The multicultural social structure of the Ottoman Empire has a six-century history that respects beliefs and identities. The fact that all the nations that were included in the Empire, in the past, have reached the 20th century with strong preservation of their language, belief and culture, confirms this claim. The centuries-old culture of living together between Turks and Armenians has also found its expression in the administrative levels. In the Ottoman administration, 29 Armenians have received the title of pasha, 22 of them have been the members of the Armenian government while there have been 33 members of the Armenian Parliament, 7 Armenian Embassies and 11 Armenians Consul General. Armenians were also appointed as the head of prominent institutions such as Barutçubaşı, Finance and Mint.
Turks and Armenians have lived together for centuries but the events that took place during the First World War caused these two nations to diverge. World War I was a disaster of unprecedented scale. At least 16 million people died and 20 million were injured. The Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires collapsed, the borders changed dramatically and mass migrations occurred.
Before the First World War
The period defined as the collapse process of the Ottoman Empire started before the First World War. The rise of nationalism caused the Empire to lose significant land, especially in the Balkans, and further weakened the Ottoman state structure. About 4.5 million Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire perished between 1864 and 1922. In addition, during the disintegration of the Empire, approximately 5 million Ottoman citizens from the Balkans and the Caucasus were driven from their ancestral lands and took refuge in Istanbul or Anatolia. During this period, all the people of the Empire suffered. It is the truth that Armenians also suffered greatly in this turbulent period and shared the common destiny of the Empire.
Starting from the 19th century, Armenian extremist organizations' support for the policy of Tsarist Russia to weaken and disintegrate the Ottoman Empire has been a serious security threat to the Ottoman Empire. The separatist activities and terrorist attacks of these groups and their massacres against the Ottoman Muslims in the region showed that this threat had reached a boiling point. During the First World War, Armenian radicals joined the ranks of the invading Russian army in order to establish ethnically homogeneous Armenia.
During the First World War
Especially after the Second Van Revolt on April 15, 1915, the Ottoman government decided to move the Armenian population living in the war zone or in strategic areas near the supply and transportation lines of the invading Russian army and to be placed in the southern provinces of the Empire. Some Armenians who lived far from the war zone were informed that if there has been cooperation with the enemy, they were also subject to this practice. The deportation decision taken on May 27, 1915, was a last resort for the Empire. There have been serious issues across the Empire as it resisted the attacks of Tsarist Russia in the East with the largest landing operation ever recorded in Çanakkale by the Ottoman Empire, at the same time, millions of immigrants scattered all over the Empire due to the Balkan Wars caused economic difficulties, and there has been a collapse in the transportation and communication systems because of the war tactics of the Allies. The administration, which had no other choice to move the rebel Armenian community elsewhere, sent the Armenians to their lands in Syria and Mesopotamia belonging to the Ottoman Empire. They did not deport their citizens but changed their places within the borders of the country. In addition, this decision which was a precautionary measure was made only in the Eastern Provinces of the Ottoman Empire where rebellion was made, and the Armenians in the Western Provinces and the Istanbul Patriarchate were excluded from this.
"...The slaughter of the Jews, first in Germany and then in German occupied Europe, was a different matter. There was no rebellion, armed or otherwise. On the contrary, the German Jews were intensely loyal to their country. When the syrvivors of the Armenian deportation arrieved at their destinations in Ottoman-ruled Iraq and Palestine they were welcomed and helped by the local Armenian communities. The German Jews deported to Poland by the Nazis received no such help, but joined their Polish coreligionists in a common fate. The first difference was thus that some of the Armenians were involved in an armed rebellion; the Jews were not, but were attacked solely because of their identity. A second difference was that the persecution of Armenians was mostly confined to endangered areas, while the Armenian populations in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, notably in big cities, were left more or less unharmed..." (Bernard Lewis, Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian, 2012: 287).
