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Introduction

Ertuğrul Zekai ÖKTE*
OTTOMAN ARCHIVES YILDIZ COLLECTION THE ARMENIAN QUESTION II-POLITICAL DVELOPMENTS AFTER THE TALOR? INCIDENTS
 

 .I%0@le="text-align: juÿ Introduction934Ogfont-weight: bold;">INTRODUCTION


With this book, the Foundation for the Establishment and Development of Centers for Historical Research and Documentation presents the second volume in its series entitled The Y?ld?z Collection: “The Armenian Question”. The goals of our foundation in its publication within an entirely original system, of these documents (photographic copies of which are in our foundation’s archives, the originals being kept in the “Archives of the Ottoman State” where they are a part of the historical heritage of which the Turkish nation has always been proud and which it endeavors to preserve and develop) together with their renditions into modern Turkish and their translations into English were explained in the introduction to Volüme I of this series.

The fundamental goal of this series of publications is to set forth the original documents of historical events, thereby arming concerned public opinion with the truth and providing a source of historical material and support for attempts to bring an end — however limited they may be — to the hate, antagonism, and hostility ever being kept alive and fresh in the face of publications, activities, and acts that seek from time to time, by various means and ways, and out of different expectations to keep what are called “The Armenian Question”, “The Armenian Problem”, “Armenian Claims”, “The Armenian Deportation”, and “The Armenian Genocide” alive and current and thereby to mislead world opinion about them.

We should immediately point out that the essays and documents published in this series other little in the way of a message for those who seek, by distorting the true causes and consequences of historical events, to turn new generations and societies into enemies of one another in line with their own aims and interests or for those minds conditioned to incite bloodshed and death by constantly sowing the seeds of hate, antagonism, and hostility among people. It is also questionable to what degree the information published here will influence those who have adopted anti-Turkish attitudes as a personal mission and seek to disseminate them at every opportunity, those who cannot bear the thought of the existence or advancement of a Turkish state, or those who have converted their inveterate habit of regarding its existence as a perpetual threat to themselves into a political morality, an attitude, and a mode of behavior. The reason is that such minds and modes of living, attitude, and behavior have never been able to free themselves of the bigoted beliefs that have taken shape in the course of centuries and indeed the only things they recognize as true and real are their own aims and interests.

Such minds, attitudes, and behavior are dependent upon the confluence of the numerous conditions and political attitudes that are influential around them and in their immediate vicinity but they are nevertheless a very small minority not just in the world of humanity but even in their own societies and communities. In a world in which an ever-greater attempt is being made to eliminate a little more of the hate, antagonism, and hostility that flourishes and replace it with love, understanding, and -    particularly - an awareness of the truth, a series of publications such as this can lead to important and diverse benefits and insights. For one thing, published materials such as these might clearly reveal the real cost - in terms of lives, futures, and hopes - that is entafied when certain countries seek, in order to achieve their own aims and expectations, to encourage the citizens of another to engage in destructive and divisive activities and undercover acts and the whole world might come to realize their consequences. Public opinion should be made thoroughly aware of how individuals who pin all their hopes of achieving their short-term political lives and futures on the instigation of hate and antagonism among people and societies by employing distorted and exaggerated information can be rendered ineffective by persons of commonsense and intelligence within those groups and societies and of how much damage such political individuals can cause in their heedlessness. Such attitudes and acts have existed throughout human history however and a proper awareness and interpretation of them has always been dependent upon the revelation of genuine and authentic historical documents and upon a reading and understanding of them. Discussions and debates based upon such documents and the results there of can shape the world of the future; at the very least, it may put an end to the longings of those who would seek to toy with the fate of people, societies, and the world for their own interests. Our foundation has undertaken this duty of creating just such an awareness in its publication of this series.

