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Hamidian massacres

Hamidian massacres
Part of the persecution of Armenians
A photograph taken in November 1895 by William Sachtleben of Armenians killed in Erzerum.
Location Ottoman Empire
Date 1894–1896
Target Armenian civilians
Attack type
mass murder, looting
Deaths 80,000-300,000
Perpetrators Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II

The Hamidian massacres (Armenian: Համիդյան ջարդեր or Turkish: Hamidiye Katliamı), also referred to as the Armenian Massacres of 1894–1896[1] and Great Massacres,[1] refer to massacres of Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1890s, with estimates of the dead ranging from 80,000 to 300,000,[2] resulting in 50,000 orphaned children.[3] The massacres are named after Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who, in his efforts to reinforce the territorial integrity of the embattled Ottoman Empire, reasserted Pan-Islamism as a state ideology.[4] Although the massacres were aimed mainly at the Armenians, they turned into indiscriminate anti-Christian pogroms in some cases, such as in Diyarbekir Vilayet where some 25,000 Assyrians were killed (see also Assyrian genocide).[5]

The massacres began with incidents in the Ottoman interior in 1894, gained full force in the years 1894–96, and tapered off in 1897, as international condemnation brought pressure to bear on Abdul Hamid. Despite the fact that the Ottomans had previously suppressed other revolts, the harshest measures were directed against the Armenian community. They observed no distinction between age or gender, and massacred them with brutal force.[6] This occurred at a time when the telegraph could spread news around the world, and the massacres received extensive coverage in the media of Western Europe and the United States.


  • Background 1
    • The Armenian Question 1.1
    • The Hamidiye 1.2
    • Disturbances in Sasun 1.3
  • Massacres 2
  • Death toll 3
  • International reaction 4
  • Takeover of the Ottoman Bank 5
  • Inaccurate reportage by the Ottoman government 6
  • Historiography 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • Further reading 10


The origins of the hostility toward Armenians lay in the increasingly precarious position in which the Ottoman Empire found itself in the last quarter of the 19th century. The loss of Ottoman dominion over the Balkans and various Christian regions was ushered in by an era of European nationalism and an insistence on self-determination by many territories long held under Ottoman rule. The Armenians of the empire, who were long considered second-class citizens, had begun in the mid-1860s and early 1870s to ask for civil reforms and better treatment from their government. They pressed for an end to the usurpation of land, "the looting and murder in Armenian towns by Kurds and Circassians, improprieties during tax collection, criminal behavior by government officials and the refusal to accept Christians as witnesses in trial."[7] These requests went unheeded by the central government. When a nascent form of nationalism spread among the Armenians of Anatolia, including demands for equal rights and a push for autonomy, the Ottoman leadership believed that the empire's Islamic character and even its very existence were threatened.

The Armenian Question

The combination of Russian military success in Russo-Turkish War, 1877–1878, the clear weakening of the Ottoman Empire in various spheres including financial (from 1873, the Ottoman Empire suffered greatly from the Panic of 1873), territorial (mentioned above), and the hope among some Armenians that one day all of the Armenian territory might be ruled by Russia, led to a new restiveness among Armenians living inside the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians sent a delegation led by Mkrtich Khrimian to the 1878 Congress of Berlin to lobby the European powers to include proper safeguards for their kinsmen in the eventual peace agreement.

The Sultan, however, was not prepared to relinquish any power. Abdul Hamid believed that the woes of the Ottoman Empire stemmed from "the endless persecutions and hostilities of the Christian world."[8] He perceived the Ottoman Armenians to be an extension of foreign hostility, a means by which Europe could "get at our most vital places and tear out our very guts."[9] Turkish historian and Abdul Hamid's biographer Osman Nuri observed, "The mere mention of the word 'reform' irritated him [Abdul Hamid], inciting his criminal instincts."[10] Upon hearing of the Armenian delegation's visit to Berlin in 1878, he bitterly remarked, "Such great impudence...Such great treachery toward religion and state...May they be cursed upon by God."[11] While he admitted that some of their complaints were well-founded, he likened the Armenians to "hired female mourners [pleureuses] who simulate a pain they do not feel; they are an effeminate and cowardly people who hide behind the clothes of the great powers and raise an outcry for the smallest of causes."[12]

The Hamidiye

An Armenian woman and her children who were refugees of the massacres and sought help from missionaries by walking far distances.

