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|Part of Armenian Genocide|
A photograph taken in November 1895 by W. L. Sachtleben of Armenians killed in Erzerum.
|Attack type||Deportation, mass murder, looting|
|Perpetrators||Ottoman Empire/Young Turk government|
The Hamidian massacres (Armenian: Համիդյան ջարդեր), also referred to as the Armenian Massacres of 1894–1896 and Great Massacres, refer to the massacring of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1890s, with estimates of the dead ranging from anywhere between 80,000 to 300,000, and at least 50,000 children made orphans as a result. The massacres are named after Sultan Abdul Hamid II, whose efforts to reinforce the territorial integrity of the embattled Ottoman Empire reasserted Pan-Islamism as a state ideology. Abdul Hamid believed that the woes of the Ottoman Empire stemmed from "the endless persecutions and hostilities of the Christian world." He perceived the Ottoman Armenians to be an extension of foreign hostility, a means by which Europe could "get at our most vital places and tear out our very guts." Although the massacres were aimed mainly at the Armenians, they turned into indiscriminate anti-Christian pogroms in some cases such as in the Massacres of Diyarbakir.
One of the most serious incidents occurred in Armenian-populated parts of the Armenian Highlands and Anatolia. Although the Ottomans had suppressed other revolts previously, the harshest measures were directed against the Armenian community. They observed no distinction between the nationalist dissidents and the Armenian population at large, and massacred them with brutal force. This occurred at a time when the telegraph could spread news around the world and the massacres were extensively covered in the media in Western Europe and the United States.
The origins of the hostility toward Armenians lay in their status as a wealthy religious minority, in the days of the waning power of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman loss of dominion over various Christian regions was ushered in by an era of European nationalism, and the insistence of self-determination by many territories that had long been held under Ottoman authority. When nationalism spread into Anatolia, with Armenians demanding equal rights and pushing for autonomy, the Ottoman leadership believed that the Empire's Islamic character and even its very existence were threatened.
The combination of Russian military success in Russo-Turkish War, 1877–1878, clear weakening of the Ottoman Empire in various spheres including financial (from 1873, the Ottoman Empire suffered greatly from the Panic of 1873, territorial (mentioned above), and the Armenian hope that one day all of the Armenian territory might be ruled by Russia, led to a new restiveness among Armenians living inside the Ottoman Empire. Starting around 1890, the Armenians began protesting to gain the protections promised them at Berlin. Unrest occurred in 1892 at Marsovan and in 1893 at Tokat. Armenians wanted civil reforms to be implemented in the Ottoman Empire and an end to discrimination; they demanded the right to vote and the right to establish a constitutional government. The Sultan, however, was not prepared to relinquish any power. Turkish historian Osman Nuri observed, "The mere mention of the word 'reform' irritated him [Abdul Hamid], inciting his criminal instincts."
Another reason for the massacres was the incitement of Kurdish bandits to attach Armenians. The eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire were historically insecure; the Kurdish rebels sacked neighboring towns and villages with impunity. When the empire was too weak and disorganized to halt them, Sultan Abdul Hamid gave semi-official status to the Kurdish bandits. They were known as the Hamidiye Alaylari ("belonging to Hamid"). The formation of Armenian revolutionary groups began roughly around the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 and intensified with the first introduction of Article 166 of the Ottoman Penal Code, and the raid of Erzerum Cathedral. Article 166 was meant to control the possession of arms, but it was used to target Armenians by restricting their possession of arms.
In 1894, the Sultan began to target the Armenian people in a precursor to the Hamidian massacres. This persecution strengthened nationalistic sentiment among Armenians. The first notable battle in the Armenian resistance took place in Sasun. Hunchak activists, such as Mihran Damadian, Hampartsoum Boyadjian, and Hrayr, encouraged resistance against double taxation and Ottoman persecution. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation armed the people of the region. The Armenians confronted the Ottoman army and Kurdish irregulars at Sassoun, finally succumbing to superior numbers and to Turkish assurances of amnesty (which was never granted).
In response to the Sasun Resistance, the governor of Mush responded by inciting the local Muslims against the Armenians. Historian Lord Kinross writes that massacres of this kind were often achieved by gathering Muslims in a local mosque and claiming that the Armenians had the aim of "striking at Islam." Sultan Abdul Hamid sent the Ottoman army into the area and also armed groups of Kurdish irregulars. The violence spread and affected most of the Armenian towns in the Ottoman empire.
The Powers forced Hamid to sign a new reform package designed to curtail the powers of the Hamidiye in October 1895 which, like the Berlin treaty, was never implemented. On October 1, 1895, two thousand Armenians assembled in Constantinople to petition for the implementation of the reforms, but Ottoman police units converged on the rally and violently broke it up. Soon, massacres of Armenians broke out in Constantinople and then engulfed the rest of the Armenian-populated provinces of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzerum, Harput, Sivas, Trabzon and Van. Thousands were killed and many more died during the cold winter of 1895–96. The worst atrocity took place in Urfa, where Ottoman troops burned the Armenian cathedral, in which 3,000 Armenians had taken refuge, and shot at anyone who tried to escape.
