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Armen Ayvazyan

THE ARMENIAN REBELLION OF THE 1720S AND THE THREAT OF GENOCIDAL REPRISAL

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3

THE RISE OF ANTI-ARMENIAN ATTITUDES AND ITS RAMIFICATIONS

Preliminary Notes

Hitherto Armenian Genocide studies have been primarily conducted within the context of the period between 1870 and 1923. The deeper chronological retrospective has been completely rejected on the grounds that genocide, in the modern use of the term, is thought of as an offspring of later ideologies of racism and nationalism and in the Armenian case especially of pan-Turkism. However, for states that later perpetrated full-scale genocides, the dismissal of their previous practice of extermination is more than ahistorical. The earlier bureaucratic, administrative, and military traditions of such states and especially their habitual treatment of minorities, rebels, and newly conquered populations merits careful examination. These traditional policies could have contributed to the development of later sophisticated genocidal ideologies by at a minimum providing ready intellectual, behavioral and decision-making models for operations on extermination and at a maximum by being simply revitalized and adjusted for employment in a changed historical context.

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Two aspects related to the social and sociopsychological background of the Armenian Genocide of 1894-1923 particularly relevant to our topic have been emphasized by analysts. First, "the dynamic of the genocidal process at the level of the masses,"82 or as Vahakn Dadrian, the leading expert on the dynamics of the Armenian Genocide, posed it earlier in the form of the question "what possible social and psychological conditions could have led these individuals (i.e., Turkish villagers) to rise up in great numbers, and through concerted actions to exterminate their neighbors?"83

Second, as Dadrian observed, during the 1894-1896 and 1909 Armenian massacres "there is a discernible Ottoman-Turkish pattern where resort to wholesale massacres emerges as an integral part of a policy respecting the treatment of minorities considered to be discordant and troublesome for the state."84

Clearly, the type of deeper chronological retrospective offered in this study provides us with new insights into the genesis of later genocidal policies in the Ottoman Empire.

Documents

The most expedient way to continue this study is to read the documentary information on Armenian apprehensions of the 1720s. In the following seven documents excerpts are taken from those letters, reports, and memoirs which most directly express this Armenian anxiety of being totally exterminated. The most explicit passages are presented in bold face followed by the original Armenian or Russian wording.

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Document 1

Type: A letter on the developments in Iran, Armenia, and Georgia. 85

Author: Minas Pervazian (1680-1757), Archbishop, Locum-Tenens of the Patriarch of All Armenians, the Prelate of the Armenians in North-Eastern Armenia and all Georgia.86

Addressee: Minas Tigranian (1658-1740), Archbishop, from 1711 plenipotentiary representative of the clandestine Armenian liberation movement to the Russian Court; in 1716 was appointed Prelate of the Armenians in Russia.87

Where written: Tiflis (Tbilisi), capital of the Georgian Kartli principality within the Iranian Empire

Date: 12 December 1722

The excerpt reads:

...Oh Vardapet (i.e., doctor of divinity), for God's sake and as a token of your love toward the crucified Christ, act [so that] the King (i.e., Peter the Great) soon arrives in Shamakhi. As soon as he sets foot there, his name will be sufficient for 100,000 Armenian-race soldiers to gather round his feet. But if you are late and do not arrive there by March, our nation will be exterminated and the faith of the Illuminator88 will be extirpated (զմեր ազգն բնաջինջ կանեն, եւ զԼուսաւորչի հաւատն պաթալ կանեն)... [so] may the king come to Shamakhi soon, [otherwise, as] we and the Muslims know well, Armenia will be utterly destroyed (բոլոր Հայաստուն զէնահար), if you continue to delay any more and do not hasten to our assistance....

