The Armenian Question: How have “dangerous germs” been made of “potential rebels”?
Genocide, concentration camps, experiments on people, the “national question” - all these horrors in the public consciousness are most often associated with the Second World War, although, in fact, their inventors were not Nazis at all. Entire nations — Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks — were put on the brink of complete destruction as early as the beginning of the 20th century, during the Great War. And in 1915, the leaders of England, France and Russia in connection with these events for the first time in stories sounded the phrase "crimes against humanity."
Today’s Armenia is only a small part of the territory where millions of Armenians have lived for centuries. In 1915, they — most of them unarmed civilians — were driven out of their homes, deported to concentration camps in the desert, killed in all possible ways. In most civilized countries of the world, this is officially recognized as a genocide, and to this day those tragic events continue to poison the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan with Armenia.
The Armenian people formed in the South Caucasus and modern Eastern Turkey for many centuries before the Turkish: in the second century BC, the Great Armenia kingdom existed on the shores of Lake Van, around the sacred Mount Ararat. In the best years of ownership of this "empire" covered almost the entire mountainous "triangle" between the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean seas.
In 301, Armenia became the first country to officially adopt Christianity as the state religion. Later on, over the centuries, Armenians defended themselves against the attacks of Muslims (Arabs, Persians and Turks). This led to the loss of a number of territories, a decrease in the number of people, their scattering throughout the world. By the beginning of the new time, only a small part of Armenia with the city of Erivan (Yerevan) became part of the Russian Empire, where Armenians found protection and patronage. The majority of Armenians fell under the power of the Ottoman Empire, and Muslims - Turks, Kurds, refugees from the North Caucasus began to actively settle on their lands.
Not being Muslims, Armenians, like the Balkan peoples, were considered representatives of the “second-rate” community - “dimmi”. They were forbidden to wear before 1908. weapon, they had to pay higher taxes, often could not even live in houses above one floor, build new churches without the permission of the authorities, and so on.
But, as is often the case, the persecution of Eastern Christians only intensified the revelation of the talents of an entrepreneur, a merchant, an artisan who is able to work in the most difficult conditions. By the twentieth century, an impressive stratum of the Armenian intelligentsia was formed, and the first national parties and public organizations began to emerge. The literacy rate among Armenians and other Christians of the Ottoman Empire was higher than among Muslims.
70% of Armenians, nevertheless, remained simple peasants, but among the Muslim population there was a stereotype of a cunning and rich Armenian, a “trader from the market”, whose success the simple Turks envied. The situation was somewhat reminiscent of the situation of the Jews in Europe, their discrimination and, as a result, the emergence of a powerful stratum of rich Jews, who did not pass under the most severe conditions, at the expense of a tough “natural pattern”. However, in the case of the Armenians, the situation was aggravated by the presence in Turkey of a huge number of poor Muslim refugees from the North Caucasus, from the Crimea and from the Balkans (the so-called Muhajirs).
The scale of this phenomenon is indicated by the fact that at the time of the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the refugees and their descendants constituted up to 20% of the population, and the whole epoch from 1870 to 1913 in Turkish historical memory is known as “secuce” - “disaster” . The last wave of Turks expelled by the Serbs, Bulgarians and Greeks, swept just before the First World War - they were refugees from the Balkan Wars. Often they transferred the hatred from the European Christians who had driven them out to the Christians of the Ottoman Empire. Roughly speaking, they were ready to “revenge” by robbing and killing defenseless Armenians, although in the Balkan wars, up to 8 thousands of Armenian soldiers fought against the Bulgarians and Serbs.
The first waves of Armenian pogroms swept through the Ottoman Empire as early as the 19th century. It was the so-called Erzurum massacre of the year 1895, the massacres in Istanbul, Van, Sassoun and other cities. According to the American researcher Robert Andersen, at that time already at least 60 of thousands of Christians were killed, who were “crushed like grapes”, which even caused protests by ambassadors of European powers. German Lutheran missionary Johannes Lepsius collected evidence of destruction only in 1894-96 years at least 88 243 Armenians and robbery of more than half a million. In response, desperate Armenian Dashnak socialists staged a terrorist attack - 26 August 1896, they took hostages in a bank building in Istanbul and, threatening with an explosion, demanded that the Turkish government carry out reforms.
