An Exemplary Genocide

To present the genocide of the Armenians means first explaining the extinction of a multi-millennial civilization contemporary to the Romans and Parthians which almost disappeared from the Anatolian region at the dawn of the 20th century. While Western diplomats welcome the ongoing process of normalization between Armenia and Turkey, Armenians around the world commemorated on April 24 an unpunished genocide and their unburied dead.

In their masterful book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924, Israeli historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi estimate that the extermination of Ottoman Christians took place over thirty years. These were three historical sequences that were part of a single effort to wipe out the Christian presence in Anatolia. This process began with the proto-genocidal massacre of Ottoman Armenians from 1894 to 1896, followed by the genocide of 1915, and the deportation and annihilation of the remaining Christians (Greeks, Assyro-Chaldeans, Syriacs) during and after the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922, not to mention, in the Caucasus, the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians between 1918 and 1920 carried out by the Turkish-Azerian Islamic army.

Social Darwinism

Could the extermination of the Empire’s Christians have been avoided? Despite the adoption in 1876 of a liberal constitution crowning the era of reforms (Tanzimat) aimed at modernizing the Empire, the idea of a supra-confessional Ottoman citizenship remained a pious wish. The degrading notion of dhimmi, which instituted inequality between Christians and Muslims, remained a reality for millions of Greek, Armenian, Assyrian-Chaldean and Arab Christians. If in the countryside of eastern Anatolia, the Armenian peasantry, reduced to a state of serfdom, was at the mercy of the exactions of its Kurdish “protectors,” the fate of the Armenians of the Empire was relatively more enviable in the large cosmopolitan urban centers (Constantinople, Smyrna) and in Cilicia. The action of the Western missions favored the rise of an educated youth who had acquired the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The middle of the 19th century saw a national cultural revival (Zartonk), with a reform of the Armenian language and the emergence of an exceptional literature. The cultural and socio-economic gap between Armenians and Turks was all the more perceptible. Jealousy, frustration and even the anguish of disappearance haunted the Turks that arose with the defeats in Tripolitania and in the Balkans which, around 1912, accelerated the collapse of the Empire. The “sick man of Europe,” the Empire decomposed, while a new elite from the Balkans secretly organized itself and took power through a coup de force in 1908. The arrival of the Young Turks of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) was welcomed by a large number of Armenians, as the 1876 Constitution, which guaranteed equality between all the inhabitants of the Empire, was restored. Influenced by the positivist ideas of Auguste Comte, the Young Turks relied on the militants of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with whom they had maintained close relations since their exile in Europe.

But the euphoria was short-lived. The Armenians of Adana, an opulent city in Cilicia, were massacred in 1909. The death toll was 30,000. The investigation was suppressed; the responsibility of the authorities was no longer in doubt. The ideal of a decentralized, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Ottomanism was over. As the Young Turks retreated into the Balkans and North Africa, they came to consider Anatolia as the sanctuary of Turkishness. However, the Christian element was practically in the majority there. The Armenian elite was sufficiently seasoned to envisage autonomy, or rather an independent Armenia in the heart of the Empire. Social Darwinism explains the genocidal intention: if the “internal enemies” are not eliminated, the Turkish nation cannot exist within the borders of the Ottoman state.

The massacres of 1894-1896 had initiated a shift in the demographic balance of power reinforced by the influx of Muslim refugees (muhadjir) from the Balkans and the Caucasus, eager to fight the Christians. The Young Turks intended to ensure the transition from a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state to an exclusively Muslim state where the Sunni Turkish element remained the basis of the emerging national identity.

The Last Act

The last act before the final solution was played out in 1913, with the firming of the power of the Young Turks who eliminated all opposition. On October 31, 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in the war; and from then on, the thesis of the betrayal of Armenians fighting for Russia was used as a pretext to implement the Final Solution. Although they were atheists, the Young Turks used Islam and the Kurds to massacre the “infidel” Armenians. The Special Organization, the armed wing of the Deep State, recruited criminals released from prison.

In January 1915, Armenian conscripts of the Ottoman army were killed; and on April 24 the round-up of 3000 Armenian intellectuals, writers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, etc. in Constantinople destroyed the elite of this Christian minority. The Armenians of the eastern vilayets (counties) were exterminated on the spot, with the exception of the population of Van, who managed to resist and then to withdraw with the Russian army.

The “General Order for the deportation of all Armenians, without exception,” issued on June 21, 1915 by the Minister of the Interior Talaat, was addressed to all the governors of the vilayets. It no longer referred to threatened border areas, but to all regions of the Empire where Armenian subjects lived, up to the border with Bulgaria. Between May and September 1915, 306 convoys of deportees carried 1,040,000 Armenians from all over Anatolia. Parked in concentration camps, they died of thirst, hunger and disease. The survivors fled to the deserts of Syria.

In September 1915, a law on “abandoned property” of “temporarily” displaced persons legitimized the plundering of Armenian property.

