The Syrian Tragedy / The American Foundation for Syriac Studies

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 in Library | 2 comments

The Syrian Tragedy


No other field of knowledge has been as important and indispensable as history, and probably no other human discourse has been as controversial as history. The importance of history stems from the fact that we, as historical beings, firmly believe that there is an intricate dialectical relationship between the past and the present, and the more we comprehend the past, with all its ups and downs, the better we are equipped to understand the complexities of the present and ensure the stability of the future. In other words, though we are the outcome of history, we consciously and intentionally strive to determine the course of history. However, the controversy surrounding history lies in the very act of writing, which is often manipulated by either the ruling class or the state, and the latter may modify or distort historical facts in an attempt to protect their interests or legitimize their rule.

Certainly, the value of history does not lie only in the objective recording of past events, though it has its significance, but consists largely in building bridges between our present generations and their ancestors, between the existing frame of mind and that of past communities. Such understanding of the past will certainly shed light on the present and point up whether our current thinking and acting patterns have gone through some changes or remained shackled by the same old order. Hence, our reaction to historical facts, whether negative or positive is based on how the past was perceived and interpreted. When we, in the present, are concerned about our future generations, then we certainly need to have an accurate, objective, and comprehensive understanding of the past, so that, on the one hand, we can free ourselves of the destructive myths that probably unconsciously chained some past communities, and, on the other hand, we can preserve and cherish their enlightening ideals. Failing to approach our past history and heritage critically, we may wind up idolizing some misleading political, racial, or religious ideologies that could trigger bigotry, racism, discrimination, and genocide in the present and/or the future.

Our interest in exploring the past is not the outcome of sheer infatuation with the past as such or mere exaltation of daring past exploits. It simply arises from our current experience that human history has witnessed appalling atrocities committed against ethnic or religious minorities, and there is always a growing concern that such devious and destructive acts are likely to be repeated in the future. Such worries over the safety of minorities are legitimate and should be taken into account because we still live in a world infected with social division, prejudice, discrimination, racism, and bigotry. The massive extermination of thousands of innocent Muslims in Bosnia two years ago at the hands of Christian Serbs is a clear example that racism and religious hatred are still prevalent in some parts of the world.

Luckily, the annihilation of Bosnian Muslims got massive media coverage all over the world, and the world sympathized with their cause and rushed to put an end to the atrocities committed against them; however, our American media is still oblivious to how more than a million of Armenians and no less than quarter of a million of Syrian Christians were massacred by Ottoman forces and mercenaries in 1915 (see the attached chart of Syrian Christians killed between 1915 and 1916). Our media has practically kept the American public in the dark. Even most of our educated Americans are unaware of how, when, and where those innocent Armenians and Syrian Christians were slaughtered.

Alert and perceptive readers must have noticed that Turkey, the Balkan region, the Arab World, and the West were all in a state of ferment.  Some European nations were looking for new allies among underdeveloped and colonized peoples who were willing to cooperate (even collaborate) with the West against the Ottoman Empire and its allies. Such global, political, economic and strategic developments had also coincided with the rise of nationalism, which rapidly mobilized not only Armenians, but also Arabs, Balkan nations, Greeks against the Ottoman occupation. Therefore, seeking independence from the Ottoman empire, whether by peaceful political or/ and military means, was the priority of Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and other suppressed nations.

It is obvious that the Ottoman Empire was confronted with defying forces from inside and outside, and it had to respond to those challenges in one way or another.  It was quite understandable that the Turkish army would quell the Armenian revolt. However, after destroying the political and military structure of the Armenians and disarming the entire community, the Turkish authority had no reason whatsoever to use its army and incite its people to eradicate more than one million Armenians, most of who were peaceful people, with no interest in politics.

Any serious understanding of the Armenian question must take into account, not only the national and political fears of the Turkish establishment, but also the cultural ideology underlying the Turkish system of that era. The reason for stressing the destructive role of the prevalent Turkish ideology of that era lies in the fact that most of the Armenians were not massacred by the Turkish army but by Turkish citizens, a clear indication that those who perpetrated such brutal crimes were already indoctrinated with ethnocentricity, prejudice, and bigotry. And once people adopt an ethnocentric ideology, they tend to idealize themselves and their ideology, and those who don’t fit into their ethnic category are stereotyped, namely stripped of their human values, perceived as inferior, corrupt, and evil race. Having others demonized would legitimize and justify the act of destroying them. According to the ethnocentric ideology of the Turkish system the Armenians were the “others” because they were not ethnically Turks or Muslims; therefore, to maintain Turkey as an ethnocentric society, the elimination of Armenians was both legitimate and justifiable for the intolerant Turks of that era.

The Turks of the ’10s and  ‘20s deliberately portrayed the Armenian people as a chief national rival bent on dividing their land and undermining their sovereignty to incite their people against other ethnic groups. The Turks claimed that their war against the Armenians had political and national justifications; however, they had never explained their reasons for killing no less than quarter of a million peaceful Syrian Christians, who had livid on Turkish soil for almost two thousand years, without ever undermining the national interest or integrity of Turkey. In fact, they always considered themselves Turkish citizens. Above all, it is well established that, from the first century AD, Syrian Christians had shown no interest in developing any national or political institutions. They were primarily known as Christian sects, and their institutions were of purely religious and educational nature–churches and academies.

During the Byzantine era, the Syrian Christians were immersed in exploring Greek sciences and philosophy. It is also worth mentioning that during the Arab invasion of Syria, Iraq, and parts of Asia minor, Syrian Christians not only remained preoccupied with science and philosophy, but they also made inconceivable contributions to the development of Arabic-Islamic philosophy. Impressed by the constructive role they played in educating Muslim Arabs around the eighth century AD, Ahmad Amen, an outstanding Egyptian historian called Syrian Christians “the mentors of the Arabs.”

The massacre of Syrian Christians in Turkey has been practically overlooked by Western, American and Middle East scholars. Even many Armenian writers, who are quite aware of the fact that innocent Syrian  Christians were victimized and exterminated, are sometimes reluctant to mention the atrocities committed against them. The 1915 genocide seems to have become an Armenian monopoly, instead of being a human issue.

We believe that the brutal massacre of Syrian Christians deserves to be fully addressed and carefully examined by Syrians, Armenians, Americans, Westerners, Arabs and Turks, irrespective of their race and religion. First and foremost, the extermination of Syriac-speaking people is essentially a human issue, and concerned Syrians, who are interested in exploring this question, should rise above their national, political, or religious sentiments and approach the massacre of 1915 from a purely human perspective.

