The Fate of the Armenians in the Late Ottoman Empire
In late February-early March 1915, the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire ordered the deportation and eventually the massacre of hundreds of thousands of its Armenian subjects. The first victims were soldiers, who were demobilized, forced to dig their own graves, and killed; when some Armenians resisted the encroaching massacres in the city of Van, the Committee of Union and Progress had the leading intellectuals and politicians, several of them deputies to the Ottoman Parliament, arrested and sent from the city. Most of them perished in the next few months. Women, children, and old men were systematically forced to leave their homes at short notice, gather what they could carry or transport, and to march through the valleys and mountains of eastern Anatolia. The survivors reached the deserts of Syria where new massacres occurred. Ninety percent of the Armenians of Anatolia were gone by 1922; it is estimated conservatively that between 600,000 to 1,000,000 were slaughtered or died on the marches. Other tens of thousands fled with to the north, to the relative safety of the Russian Caucasus.
Much of the public debate about the events of 1915 have foundered on the question of whether or not there was a genocide in Ottoman Anatolia during World War I. Does the term, invented some decades later, apply to these mass killings? Were the deportations and mass murder of a designated ethnoreligious group planned, initiated, and carried out by the Young Turk authorities? These debates, as heartfelt as they are for some and as cynically manipulated by others, have not advanced the understanding of the motives of the perpetrators. The research of most scholars interested in these events has produced overwhelming evidence that would lead any serious investigator to conclude that, by any conventional definition, genocide had occurred. The principal question remains, however, “why genocide.” In this chapter I will review the existing interpretations – those of the denialists who claim that no genocide occurred, as well as those who argue for genocide but differ as to why it happened. I will then suggest my own analysis that brings together ideological/political factors, social/environmental context, and emotions as keys to the framing of the ultimate decision to commit mass murder.
The Denialist Position
Surprisingly, much of the existing literature has either avoided explanations of the causes of the Genocide or implied an explanation even while not systematically or explicitly elaborating one. For deniers of genocide there is simply no need to explain an event that did not occur as stipulated by those who claim it did. What did occur, in their view, was a reasonable and understandable response of a government to a rebellious and seditious population in a time of war and mortal danger to the state’s survival. Raison d’état justified the suppression of rebellion, and mass killing is explained as the unfortunate residue (“collateral damage” in the now fashionable vocabulary) of legitimate efforts at establishing order behind the lines. The denialist viewpoint might be summarized as: There was no Genocide, and the Armenians are to blame for it! They were rebellious, seditious subjects who presented a danger to the empire and got what they deserved. But there was no intention or effort by the Young Turk regime to eliminate the Armenians as a people.
Even though the denialist account fails both empirically and morally, its outrageous claims have shaped the debate and led many investigators to play on their field. Many historians sympathetic to the Armenians have shied away from explanations that might place any blame at all on the victims of Turkish policies. Because a nuanced account of the background and causes of the Genocide seem to some to concede ground to the deniers, Armenian scholars in particular have been reluctant to see any rationale in the acts of the Young Turks. Explanation, it is claimed, is rationalization, and rationalization in turn leads to the denialist position of justification.
The Denialist Argument proposes the following theses:
(1) that Armenians and Turks lived in relative harmony for many centuries, and that that peaceful coexistence was undermined by noxious outside influences -- American missionaries, Russian diplomats, Armenian revolutionaries from the Caucasus – who worked to undermine the territorial integrity and political system of the Ottoman Empire;
(2) that the response of the government to Armenian rebellion was measured and justified;
(3) that Armenians, therefore, brought on their own destruction, launching a civil war against the government.
The first fundamental criticism to be made of the idea that "outside agitators" disrupted the relatively peaceful relationship that had long existed between the millet i-sadika [“the loyal millet”] and the ruling Turks is that such an imagined past, rather than being based in "reality," was the cultural construction of the dominant nationality, its ideologues and rulers, and was not shared by the subordinate peoples of the empire that lived in a limbo of legally-enforced inferiority. The Armenians, like the other non-Muslim peoples of the empire, were not only an ethnic and religious minority in a country dominated demographically and politically by Muslims, but given an ideology of inherent Muslim superiority and the segregation of minorities, the Armenians were also an underclass. They were subjects who, however high they might rise in trade, commerce, or even governmental service, were never to be considered equal to the ruling Muslims. They would always remain gavur, infidels inferior to the Muslims. For centuries Armenians lived in a political and social order in which their testimony was not accepted in Muslim courts, where they were subject to discriminatory laws (for example, they were forced to wear distinctive clothes to identify themselves), where they were not allowed to bear arms when most Muslims were armed, and where their property and person were subject to the arbitrary and unchecked power of Muslim officials.
Most Armenians most of the time tried to improve their situation through the institutions of the empire. Beginning in the late 1870s and through the following decade the Armenians of the provinces began to petition in ever larger numbers to their leaders in Istanbul and to the European consuls stationed in Eastern Anatolia. Hundreds of complaints were filed; few were dealt with. Together they make up an extraordinary record of misgovernment, of arbitrary treatment of a defenseless population, and a clear picture of the lack of legal recourse. Although the most brutal treatment of Armenians was at the hands of Kurdish tribesmen, the Armenians found the Ottoman state officials either absent, unreliable, or just one more source of oppression. It was hard to say which was worse -- the presence of Turkish authorities or the absence in many areas of any palpable political authority. Corruption was rampant. Even after the "Bloody Sultan," Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909) abrogated the Ottoman Constitution, the Armenian religious leaders and the middle class preferred to petition the government or appeal to the Western powers for redress.
When Armenians resisted the extortionist demands of the Kurds, either individually or collectively, the response from the Turkish army was often excessive. Massacres were reported from all parts of Eastern Anatolia, particularly after the formation in the early 1890s of the officially-sanctioned Kurdish military units known as the Hamidiye. Against this background of growing Kurdish aggressiveness, Western and Russian indifference, and the collapse of the Tanzimat reform movement, a small number of Armenians turned to a revolutionary strategy. Armenian revolutionaries attempted to protect Armenians but in general were few in number (though the Turks exaggerated their strength, organization, and effect). More importantly, they were allies of the Young Turks, who were themselves active opponents of the Sultan’s regime, and after 1908, when the Young Turks came to power, the leading Armenian party, the Dashnaktsutiun, collaborated with the CUP and gave up revolutionary struggle. The party called for autonomy within Turkey, not separation or break-up of the empire.
The revolutionaries were aware that their activities would result in Turkish reprisals, but they believed that it was no longer possible to remain hostage to those fears. If they did not act soon, it was feared, Armenians as a distinct people would disappear. Undeniably the radicals raised the banner of resistance, but those historians who see their rebellion, isolated and intermittent as it was, as a rationale for the horrendous massacres of 300,000 Armenians in the years 1894-1896, excuse the government that carried out those massacres as its preferred method of keeping order in the empire. Armenian revolutionaries set aside rebellion as a strategy after the triumph of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. The major party allied with those forces intending to reform te empire. Therefore, imputed Armenian subversion is even less justification for mass killing after 1908 than it might have seemed to some before.
The Arguments from Religion and Nationalism
Confronted by the denialist construction of the Ottoman past, some authors avoid any explanation for why the Young Turks embarked on their destructive (even self-destructive) policy. Avoiding explanation that may be seen as justification, a number of writers have relied on essentialized notions of how Turks customarily act. No further explanation is required. An unfortunate consequence of the essentialist argument – that massacres, even genocide, is intimately connected to the nature of the Turks, their culture and fundamental political practices – is the tendency of some writers to collapse quite distinct historical events into a single organic narrative. Thus, the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896, the Adana killings of 1909, and the Genocide of 1915 (and even the Kemalist battles of 1920) are all parts of a consistent pattern of Turkish violence aimed at elimination of the Armenians and Turkification of Anatolia. The differences between regimes and their various objectives, the different contexts of the violence, as well as the perpetrators, are simply erased. Abdul Hamid’s efforts to restore through exemplary repression a traditional status quo by punishing “rebellious” subjects ought to be distinguished from the urban riot of 1909, which at least initially was directed against the Young Turks, and the genocidal deportations and massacres by the Young Turks in 1915, which aimed at the effective elimination of a whole people from Anatolia.
Neither denial of such extensively documented events nor avoidance of causal explanation is acceptable for historical scholarship. Briefly, I will survey some of the major interpretations that have emerged in Western writing on the Genocide and then offer an alternative explanation. Two principal questions need to be answered: why did the Young Turks embark on a program of mass deportation and murder of their Armenian subjects; and why did ordinary people – Turks, Kurds, Circassians, and other Muslims (though not Arabs) – participate in these genocidal events.
Arguments for the Genocide have generally circled around two poles: nationalism and religion, sometimes combining the two. Those who argue that the motivations were basically religious argue that:
n the Genocide was a religious war, Muslim against Christian, a jihad, and was part of a long and traditional hostility against Ottoman Christians.
n As Islamic rulers the Ottomans were tolerant of non-Muslims as long as they recognized their inferiority and remained loyal. Religion contributed to conflict when European powers intervened in the empire’s affairs in defense of oppressed Christians; the effect was to raise the political hopes of non-Muslims and the resentment of Turks. Turkish motives stem primarily from their religious conviction of inherent and deserved Muslim Turkish superiority.
n Islam could not tolerate the reforms that Turkish bureaucrats and European powers attempted to implement in the nineteenth century that would have created more egalitarian relations with the non-Turkish peoples of the empire. The theocratic dogmas of Islam denied that the gavur could be equal to the Muslim, and permanent disabilities and inequities were imposed on non-Muslims by the Ottoman state. Vahakn Dadrian writes, “The reforms were a repudiation of fundamental socio-religious traditions deeply enmeshed in the Turkish psyche, and institutionalized throughout the empire…. The Ottoman Empire, for most of its history, was and remained a theocracy which, by definition and fact, cannot be secularized; laws that are predicated upon permanently fixed and intractable religious precepts cannot be modified, much less reformed.”
n The Ottoman rulers could not tolerate religious heterogeneity and sought to Islamicize their empire as much as possible.
A major limitation of the “religious argument” is that it removes all agency from the Armenians, who are presented only as passive victims, rather than as active Ottoman subjects with their own political aspirations and organizations. In general Turks acted, Armenians reacted. Secondly, its characterization, indeed reification, of Islam assumes an unchanging doctrine, a consistent and coherent dogma from which rules of behavior and attitudes may be deduced. The relationship of Muslims to the doctrine are also consistent and predictable. Yet Islam does not in all cases preclude political reform. While certain precepts of Islam may thwart egalitarian reform, some Muslims, like Westernizing Ottoman bureaucrats, pushed for reform in a European direction at the same time that conservative clergy and army officers opposed the reforms. At the same time, non-Muslims in the empire resisted ending their privileges and distinctions inherent in the millet system, even though they desired certain aspects of equality.