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Document 2

Type: A situation report covering the events in Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and Transcaucasia from 20 February 1722 to 22 August 1723. 89

Author: Petros di Sarkis Gilanentz; before 1722 took an important part in clandestine Armenian liberation activities; Captain of the all-volunteer Armenian Squadron (Армянский эскадрон) set up at his and his companions' expense in 1723 within the Caspian Contingent of the Russian military; killed in action near Rasht in 1724.90

Addressee: Archbishop Minas Tigranian

Where written: Rasht (Iran)

Date: 22 August 1723

The excerpt reads:

...It is said that our Armenian mobilized soldiery consists of 60,000 men in three corps, and is quartered in three [fortified] areas... Your Grace must think of and care for them, since all Iranian Shiites and Ottoman Turks are after their blood and because of them (i.e., because of the Armenian rebels) the Armenians now suffer everywhere (թամամ Ղզլբաշն եւ Օսմանլուն նոցայ արընին յետնէն ան եւ նոցայ պատջառիւ ամենայն տեղի Խայերն նեղութիւն ան քաշում). Believe me that the reasons for the [current] devastation of Armenia are as follows: first, they say that 'the Armenians have to be totally massacred (ասում ան, թէ Հայքն թամամ ջաոթել պիտի), since they are responsible for the devastation of this country by bringing the Russians into Iran, by inviting the Afghans into Isfahan,91 and, over and above, 60,000 [militant] Armenians have assembled to join the Russians in order to destroy us.'...Alas, our name has become notorious throughout Iranian and Ottoman states: they allege that 'those Armenians vowed loyalty to

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the Russian king and are sucking our blood.' If — God forbid - you don't find a solution by obtaining an appropriate [Russian imperial] decree [to assist the Armenians militarily], henceforth we will not be able to live in this country (i.e., in Iran), and, if caught, we will be killed like dogs rather than like men;92 so we will be forced to wander around in the country of the Russians...93

Document 3

Type: A letter on the recent developments in Transcaucasia.94

Authors: Yesayi Hasan-Jalalian (7-1728), Catholicos and political leader of the Karabakh Armenians,95 with his See in Gandzasar monastery;96 Avan-yuzbashi and eight other field commanders.

Addressee: Peter the Great, the Russian Emperor

Where written: Karabakh (most probably, Gandzasar monastery)

Date: 1 November 1723

The excerpt reads:

...Now, if within one or two months no commander and troops under Your authority comes [to help us], Your Lordship could be certain that the enemies of Christ's Cross would exterminate us as a nation (զ մեզ ազգավիմբ կբառնան ի միջոյ թշնամիք խաչին Քրիստոսի)...and, you will be held responsible by the Lord for our blood.

NOTE. Though written at different times, three later appeals from Karabakh to Moscow, written mainly by the same

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persons, reiterated this fear: (a) On 18 October 1724. in a message to Peter the Great, they wrote: "...indeed, within the next two or three months they (i.e., the Turkish troops) will capture us, and massacre, and annihilate this Christian nation altogether (Բ-Գ ամսում կառնուն զմեզ եւ կոտորեն եւ բնաւին քրիստոնեայ ազգն կուջնջեն ). You are the only hope for our salvation."97

(b) On 10 March 1725. in a message to Vakhtang VI and his son Shahnavaz-khan, who at that time were working at the Russian Court to obtain promised military assistance,98 they wrote: "...This is the day for help and support. If we do not receive support from there (i.e., from the Russian troops on the Caspian coast) within one or two months, our Christian nation will be altogether annihilated [by the attacking Turkish troops] (թամամ քրիստոնեայ ազգս բնաջինջ կու լինի ). What will be the use of all your [hard] efforts then?"99

(c) A slight paraphrase of the same apprehension could be found also in their message to Peter the Great of 10 March 1725: "...they will altogether annihilate our Christian Armenian nation (որ ամենայն ազգս Հայոց քրիստոնէից բնաջինջ առնելոյ են)." 100

Document 4

Type: A letter on the recent developments in the Transcaucasus and Iran.101

Author: Martiros (dates of birth and death are unknown), Bishop, Father Superior of the Meysari Armenian monastery

Addressee: the Russian commandant of Darband

Where written: Meysari monastery (half a kilometer from Shamakhi)102

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Date: 24 February 1724 The excerpt reads:

...more than once they [the Ottoman Turks and their Sunni Caucasian allies] wanted to massacre the Armenians and Ghajars (i.e., local Shia Muslims),103 but were prevented [from doing so] by the akhunds [here — the Sunni Muslim clergy]104. We are in great trouble: if not today, then tomorrow they will massacre us. For Our Lady's sake, save us from their hands (քանի անգամ ասացին Հայն ու Ղաջարն կոտորեն, ախունդներ չի թողին։ Շատ նեղութեան մէջ եմք. այսօր վաղն զմեզ կու կոտորեն....) ....As soon as [Turkish] couriers reached Surkhay,105 it was again decided to massacre the Armenians (կրկին դղար արարին, թէ Հայերր կոտորենք). If not today, then tomorrow they will massacre us...