Although the Ottoman government tried to protect the Armenians who were displaced, the conditions of war, which made the establishment of public order more difficult, local groups seeking revenge, banditry, hunger, epidemics, and the disintegrating Empire could not prevent humanitarian losses. Archive documents revealed that there were some Ottoman officials who committed crimes against Armenian convoys and that they were held responsible for Armenian losses and were subjected to severe punishments such as execution in 1916.
This movement, which aims to explain what happened only through the eyes of the Armenians and to become widespread in the world public opinion, emerged nearly half a century after the events of 1915 and is the beginning of a new history writing movement, which derives from pain. The smear campaign that started within the USSR soon spread globally to Armenian groups, triggered radicalism, and caused violent acts against Turkey and Turkish identity. Abominable terrorist attacks took place, which was painful to remember for Turks, and 37 Turkish diplomats and family members were brutally murdered by the Armenian terrorists since 1973 in order to draw the attention of the world public to the Armenian theses.
For some third-party countries, "genocide thesis", depending on the conjuncture is intended to be used against Turkey from time to time, as a foreign policy tool. For example, the Swedish Parliament, which rejected a draft resolution proposing the recognition of the 1915 events as genocide, with 245 votes against 37 in 2008. Two years later, in 2010, adopted a draft resolution of similar content with 151 votes against 150. What are the new historical findings that have been unearthed in these two years and will lead the Swedish Parliament to change attitude? The Swedish example clearly shows the variability and inconsistency of such decisions.
In brief, the eight centuries of the relationship between these two nations is forgotten by the world regardless of their friendship and common history. Indeed, by taking only a negative and aggressive version of the tragic events of 1915, the relationship between the two countries was defined. Of course, Turkey accepts the suffering of the Armenians during the First World War. However, what is ignored by many is that many more Turks died in those years. It cannot be said that one group dominates another group during these events so, it is not possible to accept the genocide thesis put forward by the Armenians.
Legal Dimension Of The Events Of 1915
Perhaps, more than anything else, ignorance of the legal dimension of the issue should be emphasized. Genocide was first described in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Events that took place before the implementation date of the said Convention do not fall within its jurisdiction.
“The Court considers that … the Convention is not retroactive. The Court thus concludes that the substantive provisions of the Convention do not impose upon a State obligations in relation to acts said to have occurred before that State became bound by the Convention.” International Court of Justice, Case Concerning Application of the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, Croatia v. Serbia, 3.2.2015, para.99-100"
Moreover, in order for an event to be qualified as genocide, the conditions required in the 1948 Genocide Convention must be demonstrated with definite evidence. Defining the 1915 events as genocide based on pre-judgments and opinions means ignore the law. Only an authorized international court can decide whether an incident was genocide or not. There is no international criminal court decision that characterizes the 1915 events as genocide.
According to researches, less than 1.5 million Armenians have lived in the Ottoman Empire before the First World War, so the claims that more than 1.5 million Armenians died in Eastern Anatolia are unrealistic. According to British, French, and Ottoman sources, the figures are between 1.05-1.50 million. On the other hand, only certain Armenian sources suggest that the pre-war Armenian population was more than 1.5 million. Historian Dr. Justin McCarthy suggested that the actual losses were a little less than 600,000. British historian Arnold Toynbee and French missionary Monseigneur Touchet reported the number of casualties as approximately 500,000. At the 1920 Paris Peace Conference, the Armenian delegate claimed that 280,000 Armenians lived in the Anatolian region in the post-war Ottoman Empire, and about 700,000 Armenians emigrated during the war. All these statistical data clearly show that more than 1.5 million Armenians were not killed as claimed. Accordingly, the credibility of Armenian sources, which contain many doubts, is shaken. According to the Armenian theses, the war propaganda of the enemies of the Ottoman Empire is objective evidence. However, it is obvious that even Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, on whom Armenians frequently base their theses on, intend to fuel the war.
We must not forget that war brings tragedy, but the real tragedy is the false claims that fuel hate speech among people.