by Walter Mow
Armenia is an ancient nation; there are Hittite references to Armenian works in the second millennium BC, they occur again in the first millennium BC on Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions. The region became part of the Hellenic Empire in the 4th century BC. With the help of Roman emissaries a quasi- independent Armenia came to be in 189 BC; Greater Armenia sprawled from the Caucasus Mountains to the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea. In order to maintain hegemony in the region, Rome allowed the Armenian’s to rule the homeland but reserved the right to name the king.
The Armenian Apostolic Church was the result of two of Christ’s disciples, Bartholomew and Thaddeus who preached and were martyred in Armenia early in the first century AD. For the better part of three centuries Christians were persecuted by the rulers of Armenia. That all changed when King Tiridates III was converted by Gregory the Illuminator as Tiridates declared Christianity the state religion of Armenia in 306 AD. Gregory would eradicate much of the Zoroastrian religion by destroying temples and shrines, supplanting them by building churches and monasteries. Gregory would become the patron saint of Armenia.
Seven centuries of sporadic wars between Rome and Parthia (Persia) split Armenia into East and West Armenia. Rome held nominal politic sway in West Armenia, appointing Tiridates III as King; his conversion to Christianity and invention of the Armenian alphabet (400 AD?) insured that the Armenian people would be able to retain not only their religion but culture as well.
The country was conquered by Muslim Arab forces in 645 AD; the Armenian population was generally left to their own until 700 AD when Islamic Law was forced on the people. A revolt and Byzantine intervention allowed the Armenians to emerge as a series of feudal states in the later stages of the 9th century AD. Self rule came to an end in 1071 when the Seljuk Turks overran most of Greater Armenia. The Turks began forcibly converting the Christian Armenians to Islam and adherence to Islamic Law.
The country would be invaded once again by the Tartar/Mongol invasions in the Twelfth century. Rather than accept Islamic conversion or Mongolian domination a large contingent of Armenians escaped into the Tarsus Mountains and with Byzantine help established the Armenian enclave of Cilicia on the Mediterranean coast by 1080. Cilicia would welcome and aid the Knights of the Crusades but would eventually fall to the Egyptian Mamelukes in 1375 AD.
The heart of Armenia would be the center of contention between the Sunni Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and Shia dominated Persia (Iran). The two would fight eight wars beginning in 1532 and ending in 1823 for control of this strategically important part of the Middle East. In 1604 the Persians commanded by Shah Abbas I, ordered a mass deportation (some 300,000) of the Armenian population upon learning of a large Ottoman Army coming in Relief of Kars. Driving the refugees from the city of Julfa before the army the people were forced into Iran. At the Araxes River he ordered the only bridge destroyed so the people were forced into the water, many drowned but their ordeal had just begun.
“It was not only the cold that was causing torture and death of the deportees. The greatest suffering came from hunger. The provisions which the deportees had brought with them were soon consumed… The Children were crying for food or milk, none of which existed, because the women’s breasts had dried up from hunger… Many women, hungry and exhausted, would leave their famished children on the roadside, and continue their tortuous journey. Some would go to nearby forests in search of something to eat. Usually they would not come back. Often those who died served as food for the living”. Father de Guyan
Of the 300,000 deported Armenians’ that began the march, it is calculated the less than half survived to its terminal destination at Isfahan. The “Scorched Earth” policy ordered by Shah Abbas I contributed to the misery of the starving Armenians. Iranian Armenia would be hard on the Armenian population throughout its domination from 1502 to 1828.
The Russo-Persian War (1826-28) concluded with the Treaty of Turkmenchay; the treaty ceded portions of modern day Armenia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan and eastern Georgia to Russia.
The Ottoman Empire would consolidate its hold on Western Armenia in 1639; the Armenian population would be treated as second class citizens under Islamic law. The Dhimmi system of fees and restrictions that allowed a limited citizenship was accorded the Jewish and Christian population but was abused by the Turks. Land seizures, extortion, forced conversion of women and children to Islam, arson, rape, beatings and murder would place the Armenian population at continual threat of severe retribution and/or annihilation.
In the mid 19th Century the European powers began to agitate for reforms to treatment of minority populations. By the late 1870s the Ottoman Empire lost control of several eastern European nations with the assistance of the major European powers. The Turkish Armenians remained passive through this tumult earning them the title “the Loyal Millet”.
The Russians captured large parts of Turkey but many Armenians died as whole towns were burned or shelled to rubble in the Russo/Turkish War by the Turks. The Turks claimed it was retribution for Armenian aid to the Russians. The conflict ended with the Treaty of Berlin, July 13, 1878. Little was done to protect the Armenians from further abuse by the Turkish authorities under “Sultan Abdul Hamid II”.
A series of tax revolts (1894-1896) by Armenian citizens brought brutal reprisals known as the Hamidian Massacres. Estimates of the dead ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 as the Turks made every effort to restrict news coverage. The Turkish government blamed the Armenians for instituting the disturbances, authorizing the paramilitary group known as the “Hamidiye” to treat the Armenian population in whatever manner they chose.
A military coup (July 24, 1908) “The Young Turk Revolution” brought some relief to minority populations. A counter coup (April 13, 1909) staged by supporters of Sultan Hamid (Abdul the Damned) failed, but the Armenians were accused of supporting the counter coup, reprisals against them claimed the lives of between 15,000 and 30,000 men, women and children.
