Wednesday 31 July 2019

Armenian Genocide, a background

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This the second and last article on Armenia.
 It was the first modern genocide, 1.5 million men, women and children. It may have inspired the Nazi holocaust. see here  What are some of the factors leading the Ottomans to try to exterminate their Armenian population in WW1 ?
The Ottoman Empire, the Golden Age through to 1566
The  Ottoman Empire (1299–1922) began from a small corner of what had once been the Seljuk (‘Turco-Persian’) Empire and prospered under a line of committed and effective Sultans, flourishing economically due to its control of the major overland trade routes between Europe and Asia. It quickly rebuilt Constantinople after the terrible devastation wrought by fire, Crusaders and the Plague and expanded into Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Balkans and the Caucasus, sending trade ships as far as Indonesia. It became an important ally to France against the Hapsburgs and its navy opposed Portuguese colonisation in multiple theatres.

The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent, Chamboz, Wiki

Until the second half of the 15th century the Empire had a Christian majority, under the rule of a Muslim minority. It was relatively tolerant of Christians and Jews (though these other religions were seen as second to Islam). Under the millet system, non-Muslim people governed themselves locally, spoke their own language, ran their own schools, cultural and religious institutions, and paid somewhat higher taxes. The Imperial government protected them, and prevented major violent clashes between ethnic groups. The attitude was clear, the welfare and success of its citizens gave strength and prosperity to the Empire as a whole.
For a long time, the Ottoman Empire was progressive in art, science, manufacture and military.  Christians and Jews were in some ways disadvantaged, but in other ways had distinct advantages. More of them were educated, they had more schools, and their education was not primarily religious nor burdened by having to learn Arabic and Arabic script. They were allowed printing which was long forbidden by the Muslim religious elite (in case it would cause disrespect to the Koran) and they could charge interest which further assisted their commercial advancement. In 1911 (for instance) of the 654 wholesale companies in Istanbul, 528 were owned by ethnic Greeks.
Controversially, there was conscription of promising Christian boys from Anatolia and the Balkans (‘Devshirme’, mid 1300- mid 1600) who were Islamised and then trained in the service of the Palace, the Scribes, the Religious and the Military. It was designed to give the Sultan an intensely loyal civil service and military force (the ‘Janissaries’) beyond the nobility. While this was often resented and called a ‘blood tax’, some parents (even Muslims) were known to bribe the scouts to take their children. It established a ruling class of the best and brightest, with a lot of privileges and advantages, including advancement even up to the level of the Grand Vizier. This important ruling class, while now Muslim, usually remained sympathetic to their family origins.
The end of the Golden Age is normally dated to the death of Suleiman the Magnificent (1566) but the decline at first was very slow with long periods of relative peace and numerous attempts at reform.
Religious Intolerance in Europe.  
The (relative) religious tolerance of the early Ottoman Empire towards Christians and Jews can be contrasted to a millennia of religious intolerance and persecution in Europe. Antisemitism was endemic and periodically boiling over into massacres and expulsions (especially at the time of the Crusades).
The Crusades (1096-) gave moral primacy to the Pope, and combined a romantic vision of Christianity, Chivalry and Militarism. Not that they were always so glorious in practice.
‘Crusades’ began to be instigated against Christians who thought differently to the Catholic Church (‘heretics’) starting with the Cathars in France (1208) and soon extended to anyone who gave them shelter. It continued on to other dissenting Christian groups, causing a reign of terror lasting on and off for centuries rising to a crescendo with the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants (16th-early 18th c).
The use of inquisitions with torture to extract confessions (and hanging and burning as punishments) was first ordered by the Pope for France in 1184. Inquisitors were given automatic 'absolution' for their own actions and inquisitions became incredibly popular right through till the 1800 ’s eventually extending to witchcraft trails. It soon became possible to accuse ones enemies without proof. Much of the ‘religious’ fervour had an undertone of power, money, desire to grab property and secret political agendas (eg action against the knights Templar as a way of seizing a fortune in gold here).
The Final Days of the Ottoman Empire.
The situation in the final days of the Ottoman Empire was very different to that of its Golden Age.
It was falling behind in industry and trade. Local authorities were often corrupt. Muslim lords took as much as half of each peasant's crop annually. Tax collectors ‘bid’ for how much tax they would be able to raise. The winners got to keep anything left over for their personal use and were poorly supervised, resulting in routine abuse. A Christian’s testimony had never been accepted in a Muslim court, making it hard to gain redress and, as public opinion turned against Christians, they often bore the brunt of additional taxes and other abuses.
The nineteenth century was a complete nightmare for the Empire.
Numerous territories gained de facto and then real independence including Serbia 1804 and the Greece 1830. France occupied Algeria 1830. Egypt became an English protectorate.
Czarist Russia began pressing them in the Balkans, Crimea and eventually the Caucasus. 
