The Ottoman Armenian Tragedy is a Genuine Historic Controversy
William L. Langer
Feroz Ahmad
Arend Jan Boekestijn
Brendon J. Cannon
Mary Schaeffer Conroy
Youssef Courbage
Paul Dumont
Bertil Duner
Gwynne Dyer
Edward J. Erickson
Philippe Fargues
Michael M. Gunter
Paul Henze
Eberhard Jäckel
Firuz Kazemzadeh
Yitzchak Kerem
William L. Langer
Bernard Lewis
Guenter Lewy
Heath W. Lowry
Andrew Mango
Robert Mantran
Justin McCarthy
Michael E. Meeker
Hikmet Ozdemir
Stephen Pope
Michael Radu
Jeremy Salt
Stanford Shaw
Norman Stone
Hew Strachan
Elizabeth-Anne Wheal
Brian G. Williams
Gilles Veinstein
Malcolm Yapp
Thierry Zarcone
Robert F. Zeidner

William Leonard Langer (1896-1977), was assistant professor (1925-1936), then professor of history (1936-1942; 1952-1977) at Harvard University, specialist of Ottoman Empire, Near East and Russia. He was also Chief of the Research and Analysis branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), from 1942 to 1945, and assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency, from 1950 to 1952.

major publications

  • The Franco-Russian Alliance. 1890-1894, 1929.
  • European Alliance and Alignments. 1870-1890, 1931.
  • An Encyclopedia of World History, 1940; new editions, 1948, 1952, 1968, 1972.
  • Our Vichy Gamble, 1947.
  • Political and Social Eupheaval, 1969.

RELEvANT publications

  • The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1935; second edition, 1951, reprint 1960.

Source:The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1935

"The Hentchakian Revolutionary Party was, in 1890, invited to join the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and did so, but the association of the two did not last long. Nazarbek was evidently not an easy person to get on with, and preferred to work on his own. At first he had trouble in finding followers, but his new collaborators worked hard. Khan-Azad, for example, went to Constantinople in July 1889 and began to spread propaganda. He consulted with Khrimian, but found the old man doubtful: “You are crazy," said the old patriot. “The Armenians are a very small nation, and how much blood will have to be shed.” He could not see how anything substantial could be done without European help. But Khan-Azad was not discouraged. He went on to Tiflis, where he had no better luck. It was only in Trebizond that he found any real enthusiasm. There he established the central committee of the party, and from that centre agents were sent out who organized revolutionary cells in Erzerum, Kharput, Smyrna, Aleppo and many other places. Nazarbek himself stayed discreetly in Geneva, but in a volume of stories published later he has given us vivid pictures of the agitators visiting the peasants, “talking the night through with them, speaking with them of their sufferings, unceasingly, impatiently, preaching the gospel of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, rousing their crushed spirits with high resolves and mighty aspirations."

The ambassadors at Constantinople were not slow in following the development of this agitation. From 1888 onward the English representative reported the presence of revolutionaries and the seizure of seditious literature. Revolutionary placards were being posted in the cities and there were not a few cases of the blackmailing of wealthy Armenians, who were forced to contribute to the cause. Europeans in Turkey were agreed that the immediate aim of the agitators was to incite disorder, bring about inhuman reprisals, and so provoke the intervention of the powers. For that reason, it was said, they operated by preference in areas where the Armenians were in a hopeless minority, so that reprisals would be certain. One of the revolutionary told Dr. Hamlin, the founder of Robert College, that the Henchak bands would "watch their opportunity to kill Turks and Kurds, set fire to their villages, and then make their escape into the mountains. The enraged Moslems will then rise, and fall upon the defenseless Armenians and slaughter them with such barbarity that Russia will enter in the name of humanity and Christian civilization and take possession."

When the horrified missionary denounced the scheme as atrocious and infernal beyond anything ever known, he received this reply:

"It appears so to you, no doubt; but we Armenians have determined to be free. Europe listened to the Bulgarian horrors and made Bulgaria free. She will listen to our cry when it goes up in the shrieks and blood of millions of women and children... We are desperate. We shall do it.”

Serious trouble began in 1890, when there were disturbances and some bloodshed at Erzerum. The outbreak had not been premeditated or planned, but the Hentchak hoped to capitalize it. To encourage interest it arranged to stage a great demonstration in Constantinople to impress both the Turkish and the European governments. The affair was carefully planned and the minimum demands of the revolutionaries (civil liberties) were sent in advance to the foreign ambassadors. A proclamation was read in the Armenian Church at Kum-Kapu, in which the Armenians were told in so many words: "You must be your own self-governing master."

Even this demonstration had no favorable results. During the following months the efforts of the leaders seem to have gone into negotiations for an agreement with other revolutionary groups. There were long conferences at Athens, and in December 1891 the Hentchak officially joined the Oriental Federation of Macedonian, Albanian, Cretan and Greek revolutionists. The newspaper was transferred to Athens, where it remained until the end of 1894, at which time the Armenian organization moved to London. In the interval propaganda was being carried on in Armenia and efforts were being made to induce the Kurds to join forces with the insurgents. Agents were sent also to America, where branches were established in Boston, Worcester and other cities. Khan-Azad reports that he raised in America no less than $10,000 to support the cause.

When the Gladstone cabinet came into power in the summer of 1892 the hopes of the Armenians ran high, for was not the Grand Old Man the saviour of the oppressed? As a matter of fact the Liberal Government began almost at once to send sharp notes to the Porte. The Anglo-Armenian Committee and the Evangelical Alliance made the most of the situation and raised the hue and cry of religious persecution. But English influence had sunk so low at Constantinople that no attention was paid to the protests from London. The Turkish government probably realized even then that the Russian government, just as hostile to the Hentchakian aspirations as the Turkish, would stand behind it. In 1890 the Russian officials had co-operated with the Turkish in breaking up an Armenian raiding party organized in the Caucasus. Many writers have taken the stand that English intervention only made matters worse. "The Turk begins to repress because we sympathize," wrote David Hogarth, “and we sympathize the more because he represses, and so the vicious circle revolves.” England “is more responsible for the cold-blooded murders which have come near exterminating the Armenians than all other nations put together,” remarked an American traveller.

It requires no very vivid imagination to picture the reaction of the Turks to the agitation of the revolutionists. They had constantly in mind, if not the revolt of the Greeks, at least the insurrection in Bulgaria and the disastrous intervention of Russia and the powers. Whether Abdul Hamid deserves the black reputation that has been pinned to him is a matter for debate. If he was “the bloody assassin” and the “red Sultan” to most people, he was the hard-working, conscientious, much harassed but personally charming ruler to others. Those who have spoken for him have pointed out that the Sultan felt his Empire threatened by the Armenians, who, he knew or at least believed, were in league with the Young Turks, the Greeks, Macedonians, etc. They believe that Abdul Hamid was the victim of what we moderns call a persecution complex. He was terrified, and for that reason surrounded himself not only with high walls, but with all sorts of dubious characters, especially spies and delators who justified their existence by bringing ever more alarming reports.

So much at least cannot be denied: that the revolutionists planned a great conflagration and that they gave the Sultan and his ministers ample fright. One of their proclamation read:

"The times are most critical and pregnant with ominous events. The cup is full. Prepare for the inevitable. Organize, arm, —arm with anything. If one place revolts or shows resistance, do the same in your locality. Spread the fight for liberation. Yes, in truth, it is better to live as a free man for a day, for an hour, and to die fighting, than to live a life of slavery for generations, nay for centuries."

In the summer of 1894 the Revolutionary Committee wrote a letter to the Grand Vizier warning him that there would be a general rising in the Empire if the “very just demands of the Armenian people” were not met. No one could blame the government for anticipating a tremendous upheaval and for taking precautions. Probably to counteract the efforts made to bring the Kurds into the movement, the Sultan had, in 1891, organized the tribesmen in the famous Hamidie regiments, which were modeled on the Russian cossack brigades and were supposedly meant to act as a frontier defense force. In 1877 and 1878, however, the Kurd troops had been more trouble than they were worth; it may therefore be assumed that the purpose of the new organizations was to satisfy the chiefs and keep them from joining forces with the Armenian revolutionaries. In fact they could and were, under the new system, used against the Armenians. Beginning in 1892, the Hamidie regiments, sometimes supported by regular troops, began to raid the Armenian settlements, burning the houses, destroying the crops and cutting down the inhabitants.

And so the revolutionaries began to get what they wanted — reprisals. It mattered not to them that perfectly innocent people were being made to suffer for the realization of a program drawn up by a group in Geneva or Athens, a group which had never been given any mandate whatever by the Armenian community. So far as one can make out the Hentchak agitators were ardently supported by the lower-class Armenians in Constantinople, with whose help they forced the election of the patriot Ismirlian as patriarch in 1894. But the upper classes appear to have been opposed to the whole program; indeed, they were victimized themselves by threatening letters and by blackmail into the financing of a scheme which they regarded as disastrous. As for the peasantry in the provinces, it is perfectly obvious that they did not know what it was all about. Isabella. Bishop, who travelled through the country in 1891, makes the positive statement "that the Armenian peasant is as destitute of political aspirations as he is ignorant of political grievances. . . not on a single occasion did I hear a wish expressed for political or administrative reform, or for Armenian independence.” Hogarth tells of Armenians in the provinces who said they wished the patriots would leave them alone. But these people were not consulted. Whether they liked it or not, they were marked out by others for the sacrifice; their lives were the price to be paid for the realization of the phantastic national-socialist state of the fanatics." Pp. 157-160

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