The present study attempts to investigate the historical, national, political, and cultural context of the Turkish-Armenian relations around the turn of the century. It also aims at exploring some important historical factors that led to tension that triggered hostilities between the Turkish and Armenian communities, and later culminated in the inconceivable massacre (Saferbalik) of 1915. Furthermore, though the author of this study draws heavily on historical documents, some written by Western writers, others by Turkish and Armenian scholars, he has left his data without any personal interpretations or comments, so that the readers would have an easy access to some historical facts from which they could freely infer what had gone wrong before 1915 that consequently caused and justified a massive extermination of innocent Armenians and Syriac-speaking people.

Dr. Admer Gouryh

The Genocide

Hanna Issa Touma

The widespread massacres of 1894-96, which claimed some 200,000 lives, were the first real contact most Christian writers had with the Ottoman brutality. These massacres were like a dress rehearsal for the real genocide of 1915, and these writers did not fail to respond to the shock. Eyewitnesses, diplomats, correspondents, and humanitarians of many nationalities wrote hundreds of descriptive articles and books about the Armenian/Syrian genocide.

Then in 1909, another massacre occurred in Adana, which took another 30,000 lives, but the literary reaction was again an outflow of sadness and trouble. No political action was taken internationally, though their ambassadors in Turkey had already informed leaders of Western nations. Certainly the helpless victims who were still in Turkey could not do anything, and those who fled Turkey had to deal with the challenges of the countries that hosted them. This may be explained in part by the fact that for years the exiled generation concentrated its energies on adapting to new environments, caring for family members who somehow had remained alive and organizing schools and churches to perpetuate, as much as possible, a national cultural heritage in diverse and often alien surroundings.

Indeed, the Ottoman leaders organized the deportations and massacres of the Christian populations to rid themselves of the Armenian Question and create a new homogenous order.  Through death and destruction, they eliminated most of the Armenians from the Ottoman Empire, including all of the historic Armenian homelands, and radically altering the racial and religious character of the region.

Our aim is to raise three questions: What happened?  Why did it happen?  And what is to be learned from the Armenian case that might shed some light on other cases as well?  Many historians argue that the reason for the genocide derived from Armenian provocation.  Others suggest that the reason may be found in the context of the Armenian-Turkish relations and in the motives of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the ruling Turkish party of the time.  If there was a necessary condition for the genocide, it may be derived from the military and political disasters of 1908-1915 that isolated the Armenians and stimulated Turkish nationalism.

It was this newly experienced nationalism that not only transformed Turkish identity but also changed the image of the Armenians from that of loyal millet into that of a threatening and alien minority.  In that sense, it can be said that disaster and ideology estranged Armenians from the Turks and made them available for extermination.

Many scholars who are concerned with the Young Turks and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which led the revolution of 1908 against the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, and which directed Turkey from 1908 to 1918, would agree without hesitation that the Young Turks regime, especially in its later phases, was an absolute disaster for the Armenian people and Syrian Christians in general. Significantly, it was the CUP, headed by Talaat Pasha, Minister of the Interior, and Enver Pasha, Minister of War, that was responsible for the deportations leading to the genocide of 1915.

The killings began in 1915, and the first actions against the Armenians and other Christians began with the deportation of the total population from the provinces of the East to the Syrian Desert and Aleppo.  However, the Armenians’ fate became apparent by February of 1915, when Armenian troops serving with the Ottoman forces were disarmed, demobilized, and grouped into labor battalions.  At the same time, the Armenian and Syrian Christian civilian population was disarmed, with each community required to produce a specified number of weapons.  Indeed, the search for weapons became an occasion to destroy the local leadership. When community leaders were not able to come up with the required number of weapons, they were arrested for withholding arms. However, when they did come up with the required numbers, they were arrested for conspiring against the government.

The deportations were coordinated between Talaat Pasha’s Ministry of the Interior, which was in charge of the civilian population, and Enver Pasha’s Ministry of War, which was in charge of the disarmed labor battalions. On April 8, 1915, when the deportation commenced from Zeitun and other civilian centers, the Armenian labor battalions were rounded up by troops of the regular army and massacred. As for the deportations, these began with the killing of the able-bodied men and the deportation of the remainder.

So many years after the tragedy, a detailed summary of the genocide remains to be written, but one of the best sources in the West is still Arnold Toynbee.  He summarizes the process as follows:

On a certain date in whatever town or village it might be…the public crier went through the streets announcing that every male Armenian must present himself forthwith at the Government Building.  In some cases, the warning was given by the soldiery or Gendarme who were slaughtering every male Armenian they encountered in the streets…but usually a summons to the Government Building was the preliminary stage.  The men presented themselves in their working clothes…When they arrived, they were thrown without explanation into prison, kept there a day or two, and then marched out of the town in batches, roped man to man, along some southerly or southeasterly road.  They were starting, they were told, on a long journey to Mosul or perhaps to Baghdad…But they had not long to ponder over their plight, for they were halted and massacred at the first lonely place on the road. The same process was applied to those other Armenian men…who had been imprisoned during the winter months on the charge of conspiracy or concealment of arms…This was the civil authorities part..

Except for Bitlis, Mush, and Sassun, where the total population was marked out for extermination by the army, the women and children and the surviving men in other population centers were deported.  As columns of defenseless Armenians and other Christians marched through towns and villages, they would be attacked again and again, sometimes by brigands but more often by Turkish or Kurdish villagers.  The gendarmerie from the Ministry of the Interior, who was there to protect the deportees, far from discouraging such attacks, joined in the violence.  It was a deliberate, systematic attempt to eradicate the Christian population from the Ottoman Empire, an attempt that had certainly met its goal with a large measure of success.

An extensive massacre or genocide always leads to a controversy over the number of victims. Those who would deny it, minimize the numbers; those who would affirm it, would maximize the numbers.  Clearly, no precise measures can be cited. If one takes the Armenian Patriarch’s figures as a benchmark, the mid-nineteenth century Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was 2.5 million by 1914.  Toynbee, however, is more conservative with his estimates and suggests the number is more along the lines of 1.6 million.

Toynbee estimates that of those 1.6 million, up to 1915, 600,000 people were killed.  In 1916 alone, an additional 320,000 people were killed.  This leaves a total, in addition to those who perished through hunger, misery, and sickness, of over one million.  Added to that is a half million Christians killed in the genocide.  Aram Andonians notes:

Three great massacres took place after 1916…Men, women, and children from Constantinople and the surrounding districts, from the Anatolian railway line and Cilicia, were driven into the desert, where they met people from the six Armenian provinces and from the shores of the Black Sea, but this latter contingent consisted only of women, girls and boys of seven and under, as every male over seven had been slaughtered. All these were the victims of the three massacres. The first massacre was that of Res-ul-Ain, in which 70,000 people were killed; the second took place at Intilli, where there were 50,000 people assembled, most of them working on a tunnel of the Baghdad railway; and the third, which was the most fearful of all, at Der Zor, where Zia Bey slaughtered nearly 200,000…These figures only give the numbers of people killed by massacre. If we add to their numbers the victims of misery, sickness and hunger, especially in Res-ul-Ain and Der Zor, the number of Armenians who were slain or died in the desert will exceed a million.

