Union and Progress and the Armenians (1908-1914)

The facts that new developments took place on the Armenian issue after the Party of Union and Progress came to power and that this party implemented a practice of forced relocation in order to end the issue collectively and finally are among the primary subjects that are emphasized most and that lead to accumulation of various speculative information.

In fact, it is a known matter that the Young Ottomans abroad and the Armenian committees, and the Tashnaks being the first one among them, collaborated with each other in order to be able to overthrow the Abdulhamid II administration. As a matter of fact, the Young Ottoman Congress, which was assembled in Paris in 1902, started with the opening speech of Prince Sabaheddin. An Armenian and a Greek were elected as the vice presidents of the congress, and delegates from all the subjects of the Ottomans such as the Turks, Arabs, Albanians, Circassians, Kurds, and Jews attended the congress.

At the end of the congress, the Armenians announced that they wanted to continue their private activities as well as carry out joint activities with the Ottoman liberals in order to achieve the implementation of the constitutional regime. They reported that they would continue their private actions not against the unity and existence of Turkey, but against the government and they reported that the aim of Article 61 of the Berlin Agreement and the memorandum of 11 May 1895 and its supplement was the implementation of the memorandums that they had submitted to the French government.

Prince Sabahaddin and those around him who supported decentralization accepted the autonomy demands of the Armenians. Ahmed Rıza and his friends deemed this to be treason. Ahmed Rıza, who represented the centralists at the 1902 congress, made sweeping accusations against the “Decentralization” policy of Prince Sabahaddin   (Petrosyan, 1974, pp. 217-218; Aksin, , Istanbul 1987, pp. 43-44.) and he fell out with Prince Sabahaddin.

At the 2nd Jeunne Turk (Young Turks) congress, which was assembled in Paris on 27-29 December 1907, Ahmed Rıza and Prince Sabahaddin participated and Malumyan attended as a representative from the Tashnaksutyun committee on behalf of the Armenians. In the declaration that was issued at the end of the congress it was reported that the Sultan needed to be overthrown, that a constitutional and representative government had to be established and that all sort of means including violence would be used in order to achieve this goal. Armed resistance would be put forward against oppression, taxes would not be paid, means of propaganda would be used, and if no results were achieved through these ways, then a large-scale rebellion would be started. Ahmed Rıza became angry when the Armenians said that they were using the method that had been used by the Muslims in Eastern Anatolia, he fell out with Prince Sabahaddin once again, and he returned to his former position as a reaction to that (Stanford J. Shaw-Ezel Kural Shaw, Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ve Modern Türkiye, İstanbul 1983, p. 322). It was understood that Ahmed Rıza thought that revolutionarism did not definitely include terrorism and he did not approve the methods of Armenian terrorism (Sina Akşin, Jön Türkler ve İttihat ve Terakki, p. 68).

The Armenian committee members were not sincere in the cooperation that they had engaged in with the Young Ottomans in order to bring constitutional regime into the Ottoman State. The Armenians saw the Young Turks and Constitutional Regime as a stepping stone towards an independent Armenia.

After the declaration of the 2nd Constitutional period, the Armenian committees became legal and the Tashnaksutyun and Hinchak committees started to engage in their activities openly.

After the Young Turk revolution, four Armenian political parties were engaging in activities in the Ottoman State: the Marxist Tashnaksutyun, the Social Democrat Hinchak Party, the Constitutional Ramgavar Party, and the Veragazmyal Hinchak Party.

The members of Union and Progress tried to cooperate with the Armenian political parties in order to strengthen their position within the country. The members of Union and Progress, who tried to develop their relations especially with Tashnaksutyun and the Social Democrat Hinchak Party, did not develop their relations much with the Constitutional Ramgavar and Veragazmyal Hinchak Party, which could not obtain a significant place within the Armenian community up to that time (Arsen Avagyan, Gaidz F. Minassian, Ermeniler ve İttihat ve Terakki, İşbirliğinden Çatışmaya, İstanbul 2005, p. 49).

The establishment of the constitutional order was a phenomenon that caused the Armenian committees to make changes in their programs. The Armenian committees, which seemed to have adapted to the new regime, declared that they decided to support the constitutional regime by leaving their revolutionary wishes and activities. In August, solidarity protests were made by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Ottoman Revolutionaries in Istanbul. Aknuni, who was the Russian spokesperson of the Armenian Revolution Federation (Tashnak), said the following in the statement he issued: “One of the most important duties of the Tashnakzagans is to protect the Ottoman Constitutional regime, to ensure the unity of the Ottoman nations with each other and to cooperate with the Union and Progress”  (Sonyel, 1988, p. 5).

