it had – presumably – achieved its objective. As Armen Garo wrote:
“… the Armenians from the beginning of the war… have stood by and been loyal to the allied cause in the Near East, and they rendered not only appreciable military service but also jeopardised their very existence in Turkey, where more than a million of Armenians, men, women and children, were ruthlessly massacred and exterminated by reason of their pro-ally attitude.”
Pasdermadjian was a committed Dashnak and it is clear that he believed the risking of the “very existence” of his people was considered worthwhile to achieve Magna Armenia. And in 1918, at the conclusion of the Great War, he felt the risk, despite the losses, to have been completely justified and the Dashnaks vindicated.
At this moment of seeming triumph Pasdermadjian was candid enough to reveal that there had been another choice open to the Dashnagtzoutiun that had certainly been a possible alternative to what they decided to do and this alternative was rejected, fully in the knowledge of what would happen instead:
“Had the Armenians assumed an entirely opposite attitude from what they actually did; in other words, had they bound their fate in 1914 to the Turco-German cause, just as the Bulgarians did in 1915, what would have been the trend of events in the Near East? Here is a question to which, it is quite possible, our great Allies have had no time to give any consideration. But that very question was put before the Armenians in 1914, and with no light heart did they answer it by their decision to join the Allies. Each and every one of them had a clear presentiment of the terrible responsibility they assumed. Those millions of corpses of Armenian women and children which spotted the plains in the summer of 1915, rose like phantoms before our very eyes in the August of 1914 when we decided to resist the wild Turkish revengefulness and its frightful outcome.
Now, in October, 1918, when we are so close to the hour of the final victory, and feel quite safe and certain that the heavy and gloomy days of the summer of 1914 will never return, I shall permit myself to picture in a few words, before I finish, that which would have taken place if the Armenians had sided with the Germano-Turks in the Near East from the beginning of the war.
First of all, those frightful Armenian massacres would not have taken place. On the contrary, the Turks and the Germans would have tried to win the sympathy of the Armenians in every possible way until the end of the war.” (p.44)
That is quite clear in suggesting that what happened to the Armenian populace from 1915 was very much the result of the Armenian Insurrection and if there had been no Insurrection there would have been a large number of Armenians (and Turks and Kurds) still alive and all the better for it in 1918.
Armenians at the Erzurum Crossroads
Just after the Great War began in Europe a delegation of Young Turks attended the 8th Dashnak Congress held at Erzurum, in Ottoman eastern Anatolia. There they made an offer to the Armenians to secure their loyalty in the event of the War coming to the Ottoman territories so as to preserve stability in the territories in which the Armenians lived.
That the Ottomans should have hosted the Dashnak Congress as the Great War was beginning reveals something about the good intentions of the Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turkey). For most of the previous decade the Dashnaks, including Pasdermadjian himself, had sat in the Ottoman parliament, Armenians had been Ottoman ministers and there had been genuine attempts at reform, which were to be supervised by International inspectors, in the vilayets where the Armenians mostly lived.
At this Congress the Ottomans offered the Dashnaks the thing they had been struggling for over the previous 30 years – autonomy.
The Ottoman Government sent a delegation of 28 CUP members, representing all the ethnic groups of the Empire, including important individuals like Behaeddin Shakir and Naji Bey, to make an offer to the Armenians – who were observed to be moving toward supporting a Russian assault on the Empire.
I recently came across the following account of the offer made to the Dashnaks at their Congress in Erzurum. It is from a book written by Morgan Philips Price, a pro-Armenian British Liberal, who became a Labour M.P. He acted for C.P. Scott as The Manchester Guardian’s Caucasus correspondent during the Great War, joining up with the Tsarist army and the Dashnaks:
“At the outbreak of the European war the Committee of Union and Progress became all-powerful, and all reform schemes and reconciliation plans fell to the ground. The Armenian party, “Dashnaktsution”, happened to be holding a conference at Erzerum when the war began. Turkey had not yet entered; but at the beginning of August Hilmi Bey, Behadin Shekir Bey, and Nedji Bey were delegated by the Committee to make certain proposals to the Armenians in the event of war with Russia. These delegates arrived at Erzerum at the end of the month, and their first proposal was that the Armenians should observe complete neutrality, the population of Armenia and the Trans-Caucasus doing its military duty, to whatever Empire it owed allegiance.
