The Armenian Genocide


Since 1876, the Ottoman government at the time was led by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. From the beginning of the reform period after the signing of the Berlin treaty, Hamid II attempted to stall their implementation and asserted that Armenians did not make up a majority in the provinces and that their claims of abuses were largely exaggerated or false. In 1890, Hamid II created a paramilitary outfit known as the Hamidiye which was made up of Kurdish irregulars who were tasked to "deal with the Armenians as he wished." As Ottoman officials intentionally provoked rebellions (often as a result of over-taxation) in Armenian populated towns, such as the Sasun Resistance in 1894, these regiments were increasingly used to deal with the Armenians by way of oppression and massacre. Armenians successfully fought off the regiments and brought the excesses to the attention of the Great Powers in 1895 who subsequently condemned the Porte.

The Powers forced Hamid to sign a new reform package designed to curtail the powers of the Hamidiye in October 1895 but like the Berlin treaty, was never implemented. On October 1, 1895, 2,000 Armenians assembled in Constantinople to petition for the implementation of the reforms but Turkish police units converged towards the rally and violently broke it up. Soon, massacres by Turks and Kurds against Armenians broke out in Constantinople and then engulfed the rest of the Armenian populated provinces of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Harput, Sivas, Trebizond and Van. Estimates differ on how many Armenians were killed but European documentation of the violence, which became known as the Hamidian massacres, placed the figures from anywhere between 100,000 to 300,000 Armenians.

Although Hamid was never directly implicated for ordering the massacres, he was suspected for their tacit approval and for not acting upon to end them. Frustrated with European indifference to the massacres, Armenians from the Dashnaktsutiun political party seized the European managed Ottoman Bank on August 26, 1896. This incident brought further sympathy for Armenians in Europe and was lauded by the European and American press, which vilified Hamid and painted him as the "great assassin" and "bloody Sultan." While the Great Powers vowed to take action and enforce new reforms, these never came into fruition due to conflicting political and economical interests.