M. Sabahgülyan, who was the head of the Hinchak Committee and one of the Armenians from the Caucasus, declared the following in the speech he gave at the Surp Yervartyun church in Beyoğlu in August 1908 : “the Hinchaks will now end the revolutionary activities and make efforts for the progress of the country with all their being” (Salahi R. Sonyel, ibid., p. 5). The incidents that took place in Adana in April 1909 are one of the most important proofs that demonstrate the shallowness of the Muslim-Armenian relations.

The Adana incidents started on 13 April 1909 when the news of the rebellion in Istanbul (The 31 March Incident) arrived and they stopped on 16 April. The clashes restarted in Adana on 25 April, when the Hareket (Movement) Army entered Istanbul to suppress the rebellion at the capital and it continued until April 27th. After the Hareket Army suppressed the rebellion in Istanbul, the government gave material aid to those who had suffered losses and formed a commission to investigate the incidents. Those responsible were tried in court-martials and many people were punished with execution. There were also notables of the region among those who were hanged.

The Party of Union and Progress, which considered these incidents as a warning, and the Armenian Tashnaksutyun Committee decided to cooperate and work together (Tanin, No: 365, 7 Eylül 1909; BOA. DH. MUİ., 2-2/76).

After the Adana incidents, the Social Democrat Hinchak Party decided to fight the Party of Union and Progress and its policies openly, but it could not decide how to do that. It deemed the agreement of Tashnaksutyun with the Union and Progress as a historical mistake and it continued to oppose it (Avagyan, Minassian, p. 67).

The Cooperation of the Armenians and Union & Progress during the Elections

The Armenians generally cooperated with the Party of Union and Progress in the elections and they were comfortably represented in the parliament in all periods. The Armenians cooperated with the Greeks at the 1908 general elections and acted with a common policy. They established a delegation to identify the policies to be pursued in these elections and to do work, and they prepared a declaration for the elections. The Patriarchate continued its role as the final center of decision for the Armenians (Recep Karacakaya, Meclis-i Mebusan Seçimleri ve Ermeniler (1908-1914), Yakın Dönem Türkiye Araştırmaları, (3) 2003, pp. 127-142).

Most of the Armenians and the Tashnaksutyun Party cooperated with the Party of Union and Progress, only the Social Democrat Hinchakyan Party entered the elections by reaching an agreement with the Party of Entente (İtilaf Fırkası) (Ali Birinci, Hürriyet ve İtilâf Fırkası, İstanbul 1990, p. 276).

Despite all of this, the relations between the Party of Union and Progress and the Armenians started to deteriorate in 1910. The change in the relations between the Tashnaksutyun and the Union and Progress emerged first with the criticisms of the Union and Progress in the pages of the Tashnak press and then with the move away from the Anti-Russian policies and the attempts to establish contact with the Russian representatives (Arsen Avagyan, Gaidz F. Minassian, Ermeniler ve İttihat ve Terakki, p.66).

On 18 July 1912 the Tashnaksutyun issued a statement to the Ottoman citizens of the Western Bureau declaring that “as an independent party, they were not affiliated with any party” and calling for “preventing distrust, reducing taxes, giving up Islamism and Turkism, and guaranteeing constitutional freedoms.” Thereby the Tashnaksutyun announced that they had ended the alliance and the Tashnaksutyun and the Union and Progress reached the point of ending their relations (Arsen Avagyan, Gaidz F. Minassian, Ermeniler ve İttihat ve Terakki, p.189).

Towards the end of the same year, very harsh articles started to be published in the Armenian press about the Union and Progress. Especially the articles published in Jamanak and Nor Ashklor contained very heavy accusations. Nor Ashklor also attacked the Union and Progress and accused it of being hostile to the Armenians, pressuring the Armenians, backwardness, nationalism, and pursuing Islamic unification.

When the issue of reforms in the Anatolian provinces came to the agenda, the Armenian political parties left aside all of their political calculations because of the necessity of appearing as a bloc in front of the Great Powers and acted as a single front (Avagyan, Minassian, p.130).

The work to be done about reforms in the Anatolian provinces appeared on the agenda with the parliamentary elections that were held in 1914.

The Armenian political parties decided to act together by making an alliance on both political and national issues and on the issue of the elections of the MPs (Tanin, No:1784, 12 December 1913).