This the Armenians accepted, and all seemed to point to an agreement. But a few days later the Turks suddenly made another proposal. Turkey, they said, could never be secure until there was a chain of buffer States between her and her arch-enemy, Russia, and they claimed that, if war broke out, the Armenians should assist them in carrying out their plan. They then produced a map of the Middle East in which the following political divisions were made. Russia was to be pushed back to the Cossack steppes beyond the main range of the Caucasus. Tiflis and the Black Sea coast, with Batum and Kutais, were marked as belonging to an autonomous province of Georgia. The central part of the Trans-Caucasus, with Kars, Alexandropol and Erivan, were to be joined to the vilayets of Van, Bitlis, and East Erzerum, as an autonomous Armenia. Eastern Trans-Caucasia, including Baku, Elizabetopol and Dagestan were to become an autonomous province of Shiite Tartars. The Armenians, feeling the impossibility of the Ottoman Empire ever being able to realize such a grandiose scheme… refused to have anything to do with the proposal. So the Young Turk delegates, unable to make any impression in Erzerum, proceeded to Van, where they met with no greater success.
According to statements made to me during 1915 by prominent Van Armenians, it is clear that the action of the Tiflis Dashnakists, about which the Committee of Union and Progress had doubtless been informed by the end of August, was the principal cause of these Turkish demands. Early in August 1914 the Tiflis Armenians seem to have decided that a Russo-Turkish war was inevitable, and thereupon the Dashnakist leaders there at once offered 25,000 volunteers to assist the Russians in conquering the Armenian vilayets.
This offer was made before the outbreak of the war with Turkey, and in the interval the volunteers were busy training and forming at the various centres in the Caucasus. At the end of October, when Turkey came into the war, preparations had been so far advanced that Andranik, the famous revolutionary leader from Turkey, at the head of the first volunteer battalion, took part with the Russians in the advance through North-west Persia, capturing Serai early in November. Meanwhile five more battalions had been formed and were ready to leave for the front, as soon as they could get rifles and equipment. Fifty per cent, of these volunteers were Armenians who had left Turkey, Bulgaria and Roumania since the outbreak of the European war, and had come to the Caucasus to offer their services.
There can be little doubt that this volunteer movement, started under the auspices of the Caucasus Armenians, was the cause of the Young Turk demands on the Armenians of Erzerum, Van and Bitlis for a similar volunteer movement against Russia, and of the subsequent persecution when this demand was refused. Prominent Armenians, whom I met in Van, told me how the attitude of Djevdet Pasha towards them and their people became much more unfriendly as soon as the news arrived that Armenian volunteers were on the front fighting against the Turks. He at once demanded the return of a number of Armenian deserters, whose absence had hitherto been winked at. He accused them of going over to the volunteers with the Russians, and commenced the policy of forcing the Armenians into special labour battalions, where they had very hard work and bad food. Thus the Van Armenians were at the mercy of the Turks, who avenged on them all the rash acts of their kinsmen in the Caucasus.