NOTE. Even more specific was the rendering of this letter into Russian made on 21 April 1724 in Moscow by another Armenian political figure, Luka Ilyin (Shirvanov)106: "[the Turks] instructed Surkhay to try to massacre the Armenians altogether...since it is the Turkish intent to eradicate us all (писано к нему, Сурхаю, чтоб он старался армян всех побить... ибо турецкое намерение есть, чтоб нас всех искоренить).107

Document 5

The type, author, addressee, and place of composition are the same as Document 4.108

Date: 6 March 1724

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The excerpt reads:

The Turks constantly talk [to us] as follows: 'You, vile giaurs (infidels), are happy that the bastard Russians are coming, right? Therefore we will so [completely] massacre you that you will not see their face.' Each and every day they deliberate on how to massacre the Armenians (ձեզ յենց կոտորենք, որ նոցա երես չի դեսնուք: Ամեն օր, ամեն օր մասլահատ են անում, որ հայեր կոտորեն).

Document 6

Type: A memorandum on the activities of the Armenian Catholics in Constantinople (Istanbul)

Author: Yeghia Vardapet Martirosian of Constantinople (1665-1757),109 Friar of the Mekhitarist (Armenian Benedictine) Congregation

Addressee: Mekhitar Sebastatsi (1676-1749), Abbot General, the Island of San Lazzaro, Venice110

Where written: Galata, Istanbul

Date: 9 March 1725

The excerpt reads:

...the king [i.e., Sultan Ahmed III], being extremely troubled with the Armenians because of [the] Persia[n events], has many times ordered the total extermination of the Armenians; however, the mufti did not [agree to] issue an order to exterminate the Armenians. The [Istanbul Armenian] Patriarch is cognizant that, because of the Seghnakh Armenians, the chief rulers of this country are wrathful [against all Armenians] and call them 'disloyal.' He knows that as soon as he launches a campaign for the detention of the [Armenian] Catholics

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the wounds of the king will be reopened and he would assume that local Armenians are also rebellious... that is why and for other hidden motives (sic) he does not attempt to have anyone arrested [from the Armenian Catholics] (թագաւորն տաղտկացեալ է ի հայոց եւ բազմիցս կամեցեալ է ի պատճառս Աճեմիստանու բնաւ զՀայս բնաջինջ առնել, բայց մուֆթին ոչ տուեալ է զհրաման առ ի բնաջինջ աոնել զՀայս։ Ուստի գիտելով զայս պատրիարքին, թէ ի պաատճառս Սղնախու Հայերուն կարի զայրացեալք են մեծամեծք տեղւոյս՝ անհաւատարիմ ասելով, եւ յորժամ սկսի աստ եւս ինքն բռնել տալ զուղղափառսն, յայնժամ վերանորոգին վէրքն թագաւորին, թէ աստ եղեալքն եւս են ապստամբք։ Վասն այսորիկ եւ վասն այլոց գաղտնի պատճաոաց ոչ ըմբռնէ զոք).111

NOTE 1. Mufti or Shaykh Al-lslam was an Ottoman legal authority appointed by the Sultan and vested with the exclusive right to issue a ruling (fatwa)112 related to the major provisions of Islamic law.113 The mufti was at that time a full 'member' of the Ottoman government, though "guided by the ministers' inclinations, to which he always rendered obedience."114

NOTE 2. From the second half of the seventeenth century the relations between the Armenian and Catholic Churches sharply deteriorated, giving rise to such events as the abduction and detention in the Bastille of the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople (1706) and persecutions of Armenian Catholics especially in Istanbul.115

Document 7

Type: Memoirs

Author: Yeghia Astvatzaturian Musheghian (1689-1750?), a Deputy to the Director of the English East India Company