Abdul Hamid's Private First Secretary wrote in his memoirs about Abdul Hamid that he "decided to pursue a policy of severity and terror against the Armenians, and in order to succeed in this respect he elected the method of dealing them an economic blow... he ordered that they absolutely avoid negotiating or discussing anything with the Armenians and that they inflict upon them a decisive strike to settle scores."
The French ambassador described Turkey as "literally in flames," with "massacres everywhere" and all Christians being murdered "without distinction." A French vice-consul declared that the Ottoman Empire was "gradually annihilating the Christian element" by "giving the Kurdish chieftains carte blanche to do whatever they please, to enrich themselves at the Christians' expense and to satisfy their men’s whims."
The killings occurred from 1895 until 1897. In that last year, Sultan Hamid declared that the Armenian Question was closed. All the Armenian revolutionaries had either been killed or escaped to Russia. The Ottoman government closed Armenian societies and restricted Armenian political movements. It is impossible to ascertain how many Armenians were killed, although the figures cited by historians have ranged from 100,000 to 300,000. The German pastor Johannes Lepsius meticulously collected data on the destruction and, in his calculations, counted the deaths of 88,243 Armenians, the destitution of 546,000, the destruction of 2,493 villages, the residents of 456 of which were forcibly converted to Islam, and the desecration of 649 churches and monasteries, of which 328 were converted into mosques. Some non-Armenian groups were also attacked during the massacres. The French diplomatic correspondence shows that the Hamidiye carried out massacres not only of Armenians but also of Assyrians living in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia. The Jewish community in Constantinople hid many Armenians in their homes during the riots and the local synagogue was therefore attacked by Muslims on Yom Kipur in September the same year.
News of the Armenian massacres in the empire were widely reported in Europe and the United States and drew strong responses from foreign governments and humanitarian organizations alike.
One headline in a September 1895 article by the New York Times ran "Armenian Holocaust," while the Catholic World declared, "Not all the perfume of Arabia can wash the hand of Turkey clean enough to be suffered any longer to hold the reins of power over one inch of Christian territory." The rest of the American press called for action to help the Armenians and to remove, "if not by political action than by resort to the knife... the fever spot of the Turkish Empire." King Leopold II of Belgium told British Prime Minister Salisbury that he was prepared to send his Congolese Force Publique to "invad[e] and occupy" Armenia. The massacres were an important item on the agenda of President Grover Cleveland, and in his presidential platform for 1896, Republican candidate William McKinley listed the saving of the Armenians as one of his top priorities in foreign policy. Americans in the Ottoman Empire, such as George Washburn, the then president of the Constantinople-based Robert College, pressured their government to take some concerted action. In December 1900 the USS Kentucky called at the port of Smyrna, where its captain, "Red Bill" Kirkland, delivered the following warning, somewhat softened by his translator, to its governor: "If these massacres continue I'll be swuzzled if I won't someday forget my orders... and find some pretext to hammer a few Turkish towns... I'd keel-haul every blithering mother's son of a Turk that wears hair." Americans on the mainland, such as Julia Ward Howe, David Josiah Brewer, and John D. Rockefeller, donated and raised large amounts of money and organized relief aid that was channeled to the Armenians via the newly-established American Red Cross. Other humanitarian groups and the Red Cross helped by sending aid to the remaining survivors who were dying of disease and hunger.
Despite the great public sympathy that was felt for the Armenians in Europe, none of the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia) took concrete action to alleviate their plight. Frustrated with their indifference, Armenians from the Dashnaktsutiun political party seized the European-managed Ottoman Bank on August 26, 1896 in order to bring the massacres to their full attention. Though their demands were rejected and new massacres broke out in Constantinople, the act was lauded by the European and American press, which vilified Hamid and painted him as the "great assassin" and "bloody Sultan." The Great Powers vowed to take action and enforce new reforms, although these never came into fruition due to conflicting political and economic interests.
After George Hepworth, a preeminent journalist of the late nineteenth century, traveled through Ottoman Armenia in 1897, he wrote Through Armenia on Horseback, which discusses the causes and effects of the recent massacres. In one chapter Hepworth describes the disparity between the reality of the Massacre in Bitlis and the official reports that were sent to the Porte. After retelling the Turkish version of events, which places the blame solely on the Armenians of Bitlis, Hepworth writes:
…That is the account of the affair which was sent to Yildiz, and that story contains all that the Sultan has any means of knowing about it. It is a most remarkable story, and the discrepancies are as thick as leaves in Valambrosa. On the face of it, it cannot be true, and before a jury it would hardly have any weight as evidence. It is extremely important, however, because it is probably a fair representation of the occurrences of the last few years. That it is a misrepresentation, so much so that it can fairly be called fabrication, becomes clear when you look at it a second time... and yet it is from an official document which the future historian will read when he wishes to compile the facts concerning those massacres.
Some scholars, such as Mkrtich G. Nersisyan, Ruben Sahakyan, John Kirakosyan and Yehuda Bauer, subscribe to the view that the mass killings of 1894–96 were the first phase of the Armenian Genocide. Most scholars, however, limit this definition strictly to the years 1915–23.