That their conduct was keenly resented by the Turkish Armenian refugees in the Caucasus, was made clear by some articles in the Van Tosp, the organ of the Van Armenians in Tin as early in 1916. In its issue for January 9th, 1916, Professor Minassian took the Dashnaktsution party to task for having entered into negotiations with the Russian authorities without consulting its kindred societies in Turkish Armenia. It had spread, he said, baseless rumours of a Russian promise of autonomy for Armenia, and then had proceeded to organize volunteer battalions, regardless of the effect that this would have on their kinsmen in Turkey, whose position under the nose of the Turks was very precarious and required tactful handling. He denied that there was any serious negotiation with the Russian Government about Armenian autonomy, and said that the Dashnaktsution leaders of the Caucasus were pretending to represent responsible opinion, whereas they really only represented a group. The Orizon, the organ of the Dashnaktsution in Tiflis, defended itself by saying that the massacre would have happened in any case, and that Prince Vorontsoff Dashkoff had not only verbally promised Armenian autonomy in return for the service of the volunteers, but had actually signed a document to this effect. Whether this document ever existed is however exceedingly doubtful.” (War and Revolution in Asiatic Russia, pp.243-6)
The Armenians turned the Ottoman offer down and instead joined the Tsarist invasion and mounted an Insurrection against the Ottoman state.
The CUP mission offered the Armenians autonomy in 2 and a half vilayets of East Erzurum, Van and Bitlis plus “Russian Armenia” in return for service in the Ottoman army in the event of War and support from their brethren in Russian territory, who would then, in the event of victory, be part of the larger autonomous region. The offer would be guaranteed by the German Government. The Ittihad (CUP) delegation proposed that the Dashnaks aid the Ottoman State by mounting attacks on any Russian invasion behind the lines in Transcaucasia, where an autonomous Armenian state could be founded.
In the 2 and a half vilayets of Turkish Armenia this would have placed around 1 million Moslems under the authority of an autonomous Armenia containing only around 400,000 Armenians. So it was undoubtedly a generous concession on the Ottoman side (see Justin McCarthy, Turks and Armenians: Nationalism and Conflict in the Ottoman Empire, p.10) According to the 1897 Tsarist figures the Armenian population of the autonomous area would have been increased by another 1 million from the Kars, Erivan and Alexandropol Russian guberniyas (although this area would have also contained a sizeable amount of Moslems. By 1917 the Russians counted 1.4 million Christians in Russian Armenia and 670,000 Moslems).
So, an Armenian autonomous region, with “Russian Armenia” included, under Ottoman sovereignty would have perhaps been made viable by a small majority of Armenians – something that all the Armenian territorial claims were incapable of delivering without the extensive ethnic cleansing of Moslems.
This was the concrete realisation, to all intents and purposes, of the deal the Dashnaks had concluded with the Young Turks in 1907. It was more realistic and realisable than the choice the Dashnaks subsequently took in throwing in their lot with Russian expansionism and British Imperialism.
It could be said that the Dashnaks backed the wrong horse, believing it to be the more powerful one, more likely to win.
A Turkish Warning
Halil Bey, whilst Ottoman Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1916, gave a very frank interview to an Associated Press reporter in Vienna about the discussions the Ottoman leadership had with the Dashnaks in the autumn of 1914 and the attitude the Young Turks had to the Armenians. Halil Bey recalled that he had offered the Dashnaks some very sound advise:
“When the war broke out we knew exactly what the Armenians were doing. More bombs, rifles, ammunition, and money had been brought into the country and their organization was made even more perfect. I was then President of the Chamber of Deputies and was very fond of the Armenian members, as I had always been a friend of that race. So I called the Armenian representatives together and asked what they intended doing. At the end of the conversation I told them I could sympathize with their ideals and had always done so as long as they were not entirely separatistic.
“Gentleman,” I said, “I fully understand your position and hope that you understand ours. We have engaged in a war in which we may go down. That will be your opportunity to make arrangements with the Entente, but bear in mind that the Ottoman Government will apply the most severe measures if you act against the Turks before you know we are conquered. Make your plans so that you can meet the Entente Powers with clean hands, which you can do by supporting us so far and no further than the law demands. I think the Entente statesmen will see the correctness of such conduct and will recognize your claim to autonomy. You can then take up the work where we left off and in which I wish you every success, but bear in mind that we are not gone yet, and that the slightest false move on your part will bring trouble to all Armenians. Sit quiet and let us try this issue. When you are sure we have lost, go over to the Entente and get from them all you can.”