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Tabriz Office in 1718-1723; in 1723, for a brief period, appointed French Consul in Mashad (Iran); participant in clandestine Armenian liberation activities from the 1710s to 1724. In 1724 he was sent by the Iranian Court to European states on a diplomatic mission.116 However, on his way through Russia he was denounced by his Catholic companion, mistakenly accused of spying, and imprisoned in Russia from 1724 to 1736. In 1745, after a long journey through Europe to Iran, he returned to his native Karin (Erzerum).117

Addressee: Armenian youth and future generations118

Where written: Karin (Erzerum)

Date: 1747-1749

The excerpt reads:

... having heard all this [i.e., allegations that Julfa Armenians collaborated with the Afghans, cf. Doc. 2 above], the Persians' envy and hatred [towards the Armenians] increased119 to the extent that they wished totally to massacre and exterminate every single Armenian; they wanted [to perpetrate] that [intent] on many occasions, but did not succeed, since God has saved them (i.e., the Armenians) till the present day and will save them! (կամեյին զնոսա կոտորել ի սպառ եւ բնաջինջ առնել զամենեսին, որ բազմիցս կամեցան, բայց ոչ յաջողեցաւ նոցա, այյ Աստուած փրկեաց զնոսա մինչ ի այսօր եւ շռփրկեսցէ' )120

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The Irano-Armenian Conflict (1722-1724)

In 1722-1723 anti-Armenian passions were aroused in Iran, pre-dating such events in the Ottoman Empire. The major reason for this was the powerful liberation struggle launched in Eastern Armenia in 1722. Muhammad Kazim, the official historian of the famous Iranian ruler Nadir (1688-1747), relates that as soon as Tahmasb II (1722-1732) was crowned as the new Shah of Iran in Qazvin, northern Iran, the Iranian officials of Transcaucasia had rushed to warn him first about the rapid expansion of the Armenian rebellion which was already "threatening the fall of Ganja and Yerevan... [so that] if the [military] assistance does not arrive within a few days, the rebellion of this nation could not be stopped any more." Therefore the first decision of Shah Tahmasb II was to organize a punitive expedition against the Armenians, although this did not get beyond the preparation stage.121 This plan was to have been enacted in November 1722.122 During 1722-1724 intense hostilities took place between Iranian and Armenian troops in Kapan and Nakhichevan.123

The Iranians' allegations that the Armenians of New Julfa (a city neighboring Isfahan and inhabited exclusively by Armenians)124 collaborated with the Afghans supply a classic scapegoating explanation for the Iranians' rage against the Julfa Armenians. Krusinski, an eyewitness to the Afghan capture of Isfahan, strongly and in detail defends the Armenians against this what he calls "pretended infidelity."125 His following statements in particular support and clarify the reports by Musheghian and Gilanentz (see documents 2 and 7 above):

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Though the [Persian] Court's abandoning the [Armenian] City of Zulfa (Julfa), notwithstanding the repeated instances that were made for assistance; and the cruel treatment the citizens [of Julfa] had met with from the rebels, was enough to vindicate their fidelity [to the Shah]; yet they were looked upon as traitors, who held intelligence with the rebels, and had delivered their city to them; and it is incredible how the Persians were enraged against them for this pretended infidelity.126

Stating that "nothing however was more unjust than this reproach" and dwelling on the real story of the fall of Isfahan,127 Krusinski sums up the reasons why the Armenians of Julfa refused to mediate between the Afghans and Persian Court (space does not permit Krusinski's entire account):

They knew how much the Court and city of Isfahan were set against them; that nothing less was talked of there than the destruction of their city (i.e., Julfa) by fire and sword, as soon as the rebels were gone. That the very women talked so in the markets, loading them with curses, and threatening to tear the Armenian children out of their mothers' bellies...and if ever the latter (i.e., the Persians) should again be masters, the Armenians have nothing to think of but quitting the kingdom...128

In the preceding almost two and a half centuries of Safavid Iranian rule in Eastern Armenia, this kind of extreme Armenophobia was occurring for the first time. Nevertheless, the Ottoman invasion of Iran in 1723 resulted in a decade of military alliance between the Armenian and Iranian Shiite forces,129 which effectively allayed memories of the Armenian rebellion. In this outcome the Armenian attitudes toward Iranian and Ottoman rule should also be taken into account.