Thirdly, it is not true that a theocracy by definition and fact cannot be secularized; indeed, this is precisely what happened in Europe in the transition from medieval to modern times, and to some degree in Turkey in the nineteenth and (and even more so) twentieth centuries. Religious orthodoxy was certainly a powerful inhibitor to effective reform both in Europe and the Ottoman Empire, but it was not an insurmountable barrier, as reforming Ottoman bureaucrats, Young Ottomans, Young Turks, and Kemalists would seek to demonstrate. Fourthly, the argument that the Ottoman Empire could not tolerate heterogeneity also fails before five centuries of imperial rule. Empire, indeed, may be defined by its preservation, even enforcement, of heterogeneity. Distinction and discrimination, separation and inequality were hallmarks of Ottoman imperial rule (and, indeed, of all empires). That heterogeneity was marked in the millet system, an imperial structure through which the Islamic state managed other religious communities. The argument also fails empirically, for the Young Turks who seized control of the empire in 1908 were not religious fanatics but secular modernizers devoted to bringing technology, science, and greater rationality and efficiency to their country. Suspicious, even hostile, to conservative clerics who blocked reform, they were, however, willing to deploy Islamic rhetoric when it served their strategic ends.
If the Genocide was not carried out primarily for religious motives, and if religion did not prevent other outcomes such as coexistence or reform, perhaps the source of violence was nationalism, the all-purpose explanans for modern mass killing. The argument that two nationalisms – even two competing nations – faced each other in a deadly struggle for the same land has been made repeatedly in the literature. Consider the words of the eminent scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, which can be read as an implied rationale for the Turkish massacres of Armenians:
For the Turks, the Armenian movement was the deadliest of all threats. From the conquered lands of the Serbs, Bulgars, Albanians, and Greeks, they could, however, reluctantly, withdraw, abandoning distant provinces and bringing the Imperial frontier nearer home. But the Armenians, stretching across Turkey-in-Asia from the Caucasian frontier to the Mediterranean coast, lay in the very heart of the Turkish homeland -- and to renounce these lands would have meant not the truncation, but the dissolution of the Turkish state. Turkish and Armenian villages, inextricably mixed, had for centuries lived in neighborly association. Now a desperate struggle between them began -- a struggle between two nations for the possession of a single homeland, that ended with the terrible holocaust of 1915, when a million and a half Armenians perished.
In what appears to be a cool and balanced understanding of why their Ottoman rulers would have used mass violence against a perceived Armenian danger, Lewis places the Armenians “nearer [the Turkish] home” and “in the very heart of the Turkish homeland,” employing language that already assumes the legitimacy and actuality of a nation-state. In this transparent paragraph Lewis subtly rewrites the history of Anatolia from a land in which Armenians were the earlier inhabitants into one in which they become an obstacle to the national aspirations of the Turks, who now can claim Anatolia, rather than Central Asia, as their homeland. His language employs the logic of nationalism as if it has a kind of universal relevance even in political structures that evolved out of and still worked within a contradictory logic of empire. In 1915 the Ottoman Empire was still an imperial state, albeit already long existing within an international system of powerful nation-states and an increasingly hegemonic Western conviction that the nation, however defined, was the principal source of political legitimacy. The nature of that system and its self-justifications were changing, but Lewis’ reading of a notion of ethnic homogeneity as the basis for a national republic of the Kemalist type, which lay in the future, into the moment of Armenian annihilation is ahistorical and anachronistic.
Such a scenario, that the Armenian Genocide was primarily a struggle between two contending nationalisms, one of which destroyed the other, presupposes that two well-formed and articulated nationalisms already existed in the early years of the war. Among Armenians, divided though they were among a number of political and cultural orientations, identification with an Armenian nation had gained a broad resonance. Yet Turkish identity was not clearly focused on the “nation.” The term “Turk” was in the early twentieth century still infrequently used except as a pejorative for country people. Turkish nationalists were beginning to exploit the concept of Turk, which was based on the linguistic affiliations of a group of languages, in a more positive way, but Turkish identification was still weak, confused, and mixed in with Islamic and Ottoman identities. As he is well aware, in the last years of the empire conflicting and contradictory ideas of Turkish nationalism, some deeply racist, vied with Pan-Turanism, Pan-Islamism, and various strains of Ottomanism in an ideological contest for new ways of reformulating the state.
The Young Turk Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) was not so much engaged in creating a homogeneous ethnic nation as it was searching, unsuccessfully, flailing around to find ways to maintain its empire. Deporting and killing Armenians was a major, deliberate effort to that end. Rather than primarily aiming at creating a homeland for an ethnically homogeneous Turkish nation, something that in the next decade would become the hallmark of the Kemalist republic, the Young Turks sought to preserve their multiethnic, polyglot empire. The imperial mission of the CUP still involved ruling over Kurds and Arabs, as well as Jews, Greeks, and even Armenian survivors, in what would essentially still be a multinational Ottoman Empire. In the vision of some, like Enver Pasha, that vision was now greatly expanded to include the Turkic peoples of the Caucasus and possibly Central Asia. Even as some thinkers, notably ‘Turks” from the Russian Empire advocated an empire in the more ecumenical civic sense of the Ottomanist liberals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the policies of the Young Turks never were purely Turkish nationalist but remained Ottoman in fundamental conception. In a word, they were primarily state imperialists, empire preservers, rather than ethno-nationalists.
It should be noted, however, that neither religion nor nationalism was wholly absent in the political discourse of the time. Religion was important as a marker of difference, the premodern equivalent of ethnicity. The key difference in early Ottoman society was religion, rather than ethnicity or language, which took on relevance only later. The millets, the various communities headed by religious leaders that were systematized only in the nineteenth century, were based on religion, rather than some idea of primal origin, language, or culture. The state ruled over the millets indirectly and interfered little, delegating much authority to the religious head of the millet. Certainly no effort was made to break down the boundaries of these communities and homogenize the population of the empire, or even Anatolia, around a single identity. There was no state project of “making Ottomans” or turning “peasants into Turks” in the Ottoman Empire, at least not before 1908, as there was to a degree in the absolute monarchies of Western Europe or the French state after the revolution of 1789. There was also no idea until the Tanzimat reforms of the mid-nineteenth century of equality under the law, a notion of equal citizenship for all members of Ottoman society. From the eighteenth century the term reaya was applied only to non-Muslims, underlining their inferior status. The Ottomans, particularly in the early modern period but even during the nineteenth century, were not engaged in any kind of nation-building project but in an imperial state building effort that sought at one and the same time to maintain the distinctions of hierarchy between rulers and ruled, Muslim and non-Muslim, without integrating a disparate society into a single, homogenous whole. Unity in the empire came from the person of the sultan-caliph to whom all peoples regardless of religion or ethnicity owed allegiance.
As for Turkish nationalism, the Young Turks increasingly over time gravitated away from the liberal Ottomanism from which they had sprung and perceived that the security and unity of the empire required it to become more Turkic. Key leaders perceived Turks and Muslims to be more trustworthy and dependable allies in the imperial mission than Christians, with their ties to Europe, Greece, and Russia. Ottoman Turkey was to become an imperial nation, with Turks as the herrenfolk ruling over subordinate nationalities and religious communities, rather than a multinational state of distinct nations with institutionalized privileges. At a certain point, early in the war, the Armenians were seen as a deadly threat to this conception and the continuance of the empire.
Emotional Dispositions and Strategic Imperatives
Neither arguments from religion or nationalism adequately explain the Genocide, though both provide hints as to the general disposition of the Young Turk leaders and many ordinary Turks and Kurds that would contribute to mass murder. The question “why genocide” after all is a question primarily about a mental world that permitted, even encouraged, the Turkish government to carry out the extermination of their Armenian subjects and ordinary Turks and Kurds to participate in that extermination of their neighbors. My argument is that the Genocide occurred when state authorities decided to remove the Armenians from eastern Anatolia in order to realize a number of strategic goals -- the elimination of a perceived Armenian threat to the war against Russia, punishment of the Armenians for activities which the Turkish authorities believed to be rebellious and detrimental to the survival of the Ottoman state, and possibly the realization of grandiose ambitions to create a Pan-Turkic empire that would extend from Anatolia through the Caucasus to Central Asia. Rather than resulting primarily from Turkish racial or religious hatred of the Armenians, which existed in many and was available for exploitation, or long-term planning by militant nationalists, the Genocide was a rather contingent event that was initiated at a moment of near imperial collapse when the Young Turks made a final, desperate effort at revival and expansion of the empire that they had reconceived as more Turkic and Islamic, shifting the meaning of what had been Ottoman. Nineteen-fifteen, then, can be understood in the moment of imperial decline, when a fundamental reconceptualization of the nature of the state along more Turkic, Islamic, and Pan-Turkic lines took place, and Young Turk policies became increasingly radical in the fierce context of the First World War.
Rather than arguing that the Genocide was planned long in advance and was continuous with the earlier policies of conservative restoration through massacre, I contend that the brutal policies of killing and deportation (surgun) that earlier regimes used to keep order or change the demographic composition of towns and borderlands must be distinguished from the massive expulsions of 1915, the very scale of which, as well as their intended effects, to rid eastern Anatolia of a whole people, made the Genocide a far more radical, indeed revolutionary, transformation of the imperial setup. As in earlier and later massacres of Armenians, victims and victimizers were of different religions, but these mass killings were not primarily driven by religious distinctions or convictions. Rather than spontaneously generated from religion or even ethnicity, the motivations for murder arose from decades of hostile perceptions of the “other” exacerbated by a sense of loss of status, insecurity in the face of perceived dangers, and the positive support and encouragement of state authorities for the most lawless and inhumane behavior. In order to understand the mentality and motivations of the Young Turk leaders as well as ordinary people to engage in mass murder, it is necessary to explore the affective disposition of these state actors and of ordinary perpetrators, the fear, resentment, and hatred that shaped their understandings and led to their strategic calculations to eliminate what they perceived to be an existential threat to the empire and to the Turks.
What I seek to understand is the etiology and evolution of that emotional disposition, the affective universe within which things were understood and in which decisions were made. A cascade of social, political, and international destablizations battered older ways of thinking, feeling, and acting and generated a particularly pathological interpretation of the Armenians. Rather than religion or nationalism in isolation being catalysts to genocide, a toxic mix of past experiences, conflicts over land and status, an anxiety over their future all contributed to the disposition of the Young Turks that led them to genocide. At a moment when the Ottoman Empire was in danger; its very existence was at stake; and the Russians on one front and the British on another launched attacks, the Young Turks acted on the fears and resentments that had been generated over time and directed their efforts to resolve their anxieties by dealing with those they perceived to threaten their survival – not with their external enemies but an internal enemy they saw allied to the Entente – the Armenians. What to denialists and their sympathizers appears to be a rational and justified strategic choice to eliminate a rebellious and seditious population, in this view is seen as the outcome of a pathological construction of the Armenian enemy, a mental picture shaped by deep emotions and perceptions of the Ottoman world whose origins and costs must be examined. The actions decided upon were based in an emotional disposition that led to distorted interpretations of social reality and exaggerated estimations of threats.