Erzurum Massacre. Image: The Graphic from 7 December 1895 of the year
But the coming to power of the Young Turks, who announced a course for reform, did not improve the situation. In 1907, a new wave of Armenian pogroms swept through the cities of the Mediterranean. Thousands of people died again. In addition, it was the Young Turks who encouraged the resettlement of refugees from the Balkans to the Armenian lands (about 400 thousand people were settled there), public organizations with “non-Turkish” goals were banned.
Armenian political parties in response appealed for support to the European powers and with their active support (primarily from Russia) the weakened Ottoman Empire imposed a plan, which finally provided for the creation of two autonomies from six Armenian regions and the city of Trebizond. They, in agreement with the Ottomans, were to be governed by representatives of the European powers. In Constantinople, naturally, they perceived such a solution to the “Armenian issue” as a national humiliation, which later played a role in the decision to join the war on the German side.
In the First World War, all the belligerent countries actively used (or at least sought to use) "potentially rebellious" ethnic communities in the territory of the enemy - national minorities, one way or another suffered from discrimination and oppression. The Germans supported the struggle for their rights of the British Irish, the British - the Arabs, the Austro-Hungarians - the Ukrainians and so on. Well, the Russian Empire actively supported Armenians, for whom, as compared with the Turks, it, as a country predominantly Christian, was at least “the lesser of evils”. With the participation and assistance of Russia, at the end of 1914, the allied Armenian militia, commanded by the legendary General Andranik Ozanyan, was formed.
The Armenian battalions greatly assisted the Russians in the defense of northwestern Persia, which the Turks also invaded in the future during the battles on the Caucasian front. Through them, weapons and saboteurs groups were delivered to the Ottoman rears, where, for example, sabotage on the telegraph lines near Van, attacks on Turkish units in Bitlis were carried out.
Also in December 1914 - January 1915, on the border of the Russian and Ottoman empires, the Sarykamysh battle took place, in which the Turks suffered a crushing defeat, having lost 78 thousands of soldiers from 80 thousands who participated in the battles. Russian troops captured the border fortress of Bayazet, drove the Turks from Persia and advanced into the Turkish territory with the help of Armenians from the border areas, which caused another squall of arguments about the Armenian treachery as a whole from the side of the young Turkish Party Ittikhat.
Enver Pasha. Photo: US Library of Congress
Subsequently, critics of the concept of genocide against the entire Armenian people will be argued as the main ones: the Armenians were not even “potential”, but rebellious, they were “the first to start,” they killed Muslims. However, in the winter of 1914-1915, most Armenians still lived a peaceful life, many men were even drafted into the Turkish army and honestly served as their own, as it seemed to them, country. The leader of the Young Turks, Enver Pasha, even publicly thanked the Armenians for their loyalty during the Sarykamysh operation, sending a letter to the Archbishop of Konya Province.
However, the minute of enlightenment was brief. The “first sign” of the new round of repressions was the disarmament in February of 1915 of about 100 of thousands of soldiers of Armenian (and at the same time of Assyrian and Greek origin) and their transfer to rear works. Many Armenian historians claim that some of the draftees were immediately killed. The confiscation of weapons from the civilian Armenian population began, which alerted (and, as soon it turned out, rightly) people: many Armenians began to hide pistols and rifles.
Black Day 24 April
US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, later called this disarmament "a prelude to the destruction of Armenians." In some cities, the Turkish authorities took hundreds of hostages until the Armenians surrendered their “arsenals”. The collected weapons were often photographed and sent to Istanbul as evidence of "treachery." This was a pretext for further hysteria.
April 24 is celebrated in Armenia as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Genocide It is a day off: hundreds of thousands of people climb the hill to the memorial complex of the victims of the First World War every year, laying flowers at the eternal flame. The memorial itself was built in Soviet times, in the 1960s, which was an exception to all the rules: in the USSR, they did not like to remember the First World War.
The date of April 24 was not chosen by chance: it was on this day of 1915 that mass arrests of representatives of the Armenian elite took place in Istanbul. In total, more than 5,5 thousands of people were captured, including 235 of the most famous and respected people - businessmen, journalists, scientists, those whose voice could be heard in the world, who could lead the resistance.
A month later, on May 26, the Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire, Talaat Pasha, presented the whole “Law on Deportation”, dedicated to “fighting against those who oppose the government”. Four days later it was approved by the Majlis (parliament). Although the Armenians were not mentioned there, it was clear that the law was written primarily “for their soul”, as well as for the Assyrians, the Pontic Greeks and other “infidels.” According to researcher Fuat Dündar, Talaat said that "the deportation was carried out for the final resolution of the Armenian issue." So, even in the term, later used by the Nazis, there is nothing new.