Additionally, no sooner had the Christian population been physically removed or liquidated and replaced by a Turkish or Kurdish one, than all symbolic, cultural traces of the former inhabitants such as churches and place names were destroyed and eradicated.  It was as if the CUP had wanted to obliterate even the memory of Armenian and Christian existence.

In contemporary Turkey, as Michael Arlen remarked, the Armenian connection has been erased as though by an act of will.  This desire to wipe the slate clean convinces us that genocide was perpetuated against the Armenians and Christians.  The question that needs to be raised is why?

A number of historians argue that the reason for the Armenian genocide derives from Armenian provocation, that is, from the intolerable threat that the Armenians presented to Turkey and to the CUP.  A most influential statement of the provocation is that of Bernard Lewis.  Referring to the rise of Armenian nationalism in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Lewis points out:

For the Turks, the Armenian was the deadliest of all threats.  From the conquered lands of the Serbs, the Bulgarians, Albanians, and Greeks, they could, however reluctantly, withdraw, abandoning distant provinces and bringing the Imperial frontier 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 Armenian perished.

For Lewis then, the matter of the Armenian genocide seems to be a clear-cut case of two nationalities in conflict.  Armenians were a Christian minority living in Turkey, unfortunately for them on both sides of the Turkish-Russian border. Like other minorities of the Ottoman Empire, they came to be caught up in the nationalism so common of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hence, like the Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, and Greeks, they might have been expected to want to secede. Whereas the secession of the latter nationalities might have been a blow to the power and prestige of the Ottoman Empire, the secession of Armenia would spell its demise, for Armenians lived in the heartland of Turkey.

Lewis indicates that the two nations, Armenia and Turkey, were locked in a desperate struggle for possession of a single homeland.  Clearly, without knowing more about the situation, one would be under the impression that the Armenians, like the Turks, were armed and in some way powerful.  The truth of the matter is that the Armenians were not united under a single political party and certainly did not have any military force either to conquer the Turks or defend themselves from the Turks. The Armenian national sentiment was somewhat equivalent to the Turkish national sentiment. This Turkish nationalism had not yet found its proper boundaries in the manner of Kemal Ataturk, but it did exist in the manner of Ziya Gokalp.

What was Armenian nationalism? What boundaries and powers did it claim for itself?  And how did it differ from other nationalities, including Turkish, in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire? To state that the Armenian movement was the deadliest of all threats is to be in the extreme.  What is meant?  Is it meant that the Turks perceived the Armenians to be a deadly threat or were the Armenians indeed a deadly threat?  If the first is meant, there could be no quarrel.  Talaat and Enver had themselves stated that they feared the Armenians as a deadly threat to the integrity of Turkey.  Indeed, given the drastic situation of the Young Turks, where the secession of minorities was joined to military defeat on a large scale, one might assume that their perceptions and judgments were not clear.  The question remains, however, whether their fear of the Armenians rose out of the actions and capabilities of the Armenians or whether it rose out of other sources including their own desperate situation and their new faith in Turkish nationalism.

Two Armenian political parties, the Hinshak and Dashnak, especially following the massacres of 1894-96, were in good terms with the Young Turks, and therefore may have been a threat to the regime of Abdul-Hamid, a point that has been touched on elsewhere.  As to being a threat to the Young Turks themselves, neither the Armenian population as a whole nor any of its parties were seen as threats in 1908 when the revolution first broke out.  Quite the contrary, Armenians took great satisfaction in the victory of the army and its CUP commanders.  The downfall of the sultan and the restoration of the constitution of 1876 were everything and more than they and their parties, primarily the Dashnak, had wanted.  Their long years of active participation in the liberal wing of the Young Turk movement had finally borne fruit, and Lewis himself writes of the enthusiasm of the hour: The long night of Hamidean despotism was over; the dawn of freedom had come. The constitution had once again been proclaimed and election ordered.  Turks and Armenians embraced in the streets.  One assumes that in 1908 Armenians as a whole and Dashnaks in particular were not a deadly threat to the Ottoman Empire.  What intervened that might have made them seem to be a deadly threat?

Though it is questionable that the regime should be blamed for the Adana massacres of 1909, it is estimated that 30,000 Armenians perished. These massacres plus the increasing harshness of the CUP and the continuing insecurity of the Armenian peasants in the face of Kurdish deportations did strain relation between the Young Turks and the Armenians.  As Roderic H. Davison, a scholar of the period, notes:

Armenian disillusionment sprang from the massacres of 1909, the so-called Cilician Vespers, in Lesser Armenia for which the Young Turks must bear a goodly share of responsibility. More lasting troubles came with Kurd deportations in Greater Armenia…Wandering Kurds or Muhajirs had seized the lands of many Armenians who had been massacred or had fled in 1895.  When some of the refugees returned in 1908, the Kurds would not restore the lands…From 1909 on there was the French vice-consul in Van described the situation as real war between the two peoples.

The Armenian response was to ask for greater autonomy in internal matters and for more governmental protection against Kurdish deportations. This situation was taken note of by Russia, which in 1912 once more reopened the Armenian question.  Since Britain and Russia had come to terms in 1907 by concluding the eastern settlement, Russia once more felt the temptation to expand her influence.  Here it found some support among the Armenian leadership in the national assembly, which wanted to use Russia as leverage against the CUP.  By February of 1914, an accord was reached between the Powers and the CUP that called for the appointment of a European Inspector General in the eastern valayets to oversee intercommunal relations.

One can only imagine the sense of humiliation and rage felt by Turkish nationalists at the proposed interference.  It seems that by 1907, the Dashnak, the leading Armenian political party claiming for itself a membership of 165,000, had not yet favored separatism or Russian occupation.  Davison writes: Their problem was essentially one of reform within the Ottoman Empire; they did not believe that Russian occupation would bring them more freedom.  On the contrary, continues Davidson, they did believe that a complete separation of Armenia from Turkey was ethnographically or geographically impossible.

Something in the action of the victim causes the perpetrator, the provoked party, to react with violence.  If the Armenians had behaved differently, if the Armenians had acted less threateningly, the CUP would not have decided on genocide in 1915.  If there had been fewer Jewish Communists, or bankers or storekeepers, or journalists or beggars, there would have been no Holocaust.  Someone cannot imply that the victim was a pure scapegoat whose motives and actions played no more of a role in the violence. It is both the perpetrator and the victim and their relations, which must be examined for a complete explanation.