The Armenians of Anatolia were a conquered people, an ethnoreligious community that had lost both its political and demographic hegemony over its own historical homeland between the fall of the last Armenian kingdom in 1375 and the national "awakening" of the early nineteenth century. Their survival through those five centuries can in part be attributed to the religious and linguistic tenacity of many Armenians (those who did not convert or emigrate), to the continued efforts of clerics and intellectuals to maintain the Armenian literary tradition, but also must be credited to the remarkable system of indirect rule through religious communities (the millet system) that the Ottoman government eventually sanctioned. Whatever discrimination, abuses, and inferiority the Armenians were forced to endure must be weighed alongside the considerable benefits this cultural and political autonomy provided. The church remained at the head of the nation; Armenians with commercial and industrial skills were able to climb to the very pinnacle of the Ottoman economic order; and a variety of educational, charitable, and social institutions were permitted to flourish. Without exaggerating the harmony of Turkish-Armenian relations between 1453 and 1878 or neglecting the considerable burdens imposed on non-Muslims, particularly Anatolian peasants, we can safely, nevertheless, characterize this long period in which the Armenians came to be known as the "loyal millet" as one of "benign symbiosis."
Linked primarily by religion and the church, which nurtured a sense of a lost glorious past and ancient statehood, Armenians before the nineteenth century made up a diffuse ethnoreligious community whose people were dispersed among three contiguous empires and scattered even further abroad by their mercantile interests and the oppressive conditions in eastern Anatolia. Armenians were much more divided than united, separated by politics, distance, dialects, and class differences. Yet the clerical elite worked to create a collective identity for Armenians, a notion of their distinction from their neighbors of different linguistic and religious communities. Though we know very little about the identifications of ordinary Ottoman Armenians, many of whom spoke Turkish rather than Armenian, the Armenian clerical and merchant leadership in the Ottoman Empire maintained a sense of Armenian distinctiveness, marked by a particular form of Christianity, and a memory of past glory. At the same time they preached deference to the rulers that God had imposed upon them. Religious distinction was foundational to culture and identity, but local identities, a sense of place and where one came from, seem to have been extremely important to Armenians. The historiographic and literary tradition, family, place of origin, occupation, and religion, as well as recognition of the power of the state and its authorities all played parts in the construction of Armenian identity. And that identity was institutionalized in the millets, the official communities recognized by the sultan as the instruments of his rule over his subjects. The lines of distinction among Muslims and non-Muslims drew people of one religion together with their fellow-religionists and distanced them from those of different religions. Yet millets did not exactly correspond exactly to ethnolinguistic lines. The Ermeni millet, for instance, included not only the Armenians of the national (“apostolic”) church, but also Copts, Chaldians, Ethiopians, Syrian Jacobites, and others, while Armenian Catholics and Protestants gained their own millets in the early nineteenth century. Even as over time Armenians borrowed the idioms of the nation, blending them with their own religious distinctions, religion remained the principal official marker of difference.
The turn from a primary identification with an ethnoreligious community to an ethnonational identity was gradual and prolonged. The genesis of Armenian nationalism occurred in the diaspora, in far-removed places like Madras, where the first Armenian newspaper was published at the end of the eighteenth century, and Venice, where the Catholic Mekhitarist fathers revived the medieval histories of the Armenians and commissioned new ones. The literary and cultural revivalists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, particularly the Mekhitarist monks, saw themselves as cultivating the national spirit through promotion of the language. But even as they promoted enlightenment and borrowed the idiom of the nation from the West, the generation of religious teachers rejected the more radical and democratic aspects of Western and East European nationalism that they observed. The precise connection (or disconnection) between religion and nationality became the ground upon which clerics and secular intellectuals would contest the nature of being Armenian.
The new images of community generated in Europe and by diaspora activists fit well with the new forms and institutions of Armenian life emerging in Ottoman cities, particularly Istanbul. As capitalist production and exchange penetrated the empire, different millets (and even segments within millets) benefited (and suffered) unevenly from the new economic opportunities. With the Greeks suspect as rebels (and after 1821 possessing their own independent state), the Ottomans favored the Armenians as the “loyal millet” (millet-i sadika). In the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century urban Armenians profited enormously from their association with the Porte. The amiras and sarafs, the wealthy money-lenders and bankers who financed the tax-farming system, along with the less affluent esnafs, the craftsmen and artisans of the towns, accumulated wealth with which they subsidized schools, hospitals, and philanthropic organizations. Though highly placed, the amiras were always vulnerable to the arbitrary power of the sultan, and when reforming officials progressively eliminated the tax-farming system, the wealthy sarafs suffered financially. When social tensions between the rich and the not-so-rich tore at the Armenian community and threatened the peace of the Ottoman capital, the sultan responded to the pleas of leading Armenians and reluctantly granted a “constitution” to regulate the Armenian millet. Community identity and self-sufficiency solidified, as well-to-do Armenians settled in Galata and other discrete sections, adopted European styles, established close ties with and even came under the formal protection of foreign states. They published the first newspapers in the empire, sent their children abroad for specialized and higher education, and drew visibly distant from the demographically and politically dominant Muslims. Armenians ran the imperial mint; an Armenian was chief architect to the sultan; and Armenians ran the Foreign Correspondence Office of the government. But for all their success and visibility, Ottoman Armenians were also the victims of unequal treatment and “other doubts and suspicions that emerged increasingly as faith in the viability of the Ottomanist synthesis of nationalities -- a synthesis to which the official commitment to egalitarianism was directly linked -- began to erode.”
The “nationalization” of Armenians occurred, not in isolation or primarily from within, but in synergy with and in response to the developing discourses of liberalism and the nation in Europe and the nationalisms of other peoples, most notably the French and the Greeks. Nationalist movements of the Ottoman peoples of the Balkans, along with the western imperialist incursions into and defeat of the Ottoman Empire, contributed to a general sense of Ottoman decline that stimulated westernizing bureaucrats to attempt to reform the empire and Europeanized Christians to consider either separating from the empire or, in the case of the Armenians, to petition for internal reform along more liberal lines. In a vision shared both by many in power and by those they ruled, the Ottoman Empire was “backward,” “sick,” and was expected to collapse, for it was an unfit pre-industrial power in an age of ruthless international competition, an imperial victim of western imperialism.
Appropriately for a dispersed people faced by three imperial authorities, the nationalism of many Armenian thinkers was not primarily territorial. Neither the clergy nor the powerful conservatives in the capital, who benefited from their privileged positions within Ottoman society and close to the state, were interested in creating a territorial nation. Armenians were dispersed throughout the empire, and Istanbul Armenians were a distinct community living both geographically and mentally distant from the Anatolian peasants of historic Armenia to the east. Armenian leaders in Turkey hoped for reform from above and spoke of their “benevolent government.” Until the end of the 1870s, Ottoman Armenians conceived of themselves as a religious community that needed to work within the context of the empire to improve its difficult position. Encouraged by the Tanzimat reformers and the theorists of Ottomanism, liberal Armenians petitioned and pressured the Porte and tried occasionally to enlist foreign support for reform.
The Hamidian Empire
The horizons for Armenians changed radically with the coming to power of Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909), the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, his abrogation of the Ottoman Constitution in 1877, and the turn toward a Pan-Islamic policy that involved repression of the Armenians in the 1890s. As an Armenian national discourse took shape, the more liberal and radical elements focused on the eastern provinces and the poverty and oppression suffered by the Armenian peasantry. A sense of a “fatherland” (hairenik) developed among Armenian writers, and a distinction was drawn between azgasirutiun (love of nation), which heightened the sense of a cultural nation beyond a specific territory, and hairenasirutiun (love of fatherland), with emphasis on the people in Armenia (haiastantsiner). Imbued with a deeply populist nationalism, centered on the peasants of eastern Anatolia, Armenian intellectuals traveled as teachers to the east in an effort characterized as depi Haiastan (to Armenia). The government responded by removing prominent teachers, like Mkrtich Portukalian in Van and Martiros Sareyan in Mush, from their home provinces and exiling the patriotic priest Khrimian to Jerusalem.
Though most Armenian leaders wished to work within the Ottoman system, on a number of discrete occasions they made overtures to the Russians and the British. In 1872 merchants in Van requested that the Russian government send a consul to their city to guarantee “the safety of trade routes and protection of religion, lives, and goods of the down-trodden Christian people of Vaspurakan.” Six years later, in the aftermath of the war with Russia, the Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian made contact with the Russians at San Stefano and sent Khrimian to Berlin to plead the Armenian case before the Great Powers. When the Russians were forced by Europe to retreat from their demands on Turkey, the Patriarch attempted to interpret the new role taken by Britain as the principal protector of the Ottoman state in the most positive light. These overtures to the Great Powers, along with the Western styles affected by some wealthy Armenians, conspired to create in the minds of many Turks an image of an alien population within an Islamic empire.
Armenians in eastern Anatolia and Cilicia competed with Muslims for the most desired and scarce resort – land.
From the middle of the nineteenth century through to World War I, Muslims migrated into and were deported and settled in regions where Armenian peasants worked the land. When tsarist Russia defeated the Cherkess (Circassians) in the North Caucasus, thousands chose to move to Anatolia, where the government welcomed Muslim settlers. For the next century, as the Ottomans lost territories in the Balkans, Muslims left Europe for the hinterlands of the east. In some areas Armenians fell victim to Muslims favored by local officials and courts. In others, not only were Armenians prominent in urban trades and crafts, finance and international commerce, but their superior economic position allowed them to buy up large landholdings, for example, in Cilicia from the 1870s on. Once the sultan permitted non-Muslims and foreigners to buy Muslim lands (1856), Armenians and Greeks began purchasing properties that Muslims debtors could not longer pay for. Armenian emigrants to America and Europe sent home their savings and on their return brought new machines and technology to their farms. At the same time Muslim refugees from the Caucasus and the Balkans, displaced by the Russian victory in the North Caucasus and the independence of the Balkan states, migrated to Anatolia, and an intense competition for land developed. Petitions to the government and the Armenian Patriarchate enumerate hundreds of cases of Muslim usurpation of Armenian lands. The state most often supported Muslim claimants, and many Armenians reluctantly moved to the towns. Only after the 1908 revolution were they able to renew efforts to return to their lands.
While Armenian clerics taught submission and deference and often allied with state authorities to persecute those modernizing intellectuals who attempted to bring Western enlightenment to young Armenians, Abdul Hamid II brought the reform period of the Tanzimat to an end and eliminated moderate and liberal alternatives within the system. The sultan created a system of personal, autocratic rule and centralized power within the palace. Both Christians and Turks who opposed the “bloody sultan” saw the restoration of the 1876 constitution as a principal political goal. By the 1880s a significant minority of Armenians, many of them from Russian Transcaucasia, conceived of revolution as the only means to protect and promote the Armenians. A new idea of the Armenian nation as secular, cultural, and based on language as well as shared history challenged the older clerical understanding of Armenians as an ethnoreligious community centered on faith and membership in the Armenian Apostolic Church. Faced by what they saw as the imminent danger of national disintegration, the Armenian radicals turned toward “self-defense,” the formation of revolutionary political parties, and political actions that would encourage Western or Russian intervention into Ottoman affairs. For the young nationalists revolution was the “logical conclusion” of the impossibility of significant reforms coming from the state.