Halil Bey continued:
“I wish to say the Young Turks have always looked upon the Armenians as a valuable asset to the Turkish Empire. The fact is, we needed them. The country’s commerce was largely in their hands; and as farmers the Armenians have a great value. We did not look upon them as valuable chattels, however. We were willing to give them an equal share in the Government, which we did, as is shown by the fact that before the outbreak of the war we had a large number of Armenians in the Chamber of Deputies and also several Senators and a Minister. Nearly all the Vice Ministers were Armenians, because we recognized the ability of the Armenians and were ready to give them their political rights in the tenancy of a proportionate number of public offices.
After the revolution all went well for a time, and the Young Turks hoped they had finally found a solution to the problem which had vexed the old regime in Turkey for many years and had retarded the progress of the country. The Balkan war, however, caused the Armenians to again take up their separatistic ideals. Committees formed an organisation with the intention of securing for the Armenians an autonomous government.
I think I would be the last man to deny a people self-government, but the case of the Armenians is one where this must be done. The Armenians, spread throughout Asia Minor and Southern Russia, are merely a majority in the districts usually designated as Armenian. Armenian autonomy, therefore, would lead to the loss of the independence of the other Ottoman races. Under these conditions even the Young Turks were opposed to the Armenian plan, but in justice they wanted to give the Armenians a fuller share in the Government, which was done. and even our worst traducers cannot deny that.” (The New York Times, 28.10.16)
There are different versions of what the Dashnak response was to the offers made by the Young Turks. One Armenian source, Papazian’s 1932 book, suggests that the Dashnaks promised to do their duty as loyal Ottoman subjects:
“In August 1914 the young Turks asked the Dashnag Convention, then in session in Erzerum, to carry out their old agreement of 1907, and start an uprising among the Armenians of the Caucasus against the Russian government. The Dashnagtzoutune refused to do this, and gave assurances that in the event of war between Russia and Turkey, they would support Turkey as loyal citizens.
“On the other hand, they could not be held responsible for the Russian-Armenians.
“The Turks were not satisfied. They suspected them of duplicity. This perhaps was not true, because the answer given the Turks was based on a resolution adopted by the convention. The fact remains, however, that the leaders of the Turkish-Armenian section of the Dashnagtzoutune did not carry out their promise of loyalty to the Turkish cause when the Turks entered the war. The Dashnagtzoutune in the Caucasus had the upper hand. They were swayed in their actions by the interests of the Russian government and disregarded, entirely, the political dangers that the war had created for the Armenians in Turkey. Prudence was thrown to the winds; even the decision of their own convention of Erzurum was forgotten and a call was sent for Armenian volunteers to fight the Turks on the Caucasus front.
“Thousands of Armenians from all over the world, flocked to the standards of such famous fighters as Andranik, Kery, Dro, etc. The Armenian volunteer regiments rendered valuable services to the Russian Army in the years of 1914-15-16. However, their deeds of heroism and the blood they shed in the conquest of Turkish Armenia by Russia, did not help the Armenian cause. The Dashag leaders declared, that the Russian government had promised freedom for Armenia. There was no foundation to this: and the deception was exposed finally. But thousands of Armenians had already answered the false call, and incidentally, millions were poured into the coffers of the Dashnag “National Bureau”.
“On the other hand, the methods used by the Dashnagtzoutune in recruiting these regiments were so open and flagrant, that it could not escape the attention of the Turkish authorities, who were looking for an excuse to carry out their program of exterminating the Christian population which they had adopted as early as 1911.” (Patriotism Perverted, pp. 38-9)
The future Armenian Prime Minister, Katchaznouni’s account supports this view.