In 1916, the second phase of the genocide began with the extermination of the Armenians who had not been deported from Anatolia, while Chechen irregulars were responsible for the heinous killing of the survivors (women, orphans, etc.) interned in the camps in Syria. A century later, Daech’s soldiers would repeat this barbarity at the exact scene of the crime earlier.

Turkey for the Turks

After having supported, in the years preceding the genocide, the demand for reforms in the eastern vilayets, in order to guarantee the Christian populations a minimum of security for their goods and persons, the Western powers were content to protest. On May 24, 1915, France, England and Russia, in a joint declaration, solemnly warned the Ottoman government of its full responsibility in “Turkey’s crime against humanity and civilization.” They promised the intervention of the secular arm of Justice. Strong words that remained a dead letter.

In 1923, 1.5 million deaths later, the international community cynically buried the Armenian question, sacrificed on the altar of realpolitik and the concern to spare Kemalist Turkey.

Thus, the slogan “Turkey for the Turks” became a reality. This was followed by an ethnocide, targeting the churches and monasteries of Anatolia. But the persecution did not stop there. Armenians, Greeks and Jews of Turkey who remained in the country after 1923 were subjected to a new spoliation by the iniquitous wealth tax of 1942.

In 1955, the pogroms in Istanbul, followed by the crises in Cyprus in 1963-1964 and 1974, put an end to the Greek presence in the city.

Successive military coups sustained an ultranationalism with Pan-Turkist overtones that led, for example, to the assassination in 2007 in Istanbul of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. It is clear that, far from being a single memorial issue, the genocide remains a current one.

The other links in this chain are Cyprus, the Assyro-Chaldeans, the Kurds, the disregard for human rights. They are at the heart of the Turkish malaise. A country haunted by the ghosts of the past, sickened by its ultranationalism. A people that has still not found the path to inner peace and the beginning of a liberating request for forgiveness.

Read an interview with Tigrane Yégavian.

Tigrane Yégavian is a graduate of the Institut d’études politiques de Paris and the Institut des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO), holds a Master’s degree in comparative politics with a specialization in the Muslim world, and is a doctoral candidate in contemporary history. An Arabist, he has spent a long time in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. His career has led him to specialize in Eastern Christians and their diasporas. He is also a specialist in Portuguese and contemporary Portugal, on which he has written numerous articles. He is a member of the editorial board of the geopolitical journal Conflits. He is a contributor to the Revue des Deux Mondes, Etudes, Carto, Moyen-Orient, Politique Internationale, Le Monde Diplomatique, Sciences Humaines, France-Arménie and regularly appears on Télé Sud, RFI and TV5 Monde. This article appears courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: “The Massacre of Adana,” Le Petit Journal, May 2, 1909.

Armenia: A Threatened Destiny

After the war of 2020, Azerbaijan again militarily attacked Armenia last September amidst widespread international indifference, confirming disturbing ambitions.

“No one can give us an ultimatum and allow Armenians to place their hopes elsewhere. I will say it again—nothing and no one can stop us.” With this statement on September 22, the dictator controlling Azerbaijan in a clannish way, Ilham Aliyev, is exerting his ambitions. In 2020, after a 44-day war, Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, invaded a large part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia had to accept a precarious cease-fire under the aegis of Russia. This was constantly violated by Azeri troops, and their incursions into Armenian territory. Aliyev was clear in his intentions. Shortly after the ceasefire he explained, “I said we would drive [the Armenians] out of our lands like dogs, and we did.” Under these conditions, the agreement that the civilian populations could return to their lands obviously remained a non-starter for the Armenian populations.

In order to understand the present-day anguish of the Armenians, a detour through history is necessary. When Tsarist Russia annexed the South Caucasus, it quickly adopted a policy that was unfavorable to the Armenians. This policy was taken over by the USSR, as the Bolshevik regime ceded Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh with a clear Armenian majority) to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan and not to that of Armenia.

In the context of the collapse of the USSR, following pogroms of the Armenian population in Sumgait and Baku, and an Azerbaijani desire to “disarm” Artsakh through a racist and discriminatory policy, Artsakh proclaimed its self-determination. In a five-year war, the heroism of Armenian fighters led to the liberation of Artsakh and the establishment of a continuous territory between Artsakh and Armenia in 1994. However, during the fifteen years that followed, Azerbaijan’s position was strengthened by the oil from the Caspian Sea and a dynamic demography.

In this context, the Azeri offensive of September 2022—which killed more than 300 people—shows that Azeri ambitions do not stop at Artsakh. As Tigrane Yegavian lucidly puts it, the aim of Azerbaijan and Turkey is now to nibble away at Armenian territory in order to reduce Armenia to a rump state before making it disappear. Such an offensive has a genocidal purpose, the aim being to eliminate all Armenian presence in the Caucasus.