We come closer to the truth why Armenians were seen as a deadly threat, leading to genocide, when we move away from the intentions and alleged provocative action of the victims and examine, on the one hand, the context of Armenian-Turkish relations and, on the other hand, the experiences and views of the perpetrators.  Both the context of relations and the views of the CUP were drastically altered when, between 1908 and 1915, the Young Turks were not able to stem further defeat in battle or the secession of minorities.  The retreat of the empire from Europe to Anatolia was nothing less than a military and political disaster for the Turks, but it was a disaster that had even more serious consequences for the Armenians.  Not only did the retreat isolate this minority, but also it produced a crucial shift from Ottoman pluralism to narrow Turkish nationalism in the ideological perspective and world view of the ruling party.  These two consequences gave rise to the view that the Armenians were a deadly threat to which a deadly response seemed appropriate.

The loss of the European provinces destroyed the multinational and multi-religious character of the Ottoman Empire.  Turning first to the disaster on October 5, 1908, some three months after the Young Turk Revolution, Bulgaria proclaimed its complete independence, and on October 6, 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it had occupied since 1878.  In 1911, the Italians captured Libya and the next year the Balkan states effectively eliminated Turkey from Europe.

Out of the total area of approximately 1,153,000 square miles, and from a population of about 24 million, by 1911 the Turks had lost about 424,000 square miles and 5 million people. By 1913, Talaat and Enver were already in power; the Ottoman government had lost all of its European territory except for a strip to protect the straits of Istanbul itself.

The Greeks and then the Balkan Christians had seceded, leaving the Armenians as the last of the great Christian minorities still under Ottoman rule.  Moreover, the Armenians were not just any minority.  They had throughout the nineteenth century undergone a process of social, economic, cultural, and political development that has been called a renaissance.  It has been proposed elsewhere that it was this social mobilization that was a contributing factor to the massacres of 1894-96 under the regime of Abdul-Hamid.

Our suggestion is that the sultan’s regime committed or tolerated the massacres not as a measure to exterminate the Armenians but to teach them a lesson, to keep them in their assigned place in the millet system, to abort their renaissance, and to restore an old order.  The coming of the Young Turks with their emphasis on renewal and modernization seemed like a new opportunity to the Armenians and they invested their energies in the new regime.  Tragically for them, however, by 1912, as the new regime became increasingly less tolerant and more nationalistic, the very aptitude of the Armenians for modernization must have had them appear as a threat to the CUP.

In sum, the disastrous loss of territory and population that the empire had experienced between 1908 and 1912 isolated the Armenians, made them more noticeable and exposed than they wished to be. Meanwhile, their ongoing social mobilization challenged Turkish and Muslim supremacy, but this was not all.

It should be kept in mind that after the Turkish disasters, the bulk of the Armenian population was not located just anywhere in the remaining Ottoman regions.  The great mass of Armenian peasants lived in eastern Anatolia, an area claimed to be the heartland of Turkey, bordering Russia, Turkey’s traditional enemy. Beyond that, a sizable Armenian population lived across the border in Russia itself. These circumstances cast an uneasy glance in the direction of the Armenians.

As Lewis noted, the Young Turks themselves, partly in response to the crisis of 1908-12, were to experience and help to engender a radical change in identity and ideology that came to replace Ottomanism with nationalism.  Indeed, he begins his masterful work by noting:

The Turks are a people who speak Turkish and live in Turkey. At first glance, this does not seem to be a proportion of any striking originality, nor of any revolutionary content. Yet, the introduction and propagation of this idea in Turkey, and its eventual acceptance by the Turkish people as expressing the nature of their corporate identity and statehood, has been one of the major revolutions of modern time, involving a radical break with the social, cultural, political traditions of the past.

The point that he makes here is that heirs of the Ottoman Empire, the Young Ottomans, the Young Turks, Kemal Ataturk himself, had to preside over a major revolution in perception and identity as well as in politics in order to create a modern Turkey. The genocide of the Armenians, the first genocide of our modern era, was at one and the same time a product of this nationalist revolution and a stage in its development.

To understand Turkish nationalism and how it might have helped to engender genocide, we need to briefly contrast it with two competing orientations that lost out.  These were Ottomans and Pan-Islam.  During the Tanzimat, the nineteenth century reform period, the dominant ideology was Ottomanism, whose doctrines were given in the reform constitution of Midhat Pasha.  Ottomanism had hoped to maintain the integrity of the empire by allowing greater autonomy to the minority millets and by introducing certain liberal reforms and rights that were to be used equally by all Ottomans regardless of religion and national origin.  It will be recalled that under Abdul-Hamid, Ottomanism had to go underground where it found supporters among the minorities such as the Armenian Dashnaks and in the liberal wing of the Young Turk movement led by Sultan Sabahaddin.

Sultan Abdul-Hamid had already been unsuccessful in his attempts to preserve the empire by making appeals to Pan-Islam.  After 1908, however, Pan-Islam once again came into vogue, but with the successful revolt and secession of Muslim nationalities, especially in Albania and Macedonia, the hope that Islam could serve as the basis for imperial unity was seriously undermined.  Still later to be dashed by the Arab revolt, as Davison has noted, the crowning blow to Pan-Islam was the wartime attitude of the Arabs within the Ottoman domains. When the Arabs, on the side of Britain, began to attack their Turkish rulers, it became clear the Islamic unity was a mirage, and Pan-Islam was worthless as a political doctrine.  Having abandoned Ottomanism and Pan-Islam by 1914, the Young Turks increasingly turned to Turkish nationalism.

Though it was Mustafa Kemal who would finally nail down the boundaries of the Turkish state, thereby defining the territorial and social scope of Turkish nationalism, in the first instance this ideology took the form of a rather rebellious doctrine, a kind of Pan-Turkism called Turanism.  According to this belief system, all Turkish-speaking individuals share a common culture and should be united into a political entity.  Since Turkish-speaking people were present as far as Russian Caucasus, Central Asia, Kazan, and the Crimea, in theory Turanism aspired to become the Ottoman Empire without its annoying minority problems.  In practice, Turanism had little chance of succeeding, but its primary accomplishment was increasing a sense of Turkishness among the Ottoman Turks.  By the same token, it meant to decrease the sense that minorities such as the Armenians had a right to exist in a newly valued entity.

To illustrate how nationalism came to be used in the Turkish context, it may be constructive to quote Ziya Gokalp, about whom Uriel Heyed, his intellectual biographer, has noted that he laid in his writings the foundation of the national and modern state, which was eventually established by Mustafa Kemal. Besides his intellectual influence on Talaat and Enver, when the CUP took power, Gokalp was a member of the Central Council and was designated to investigate the conditions of the minorities, especially the Armenians.  Heyed notes a considerable part of Gokalp’s suggestions were accepted by the party and carried out by its government during the First World War. In 1919, when the Allied Forces entered Constantinople, he was arrested with other members of the CUP.  When he was placed on trial for his part of the genocide:

Gokalp denied that there had been any massacres, explaining that the Armenians had been killed in a war between them and the Turks whom they had stabbed in the back.  He admitted, however, without hesitation that he had approved of the expulsion of the Armenians. The Military Court sentenced him and his friends to be exiled from the country.