‘The Case for Armenia’, published by the London Armenian Bureau in 1921, suggests that the Armenian leaders turned down the offer, making it clear they would not fight for the Ottoman State. Pasdermadjian agrees with this, adding that the Armenians advised the Ottomans against taking part in the war.
Whatever the truth of the matter the behaviour of the Dashnaks was very slippery and represented a betrayal of the pact they had made with the CUP in 1907. The Ottoman offer was communicated by the Dashnak Congress to Russia, France and Britain – who advised the Armenians to reject it.
Enver sent a personal note to the Armenian Patriarch requesting that he restrain those who were expressing support for the Allies. However, on August 5th, the day following Britain’s entry into the European war, the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin wrote to Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, the Tsar’s Viceroy of the Caucasus, asking him to take this most favourable moment “to solve the Armenian Question”. He suggested an autonomous Armenian state be established under a Christian governor. If the Russians agreed to this they would have Armenian support in the War. The Count advised the Catholicos that the conflict with the Ottomans needed to be carefully choreographed to ensure that the Turks were seen as the aggressive party and the Armenians should be careful in their actions – only obeying orders from Russia.
On receiving this reply the Catholicos wrote to Tsar Nicholas asking for a Russian Protectorate for the Armenians. The Tsar replied: “Tell your flock, Holy Father, that a most brilliant future awaits the Armenians.”
This, of course, was not an agreement for an Armenian state but just “a most brilliant future” under a new shepherd.
Dr. Zavriyev, who handled foreign relations for the Dashnaks, went to the Count and promised him Armenian assistance in the Russian war on the Ottomans. The British Foreign Office later noted that it was through this contact between Zavriyev and Count Vorontsov-Dashkov that the Russians organised disturbances in the Russian/Ottoman borderlands. (see Salahi Sonyel, The Great War and the Tragedy of Anatolia, p.82)
Pasdermadjian reveals that Count Vorontsov-Dashkov informed the Armenian National Council, meeting in Tiflis, that “if the Armenians would unreservedly give their support to the Russian armies during the course of the war, Russia would grant autonomy to the six Armenian vilayets.” (p.16) The Armenians were cautious about the Russian offer, however, since they had been let down by the Czar on a number of occasions before, during the last century. However, the crucial thing this time was the British/French Entente that backed Russia:
“… this time the Armenians thought that Russia was not alone; the two great liberal nations of the West, France and England, were her Allies. After long and weighty consultation, with their hopes pinned on France and England, the Armenians resolved to aid the Russian armies in every possible way.” (p.16)
The impending destruction of the Ottoman State caused by invading Allied armies was the major factor in turning the position of Armenians from one of mainstays of the infrastructure of the Ottoman Empire and “the loyal community” into a problematic element within it. And since the objective of the Allies was the destruction of the life of the Ottoman State through invasion and blockade what future, indeed, had the Armenians?
Once the Imperialist Powers had made their choice and the Armenian Dashnak Insurrectionists had made their choice what choice had the ordinary people in the events that everyone knew were about to unfold around them?
A Grandiose Scheme?
The Dashnaks described the Ottoman offer made at Erzurum in 1914 as a “grandiose scheme” to Price Philips. The meaning seems to be that whilst it was a big and generous offer it would never be realised, except through War and Insurrection against the Ottoman Empire. Either the Ottomans were incapable of realising it with the forces ranged against them or they would chose not to follow through with i upon victory.
What subsequent events indicate, however, is that the Ottomans could certainly have realised it if the Armenians had not gone over to the Russian side and become a fifth column on the Tsar’s behalf.
In 1917 the Tsarist War effort began to collapse under the strain of the sacrifice the Russian masses were making in blood for the Tsar’s expansionary objectives. That was mainly due to the losses suffered against the Germans rather than the Ottomans. The Russian front in Eastern Anatolia remained solid and had advanced in 1916, taking in large parts of what the Armenians saw as their territory.