The first volume of this series covered the documents pertaining to the Talori Incidents - an organized, armed uprising whose geographical location was carefully determined in advance, whose modes of action were planned, and whose leaders were trained abroad - by Armenians, members of an Ottoman millet who were an integral part of Ottoman society, who were regarded by the state as its “Faithful Subjects”, who had served the state for centuries in a multitude of duties, who lived out their lives in a state of peace and security together with the Muslim majority in virtually every part of Anatolia (Asia Minor), who were engaged in every aspect of commercial life ranging from mining to jewelery-making, from money-changing to foreign trade, and from animal husbandry to farming, who had produced works in numerous branches of the fine arts, and who - despite the fact that they constituted a minority where they lived - enjoyed a level of economic prosperity and power that was above the average. This uprising was directed against the very state that had made it possible for them to achieve what they enjoyed.

Numerous authors have examined and written about the events referred to as the “First Sasun Rebellion”. As they appear in documents - published for the first time from the Ottoman archives - these were incidents in which those directing revolutionary activities who sought to exploit an uprising by turning the Talori region into a bridgehead from which it could be spread throughout Anatolia were suppressed by military force thus bringing to an end events that would otherwise among them.

In this and the subsequent volumes of the series we will be providing documents concerned with developments taking place in the empire’s domestic and foreign policies after the Talori affair.

Among the most important features of the main documents in this second volume are the important differences of opinion between Abdülhamid II and his grand viziers (and between his grand viziers and those around them) regarding the proper evaluation of the Armenian intrigues and activities that were increasing in proportion to the attrition (which was itself being caused by various factors) of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over international relations, that were threatening the empire’s independence and hegemony and the integrity of its Anatolian territories, and that were clearly being directed from abroad; a state of disorganization in the management of domestic affairs; an attitude of near defeatism regarding fiscal matters; and, outside the empire, the attempts of France, Russia, and - especially - Britain to exert heavy pressure on the empire in order to take advantage of its weaknesses and achieve the realization of their own geopolitical interests and expectations.

By now it should be appreciated how inadequate must be any attempt to investigate and examine the historical events that are called “The Armenian Problem” or “The Armenian Question” without giving attention to the host of developments caused by the struggle and competition for power in international relations or to the increasing impotence of the Ottoman Empire arising from internal and external conditions in the context of those developments. Publications that disregard changing world conditions or the policies, interests, and expectations of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and other countries in parallel with the positions they assumed or that remain, to a substantial degree, under the propagandistic and psychological influence of those countries have always found the means to convert every problem into one whose dimensions involve the rights or human values of the minorities in the Ottoman Empire. It was in the name of “reform” that these countries found the means whereby they might realize their interests and expectations in the empire’s territories and the areas under its control. As was indicated in the first volume of this series, it was the Ottoman Empire that paid the cost of the political balance in Europe.

Economic, political, and social developments in the world of the 1890’s indicated that the future was likely to be arrayed around one or two “power centers” and that there existed currents of change that would be influenced by them.

In those days, Britain ruled a quarter of the world’s population and territory measuring twelve million square miles. New additions to the areas under Britain’s control around 1895 added about another sixty mifrion people while the addition of its colonial territories amounted to nearly five million square miles. Britain possessed the world’s biggest navy. It controlled world trade by means of underwater cables, its naval commanders in London were in touch with the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, South Asia, and Australia. It was at the pinnacle of uncontested power, thanks to its victories beginning a century before. In the field of economics it controlled world production and directed the flow of world trade. Its position provided Britain with opportunities to upset world power balances at will.

The buffer zones that it had managed to create in different geographical regions of the world and the existence of areas in which its interests were not vital provided Britain with a vast freedom of movement, maneuverability, and accommodation. Its “grand strategy” was founded on the principle of a strong diplomatic and strategic balance. This strategy, consisting of preserving the existing areas of hegemony, maintaining undisputed control of the oceans and inland seas, and steadily increasing the homeland’s economic and technological development, guided the policies it developed and set its aims. The goals of political stability, economic affluence, and aggrandizement of power could only be achieved by remaining unrivalled in the overseas territories and on the high seas and that appeared to be depen balance in Asia and the Middle East. It was because of these attitudes that, in the 1890’s, Britain competed with France on the high seas, in the eastern Mediterranean, and in the Middle East; with Germany in the balance of power in Europe and in the territories of the Ottoman Empire; and with Russia in the Middle East, Balkans, Anatolia, and Asia - particularly in Afghanistan and China.

