|Sumgait.info||Ethnic Cleansing in Progress: War in Nagorno Karabakh - The Genocide|
Caroline Cox and John Eibner
Ethnic Cleansing in Progress: War in Nagorno Karabakh
[Contents] [Preface] [Introduction] [Basic Facts] [A Conflict of Civilizations] [The Genocide] [The Pincers of Pan-Turkism] [Soviet Rule] [The Karabakh Question Revived] [Operation Ring] [The Post-Soviet Conflict] [The Characteristics of the People of Nagorno Karabakh] [The Prognosis: Continuing Bloodshed] [Conclusions] [Recommendations]
The ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Turkey reached its peak in 1914-16. But the process began to gain momentum more than thirty years beforehand. The Sultan Abdul Hamid, fearing the growing power of non-Muslim independence movements in the Balkans, set out to reinforce the Islamic fabric of his empire. He therefore made peace with the Muslim Kurds, who had been in revolt, and organized them into cavalry regiments to keep the Armenians in check. The regiments terrorized the Armenian community, committing murder, looting and pillaging. The effect of this repression was to give impetus to the development of underground Armenian political organizations with the aim of emancipation from the degrading status of rayah. Several of them such as the Hunchak and Dashnak parties believed that freedom could be obtained in Ottoman Turkey only by the intervention of Russia and by the use of revolutionary means. The Dashnaks organized self-defense units whose members were called fedayis - an Arabic term signifying one committed to die for one's faith. Armenian political activity intensified.
The response of Sultan Abdul Hamid's government was swift. In 1893 more than 1,800 Christians, mainly Armenians, were arbitrarily imprisoned. Most were tortured. Amongst those arrested were two Armenian Protestant pastors who were released on account of protests from Great Britain. The following year the wave of arrests snow-balled into government-sponsored pogroms. Throughout central and eastern Anatolia Armenian communities were subjected to brutal assaults. The pattern of the pogroms was remarkably uniform. Members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as opposed to Armenian Catholics and Protestants, were singled out for attack. Catholics and Protestants were warned in advance to remain in their churches on Sundays. At an appointed time the Muslim population backed by Turkish troops would rise against the Armenian Apostolic Christians, murdering, mutilating and plundering.
The French consul in the southeastern town of Diabarkir reported to his embassy on November 3, 1895 his own eyewitness account of the massacre of Armenians there:
In the southeastern town of Urfa 3,000 Armenians took refuge in their cathedral on December 28-29. 1895. Turkish troops broke down the doors and shot many of the refugees. They then used kerosene and kindling to set the cathedral alight. The British consul subsequently described the scene:
The massacres were not restricted to the central and eastern provinces. In a desperate attempt to encourage the European powers to invervene, the Hunchak party organized a demonstration from the Armenian Cathedral to the seat of government. The Armenian Patriarch Matteos Izmirlian was asked by victims of the pogroms to convey a simple message to European diplomats: "The annihilation of an entire Christian nation will be a shame to Europe, if it does not intervene on our behalf!" (Koutcharian, p. 101) The result of the demonstration was blood in the streets of the Turkish capital. Soldiers and police attacked the mainly unarmed demonstrators. 20 Armenians were shot dead and 100 were wounded.
This attack on Armenian demonstrators was but a prelude to a broader assault on Constantinople's Armenian community. On August 26, 1896 a group of young Armenians occupied Constantinople's Ottoman Bank - apparently with the knowledge of the Turkish authorities - and threatened to blow it up together with the bank's 160 employees. This desperate terrorist act was intended to prompt the European powers to offer protection to Turkey's Armenian provinces and to extort reforms. After 16 hours the hostages were released and the Turkish authorities allowed the Armenian terrorists safe passage to France. But the act of terrorism was used as a pretext for reprisals against Constantinople's innocent Armenian community. For the next two days uniformed policemen, religious fanatics and Kurdish tribesmen brought in for the occasion massacred the Armenian population of Constantinople. Approximately 10,000 Armenians were murdered, and at least 6,000 were imprisoned. A further 20,000 Armenians were forcibly deported from Constantinople to central and eastern Anatolia. The Armenian community in the Turkish capital was now greatly diminished.
Three collective European diplomatic protests eventually had their effect. The wave of massacres subsided. But not before somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenian men, women and children had perished. Approximately 100,000 fled the country. Tens of thousands escaped death only by conversion to Islam. Many Armenian women and children were sold into slavery.