They defaulted (1875) on a debt of £200,000,000, with annual interest and amortization payments of £12,000,000, more than half the national revenue. A foreign ‘Ottoman Public Debt Administration’ was established with parallel power to collect taxes, approve investors in the Empire and exempt them from tax and local laws. It had a bigger bureaucracy than their own treasury.  Most of the Empire’s railroads became foreign owned. The debt meant more taxes, on the non Muslim subjects of the Empire, and less services. The European Banks were bleeding a bankrupt Empire dry.
The Empire already hardly had the resources to defend itself and each time the Europeans rescued ‘the sick man of Europe’ they got more control over the Empire and influence inside its borders.
As Christians began pushing the Muslim Empires back they began expelling Muslims (and Jews) who refused to convert, all this with enthusiastic support and even pressure to do so from the Catholic Church. This started on the Iberian peninsula in the mid 1500 ‘s after the defeat of the Moors and continued like clockwork as the Ottoman Empire began losing territories.
For persecution of Muslims during Ottoman contraction  see here 
By the end of 1699 virtually all Muslims (130,000) in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia were exiled, murdered, enslaved or forced to convert. This continued when Austria took some Ottoman land in the 1700 ‘s and was repeated in the 1800 ‘s in Serbia and Greece  (15,000 Muslims were killed and the rest expelled around 1821). During the Crimean war (1853–1856) against Russia 200,000 Crimean Tartars were forced to flee to the Ottoman Empire. The Russian conquest of the North Caucasus (1864) was followed by 'ethnic cleansing' of 90% of the Circassians (one of the important mountain tribes) see here .
Along with Muslims, Jews also fled seeing the Ottomans as their protectors. The refugees were welcomed into the remaining Ottoman lands but the influx of Muslims into the shrinking  Empire
Gruzinsky The mountaineers leave the aul (village)  1872
had several consequences.
1. With the Tatars and the Circassians, the usual Turkish generosity and the Empire’s pre-eminent status in the Muslim world far exceeded their ability to absorb them. The local administration was corrupt and often took advantage and the refugees were not given supplies. Local charities were quickly overwhelmed and the refugees sometimes died faster than they could be buried.
2. The Empire displaced their own citizens such as Christians and Kurds to make room for them. The influx was often deliberately sent to areas of unrest, as a loyal counterweight, but this only increased the growing unrest, especially places like in Bulgaria. Some locals refused to give up their homes, resulting in armed conflict.
3. The refugees brought disease, and the Circassians also began raiding their wealthier neighbours.
4. The demographics were already changing by this time and this accelerated the process. When the Empire came to an end in 1922, half of the urban population of Turkey was descended from Muslim refugees from Russian expansion alone. The Crimean Tartars played a notable role not only in modernizing education but also promoting Pan-Turkism.
5. There was a hardening of attitude towards Christians (and Christian rebels) born of anger and frustration and the suffering of Muslim refugees at the time of their expulsion. In suppressing the Balkan uprising of  1875, the Ottoman troops performed many atrocities. The most famous was in Bulgaria where 30,000 were massacred and it may have been far more. Many of the perpetrators were later decorated by the Ottoman high command. This caused an outrage in the West causing a reversal of Britain’s pro-Ottoman policy. It led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, where the Ottomans faced the Russians alone, along with a number of Christian revolts, and they did disastrously.
Some Europeans were more aware of Muslim (and maybe Russian) atrocities than the massacres and expulsions of Muslims by Christians, even though it was on a greater scale. Mark Levene ( in his 2005 book) suggests that ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Balkans was seen in some circles as 'necessary to nation building'. After the Ottomans lost in Bulgaria (as an example) within a very short time half the 1.5 million Muslim population of Bulgaria was gone, an estimated 200,000 had died or were murdered, the rest fled. The migration continued in the peacetime, some 350,000 Bulgarian Muslims left the country between 1880 and 1911. In the same war, Serbians were said to carry out ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims, many of whom fled to Kosovo.
Armenian Attitudes at the Ottoman Empire
The Armenians had remained, by and large passive to the turmoil in the Balkans. Earning them the title of millet-i sadika or the "loyal millet".  
During the Russo-Persian war 1826-1828 , Tsar Nicholas 1 sought help from Persian Armenians and promised to help improve their lives. Russia conquered all the Persian territory in the Caucasus, including Eastern Armenia which had a Muslim majority at the time. Armenians began to return and Muslims left (I don’t know under what circumstances).
Meanwhile, the treatment of the Ottoman Armenians had become appalling. The demands of the average Armenian was at first moderate, complaining about the usurpation of land, "the looting and murder in Armenian towns by Kurds and Circassians, improprieties during tax collection, criminal behaviour by government officials and the refusal to accept Christians as witnesses in trial.” 
It was described as ‘the Armenian question’ (the guarantee of protection and freedoms from their neighbouring communities).
The Ottoman Armenians began to see the Russians as saviours, as the central Ottoman government faltered in their responsibilities to protect the Armenians, and attitudes towards Armenians hardened.