The “Balkan Wars” (1912-1913) brought about the forced removal of Muslims from the Balkan States, combined with the expelled refugees from Russo/Turkish War settled in areas occupied by Armenians. The Muslim refugees looked with envy on the Armenians and their possessions.
Beginning in early 1914 an overt propaganda campaign was effectively waged against the Armenian population, questioning the loyalty of the Armenians. Turkey entered the First World War (November 2, 1914); also in November Shakh ul-Islam declared “jihad” against the Christians. A military venture designed by Turkish War Minister, Enver Pasha against the Russians was very nearly wiped out (December 24, 1914). Enver Pasha blamed the Armenian population as actively siding with the Russians against Turkish forces.
The Ottoman Empire was intent on ending the “Armenian Question” once and for all. The plan was in two parts, separate all able bodied men from the communities, press them into labor battalions and deal with them in small groups. Drive the women, children, old and infirm out of their homes and march them south into the deserts of Syria.
February 25, 1915 Turkey demobilized all non-Muslim members in its armed forces. They were disarmed and forced into labor battalions “out of fear they would collaborate with the Russians”. Cloistered, these men would be worked to death or eventually executed.
The siege of the eastern Turkish city of Van began April 20, 1915 by Turkish forces. The city would be relieved by Russian forces. Although unproven the Turkish government blamed the fall of the city on the Armenian people for aiding the Russians; this they said justified the persecution of “All Armenians”.
Beginning the night of April 23rd continuing into the 24th Turkish government agents began to arrest leading Armenian citizens in the Turkish capital of Constantinople. Ordered transported and later executed with the connivance of Turkish officials, enactment of Tehcir Law (May 29, 1915) mandated the relocation of the Armenian people. A follow-up law in September allowed for the confiscation and redistribution of the “Abandoned Properties” of the forcefully removed Armenians.
With the first part of the plan concluded, the second stage could begin; the forced removal of the rest of the Armenian population.
“The Death Marches” into the Syrian deserts was carried out with extreme cruelty. In sufficient supplies of food and more importantly water quickly began to decimate the ranks of the Armenians. Guards, recruited from Turkey’s prisons were given free reign with the deportees. The occurrence of brutal beatings, sodomy, forcible rape and murder increased as the Turks drove the survivors into the desert.
“The witnesses have seen thousands of deported Armenians under tents in the open, in caravans on the march, descending rivers in boats and in all phases of their miserable life. Only in a few places does the Government issue any rations, and these are quite insufficient. The people, therefore, themselves are forced to satisfy their hunger with food begged in that scanty land or found in the parched fields.
Naturally, the death rate from starvation and sickness is very high and is increased by the brutal treatment of the authorities, whose bearing towards the exiles as they are driven back and forth over the desert is not unlike that of slave drivers. With few exceptions no shelter of any kind is provided and the people coming from a cold climate are left under the scorching desert sun without food and water. Temporary relief can only be obtained by the few able to pay officials”. (Reliable sources not American) as reported by: The New York Times August 1916.
“The Turkish policy of causing starvation is an all too obvious proof, if proof is needed as to who is responsible for the massacre, for the Turkish resolve to destroy the Armenians”. Major General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein
The concentration camps that held the surviving deportees were often temporary. When disease swept through a camp, it was often abandoned and another march to a new camp was to be endured. The camp officials’ policy of with holding sufficient food and water fueled the death rate. Dysentery, malnutrition and dehydration slowly killed the deportees.
The “ethnic cleansing” included the burning of entire villages, not allowing the residents an avenue to escape. “The shortest method for disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them”. Lt. Hasan Maruf, Ottoman Army
In the march into the desert river crossings many drowned, the Euphrates River claimed so many the River changed its course due to the number of corpses in the river.
In the Black Sea port of Trabzon children were loaded aboard boats and taken out in the Black Sea and thrown overboard. “I saw thousands of innocent women and children placed on boats which were capsized at sea”. Giacomo Gorrini, Italian consul of Trabzon 1915
Medical Murder; “Lethal Human Experimentation” was practiced by the Turks using lethal injections of poisons, drugs and pathogens plus experimentation with toxic gases. In January 1916 an outbreak of Typhoid Fever, live typhus was used to inoculate Armenians slated for deportation. The Turkish Inspector-General of Health ordered the use of lime to dispose of the bodies; it would take several kilos to completely eradicate the bodies.
Between 1914 and 1917 the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire fell from 1,700,000 to under 285,000 as a result of Turkey’s determination to obliterate the Armenian people.
“The Turks have embarked upon the “total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia… The Aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. Talaat’s government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey, but also outside Turkey. On the basis of all the reports and news coming to me here in Tiflis there hardly can be any doubt that the Turks systematically are aiming at the extermination of the few hundred thousand Armenians whom they left alive until now”. Major General Otto von Lossow, conference at Batum 1918
After a brief reign of freedom and another war with Turkey, Armenia became a Soviet satellite in 1922 as part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The Armenians would survive Stalin’s regime, participate in the Second World War, the Cold War and declare Independence on September 21, 1991. Armenia had come full circle…