The provisions for reforms in the Armenian provinces, which were embodied in Article 61 of the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hunchak; founded in Switzerland in 1887) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (the ARF or Dashnaktsutiun, founded in 1890 in Tiflis).[17] Clashes ensued and unrest occurred in 1892 at Merzifon and in 1893 at Tokat.

Disturbances in Sasun

In 1894, the Sultan began to target the Armenian people in a precursor to the Hamidian massacres. This persecution strengthened nationalistic sentiment among Armenians. The first notable battle in the Armenian resistance took place in Sasun. Hunchak activists, such as Mihran Damadian, Hampartsoum Boyadjian, and Hrayr, encouraged resistance against double taxation and Ottoman persecution. The ARF armed the people of the region. The Armenians confronted the Ottoman army and Kurdish irregulars at Sasun, finally succumbing to superior numbers and to Turkish assurances of amnesty (which was never granted).[18]

In response to the resistance at Sasun, the governor of Mush responded by inciting the local Muslims against the Armenians. Historian Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross writes that massacres of this kind were often achieved by gathering Muslims in a local mosque and claiming that the Armenians had the aim of "striking at Islam."[19] Sultan Abdul Hamid sent the Ottoman army into the area and also armed groups of Kurdish irregulars. The violence spread and affected most of the Armenian towns in the Ottoman Empire.[20]


The Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia) forced Hamid to sign a new reform package designed to curtail the powers of the Hamidiye in October 1895 which, like the Berlin treaty, was never implemented. On October 1, 1895, two thousand Armenians assembled in Constantinople to petition for the implementation of the reforms, but Ottoman police units converged on the rally and violently broke it up.[21] Upon receiving the reform package, the sultan is said to have remarked, "This business will end in blood."[22]

Soon, massacres of Armenians broke out in Constantinople and then engulfed the rest of the Armenian-populated vilayets of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, Mamurel-ul-Aziz, Sivas, Trebizond and Van. Thousands were killed at the hands of their Muslim neighbors and government soldiers, and many more died during the cold winter of 1895–96. William Sachtleben, an American journalist who happened to be in Erzurum after the massacre there in 1895, recounted the grisly scene he came across in a lengthy letter to The Times:

The French vice consul of Diyarbakır, Gustave Meyrier, recounted to Ambassador Paul Cambon stories of Armenian women and children being assaulted and killed and described the attackers "as cowardly as they were cruel. They refused to attack where people defended themselves and instead concentrated on defenseless districts."[24] The worst atrocity took place in Urfa, where Ottoman troops burned the Armenian cathedral, in which 3,000 Armenians had taken refuge, and shot at anyone who tried to escape.[25]

Abdul Hamid's private first secretary wrote in his memoirs about Abdul Hamid that he "decided to pursue a policy of severity and terror against the Armenians, and in order to succeed in this respect he elected the method of dealing them an economic blow... he ordered that they absolutely avoid negotiating or discussing anything with the Armenians and that they inflict upon them a decisive strike to settle scores."[26]

The killings continued until 1897. In that last year, Sultan Hamid declared the Armenian Question closed. Many Armenian revolutionaries had either been killed or escaped to Russia. The Ottoman government closed Armenian societies and restricted Armenian political movements.

Some non-Armenian groups were also attacked during the massacres. The French diplomatic correspondence shows that the Hamidiye carried out massacres not only of Armenians but also of Assyrians living in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia.[27][28]

Death toll

Armenian victims of the massacres being buried in a mass grave at Erzerum cemetery.

