TURKISH-ARMENIAN RELATIONS IN HISTORY
Foreword: The author is a private researcher who has researched extensively on Turkish-Armenian relations. The assertions of both sides were scrutinized with the help of referenced documents, while an emphasis was placed on the cause-and-effect relations of events.
Armenians in ancient history: Armenians believe to have descended from Hayk, Noah’s great grandson. Xenophon of Athens was one of the first historians to mention Armenians (around 400 BC). Throughout the centuries Armenians founded many small, local states in the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia. These states were generally under the suzerainty of the Persian, Roman and Byzantine Empires. In the year 301, AD Armenians formally accepted Christianity. They were the first state to accept the new creed. Armenians believe their success in trading, architecture and craftsmanship is due to being a “chosen race”.
Latter centuries: Armenians in Anatolia suffered from sectarian persecution under the Byzantine Orthodox Church which did not recognize the Armenian Gregorian Church as their equal. Armenian historian Mateos who lived in the 12th century praised the religious tolerance of the Seljuk Turks who began to occupy Eastern Anatolia. The crucial war of 1071 between the Byzantines and the Seljuks was won by the latter, thanks also to Armenians and Christian Turks who switched sides.
Thus, began a centuries long period of symbiosis which witnessed the return of the Armenian Patriarchate from Bursa to Istanbul by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1461’s. The expansion of the Ottoman state favored the rapid rise of Armenians in bureaucracy, in business and the arts. In fact, within the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were dubbed the “loyal subjects”. This period of mutual welfare and prosperity which lasted more than four centuries came to an end when Armenians decided to support the Russians in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, which the Turks lost. The subsequent Conference of Berlin declared that the Ottoman Empire was no longer a major power.
Armenian revolutionary committees such as the Hinchak Party (1887) and the Dashnak Party (1890) were founded soon after. They were armed and employed by Russia and other major powers to help dismember the weakened Ottoman State. The chief aim of the committees was to create a “Greater Armenia” with access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Russia strongly encouraged this project which would give them access to the Mediterranean. However, Armenians did not have a demographic majority in any of the Anatolian provinces. For that matter, they planned to forcibly reduce the Moslem population of the region in a manner similar to what Bulgarians did in the 1870s to achieve independence. The method was to attack Moslem villages, carry out atrocities and when counterattacked, shout for help from Russia and the West to get them to intervene.
In fact, American Protestant Missionary Dr. Cyrus Hamlin (1811-1900), founder and longtime President of Robert College in Istanbul, wrote in the December 28, 1893 issue of “The Congregationalist” that leaders of the Armenian community in Robert College were planning to create an Armenian State in Anatolia based on the “Bulgarian model.”
The 19th Century: The major powers of the period discovered rich oil deposits in the Ottoman territories. Furthermore, Ottomans were hindering Russia’s access to the Mediterranean and blocking Britain’s land connection to Persia and India. The Great Powers, hence, decided to dismember the Ottoman Empire that had already lost much of its strength. To that end, they armed the Armenian revolutionaries in Anatolia.
The American approach was somewhat different. Americans established Protestant missions in areas which had a local Armenian majority population. These missions included hospitals, colleges and trade schools. Beginning from the 1830s, fourteen major missionary complexes were constructed which were open to all local children. However, religious fanaticism kept Moslem children away whereas Armenian children benefitted from this opportunity. The brightest graduates received scholarships for post-graduate studies from prestigious American universities. Some of these graduates turned into successful businessmen while others became lawyers and active politicians who, from the 1890s onward, attempted to create an American mandate in the Ottoman Middle East to help support local Christians.
In 1894, Armenians staged an uprising in Tokat Province, demanding recognition of the rights granted to them in the 1878 Berlin Conference. This uprising was followed by numerous rebellions in Eastern and Southern Anatolia, which the Ottoman Army managed to suppress with much difficulty. In 1905, Armenian bandits attempted to assassinate the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II with a bomb attack, as he was exiting from the Yildiz Mosque. This attack unleashed strong hostility against Armenians.
The 20th Century: In times of peace, the Ottoman Empire utilized its regional armed forces to suppress local Armenian uprisings. In 1914, however, Ottomans had entered the WWI allied with Germans and was fighting against Russia, Britain and France. In the early stages of the war, Germans started to lose ground against Russians in the Eastern Front. To ease this pressure, the Turkish Army planned a surprise attack on Russians who had occupied the Erzurum Province. In November of 1914, Turkish troops attempted to cross a treacherous mountain range and attack the Russians from the rear. This attack necessitated cooperation with local Armenian militia who were actively pro-Russian at the time, despite being Ottoman citizens. Armenians agreed to provide the necessary assistance in exchange for Ottoman promises to grant them internal autonomy in six Eastern Anatolian Provinces. When the Turkish troop movement started, Armenians failed to provide the promised support and actually hindered the Turkish army from crossing the critical mountain range before the onset of winter. The delay resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers freezing to death under severe winter conditions. Hence, the surprise attack of Battle of Sarikamish on the Russians thus ended with a disaster.