Hopes for the peaceful coexistence of Armenians and Turks in the Ottoman Empire were raised in 1908. The 'Young Turk' revolution swept away the conservative Islamic autocracy of the Sultan Abdul Hamid and held out the promise of liberal constitutional government. The 'Young Turks' were supported by Armenian political groups. A British diplomat in Constantinople wrote to the Foreign Office two days after the 'Young Turks' seized power: "The crowd is animated with good humour, and it is remarkable to see the fraternisation of Muslims and Christians, especially the Armenians." (Walker, 1980, p. 181) But the tolerance and liberalism of the 'Young Turk' masters of Constantinople proved superficial. The rule of the 'Young Turks' degenerated into a ruthless dictatorship with pan-Turkism as its ideology. Their dual aims were the forcible Turkification of Turkey's ethnic minorities and political union with the Turks of Azerbaijan and Central Asia.
The outbreak of World War I provided the 'Young Turks' with an opportunity to fulfil their aims. On the one hand, the war diverted the attention of the European powers from Turkey's domestic affairs. The 'Young Turks' were now in a position to treat the Armenians and other non-Turkic minorities as they wished without fear of reprisals from the Great Powers. On the other hand, Turkey's alliance with Germany in the war against Russia held the promise of union with the Turks of Azerbaijan and Central Asia, then under Russian rule. The 'Young Turks' seized the opportunity. In November 1914 they drafted a proclamation signed by the Caliph calling for a Holy War against the enemies of Islam, in particular Russia, Great Britain and France. By mid-February 1915 the 'Young Turk' leadership had committed itself to a plan for the extermination of the Armenians -a plan strikingly similar to that put into operation against the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh in the spring and summer of 1991.
The first move of the Turkish authorities was designed to deny the Armenian community the possibility of self-defense. In February 1915, Armenians were purged from the state administration and from combat positions in the army. Armenian officers in the Turkish army and tens of thousands of able-bodied civilian men were taken as hostages. Then Armenian communities throughout Turkey were subjected to searches for arms conducted by special detatchments of heavily armed Turks and Kurds - in many cases criminals released from prison to perform this task. The searches were accompanied by barbarous atrocities, such as rape, roasting women and children to death, the Turkish falaka - hanging the victim upside down while beating the soles of the feet - and crucifixions. This was followed by orders for the deportation of the entire Armenian population of Turkey. The Turkish authorities took the trouble to provide a legal basis for this action - "The Provisional Law for the Deportation of Suspicious People" of May 5, 1915:
The deportations had a well-defined pattern. First, able-bodied Armenian men were ordered to report to their local government office, where they were arrested. They were then shot or stabbed to death. Left entirely leaderless, the old men, women and children were forced to make the long death march across the desert of northern Syria to Aleppo from where they were sent east into the Mesopotamian desert or south in the direction of Damascus. The trail was littered with corpses. The survivors were placed in concentration camps. The camps were teeming with emaciated women and children, ravaged by starvation, dysentery and typhus. The Turkish authorities obstructed efforts to provide relief. Western diplomats and missionaries were prevented from offering assistance. Respectable Turks and Kurds too were sickened by the horrors. But help offered to the Armenians by members of the Muslim community was punishable by death. The Governor of Van issued an order declaring: "The Armenians must be exterminated. If any Muslim protect a Christian, first his house shall be burnt; then the Christian killed before his eyes, then his (the Muslim's - ed.) family and himself." (Walker, 1980, p. 207) Some, nevertheless, could do no other than take this risk.
The Italian consul at Trebizond, Signor Gorrini was one of many western diplomats and missionaries to provide shocking eyewitness accounts of the forced deportations:
The Turkish authorities sought to justify such atrocities by claiming that the Armenians were in rebellion. But the German liaison officer in Erzerum, Gen. Posselt, informed his embassy on April 26, 1914 that "the Armenians will stay calm if they are not pressured or molested by the Turks", and that "the behaviour of the Armenians has been perfect". (Walker, 1980, p. 214) In some locations, such as in Van and Sivas the Armenians managed to put up some armed resistance. But, greatly outnumbered and outgunned, they were overcome. By the end of World War I, Anatolian Turkey was virtually devoid of Armenians. Of Turkey's 2 million-plus Armenians, 1.5 million perished. About 850,000 survived. Roughly 250,000 of the survivors escaped to Russia. An estimated 200,000 were forcibly Islamized and remained in Anatolia. Approximately 400,000 deported Armenians were discovered by the victorious allies in Turkey's Syrian provinces.
The plight of the Armenians of Turkey was known in Europe and North America. Western public opinion was powerfully moved. But the action of governments was determined by Realpolitik. The allied governments declared on May 23, 1915 that "for about the last month Kurds and the Turkish population of Armenia have been engaged in massacring Armenians with the help and often the connivance of the Ottoman authorities" and promised to hold implicated Turkish government officials personally (Walker, 1980, p. 231).
Winning the war had far greater priority with the Central powers than stopping the genocide. After the war the victorious allies stopped short of the liberation of the oppressed non-Turkic peoples of Anatolia. Instead, the strengthening of Turkey against Europe's new menace, Bolshevik Russia, became the priority of Britain, France and the United States.
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