Context &
 & Atrocities
& Demands 
Oppression and Atrocities


he years 1894-1896 introduced systematic massacres into the history of the Armenian nation. For more than a quarter of a century, with short periods of intimidating calm, there was an entirely new character to the "terror on the road to genocide." In the past, Persian or Arab, Mongol or Tatar, would pass as conquerors, pillaging, killing, destroying, or, if occupying Armenia for a time, like the Arabs and the Ottoman Turks themselves, would establish recognized regimes where Armenians like other groups, though considered second class, were yet protected minorities. But unlike ravages by invaders of Armenia of earlier centuries, these were carried out by a legitimate government upon one of its minorities. The Armenians, like the Greeks and the Jews, had been given separate internal autonomy four centuries earlier. Later, in 1863, a special constitution was approved by the Ottoman sultan for the Armenian nation, or millet, within his empire.

Armenians had learned how to survive and often prosper during the centuries of this minority status. But nothing in their experience could have prepared them as a nation for the terrifying violence of persecution and massacres. This time the aggression was not upon individual or isolate localities like the previous ones in Cilicia and Sassoun, but a campaign directed against the Armenian population of most major cities. Just in the period of October and November 1895, 24 major centers witnessed Armenian massacres from Trebizon to Bitlis, from Kayseri/Caesarea to Erzerum. This was new. The state was killing heretofore loyal subjects, citizens, to be sure a Christian minority in a Muslim state, but nevertheless, citizens for nearly as long as the Ottoman Turkish state itself had existed.

The result of the massacres, perhaps in part a cause for them, was the looting, destruction, and greedy seizure of Armenian properties and businesses by Turks. During these two years the western powers watched as the Turkish state under the leadership of Sultan Abdul Hamid ruthlessly brutalized the Armenians and only the Armenians in the eastern provinces of their own country, in Armenia. The Christian powers observed with high indignation, but acted perfunctorily in trying to bring an end to these crimes. America through its recently established network of Protestant missionaries and the Red Cross sent relief and aid under such notables as the aged Clara Barton. Collectively they formed the National Armenian Relief Committee.

The events of 1894-96 can no longer be viewed as an aberrant case of excessive repression; they should rather be seen as a mini-rehearsal for the systematic massacres which were to be engineered so efficiently by the Young Turks in 1915 and after. They represented the first Genocide of the twentieth century and were in part responsible for the coining of the word "genocide" later in our century. The eyewitness reports of 1894-96, the murder, the rape, pillaging, the involvement of the state, the indifference of the community of nations, these would be repeated a score of years later, but magnified ten times. Yet these events of the, late l9th century, this history of a nation under attack, did not help to prepare the Armenians for 1915. Individuals might have escaped, or suspecting an uncertain perhaps deadly future, might have fled, but a nation cannot take itself bodily away from its single ancestral homeland, nor can a nation really contemplate or understand the idea of its own murder. The Jews in World War II in Germany were no better able to profit from the Armenian Genocide of 1915 than were the Armenians themselves to learn from the massacres of 1894-96.

This prelude to genocide had its chroniclers. Among them was Reverend Edwin M. Bliss. The title of his account of the events, "Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities", conveys exactly what happened during those years. The book was published in 1896 while the massacres were still raging in the interior of the Sultan's domain. Its region by region description of mass murder is to be paralleled exactly 20 years later in more devastating terms by Lord Bryce and Arnold Toynbee in the British Government's collection of official documents of 1915-16, The Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Dr. Dickran Kouymjian
Director, Armenian Studies Program
California State University, Fresno

 General Situation in 1894

By Rev. Edwin M. Bliss.

Terrible Oppression - Exaggerated Reports - Truth Stranger Than Fiction - Religious Liberty Infringed Upon - Oppressive School Laws-Rigorous Censorship - General Effort of the Governmeut to Suppress Christian Development.

he situation in the summer of 1894 throughout the empire was one bordering on anarchy. From every section of the country came word of the most atrocious treatment by the Turkish Government of its Christian subjects: Taxes were imposed in a way that in the already impoverished condition of the country was simply ruinous. The effect of the action of the revolutionists in Marsovan had been to arouse very bitter feeling against them on every hand and to create an impression, even among those favorable to the nation, that they were chiefly responsible for the situation. At the same time reports were sent to the European papers of the most thrilling type. Some of these were true, most were based upon truth, but there was not a little exaggeration in details.

Great excitement was aroused by the publication in the English papers of a detailed statement furnished by the Vienna correspondent of the Daily News as to the treatment  of Armenian prisoners in Central Asia Minor. According to this, hundreds of them were cast into prison, stripped of their clothes and tortured in the most diabolical manner.


