Turkey and Armenia, Irreconcilable Relations

A genocide? Was there or wasn’t there a genocide? The Canadian Scott Taylor is one of the authors who dared inquire and write about the Armenian “genocide”. Due to mass-media propaganda, but not only, it is rather difficult to find really objective books on this issue.


In recent years, the parliaments of some important countries in the arena of international relations have spoken about and envisaged voting a law meant to condemn the „genocide” perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire on the Armenians. The subject is interesting, and makes the object of challenging debates in broad diplomatic environments and also in the political world. Actually, should a parliament pronounce itself on historical events, then this decision ought to rest on solid researches made by reputed historians whose opinions in this field are highly respected. Without the historians’ expertise – only the political context remains. Up till this moment, Canada is the only state where the members of the parliament voted a law which acknowledged the „genocide” perpetrated on the Armenians.

In the context of the beginning of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, exhausted by so many conflicts, had neither any interest, nor any concealed desire to become an actor in it. Before the Balkan Wars, the Ottoman Empire had concluded with Great Britain an agreement regarding the building of two cruiser-like battleships. On the eve of World War I, the Ottomans whose financial resources were scarce could no more pay the warships, therefore the British kept them for themselves. The Germans took advantage of this situation and sent two of their warships in the Mediterranean.

In his memoirs, Hans Kannengiesser[1] depicts the moment when Enver Pasha, the minister of war, decided to which camp the Ottoman Empire would belong: „I was at the usual report at Enver Pasha, the minister of war, when, against usance, in the very middle of the report, the servant announced lieutenant colonel von Kress”. The latter told the Turkish minister of war: „The city of Cannakale reports that the German battleships <Goeben> and <Breslau> flow in front of the Dardanelles and ask permission to enter peacefully. The fortress asks to receive urgent instructions for the commandants of the forts of Kum Kale and Sidil Bar”. Irritated by the possible consequences entailed by this situation, the Turkish minister answered: „I cannot decide right now. I have to speak first with the grand vizier.” Kress: „But we have to cable on the spot”. Not persuaded by his decision, Enver Pasha approved: „Let them enter”. D.v. Micusch and lieutenant colonel Kress, who witnessed this scene, relate that they felt relieved seeing that a favourable decision to their country was made. The continuation of the dialogue is even more interesting. Kress: „If British battleships are to follow the German ones, shall we fire upon them in case they would also want to enter?” Naturally, the minister of war replied that such a decision should be made by the council of ministers, yet, according to his memoirs, the German officer went on raising the stakes: „Excellency, we cannot leave our subalterns without clear and immediate orders when confronted with such a situation. Shall they fire or not?” After a short break, Enver Pasha concluded: „Yes, they shall.”[2]

The Germans took advantage of this event, and pushed the Ottoman state into an alliance resented by the public opinion. A secret treaty signed with Germany existed since 1914, still most of the ministers in Constantinople pleaded for neutrality. Because of its position and because for the Great Powers it was vital to be able to cross the straits, it was obvious that the Turkish state would not maintain for a long time its neutrality. Things took a precipitous turn, for the main persons of the executive body, Enver, Talaat and Djemal, convinced that the Central Powers would win, decided to assume the risk and present their cabinet colleagues with a fait accompli. Three ministers resigned, the most famous of them being Djavid Doenme[3]. The scales could be tipped in favour of those who preferred the Entente, which was willing to guarantee their integrity, but which would not eliminate the capitulations. Because of the Russian-Turkish hostilities in the Black Sea, the Entente declared war to Turkey, in November 1914.

Profiting from the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, the British attached Cyprus and invoked officially the mandate of protectorate in order to withdraw Egypt from the Ottoman influence. Statistics show us that the Ottoman Empire possessed a considerable force. During the war, 2,700,000 Turks were enlisted in 80 divisions.