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Traditionally, the Armenians viewed the former as "the lesser of two evils." This was true as much for the 16-17th centuries as in the 1720s. Suffice it to recall here the Armenian leaders' delegations to Shah Abbas the Great, requesting help "to get rid of the Ottoman yoke" as well as their subsequent logistical and military support to the Iranians in their 1603-1604 offensive against the Ottoman forces then occupying Eastern Armenia (at that time the Armenians were totally unaware of Shah Abbas's plan to deport them into the heart of Iran.)130 As for the 1720s, in addition to underscoring the Armeno-Iranian military alliance, a quote from the letter of the Mekhitarist monk Hakob Vardapet Buzayan, written in late September, 1728, from the vicinities of Akhaltzkha (currently a town in the south of Georgia) illustrates the sentiments of this period: "Perhaps I would have entered these districts, if they were under the Iranian administration as before, but now they are controlled by the Ottomans, who are much eviler in their behavior than the Iranians."131

The fact that the Armenians were allowed and accustomed to serve in the Iranian armed forces, while no such thing was possible or ever practiced in the Ottoman Empire, no doubt had played an important role in the formation of the pro-Iranian Armenian attitudes. Furthermore, this fact itself clearly indicates the relatively harsher approaches to the treatment of Armenians and non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman empire.

Ottoman Decision-Making and Exercise on Extermination During the 1720s

The immediate question is whether there were any decision-making mechanisms for the extermination activities in the Ottoman Empire during the 1720s.

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A definite answer is possible. For example, in 1722 and 1726 Abdullah, the mufti, and other chief religious dignitaries were asked by the Sultan to give their opinions on some vital issues of peace and war.132 To provide a vivid view for the discussions' scope through this standard procedure, cited below are two of the questions posed to the mufti and his answers on the eve of the Ottoman invasion of Iran in 1723:

Question: If, with the permission of the heretic (Tahmasb, the heir to the Iranian throne) who claims the title of Shah, some heretics (i.e., Shiites) fight against Muslims (i.e., Sunnis), is the peace of the Imam of the Muslims, the Sultan of Sultans, thereby violated?

Reply of the mufti: Yes, particularly as it is the duty of believers to exterminate these accursed ones, and as any peace with them must be regarded as nothing more than a truce, it is the duty of true believers to break it as soon as they have sufficient strength.

Question: How then must action be taken against the heretics of this country (i.e., Iranian Shiites) and those of its inhabitants who are by origin infidels (i.e., the non-Muslims, principally -- Armenian and Georgian Christians)?

Reply of the mufti: As regards the heretics, the men must be exterminated by the sword. The male children and the women are to be reduced to slavery and their property is to be converted to Islam by other means than the sword, but it is not permissible to cohabit with these women before they have embraced Islam (i.e., the Sunni form of Islam). As to the unbelievers, the women and male children are to be reduced to slavery and their property is to be given up to the conqueror. Their women and children are not to be forced to embrace Islam, but it is permissible to cohabit with the women, even when they do not wish to become Muslims.133

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Although, the mufti refrained from commenting on the fate of the Christian males in Iran, in many regions — especially in those offering resistance — they were treated in similar fashion to the Shiites. In another letter from Constantinople of 20 September 1725, it is stated that thousands of Armenian and Iranian prisoners are "all women, boys, and girls; men are extremely rare."134 Clearly, the men had been exterminated in implicit accordance with the mufti's ruling cited above, which is additionally attested to in numerous contemporary sources. For example, an Armenian colophon, written in the 1720s, notes that during the taking of Tabriz in 1724 the Ottoman troops "killed all the males, both the Armenians and the Persians, and drove into captivity the women and boys."135

Apparently in a response to the successes of Iranian resistance, the fatwa of 1723 was restated in 1730 — as a Russian officer, who had just returned from Ottoman army headquarters at Ganja, reported on 5 August 1730: "...all akhun[d]s recommended to the [Sublime] Porte that the Qizilbash people (i.e., Iranian Shiites) must be destroyed wherever found."136

Within this perview, it is more than plausible that in 1725, after a series of Turkish defeats suffered from the Armenian troops, according to the same traditional procedure of fatwa the mufti was approached by the Sultan with a question on the treatment of the Armenians (see document 6). The above minutes disclose the fact that at least one hundred and seventy years prior to the organized 1894-1896 massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the ruling establishment of that country had habitually exercised an institutionalized decision-making mechanism, that of the fatwa, in respect of activities later to be termed genocide. (Within the decisions quoted above, modern international law would have identified as genocidal at least two of the acts — killing members of a group and imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group.)137 Further, these decisions were issued to the army and

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lower strata of the dominant ethnic group and were carried out effectively.

