“What happened is a tragedy for both Christians and Muslims,” says British historian Dr. Patrick Walsh. “But if we attach the 'genocide' statement to the issue, we can never make progress. Everyone knows that great powers including Russia are on the basis of these incidents.” he adds.
The Ottoman state, struggling to survive under the pressures of the First World War (1914-1918), launched the ‘relocation and rehousing’ policy regarding the Anatolian Armenians on April 24, 1915. One hundred years later, the Armenian state and Diaspora continue their attempts to persuade the world to recognise the deportation of Anatolian Armenians in 1915 as a genocide.
Since 1915, many different stories have been told about the events of 1915 but the perspective of the Ottoman Turks has always remained ignored. Meticulous details of massacres by Armenian armed groups are present within the documents held in the archives of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff Attache Headquarters.
One of these documents, signed by Kemal Bey, The Governor of Van - a province in eastern Anatolia - refers to a massacre which took place in a village in 1915: “What you see around you is men, women and children alike being slaughtered ruthlessly, women being raped and thrown in tandoors before being brutally murdered.”
Within the reports and notes of Kemal Bey and other Ottoman officers, the details of the untold stories of Anatolian Turks in 1915 are present. Some of these stories take place in the Turkish villages around Van. Children were said to have hidden between the haystacks in a barn watching the murder of their families and prayed for it all to stop. Their families were only few among the thousands of Turks who were slaughtered by Armenian militants not only in Van, but also in many other provinces of Anatolia.
How Did The ‘Loyal Nation’ and Turks Become Enemies?
‘The Epoch of Nationalism’ is one of the best definitions of period between the start of the 19th century and first half of 20th century. As with some other nations who lived in the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians - who predominantly lived in eastern and southeastern Anatolia - established armed militant groups to fight against the Ottoman Empire. Their aim was to establish an independent Armenian state in Anatolia.
Armenian Issue and Sultan Abdulhamit II
The Armenians had the official status of ‘millet’ or nation, in the Ottoman Empire. During the rule of Sultan Abdulhamit II (1876-1909), a considerable number of Armenians rose to office in different government institutions. They were named the millet-i sadika (loyal nation) by The Ottomans.
The Ottomans and Russians signed the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. As a result of that agreement, the Armenian issue gained international significance. The Ottomans agreed to enact some reforms for the Armenians in eastern Anatolia.
However, Russia, Great Britain and France began to use this issue to put pressure on the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, Sultan Abdulhamit attempted to prevent the changing of the political status of the Armenians in eastern Anatolia as far as was possible.
Armenian nationalists set up paramilitary groups and intensified armed actions aimed at gaining independence. In 1891, Sultan Abdulhamit published an amnesty for the Armenians who were involved in the uprisings. However, the amnesty did not stop the unfolding of subsequent events. On 21 July, 1905, Dashnak militants launched a failed assassination attempt against Sultan Abdulhamit in Istanbul, the Ottoman capital. Twenty six people died, though Sultan Abdulhamit survived.
The events of 1915 – including the deportation of Armenians - occurred in the catastrophic atmosphere of the First World War, a war which end in the collapse of Ottoman Empire. A portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman state sided with invading Russia, while militant Armenians groups revolted against the Ottomans.
Why Do Armenians avoid Talking About 1915?
During the events of 1915, a considerable number of people from both sides lost their lives.
On April 23, 2014, the eve of 99th anniversary of the start of the deportations, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered condolences for the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during the events of 1915 and said: “The incidents of the first world war are our shared pain.” His statement was translated into nine languages including Armenian. It was the first time a Turkish leader had offered such condolences.
“Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences - such as relocation - during the World War I, shouldn't prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another,” he added.
In April 2015, Mr. Erdogan, as President of Turkish Republic, repeated these condolences and said: ''It is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren... Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences - such as relocation - during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another.”
Erdogan reiterated that Turkey is ready to open historical archives over the 1915 events. He also said that the “military archives" can also be viewed as well.
However, the Armenian diaspora did not welcome President Erdogan’s invitation to examine the archives or his conciliatory remarks.
Serzh Sargsyan, Armenian President, expressed during an interview on April 2015 with Olaf Bruns from Euronews regarding Turkey’s suggesting the formation of an international committee of historians to discuss the issue:
“…What do you think, isn’t the Vatican one of the most well informed of the events that unfolded during the First World War? What do you think, does the Vatican feel a shortage of well-educated historians? For us such a proposal in itself is an insulting one since it questions the very fact and veracity of the Armenian genocide. Ultimately, what will the historians find out? How many people died? And is there a significant difference whether one and a half million people or one million four hundred forty nine thousand people died?”
Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, Deputy Secretary General of Turkish President Erdogan, has criticized Sargsyan’s words and stated that such a rejectionist attitude does not serve Armenia or Armenians around the world in an opinion publish by Al Jazeera English on April 23, 2015:
“The genocide lobbyists claim that historians have provided evidence of genocide. Closer examination of the scholarly literature suggests otherwise. Such prominent historians as Stanford Shaw, Bernard Lewis, Guenter Lewy, Sean McMeekin, Justin McCarthy, Edward Erickson, Norman Stone and Jeremy Salt as well as numerous Turkish and Arab historians have written on World War I and the Armenians. None of them has found ground for the charge of an intentional-systematic killing of Armenians or other groups that can substantiate the charges of genocide.”
He also emphasized the importance of sharing the pain felt by Armenians and Turks rather than comparing it:
“Attempts to create hierarchies of pain and sow seeds of animosity are wrong and inhumane. Armenian suffering should be remembered and mourned just as the suffering of Turks and other Muslims in the Great War. Demonising the Turks will not bring any meaningful closure. A fair and balanced view of history, free from smear campaigns and manipulation, can go a long way in acknowledging and grieving the common pain of Armenians and Turks.”