While men were beaten, women were outraged in the presence of their husbands and fathers, and general atrocities committed that surpassed in horror those of the invasions of the Goths and Huns. Careful investigation showed that while these charges were in some sense correct, the impression made by them in general was often false. In one case the hundreds dwindled to twenty-eight, and while there was outrage enouah to stir the indignation of every righteous man, there was exaggeration enough to enable the Turkish Government to represent that these stories were based upon a general desire to create trouble. Instances innumerable might be given of the methods adopted with reaard to individuals. A few must suffice. An intelliaent Armeoian physician had been practicing for some years in one of the cities in Central Asia Minor. He had a good reputation, and both Greeks and Turks as well as Armenians patronized him and uraed him to accept the office of city phys'scian. With some reluctance he yielded. A- petition was sent to Constantinopte and he was appointed. He found the drinking water of the city polluted by the proximity of slaughter-houses and water closets to the water course. He reported the case to the local government in accordance with his duty as health officer. As nothing was done by them he ahpealed to the Governor-General of the province, but without any result. Then, following out strict orders from Constantinople with regard to the prevention of cholera, he reported to the health department at Constantinople and the headquarters of the army corps of the district. The GovernorGeneral thereupon received a reprimand, and in great anser summoned the physician to the capital of the province. A request to bo to his home for warmer clothing, for it was in mid-winter, was met with stern refusal, and a police force of twenty men with an officer at their head dragged him through the markets and the streets for more than half a mile, to the outskirts of the city, where he lay for half an hour unconscious. When he recovered he was placed upon a horse, but he could not sit up, and was tied to his back. The governor, in great rage, said that he should not be allowed to live in the province at all. Requests of people from another city that he come there, were not granted.

As another illustration, a photographer of one city presented the usual charae for some pictures made on the order of an official. The governor summoned him, and roared out, a "Are not you one of those local Armenians that I can make rot ? " So terrified was the poor man that he was glad to slink away and say nothing about pay.

These are but illustrations of what was done over the whole empire by the order of high officials, until there became a veritable reign of terror, and no man felt his life or property, or the honor of his wife and daughter safe, in any interior city, town or village. Perhaps, however, the most forcible settingforth of the situation is found in a statement not in reaard to the ordinary brutality of officials, or the rapacity of Kurds. It had become more and more evident that there was a general plan of the government to intensify by its oppression, as much as possible, the recognition on the part of the Christians of their absolute subordination to Moslems. In response to a special request from the British ambassador, a statement was drawn up by persons thoroughly well-posted in regard to the general condition, and from that statement are taken in considerable degree the facts that follow.

Displacing Christions

One of the glories of the administration of Abdul Medjid was the Hatti Humayoun of I856, the charter of liberty and equality to the Christians of Turkey,. This has already been referred to in preceding chapters, and needs no further description here, except to recall the statement that its aim was the carrying into effect of the principle of equality between the Mussulmans and non-Mussulmans of the empire. During the remainder of the reign of Abdul Medjid, and to a considerable extent during that of Abdul Aziz, this principle had been followed.

Soon after the treaty of Berlin, however, there became manifest a tendency to displace Christians by Moslems in responsible posts in every department of government in Asiatic Turkey. Some still remained, for the reason that there were practically no Moslems competent to fill the positions. Administrative offices were even still to some extent occupied by Armenians or Greeks, but their number had been increasingly small. At the time of which we are speaking, 1894, there was in the Council of State; to which the administration of the interior provinces belongs, but one Christian member, not withstanding the fact that measures affecting the vital interests of the Christian population were daily subjects for consideration. So also the High Council of the Ministry of Public Instruction, specially directed by the Hatti Humayoun to be a mixed council, had but one non-Moslem member, although it decided upon the interests of all Christian schools in the country. 

Board of censors

The Superior Council of Censorship had also a very insignificant proportion of non-Moslem members, not withstanding the fact that by far the greatest number of books for Christians either published in Turkey or imported from without were by Protestants. Although the proportion of readers of books in the Protestant communities was far greater than in any other, there was not a single Protestant on this council, or indeed in any high council or responsible position under the government. One result of this was seen in the absurd laws passed by the Board of Censors with regard to the introduction and publication of books. Instances of this kind could be given in numbers; thus the word "Armenia" was stricken out of every book. A translation of the hymn - 

"The children are gathering from near and from far,
 The trumpet is sounding the call for the war,"
was forbidden as being revolutionary, and even a number of English hymn books were detained for weeks and months by the Board of Censors, in the search for the English version of this same hymn.

One of the special points in the Hatti Humayoun was the suppression of the ancient custom of making the police agents collectors of taxes. This had given rise to grave abuses. Little by little the usage was restored and finally, in the summer of this year, an imperial edict set aside the work of that charter, by appointing the police throughout the country to be tax-collecting agents, with a system of rewards to those officers who should succeed best in collecting money.

. Torture and capital punishment were absolutely forbidden by this same charter, yet in the trials in regard to the disturbances at Angora, in 1893, and at Yuzgat, in 1894, torture of the most inhuman character was extensively used in order to force men to testify according to the orders of the officials. An Armenian at Marsovan was flogged until his back was raw flesh, to force him to sign a declaration that certain Americans were plotting with Armenians an insurrection. An Armenian blacksmith, in the province of Angora, was made insane by the torture inflicted on him in prison.


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