Biological justification was used as one of the excuses for the deportation and murder of Armenians. Some Ottoman chauvinists called them "dangerous microbes." The main promoter of such a policy was the governor of the district and the city of Diyarbakir, Dr. Mehmet Reshid, who was “entertained”, among other things, by nailing horseshoes at the feet of the deportees. US Ambassador Morgentau, in a telegram to the State Department on July 16, described the extermination of Armenians as a “campaign of racial eradication.”
Staged over the Armenians and medical experiments. By order of another "doctor" - the doctor of the 3 Army Teftika Salim - in order to develop a vaccine against typhus at the Erzincan hospital, experiments were conducted on disarmed soldiers, most of whom eventually died. The experiments were carried out directly by the professor at Istanbul Medical School Hamdi Suat, who injected experimental blood with typhoid fever. By the way, he was later recognized as the founder of Turkish bacteriology. After the end of the war during the consideration of the case by the Special Military Tribunal, he said that "he worked only with convicted criminals."
In the phase of "ethnic cleansing"
But even just deportation was not limited to only one sending people in railway wagons for livestock to fenced with barbed-wire concentration camps in the desert (the most famous is Deir ez-Zor in the east of modern Syria), where most died from starvation, unsanitary conditions or thirst. Often it was accompanied by massacres, which took the most disgusting character in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.
Camp of Armenian refugees. Photo: US Library of Congress
Official Said Ahmed described the events in an interview with British diplomat Mark Sykes: “Initially, the Ottoman officials took away the children, some of whom were trying to save the American consul. Trabzon Muslims were warned about the death penalty for the protection of Armenians. Then they separated the adult men, stating that they should take part in the works. The women and children were expelled in the direction of Mosul, after which the men were shot from pre-ditches. Attacks of “chettes” (released from prisons in exchange for cooperation of criminals - RP) were organized against women and children, who robbed and raped women, and then killed them. The military had a strict order not to interfere with the actions of the chettes.
As a result of the investigation conducted by the 1919 Tribunal of the year, the facts of poisoning of Armenian children (right in schools) and pregnant women with poison from Ali Treb, head of the health department of Trapezund, also became known. Mobile steam baths were also used, in which children were killed with superheated steam.
The killings were accompanied by looting. According to merchant Mehmet Ali, the governor of Trabzon, Cemal Azmi and Ali Seib, appropriated jewels ranging from 300 thousand to 400 thousand Turkish gold pounds. The American consul in Trebizond reported daily that “a crowd of Turkish women and children followed the police like vultures and captured everything they could carry,” and the house of Commissioner Ittihat in Trebizond was full of gold.
Beautiful girls were publicly raped and then killed, including local officials. In the 1919 year at the tribunal, the chief of the police of Trebizond said that he was sending young Armenian women to Istanbul as a gift from the governor to the Young Turks party leaders. Armenian women and children from the other Black Sea town of Ordu were loaded onto barges, and then taken out to sea and thrown overboard.
Historian Ruben Adalyan in his book “The Armenian Genocide” brings back memories of the miraculously surviving Takoui Levonyan: “During the march, we did not have water and food. We walked for 15 days. There were no shoes left. Finally we reached Tigranakert. There we showered by the water, soaked some dry bread and ate. It was rumored that the governor required a very beautiful 12-year-old girl ... At night, they came with lanterns and were looking for one. They found it, took it away from the sobbing mother and said that they would return it later. Later they returned the child, almost dead, in a terrible state. Mother sobbed loudly, and of course the child, unable to bear what had happened, died. Women could not calm her down. Finally the women dug a hole and buried the girl. There was a big wall there and my mother wrote “Shushan is buried here” ”.
Public executions of Armenians on the streets of Constantinople. Photo: Armin Wegner / armenian-genocide.org
A major role in the persecution of Armenians was played by the organization Teshkilat-i-Mahus (translated from Turkish as the Special Organization), headquartered in Erzurum, subordinated to the Turkish counterintelligence and staffed by tens of thousands of chettes. The leader of the organization was a prominent Young Turr Behaeddin Shakir. At the end of April 1915, he organized a rally in Erzurum, at which Armenians were accused of treason. After that, the Armenians of the Erzurum region began attacks, and in mid-May there was a massacre in the town of Khynys, where 19 thousands of people were killed. The villagers of the Erzurum environs were deported to the city, where some of them died of starvation, and some were dumped into the river in the Kemakh gorge. In Erzerum, all the “useful Armenians” of 100 who worked at important military sites were abandoned.