After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 (mentioned above) while most of the focus was on the Balkans, Russia occupied a large part of Turkish Armenian and refused to withdraw until there was better treatment of the Armenians. The four Russian Generals in the Caucasus were all Armenian.
The other Great Powers (especially Britain) forced Russia to withdraw without the reforms and while they were agreed to they were  never implemented. Sultan Abdul Hamid II, a Pan-Islamist, responded (1890–91) with anger at the Armenians, arming the Kurds and giving them legal protection and powers to deal with the rural Armenians ‘as they saw fit’, sometimes with the assistance of the Ottoman army. He could not afford to lose Armenia in the heart of Anatolia and his solution was to supress the Armenians.
It also  became easy to drum up mobs in cities and towns against Armenians and other Christians saying ‘the Armenians were destroying Islam’.  The effect was brutal, and lead up to the ‘Hamidian Massacres’ of 1894–1896 which had estimated casualties ranged from 80,000 to 300,000, mostly  Armenians.
Armenian Resistance
Several Armenian resistance organisations became organised from outside Turkey. The largest the Dashnaktsutyun (Dashnak or ‘Armenian Revolutionary Federation’, ARF in 1890), another was Hunchakian party (1887). Their aims were the autonomy for the Armenian-populated areas in the Ottoman Empire.
They also helped set up Fedayi (militia) to defend Armenians against Ottoman and Kurdish attacks. The local resistance was usually outmatched in men and equipment. They sabotaged telegraph lines, raided army supplies, tried to assassinate the Sultan, occupied the Ottoman Bank, carried out a reprisal raid on a Kurdish tribe where they spared women and children and later assassinated some of the perpetrators of the genocide see here.
At first the ARF had support of the Czar, but this broke down for a while in June 12, 1903, when he decided to bring Armenian Church property under his personal control.
The Young Turks, WW 1 and the Genocide
In 1905 there was a army coup of ‘the Young Turks’ against the increasingly unstable Sultan Hamid (1908 ). He was deposed, and a constitutional parliament established for a while, with Armenian support . Unfortunately Mehmed Talaat (Talaat Pasha) became minister of interior affairs and he had already stated “If I ever come to power in this country, I will use all my might to exterminate the Armenians.” He was accompanied by coup leader Enver Bey (later Pasha), soon to be Minister of War, and Ahmed Djemal Pasha.
On November 2, 1914, the Empire, in collapse, was pushed by Enver into World War 1 on the side of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. It was a desperate gamble, but if their side won it would be a massive windfall.
At the Caucasus front, the Ottomans had well over 100,000 and the Russians had 60,000 men. The Russians also had  20,000 well equipped and seasoned Armenian volunteers in a special unit which later grew in size, eventually claiming 150,000 in four divisions under Armenian Generals (after the Russian withdrawal). They were nominally from Eastern Armenia and Armenian Russian volunteers with more from the Armenian diaspora. The local militias were reactivated (behind Ottoman lines).
On 24 December 1914,  Enver Pasha ordered his 111rd army to destroy the Russian Caucasus Army (ultimately gaining access to Azerbaijan's oil). It was a mad plan in the heart of winter with inexperienced, ill equipped  troops over poor roads and with precise but unattainable schedules marching up to 14 hrs in the snow , some troops with only bread and no winter uniforms. see here   When his local commander told him this, Enver took charge himself , leading the army to a stunning defeat where they were almost completely destroyed. 25,000 men died before even reaching the enemy.
Enver had been criminally negligent but he publicly blamed his defeat on the Armenians who played a very small part. In November 1914 the Shaykh ul-Islam (Grand Mufti of the Ottomans)  proclaimed Jihad (Holy War) against the Christians.
Enver and Talaat Pasha launched a genocide (1915 -1916 mainly) against the Armenians (killing 1.5 million) but also against the Greeks (450,000–750,000) and Assyrian Christians (150,000–300,000).
The first step was the arrest (and murder) of Armenian intellectuals and leaders. The Armenian conscripts were disarmed and put into ‘work battalions’ and eventually executed, depriving Armenian communities of able bodied men.
Armenian Woman beside a dead child within sight of Aleppo here
Men, women, and children were sent on death marches and taken to concentration camps in the desert while being deprived of food and water. Women were raped, some were married or sold as sex slaves. Some were burnt alive in barns, children were loaded into boats and taken out to sea and thrown overboard. A few were killed with poison gas, morphine injections and inoculation with live Typhoid. Their property was declared abandoned and was confiscated, going a long way to help Turkey with the debts it inherited. 2,000 churches and 200 monasteries were destroyed. The Armenians in Turkey dropped from more than 2 million in 1914 to 50,000 to 70,000 in 2005.
German involvement? 
The Ottomans had a number of German advisers, observers and even senior commanders. 
Kaiser Wilhelm was known for his racist views and may have sponsored the 1900 Herero and Namaqua genocide in Nambia. Rudolf Höss was present and he later became the director at Auschwitz.
Most of the Germans distanced themselves from what happened and some were 'whistle blowers'.
Friedrich Bronsart von Schellendorf, the most senior German and the chief of staff of the Ottoman army, was involved in the Ottoman war plans and the deportations. He later became an apologist, an Armenian Genocide denier and an ardent Nazi. In 1919, he specifically likened the Armenians to Jews, calling them both 'parasites'. It is not known how much he knew, whether he was complicit or even a major instigator. 
For Armenian Genocide, Wiki  see here
Russian, Armenian and Greek Atrocities

When Greece occupied part of Turkey 1919–1922  there were a number of atrocities, especially when the Greeks were being driven back, employing a scorched earth policy. Later, in 1923, there was a negotiated population exchange of ethnicities between Greece and Turkey.
The respected historian Uğur Ümit Üngör of the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies claims "many atrocities were carried out against the local Turks and Kurds by the Russian army and Armenian volunteers". His data was not available to me. Turkey built the  Iğdır Genocide Memorial to commemorate the Massacres of Turks by Armenians. (Iğdır had been part of Persian (East) Armenia).
 I was not able to confirm these particular atrocities myself, the only leads I had had to be dismissed on a just little investigation. Bear in mind that in WW 1, like the Crimean War before it, 2-3 times the number of Turkish soldiers died of disease and poor conditions than were killed in combat. This was massively complicated by the  Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918) which killed a staggering 50-100 million worldwide. Now add famine to imagine the toll on civilians fleeing the front lines.
The impact would be overwhelming and chaotic. We don't need widespread atrocities to explain the majority of civilian deaths.
Absence of evidence (in English and on the 'Net') is not evidence of absence.
Individual instances undoubtedly occurred but without more information, I could not confirm the idea of a widespread or systematic targeting of Turkish (and Kurdish) civilians inside Turkish borders by Armenian troops. Counter claims of Armenians conducting Genocides involving millions of Muslims is generally regarded as preposterous. 

Turkish Attitude
The genocide is officially denied in Turkey. Reportedly, the school curriculum depicts Armenians and Greeks as enemies and traitors. There is very strong negative feelings about Armenians, especially by Ultra-nationalists.
Turkish and Kurdish views were not and are still are not monolithic.  Many at the time protested then and soon after, some refused orders and risked their lives to save Armenians. When Hrant Dink faced criminal charges for 'insulting Turkishness' and was then murdered for writing about the Holocaust (19 January 2007) a hundred thousand citizens marched in protest in Istanbul see here .

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