This is a brief, concise explanation of the Armenian Revolt and the subsequent suppression. Most material you read on this topic will present a one-sided argument that fails in providing a critical analysis of events. Generally, material is designed by authors to "lead" the reader to come to a pre-designated conclusion of an "Absolute Genocide" or an "Absolute Denial".
The series below intends to overcome such hurdles by giving a historical account of all related events predating the Ottoman-Armenian Tragedy, with the belief that understanding history is crucial in our grasp of bigger events that follow in the aftermath.
To be able to understand 1915, we need to start out in 1774, when Ottoman Empire yielded rights over Orthodox population to Russia.
Part I – Death of a Societal System
The Ottoman Empire, during its classical age, roughly between 1453 (the conquest of Constantinopolis) to 1774 (the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca) had operated on a “Nation System”. The word “nation” here does not refer to a post-French Revolution understanding of the word, but quite a Medieval usage: It refers to four different groups of organized religion: The Islam, The Orthodox, The Jews and The Armenians. The intention of this division to is make sure that each important religion is satisfied and free to practice its religion with its chosen leadership. Each of the four nations had a leader that answered directly to the monarch, who by definition had political power over all religious institutions. Members of all Nations answered to their own religious leadership in law, but the Nation of Islam formally enjoyed a privileged condition as religion of the State. This system further made it possible for different ethnic groups to settle in various locations in the Empire, provided that they stayed in their own community, effectively mixing the ethnic groups. This mode of governing may be useful in explaining the Balkan politics today.
The system was established by Mehmet II. Although there were regional revolts, a general uprising by any one of the Nations did not take place, and the Empire managed to grow without any significant land loss. This was the case until the Karlowitz Treaty in 1699, when it lost significant land to the Hapsburg Empire, Venetia and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This treaty proved to be a milestone for the Empire and it began to retreat and lose soil to European powers. 75 years later in 1774, after another humiliating defeat to the Tsarist Russia, the Ottoman Empire signed a peace treaty. This treaty, called the Küçük Kaynarca Treaty after the name of the town it was signed in, included one statement that was ultimately to prove fatal to the Empire: It granted the rights of protection for its Orthodox subjects to Russia. Therefore, Russia had an international right to intervene with the Ottoman Empire's internal affairs if she perceived an unfair treatment of the Orthodox Christian subjects of the Empire.
Fifteen years after Küçük Kaynarca, Ottoman chroniclers noted the insurgence of a ladîni, “non-religious” state in Europe. They did not perceive this as a significant development. However, as a century passed and the Western European concept of Nationalism surged through the Empire, the Nations were no longer satisfied with a common religious leadership. The system that had survived the Renaissance was longer applicable to the approaching world of nation-states, and the ethnic groups started to find various ways of taking their destiny in their own hands. The first of these nations was the Greek Nation, retaining its Orthodox character in religion but politically separated from the ancient Orthodox patriarchate in Konstantiniyye and the Ottoman Empire. Balkan uprisings followed suit, but ethnic groups of Anatolia, Armenians one of them, were not yet under the influence of these developments.
In response to this development, and also influenced by the alien European conceptions, Ottoman Empire recognized a need to change its social structure. The first reaction was in 1839 when an edict was announced by Abdülmecit, promising perfect security to Ottoman citizens. A second edict was announced in 1856, promising equal education and opportunities, regardless of creed.
An important cornerstone for the Armenian Nation was 1860. In this year, Armenian intelligentsia drafted a Code of Regulations. This Code was accepted in 1863,2 shifting the balance of power away from the Armenian patriarchate to a newly formed Armenian National Assembly. During the same years, Alexander II of Russia was supressing Poles in Poland3, and was deporting the Muslim population of North Caucasus to Ottoman Empire.[4,5]
As these developments were taking place, the Muslim of the Ottoman Empire were also facing change. For almost the first time in the history of Islam, lands with Muslim population were being lost to Christian powers.The Küçük Kaynarca Treaty in 1774 had annexed Muslim population of Crimea to Russian Empire, which was the second significant land loss to Christianity, the first being Spain. 18th century saw the rise of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect in Arabia, the sect of the Saudi royal family, including Osama bin-Ladin. Wahhab, founder of the sect was disillusioned with the Ottoman sovereignty, which he believed – correctly – was unable to restore Islam to its former glory. When Abdülmecit had established a new court after the European models in 1837, it was perceived – again, correctly – as a threat to the Sha'ria. Ottoman Empire was losing its popularity among the Muslim populations, as well as the Christian populations. The Nation System was bankrupt, and the Ottoman leadership was desperately looking for a new way to resolve it.
It was in this state of dissolution that the Bulgarians, the nation whose heartland was only a hundred kilometers from the Ottoman Capital, revolted for independence in 1876. This successful revolution was to become an example for Ottoman Armenia. However, before we come to that, it will be useful to understand the roles and perceptions of the Russian and Ottoman rulers of the time.