The Armenian Problem Becoming an International Problem With the Treaties of Berlin and San Stefano

The Treaty of San Stefano and Armenians’ Forming a Basis for Their Political Demands

The 1877-78 Ottoman-Russian War (’93 War), which took place in the last quarter of the 19th century and caused many political, economic, and social traumas for the Ottoman Empire, is also an important turning point in terms of the Armenian Problem gaining an international quality. The Ottoman Empire, defeated in the ’93 War, appointed Foreign Affairs Ministry Savfet Pasha and Berlin Ambassador Sadullah Bey to the negotiation committee of the San Stefano Treaty. Their addressees were General Ignatyev and the Istanbul ambassador of Russia Alexander Nelidov.

As is known, Armenians, who were called the “loyal nation” and employed in the highest positions in the Ottoman Empire, lived with wide freedoms in terms of religion and culture for centuries. When it came to the 19th century, they started to seek opportunities for autonomy first, and then independence, with the influence of missionary activities and especially the liberalist- nationalist movements, like in other countries. The ’93 War gave this opportunity to them to a large extent; Armenians not only fought side-by-side with the Russians in the Eastern (Caucasian) battlefront, but also became the hosts and guides of the Russian commanders in San Stefano (Kurat, 1968, p. 157).

When Ottoman deputies started negotiations with Russia in Edirne (January 1878), Armenians took diplomatic action to put an article about them in the peace treaty to be signed, and visited Granduke Nikola and Count Ignatiyev in Edirne. The cortege, consisted of the Armenian Patriarch Nerses Varjabedyan and his bishops, sent their petition dated 13 January 1878 to Prime Minister Gorçakof and the Russian Tsar Alexander II whom they called “great saver.” The Armenian Patriarchate Assembly under the leadership of the Patriarch Nerses made these demands to the tsar during this visit: the annexation of the provinces where Armenians live in Eastern Anatolia by Russia; and if this is not possible, the privileges given to Bulgaria to be given to Armenians; and if this is also not possible, extensive reforms in the provinces where Armenians lived and the immediate supply of military troops.

While these developments were on-going, the negotiations between the committees started within the main framework determined in the Edirne Armistice negotiations, in the headquarters of the Russian armies’ chief-commander Granduke Nikolay in San Stefano in the last week of February 1878. Some harsh demands of the Russian delegation, such as the entrance of military troops in Istanbul and the submission of the Ottoman Navy, brought the negotiations to the point of cessation. Sultan Abdulhamid II declared with a noble rescript that such offers would never be accepted. The peace offers by Russia, after harsh negotiations were considered for the last time in the assembly of ministers attended by Sadullah Bey, were reluctantly accepted. The Treaty of San Stefano, whose articles were determined in this framework, was signed on 3 March 1878. The articles of this treaty, which were 29 in number, were quite harsh (Erim, 1953, p. 387-400) (Mahmud Celaleddin Paşa, 1983, p. 569-698) (Türkgeldi, 1987, p. 39-56) (Nuri, h. 1327, p. 347-358).

This treaty, for Russia, not only brought significant land and economical gains, but also was an international political text which declared the victory of Pan-Slavism. The facts that Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro gained independence, and that Bulgaria covered a great distance for independence, were the records of this success. For the Sublime Porte, this treaty not only resulted in great land losses in the Balkans and Anatolia and a great compensation amount, but also caused, with the conditions of Article 16, the Armenian Problem, or “Anatolian Reformation” as the Sublime Porte preferred to call it due to its dangerous political connotations, to gain an international dimension. The article on the Armenians of this treaty is as follows (Mahmud Celaleddin Paşa, 1983, p. 578-579):

“As the withdrawal by the Russian troops of the territory which they occupy in Armenia, and which is to be restored to Turkey, might give rise to conflicts and complications detrimental to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, the Sublime Porte engages to carry into effect, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security from Kurds and Circassians.”

Russia did not have a positive stand for the insistent demand of Armenians for autonomy, with the worry that it would make an example for Armenians living in Russia and would cause similar separatist demands in future. Besides, it partially met the demands of the Armenians by putting the article of which text is given above (Article 16) in the Treaty of San Stefano. However, when the Treaty of San Stefano abated because of the harsh opposition of European countries, especially Britain, political balances and therefore, the expectations changed. Armenians, hoping to gain a status of autonomy by being absolute subjects to Russia, revised their political attitudes and got in contact with Britain, France, and the rising power, Germany. The Armenian patriarchate and diaspora Armenians in these countries became significant channels for this contact. Armenians who were disappointed with the Treaty of San Stefano under these conditions relied upon the Berlin Congress in Germany to be gathered for the purpose of solving the current political and diplomatic crisis. Armenians were not passive before the congress and they were mobilized to establish the grounds of an autonomous and even independent Armenia by starting an active campaign and propaganda (Uras, 1987, 199-216).

Berlin Congress: Balanced Sharing or New Imbalances

It was natural that the articles of the Treaty of San Stefano were not perceived positively by other countries, mainly Britain and the Austria-Hungary Empire. The facts that Russia stretched to Southern Europe with its new strategic lands, it came close to Tigris-Euphrates and Persian Gulf with new lands in Eastern Anatolia, it reached to the warm seas of the Aegean through Bulgaria, and it increased its authority on the Ottoman Empire thanks to its natural allies in the Balkans not only disturbed the European political balance, but also brought itself to a very advantageous position in the Eastern Problem when compared to its opponents. To express this situation in summary: Russia came to threaten the Straits and the Mediterranean Sea through the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, and on the other hand, India and the Indian Ocean.

The fact that Russia turned the status quo upside-down and came to a very advantageous position in the solution of the Eastern Problem created great uneasiness in other countries, especially Britain. Even the newly founded states in the Balkans, such as Serbia and Romania, raised their voices as they couldn’t gain lands as much as they expected. As a response to the increasing reactions, Russian Prime Minister Garchakov had to declare that they would accept only the articles about Europe in the Treaty of San Stefano to be negotiated again in an international congress.

The leader of the opposition was Britain as Russia had captured strategic regions in the Balkans and Eastern Anatolia, came close to the Persian Gulf and got the opportunity to spread to the Aegean and Mediterranean through Bulgaria with this treaty. After the insistent attitude of Britain in protecting its interests in the Near East and Mediterranean regions and the ways going to its colonies, negotiations between the two countries started. Consequently, three memorandums requiring new regulations, mostly about Bulgaria, Eastern Anatolia reforms, and the Straits were signed on 30-31 May 1878. Britain, therefore, not only determined the framework of the negotiations of the Berlin Congress, but also carried out secret negotiations with the Sublime Porte in order not to make its interests in the Mediterranean on stake and to take them under absolute protection. As explained above, Britain, consequently, was able to sign a dual defence treaty with the Sublime Porte about the turnover of the island of Cyprus to Britain as a military base (4 June 1878). As expected, this situation set European diplomatic groups in motion and the organization of an international congress in Berlin was decided for a balanced sharing (13 June 1878).

In the Berlin Congress gathered under the chairmanship of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck on 13 June 1878 in such an atmosphere, the Ottoman Empire was represented by Berlin Ambassador Sadullah Bey, Müşir Mehmed Ali Pasha, and Minister of Public Works Alexander Kara Todori Pasha. The primary expectation of the Ottoman Empire from the conference was that Britain makes significant changes to soften the conditions of the Treaty of San Stefano with the hopefulness created by the compromise in the Cyprus Treaty. However, during the congress the interest-centric politics of all countries, including Britain, and their attitudes of ignoring the Sublime Porte created a real disappointment. At the end of the international congress, which was gathered in Berlin on 13 June and lasted for a month, a treaty consisting of 64 articles was signed (13 July 1878) (Erim, 1953, p.403-424) (Nuri, h.1327, p.358-392) (Nuri, h.1298, p.256-260) (Türkgeldi, 1987, p.57-191).

The articles of the Berlin Treaty required not only significant land losses, but also reforms in the regions resided in by Greeks in Crete and Armenians in Eastern Anatolia. Especially the fact that Britain changed its traditional political line and tended to “looting” the most strategic regions for its interests from having difficulty of making the Ottoman Empire alive before Russia and seeing it as “fateful to collapse” made the picture more desperate. For this purpose, Britain took non-Slavic Greeks under protection against Russia’s expansion in the Balkans through Pan-Slavism propaganda and took Armenians in Eastern Anatolia under protection to prevent Russia’s attempts to stretch to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East by using Armenians. For these reasons, Britain became the spokesman for these two ethnic groups and in later periods exploited them as an intervention tool in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire.

The Berlin Treaty’s article on Armenians is as follows (Mahmud Celaleddin Paşa, 1983, 600):

“The Sublime Porte engages to carry out without further delay the ameliorations and reforms which are called for by local needs in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and the Kurds. It will give information periodically of the measures taken for this purpose to the Powers, who will watch over the execution of them.”

After the Berlin Congress, the states who signed the treaty became the followers of the article on the Armenian Problem, or Anatolian Reforms as the Sublime Porte preferred to call it due to diplomatic sensitivity, like other articles. On the other hand, Armenians, who wanted to speed up the solution of this problem whose international diplomatic dimension became clear and chronic, made a series of riots and sensational actions not to be passive in the international agenda along with the political activities of the patriarchate, religious, and secular groups.

The Armenian Problem came to be an international problem with the imperative provisions of Article 61 which was included in the Treaty of Berlin and of which text is given above and the protection and intervention of big states who directed the world politics, and a new title was added to the Eastern Question with the manipulations of big states. The details of this diplomatic struggle and intervention process, and the reform program, “Anatolian Reform”, asked to be implemented in the regions inhabited by Armenians are handled in our paper titled “Armenian Problem or Anatolian Reform within the Framework Foreign Intervention, Uprisings and Guerrilla Activities.”


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