With the failure of reform -- the end of Tanzimat, the withdrawal of the constitution in 1878, the steady replacement of Ottomanism with policies preferential to Muslims -- and in the face of European disinterest in the fate of the Armenians through the 1880s, the situation of the Ottoman Armenians began to deteriorate rapidly. At the same time the Armenians had themselves changed dramatically in the four middle decades of the nineteenth century. The increase in social communication among Armenians had fostered a powerful sense of secular nationality among many Armenians. Influenced by Western ideas, Armenian intellectuals had developed a new interest in the Armenian past, and instead of conceiving themselves solely as part of a religious community, more and more Armenians began to acquire a Western sense of nationality, a feeling of kinship with Christian Europe, and a growing alienation from the Muslim peoples among whom they lived. The depth or spread of this new nationalism should not be exaggerated. Certainly more potent in the larger cities and in localities where Armenian or missionary schools helped to shape new ways of thinking, Armenian nationalist ideas spread slowly into eastern Anatolia. Equally if not more influential in shaping Armenian attitudes in the late nineteenth century than the positive images created by Armenian and foreign intellectuals was the negative experience of poor Armenians at the hands of their Muslim overlords.
The former equilibrium between the millets was rapidly disappearing by the last decades of the century. And nowhere was this more brutally evident than in the Armenian provinces. The rise in tension in eastern Anatolia and the resultant resistance and massacre must be understood, not only as the product of the failure of the traditional Ottoman political structure to adapt to the new requirements of the non-Muslim peoples but also as the result of fundamental social changes in eastern Anatolia itself. The mountainous plateau of historic Armenia was an area in which the central government had only intermittent authority. An intense four-sided struggle for power, position, and survival pitted the agents of the Ottoman government, the Kurdish nomadic leaders, the semi-autonomous Turkish notables of the towns, and the Armenians against one another. Local Turkish officials ran the towns with little regard to central authority, and Kurdish beys held much of the countryside under their sway. Often the only way Istanbul could make its will felt was by sending in the army.
Diplomatic reports and eye-witness accounts by travelers and missionaries testify to the "great severity" with which the Ottoman government suppressed any effort by Armenians to defend themselves. A series of massacres began with clashes in Sassun. In the summer of 1893 Kurdish tribes entered the kaza of Sassun and attacked the Armenian village of Talori. The Turkish mutessarif of Guendj arrived with his troops, arrested several Armenians, but no Kurds. The soldiers then plundered the Armenians, and the mutessarif told the authorities at Bitlis that the Armenians were in revolt. The villagers retreated into the mountains for several months, returning only the next spring. They refused to pay taxes because of the state's failure to protect them from the Kurds. This led to a second visit by the army, along with Hamidiye troops. Abdul Hamid decided to deal with the Armenian Question “not by reform but by blood.” This violence would later be read by Armenians as the first stage of a series of massacres that would culminate in the genocide of 1915. But unlike the genocide, these massacres in eastern Anatolia in 1894-1896, which were largely carried out by Kurdish tribes and local lords, were part of an effort by the state to restore the old equilibrium in interethnic relations, in which the subject peoples accepted with little overt questioning the dominance of the Ottoman Muslim elite. That equilibrium, however had already been upset by the sultan’s own policies of centralization and bureaucratization, as well as his strategic alliance with Muslim Kurds against Christian Armenians. This pan-Islamic policy, which was institutionalized in the formation of irregular Hamidiye units of armed Kurds, helped to undermine the customary system of imperial rule as much as did the emerging revisioning of nationality borrowed from the West. When British consuls in eastern Anatolia complained to the Sultan about the excessive force used against the Armenians, Abdul Hamid replied to the British ambassador:
The Armenians, who for their own purposes invent these stories against the Govt., and finding that they receive encouragement from British officials, are emboldened to proceed to open acts of rebellion, which the Govt. is perfectly justified in suppressing by every means in its power.... His Imperial Majesty treated the Armenians with justice and moderation, and, as long as they behaved properly, all toleration would be shown to them, but he had given orders that when they took to revolt or to brigandage the authorities were to deal with them as they dealt with the authorities.
This policy of massacre, which crested in the killings of 1894-1896, was a means of maintaining the decaying status quo as the preferred alternative to reform and concessions to the Armenians. Encouraging the anti-Armenian hostility of the Muslims, the state created an Armenian scapegoat onto which the defeats and failures of the Ottoman government could be blamed. The social system in eastern Anatolia was sanctioned by violence, now state violence, and the claims of the Armenians for a more just relationship were rejected. No right of popular resistance was recognized, and all acts of rebellion were seen as the result of the artificial intervention of outside agitators.
The Sultan’s language would be repeated by other officials and would echo in the justifications of the Young Turks and the apologist historians who would later attempt to reconceive state-initiated massacres as “necessary,” figments of Armenian imagination, or a Muslim-Christian civil war. Yet the continuity in the rhetoric about these events should not obscure the difference between Abdul Hamid’s essentially conservative and restorationist policy toward unruly subjects and the Young Turks’ far more revolutionary attempt to remove surgically a major irritant.
The revolutionary nationalism of the Armenian committees and parties was exaggerated by both the revolutionaries themselves and by their opponents. While they struggled to convince villagers of the “Armenian cause” and threatened businessmen who refused to contribute to their movement, the Armenian nationalists were forced to rely on a handful of activists, many from Persia and Russia. They engaged in a number of spectacular activities, culminating in the seizure of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in August 1896, but this revolutionary act was followed by riots and massacres in the city that left six thousand Armenians dead. The number of militants remained small and divided, but the nationalist framing of the Armenians’ plight gained followers. In the period after 1908 the Armenians elected socialists, liberals, and nationalists to the Ottoman Parliament, where they collaborated with (and competed with) the Young Turks. Resented by the more conservative clerical and merchant leaders in Constantinople whom they displaced over time, the revolutionary nationalists became the de facto leaders of a nation that they had helped to create through their teaching, writing, and sacrifice. The leading party, the Dashnaktsutiun, made it clear in its ten-point “Platform” (December 1908) that it was in favor of “Turkish Armenia [as] an inalienable part of the empire, reorganized in accordance with the principle of decentralization.” Their commitment to the territorial integrity of the empire, however, did not prevent the Armenians from accusations of separatism and subversion, particularly when the Young Turks developed a quite different idea of what their empire should look like.
Social differentiation among millets and the resultant tensions existed throughout the nineteenth century, but the frames in which they were given meaning changed. Ottoman westernizers recognized that the Muslims were the least prepared of the millets to adopt western ways and would require the state to assist their progress. To religious Muslims, the visibility of better-off Armenians in the capital and towns appeared as an intolerable reversal of the traditional Muslim-dhimmi hierarchy that, in turn, generated resentments toward Christians. The inferior status of Muslims in the industrial and commercial world only intensified the sense of exploitation at the hands of Armenians and foreigners. After 1877, Turkish patriots constructed Armenians as disloyal subjects suspiciously sympathetic to Europeans. Anxiety about status, xenophobia, and general insecurity about the impersonal transformations of modern life combined to create resentments toward and anxieties about the Armenians.
Social grievances in towns, along with the population pressure and competition for resources in agriculture, were part of a toxic mix of social and political elements that provided the environment for growing hostility toward the Armenians. Whatever resentments the poor peasant population of eastern Anatolia may have felt toward the people in towns -- the places where they received low prices for their produce, where they felt their social inferiority most acutely, where they were alien to and unwanted by the better dressed people -- were easily transferred to the Armenians. The catalyst for killing, however, was not spontaneously generated out of the tinder of social and cultural tensions. It came from the state itself, from officials and conservative clergy who had for decades perceived Armenians as alien to the Turkish empire, dangerous revolutionaries and separatists who threatened the integrity of the state. Armenians were seen as responsible for the troubles of the empire, allies of the anti-Turkish European powers, and the source of politically radical ideas, including trade unionism and socialism, into the empire.
Under Abdul Hamid, ethnic differences, hostilities, and even conflict did not become genocidal. That would require a major strategic decision by elites in power. Though Abdul Hamid used violence to keep his Armenian subjects in line, as he and his predecessors had done against other non-Muslims, he did not consider the use of mass deportation to change radically the demographic composition of Anatolia. He remained a traditional imperial monarch prepared to use persecution when persuasion failed to maintain the unity as well as the multiplicity and diversity of his empire. More fundamental ideological shifts took place before the images of Armenians as subversive and alien appeared absolutely incompatible with the empire as it was being reconceived.
The Young Turks and the “Modernizing” Empire
In the second half of the nineteenth century Turkic intellectuals, both in the Ottoman and Russian empires, stimulated interest in a new conception of a Turkish nation. Responding to the works of European orientalists who discussed an original Turkic or Turanian race, men like Ismail Gasprinskii in Crimea, Mirza Fethali Akhundov in Transcaucasia, and Huseynizade Ali Bey from Baku, attempted to teach pride in being Turkish and speaking a Turkic language. Identification with a supranational community of Turks distinguished the “race” or “nation” of the Turks from the multinational Ottoman state. Yet inherent in that identity with the Turkic was a confusion about the boundaries of the nation and the location and limits of the fatherland (vatan). Was the homeland of the Turks Anatolia or the somewhat mystical Turan of Central Asia?
Several scholars have traced the roots of Kemalist Turkish nationalism back into the late Ottoman period, their discussion has focused exclusively on intellectuals and has revealed little about a popular response to nationalist or Pan-Turanian ideas. In a population in which multiple identifications competed, such as religion, ethnicity, empire, or subnational communities, like tribes, clans, or regions, an ambiguity about what constitutes the nation thwarts (or at least delays) the development of a strong and coherent nationalism. In the late Ottoman Empire allegiance to the “nation” of Turks was quite weak. The word “Turk,” which referred to the lower classes of rural Anatolia, was in the nineteenth century contrasted to “Ottoman,” a term usually reserved for the ruling elite, and Islam probably had a far more positive valence among ordinary Turks than identity with being Turkish. There were signs of change, however, in the latter part of the century, and the shift came from the top down. The Ottoman constitution of 1876 established Turkish as the official state language and required members of government and parliament to know Turkish. At the turn of the century Young Turk nationalists, like Ahmed Riza began to substitute the word Turk for Ottoman. Though Ottomanist views remained dominant among the first generation of Young Turk intellectuals, rival visions of the future led to tensions between the dominant Turks and the non-Turkish millets and reduced the commitment to Ottomanism.