However, how successful would the Tsar’s armies have been without Armenian assistance? Certainly the Russian armies would have been numerically reduced, there would have been no insurrectionary activity distracting Ottoman forces from the front and the War might even have been lost in 1915 through Enver’s bold at Sarikamish.
It is, therefore, probable that the Ottoman army would have been able to take the territory abandoned by the disintegration of the Russian army in 1917 even earlier than they did, in the summer of 1918.
This “grandiose scheme” which the Dashnaks rejected was more or less what actually pertained in the Caucasus from 1918 onwards, not only under Ottoman but British hegemony.
It might be argued that the Dashnaks believed the Ottomans to have been insincere and untrustworthy. The Ottomans had promised reform before and had only began to consider delivering under duress. They were only conceding the offer because of the threatened War and an Armenian Insurrection that would ensue on behalf of the Russians. And so the Dashnaks decided instead to put their destiny, and that of their people, in other hands.
The Dashnaks decided to rely on the Russians and British Imperialists.Under the Ottoman offer the Armenians would have got a much larger territory than they subsequently ended up with from their allies. And they would not have had the hundreds of thousands of losses in population they suffered from their decision to go for broke, relying on Russian and British Imperialism to deliver.
What the Dashnaks actually achieved
On this point we need to assess the likelihood of the Armenians achieving a separate state rather than autonomy, offered by the Ottomans to the Dashnaks in 1914.
Firstly, it should be noted that the maximum offer made by Tsarist Russia to the Armenians – and this is even shrouded in doubt – was one of autonomy. Tsarist Russia was a centralised state that did not do nation-building. It had no intention of establishing an independent Armenia on its route to Constantinople. In other words, Tsarist Russia made an offer no better than the Ottoman offer to the Dashnaks. And we know from a reading of Pasdermadjian and others that the Russians were trusted as little as the Ottomans by the Dashnaks. In fact, Pasdermadjian notes an ominous occurrence of when the possessions of the relocated Armenians, carefully stored by the Ottomans, presumably to await their return, was taken away by the occupying Russian army. Armenians who had fled the Ottoman territory for the Caucasus in the early stages of the War were refused return by the “liberating” Tsarist armies in 1916.
So, if Tsarist Russia had been among the victors it would have been up to the Armenians themselves to improve their own position beyond what the Tsar could do for them. The Dashnak calculation, presumably, would have been that the Armenians under Tsarist rule could reduce the Moslem populace and increase their own power as a Christian outpost of the Russian Empire.
This left the Armenians dependent on British and French Imperialism – or the British Empire under influence of the United States – for gaining more than the Ottoman offer. And, of course, US influence would have been an unanticipated event in 1914, when the Ottoman offer was declined.
During the Great War the British stated on occasion that the Armenians would no longer have to tolerate Ottoman rule. However, these statements were vague and had more the appearance of moral exhortations than formal declarations. The British were careful in their words. Whilst making numerous offers and promises to various states and peoples there were no promises of a separate, independent Armenian state.
The Mudros Armistice, concluding the British War on the Ottoman Empire, had nothing to say on ‘Armenia’. The Eastern Committee of the British War Cabinet suggested “a national home for the scattered people of the Armenian race” akin to the promise made to the Zionists. But there was no equivalent of the Balfour Declaration and Balfour himself was more in favour of the people of the Caucasus “cutting each other’s throats” than establishing states with help from the British Empire.
The Armenians were not mentioned in the official announcement of the countries participating in the Peace Conference. President Wilson explained to Boghos Nubar, the head of one of the two rival delegations the Armenians sent to Paris in any case, that Armenia had not been “welcomed into the family of nations” as yet and not to take offence (The newly constructed Czechoslovakia was invited).