Britain’s relations with the Ottoman Empire and its basic policies concerning that empire were shaped within the framework of the principles just discussed. For a long time it was a fundamental British policy to preserve the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire and to exploit the empire’s geopolitical position and economic resources in line with British interests. It assumed the aspect of an invariable principle in whatever the British Conservative Party did. A second approach however involved creating a “Bulgaria” in the Balkans and an “Armenia” in Anatolia and, in the Middle East, “making a place for the Jews” and establishing a satellite “Arab state”, thereby ensuring the primacy of British interests in the competition and power struggle with Russia, France, and Germany. This was the policy followed by the Liberals but the Conservatives were to join in it as well around the middle of the 1890’s. That is what the “Armenian Question” meant for Britain. British attitudes and actions regarding the Ottoman Empire henceforth were to be shaped according to these principles; Armenian intrigue and separatist acts and activities were to be encouraged and supported and thereby the concessions necessary could be achieved.

In the 1890’s, France was the second biggest overseas power after Britain. Between 1871 and 1890, it added three and a half million square miles of new territory to its control and was in a position of rapidly increasing its economic and technological development. It had enormous investments and corporate interests in the Balkans and Turkey. He had extended a considerable volume of credit to czarist Russia and was an important impetus to and supporter of modernization activities in that country; indeed, its closest ally was Russia. The only country France regarded as an enemy in Europe was Germany while it competed with Britain over the colonial territories and on the high seas. When its interests conflicted with those of Britain in the Congo, in western Africa, in Siam, or in the Nile valley, the result was crises and outbreaks of fighting.

France’s “grand strategy” was based fundamentally upon maintaining and furthering its strength in continental Europe. One of its aims was to prevent any accumulation of German power. The alliances that it secured with other European states - and particularly with Russia -prepared the means whereby a degree of bargaining and accommodation might take place. This situation made itself particularly felt in the Balkans. The country acted alone however in the sphere of its overseas activities.

France was a country whose relations with the Ottoman Empire went back quite a long time and, with the exception of its policies of strategic expansion during the Napoleonic period, a condition of friendliness had always reigned between the two. The existence of the Ottoman Empire and the integrity of its territories constituted one of the most important guarantees of France’s security: any collapse or dismemberment of those territories resulting from the empire’s weakness would have left France hanging in a void for it was Britain that otherwise held sway in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. It was precisely these anti-British policies that played the most important role in relations between France and the Ottoman Empire. The encouragement and/or support of any intrigue or separatist acts and activities within the empire could, in the event of their success, result in a situation in which territorial integrity might be lost. Thus the aspects of the Armenian Question that were of concern to France involved a satisfaction of public opinion at home; overseas, they were based on the likelihood of future developments. Given that approach however it was natural that France should want a share of any concession that the Ottoman state might grant Britain or any other country. France’s investment in matters of economics, trade, culture, and education rendered this inescapable.

With territories extending from Finland to Vladivostok, Russia appeared to be a whole worid of its own with a giant and expanding population four times that of Britain and three times that of Germany. For four centuries it had been expanding - westward, southward, and eastward - and it had grown strong with the land and people it brought under its rule. Russia at this time was the world’s largest producer of petroleum. Its industrial productivity was growing an average of five or six percent a year. It was agriculturally self-sufficient; indeed, it had an export potential. Russia’s greatest weaknesses were the control foreigners exercised over its technological and industrial development, its steadily-growing foreign indebtedness, and the economic concessions it was forced to make as a result of these problems. Another problem was domestic anti-government activity, which always led Russia to be very uneasy about any form of separatism. The Crimean War had exposed Russia’s weaknesses while at the same time making the country even more dependent on western Europe. The war of 1877-78 had also cost Russia much economically and politically. Every eastern enterprise Russia might undertake brought it face-to-face with Britain yet the country realized that its growth and activities could only be in that direction.