The Turkish revolutionary elite at the turn of the century, including those that emerged from the Young Turk committees to lead the Kemalist movement, grew out of an intellectual milieu that exalted science, rejected religion, and borrowed freely from Western sociology. Influenced by the ideas of Charles Darwin, Claude Bernard, Ludwig Buchner, even the phrenology of Gustave Le Bon (who “proved” that intellectuals have larger craniums by doing research in Parisian millinery shops), “the Young Turk ideology was originally ‘scientific,’ materialist, social Darwinist, elitist, and vehemently antireligious; it did not favor representative government.” Neither liberals nor constitutionalists, the Young Turks were étatists who saw themselves as continuing the work of the Tanzimat reformers -- Mustafa Reshid Pasha, Mustafa Fazil Pasha, Midhat Pasha -- and the work of the Young Ottomans. According to Şukru Hanioglu, the historian of its early years, “The Young Turk movement was unquestionably a link in the chain of the Ottoman modernization movement as well as representing the modernist wing of the Ottoman bureaucracy.” Earlier, Ottoman westernizers had hoped to secure western technology without succumbing to western culture, somehow to preserve Islam but make the empire technologically and militarily competitive with the West. Reform had always come from above, from westernizing statesmen and bureaucrats, a response to a sense that the empire had to change or collapse. The Young Turks shared those values, but steadily they added new elements of nationalism to their imperial étatism.
The first generation of Turkish revolutionaries was divided in their attitudes toward working with Armenians in a common struggle. After Damad Mahmud Pasha, brother-in-law of Abdul Hamid, fled to Europe with his two sons, he made an agreement with the Dashnaks and published an open letter urging joint action. The Dashnak newspaper, Droshak, wrote: “Dashnaktsutiun would not accept the re-establishment of the Constitution of Midhat as a solution of the Turkish problem, but look to a democratic federative policy as the way out.” The Armenian party “would fortify the Young Turks if first it received a guarantee that the situation of the peoples would be bettered.” The more liberal Young Turks believed that an alliance with the Armenians would reap a favorable response in Western Europe. But the dual issue of an alliance with the Armenians and inviting European intervention to secure the end of autocracy in the empire exposed the ultimately unresolved tension among Young Turk activists between their ecumenical Ottomanist impulses and the growing influence of an exclusivist Turkish nationalism.
On February 4, 1902, the First Congress of the Ottoman Opposition opened in Paris. The nationalist minority at the Congress, led by Ahmed Riza, categorically rejected foreign intervention and special arrangements for the Armenians in the six eastern Anatolian vilayets, while the majority, led by Sabahaddin Bey, favored such concessions as a basis for an Armenian-Turkish alliance. When the majority came out in favor of mediation by the Great Powers to implement the treaties that the absolutist regime refused to execute, the minority essentially broke with the rest of the movement. Efforts by the majority to appease the minority failed. The Armenian delegates submitted a declaration that the Armenian committees were ready to collaborate with the Ottoman liberals to transform the present regime; that outside of common action, the committees would continue their own efforts with the understanding that their actions are directed against the present regime and not against “the unity and the organic existence of Turkey;” and that their particular actions will be directed toward implementation of Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin and the Memorandum of May 11, 1895 and its annex.
Mutual suspicions were high between the Armenians and the Turkish opposition, and the Armenian activists could conceive of collaboration only with the implementation of special reforms in the east guaranteed by Europe. For many Turks this was an outrageous demand. As Ismail Kemal, a member of the majority, put it: “I recognize you not as an independent element but as Ottomans. You have rights as Ottomans. [However,] you do not have the right to bargain with us and make offers as if you were [representatives of a] state.” In response to this statement, the Armenians walked out of the congress. Only later, after the Armenians sent a letter to Sabahaddin stating that they “were ready to participate in all efforts to overthrow the present regime” and that “they did not oppose the establishment of a constitutional central administration that would execute” special reforms for the six provinces, was a compromise reached between the majority and the Armenians. The Young Turks even agreed that an Armenian was to sit on their central committee. Ominously for the Armenians, however, it was the minority at the Congress, not the majority, that actually represented the more powerful, even dominant, tendency in most of the Young Turk committees and newspapers.
Most analysts agree that in the first decade of the twentieth century there was a significant shift among the Young Turks from an Ottomanist orientation, in which emphasis was on equality among the millets within a multinational society that continued to recognize difference, to a more nationalist position in which the superiority of the ethnic Turks (already implicit in Ottomanism itself) and their privileged position within the state was more explicitly underlined. In the years after the Paris Congress a Turkish nationalism based on linguistic ties among Turkic peoples and notions of a common race spread among Turkic intellectuals, like Yusuf Akcura, outside of the Ottoman Empire and influenced those within. After the 1908 coup that brought the Young Turks to power, a number of small nationalist organizations were formed that put out occasional newspapers or journals -- Türk Dernegi, Genç Kalemler, Türk Yurdu, and Turk Ocagi -- in which the conception of a Turkish nation extended far beyond the Ottoman Turks or Anatolian Turks to a Pan-Turkic ideal celebrating the ties between all the Turkic peoples stretching from Anatolia through the Caucasus to Central Asia. This was expressed most vividly in Ziya Gokalp’s famous poem “Turan:”
The fatherland for Turks is not Turkey, nor yet Turkestan,
The fatherland is a vast and eternal land: Turan!
Many of the Turanists argued for a purified Ottoman Turkish language, freed of Arabic and Persian words, that would serve as the language of this Turkic nation and also serve as the official language for the non-Turkic peoples of the empire, those that made up the Ottoman millets. The Young Turk government passed resolutions reaffirming Turkish as the official language of the empire, requiring all state correspondence to be carried on in Turkish, and establishing Turkish as the language for teaching in elementary and higher education, with local languages to be taught in secondary schools. Not surprisingly, the Young Turk promotion of Turkish was seen by non-Turks as a deliberate program of Turkification. Not only Greeks and Armenians, but Arabs as well, resisted some of the modernizing programs of the CUP that at one and the same time attempted to universalize rules and obligations for all peoples of the empire and threatened to undermine the traditional privileges and autonomies enjoyed under the millet system.
Turkish nationalism, Pan-Turanism, Pan-Islam, and Ottomanism were all part of a complex, confusing discussion among Turkish intellectuals about the future of the Ottoman state and the “nation.” Uncomfortable with the supranational ideal of Ottomanism, the Turkish nationalists criticized the thrust of the universalism of the Tanzimat reforms. Gokalp tried to clarify the differences:
If the aim of Ottomanism (Osmanlilik) was a state, all the subjects would actually be members of this state. But if the aim was to construct a new nation whose language was the Ottoman language (Osmanlica), the new nation would be a Turkish nation, since the Ottoman language was no other than Turkish.
Four choices were possible for the empire after 1908: either to remain an empire dominated by Turks, subordinating the non-Turks, and perhaps expanding eastward to integrate other Turkic peoples into a Turanian empire; to transform the empire along Pan-Islamic lines, allying Turks with Kurds and Arabs; to adopt the program of the Ottomanists and become an egalitarian multinational state with the different religious and ethnonational communities within it constituting a single civil nation of Ottomans; or, finally, to cease to be an empire altogether and become an ethnonational state of the Turks. This last option was not yet clearly envisioned, for it would require both the dismemberment of the empire state, the loss of the Arab territories, and the physical removal from Anatolia or assimilation of millions of Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds. Though the Ottomanist option remained part of the official rhetoric up to World War I, many of the leading Young Turk theorists and activists gradually abandoned the liberal, multicultural approach for more intensive Turkification. Yet even after the coup of 1913 the triumvirate of Enver, Talaat, and Jemal Pasha never completely agreed on a clear ideological orientation and wavered among Ottomanism, the Pan-Turanian form of Turkish nationalism, and Pan-Islam.
The Pan-Turanian form of Turkic nationalism seemed to key leaders to offer the most effective alternative for preserving the empire and the political hegemony of the Turks. This steady shift toward Turkism and Pan-Turanism presented the Armenian political leadership with an extraordinarily difficult choice -- remaining in alliance with the increasingly nationalist Young Turks or breaking decisively with the government. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) decided to continue working with the Young Turks, while the Armenian Church leaders and the liberal Ramkavar party distanced themselves from the government party. Even when the Marxist Hnchaks denounced the Young Turks for their steady move away from Ottomanism toward Turkism and their failure to carry out agricultural and administrative reforms, the Dashnaks maintained their electoral alliance with the CUP.
From Massacre to Genocide
Ottoman Armenians and other minorities joyfully greeted the 1908 revolution that brought the Young Turks to power. They hoped that the restoration of the liberal constitution would provide a political mechanism for peaceful development within the framework of a representative parliamentary system. Armenians favored the promised reforms of the Ottomanists, but many conservative elements in the empire feared loss of status to the upwardly mobile Christians or loss of property to the wealthy Armenians. Armenians were now able to bear arms, and some defiant clergymen boldly proclaimed that their people would never be massacred again without defending themselves.
The initially liberal program of the Young Turks met opposition from the leaders of the non-Muslim millets, who were fearful that a civil order without ethnic distinctions would cost them their privileged status. Powerful Greek and Armenian clergy opposed the laws that would have eliminated the separate (and usually superior) educational institutions and the exemption from the draft of non-Muslims. The goal of the Young Turks to restore full sovereignty to the Ottoman state, thus ending the privileges of foreign powers within the empire, also challenged the advantages that the non-Muslims had gained from their association with the European states.
The social tensions arising from competition for land and work, the new freedom felt by the Armenians, the accumulating resentments and fears of Muslims erupted in a massacre of Armenians in the eastern Mediterranean region of Cilicia. When supporters of the Hamidian regime revolted against the CUP government in Istanbul on April 12-13, 1909, anti-reform and anti-Armenian groups in the city of Adana turned on the Armenians. Within a few days the CUP was restored to power in the capital, but before order could be re-established in Cilicia some 20,000 Armenians and 2,000 Muslims were dead. Not only crowds of ordinary people took part in the massacres, but also the police and army.
As Europe drifted through the last decade before World War I, the Ottoman government experienced a series of political and military defeats: the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austro-Hungary in 1908, the subsequent declaration of independence by Bulgaria, the merger of Crete with Greece, revolts in Albania in 1910-1912, losses to Italy in Libya (1911), and in the course of two Balkan wars (1912-1913) the diminution of Ottoman territory in Europe and the forced migration of Turks from Europe into Anatolia. As their liberal strategies failed to unify and strengthen the empire, the Young Turk leaders gradually shifted away from their original Ottomanist views of a multinational empire based on guarantees of civil and minority rights to a more Turkish nationalist ideology that emphasized the dominant role of Turks. In desperation a group of Young Turk officers, led by Enver Pasha, seized the government in a coup d'état in January 1913, and for the next five years, years fateful for all Armenians, a triumvirate of Enver, Jemal, and Talaat ruled the empire. Their regime marked the triumph of Turkish nationalism within the government itself.