This tragedy was followed by the Armenian occupation of the major eastern city of Van in April 1915. Before handing over the city to the Russians, Armenian militia killed around 217,000 local citizens; those who managed to escape the massacre were estimated to be around 80 000.
These vast losses were behind the Ottoman government’s decision on May 27, 1915 to relocate the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia to Syria. By the Spring of 1915, Ottomans were fighting in the East against Russians and Armenians, in the South against Britain, France and the Arabs, in the West against Britain, ANZAC forces and France who attempted to force their way through the Dardanelles Straits. In April of 1915, the Ottoman Government asked Armenian leaders to cease their treasonous activities in Eastern Anatolia. The ultimatum was not heeded, and Armenian forces advanced further to capture the city of Van in April of 1915 after perpetrating the above-mentioned massacre.
On April 24, 1915, Armenian leaders residing in Istanbul were arrested to prevent suspected general riots. This date is commemorated by Armenians as the onset of a purported genocide. It is also the date on which Allies landed on Gallipoli Peninsula after their failed attempt to force warships through the Dardanelles. The fighting in Gallipoli is considered by major Western historians to be the most dramatic of the whole World War I, costing tens of thousands of lives on both sides. In the end, the Allies finally retreated. Istanbul was saved from Allied occupation and Western military aid to help Czarist Russia failed to reach Russian ports.
During this critical period of Ottoman and World history, the government in Istanbul decided on May 27, 1915, to relocate the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia to Syria which was Ottoman territory. The aim was to prevent attacks on army supply lines and stop atrocities on civilians loyal to the Ottomans.
The relocation of 438,760 Armenians caused unfortunate hardships and the loss of 56,610 lives due primarily to typhus epidemics, the harsh climate and raids from bandits. The US and German consular officials in Syria reported however that 382,150 Armenians had reached their destinations.
- The standard claim forwarded by Armenian sources and their supporters is that 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives following the Relocation and Resettlement Order of 1915. However, in its last pre-World War edition (1911), the Encyclopedia Britannica states that Ottoman Armenian population totaled approximately 1.5 million. Furthermore, The Near East Relief Organization report approved by the US Congress on April 22,1922, notes that in 1921, 1.41 million Armenians were living in Anatolia and in previous Ottoman territories of the Middle East. The above figures plus the multitude of Armenians who emigrated to the West as well as those who followed the Russians to the Caucasus after the 1917 Revolution clearly indicate that the claimed loss of 1.5 million Armenian lives is grossly unfounded. This totally false claim leads to accusations of genocide by those who are unaware of or willingly distort the UN Genocide Convention.
The two probable reasons behind this ongoing campaign are: a) The continued intention of the leading powers to weaken Turkiye and keep it weak by utilizing Armenians as a willing tool, and b) The intention of the Armenian Diaspora to prevent assimilation of overseas Armenians who are dispersed into many religious denominations and national entities, by uniting them against a commonly hated target, namely the Turks and citizens of Turkic states such as Azerbaijan.
Reasonable persons would agree that this unfounded genocide accusation is not only immoral but is intrinsically dangerous as it hardens Turkish attitudes toward the West and blocks attempts to reestablish cooperation between Turks and Armenians which would benefit both sides.
- Genocide believers maintain that the Armenian relocation of 1915 was a planned action by the Ottoman government to eliminate an ethnic group, and as such, it corresponds with the United Nations’ definition of genocide.
However, the UN has stipulated in 1951 that only authorized courts can pass judgement on this subject. UN has stated that parliaments, governments, politicians, academics and authors have no authority to replace the courts, regardless of the number of genocide believers.
Istanbul, the capital of the Ottomans, was from 1918 to 1922 under Allied control. The British authorities exiled Ottoman leaders to Malta, brought them to court for the alleged massacres on Armenians and undertook an investigation of Ottoman State Archives with the assistance of Armenian interpreters.
No incriminating evidence was found and on July 29, 1921 the British Chief Prosecutor declared that the Ottoman dignitaries tried in Malta were not guilty. All were subsequently acquitted.
- A significant number of Ottoman Armenians who lived in Anatolia had engaged in treasonous activities by joining Armenian terrorists commanded by French forces in the South and by Russians in the East. The large-scale fighting and massacres that took place in 1914-1915 period cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Turks, Kurds, Circassians, Azeris and Armenians which had remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire. Many provinces fell under foreign control and to prevent disintegration, the Ottoman government decided to relocate Armenians to Syria province, away from the war zone. History Professor Edward Erickson of the US Marine Corps Academy states that this decision was justified to prevent the collapse of the state.