The fate of the Armenian heritage in Nakhichevan is a good indicator of the threat. The 89 medieval churches have been demolished, 5,480 khachkars (rectangular steles with the Armenian cross which, in Armenian tradition, are used to guide the dead when they rise on Judgment Day) and 22,700 graves have been destroyed by Azerbaijan. Reports from Armenian Heritage in occupied Artsakh are equally disturbing. Finally, the abuses committed by Azeri soldiers on the Armenian civilian population and on prisoners of war clearly show an Azeri desire to exterminate this population. During the last offensive, Anush Apetyan, a 36-year-old Armenian soldier and mother of three children, captured by Azeri soldiers, was raped, dismembered and executed. Her executioners, sure of their impunity, broadcast their crime themselves, which is part of a policy of structural Armenophobia on the part of the regime in Baku.

Such a threat to Armenia is clearly encouraged by Erdogan’s Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan because of Pan-Turkism and an ethno-religious mixture of Turkish nationalism and Islamism. Turkey’s expansionist ambitions are supported by omnipresent propaganda in its films and historical series (despite a few courageous exceptions that go against the grain, such as the series The Club) and by a policy of influence over the Turkish diaspora in Europe. This policy is also approved by Erdogan’s Kemalist opponents (the only opposing party being the HDP, a predominantly Kurdish party that brings together the Turkish electorate that rejects the Turkish-Islamist synthesis and Kemalism).

To speak about what is happening in Armenia, and not to forget it, is more necessary than ever. And to dedicate ourselves so that our leaders become aware of the Turkish threat and act accordingly. So, we can only welcome the publication, under the direction of Éric Denécé and Tigrane Yégavian, of Haut-Karabakh: Le livre noir (The Black Book of Nagorno-Karabakh) and the beginning of mobilization in the French political class, hoping that it will not be just a flash in the pan.

Rainer Leonhardt

The Goal is to Strangle Armenia

Interview with Tigrane Yégavian who has just co-edited Haut-Karabakh: Le livre noir (The Black Book of Nagorno-Karabakh)

Rainer Leonhardt (RL): How should we interpret the new Azeri offensive of September 2022?

Tigrane Yegavian (TY): Since the ceasefire of November 2020, Azerbaijan has been pursuing the war by other means because it is motivated by the desire to consolidate its military advantage at the political level. With the balance of power tipped in its favor and Armenia weaker than ever, the Azeri-Turkish tandem is also taking advantage of Russian setbacks in Ukraine to force Armenia to give in on the following points:

  • renunciation of a status for Nagorno-Karabakh, which means accepting its annexation by Azerbaijan and the certainty of ethnic cleansing
  • and the establishment of an extraterritorial corridor outside Armenia’s sovereignty in the south of its territory. An ultra-strategic corridor that would link Azerbaijan to Turkey and cut Armenia off from Iran; a new route of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border that would allow the Azeris to nibble away more Armenian territory, relying on the strategy of the fait accompli, given that they have been occupying a hundred square kilometers of Armenian territory since their successive offensives of May 2021 and especially September 2022.

In short, to devitalize Armenia, to make it a non-viable country, and in the long run to strangle it completely.

Tigrane Yegavian (Credit:

RL: What are the perspectives of Armenia? And is there any reason to hope via, for example, a rapprochement with the other countries targeted by Turkish expansionism like Greece?

TY: As far as I know, Armenia has no allies. It is on the “wrong side” unlike Ukraine, while its CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) partners, all of them despotic regimes, are clearly on the side of Azerbaijan. Russia acts more like a suzerain, sometimes protector, sometimes pimp, as long as its interests are at stake. While Cyprus and Greece have never failed to show solidarity with Armenia, which is threatened by Pan-Turkism, these two states do not have sufficient leverage within the EU and NATO. Outside the Russian orbit, the only country that can provide both political and military support in the region is not Iran, but India, which shares a common geostrategic vision with Armenia in relation to Pakistan’s alignment with Pan-Turkism and sees Armenia as a route for its competing project with China’s New Silk Roads.

RL: How should the actions of Russia and the USA be interpreted in relation to the Azeri offensives?

TY: The United States is taking advantage of the Russians’ position of weakness to advance its interests in the Caucasus. For the time being, they are putting pressure on Azerbaijan not to invade Armenian territory, without offering military assistance to Yerevan. The Trump administration was not interested in any of this. Today the deal is not the same because we are witnessing the return of the geopolitics of empires: Russians and Turks share areas of influence in their competitive cooperation, Armenia is only a bargaining chip, a pawn on a chessboard that extends from Libya to Central Asia through Syria.

RL: Does the rapprochement between the EU and Azerbaijan over gas leave Aliyev’s hands free?

TY: After demonizing the master of the Kremlin, a de-Christianized Europe without a compass has chosen to sell its soul to a bloodthirsty dictator who has made Armenophobia his raison d’être. Aliyev understands well that he can play this card, and above all that his past, present and future crimes will remain unpunished. If France has tried to help the Armenians, it has been blocked by Germany within the EU, and by the United Kingdom within NATO, which maintains extremely close relations with the regime in Baku. We are living through yet another chapter of the great game, and the Armenians are struggling to negotiate their survival in an environment that is increasingly hostile to them, while the Europeans have no intention of curbing the appetites of the Aliyev-Erdogan tag-team.

Featured: “Battle of Vardanank,” by Grigor Khanjyan; painted 1995-1998. [This interview appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef].