The Russian archives are an invaluable source of information regarding the events in 1915 labeled as the Armenian Genocide. However, the story of Armenia can only be understood if one looks at it in context of World War I. In this time, many nations rebelled and established their kingdoms. Austria-Hungary lost many territories, the Ottoman Empire lost so much territory that 50+ countries were formed out of its lands. Russia was instrumental in reshaping territories in the east as part of the Triple Entente (Russia, France, Great Britain), which Russia joined in 1907.
Even before 1907, Russia has been chipping territory away from the Ottoman Empire for centuries since the 1500s. There has been 12 Russo-Ottoman wars, of which only 2 of them were won by the Ottomans over a span of 400 years.
As a Russian, I cannot deny that I am proud of my nation's superiority in these battles against the Ottomans. However, as a historian, I will try not to go into details of these battles, to keep my objectivity. I will focus on Russo-Armenian relations and actions to overthrow the Ottomans from the middle east and from Europe. I will use Russian archives, to be objective on Ottoman-Armenian relations.
Understanding the Russian Motivation
To understand what the Armenians did and what the Ottomans did, you must understand what Russia was aiming for. Russia wanted to vital trade artery of Constantinople and the Dardanelles for centuries. The only reason the Ottomans were rich in the 16th and 17th century was because of this trade post, until different routes to Asia around Africa were discovered.
Constantinople was the prize, and for centuries the Russians, not only incited rebellions in the Balkans against the Austrio-Hungary Empire and the Ottoman Empire, but also in the east, where there are Armenians. It's indeed upsetting to think that Russia was exploiting the Armenians' greed and nationalism to create their own nation, but that is indeed what they wanted, and Russia simply helped them.
Russia's foreign minister Sergey Sazonov explained to the French and British, that Russia required possession of Constantinople.
Before the Invasion of Turkey in 1914
Before Russia invaded Turkey, Russian military officials met with many high ranking Armenian leaders (Dashnak and Hunchak leaders), and it was already apparent with the thousands of Armenians who deserted the Ottoman army with their guns to join the Russian army or the Armenian rebel armies. The Armenians promised many volunteers to guide the Russians into the Ottoman territory and many soldiers to fight.
Let me make this clear for some Armenians who claim that Armenians rebelled in self-defense---that is absolutely false. The Armenians offered to help the Russians attack before any massacres or attacks by Ottomans. If you were wondering if the Armenians or Ottomans started the fight, well it was absolutely the Armenians, who were filled with nationalistic ideas of establishing their ancient homeland of Greater Armenia.
Boghos Nubar, the president of the Armenian National Delegation, confirms the degree to which the Armenians were dedicated to the cause:
In the Caucasus, where, without mentioning the 150,000 Armenians in the Imperial Russian Army, more than 40,000 of their volunteers contributed to the liberation of a portion of the Armenian vilayets, and where, under the command of their leaders, Antranik and Nazerbekoff, they, alone among the peoples of the Caucasus, offered resistance to the Turkish armies, from the beginning of the Bolshevist withdrawal right up to the signing of an armistice.
This was not an insignificant rebellion, the Armenians were dedicated to their cause, and thus it was a massive rebellion throughout the Ottoman east.
Let us not also forget the 8,000 Armenian volunteers in the British Army.
The Armenians were prepared for revolution, and they refused to be under Muslim rule.
As far as the Ottoman hatred of Armenians as some Armenians believe that such a thing actually existed, we must note that Russian Ambassador Zinovyev reported of Armenians being elected to the Ottoman parliament.
This showed that what happened to the Armenians in World War I was not at all similar to what happened to the Jews in World War II. Here's what he wrote in March 6th 1909, straight from the Russian archives:
two Moslem and an Armenian had just been elected to the Ottoman parliament, and that there had been no sign of hostility between the Moslems and the Armenians. The Turks, and in particular, the Turkish officers have been on very good terms with the Armenians. But the Armenians, who have been instigated against the Turks and the Moslem by their revolutionary associations, do not forge close ties to their Moslem neighbors.