It is impossible to ascertain how many Armenians were killed, although the figures cited by historians have ranged from 80,000 to 300,000.[2]

Therefore, third-party figures are deemed most reliable. The German pastor Johannes Lepsius meticulously collected data on the destruction and in his calculations, counted the deaths of 88,243 Armenians, the destitution of 546,000, the destruction of 2,493 villages, the residents of 456 of which were forcibly converted to Islam,[29] and the desecration of 649 churches and monasteries, of which 328 were converted into mosques.[30] He also estimated the additional deaths of 100,000 Armenians due to famine and disease totalling a number of approximately 200,000.[31]

On the other hand, the ambassador of Britain estimated 100,000 were killed up until early December 1895.[32] However, the period of massacres spread well into 1896. German foreign ministry operative and Turkologist Ernst Jäckh claimed that 200,000 Armenians were killed and 50,000 were expelled and a million pillaged and plundered.[32][33] A similar figure is cited by the French diplomatic historian Pierre Renouvin who claimed that 250,000 Armenians died based on authenticated documents while serving his duty.[32][34]

Besides Armenians, some 25,000 Assyrians lost their lives as well.[5]

International reaction

A contemporary French political cartoon portraying Hamid as a butcher of the Armenians.

News of the Armenian massacres in the empire were widely reported in Europe and the United States and drew strong responses from foreign governments and humanitarian organizations alike.[35]

The French ambassador described Turkey as "literally in flames," with "massacres everywhere" and all Christians being murdered "without distinction."[36][37] A French vice consul declared that the Ottoman Empire was "gradually annihilating the Christian element" by "giving the Kurdish chieftains carte blanche to do whatever they please, to enrich themselves at the Christians' expense and to satisfy their men’s whims."[38]

One headline in a September 1895 article by the American Red Cross. Other humanitarian groups and the Red Cross helped by sending aid to the remaining survivors who were dying of disease and hunger.[43]

Child victims of a massacre awaiting burial in an Armenian cemetery in Erzurum, 1895

At the height of the massacres, in 1896, Abdul Hamid tried to limit the flow of information coming out of Turkey (Harper's Weekly was banned by Ottoman censors for its extensive coverage of the massacres) and counteract the negative press by enlisting the help of sympathetic Western activists and journalists. The Zionist leader Theodor Herzl responded ecstatically to Abdul Hamid's personal request to harness "Jewish power" in order to undermine the widespread sympathy felt for Armenians in Europe. Through his contacts, favorable impressions of the empire were published in a number of European newspapers and magazines, while Herzl himself attempted unsuccessfully to mediate between the Sultan and Armenian party activists in France, Britain, Austria and elsewhere. Herzl acknowledged that the arrangement with the Abdul Hamid was temporary and his services were in exchange for bringing about a more favorable Ottoman attitude toward Zionism. "Under no circumstances," he wrote, "are the Armenians to learn that we want to use them in order to erect a Jewish state."[44]

Takeover of the Ottoman Bank

Despite the great public sympathy that was felt for the Armenians in Europe, none of the European powers took concrete action to alleviate their plight. Frustrated with their indifference and failure to take action, Armenians from the ARF seized the European-managed Ottoman Bank on August 26, 1896 in order to bring the massacres to their full attention.[45] Though their demands were rejected and new massacres broke out in Constantinople, the act was lauded by the European and American press, which vilified Hamid and painted him as the "great assassin" and "bloody Sultan."[46] The Great Powers vowed to take action and enforce new reforms, although these never came into fruition due to conflicting political and economic interests.

Inaccurate reportage by the Ottoman government

Haji Agha, a Muslim, reportedly stood guard at an Aintab hospital to protect it from an anti-Armenian pogrom in 1895.[47]

After Porte. After retelling the Turkish version of events, which places the blame solely on the Armenians of Bitlis, Hepworth writes:

Official Ottoman sources downplayed or misrepresented the death toll numbers.[32] The attempt of deliberately misrepresenting the numbers were noted by British Ambassador Phillip Currie in a letter to Prime Minister Lord Salisbury:


Some scholars, such as the Soviet historians Mkrtich G. Nersisyan, Ruben Sahakyan, and John Kirakosyan, and Yehuda Bauer subscribe to the view that the mass killings of 1894–96 were the first phase of the Armenian Genocide. Most scholars, however, limit this definition strictly to the years 1915–23.[49]

