By Khalid Taimur Akram
On 24 April 2021, USPresident Joe Biden declared thekillings of Armeniansin the former Ottoman Empire (1915) as Genocide.Since the last century, Armenians worldwide had beenwaiting for this moment. President Joe Biden has recognized these causalities to increase its vote bank as a large Armenian diaspora resides in the US. The pro-Armenian narrative of the US is evident of its rhetoric against Turkey. Turkey has never denied the suffering of the Armenian population during 1915-16. However, before labelling the tragic events of 1915-16 as Genocide, one must have an open and trueview to look at the historical context of reality. The article aims at elaborating the factsand critically evaluate the consequences of US recognition of Armenian deaths as Genocidein the broaderregion.
Understanding the Facts: Historical Perspective
For centuries, Armenians lived under the Ottoman Empire, cohabitating with multiple ethnicities in a vast empire. In the 19th century, the rise of nationalism started to crumble the foundations of the weakening Ottoman Empire, especially in the Balkans and Caucasus region. At that time, the Armenian population, following the nationalist approach, tookarms and conductedmilitant actions against their government and Turk citizens. Their growing alliance with Czarist Russia proved detrimental in WWIwhen the separatist fervour grew in the region. One of the main reasons for the relocation of the Armenian population from Anatolia was the continued cooperation with the Russian invaders by the Armenians. Since 1828, Russia started its attacks on the Ottoman empire. The local Armenian population supported them. The support culminated into open rebellionacts against the government, forming revolutionary groups and battalions. The government facilitated talks and negotiations with the Armenian leaders. However, no final resolution was achieved even though the empire was amid the war.
Separating Facts from the Myths:
At the beginning of the 20th century,Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, concentrated in the six provinces of Eastern Anatolia.A significant number of Armenians also lived beyond the Eastern border of the Ottoman Empire, in territory held by Russia. In Eastern Anatolia, Armenians lived intermixed with the dominant Kurdish nomads. They did not constitute a majority in any of the regions in which they lived, although they often resided in homogeneous villages and neighbourhoods within towns and cities. Demographic studies proved that fewer than 1.5 million Armenians lived in the entire Ottoman Empire prior to World War I. Thus, allegations that more than 1.5 million Armenians from eastern Anatolia died must be false.
The Armenians had taken arms against their government. Their violent political aims, not their religion, ethnicity, or race, caused them to be relocated.The government in 1915 decided to remove Armenians to the Southern provinces from warzones areas that also had trade, supply routes, and transport lines. The Ottoman government’s plan was to relocate the Armenian population and provide protection.Unfortunately, not all of them remained protected from suffering as conditions due to wartime were worsened by the internal conflicts.
Historical evidence tells the grim tale of serious inter-communal conflict brewing in the Ottoman Empire, which was perpetrated by Christians. The advent of World War 1, followed by disease, famine, and other consequences of war, led to massive causalities of Muslims and Armenians.There is no clear evidence to suggest that official direct orders ever came from the government to massacre the Armenian population during the relocations.
The Armenian narrative took precedence over all other truths, facts, and figures to paint avillainous picture ofTurkey.Even the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed is grossly exaggerated with statistical figures showing the same number of all Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Statistical examination by experts over the years estimates that less than 600000 Armenian’s were killed, while the rest either remained in Anatolia or emigrated to other countries.
–The author is an Executive Director, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad