Armenian Genocide/Long Term Causes
There were many causes for hatred of the Armenians. One major factor was that Armenians were primarily Christian, in an otherwise predominantly Muslim area, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Because they were Christian, many Armenians attended missionary schools, and were better educated than the average Turkish citizen, which led to growing resentment of Armenians (Freedmen, 14).
Abdul Hamid II
Under the rule of Abdul Hamid II, in the late 19th century, Armenians came to be considered second-class citizens (Freedmen, 14). This established a precedent, which took a world war to be fully broken, with devastating effects. Eventually, Ismail Enver Pasha and Talet Bey overthrew Abdul, but continued to persecute Armenians. At the beginning of World War I, most Armenian men aged 45 to 60 were forced into the Ottoman Army, and compelled to do menial tasks, such as carrying heavy supplies for soldiers on foot (Balakian, 178). Nearly all the remaining Armenian men were taken away from their town, and systematically shot (Balakian, 175). Many women were forced to become Kurdish or Turkish wives, against their will, and many children were left orphaned (Freedmen, 32). Those families that were not immediately separated were forced to walk thousands of miles into deserts, where they were abandoned, and left to die.
Abdul Hamid II was extremely paranoid and persecuted the Armenians. Being an insomniac, Abdul tended to pace around his palace at night, with a loaded pistol. He kept the safety off, and killed at least two palace workers who startled him during the night. In addition, he believed that people tried to poison his food, and created elaborate food preparation procedures, including bars on the kitchen windows. He also was gullible: early in his life, a fortune-teller told him to drink a specific mixture every day, or he would die. He followed her advice, and continued drinking the substance every day until he died (Balakian, 48).
His paranoia spread to his ruling as well. Books were censored for bizarre reasons and phones were tapped (Spencer, 95). One reason many science textbooks were censored is they contained the word "H2O", which Abdul believed looked like code for "Hamid II is nothing" (Balakian, 48) . Abdul had a strong hatred for Armenians, which may have been started by many historians' belief that his mother was Armenian. He was known to be very close to her, but she was a drug addict, and died when Abdul was only 7 years old (Balakian, 35). Throughout his life, Abdul’s father ignored him.
Abdul soon began policies against Armenians. He passed laws stating that Christians could not travel throughout the Ottoman Empire without a permit, and banned all public references to Armenia (Spencer, 95). Abdul also began to refer to Armenians only as "the loyal millet" (implying the Armenians were loyal to the Russians). He also is quoted as saying "I will soon settle those Armenians. I will... make them smart, and relinquish their revolutionary ambitions," (Balakian, 36). He also increased taxes on Armenians (Adalian). His actions culminated in the Hamidian Massacres. From 1894 through 1896, Hamid, under a guise that Armenians were taking Kurdish land, allowed Turkish and Kurdish groups to attack Armenian villages. An attempt was made by a group of Armenians to bring their plight onto the world stage by taking over the Ottoman Bank. This caused a mob of 50,000 Turks to form and kill 600,000 Armenians (Adalian). These terrible actions led many world leaders to nickname Hamid The Great Assassin (Freedmen, 11).
By establishing policies that ultimately killed Armenians, Abdul Hamid II established a custom of distrust of them, as well as all citizens. When, in 1913, Hamid's government was taken over, the extensive spy network he created was a valuable asset for the new government in its attempts to persecute Armenians. In fact, in the words of Colgate University professor Peter Balakian "The very sultan [the Young Turks] had just deposed had expanded the Ottoman bureaucracy by creating the most extensive system of intelligence in the empire's history," (181).
Ismail Enver Pasha
Ismail Enver Pasha helped overthrow Hamid Abdul II in 1913, but continued the brutality towards Armenians. By 1889, a new Turkish group had formed: the Young Turks. Originally, their ideas centered on liberty; an early advocate of the Young Turks movement, Ali Suavi, described their ideas as "for the first time, the idea of a Turkish, as distinct from an Islamic or Ottoman loyalty," (Balakian, 135). However, in the 1890's, the movement split. One group became pro-democracy, against Abdul Hamid II, and was sympathetic to the Armenians plight. On the other hand, the remaining side grew into a more nationalistic Turkish group. One historian described their goals: to "solve the problems for all the peoples and ethnic minorities in the empire," (Balakian, 140). In 1906, a political party was created by some nationalistic Young Turks at the Imperial Military Medical School in Constantinople (Balakian, 139), called the Committee on Union and Progress (CUP) (Freedmen, 13).
In 1913, CUP took over the Ottoman Empire, overthrowing Abdul's government. The three leaders, Enver Pasha, the minister of war, Telet Bey, the minister of the interior, and Ahmed Djemal, the minister of the marine, formed what is often referred to as the Young Turk Triumvirate (Adalian). In the process, Enver gained control of the Ottoman Special Organization, the spy network that was set up by Hamid.
In 1914, the Young Turk army, led by Enver, lost the battle of Sankamish, badly (Balakian, 178). To keep his strong outward face of power, Enver blamed the Armenians, just as Abdul did, by claiming they were spying for the Russians. The Ottoman government soon began to manufacture more propaganda that the Armenians were helping the Russians (Freedman, 17). One example of this is a statement released by the government: "The Armenians are in league with the enemy. They will launch an uprising" (Balakian 182). It also began a policy of disarming all Armenian men. Soon after, a plan was put in place to massacre them, which involved taking them off to far areas and shooting them.
Following the plan to murder the men, the Young Turk Triumvirate, led by Enver, established what British historians James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee dubbed the "Reign of Terror," (181). In it, all Armenians, men or women, were disarmed, officials followed practices involving randomly breaking into Armenian homes, arresting and executing many Armenians (Balakian, 178). The Ottoman Special Organization's Kurdish armies carried out the policy, and they were given a lot of freedom to commit terrible acts against Armenians (Freedmen, 20). Because of the bureaucracy and extensive intelligence set up by Abdul, Enver was able to more easily institute his plan.
Mehmet Telet Bey
Another important figure in the Armenian genocide was Mehmet Telet Bey. He was also a member of CUP, but before it, he had worked as a telegrapher. This aided him in helping CUP with intelligence, especially when plotting to overthrow Abdul (Adalian). Before helping found CUP, Telet and Enver worked together as war profiteers in Constantinople (Freedmen, 18). After CUP took over, Telet became minister of the interior. In 1915, following a series of propaganda messages by CUP, Telet issued a statement, reiterating CUP's claim that Armenians had been helping the Russians, and claiming that the only way to save the Ottoman Empire was to deport them. Unfortunately, the Ottoman Empire tended to abandon the Armenians after deporting them. On April 24, 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and leaders were executed. To this day, April 24 is considered a day of mourning by Armenians (Freedmen, 27).
In May 1915, Telet passed the Temporary Law of Deportation. It stated that, in the interest of national security, the Ottoman government could deport any Armenian citizen, if they were "suspected of treason," (Freedmen, 22). In practice, this meant that the Ottoman government could deport Armenians whenever they wanted. Soon after the Temporary Law of Deportation, Telet issued another government proclamation. In the proclamation, Telet demanded that all Armenians, except those who were sick, had to leave their homes within five days. They would be escorted from their homes by armed guards. In the meantime, the report also stated, Armenians could not sell any property they owned, but they could only take with them what they could carry. This effectively robbed all Armenians of everything they owned. According to the report, those who did not cooperate would be killed (Freedmen, 23). By issuing this order, Telet officially ordered the genocide of the Armenians (Freedmen, 19).
The effects of Telet's two acts were devastating. Almost all healthy Armenian men who hadn't been killed were, and all the women, along with the elderly and children were forced to walk up to one thousand miles to Syria and Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), causing many to die of exposure-related ailments, and many others shot by the armed guards. In northern Turkey, some Armenians were taken by rail cars. However, upon arrival, the Armenians were abandoned in the remote regions of the desert, with almost no possibility of survival (Freedmen, 24). This terrible situation was only made worse by Telet: on March 29, 1916, he formally rejected aid, disallowing aid agencies from helping those starving and dying without any water or food (Freedmen, 53). Telet also specifically ordered that all Armenian orphans be killed (Adalian).
Telet also appointed Dr. Behaeddin Shakir. Starting in 1915, he gradually took over CUP's operation to kill Armenians. By lobbying for the Special Organization, the elaborate spy network set up by Abdul Hamid II, to have more power, he allowed the government to have less interaction and therefore less responsibility in the extermination, one of the most devastating things he did. In the eastern section of Turkey, he persuaded CUP to allow the Special Organization complete autonomy (Balakian, 182).
He also instituted a killing program, which encouraged the killing of Armenians by Turks and Kurds. There were many causes for this, including greed for Armenian belongings, the idea of a holy war, or jihad, for Islam, and abstract ideas of Turkish nationalism (Balakian, 183). According to Professor Balakian, "Dr. Shakir played a role not unlike that of Nazi Reich security head Reinhard Heydrich." (183).
In conclusion, the actions of Hamid Abdul II, Enver Pasha, and Telet Bey caused the deaths of over 1 million Armenians. These actions set an unfortunate precedent of genocide. In a small number of cases, the Turks used a primitive form of gas chambers, where Armenians were forced inside a cave containing a fire, which was then sealed airtight (Balakian, 176). In 1917, Enver Pasha met with German Chancellor Wilhelm II, aboard a German warship (Freedmen, 39). In this meeting, many historians believe the Ottoman Turks gave the Nazis ideas relating to genocide, such as gas chambers. When Telet was being prosecuted for war crimes, he escaped extradition in Germany. During Hitler’s reign, he was given a full military burial.
In addition, the precedent set by the genocide has continued. Genocide still occurs around the world today, and the Turkish government has yet to recognize the genocide of the Armenian people. Because of their horrendous actions, three people significantly altered the course of history, and ruined the lives of millions of Armenian people.