The Armenian Issue


In the East of Anatolia things were moving at high speed. The Tsarist Empire struck this zone for the first time by recruiting large contingents of Armenian volunteers from the Caucasus with a view to annexing Eastern Anatolia. The Armenians living on this territory under Ottoman occupation were well armed and fully prepared to support the Russian army. The Nationalist Party DASHNAK sent a series of letters in which they pledged allegiance to the tsar Nicholas II, as soon as the hostilities would begin. A declaration issued by the Armenian National Bureau sounded as follows:


“While the glorious Russian armies are fighting against Turkey, who, supported by Germany, dared raise her hand against the majestic Russia, on the territories of her own hegemony, in the snowy mountains of Armenia, and in the large valley of Alashkert, following the ancestors’ advice, the Armenians gathered to sacrifice their lives and goods for the sake of Great Russia and the glory of her throne.

The good news from the war with Turkey aroused the enthusiasm of the entire Armenian people. Armenians of all countries are rushing to join the glorious Russian armies and share in the victory of Russia’s armies, even if that means to shed their blood. We pray God to help us triumph over the enemy.”[4]

In the first stage of the conflict, the Russians and the Armenians lost almost 40% of their men, the Turks being now in high spirits and heartened by their success. Elated, the minister of war, Enver Pasha, decided to launch an ambitious attack. On December 26, 1914, under a brass monkey weather, 95,000 soldiers set forth for the final assault. On January 17, 1915, the battle came to an end and out of the 95,000 Turks that had begun the attack almost 75,000 died, most of them because of their frostbites and starvation.

The Armenian population thought to capitalise on these circumstances and tried to obtain the city of Van. The Ottomans improvised an army made up of reservists and a militia of volunteers to recover this town. In their turn, the Russians also took advantage of this instability generated by the Armenian revolt in Van. Organising their own assaulting force made up of about 4,000 Armenian volunteers from the Caucasus, the Russians marched to break down the Ottoman defensive walls of the city of Van. In order to hasten the advance of the Russian force the Armenian rebels committed a series of crimes in the whole region. In their turn, the Armenian guerrillas slaughtered both Turkish and Kurd civilians.

The Armenians did not hide their horrible massacre perpetrated on the Turks, during the fights. On May 24, 1915, Gochnak, an Armenian newspaper in the U.S.A., declared that “only 1,500 Turks remained in Van” the rest having been slain or expelled from their houses (Scott Taylor, p. 104). On May 31, 1915, the Russian troops marched into the city of Van, and were acclaimed as liberators by the Armenian inhabitants. The tsar Nicholas II sent a cable to the Armenian Revolutionary Committee of Van and thanked it for the services it rendered to the Russians.

Against this background, the Ottoman authorities made a last appeal to the Armenian Revolutionary Committee of Van asking it to stop slaughtering the Muslims of Eastern Anatolia. The Armenian Gregorian Patriarch was summoned together with the Armenian members of the Ottoman Parliament. And since the Ottomans continued to be butchered unremittingly, the Ottoman leaders changed their tactics. They closed the Armenian Revolutionary Committee, and 235 revolutionaries were arrested for crimes against the state.

Moreover, the Council of Ministers ordered the forced deportation of 700,000 Armenians. The motivation of this decision: the direct and overt support offered by the Armenians to the Russians. At that time, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee was fighting a guerrilla war in the Ottoman inland zones, and deportation seemed an excellent strategic solution. The order regarding the Armenians’ relocation sounded like this:

When the Armenians residing in the afore-mentioned towns and villages, that must be relocated, are transferred to their new settlements, they should enjoy during the transportation all the possible comfort and their lives should also be protected; after their arrival, their food should be paid with the money allotted to the refugees, till they are completely settled in their new abodes. Properties and lands should be distributed to them in accordance with their previous financial situation, and their current needs; and for those who need supplementary assistance, the government shall build houses, and provide farmers and craftsmen, seeds, tools and equipment. (Decree 1331/163, May 1915; see also Scott Taylor p.105)