As you can see, the Ottomans were in fact tolerant of minorities in their millet system. Ottoman tolerance is well known by historians who have studied its extensive 700 year history.
During the invasion of Turkey
What better way to prove the extent of the Armenian rebellion than to quote from the New York Times, which was sometimes embarrassingly anti-Turkish. Therefore, I think it would be a good source to document how the Armenian armies and volunteers were devastating the Ottoman war efforts.
The New York Times - Saturday, November 7, 1914
A dispatch received by The Daily Telegraph from Tiflis, capital of the Government of Caucasia, by way of Moscow, says: “The Turkish town of Van (140 miles southeast of Erzerum) is being besieged by a detachment of Armenians, who are aiding the Russians. The town has a large arsenal. “Another Armenian detachment is operating in the rear of the Turkish Army.”
Note that these reports are from 1914, before any alleged genocide. There haven't been any massacres of Armenians. The Armenian rebellion is not self-defense.
The New York Times - Friday, November 13, 1914
Turkish Armenians in Armed Revolt
We’re Ready to Join Russian Invaders.
From this border country there have come to Petrograd further reports of armed conflicts arising from the refusal of Armenians to become Turkish conscripts and to surrender their arms. It is now rumored that the important city of Van is today besieged by Armenian guerrilla bands in great force. In Feltun the number of insurgents is said to exceed 20,000 and they are reported to have defeated all the Turkish troops sent against them, causing heavy losses to the Turks.
During the invasion, the city of Van was captured, and many Muslims were massacred by the Armenians.
In this context, the Ottoman leaders knew that they had to somehow stop the rebellion and Europe offered a simple standard of dealing with rebellion: relocation or deportation of the hostile populace.
Due to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Russians withdrew from the invasion. The Armenian commanders and their armies were left behind to continue the war, and as Boghos Nubar expressed, they fought until the bitter end.
The Ottoman leaders issued decrees to relocate Armenians in Eastern Anatolia, because of the difficulty of identifying Armenian rebels who disguise themselves as innocent Armenians during the day, and at night become fedayees (rebels). The forced relocation had many excesses, and the reason for this was disease and lack of resources of the Ottoman government. The Ottoman leaders themselves were shocked at how they couldn't handle the relocations effectively, because they couldn't control the lawless lands of the East, where bandits were attacking the Armenians.
Regardless, the Ottomans did still try to pay the Armenians, shelter the Armenians, and guard the Armenians. All of which, is contradictory to the concept that an Armenian Genocide took place. The hanging of criminals and Ottomans who attacked Armenian convoys is also documented in many archives.
After the Russian retreat, the Armenian armies were unable to continue their efforts. They relied heavily on aid from the British, French, and Russians. However, they were not all trained soldiers, and so in full confrontation against the Ottoman armies, they had to retreat, and they resorted to hit and run tactics.
By the end of the war, the Armenians had been driven back to Yerevan, where they established their new nation. However, the Armenian armies had massacred and decimated hundreds of Ottoman villages. In addition, many Armenians fearing retribution for their own war crimes, migrated on French and British war ships and some migrated on foot toward Russia. The Armenian rebel leaders lived full lives, and many are still regarded as national heroes.
In contrast, the Jews did not rebel against the Nazis in World War II. The Armenian propaganda today, declares that the Turks were at fault for genocide, but they provide no proof that there was intention to exterminate. The only thing Armenians use today to back up their claim of genocide, is to quote various anti-Turkish newspapers or the American ambassador Henry Morganthau, who was asked to create propaganda by President Woodrow Wilson to convince the American public that America must join the war against the Central Powers.
If we were to believe the Armenian propaganda, which is widely spread today, then any rebellion that was put down, can be marked as genocide. The Ottomans may have been unprepared for Armenian relocations, but that doesn't make them guilty of genocide.