Hovhannes Katchaznouni, the first prime minister of independent Armenia stated in 1923 that: “[…] It was a gross mistake to massacre Turks in their homeland to establish an Armenian State and expect that the inevitable reaction of the Turks would bring us the support of the Western Powers. Turks should not feel remorse for having relocated Armenians in their effort to defend their homeland”.
- The government of any nation in a state of war is expected to do its best to defend the country against external and internal enemies. The question is what course of action should be taken against internal terrorist bands and their supporters acting on behalf of a major enemy. Should the supporters all be killed for treason or relocated away from the war zone? An honest answer to this question will help understand whether the Ottoman decision to relocate and let the relocated people start a new life was correct.
To clarify the issue, one may consider the following hypothetical cases from the Second World War: Imagine separatist Irish or Corsicans collaborating with the Germans against their home countries, or Mexico allowing German troops to operate against the US. The reader is invited here to provide realistic answers and consider if Britain and France would have relocated the collaborators to their overseas territories or would have simply executed them. As for the US, they would have probably declared war against Mexico and imprisoned Mexican Americans in internment camps.
- Some authors compare the loss of lives of treasonous, belligerent Ottoman Armenians to Jews killed in German concentration camps. This is absurd since Jews have not betrayed their host country. Jewish residents in the German capital Berlin, like all Jews in Nazi occupied areas, were sent to death camps while Armenian residents of the Ottoman Capital Istanbul who had not engaged in treasonous activities were neither imprisoned nor relocated.
Jewish historians should remember that Armenian General Drastamat Kanayan, a man co-responsible of the massacres of non-Armenians in Eastern Anatolia during the 1914-18 period, fled to Germany and led the Armenian Arian Legion under Nazi command. They were directly responsible for the loss of many Jewish lives.
In the same period, Turkish diplomats in Nazi-occupied countries prevented the certain death of many Jews by issuing them Turkish passports against strong protests of Nazi officials. Jewish authors and politicians are invited to be fair and fact-based when facing Armenian genocide propaganda which will most probably prove to be unfounded with due research.
- It is to be hoped that objective politicians, writers and thinkers will question: a) Why Armenians and their supporters do not apply to an authorized, competent international court to determine whether Turks are guilty of genocide, b) Why the Armenian Archives in Yerevan and Boston are not accessible to neutral history researchers whereas the archives in Istanbul, Moscow, and elsewhere are available, and c) Why the crucial book based on Hovhannes Katchaznouni’s 1923 speech has disappeared in western libraries and is available only in the Kremlin archives.
It should be recalled that the Nuremberg Court’s 1945 decision that Nazis had committed genocide was based on the Allied declaration of competence. Since the Nazis had the right to defend themselves in Nuremberg, how is it possible that Turks are declared guilty in absentia?
The French Constitutional Council declared on January 8, 2016, that governments are not authorized to judge genocide cases and that only competent courts are. This decision is in line with that of the United Nations. Until a competent court as stated in the United Nations declaration of January 12, 1951, decides that Ottomans are guilty of genocide, all parties including politicians, academics, authors and the media should carefully refrain from accusing Turks with genocide.
Doing otherwise would be equivalent to using totally untrue, poisonous Armenian propaganda for political, financial, or territorial gain, for religious or racial hatred or simply to keep Turks on the defensive. As Joseph Goebbels said “People believe a lie if it is outrageous and repeated a great many times”.
 Mateos of Urfa (Historical Facts in Turkish-Armenian Relations,by Assoc. Prof. Omer Lutfi Tascioglu).
 This figure is directly referenced in the State Archives Directorate Publication No.50, Ankara, 2001, Vol. 1&2.
 Prof. Yusuf Halaçoğlu, The Armenian Relocation, Turkish Historial Society publication, Ankara, 2001, p.76.
 US Archives NARA 867.4016/193,Copy No: 484; German Foreign Ministry Archives: 1A Türkei 183, Armenien Bd.37
 The Malta Trials, by Uluç Gürkan, Kaynak Publications, Istanbul, 2014.
 Edward Erickson: “Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency” and “Armenian Relocations and Ottoman National Security”
 From Hovhannes Katchaznouni’s speech at the Armenia Revolutionary Federation’s congress in Bucharest, 1923, translated by Dr. Mehmet Perincek from the original in the Kremlin Archives, Kaynak Publications, Istanbul, 2006
 The following Turkish diplomats issued passports to numerous Turkish Jews who had emigrated to France and Greece before the war: Ambassador Behic Erkin (Paris), Council Selahattin Ulkumen (Rhodes), Council Necdet Kent (Marseille). Please consult the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel for details.
 “And if they have lied to us”, Book by French author Prof. Yves Benard. Also see “Lies, Damn Lies and Armenian Deaths” article by Bruce Fein, legal advisor to President Ronald Reagan, June 2009.
Fikret Şemin is a member of the FEYM group.