between the Massacres and the Genocide
1894 to 1896, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II carried out a series of massacres of
the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. The worst of the massacres
occurred in 1895, resulting in the death of thousands of civilians (estimates
run from 100,000 to 300,000) and leaving tens of thousands destitute. Most
of those killed were men. In many towns, the central marketplace and other
Armenian-owned businesses were destroyed, usually by conflagration. The
killings were done during the day and were witnessed by the general public
kind of organized and systematic brutalization of the Armenian population
pointed to the coordinating hand of the central authorities. Widespread
violence erupted in towns and cities hundreds of miles apart over a matter
of weeks in a country devoid of mass media. At a time when the sultan ruled
absolutely, the evidence strongly implicated the head of state.
The massacres were meant to undermine
the growth of Arrnenian nationalism by frightening the Armenians with the
terrible consequences of dissent. The furor of the state was directed at
the behavior and the aspirations of the Armenians. The sultan was alarmed
by the increasing activity of Armenian political groups and wanted to curb
their growth before they gained any more influence by spreading ideas about
civil rights and autonomy. Abdul-Hamid took no account, however of the
great variation in Armenian political outlook, which ranged from reformism
and constitutionalism to separatism. He hoped to wipe away the Armenians'
increasing sense of national awareness. He also continued to exclude the
Armenians, as he did most of his other subjects, from having a role in
their own govemment, whether individually or communally. The sultan, however,
did not contemplate depriving the Armenians of their existence as a people.
Although there are similarities between
Abdul-Hamid's policies and the measures taken by the Young Turks against
the Armenians, there are also major distinctions.
The measures implemented in 1915
affected the entire Armenian population, men, women, and children. They
included massacres and deportations. As under the sultan, they targeted
the able-bodied men for annihilation. The thousands of Armenian men conscripted
into the Ottoman army were eliminated first. The rest of the adult population
was then placed under arrest, taken out of town, and killed in remote locations.
The treatment of women was quite
different. The bulk of the deported population consisted of women, children,
and older men. Countless Armenian women lost their lives in transit. Before
their tragic deaths, many suffered unspeakable cruelties, most often in
the form of sexual abuse. Many girls and younger women were seized from
their families and taken as slave-brides (Sanasarian 1989).
During the time of the sultan, Armenians
were often given the choice of converting to Islam in order to save themselves
from massacre. However, during the genocide years, this choice was usually
not available. Few were given the opportunity to accept Islam as a way
of avoiding deportation. Most Armenians were deported. Some lives were
spared during deportation by random selection for involuntary conversion
through abduction, enslavement, or the adoption of kidnapped and orphaned
second distinguishing feature of the genocide was the killing of the Armenians
in places out of sight of the general population. The deportations made
resistance or escape difficult. Most important, the removal of Armenians
from their native towns was a necessary condition for maintaining as much
secrecy about the genocide as possible. The Allies had warned the Ottoman
govemment about taking arbitrary measures against the Christian minorities.
The transfer of the Armenian population, therefore, was, in appearance,
a more justifiable response in a time of war.
When the Ottomans entered World War
I, they confmed journalists to Istanbul, and since the main communications
system, the telegraph, was under govemment control, news from the interior
was censored (Sachar 1969). Nonetheless, the deportations made news as
soon as they occurred, but news of the massacres was delayed because they
were done in desolate regions away from places of habitation. Basically,
this provided cover for the ultimate objective of destroying the Arrnenian
population. Inevitably the massacres followed the deportations.
of Armenian Goods and Property
A third feature of the genocide was
the state confiscation of Armenian goods and property. Apart from the killing,
the massacres in 1895 and 1909 involved the looting and burning of Armenian
neighborhoods and businesses. The objective was to strike at the financial
strength of the Armenian community which controlled a significant part
of the Ottoman commerce. In 1915 the objective of the Young Turks was to
plunder and confiscate all Armenian means of sustenance, thereby increasing
the probability of extinction.
Unlike the looting associated with
the massacres under Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, the assault against the Armenians
in 1915 was marked by comparatively little property damage. Thus, the genocide
effortlessly transfemed the goods and assets - homes, farms, bank accounts,
buildings, land, and personal wealth - of the Armenians to the Turks. Since
the Young Turk Party controlled the government, the seizure of the property
of the Arrnenians by the state placed local party chiefs in powerful positions
as financial brokers. This measure escalated the incentive for government
officials to proceed thoroughly with the deportation of the Armenians.
The Young Turks did not rely as much
on mob violence as the sultan had. They implemented the genocide as another
military operation during wartime. The agencies of govemment were put to
use, and where they diti not exist, they were created. The Young Turk Party
functionaries issued the instructions. The army and local gendarmerie carried
out the deportations. An agency was organized to impound the properties
of the Armenians and to redistribute the goods. "Butcher battalions" of
convicts released from prisons were organized into killer units. The Young
Turks tapped into the full capacity of the state to organize operations
against all 2 million Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, and did
it swiftly and effectively (Bryce 1916; Trumpener [1%8J 1989, 200-270).
(2) The Use of Technology
for Mass Killings
Armenian genocide occurred at a time when the Ottoman Empire was undergoing
a process of modernization. Apart from the new weapons of war, the telegraph
and the railroad were being put to expanded use. Introduced in the second
half of the nineteenth century, the networks of transport and communication
reached the areas of heavy Armenian concentration by the early part of
the twentieth century. Whereas the telephone system was largely confined
to the capital city of Istanbul, telegraph lines extended throughout the
empire. The rail system connected many of the largest towns in the Ottoman
Empire, but it was less extensive than the rail networks in the European
Coordination of the massacres during
the reign of Abdul-Hamid II, and of the deportations under the Young Turks,
was made possible by the telegraph. Of all the instruments of state government,
the telegraph dramatically increased the power of key decision-makers over
the rest of the population. The telegraph system allowed for the kind of
centralization that heretofore was impossible.
the 1895 massacres, the telegraph in the Ottoman Empire was a government
service. It was managed by a separate ministry. Therefore, all the communicating
during the massacres was done by the Ottoman government (Walker 1980, 156173).
During the genocide of 1915, the telegraph was controlled by the Minister
of Interior, Talat, who was in charge of the government agencies that implemented
the genocide. Talat began his government career as a telegrapher, and he
had a telegraph machine installed in his office so that he could personally
send messages across the Ottoman Empire. This gave Talat immediate connection,
literally and technologically, with the enforcement of mass death. His
ability to use the telegraph gave him unsurpassed access to subordinates
and allowed him to circumvent other government officials and agencies in
Istanbul. For the most part a telegram from Talat was sufficient authorization
to proceed with the decimation of the Armenians (Dadrian 1986, 326-328).
Modern states rely on their bureaucracies
in order to handle the paperwork involved in carrying out a policy affecting
vast portions of their population The same applies to the policy of genocide.
The more modemized the state, the greater the mountain of paper generated.
If not destroyed, a monumental record is left behind. In the case of the
Armenians, it might be said that their genocide was carried out not so
much bureaucratically as much as telegraphically, thus minimizing the record
keeping and leaving behind a great deal of confusion about the degree of
To expedite the transfer of Arrnenians
living in proximity of the railways, orders were issued instructing regional
authorities to transport Armenian deportees by train. Instructions were
explicit to the point of ordering the Armenians to be packed to the maximum
capacity in the cattle cars which were used for their transport (Sonyel
1978, 8). The determination of the government to complete this task is
demonstrated by the deportation of the Armenians in European Turkey who
were ferried across the Sea of Marmara to Anatolia and then placed on trains
for transport to Syria.