In trying to assess the consequences of Gokalp’s thought, Heyd says the Turkish Republic tried to achieve Gokalp’s ideal of a homogenous Turkish nation.  The majority of the Greek population was exchanged against the Turks, and the bulk of the Armenians left Turkey gradually.

Turkish nationalism had closely paralleled the ideology of integral nationalism enunciated by such figures as Fichte and Herder in Europe.  According to the Turkish doctrine of integral nationalism, the primary units of historical and political action are not social and economic forces such as classes, nor for that matter are they dynasties or heroic personalities.  They are nations.  Such nations have their origins in a dim but glorious past, a golden age.

For his part Gokalp saw in the Turkish past, not in the Ottoman past, a golden age that predated the coming of Islam.  He gloried in the military exploits of such Turkish conquerors as Attila, Genghis Khan, and Timur Babur.  He contrasted their times with the weakness of the present.  He emphasized the national affinities between Turks and such ancient people as Scythians, Sumarians, and Hitties, among whom he found the same moral qualities that distinguished the Turks from other people. These qualities were open-handed hospitality, modesty, faithfulness, courage, uprightness…especially praiseworthy was their attitude to the people subdued by them.  Strong as was their love for their own people…they did not oppress other nations. He added, however, that the sword of the Turk and likewise his pen has exulted at the Arabs, Chinese, and Persians.  He has created history and a home for every people.  He deluded himself for the benefit of others. In a poem, Gokalp wrote:

We succeeded in conquering many places but spiritually we were conquered in all of them.

According to Heyed, Gokalp defined the nation as:

…A society consisting of people who speak the same language, have had the same education, and are united in their religious, moral, aesthetic ideal, in short, those who have a common culture and religion.

On the surface, this definition is innocuous enough, but in the context of Ottoman pluralism, on the basis of religion, history, and descent it excludes the Armenians as well as other minorities from the newly valued Turkish entity. Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and Jews who lived in Turkey were Turks only in respect of citizenship but not of nationality…they would remain a foreign body in the national Turkish state.

For Gokalp, the nation is not merely an analytic construct, but a basic principle of moral action. As Heyed notes, replacing the belief in God by the belief in nation, for Gokalp, nationalism had become a religion. Simply put, the good without limit is the good of the nation and for its sake everything is permissible.

Given Gokalp’s identification with the good of a nation and given his exclusion of Armenians from the nation, it follows that he excluded Armenians from his moral concerns.  It should be noted that his kind of nationalism was quite distinct from Ottomanism, which not only accorded minorities a place in the empire, but also defined certain moral and political responsibilities of the ruling classes towards them and all millets.  From the novel perspective of nationalism, Armenians, Syrians, and Greeks came to be regarded as strangers.  In this sense it might be said that Gokalp’s formulations aided in the separation of Turks from Armenians and other minorities and set the stage for their destruction.

When in the height of the deportations and killings, the U.S. Ambassador Henry J. Morgenthau inquired of Talaat why, supposedly, disloyal Armenians could not be separated from those who had remained loyal, Talaat replied: We have been reproached for making no distinction between the innocent and the guilty; but that was utterly impossible, in view of the fact that those who were innocent today might be guilty tomorrow. In an even more frightening passage that reveals Talaat’s attitude, Morgenthau recalls:

One day Talaat made what was the most astonishing request I had ever heard. The New York Life Insurance Company and the Equitable Life of New York had for years done considerable business among the Armenians…I wish, Talaat now said, that you would get the Armenian life insurance companies to send us a complete list of their Armenian policy holders.  They are practically all dead now and had left no heirs to collect the money. It of courses all [goes] to the States.  The Government is the beneficiary now.  Will you do so?

The ambassador refused, but how astonishing was the change from the traditional Muslim and Ottoman view of the Armenians as people of the book, as the most loyal millet who had a vital role to play even under Abdul-Hamid, to that of Talaat, in which the Armenians had become so alien that, even in death, their sole function was to be exploited for their money.

Lewis insight that the idea the Turks are people who speak Turkish and live in Turkey had profound consequences, for Turks can now be expanded to include profound consequences for non-Turks, especially Armenians, as well. Transformation of identity in the majority group implies a change in how this group views minorities. Once Turks become Turks, nationalists like Gokalp, Talaat, and Enver, saw Armenians in a new fresh light, not as ancient millet but as strangers who did not belong among them. Moreover, these strangers were seen as part of a dangerous context: they were the last of Christian minorities who still remained within the newly valued boundaries; there had been a national awakening among the Armenians, and in the midst of war, it was said they favored the Russian side. In 1896, the Dashnak party seized the Central Bank of Turkey and they attempted to assassinate Sultan Abdul-Hamid in 1905. No wonder the Armenians were seen as a deadly threat.

The genocide of the Armenians and other Christians, however, should not be seen as a reaction to Armenian provocation, but as a response to the drastic changes that swept the Ottoman Empire around the turn of the century and the rise of the Turkish national revolution.  As many historians have noted, the revolution was successful in creating a new Turkey, but it came close to destroying Armenians and other Christian people in the process.

Genocide/Statement & Description


-Ahmed, Feroz.  The Young Turks.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.

-Andoian, Aram.  The Memoirs of Naim Bey.  London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1920.

-Arlen, Michael J.  Passage to Ararat.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1975.

-Armenian national Committee. The Armenian Genocide 1915-1923, Glendale, California. Armenian Educational    Foundation ,1988

– Davison, Roderic H.  Turkey.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968.

-Heyd, Uriel.  Foundations of Turkish Nationalism.  London: Luzac, 1950.

-Hovannisian, Richard. The Armenian genocide in perspective. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1986.

-Hovannisian, Richard. Armenia on the Road to Independence.  Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

-Hovannisian, Richard. Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

-Lewis, Bernard.  The Emergence of Modern Turkey.  London: Oxford University  Press, 1961.

-Melson, Robert “Provocation Or Nationalism,” in The Armenian Genocide In  perspective, ed.  Richard  Hovannisian , New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction  Publishers, 1986.

-Morgenthau, Henry.  Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. Garden City, NY: Doubleday,  1918.

-Sassounian, Harut.  The Armenian Genocide: Documents and Declarations 1915-1995. Los  Angeles:  Abril Printing, 1996.

-Toynbee, Arnold J.  The treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.  London: H.M.S.O., 1916.

-Toynbee, Arnold J.  A Summary of Armenian History.  London: H.M.S.O., 1916.


Over the past eighty years, many world leaders, governmental bodies, and international organizations have recalled the genocide of 1915. The United States Congress, starting in 1916, has passed several resolutions recognizing the facts of the Armenian-Christian genocide, and commemorating its anniversary.  Furthermore, successive American presidents, dating back to Woodrow Wilson, have issued proclamations and have made official declarations on this tragedy.