Less tolerant of the non-Turks in the empire, the triumvirate scuttled the liberal Ottomanism of earlier years and amalgamated the views of Pan-Islam and Turanist nationalism. "Pan-Turanism, like Pan-Islam," writes Feroz Ahmad, "was an expansionist ideology which suited the mood of the Young Turks, then in full retreat at the opposite front [in Europe].... Turkish nationalism, centered around the Turks in Anatolia, was in the process of development in 1914. It was to emerge out of the defeats in World War I, only after Pan-Turanism and Pan-Islam had proved to be mere dreams."
This shift toward Turkism and Pan-Turanian expansionism left the Armenian political leadership in an impossible position. Torn between continuing to cooperate with the Young Turks in the hope that some gains might be won for the Armenians and breaking with their undependable political allies and going over to the opposition, the Dashnaktsutiun decided to maintain its alliance with the ruling party. Other Armenian cultural and political leaders, however, most notably the Hnchak party and the Armenian Patriarchate, opposed further collaboration with the government. As Turkey entered the First World War, the Dashnaks agreed that all Ottoman Armenians should support the empire’s war effort, but they rejected the request from the Young Turks that they agitate among Russia’s Armenians to oppose the tsar. Even as Armenian soldiers joined the Ottoman army to fight against the enemies of their government, the situation grew extremely ominous for the Armenians. They were dangerously exposed. The bulk of their population lived in the mountainous plateau that lay between the two belligerents, Turkey and Russia. Everywhere in their historic homeland, except for an occasional town or cluster of villages, they were a minority living among Turks and Kurds, and the Muslim perception of Armenians as a disloyal, treacherous people, one that favored the Christian government of the tsars to that of the Turks, seemed to be reinforced by the events of the World War.
Anxious to fight the Russians in 1914, the Turkish government instigated the war by attacking Russian ships in the Black Sea. Enver led a huge army against tsarist forces on the eastern front late in the year, and at first he was dramatically victorious. Kars was cut off and Sarikamish surrounded. But the Turkish troops were not prepared for the harsh winter in the Armenian highlands, and early in 1915 the Russians, accompanied by Armenian volunteer units from the Caucasus, pushed the Turkish army back. A disastrous defeat followed in which Enver lost three-quarters of his army, perhaps as many as 78,000 men killed and 12,000 taken prisoner. Ottoman Armenians fled to the areas occupied by the Russians, confirming in Turkish minds the treachery that marked the Christian minorities.
Enver's defeat on the Caucasian front was the prelude to the "final solution" of the Armenian Question. The Russians posed a real danger to the Turks, just at the moment that Allied forces were attacking at Gallipoli in the west. In this moment of defeat and desperation, the triumvirate in Istanbul decided to demobilize the Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army and to deport Armenians from eastern Anatolia. What might have been rationalized as a military necessity, given the imperial ambitions and distorted perceptions of the Ottoman leaders, quickly became a massive attack on their Armenian subjects, a systematic program of murder and pillage. An act of panic and vengeance metamorphosed monstrously into an opportunity to rid Anatolia once and for all of the one people now blamed for Enver’s defeat.
With the defeat at Sarikamish and the approach of the British toward the Turkish capital, a general panic gripped Istanbul. It was feared that the city would fall to the Bulgarians who might join the war on the side of the Entente or to the British who were rumored to be about to break through the Dardanelles. The American ambassador to the Porte, Henry Morgenthau, reported that Talaat “was the picture of desolation and defeat” in January 1915 as the thunder of the British guns at the straits seemed “to spell doom.” There was fear of revolution in the city, and posters denounced Talaat. The Prefect of Police, Bedri Bey, rounded up unemployed young men and expelled them from the capital. Toward the end of the month Enver returned from the front, unsure of his reception by the public, after the devastating defeat at Sarikamish. The Young Turk leaders planned to burn down the city if the British broke through, a wanton act that shocked Morgenthau. “There are not six men in the Committee of Union and Progress,” Talaat told him, “who care for anything that is old. We all like new things.”
The mood in Istanbul in early 1915 needs to be carefully assessed, for many historians believe that it was precisely in this atmosphere that the Committee of Union and Progress took the decision to deal with the Armenians.
As a friend of the Young Turk leaders, Ambassador Morgenthau’s account of the atmosphere in the government and the mentalities of Talaat and Enver is an essential source. He reports that the authority of the CUP at this time “throughout the empire was exceedingly tenuous.” At the moment when the Allied fleet attacked the Dardanelles on March 18, the Ottoman state “was on the brink of dissolution.” Among the subject races the spirit of revolt was rapidly spreading. The Greeks and the Armenians would also have welcomed an opportunity to strengthen the hands of the Allies.” But the Allies did not break through; the Germans and Turks held them off, and the fleet pulled back. A month later the Allies landed troops at Gallipoli in another futile campaign. The Turks responded by rounding up foreigners to use as hostages placed among the Muslim villages in the Gallipoli region.
Morgenthau elaborates a number of causes for the deportations and massacres of the Armenians, many of which have been foundational for Western and Armenian historiography of the Genocide. He begins with the nationalist perspective that the Young Turks were committed to a Turkified empire and adopted the policy of Abdul Hamid. “Their passion for Turkifying the nation seemed to demand logically the extermination of all Christians – Greeks, Syrians, and Armenians.” The error of past Muslim conquerors had been that they had not obliterated the Christians, “a fatal error of statesmanship” that “explained all the woes from which Turkey has suffered in modern times.” The war presented an opportunity, for Russia, France, and Britain could no longer stand in the way as they had during Abdul Hamid’s reign. “Thus, for the first time in two centuries the Turks, in 1915, had their Christian populations utterly at their mercy. The time had finally come to make Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks.”
The Armenians, in Morgenthau’s account, are innocent. While the fact “that the Armenians all over Turkey sympathized with the Entente was no secret,” the Armenians acted with restraint. Their leaders urged them not to be provoked. Rather than being primarily a matter of religious difference or conflict, the decision to carry out the deportations and massacres was a strategic choice. “Undoubtedly religious fanaticism was an impelling motive with the Turkish and Kurdish rabble who slew Armenians as a service to Allah, but the men who really conceived the crime had no such motive. Practically all of them were atheists, with no more respect for Mohammedanism than for Christianity, and with them the one motive was cold-blooded, calculating state policy.”
Already in January and February 1915, “fragmentary reports began to filter in” to the American Embassy of killings of Armenians, “but the tendency was at first to regard these activities as mere manifestations of the disorders that had prevailed in the Armenian provinces for many years.” Talaat and Enver dismissed such reports “as wild exaggerations.” What the Armenians would later call “the defense of Van” was declared by officials “a mob uprising that they would soon have under control.” When prominent Armenians in the capital were arrested on April 24, Morgenthau brought the issue up to Talaat, but the Young Turk leader argued that the government was acting in self-defense, that the Armenians in Van “had already shown their abilities as revolutionists,” and that Armenian leaders in Istanbul “were corresponding with the Russians, and he had every reason to fear that they would start an insurrection against the Central Government.”
Yet inseparable from their cool strategic calculation was the emotionally generated preference for the ends anticipated and the appropriate means to be used to achieve them. Talaat explained to Morgenthau his reasoning for the Young Turks’ treatment of the Armenians:
These people…refused to disarm when we told them to. They opposed us at Van and at Zeitoun, and they helped the Russians. There is only one way in which we can defend ourselves against them in the future, and that is just to deport them.
When Morgenthau protested that that was not a reason for “destroying a whole race” or “making innocent women and children suffer,” Talaat simply added, “Those things are inevitable.” In a later, extended conversation – this one without Morgenthau’s Armenian dragoman present – Talaat spoke most frankly:
I have asked you to come today…so that I can explain our position on the whole Armenian subject. We base our objections to the Armenians on three distinct grounds. In the first place, they have enriched themselves at the expense of the Turks. In the second place, they are determined to domineer over us and to establish a separate state. In the third place, they have openly encouraged our enemies. They have assisted the Russians in the Caucasus and our failure there is largely explained by their actions. We have therefore come to the irrevocable decision that we shall make them powerless before this war is ended.
When Morgenthau attempted point by point to refute Talaat’s argument, Talaat interrupted, “It is no use for you to argue,… we have already disposed of three quarters of the Armenians; there are none at all left in Bitlis, Van, and Erzeroum. The hatred between the Turks and the Armenians is now so intense that we have got to finish with them. If we don't, they will plan their revenge.” He told Morgenthau that he had “asked you to come here so as to let you know that our Armenian policy is absolutely fixed and that nothing can change it. We will not have the Armenians anywhere in Anatolia. They can live in the desert but nowhere else.” In despair, Morgenthau told Talaat, “You are making a terrible mistake,” and repeatedly that three times. “yes, we may make mistakes,” he replied, “but – and he firmly closed his lips and shook his head – “we never regret.” Later he told Morgenthau, “No Armenian…can be our friend after what we have done to them.” On August 3, 1915, Morgenthau wrote in his diary of his meeting with Talaat: “He gave me the impression that Talaat is the one who desires to crush the poor Armenians.” Talaat reportedly told friends with pride, “I have accomplished more toward solving the Armenian problem in three months than Abdul Hamid accomplished in thirty years.”
As more and more evidence came into the American embassy that Armenians were being deported and murdered, Morgenthau requested a meeting with Enver, who was extraordinarily frank about what was happening.
The Armenians had a fair warning...of what would happen to them in case they joined our enemies. Three months ago I sent for the Armenian Patriarch and I told him that if the Armenians attempted to start a revolution or to assist the Russians, I would be unable to prevent mischief from happening to them. My warning produced no effect and the Armenians started a revolution and helped the Russians. You know what happened at Van. They obtained control of the city, used bombs against government buildings, and killed a large number of Moslems. We knew that they were planning uprisings in other places. You must understand that we are now fighting for our lives at the Dardanelles and that we are sacrificing thousands of men. While we are engaged in such a struggle as this, we cannot permit people in our own country to attack us in the back. We have got to prevent this no matter what means we have to resort to. It is absolutely true that I am not opposed to the Armenians as a people. I have the greatest admiration for their intelligence and industry, and I would like nothing better than to see them become a real part of our nation. But if they ally themselves with our enemies, as they did in the Van district, they will have to be destroyed. I have taken pains to see that no injustice is done…
Enver argued that European sympathy only encouraged the Armenians:
I am sure that if these outside countries did not encourage them, they would give up their efforts to oppose the present government and become law-abiding citizens. We now have this country in our absolute control and we can easily revenge ourselves on any revolutionists.... The great trouble with the Armenians is that they are separatists. They are determined to have a kingdom of their own, and they have allowed themselves to be fooled by the Russians.... You must remember that when we started this revolution in Turkey there were only two hundred of us.... It is our experience with revolutions which makes us fear the Armenians. If two hundred Turks could overturn the Government, then a few hundred bright, educated Armenians could do the same thing. We have therefore deliberately adopted the plan of scattering them so that they can do us no harm.
