What led to the genocide of Armenians by the Ottomans

People take part in a torchlight procession as they mark the anniversary of the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces, Yerevan, April 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2019

What led to the genocide of Armenians by the Ottomans

  • Regional affairs expert explains the reasons behind the carnage
  • The Ottoman Empire was known during the 19th and early 20th centuries as the sick man of Europe

RIYADH: Eyad Abu Shakra, a Middle East specialist, said there were three things that needed to be considered when researching how the Ottoman Empire handled Armenia during the First World War. Approaching the subject in this way made it possible to understand the violent repression of non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman Empire, especially the Armenians.

Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Abu Shakra said the first point was related to Armenian history and heritage. They were among the first people to convert to Christianity, which was the dominant religion in Anatolia prior to Islam. The majority of Armenians belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. It was founded in the first century A.D. by St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, two of Jesus Christ’s disciples.

Abu Shakra said the second point was related to the “Eastern question,” a reference to the final decades of the Ottoman Empire and the mounting pressure it faced from European powers that were competing to carve out their own territories.

He said the historical roots of the Eastern question dated back to the 16th century, when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and Emperor Francis I reached an understanding by which France was granted special status as protector of the non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman Empire, which was at the time at the height of its power.

But what started as a generous grant bestowed by a powerful state in the 16th century, became in the 19th century a tool of European pressure, and impositions from Christian powers on a weakened Ottoman state. This imbalance was reflected in the military losses of the Ottomans at the hands of the Europeans.

The Ottoman Empire was known during the 19th and early 20th centuries as the sick man of Europe. 

The worst setbacks were during the Russo-Ottoman war of 1768-1774, when the Ottoman Empire lost territories in the northern Black Sea region. The Ottoman decline climaxed by the end of the 19th century, when they lost much of the Balkans to separatist Serbs and Bulgarians.

“The Eastern question was finally answered after the First World War with the total collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which was forced to sign the Treaty of Sevres and then the Treaty of Lausanne. It gave up its claims to the Balkans and the Middle East. New states came into existence, such as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey which was established in Anatolia, Istanbul and the Straits, while other territories came under direct rule of the allied victors,” said Abu Shakra.

The third point, according to Abu Shakra, lay in the Ottoman reforms that started during the reign of Sultan Abdul Majid I and continued until the First World War in 1914. For a long time the Ottoman Empire occupied swathes of territory across the continents of the ancient world. It included diverse populations and religions and this great power had an influential role in world politics. However, from the 18th century onward it became a decaying power.

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The European powers, on the other hand, were on the rise despite their rivalries. So while the Ottoman state bureaucracy and military deteriorated, its army suffered from defeats in various wars that it fought on various fronts, draining the empire’s resources. 

These defeats made the Ottoman intelligentsia consider going through reforms to save whatever could be saved and modernize the empire.  This reform movement made important achievements, but it was argued by conservatives that the internal fabric could not withstand the pace of reforms. This tension became a pretext for questioning the validity of the reforms which increased the confidence of non-Muslims (including Armenians), non-Turks (especially Arabs), who started to have a growing sense of identity. This friction was encouraged by the European powers, who had been interfering in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire.

As a result, Sultan Abdul Hamid II came to power representing the conservative nationalist line, which was apathetic to the aspirations of non-Turks, especially the European ones. Although Abdul Hamid was removed from power after 30 years, the theater was prepared for the “Armenian Genocide” during the years of the First World War.


Finding homes in ruin, destitute Iraqis return to camps

Updated 25 August 2019

Finding homes in ruin, destitute Iraqis return to camps

  • Across Iraq, more than 1.6 million people remain displaced, among them nearly 300,000 from Mosul alone, according to the International Organization for Migration

AL-KHAZER/IRAQ: Her tent is bare, she is unemployed and her family relies on food donations. But Nihaya Issa was forced to pick an Iraqi camp over the unlivable ruins of her native city Mosul.

The northern city was freed from Daesh’s grip more than two years ago, but tens of thousands of Iraqis who fled Mosul into sprawling displacement camps have yet to move back home. Many, like Issa, say they tried returning but were shocked by what they saw.

“When I went back to Mosul I didn’t find my house. It was destroyed,” said Issa, speaking from her stuffy tent in the Khazer camp about 30 km east of Mosul.

“I also couldn’t afford renting a house, so I came back to this camp again,” she told AFP, clapping her hands in exasperation.

Dark circles have formed under her eyes, and the widow and mother of eight girls said she and her children “live a tough life” in Khazer. But the 33-year-old feels she has little choice.

“We stay in the camp because of the food rations we get every 30 to 40 days,” she admitted.

Across Iraq, more than 1.6 million people remain displaced, among them nearly 300,000 from Mosul alone, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

They are spread out across a handful of displacement camps in the broader Nineveh province that have developed into full-fledged tent cities.

Amenities provided by NGOs include schools and training centers, health clinics and shops, football fields and hair salons — all mostly unavailable in Mosul and other towns ravaged by Daesh and the ensuing fighting.

Ghazwan Hussein, 26, hails from Sinjar, a region west of Mosul that was overrun by Daesh five years ago as it waged a brutal campaign against the district’s Yazidi minority.

The father of four fled the region to the Khazer camp, where he eked out a living until his son fell ill a few months ago. He sold his meager belongings in the camp to afford the required surgery and tried to return to Sinjar.

“I found that my house was unlivable. It was demolished and the area didn’t have basic services,” said Hussein, his toddler perched quietly on his lap outside their tent.

“I couldn’t stay and came back to Khazer once again.”

Only a sliver of Sinjar’s native population of 500,000 Yazidis has returned, with the rest saying persistent destruction, the lack of services and the tense security situation have kept them in camps.

Hussein said the Iraqi government should speed up reconstruction efforts and compensate displaced citizens.

“Does it make sense to keep us in the camp without work for three years, as if in jail?” he asked.

“We just eat, sleep, and live on food baskets without any hope the situation will improve so we can go home.” Mosul’s migration office said up to 25 families a day are leaving their destroyed homes to return to displacement camps to access better services.

“For the past 18 months, we have also seen ‘reverse migration’ back to the camps or to the Kurdish region,” said office head Khaled Ismail.

“The reasons for reverse displacement are varied according to the regions: It might be tied to the security situation, the family’s financial conditions or the fact that their destroyed homes are unsuitable for living.”

According to the migration office, about 72,000 families have returned to Nineveh since the fighting against Daesh ended two years ago.

Many are returning to the eastern side of Mosul, which was left more intact when fighting ended and where returning residents find restaurants and shops reopening.

But across the Tigris River in the Old City, mountains of rubble still seal off many streets and unexploded ordnance, rocket remnants, and even decomposing bodies lie under ruined homes.

For the most desperate families, those ruins will have to do.

IOM says nearly 30,000 returnees in Mosul are living in vulnerable conditions including destroyed homes, schools and other public buildings — the highest number of any location in Iraq.

Shaking from a medical condition, Sabiha Jassem made her way through her tiny home, the grimy walls dotted with bullet holes and flies.

She and her children could not afford to pay rent in east Mosul and returned to their home in the ravaged Old City.

“This house is a danger to us — its roof and walls could collapse. But we’re poor and have no other solution but to live in it,” said Jassem, 61.

“This is not a life we are living here.”