See also


  1. ^ a b Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010), Historical Dictionary of Armenia (2nd ed.), Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, p. 154 .
  2. ^ a b Akçam, Taner (2006) A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility p. 42, Metropolitan Books, New York ISBN 978-0-8050-7932-6
  3. ^ "Fifty Thousand Orphans made So by the Turkish Massacres of Armenians", The  .
  4. ^ Akçam 2006, p. 44.
  5. ^ a b Angold, Michael (2006), O’Mahony, Anthony, ed., Cambridge History of Christianity, 5. Eastern Christianity, Cambridge University Press, p. 512,  .
  6. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2000). A History of the Modern Middle East (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview. p. 119.  
  7. ^ Akçam. A Shameful Act, p. 36.
  8. ^ Akçam. A Shameful Act, p. 43.
  9. ^ Akçam. A Shameful Act, p. 44.
  10. ^ Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1995). The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus. Oxford: Berghahn Books, p. 163. ISBN 1-57181-666-6.
  11. ^ Quoted in Stephan Astourian, "On the Genealogy of the Armenian-Turkish Conflict, Sultan Abdülhamid, and the Armenian Massacres," Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 21 (2012), p. 185.
  12. ^ Quoted in Astourian, "On the Genealogy of the Armenian-Turkish Conflict," p. 195.
  13. ^ See (Armenian) Azat S. Hambaryan (1981), "Հողային հարաբերությունները: Հարկերն ու պարհակները" [Land relations: Taxes and services] in Հայ Ժողովրդի Պատմություն [History of the Armenian People], ed. Tsatur Aghayan et al. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, vol. 6, pp. 49-54.
  14. ^ Astourian, Stepan (2011). "The Silence of the Land: Agrarian Relations, Ethnicity, and Power," in A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, eds. Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek, and Norman Naimark. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 58-61, 63-67.
  15. ^ Klein, Janet (2011). The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 21-34.
  16. ^ McDowall, David (2004). A Modern History of the Kurds, 3rd rev. and updated ed. London: I.B. Tauris, pp. 60-62.
  17. ^ Nalbandian, Louise (1963). The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  18. ^ Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996). Պատմութիւն Հայոց [History of Armenia] (in Հայերեն) III. Athens: Council of National Education Publishing. pp. 42–44. 
  19. ^ Lord Kinross (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: Morrow, p. 559.
  20. ^ Hovannisian, Richard G (1997). "The Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1914" in The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New York: St. Martin's Press, p. 223. ISBN 0-312-10168-6.
  21. ^  
  22. ^ Salt, Jeremy (1993). Imperialism, evangelism and the Ottoman Armenians : 1878-1896 (1. publ. ed.). London u.a.: Cass. p. 88.  
  23. ^ Quoted in Gia Aivazian (2003), "The W. L. Sachtleben Papers on Erzerum in the 1890s" in Armenian Karin/Erzerum, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. UCLA Armenian History and Culture Series: Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces, 4. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, pp. 246-47.
  24. ^ Quoted in Claire Mouradian (2006), "Gustave Meyrier and the Turmoil in Diarbekir, 1894-1896," in Armenian Tigranakert/Diarbekir and Edessa/Urfa, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. UCLA Armenian History and Culture Series: Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces, 6. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, p. 219.
  25. ^ Kieser, Hans-Lucas. "Ottoman Urfa and its Missionary Witnesses" in Armenian Tigranakert/Diarbekir and Edessa/Urfa, p. 406.
  26. ^ Dadrian. History of the Armenian Genocide, p. 161.
  27. ^ De Courtois, Forgotten Genocide, pp. 137, 144, 145.
  28. ^ Travis, Hannibal. "Native Christians Massacred: The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians During World War I." Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 3 (2006): pp. 327-371.
  29. ^ On this issue in general, see Selim Deringil (April 2009), "'The Armenian Question Is Finally Closed': Mass Conversions of Armenians in Anatolia during the Hamidian Massacres of 1895–1897," Comparative Studies in Society and History 51, pp. 344-71.
  30. ^ Hovannisian. "The Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire," p. 224.
  31. ^ Forsythe, David P. (ed.) (2009). Encyclopedia of human rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  32. ^ a b c d e Dadrian. The History of the Armenian Genocide, p. 155.
  33. ^ (German) Jäckh, Ernst. Der Aufsteugende Halbmond, 6th ed. (Berlin, 1916), p. 139.
  34. ^ (French) P. Renouvin, E. Preclin, G. Hardy, L'Epoque contemporaine. La paix armee et la Grande Guerre. 2nd ed. Paris, 1947, p. 176.
  35. ^ Rodogno, Davide. Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 185-211; Gary J. Bass, Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008; Balakian, The Burning Tigris.
  36. ^ (French) Cambon, Paul (1940). Tome Premier (1870–1908): L’établissement de la République – Le Protectorat Tunisien – La régence en Espagne – La Turquie d’Abd Ul Hamid, vol. 1 of Correspondance, 1870–1924. Paris: Grasset, p. 395.
  37. ^ De Courtois, Sébastien (2004). The Forgotten Genocide: The Eastern Christians, the Last Arameans. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, pp. 106–10.
  38. ^ De Courtois. Forgotten Genocide, p. 138.
  39. ^ a b c   [2]
  40. ^  
  41. ^ For a study on the American response to the massacres, see Ralph Elliot Cook (1957), "The United States and the Armenian Question, 1894-1924," Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
  42. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 294.
  43. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, pp. 294–96.
  44. ^ Anderson, Margaret Lavinia (March 2007). "'Down in Turkey, Far Away,': Human Rights, the Armenian Massacres, and Orientalism in Wilhelmine Germany," Journal of Modern History 79, pp. 87-90, quotation on p. 88. Cf. also Marwan R. Buheiry, "Theodor Herzl and the Armenian Question," Journal of Palestine Studies 7 (Autumn, 1977): pp. 75-97.
  45. ^ Hovannisian. "The Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire," pp. 224–26.
  46. ^ Balakian. The Burning Tigris, pp. 35, 115.
  47. ^ Jenkins, H. D. (October 1915). "Armenia and the Armenians" (PDF).  
  48. ^ Hepworth, George H (1898). Through Armenia On Horseback. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. pp. 239–41. 
  49. ^ For a brief discussion on continuity, see Richard G. Hovannisian (2007), "The Armenian Genocide: Wartime Radicalization or Premeditated Continuum?" in The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, pp. 9–11. ISBN 1-4128-0619-4.