The Armenian Casualties

It is no wonder that Ottoman military campaigns inflicted enormous casualties upon Armenian and Iranian populations in the 1720s. Krusinski asserts that:

Besides the 30,000 Armenians who were killed at the taking of the City (Yerevan) [by the Ottoman army], there was (sic) a great number carried into captivity, driven along like so many herds of cattle. Their number diminished so during these wars, that at the end of 1725, there were not half so many in Persia, as before the coming of the Afghans. The only Armenians that continued to make resistance were those that retired to the mountains of Kapan.138

An Ottoman account mentions that in the first days of the siege of Yerevan "10,000 families and children were taken prisoner."139 According to the Carmelite missionary Fr. Leander of S. Cecilia, who arrived in Iran in 1732 and gathered evidence regarding the turbulent history of the past decade for his book, entitled Secondo Viaggio (The Second Journey):

The Armenian race in Persia was so diminished from the time of the arrival of the Afghans, i.e. in 1722 up to 1725, that 200,000 may be reckoned as having been killed and taken away as slaves.140

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Among numerous Armenian accounts, indirectly documenting the above statements, the Karabakh Armenians' message to Peter the Great (10 March 1725), inter alia, exclaimed:

The Turks have captured Tiflis, Yerevan, Nakhichevan...and the Christian Armenians who have been driven into slavery or massacred are incalculable, countless, and numberless.141

According to the well-informed Joseph Emin, "during the reign of King Peter [the Great] (i.e., in the first quarter of the 18th century) the Armenians were ten times as many [as compared to the 1790s]."142 This estimate - most probably, provided to Emin by senior Armenian churchmen who had perhaps the only reliable data on contemporary Armenian demography - can be verified by means of two separate pieces of evidence:

1) an analysis of the Russian archival documents on the 18th century demography of Karabakh has revealed exactly a tenfold drop in its Armenian population from the 1720s (100,000 families) to 1797 (11,000 families).143

2) in the beginning of the 1730s, an Armenian chronicler asserted that in 1724 the Iranian city of Hamadan had "300 Armenian households, not counting the nearby villages; [however, the Ottoman troops] have so [terribly] massacred and carried them into captivity that now you could hardly find 30 households of them. Suffice it to say that they massacred 300 souls who took refuge in the church."144

Likewise, the census of the Armenians in Iran proper (without the provinces in East/Iranian Armenia) "made by the order of the bishop of Julfa" at the beginning of the 19th

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century, counted "12,883 souls—not more than one-sixth of their number before the Afghan invasion (i.e., before 1722)."145

Forced Islamization of the Armenian Population

Aiming to shift the demographic situation in the region in their favor, the Ottoman authorities had embarked on the mass forced Islamization of the Armenian Christian population in several regions of Transcaucasia. The available sources point particularly to those regions that were situated between Armenia and the Russian-held Caspian coast. A letter from Ghabala, dated October 28, 1725, reported that dozens of villages in the Armenian districts of Shaki, Ghabala (here alone 37 villages), and Gharasov were:

Muslimized by force (թուրքացրել են ուժով)....They burnt our sacred books and churches, killed our priests, and many have been martyred for the sake of our faith. So now we are Muslims during the day, and Christians during the night: we have no other choice.146

This information is corroborated by the later account of Shneze, a doctor of a Russian mission to Nadir-khan, the Iranian commander-in-chief:

On the 5th [of October 1733] we arrived...in Ghabala. It is entirely populated by the Armenians, most of whom, while [recently] being under Turkish administration, had been forced to accept the Law of Mahommed.147