Aknuni, who was from among the Tashnaksutyun Committee spokespersons, declared the following in a statement that was published in the Stamboul newspaper: the elections should be held based on proportional representation and they want the Armenian MPs should be elected by the Armenians themselves, that those Armenians who support the Union and Progress should be treated differently, that it is necessary for the Armenian MPs to be elected by the Armenians themselves so that their election would not be left to the good will of the Muslim voters, that some Turkish newspapers were writing severe articles on these subjects and that they were looking for their rights in a legitimate way, and added, “if these newspapers want to respect their country, they should not approach this with excitement but with level-headness and seriousness” (Tanin, No:1782, 10 December 1913). The notable point in this was the Tashnaksutyun was openly critical of the Union and Progress through its spokesperson.

During the election work a change in the attitude was seen among the Armenians. They wanted to negotiate with the Ottoman government, they wanted the Armenians to be given Armenian MPs in proportion to their general population and that these elections be done through the Patriarchate and the government rejected these demands. Armenians wanted to use boycotting the elections as a leverage, but then they changed their mind and participated in the elections (Recep Karacakaya, Meclis-i Mebusan Seçimleri ve Ermeniler, pp. 135-140). In this period, approaching the last point in the Eastern Anatolia reforms, for which Russia and Germany acted as leaders, deciding on the appointment of two European governors at the head of the two regions into which Eastern Anatolia would be divided and the emergence of an atmosphere in favor of the Armenians caused a change of attitude on the part of the Armenians.

The Attitude of the Armenians vis-à-vis the State at the Beginning of the First World War and Their Rebellion

On 24 June 1914, the 3rd congress of the Social Democrat Hinchak Party in the Ottoman territories was held in Istanbul. Only 31 of the 51 branches of this party in Turkey were represented. The items on the agenda were the attitude towards the Union and Progress, which was applying a policy of suppression on the Social Democrat Hinchak Party, and which means to use in self-defense.   The organization of armed organizations was accepted as the main goal of the Armenian people at the congress, which continued its work until the end of August (Avagyan, Minassian, p. 132).

The Tashnaksutyun Committee gathered its 8th general congress in Erzurum in order to evaluate the developing incidents and to decide the attitude they would adopt in a possible Ottoman-Russian war. Many delegates participated in the congress, which was held in Erzurum on 2-14 August 1914, from inside the country and from abroad. The topic of what attitude the Armenians would have in the case of conflict was discussed during the discussions in which Rostom, Rupen, Agnuni, Simon Vratsiyan, and Zartaryan dominated the scene (Ibid., p.203).

This decision was accepted regarding the policy to be pursued vis-à-vis the Ottoman Government: the Tashnaksutyun Committee, which has considered the deceiving actions, which the Union and Progress Government has committed in implementing the contradictory policies, pressures and reforms in the economic, social and administrative fields, which the Union and Progress Government has pursued vis-à-vis the Christian elements, and especially the Armenians from the earliest times, has decided to remained opposed the Union and Progress, to criticize its political program and to struggle against it and its organization with violence (Esat Uras, Tarihte Ermeniler…, pp. 579-580; Kamuran Gürün, Ermeni Dosyası, Ankara 1983 pp. 194-196; Ermeni Komitelerinin Amal ve Harekat-ı İhtilaliyyesi İlan-ı Meşrutiyetten Evvel ve Sonra, İstanbul 1332(1916) pp. 144-148; Azmi Süslü, Ermeniler ve 1915 Tehcir Olayı, Ankara 1990, p. 64).

After the congress work was finished, a delegation headed by Bahaeddin Shakir, Omar Naji, and Hilmi Bey, who were form the Central Delegation of the Party of Union and Progress, came to Erzurum together with the Georgian and Azeri representatives. The Unionists gathered with Tashak leaders Rostom, Vramyan, and Agnuni here. Bahaeddin Shakir officially suggested (on behalf of the Union and Progress) to the Tashnaksutyun the starting of a rebellion in the Caucasus. This would be realized within the framework of a collective rebellion plan for the different Transcaucasia peoples. Shakir also declared that the Azeris were ready for such a rebellion, that the Party of Union and Progress was already in talks with the Georgian nationalists, and that there were promising results. However, the Armenians gave a negative response to the suggestions of the Unionists. They said that the Tashnaksutyun would carry out the patriotic duty of the Ottoman Armenians, but that starting a rebellion against the Russian Empire in the Caucasus would be out of the question (Arsen Avagyan, Gaidz F. Minassian, Ermeniler ve İttihat ve Terakki, p. 132).