The aim of the ordinance was to limit the expansion of the Armenian Revolutionary Committee. The Ottoman army which had to protect 700,000 Armenians had just lost 75,000 soldiers. The hatred of the two nations was beyond words. The Armenians’ forced deportation engendered massacres and deep suffering among the displaced. The Ottoman standing army was busy to stop the Russians’ advance, and the local constabulary units were endeavouring to protect the Muslim residents of Anatolia against the Armenians’ retaliation, therefore the columns of deportees could not be totally protected. Under these circumstances, the Kurds became the greatest problem for the Armenians. Justin McCarthy describes the Kurds’ assaults in his “Death and Exile”:

Although usually the tribes did not involve in mass murdering the Armenian emigrants, the tribes killed a huge number of Armenians, and kidnapped their women. The tribes must have been the main cause which increased the mortality, for they were endlessly stealing the resources the Armenians needed to subsist. In spite of the orders, the emigrants received rather few victuals, being thus compelled to feed themselves. But the Kurd tribes deprived them of their means of livelihood, the result being their starvation.

In July 1915, the Ottomans had received significant reinforcement, and by the end of the month they succeeded in driving away the Russians and the Armenians from the Van zone. As the Armenians feared a reprisal of the Turkish army, they retired to the Caucasus, under the protection of the withdrawing Russian troops, though the relocation plan imposed by the Ottomans intended to displace the Armenians in Syria, Palestine and Iraq, and not into the Caucasus.

The town of Urfa (today Şanliurfa) made an exception. On September 29, 1915 the Armenian militia took control of the district and opposed the Ottoman constabulary forces. In the Armenian neighbourhood the Muslims were killed and their houses were destroyed. It was necessary to send the Turkish army in order to subdue the Armenians.

General Mehmed Wehib Pasha, commander of the third Ottoman Army depicts the liberation of the town of Erzincan:

I saw villages so devastated that no hut escaped undemolished. The trees were cut off in all the orchards, and all the villagers are dead. History has never before recorded such atrocities as those committed by the Armenians in Erzincan. For three days all we did was to gather the corpses of the killed Muslims which had been thrown away by the Armenians. Among these innocent victims there were not yet baptised babies, ninety year old women and men, all quartered into pieces. (Commander of the 3rd Army to the Supreme Commander 13/14 March 1334; Scott Taylor, p. 118)

At the same time, the Powers of the Entente attacked the Strait of Dardanelle, where the Turks, at the cost of 660,000 dead and 152,000 wounded men, succeeded in banishing the invaders.  During the war, the same Ottoman Empire sought to find the resources necessary to relocate the Armenians in another region of the realm. Hence, it would be absurd to imagine that the Ottomans could have simultaneously committed a calculated and methodical genocide.

Below we shall find the details of the Decree 1331/163, of May 1915 regarding the conditions of the Armenians’ relocation by the Ottomans:

a) Those who were compelled to change their lodgings (dislocated) shall safely move to the zones of their choice with all their goods;

b) until they settle in their new abodes, the subsistence costs shall be ensured by the budget allotted to emigrants;

c) they shall receive lands and housing in accordance with their previous properties;

d) for the needy, the government shall build spaces to live in, and shall provide tools and instruments, as well as seeds necessary to agricultural works;

e) the assets left in their former residence shall be returned to the new location if the said assets are mobile, and if they are immobile, they shall be inventoried and evaluated, and the persons concerned shall be indemnified with the necessary sums;

f) the immigrants’ specialised places, with the exception of the cultures of olives, mulberry trees, vines, oranges, shops, inns, factories, or stores, that generate revenues, shall be sold at open-outcry auction or shall be hired, and the resulting sums shall be recorded in the stores of the property funds to be paid to the rightful owners;

g) all these shall be supervised by a special commission, and separate written orders shall be prepared in this respect.