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In one of his regular situation reports to his Abbot General in Venice, written in the Ottoman capital on 25 July 1725, Petros Vardapet Nurumian (t 1752), a Mekhitarist friar with important connections ranging from his fellow Mekhitarists (acting both in the Ottoman provinces and Transcaucasia) to the Catholic missionaries and to the Armenian leadership in Constantinople, noted that 12,000 unmarried Sunni males from the Turkic tribes, "eaters of horse-meat," were "deliberately selected" and sent to settle in Iran and marry there the Shiite and Christian women although, as this friar added, "few of them [i.e., Christian women] are left there."148

The Motives for Anti-Armenian Attitudes

Thus, as early as the 1720s we have evidence of some of the typical anti-Armenian sentiments and motivations actively manipulated two centuries later during the Genocide.

Geostrategically Eastern Armenia (and potentially Western Armenia) came to be seen by the Porte as a possible ally to Russia, its emerging arch-rival already consolidated on the Caucasian approaches. This factor politically differentiated the Armenians from the Iranian Shiites who opposed both Russian and Ottoman rule. Further, the Armenian Seghnakhs — being in a position to cut off at any time the important lines of communication between Ottoman troops and their Sunni allies, the Caucasian mountaineers then occupying certain regions in Eastern Transcaucasia — represented a real obstacle to Ottoman expansionism. Thus, Salah-pasha, an Ottoman general captured in March 1725 by Karabakh Armenians (see endnote 72), told them during his interrogation:

"Our king ordered us to do away with the Armenians and Qizilbashes (i.e., Shiites) [living] on these lands. Since the

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troops of the Russian king have crossed to this side of the [Caspian] Sea, we have to march against them. [Consequently], the Armenians must not remain situated between us, and these lands must be depopulated in order to clear our passageway." This pasha also told us that if you had not been between us, we would have marched already against Darband and Baku, which have belonged to us since ancient times.149

Another document dated 17 December 1725150 clarifies this strategy further by stating that "since they [the Ottoman troops] have not conquered the Seghnakh, they fear to come to Shamakhi: they say there is a danger of being attacked from two sides [i.e., from the West, by the Armenians, and from the East, by the Russians] and destroyed."

These statements sent by the Armenian leaders to the Russian high command could have been interpreted as mere diplomatic talk to get early military assistance, if there did not exist conclusive proof of the Turkish design to attack the Russian-held Caspian coast from non-Armenian sources as well. In early 1729 the Venetian ambassador was reporting from Constantinople that "war between the Porte and Russia seemed ominous."151 Ivan Nepluyev (Neplyneff), the Russian Resident at Constantinople, in his reports described in detail the plans by the Porte to attack the Caspian littoral in the autumn of 1729. This planned attack on the Russian contingent was canceled only because of the successes of Iranian resistance under the rising military commander Nadir.152

Institutionally the Armenian Seghnakhs persistently defied the Sharia, Islamic law's basic requirement for the obedience of non-Muslims to Muslim rule. Thus, the Armenian agents, who had been sent by the East Armenian leadership to the Ottoman Empire to gather information and serve as liaisons with Western Armenian leaders and who even made contacts with the

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Assyrian Christians about plans for joint uprisings,153 were extremely worried about the changed attitudes of the Ottoman Turks towards the Armenians. On 27 October 1727 they wrote to Minas Tigranian:

If our enemies discover what is truly in our heart, they would put us to the sword everywhere. They say that "you have betrayed our Mohammed's laws." However, we, disguising ourselves, reply to them that 'we are not the same as those treacherous Armenians (i.e., Eastern Armenians resisting the Ottoman occupation)'...In old times the Turks did not reduce our nation to slavery and treat us so terribly, but now they do.154

Culturally in the 1720s the Eastern Armenians as well as Iranian Shiites were subjected to the customary Ottoman military strategy, that of the massive annihilation of enemy populations. This is the sense in which Dadrian argues that "group or cultural standards may prescribe hostile behavior as an appropriate way of acting in certain situations. Such hostility is goal-oriented and need not be stimulated by anger;"155 and that "Islam, as interpreted and applied in theocratic Turkey, is at its core a militant creed prescribing the domination of its adherents over subservient conquered and subject peoples. The latters' failure to be subservient can bring severe retribution, including death."156