Further reading

  • Balakian, Peter (2003). The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-055870-9.
  • (French) . Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1897. Documents diplomatiques: Affaires arméniennes. Projets de réformes dans l'empire Ottoman, 1893-1897. France, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (French)
  • Campbell, George Douglas (8th Duke of Argyll). Our Responsibilities for Turkey: Facts and Memories of Forty Years. London: J. Murray, 1896.
  • (German) Germany, Foreign Office. Die grosse Politik der europäischen Kabinette, 1871-1914, vol. X. Berlin: Deutsche veragsgesellschaft für politik und geschichte, 1922-1927.
  • Great Britain, Foreign Office. Correspondence Relating to the Asiatic Provinces of Turkey, 1892-1893, Sess., 1896, XCV (A and P) c. 8015, Turkey No. 3, 1896; Correspondence Relating..., 1894-1895, Sess., 1896, XCVI (A and P) c. 8108, Turkey No. 6, 1896; Correspondence Relating to the Armenian Question and Reports from Her Majesty's Consular Officers in Asiatic Turkey, Sess., 1896, XCV (A and P) c. 7927, Turkey No. 2, 1896.
  • Harris, J. Rendel, Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1897.
  • Lepsius, Johannes. Armenia and Europe: An Indictment. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897.
  • Melson, Robert. “A Theoretical Enquiry into the Armenian Massacres of 1894–1896,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 24, no. 3 (1982), pp. 481–509.
  • Nalbandian, Louise. The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.
  • (Armenian) Nersisyan, Mkrtich G. "Զեյթունցիների 1895–1896 թթ. Ինքնապաշտպանական Հերոսամարտը" [The Heroic Self-Defense of the People of Zeitun in 1895–96]. Patma-Banasirakan Handes. № 1–2 (143–44), 1996, pp. 7–16. With Russian abstract.
  • Rodogno, Davide. Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.
  • Troshine, Yvan (January 1897). "A Bystander's Notes of a Massacre: The Slaughter of Armenians in Constantinople". Scribner's Magazine XXI (1): 48–67. Retrieved 2009-08-23. 

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