Apart from the measures taken, the following aspects shall be considered:

–          Civilian inspectors were appointed to verify and coordinate the immigrations towards the zones of Anadan, Aleppo, Maraş;

–          The “General Direction for Immigrants” was founded in order to provide for any needs related to the immigration process;

–          Animals and means of transportation were supplied to the convoys;

–          For the aged Armenians, for the people with disabilities, for the wounded, widows,  sick, and orphans who are not subject to immigration the state built special locations and bore the expenses necessary to meet their needs;

–          The Armenian families that needed protection were not forlorn. It was made known that the families whose men were deported, or in military service, parentless families and the orphans shall live in the villages or communes where no other ethnicities than the Armenian one lived, and the subsistence expenses shall be paid from the allocation for immigrants;

–          Those who were subject to migration (relocation) were mutinous Armenians, or deserted the army of the Ottoman Empire to enlist in the Russian army, or who belonged to the Gregorian sect. At the same time, catholic or protestant Armenians who were officers or doctors in the Ottoman army, those who were working in the Ottoman bank, in agencies or on their own, and the Armenian personnel of certain consulates shall not be subject to  migration (relocation) as long as they remain faithful to the state;

–          Protection of persons and goods subject to relocation; they were to be decided upon by the leaders of the communities along the emigration route; organisation of victuals, drinking and lodging;

–          Important budgets were allotted to cover all the expenses related to the immigrants’ basic needs and to the protection of the convoys during both the transportation period and at the destination place. The hospitals along the immigration route received the order to provide warm food and meat, and to attend the sick people that were making up the emigration convoys;

–          The routes were chosen according to their degree of security as regards the railways and boats;

–          To protect the immigrants against malaria, a widely spread disease at that time, they were administered quinine. It was decided that the already contaminated persons be treated in both military and civilian hospitals;

–          The relocated Armenians were allowed to move together with all their mobile goods and animals; it was established how to record and how to take over the securities and real estate left behind and what would become of the lands and harvests on them;

–          Measures were taken to prevent the disappearance of goods and fortunes, as well as the attacks of thieves and assassination of individuals;

–          Those who were attacking the convoys, who were committing violence or robbery or fraud, or those who had not taken all the necessary measures to ensure the immigrants’ protection were to be referred to Court Martial and punished severely. Those who committed such deeds could even be sentenced to death;

–          Orders were given that they be settled in villages or communes, according to the zones they would be relocated, and houses had to be built for them, in the areas indicated by the government.

On the one hand, the Ottoman government spent large sums of money to enforce the Relocation Law, and on the other hand it deferred or even cleared the debts to the state or to private persons of the relocated people. It was decided that the money these people had yet to receive be traced by special commissions and sent to the new locations. Meanwhile, from the United States, American missionaries and consulates sent, with the government’s assent, sums of money to be distributed to the Armenian emigrants.

When World War I was over, it was decided that relocated people return to the zones they had been compelled to leave, certainly if they wanted to. Local authorities were instructed in this respect and measures were taken to implement this decision. And it is a reality that in today’s Turkey there is an Armenian community, and in Istanbul, for instance, on the banks of the Bosphorus, lies the Armenian district.

[1] Hans Kannengiesser was a German officer in World War I. He fought alongside the Turkish forces during the Gallipoli battle. He was not merely a liaison officer with the Turkish army, he led the Turkish troops on the battlefield, including the 9th Turkish Division. The 9th Division was part of the 5th Army, which was led during the campaign of Gallipoli by the German general Otto Liman von Sanders. After the war, Kannengiesser published his memories about the Gallipoli battle.

[2] Hans Kannengiesser Gallipoli, Berlin, 1927, op. cit. and in D.v. Micusch Gazi Mustafa Kemal 1880-1938, Craiova, Editura Scrisul Românesc, p.114

[3] “Doenme” – name given to the Jews who emigrated from Spain and converted to Islam.

[4] Scott Taylor, Diferenţe ireconciliabile Turcia, Armenia si Azerbaidjan, Editura Paideia, Bucharest, 2012, p. 101