Morgenthau went on:
In another talk with Enver I began by suggesting that the Central Government was probably not to blame for the massacres. I thought this would not be displeasing to him.
"Of course. I know that the Cabinet would never order such terrible things as have taken place," I said. "You and Talaat and the rest of the Committee can hardly be held responsible. Undoubtedly your subordinates have gone much further than you have ever intended. I realize that it is not always easy to control your underlings."
Enver straightened up at once. I saw that my remarks, far from smoothing the way to a quiet and friendly discussion, had greatly offended him. I had intimated that things could happen in Turkey for which he and his associates were not responsible.
You are greatly mistaken," he said. "We have this country absolutely under our control. I have no desire to shift the blame on to our underlings and I am entirely willing to accept the responsibility myself for everything that has taken place. The Cabinet itself has ordered the deportations. I am convinced that we are completely justified in doing this owing to the hostile attitude of the Armenians toward the Ottoman Government, but we are the real rulers of Turkey, and no underling would dare proceed in a matter of this kind without our orders.
Morgenthau noted differences between Talaat and Enver. “Enver always asserted that he wished to treat the Armenians with justice – in this his attitude to me was quite different from that of Talaat, who openly acknowledged his determination to deport them.” He reported a conversation with the German naval attaché, Humann, who told the ambassador of Enver’s hesitance about the deportation of the Armenians: “At first Enver wanted to treat the Armenians with the utmost moderation, and four months ago he insisted that they be given another opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty. But after what they did at Van, he had to yield to the army, which had been insisting all along that it should protect its rear. The Committee decided upon the deportations and Enver reluctantly agreed.”
But even with these differences, the attitudes toward the Armenians of most of the Young Turk leaders were quite similar. Foreign Minister Halil Bey “regarded the elimination of this race with utmost good humour” and defended the analysis of Enver.
Morgenthau’s account gives a compelling interpretation of the motivations of the principal Young Turk leaders. Fear was the driving emotion, insecurity compounded by the defeats in the winter of 1915 and the threats from Allied forces. Armenians were seen as a internal subversive force allied to the Russians. The war presented a unique opportunity to eliminate a long-term existential threat to the empire and the plans of the Young Turks for a more Turkified empire. Reason – strategic advantage -- and emotion – fear, a sense of future danger, humiliation at the hands of Armenians, a sense of betrayal -- conspired together to generate plans for mass deportation and massacre.
Morgenthau’s account is corroborated by Talaat in his posthumously published memoirs, where he revealed the thinking of the state authorities at the moment of decision and how the deportations escalated into mass killing that involved ordinary civilians. Although he attempts to apologize for unintended excesses, he tells more about the motivations for mass killing than more recent apologists have.
The Porte, acting under the same obligation, and wishing to secure the safety of its army and its citizens, took energetic measures to check these uprisings. The deportation of the Armenians was one of these preventive measures.
I admit also that the deportation was not carried out lawfully everywhere. In some places unlawful acts were committed. The already existing hatred among the Armenians and Mohammedans, intensified by the barbarous activities of the former, had created many tragic consequences. Some of the officials abused their authority, and in many places people took preventive measures into their own hands and innocent people were molested. I confess it. I confess, also, that the duty of the Government was to prevent these abuses and atrocities, or at least to hunt down and punish their perpetrators severely. In many places, where the property and goods of the deported people were looted, and the Armenians molested, we did arrest those who were responsible and punished them according to the law. I confess, however, that we ought to have acted more sternly, opened up a general investigation for the purpose of finding out all the promoters and looters and punished them severely....
The Turkish elements here referred to were shortsighted, fanatical, and yet sincere in their belief. The public encouraged them, and they had the general approval behind them. They were numerous and strong....
Their open and immediate punishment would have aroused great discontent among the people, who favored their acts. An endeavor to arrest and to punish all those promoters would have created anarchy in Anatolia at a time when we greatly needed unity. It would have been dangerous to divide the nation into two camps, when we needed strength to fight outside enemies.
Both Talaat and Morgenthau affirm that the murder of Armenians was not motivated primarily by religious fanaticism, though distinctions based on religion played a role. While most victims of the massacres were condemned to deportation or worse because of their ethnoreligious identification, there were many cases in which people were saved from death or deportation when they converted to Islam. The identity of Armenians for the Turks was not as indelibly fixed as the identity of Jews would be in the racist imagination of the Nazis. Still, the collective stereotypes of Armenians as grasping and mercenary, subversive and disloyal, turned them into a alien and unsympathetic category that then had to be eliminated.
In yet another memoir of a Turkish leader, this one written after his trial and conviction for crimes committed during the massacres and just before his suicide, the Young Turk governor of Diarbekir in 1915, Reşid Bey, draws a vivid picture of the chaos that accompanied the deportations. As the Russians approach and order in the city disintegrated, Armenians, encouraged by the revolutionary committees, refused to be drafted. By this point the events at Van had already occurred, and Armenians were preparing for the worse. Muslims expected vengeful attacks by Armenians. The governor sent troops into Armenian homes and discovered caches of arms. At this point, he writes, he received the “temporary law (Muvakkat Kanuni) of May 27, 1915, that ordered deportation of the Armenians. He complained that there were not instructions on how to carry out the expulsions, which Armenians to deport. At first he deported only the men but then was ordered to send all Armenians into exile. With inadequate troops, no planning or provisions, the governor relied on Circassian gendarmes, decommissioned soldiers from the Balkan wars, and local recruits from the peasantry and esnaf class. Thousands of Armenians deported from Bitlis, Kharput, and Trabizond passed through Diarbakir province. Looters and pillagers set upon them, following the Armenians for days to pick up what they could. Like Talaat, Reşid Bey claims that an orderly deportation was impossible, particularly in the face of any and frightened Muslims. Reşid Bey turned the homes of exiled Armenians over to Muslims, who then destroyed the houses in a mad search for hidden wealth. What is most vivid in this somewhat apologetic and self-serving account is the weakness and disorganization of the state authorities and the massive participation of ordinary people in the looting and killing.
The Armenian Genocide was the central event in the last stages of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The traditional imperial paradigm that had reigned in the Ottoman Empire was steadily undermined by a number of factors: the revolutionary changes in the West that rendered the Ottoman Empire a backward and vulnerable society; the attempt to modernize along western lines by the Tanzimat reformers; the differentially successful adaptations to modern life by different millets, with the Christians and Jews ahead of the Muslims; the discourse of the nation that created new sources of political legitimation and undermined the traditional imperial ones. After centuries of governing the Armenians as a separate ethnoreligious community, the Ermeni millet, and conceiving of them as the “loyal millet,” the Ottoman state authorities and Turkish political elites, including the Young Turks, began to see Armenians as an alien people, as disloyal, subversive, “separatist,” and a threat to the unity of the empire, which now required greater homogenization. This perception was compounded more broadly by anxiety about the relative economic success of Armenian businessmen and craftsmen, the competition for the limited economic resources, particularly land, between Kurds, Turks, and Armenians in eastern Anatolia, and a sense that Armenian progress was reversing the traditional imperial status hierarchy with Muslims above the dhimmi. A hostile disposition toward the Armenians made Turks more likely to see their actions not as defensive but rebellious, not as loyal but treacherous, and allowed Turks to take vengeful action against these traitors.
When in the first year of World War I the Young Turks suffered a series of defeats in the east, their sense of an imminent Armenian danger became acute, and they decided to carry out a vicious policy of deportation and massacre to clear the region of Armenians. This policy was initiated by the state in the brutalizing context of war and became a massive campaign of murder. Social hostilities between Armenians and Turks, Kurds and Armenians, fed the mass killings, which the state encouraged (or at least did little to discourage). More than any other instance of surgun, the Genocide came to be seen as an opportunity to rid the empire of the Armenian problem, which had been used as a wedge by Russians and other Europeans to interfere in the Ottoman Empire. While fear and resentment, anger and hatred contributed to the disposition of the leaders who ordered the deportations, so did a perverse sense of justice and revenge against an internal threat.
Social science – at least political science and economics -- has in the last decades moved away from affective explanations toward a model of human action directed by rational assessment of costs and benefits. Yet emotions are central to human beliefs, values, actions, group formation, and social relationships, and therefore must be incorporated into explanations of ethnic and national identification, ethnic, religious, and national conflict and violence. Among the most salient political emotions related to ethnic identification and conflict, national identity and nationalism are fear, anger, hatred, and resentment, but also, on the positive side, empathy, compassion, love, and pride. In Morgenthau’s reports on the Young Turk leaders, fear is prevalent. The Armenians’ role in Ottoman society, their successes at the expense of Turks, their lack of gratitude, and, in general, the reversal of traditional status relationships in which Muslims should be on top and Christians below all contributed to a generalized resentment of Turks toward Armenians. Anger is also expressed – anger at rebellion and the threat presented by the Armenians to the war effort and their relationship with the Russians. But anger is an emotion directed at what someone has done to you, while hatred is an even more powerful and destructive emotion directed at someone for what they are. For the Young Turks anger had turned into hatred of a group that was not conceived as an existential threat to their empire and their rulership.
Fear and anger, resentment and hatred are all found in the affective disposition of Enver and Talaat as related by Ambassador Morgenthau. Given their strategic aim to preserve the empire, and their conceptualization of the Armenians as internal traitors threatening its existence, anger metastasized into hatred and made possible the choice to deport and murder the Armenians. Here was an ethnic cleansing combined with mass annihilation carried out, not by a nation-state, but by a decaying empire determined to save itself. That salvation required, in the minds of the Young Turks, and many of their German allies, the elimination of the Armenians.
The Armenian Genocide had its origins in the minds of a small group of Turkish politicians associated with the Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turks). But both the radicalization of their intentions and the final implementation of their plans occurred in the context of a deepening political and military crisis and the near destruction of the Ottoman state at the hands of external enemies – a crisis that consolidated a hostile affective disposition in which the Armenians featured as an existential threat to the empire. This affective disposition biased the Young Turks to suspect the Armenians of treachery and of presenting a mortal danger to the empire.
But these attitudes, confirmed by isolated instances of Armenian behavior, were self-deceptive; they were pathological and led to a misrepresentation of the actual political and social environment in the Ottoman Empire. Armenians served in the Ottoman Army; they were productive citizens; most were not disloyal or interested in separatism. The actions taken by the Young Turks put their empire in greater danger and helped bring about their own defeat. It was instrumentally irrational, based on incorrect beliefs, self-deception, driven by an emotional disposition and web of beliefs that constructed an Armenian enemy – the same Armenian enemy that the current Turkish deniers and their pseudo-scientific allies claim actually existed and was engaged in a civil war against the empire.
 For my version of a social environmental analysis, see Ronald Grigor Suny, “Rethinking the Unthinkable: Toward an Understanding of the Armenian Genocide,” in Suny, Looking Toward Ararat: Armenia in Modern History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1983), pp. 94-115. For my version of a strategic political explanation, see “Religion, Ethnicity, and Nationalism: Armenians, Turks, and the End of the Ottoman Empire,” in Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack (eds.), In God’s Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2001), pp. 23-61.
 Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers. Accounts and Papers. Turkey, for the years 1877-1881; A. O. Sarkissian, History of the Armenian Question to 1885, Illinois Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXV, 80 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1938). Sarkissian used the thirty volumes of records of the Armenian National Assembly in Istanbul, "a true mine of information on Armenian affairs in Turkey" [Adenakerutiunk Azkayin Zhoghovoi, 1870-1914 (Constantinople, 1870-1914).]
 Vahakn Dadrian, Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict (New Brunswick, N.J. and London: Transaction Publishers, 1999)., p. 20.
 Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961; 2nd edition, 1968), p. 356.
 Roderic Davison, “Nationalism as an Ottoman Problem and the Ottoman Response,” in William W. Haddad and William Ochsenwald (eds.), Nationalism in a Non-National State (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977), p. 36; Stepan Astourian, “Testing World-Systems Theory, Cilicia (1830s-1890s): Armenian-Turkish Polarization and the Ideology of Modern Ottoman Historiography” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1996), p. 367.
 For interpretations of the Genocide that are compatible with my own analysis, see, for example, the thoughtful essay by Stepan Astourian, "The Armenian Genocide: An Interpretation," The History Teacher, XXIII, 2 (February 1990), pp. 111-160; Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State, 2 vols. (London: Tauris, 2005); Benjamin A. Valentino, Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the Twentieth Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
 Minorities had to obey restrictions in the way they dressed and interacted in society. These restrictions prevented them from developing social ties with Muslims through marriage, inheritance, or attending the same places of worship and bathhouses. Instead, they developed social ties with other non-Muslims, who were either members of other Ottoman minorities or foreign residents of the empire, who were often connected to European embassies.” [Fatma Müge Göçek, Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 35.]
 For an appreciative treatment of the Mekhitarists, see Kevork B. Bardakjian, The Mekhitarist Contributions to Armenian Culture and Scholarship (Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Library, 1976).
 Hagop Barsoumian, “Economic Role of the Armenian Amira Class in the Ottoman Empire,” The Armenian Review, XXXI, 3-123 (March 1979), pp. 310-316.
 Carter V. Findley, “The Acid Test of Ottomanism: The Acceptance of Non-Muslims in the Late Ottoman Bureaucracy,” in Benjamin Braude and Bernard Lewis (eds.), Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society, Volume I: The Central Lands (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1982), pp. 363-364.
 The classic work on the reform period known as Tanzimat is Roderic Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-76 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963). See, also, his very useful essay, “Millets as Agents of Change in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire,” in Braude and Lewis, Christians and Jews, I, pp. 319-337.
 Gerard Libaridian, “The Ideology of Armenian Liberation. The Development of Armenian Political Movement Before the Revolutionary Movement (1639-1885)” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1987), pp. 145-146.
 Stephan H. Astourian, “Testing World-Systems Theory, Cilicia (1830s-1890s): Armenian-Turkish Polarization and the Ideology of Modern Ottoman Historiography (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1996),” pp. 552-563. See also, Donald Quataert, “The Commercialization of Agriculture in Ottoman Turkey, 1800-1914,”International Journal of Turkish Studies, I, 2 (Autumn 1980), pp. 38-55.
 “Logical conclusion” comes from Libaridian.
 Letter of Sir P. Currie to the Earl of Kimberley, Great Britain, Foreign Office, Turkey, no. 1 (1895), (Part I) Correspondence Relating to the Asiatic Provinces of Turkey, Part I. Events at Sassoon, and Commission of Inquiry at Moush (London, 1895), pp. 8-10
 The words are those of the sultan as conveyed by Grand Vizier Said Pasha when he fled to the British Embassy in December 1895. Quoted in Astourian, “Testing World-Systems Theory, Cilicia (1830s-1890s),” p. 606.
 On state reform, interethnic relations, and economic developments in Abdul Hamid’s reign, see Findley, Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire; and Stephen Duguid, “The Politics of Unity: Hamidian Policy in Eastern Anatolia,” Middle Eastern Studies, IX, 2 (May 1973), pp. 139-155; Donald Quataert, Social Disintegration and Popular Resistance in the Ottoman Empire, 1881-1908 (New York and London: NYU Press, 1983).
 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
 Robert Melson, "A Theoretical Inquiry into the Armenian Massacres of 1894-1895,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, XXIV, 3 (July 1982), pp. 503, 509.
 Less understandable than the Sultan's justifications of his actions is the defense of those policies by Western historians. William Langer, for example, writes: "Whether Abdul Hamid deserves the black reputation that has been pinned to him is a matter of debate. If he was `the bloody assassin' and the `red Sultan' to most people, he was the hard-working, conscientious, much harassed but personally charming ruler to others. Those who have spoken for him have pointed out that the Sultan felt his Empire threatened by the Armenians, who, he knew, or at least believed were in league with the Young Turks, the Greeks, Macedonians, etc. They believe that Abdul Hamid was the victim of what we moderns call a persecution complex." [The Diplomacy of Imperialism, I, p. 159] Langer does not ask if what Abdul Hamid “felt,” “knew,” and “believed” was accurate or a fantasy or self-delusion.
 Anahide Ter Minassian, “The Role of the Armenian Community in the Foundation and Development of the Socialist Movement in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, 1876-1923,” in Mete Tunçay and Erik J. Zürcher (eds.), Socialism and Nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, 1876-1923 (London and New York: British Academic Press, 1994), p. 140.
 For a particularly telling reading of Turkish attitudes toward the gavur (unbeliever) and Armenians, see Stepan Astourian’s analysis of Turkish proverbs in Astourian, “Testing World-Systems Theory, Cilicia (1830s-1890s),” pp. 409-431.
 The Union of Employees of the Anatolian Railroad, which briefly flourished in 1908 before the Minister of the Interior outlawed unions and prohibited strikes, was largely a non-Muslim affair.
 M. Sukru Hanioglu, The Young Turks in Opposition (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 216. This occurred around 1902 at the time of the Congress of Ottoman Oppositionists in Paris.
 Ibid., p. 32.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 150.
 Ibid., p. 193. “This text,” writes Hanioglu, “reveals how antithetical the vantage point of the members of the Armenian committees was to the rest of the movement and how they had divorced themselves from the notion of ‘liberaux Ottomans’ by emphasizing their willingness to work with them.” (193) In my own reading, this Armenian declaration makes a clarification, which Sabahaddin Bey then declared had been accepted by the majority -- that the clauses of the treaties signed by the Sublime Porte must be implemented.
 Ibid., p. 195.
 Ibid., p. 197.
 See, for example, Ernest Edmondson Ramsaur, Jr., The Young Turks: Prelude to the Revolution of 1908 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957); and Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks: The Committee of Union and Progress in Turkish Politics, 1908-1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969).
 Hasan Kayali argues that the Young Turks “subscribed to the supranational ideal of Ottomanism” rather than to “a Turkish nationalist cultural or political program.” (p. 14) “The Young Turks did not turn to Turkish nationalism but rather to Islamism as the ideological underpinning that would safeguard the unity and continuity of what was left of the empire. Islam became the pillar of the supranational ideology of Ottomanism, with religion imparting a new sense of homogeneity and solidarity.” (p. 15) Therefore, the perception of Turkification on the part of non-Turks, he claims, was incorrect. My own understanding is that rather than primarily dedicated to a pan-Islamic policy, as Kayali argues, the Young Turks adopted different orientations toward different constituencies and that there was no overridding consensus, let alone unanimity, among the Young Turks on ideology. He seems closer to the mark when he writes, “The Young Turks envisaged the creation of a civic-territorial, indeed revolutionary-democratic, Ottoman political community by promoting an identification with the state and country through the sultan and instituting representative government. Though they remained committed to the monarchy within the constitutional framework, they conceived of an Ottoman state and society akin to the French example in which religion and ethnicity would be supplanted by ‘state-based patriotism’.” (p. 9) [Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1918 (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1997)]
The difficulty of assessing the weight of nationalism and Ottomanism among the Young Turks is reflected in the work of Nyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1964). Writing about the period just before World War I, Berkes argues, “When, later rival parties became harbingers of anti-Ottoman nationalisms, Turkish nationalism gained some influence in the Society, but never replaced Ottomanism.” (p. 329) Much of his book is concerned about three competing schools of thought among the Young Turks from 1908 to 1918: the Westernist, the Islamist, and the Turkist.
 Cited in Masami Arai, Turkish Nationalism in the Young Turk Era (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), p. 61.
 This position is reflected in Jemal Pasha’s statement, “Speaking for myself, I am primarily an Ottoman, but I do not forget that I am a Turk, and nothing can shake my belief that the Turkish Race is the foundation stone of the Ottoman empire... In its origins the Ottoman empire is a Turkish creation.” [Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, 1913-1919 (London: Hutchinson, n.d. ), pp. 251-252; quoted in Jacob Landau, Pan-Turkism in Turkey: A Study of Irredentism (London: C. Hurst and Co., 1981), p. 50]
 Aram Arkun, “Les relations arméno-turques et les massacres de Cilicie de 1909,” in Hrayr Henry Ayvazian, et al. (eds.), L’Actualité du genocide des arméniens. Actes du colloque organisé par le Comité de Défense de la Cause Arménienne à Paris-Sorbonne les 16, 17 et 18 avril 1998 (Paris: Eidpol, 1999), p. 60.
 Arkun, “Les relations arméno-turques et les massacres de Cilicie de 1909,” pp. 62-63. m
 Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks: The Committee of Union and Progress in Turkish Politics, 1908-1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 154-155.
 Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003), p. 135.
 Ibid., p. 138.
 Ibid., p. 158.
 Ibid., pp. 176, 190-191.
 Ibid., p. 200.
 Ibid., p. 201.
 Ibid., pp. 203-204.
 Ibid., pp. 221-222.
 Ibid., p. 224.
 Ibid., p. 230.
 Ibid., p. 231.
 Ibid., p.232.
 Ibid., p. 233.
 Ibid., p. 229.
 Ibid., p. 234.
 Ibid., pp. 236.
 Ibid., pp. 236-238.
 Ibid., pp. 240-241.
 Ibid., p. 240.
 Ibid., p. 258.
 Ibid., p. 246.
 . Talaat Pasha, “Posthumous Memoirs of Talaat Pasha,” Current History, XV, 1 (October 1921), p. 295.
 . See, Ara Sarafian, “Conversion of Armenian Women and Children,” paper delivered at the international conference on “Genocide, Religion, and Modernity,” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, May 11-13, 1997.
 . Ahmet Mehmetefendioglu (ed.), Dr. Reşid Bey’in Hatiralari, “Sürgünden Intihara” (Istanbul: Arba, 1992), esp. pp. 43-76. My thanks to Fatma Müge Göçek for translating the relevant passages.