Minister of Interior Talat Bey reported to the well-known members of the Tashnak committee and especially the Erzurum MP Vartkes Effendi that the Armenians would be faced with very extreme measures if they turned to rebellion and revolutionary actions. The Deputy Commander-in-Chief Enver Pasha also invited the Armenian Patriarch, told him that while Turkey expected loyalty from the Armenians in this war, it had been understood from the official reports that the Armenians who had fled to the provinces with their weapons attacked the villages and killed civil servants and suggested that the Patriarch give better advice in the future. Apart from this, Enver Pasha also told the Patriarch quite clearly that if this movement became general, the military government would be forced to take the harshest measures (Kabacalı, 1994, s. 71). The Speaker of the Parliament also spoke with the Armenian MPs who belonged to the committees and in this way, the Armenians were told to give up revolution through their spiritual leaders, notables and respected people and they were made aware of the necessary and sad consequences of that.

The Ottoman Government was patient for nine months after the declaration of mobilization and after that it was forced to take effective measures. The relations between the Party of Union and Progress and the Armenians, which increasingly deteriorated just before the First World War and in the first years of the war, were completely cut off because of some of the Armenians joining the Russian military units, their forming voluntary regiments against the Muslims, their rebellions in Zeytun and Van, and their not listening to the advice given to them and as a result, the law on forced relocation was passed. After the Van Rebellion erupted, the Ministry of Interior decided to close the Armenian committees, to confiscate their documents, to arrest their leaders and those whose harmful acitvities were known, to collect those who were found to have a negative impact if they stayed in appropriate locations and to dispatch those who were arrested to the military courts in order to destroy the hotbed of committees, which had started these incidents and which were arming the Armenians and sent a circular to the provinces and sub-district governors’ offices to this effect on 24 April 1915 (Şinasi Orel-Süreyya Yuca, Ermenilerce Talat Paşa’ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü, Ankara 1983, pp. 101-102). On April 26th, the office of the Commander-in-Chief sent a circular with the same contents to the military units and wanted the ringleaders to be punished by sending them to the military courts. After the instruction from the Ministry of Interior, which was mentioned above, 235 people were arrested in Istanbul (Kamuran Gürün, ibid., p. 213).

Some of those who were arrested were sent to Ankara and Çankırı on a train, which departed from the Haydarpasha train station (BOA. DH. ŞFR, 52/102).

Bibliography

Archive Documents and Newspapers

 

BOA. DH. MUİ., 2-2/76.

BOA. DH. ŞFR, 52/102.

Tanin, No:1782, 10 December 1913.

Tanin, No:1784, 12 December 1913.

 

Books and Articles

Aksin, Sina (1987), Jön Türkler ve İttihat ve Terakki, İstanbul.

Avagyan, Arsen, Minassian, Gaidz F. (2005), Ermeniler ve İttihat ve Terakki, İşbirliğinden Çatışmaya, İstanbul.

Birinci, Ali (1990), Hürriyet ve İtilâf Fırkası, İstanbul.

Ermeni Komitelerinin Amal ve Harekat-ı İhtilaliyyesi İlan-ı Meşrutiyetten Evvel ve Sonra, İstanbul 1332(1916).

Gürün, Kamuran (1983), Ermeni Dosyası, Ankara.

Karacakaya, Recep (2003), “Meclis-i Mebusan Seçimleri ve Ermeniler (1908-1914)”, Yakın Dönem Türkiye Araştırmaları, (3), s. 127-142.

Orel, Şinasi – Yuca, Süreyya (1983), Ermenilerce Talat Paşa’ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü, Ankara.

Petrosyan, Yuriy Aşatoviç (1974), Sovyet Gözüyle Jön Türkler, Ankara.

Shaw, Stanford J. – Kural Shaw, Ezel (1983), Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ve Modern Türkiye, İstanbul.

Sonyel, Salahi R. (1988), İngiliz Gizli Belgelerine Göre Adana’da Vuku Bulan Türk-Ermeni Olayları, Ankara.

Süslü, Azmi (1990), Ermeniler ve 1915 Tehcir Olayı, Ankara.

Talat Paşanın Anıları, Yay. Haz. Alpay Kabacalı, İstanbul 1994.

Tanin, No: 365, 7 Eylül 1909.

Uras, Esat, Tarihte Ermeniler ve Ermeni Meselesi, İstanbul.

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