The powers Russia regarded as its greatest threats in Europe (and particularly the Balkans) were Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the Middle and Far East, its interests conflicted with those of Britain. Any movement it might make in Afghanistan was particularly likely to be a direct threat to British interests and expectations and to the areas of British hegemony. The outbreaks of war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire that occurred almost like clockwork every twenty years are attributable to Russia’s historical aspirations.

Russia’s “grand strategy” converged around a maintenance of its internal stability and that included keeping Germany paralyzed, never getting involved in an illtimed conflict with Britain, and keeping all its interests constantly in balance.

The policies that Russia followed regarding the Ottoman Empire on the other hand were influenced by three principle factors: historical aims and geopolitical interests and expectations, the influence Britain wielded over the empire, and, finally, the weakness of the empire in its control over domestic affairs. This situation forced Russia in the 1890’s to follow a policy wherein it had to support the Armenians secretly but could not, under any circumstances, permit them to emerge as a political force or entity, whether as a fully independent country or even as a client state The reason for this was that a Bulgaria in the Balkans, a minority political entity in Anatolia, and a “Jewish state” and “Arab presence” in the Arabian peninsula - all of them British-influenced - quite obviously were not in accord with any of Russia’s interests or goals. Like France, Russia also followed a policy of appearing to support and aid the Armenians and gaining advantages in parallel with the developments that eventually took place.

By the 1890’s, the Ottoman Empire had lost nearly all of its territories and areas of control in Europe, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and Egypt. As a result of commercial treaties, foreign debts, and foreign investments, its economy was entirely dependent on external factors. Its foreign economic policies were influenced by fiscal measures at home and the empire had no recourse but to export its raw materials and food. More and more they were becoming mortgaged to foreign countries.

That the Ottoman Empire should have demonstrated any effectiveness whatsoever in the competitive struggle for power in international relations was inconceivable.

The empire’s population had contracted to eighteen million and the rate of its population growth was rapidly declining. Its people were scattered about in different countries while those left in Anatolia were tired and demoralized. It was only by means of maintaining a political balance that this empire - under the rule of Abdülhamid II, a painstaking sovereign who perceived his historical mission and the world clearly and who was able, despite his distress, to play power games with it - was able to remain afloat. The fundamental element of this policy was that, given the Ottoman Empire’s natural geopolitical position, there should never be a single political structure whose will was sufficient to break up or divide its territories.

In the face of all these external adversities, domestic administrative instability, a divided and uninspired administrative staff that gave no consideration to anything but its own interests, a government in which the sultan’s decree ruled all, and acts of separatism and rebellion all were racing with one another to prepare the empire’s end at a moment’s notice.

This then is the climate in which the Armenian separatism, secret societies, arms-acquisition, assassinations, robberies, and preparations for revolution appeared and operated. Every time the state attempted to protect itself however, foreign fleets appeared offshore and diplomats took up arms on behalf of separatists and rebels. The eagerness of European public opinion to come to the defense of human and minority rights in the empire and to do away with injustices being committed against Christians was such that one might have supposed that a new crusade was about to be mounted to lay waste to the Ottoman Empire.
 
In the documents published in this volume, the reader will see this situation in all its clarity. The events that history calls “The Armenian Question” are in fact the result of policies, attitudes, and activities on the part of Britain - principally, but also - France, and Russia and later others to make use separatist activities in Ottoman territories and the areas under its control as a force in their struggle for power on the international platform. So long as this fact is ignored and the matter is taken up and examined instead as “The Armenian Question”, neither the proofs nor the facts of history will, as was stated earlier above, impart any meaning. It is unfortunate that there is a desire on the part of the majority of Armenians to keep this fact from view. From time to time the matter is again made the subject of international power struggles and brought back repeatedly to the stage, thereby providing an inexhaustible source of propaganda material that serves the interests and expectations of everyone but the Armenians themselves.

If our foundation succeeds in relating the facts of history to people and reminding them of them, it will have done its duty.

Ertu?rul Zekai Ökte
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- OTTOMAN ARCHIVES YILDIZ COLLECTION THE ARMENIAN QUESTION II-POLITICAL DVELOPMENTS AFTER THE TALOR? INCIDENTS
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ERAREN - Institute for Armenian Research

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