According to the American historian Richard Hovhannisyan, who grew up in a family of Armenian refugees, 15 thousands of Armenians were also killed in the town of Bitlis near Van. Most were dumped into a mountain river, and their houses were transferred to Turkish refugees from the Balkans. In the vicinity of Mush, Armenian women and children were burned alive in boarded up barns.
The destruction of the population was accompanied by a campaign to destroy the cultural heritage. Architectural monuments and churches exploded, cemeteries were opened under the fields, Armenian neighborhoods of the cities were occupied by the Muslim population and renamed.
27 April 1915, the Armenian Catholicos urged the United States and Italy, which still maintained neutrality in the war, to intervene and prevent murder. The allied powers of the Entente countries publicly condemned the massacre, but in the conditions of war there was little that could be done to alleviate their fate. In a joint Declaration of 24 in May 1915, the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire spoke for the first time about "crimes against humanity": "In view of the new crimes, the governments of the Allied States publicly declare to High Port about personal responsibility for these crimes of all members of the Ottoman government." Fund raising to help Armenian refugees began in Europe and the United States.
Even among the Turks themselves were those who opposed repression against the Armenian population. The courage of these people is worth special mention, because in the conditions of war one could easily pay for such a position with life. Dr. Jemal Haydar, who witnessed medical experiments on people, in an open letter to the Minister of the Interior described them as “barbaric” and “scientific crimes”. Haidar was supported by the chief physician of Erzincan's Red Crescent Hospital, Dr. Salaheddin.
There are cases of the rescue of Armenian children by Turkish families, as well as the speeches of officials who refused to take part in the killings. So, the head of Aleppo Jelal Bey spoke against the deportation of Armenians, saying that “Armenians are protected” and that “the right to live is the natural right of any person.” In June 1915, he was removed from office and replaced by a more “nationally-oriented” official.
As they could, the governor of Adrianople, Haji Adil-Bey, and even the first head of the Deir-ez-Zor concentration camp Ali Sued Bey tried to alleviate the fate of the Armenians (he, too, was soon removed from his post). But the strongest was the position of the governor of the city of Smyrna (now Izmir) Rahmi-bey, who managed to defend the right of Armenians and Greeks to live in his native city. He provided convincingly for the official Istanbul calculations that the expulsion of Christians would deal a fatal blow to trade, and therefore most of the local Armenians lived relatively calmly until the end of the war. True, about 200 thousands of citizens died already in the 1922 year, during another, Greek-Turkish war. Only a few managed to escape, among which, by the way, was the future Greek billionaire Aristotle Onasis.
The German ambassador in Constantinople, Count von Wolf-Metternich, also protested against the inhuman actions of the Allies. German doctor Armin Wegner collected a large photo archive - his photo of an Armenian woman walking under a Turkish escort became one of the symbols of 1915 of the year. Martin Nipazh, a German technical school teacher in Aleppo, wrote a whole book about the barbaric murders of Armenians. Missionary Johannes Lepsius managed to visit Constantinople again, but his requests to the leader of the Young Turks Enver-Pasha about the protection of the Armenians remained unanswered. Upon his return to Germany, Lepsius, without much success, tried to draw public attention to the situation in an allied country for the Germans. Rafael de Nogales Mendez, a Venezuelan officer who served in the Ottoman army, described the numerous facts of the murders of Armenians in his book.
But above all, of course, the Armenians themselves resisted. After the deportations began, uprisings flared up throughout the country. From 19 April to 16, the inhabitants of the city of Van, who had only 1300 "fighters" - partly from the number of old men, women and children, heroically defended the defense. Having lost hundreds of soldiers, and having failed to take the city, the Turks ravaged the surrounding Armenian villages, killing thousands of innocent people. But before 70, thousands of Armenians hiding in Van were finally saved — they waited for the advancing Russian army.
The second case of successful rescue is the defense by the Mediterranean Armenians of the Musa Dag mountain from July 21 to September 12 1915. 600 militias almost two months restrained the onslaught of several thousand soldiers. 12 September banners hanging in the trees calling for help were noticed by the Allied cruiser. Soon, the Anglo-French squadron approached the bottom of the mountain, which evacuated more than 4000 Armenians. Practically all the other Armenian uprisings - in Sassoun, Mush, Urfa and other cities of Turkey - ended in their suppression and the death of defenders.