Prominent world leaders such as Kemal Ataturk, the Founding President of the Republic of Turkey, have condemned the Turkish perpetrators of the atrocities against the Armenians and Christians. Most recently, on April 14, 1995, the Russian Duma adopted a resolution recognizing the historical facts of the Armenian genocide.  Similar resolutions and reports have been adopted by the European parliament, the United Nations, the World Council of Churches, and others.

Most significantly, a Turkish military tribunal, in 1919, tried and sentenced the Turkish leaders who had organized the physical destruction of the Armenian and Christian population of the Ottoman Empire.  These Turkish trials have been cited as a precedent to the Nuremberg trials, and the Armenian genocide has been recognized as a Crime against Humanity. Let these atrocious crimes never be forgotten and, more importantly, never occur again.

The effects of the 1915 massacres have profoundly touched all of us, and together we mourn the terrible loss of so many innocent lives.

–U.S. President Bill Clinton, April 24, 1994

It is not understandable in human terms. God’s ways are not our ways.  It’s all a very great mystery now, but in Heaven we will find the answers to our many why?



…Probably one of the greatest tragedies that ever befell any group.  And there weren’t any Nuremberg trials.

–U.S. President Jimmy Carter, May 16, 1978

We had become like animals, without much feeling.  We had been reconciled to crying, being hungry, walking.  We knew this way was our fate.  After awhile I was no longer afraid because no feelings remained in me.  We were concerned only about where we were walking and where we could get food and water.



…I feel confident that the people of the United States will be moved to aid these people stricken by war, famine, and disease…the stricken Syrian and Armenian people.

—US President Woodrow Wilson, August 31, 1916


It is not possible to erase the memory of the genocide that has afflicted you.  It must be inscribed in the human memory, and this sacrifice must serve as a lesson to young people.  At the same time, it is a lesson in the will to survive.  So that everyone will know…that these people do not belong to the past, but they are part of the present and have a future.

Francois Mitterrand, President of France, January 6, 1984


…There is no doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons.  The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race.

–Sir Winston Churchill


These left-overs from the former Young Turkey Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule.  They have hitherto lived on plunder, robbery and bribery, and become inimical to any idea or suggestion to enlist in useful labor and earn their living by the honest sweat of their brow.

–Kemal Ataturk, President and Founder of the Republic of Turkey, June 22, 1926


When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversation with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact… I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.

–Henry Morgenthau, US Ambassador to Turkey (1913-1916)


What is requested of you is to protect and to take good care of everyone from the Syrian and Armenian community living in your territories and frontiers and among your tribes; to help them in all of their affairs and defend them as you would defend yourselves, your properties, and your children, and provide everything they might need whether they are settled or moving from place to place, because they are the Protected People of the Muslims about whom the prophet Muhammad said: Whosoever takes from them even a rope, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment.

–Al-Husayn Ibn Ali, in a letter to Prince Faisal and Prince Abd al-Aziz al-Jarba


Please Click here     Statment @ Discriptione


Armenian History *

Armenia is one of the earliest sites of human civilization. It is considered by some specialists to be one of the first areas of iron and bronze smelting, and some cereal grains, such as rye, may also have been first developed here. For most of its history, Armenia was controlled or occupied by external powers, including Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Mongols, Ottomans, and Russians. Independent Armenian states existed for short periods of time in the past, the most extensive of which existed under the Armenian king Tigranes the Great. Under Tigranes, Armenian-controlled territory stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean and parts of modern-day Syria. This period of independence ended in 69 BC with the invasion of the Romans.

Armenia suffered from extremely harsh treatment by foreign powers several times during its history. The invasion of the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century resulted in the first large-scale emigration of Armenians. Other periods of emigration followed, especially during the late 19th century, when  Armenians were persecuted by Russian and Ottoman leaders for agitating for political reforms. Between 1894 and 1896, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were systematically massacred by Turkish forces. The Russian government, although not as repressive as the Ottoman government, closed Armenian schools and ordered the confiscation of church property. Even larger massacres occurred during the 20th century as the Ottoman government of the Young Turk era (1908-1918) sought to move Armenians to Mesopotamia. Between 1915 and 1923 more than 1 million people were estimated to have died from the Turkish action.

In 1918 Armenia declared itself an independent state after the short-lived Transcaucasian Federation with Georgia and Azerbaijan collapsed. In 1922 Armenia was incorporated into the USSR as part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. In 1936 Armenia became a separate Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR.

In the late 1980s popular unrest demonstrated the desire for Armenian independence, despite half a century of Soviet rule. Under Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, Armenians took advantage of the policy of glasnost’ (Russian for openness) to publicly decry the state of the environment and rally for the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. A 1988 earthquake in Armenia killed 25,000 and left more than 400,000 homeless. In 1989 the Armenian Supreme Soviet declared the enclave part of Armenia and proclaimed the sovereignty of the republic of Armenia. In September 1991 Armenian residents voted overwhelmingly to secede from the USSR, and the Supreme Soviet declared Armenia a completely independent state in the same month. In October 1991 Levon A. Ter-Petrosyan, formerly chairman of the Armenian Supreme Soviet, became the first popularly elected president of the new republic. Armenia became a member of the United Nations (UN) in 1992.

Political tension in the country increased sharply in the first years after Armenian independence. Difficulties presented by the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the economic blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan resulted in an increase in political opposition to the government. The ruling party, the Armenian National Movement, which promotes a moderate program of economic reform and territorial delimitation, was challenged by a wide array of political parties. The foremost was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which has been in existence for more than a hundred years and was the ruling party during Armenia’s brief period of independence from 1918 to 1922. The ARF, which exerts a great degree of control over Armenian military forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, rejects economic market reforms and advocates closer ties with Russia. Due to political pressure from the ARF and other opposition groups, Armenian prime minister Kosrov Arutyunyan was forced to resign in 1993, and an interim prime minister, Hrant Bagratyan, was appointed. In 1993 Armenian forces defeated the Azerbaijani army in several confrontations, which led to Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas. In 1994 Azerbaijan began a new push against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, but these new offensives generated very few results other than a high number of casualties and refugees. Several cease-fire agreements, some negotiated by Russia, were set and later violated as both sides attempted to gain an advantage. Meanwhile, Armenia continued to suffer from the Azerbaijani embargo. Shortages of electricity, food, and fuel continued. In November President Ter-Petrosyan announced new reforms to stabilize the economy. In response to these austerity measures the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Armenia’s withdrawal of $25 million in December. Also in December, Ter-Petrosyan suspended the ARF from the parliament, accusing the organization of terrorism, drug trafficking, and political killings.