In February 1919 the British Delegation at Paris informed the Peace Conference that it was in favour of a great Armenian state comprising six Ottoman vilayets plus Cicilia and “Russian Armenia”. However, it had already been decided at that point that not only was Britain not prepared to use its power to establish this state it favoured but it was intending to evacuate its military forces from the area and attempt to pass on responsibility for Armenia to the US. Since by then the Armenians had made enemies of all their neighbours – Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Persia and Bolshevik Russia – with territorial demands against them, this was like a mother abandoning her child.
Firuz Kamemzadeh, the Iranian/Russian historian, says the following about the Armenian demands at Paris:
“The Armenian leaders were drunk with victory and power. Their demands for an Armenia on three seas and for exorbitant indemnities were bound to antagonise those whom it was their purpose to win over. Among the Armenians only a few voices were heard protesting against the dangerous course adopted by the Dashnaktsutiun… (The two Armenian delegations…) held conferences and meetings at which hundreds of journalists, writers, singers, and ex-ministers, made long speeches in support of the Armenian cause. The Armenian delegates followed Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau, reminding them every minute of the “debt they owed Armenia”. Their importunity annoyed everyone, and they began to lose friends… The excessive demands and the tone in which they were made finally drove most people to dislike them.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.257)
The Treaty of Sevres of 1920, which Britain was attempting to impose on the Turks using Greek and Armenian proxies, incorporated “Wilsonian Armenia” in its terms. The idealistic President Wilson was in favour of taking a Mandate for Armenia, getting his map makers to draw up a great Armenia on a map. And then the Senate, who well understood Britain’s game, on 24th May 1920 passed a resolution declining Wilson’s acceptance of a US Mandate over Armenia.
So America was out of the game.
Britain was not willing to use its power and predominant position in the world to enforce the Treaty it wished to impose on the Turks. And the lack of British will put paid to Armenian hopes as the small Erivan Republic, which was only recognised as the Red Army was waiting to pounce on it after seeing off General Denikin, was squeezed between a resurgent Turkey and the revived Bolshevik Russia.
While Armenia went down under the blows of Mustafa Kemal’s forces, in an ill-judged war provoked by the Erivan Republic, the First General Assembly of the League of Nations discussed her demise. A few days later Armenia was Sovietised by the Red Army.
In late 1920 the results of the Dashnak decision of 1914 were plain to see. The Ottoman Armenian population had been devastated by the Dashnak gamble of collaborating in the destruction of the Ottoman state. Two-thirds of a million of them had perished and most of the remainder were scattered to various parts of the world (The Armenian lobby claims the catastrophe as being even worse). Magna Armenia, the objective the Dashnaks pursued until destruction, was shown to have been a delusion of insane proportions.
The Dashnaks had calculated that the Ottomans would let them down. But those on whom they pinned their hopes, and the future of their community, let them down in a far greater way – encouraging them to fight on to destruction.
Can it really be argued that an acceptance of the Ottoman offer made at Erzurum in the Summer of 1914 would have been worse for the Armenian population than what subsequently occurred?
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Fascinating article, but based on multiple factors the Armenians (I believe with good reason) did not trust the CUP’s offer: 1) Since the Tanzimat (starting in 1839) efforts at basic reform, to provide security from Kurdish depredations and the venality of local officials, and equality under the law, utterly failed. 2) The extensive massacres of 1895 – 1896, followed by 1909, severely eroded Armenian trust. 3) The authoritarian, pan-Turkic and to a certain extent pan-Islamic direction that the CUP took in 1913. 4) Read the account of Rafael De Nogales (volunteer for the Ottoman Empire) and you will see that massacres and looting of Armenians around Van began well before the Armenian insurrection (better said defense) in Van.
All states will respond with counter-insurgency measures against guerrillas, but given that the deportations occurred far from the war-zone, in areas in which (for demographic and geographic reasons) Armenian insurrection was impossible (such as Konya, Kutahya, Eskisehir, Ankara), this indicates that there was a broader, more ideological vision of total ethnic cleansing that preceded any insurrection. This is supported by the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks of Western Anatolia that began in 1914.