The following testimonies dating from the 1720s seem to support Dadrian's analysis. Several Armenian leaders of Kapan in a 24 March 1726 letter to the Russian government described how the Ottoman Turks treated the conquered population of the southern provinces of Eastern Armenia:

The Turks came with a numerous army...and seized many

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towns, monasteries, convents and villages, and massacred the Christians without mercy. They were unjust to the point that they took even girls of two- and one-year-old, and six-month-old age from their mothers' arms and stabbed them before the eyes of their mothers; and [then] took the mothers into captivity; and looted, and by placing their horses in our churches, turned them into stables; and crushed the crosses and sacred things; and raped the virgins inside the churches, and indulged in lust so much that we must not relate it, since Christians are not supposed to hear such things.157

The Russian translation of this letter adds that the outrages upon the women had been carried out by the Turks "after their barbarous custom" [по своему варварскому обыкновению ].158

In a letter addressed to Vakhtang VI on 5 February 1725, a representative of twelve Armenian villages of the Muskur region (not far from Russian-held Darband) described in detail their miserable existence under the occupation by the Ottoman Turks and their Caucasian Sunni allies and provided also the latters' justification in these terms:

Two months have already passed since these soldiers have been quartered in our villages... Many women and many girls have died from being continuously raped; some are half dead. Because they have died and become weak, now, in their place, men are being taken and defiled... So manifold soldieries teach one another that "torturing the giaours (infidels) and mixing with their women is a very great pious deed-" so they say one to another... The Turks who are quartered in the [Shamakhi] citadel have written to them (i.e., to the Sunni Caucasian leaders): "Let us join together: you will attack from the outside, we — from the inside, and we will destroy and do away with these giaurs, [so that] the Muslim faith will increase."159

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The element of revenge also began to play its part. As is stressed in the same document:

"They (i.e., the Ottoman Turks and Caucasian Sunnis) say that 'what the mountain giaours (i.e., Karabakh and Kapan Armenians) did to us and our kindred, we will do a hundredfold to you, giaurs..."160

If, as a recent unique analysis of vengeance concludes, "at the level of society...vengeance serves power equalization" and if "revenge is the social power regulator in a society without central justice"161 then a desire for a hundredfold retaliation against the rebellious Armenians could well serve as a symbolic demonstration of their manifold, if not hundredfold, inferior social status vis-a-vis the Muslims — as compared with 'normally-regulated' times in Ottoman Empire. (It is correct that it "is not among vengeance's primary considerations" to equalize "between harm received and harm returned, or proportionality between them."162) Another letter from Karabakh of 16 August 1725 states, "Since these [Karabakh] fighters have killed four to five thousand Turks, they (the Turks) now raid in Yerevan, Tiflis, Kapan, everywhere within their reach, and pillage, killing the adults and driving the children into slavery."163

This vindictive wave reached even Constantinople where the authorities, apart from spreading intimidating rumors about the "total extermination of the Armenians" (see doc. 6 above), enacted certain sanctions against the Christians — Armenians, Greeks, and even Europeans. These included the imposition of new restrictions against wearing bright colors and certain types of clothing. As a Mekhitarist friar informed his Abbot General in a letter dated July 1 1726 from Constantinople:

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1

There is a strong vindictiveness (վրէժխնդրութիւն) here in Istanbul [against the Christians]...many women were stopped on the road and forbidden to wear collars on their coats as well as yellow shoes, albeit some of them were the nationals of other (i.e., European) countries...And all this is thought to be done in reprisal to the destruction of Turkish troops by the Armenians (եւ այս ամենայն վարկանի պատճաոեցեալգոլ ի յաւերմանէ զօրաց Տաճկաց ի Հայոց)...(see Table l) And there is a rumor that Armenian and Greek women will be [forcefully] dressed in black goat-hair parajas (i.e., long Eastern style robes)...164

Acknowledgements:

Source: Armen Aivazian The Armenian Rebellion of the 1720s and the Threat of Genocidal Reprisal Yerevan, 1997
Provided by: Armen Aivazian
Scanned by: Lina Kamalyan
OCR: Lina Kamalyan
Corrections:Lina Kamalyan

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