At the beginning of 1995, Armenia controlled about 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory. Increasing pressure to end the conflict came from Western oil companies that were eager to build a pipeline across Armenia to transport Caspian Sea oil to Turkey. The project could not begin without resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In mid-1996 the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was involved in mediating the dispute over the enclave, with the support of the United States. In early 1995 the Armenian parliament began working on the ratification of the country’s new constitution. In July of that year Armenia held its first legislative elections as an independent country, along with a constitutional referendum. Voters cast two ballots, one to elect a deputy in one of 150 single-member constituencies, and the other from party lists, from which an additional 40 members are elected; parliamentary seats were to be granted on a proportional basis to parties receiving a minimum of 5 percent of the vote. The Republican bloc, of which the ruling Armenian National Movement is the dominant member, won a decisive victory to claim the majority of seats. The elections were monitored for fairness by the OSCE but were criticized by members of a number of opposition parties which had been barred from participating. Following the elections, President Ter-Petrosyan reappointed Hrant Bogratyan as prime minister.

Armenia’s new constitution was approved by more than two-thirds of participating voters. While critics said the new document gave too much power to the president, Armenian government officials claimed that it limited the powers of the president and strengthened the independent judiciary.

Contributed by:  Kurt E. Engelmann

The Young Turk” Years *

The early years of the Young Turk era (1908-1918) were the most democratic period of Ottoman history. The constitution and parliament were restored, and parties were formed to contest for leadership. The strongest among them was the Union and Progress party, founded and supported by the Young Turks, but many others also flourished. The modern state apparatus of the Tanzimat was democratized, industry and agriculture were developed, and modern budgetary techniques were introduced. However, the First Balkan War  in 1912 led to a revolt within the Committee of Union and Progress and an attempt to take over the government by a triumvirate led by Enver Pasha. The triumvirate’s domination was assured when it took advantage of dissension among the victorious Balkan states to regain Edirne (Adrianople) in the Second Balkan War in 1913.  At first, the triumvirate tried to avoid involvement in World War I, but German offers to help regain lost provinces, British confiscation of Turkish warships being constructed in England, and manipulation by Enver Pasha led to an alliance with the Central Powers and Turkish entry into the war in 1914. The Turkish armed forces performed well during the Gallipoli campaign and drove back and captured an entire British expeditionary force at Al Kut in Iraq. A campaign across the Sinai Peninsula with the aim of capturing the Suez Canal and Egypt was unsuccessful, however, and led to the British organization of an Arab revolt in the Arabian Peninsula. With Arab help, a British force from Egypt then invaded Syria and had reached southern Anatolia by the time the war ended. A campaign led by Enver Pasha into the Caucasus at the start of the war was defeated less by the Russians than by poor organization and revolts in the eastern provinces. Thereafter the Russians invaded eastern and central Anatolia at will in 1915 and 1916, until their campaign was brought to an end in 1917 by the Russian Revolution.  The destructive effects of these foreign invasions were compounded by internal revolts, famine, starvation,  and disease. Some 6 million people of all religions, one-quarter of the entire population, died or were killed, and the economy was devastated.

In the wake of surrender, the Turkish government was placed under the authority of the Allied occupation powers led by the British. The Paris Peace Conference prepared to impose a settlement by which not only the Balkan and Arab provinces would be ceded, but areas occupied by predominantly Turkish populations in eastern and southern Anatolia would be placed under foreign or minority control. A large Greek army captured Izmir in 1922 and invaded southwestern Anatolia, but massacres of the Turkish population led the Allies to withdraw their support from the Greeks. In reaction to the proposed peace settlement and to the Greek invasion, the Turkish nationalist movement rose in Anatolia under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  During the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923),  Ataturk successfully resisted the Allied terms; drove out the Greeks and the British, French, and Italian occupation forces; and imposed a settlement, embodied in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), by which the Turkish areas of eastern Thrace and Anatolia were left to form their own state. Following this victory, a Turkish republic was proclaimed, with its capital in Ankara, and the Istanbul government of the sultan simply ceased to exist in 1923.


Seminomadic tribes inhabiting the region of Kurdistan in southwestern Asia. Most Kurds are Sunnites, orthodox Muslims, many of whom live in small villages. Their chief manufacture is finely woven rugs. Many Kurds engage in sheep raising and agriculture. The Kurds adopted agriculture only recently as they were assimilated into the broader societies in the areas where they live. They speak Kurdish, a language of the western Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. In the mid-1990s, the Kurd population was estimated at nearly 26 million. Of these, more than half lived in Turkey; the rest live in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and in several of the former republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. Accurate population figures, however, are difficult to attain.

The Kurds resisted invasions by many warring peoples, but were subjugated by the Seljuks in the 11th century and brought into the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century. In the 19th century, many Kurds agitated for an independent nation. The Treaty of Svres, concluded by the Allies with Turkey in 1920, promised the Kurds an independent state; this promise was not kept. Instead, Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk), while working to forge a strong Turkish national identity, suppressed Kurdish culture and identity, leading to a wave of uprisings. Since 1925 Kurdish revolts have occurred in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

In 1970, after more than eight years of almost continuous war, the Iraqi government promised the Kurds autonomy over a region in northeastern Iraq. The implementation of this pledge in 1974 fell far short of Kurdish demands, however, and the civil war resumed. The rebellion collapsed in 1975 after Iran withdrew its support, as part of a border agreement with Iraq. In 1988 thousands of Kurds were killed (some by chemical weapons) and hundreds of Kurdish villages were destroyed by Iraqi troops, after Kurdish guerrillas sided with Iran in the Iran-Iraq War. In March and April 1991, immediately after the Persian Gulf War, another uprising consisting primarily of Kurds challenged Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. The Kurdish rebels, poorly armed and lacking experience, were easily crushed by the Iraqi government. More than 1 million Kurds fled to Turkey, Iran, and the mountainous areas of northern Iraq. Many civilians are believed to have been killed either in the rebellion or in their efforts to flee Iraq. The Kurds demanded Hussein fulfill the promise of an autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, but negotiations with the Iraqi government stalled. Despite the existence of a Kurdish region in northern Iraq protected by the United Nations (UN), the neighboring countries of Iran, Syria, and Turkey support Iraq’s claim to the territory against Kurdish desires for an autonomous state. Conflict between Kurdish groups, notably the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Kurdish acronym, PKK), and the government in Turkey, where the Kurdish parties are considered secessionist, also continued in the 1990s. In March 1995 Turkey sent 35,000 troops into northern Iraq to quell and push back Kurdish rebels in the southeastern border region of Turkey. The battle between Turkey and the Kurdish guerrillas began in 1984 and had resulted in 15,000 deaths by 1995. About 600,000 Kurds remained in refugee camps in northern Iraq under UN protection in 1992.

Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal *


Turkish soldier, nationalist leader, and statesman, who founded the republic of Turkey and was its first president (1923-1938). The name Ataturk (Father Turk) was bestowed upon him in 1934 by the Grand National Assembly as a tribute for his unique service to the Turkish nation. Ataturk was born in Salonika (now Thessalonuki, Greece), the son of a minor official who became a timber merchant. When Ataturk was 12 years old, he went to military schools in Salonika and Monastir, centers of anti-Turkish Greek and Slavic nationalism. In 1899 he attended the military academy in Istanbul, graduating as staff captain in January 1905.

Soldier and Revolutionary

Because of his activities in the secret Young Turk movement against the autocratic government of the Ottoman Empire, of which Turkey was a part, Ataturk was posted to Syria, in virtual exile. There he founded the secret Fatherland and Freedom Society (1906). Transferred to Salonika the following year, he joined the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) that carried out the Young Turk revolution in July 1908. He was not, however, in the inner circle of the CUP and therefore played no role in the actual revolution.

Ataturk fought in Libya against Italy in 1911 and 1912 and was promoted to major in November 1911. He organized the defense of the Dardanelles during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and was military attache in Bulgaria in October 1913. During World War I, in which Turkey sided with Germany, Ataturk made his military reputation at Gallipoli in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, where he played a crucial role in repelling the Allied invasion. He then served in the Caucasus and Syria, where he was given command of a special army group just before the armistice was signed in October 1918. Returning to Istanbul, he watched anxiously as the victorious Allied powers prepared to partition Anatolia.

A Greek army occupied Izmir on the Anatolian coast on May 15, 1919. Ataturk, who had been appointed inspector of the Third Army in Anatolia, reached Samsun on May 19. He immediately set about uniting the Turkish national movement and creating an army for defense. First, however, the nationalists had to wage a struggle against the Ottoman sultan’s regime in Istanbul, which seemed willing to allow the dismemberment of the national territory. By 1920 the Istanbul government had been discredited for acquiescing to the Allied occupation of the capital and signing the Treaty of Sevres, which recognized Greek control over parts of Anatolia. Ataturk, meanwhile, had set up a provisional government in Ankara in April 1920. After initial setbacks, he won decisive battles against Greek forces at Sakarya (August 1921) and Dumlupinar (August 1922), reoccupying Izmir in September.

National Leader

Having dealt with the external threat, Ataturk turned to the internal one posed by the conservative forces around the sultan. The sultanate was abolished on November 1, 1922, and the republic proclaimed on October 29, 1923, with Ataturk as president. He founded the People’s Party (renamed Republican People’s Party in 1924) in August 1923 and established a single-party regime that, except for two brief experiments (1924-1925 and 1930) with opposition parties, lasted until 1945.

Ataturk created a modern and secular state, using his great prestige and charisma to introduce a vast program of reforms. These included abolishing the caliphate, which embodied the religious authority of the sultans, and all other Islamic institutions; introducing Western law codes, dress, and calendar; using the Latin alphabet; and, in 1928, removing the constitutional provision naming Islam as the state religion. By 1931 the ideology of the regime, known as Kemalism or Ataturkism, was articulated and defined by six principles: republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism, and revolutionism. In 1919 Atatrk had been first among equals, but by 1926 he had eliminated all political rivals, using an alleged assassination conspiracy as the excuse. Thereafter, although he ruled as an autocrat, his regime was in fact based on an alliance of the civil and military bureaucracy, the newly developed bourgeoisie, and the landowners.

Ataturk’s principal aim had been to save his people from humiliation and to transform Turkey into a modern, 20th-century nation. He pursued this aim with total determination and political finesse. Perhaps his most essential trait was his political realism; it enabled him to carry out his reforms without disastrous adventures and allowed Turkey to live at peace with its neighbors.

Contributed by:  Feroze Ahmad

Enver Pasha *


Turkish soldier and nationalist leader, who directed the Turkish war effort during World War I. Enver was born on November 23, 1881, in Istanbul. He graduated from Turkey’s military academy in 1902 and served in Macedonia, where he fought Greek and Bulgarian nationalist guerrillas. In 1906 he joined the Young Turks, a secret nationalist group officially known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). He emerged as the principal hero of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, which reestablished the constitution granted in 1876.

Enver went to Berlin as military attache in 1909 but rushed back to crush the Istanbul counterrevolution in April. He fought with distinction against Italy in Libya (1911-12), returning to Istanbul during the disastrous Balkan Wars (1912-13) to participate in a second CUP coup (January 1913). He recaptured Edirne from Bulgaria in July 1913 and became war minister in 1914, with the task of reforming a demoralized army. Enver helped negotiate Turkey’s alliance with Germany in August 1914, and during World War I he pursued a policy that served German strategy. His dreams of an empire that would include all the Turkish or all the Islamic peoples, however, ended in failure. After the Allied victory in 1918, he fled to Germany and then to Central Asia, where he tried to organize Muslim resistance to the Soviets. He was killed in battle against Soviet forces in Tajikistan on August 4, 1922.

Contributed by:  Feroze Ahmad

Sultan Abd Al-Hamid II


Ottoman sultan of Turkey (1876-1909), son of Abd al-Madjid I. He succeeded his brother Murad V, who had been declared insane. In reprisal against Turkish misrule in the Balkans, Russia declared war against Turkey in the second year of Abd al-Hamid’s reign. He suffered disastrous military reverses and, by the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, was deprived of most of his European territorial possessions. Massacres of Armenians occurred in Turkey during 1895 and 1896, but Abd al-Hamid refused to intervene, despite international protests. Internal dissatisfaction with his despotic rule led to the development of the powerful revolutionary organization known as the Young Turks. In 1909 Abd al-Hamid II was deposed and exiled.

Statements & Discriptions

The poem below by Margaret Langester Jr. portrays the human suffering of Syrian and Armenian Christians.

In the Genocide

By Margaret Langester Jr

In a weary, frightened country,

Far across the moaning sea,

There’s a sound of weeping, praying,

That has wrung the heart of me.

There’s a sound of babies wailing;

There’s a famished cry for bread,

There’s a tortured scream of anguish

Over bodies, murdered, dead.

There are deserts, parched and breathless,

In this land across the foam,

There are tragic piles of ashes,

And each used to be a home.

There are shallow graves smoothed over;

Where a garden bloomed before,

There is fear, and hate, and anguish;

There is strife, and blood, and war!

War is not a sound of trumpets,

Or a trilling beat of drums,

Or a row of prancing chargers.

War is furtive; and it comes

Like a murderer at midnight,

With starvation in its train.

War is brutal force, not courage;

War is dirt, disease, and pain.

In that hopeless, helpless country,

They are calling us today;

They are pleading that we help them,

And we dare not turn away

For the saviour spoke and speaking,

“To the least of these” said He,

“Every crust of bread ye give them

Ye have given unto me!”

“The christian herald,” August 23, 1916


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