Soghomon Tehlirian. Photo: orgarmeniaonline.ru
After the war, at the congress of the Armenian party "Dashnaktsutyun" it was decided to launch a "retaliation operation" - the elimination of war criminals. The operation received the name of the ancient Greek goddess "Nemesis". Most of the performers were Armenians who escaped from the genocide and are determined to avenge the death of their loved ones.
The most famous victim of the operation was the former Minister of the Interior and the Grand Vizier (Chief Minister) Talaat Pasha. Together with other leaders of the Young Turks, he fled to Germany in 1918, hid, but was tracked down and shot dead in March of 1921. The German court acquitted his murderer, Sogomon Tehlirian, with the wording “temporary insanity caused by suffering”, especially since Talaat Pasha was already sentenced to death at home by a military tribunal. Armenians also found and destroyed several other ideologues of reprisals, including the already mentioned governor of Trapezund, Jemal Azmi, the leader of the Young Turks, Behaeddin Shakir, and another former grand vizier, Said Halim Pasha.
Is it possible to call what happened in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 a genocide, there is still no consensus in the world, mainly because of the position of Turkey itself. American-Israeli sociologist, one of the leading experts on the history of genocides, the founder and executive director of the “Institute of the Holocaust and Genocide” Israel Cherni noted that “the Armenian genocide is remarkable because in the bloody XX century it was an early example of mass genocide, which many recognize as rehearsal of the Holocaust.
One of the most controversial issues is the number of victims - the exact calculation of the number of the dead is impossible, because the statistics on the number of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire on the eve of the First World War was very crafty, deliberately distorted. According to the “British Encyclopedia” quoting the calculations of the famous historian Arnold Toynbee, about 1915 thousand Armenians died in 600, and American political analyst and historian Rudolf Rummel spoke about 2 102 000 Armenians (of whom, 258 of thousands lived in the territories of today's Iran, Georgia and Armenia).
Modern Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan at the state level, does not recognize what happened as genocide. They believe that the death of the Armenians was due to negligence from starvation and disease during the expulsion from the combat zone, was essentially a result of the civil war, as a result of which many Turks themselves also died.
The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, said in 1919: “Whatever happens to non-Muslims in our country, this is a consequence of their barbarous pursuit of a policy of separatism, when they became a tool of foreign intrigue and abused their rights. These events are far from the forms of oppression that have been committed in Europe without any justification. ”
Already in the 1994 year, the then Prime Minister of Turkey Tansu Chiller formulated the doctrine of denial: “It is not true that the Turkish authorities do not wish to state their position on the so-called“ Armenian issue ”. Our position is very clear. Today it is obvious that in the light of historical facts, the Armenian claims are unfounded and illusory. Armenians, in any case, have not been subjected to genocide. ”
The current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted: “We did not commit this crime, we have nothing to apologize for. Who is to blame, he can apologize. However, the Turkish Republic, the Turkish nation has no such problems. ” True, 23 on April 2014 of the year, speaking in parliament, Erdogan for the first time expressed condolences to the descendants of Armenians, "who died during the events of the beginning of the twentieth century."
Many international organizations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and more 1915 countries (including the statement of the Russian State Duma 20 of the year “On condemning the Armenian genocide”), about 1995 countries at the regional level (for example, 10 from 43 US states).
In some countries (France, Switzerland) the denial of the Armenian Genocide is considered a criminal offense, several people have already been convicted. Assyrian killings, as a form of genocide, so far only recognized Sweden, the Australian state of New South Wales and the American state of New York.
Turkey spends significant funds on PR campaigns and makes donations to universities whose professors take a position similar to that of Turkey. Critical discussion of the “Kemalist” version of history in Turkey is considered a crime, which complicates debates in society, although in recent years intellectuals, the press and civil society are still starting to discuss the “Armenian issue”. This causes a sharp rejection of nationalists and authorities - “dissenting” intellectuals who are trying to apologize to the Armenians are being persecuted by all means.
The most famous victims are the Turkish writer, Nobel Prize winner in literature, Orhan Pamuk, forced to live abroad, and journalist Hrant Dink, editor of the newspaper for the now very small Armenian community of Turkey, killed by a Turkish nationalist in 2007. His funeral in Istanbul turned into a demonstration, where tens of thousands of Turks came with posters "We are all Armenians, we are all Grants."