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Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Armenia as a cultural, political, and geographical entity has existed for 2,700 years. The land, historically identified as Greater Armenia, lies east of the Euphrates River. It is bounded on the northwest by the river Choruh (Churuk or Tchorokh), on the north by the Kura River, on the east and southeast by the river Araks (also Araxes) and the Lake of Urmia, and on the south by the Tigris Valley.

Origins of the Armenian People
Described as Armenoi, the Armenians were first mentioned by the Greek historian Hecateus of Miletus around 550 bce. Some thirty years later the inscription of Darius I, King of Persia, refers to Armina as the land of the Armenians. In the Bible itself, namely, in the Book of Jeremiah (Chap. 51, verse 27), there is also a reference to "the Kingdom of Ararat" denoting the timeframe of 594 bce. Furthermore, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, the so-called father of history (fifth century bce), the Armenians, an Indo-European people, migrated from the Balkan Peninsula to Asia Minor (Turkey), with the Phrygians whose colony they constituted, and spoke an Indo-European language. Following its later separation from them, however, this migrant colony over time amalgamated itself with the indigenous population groups, especially the Hayasa-Azzi. It is worth noting in this respect that Armenians call themselves Hay and not Armenian. Moreover, in the annals of Assyria, the Armenian plateau is depicted as the land of Nairi, in and around which, toward the end of the eighth century bce, the proto-Armenian migrant colony is seen evolving into the dominant population of the area historically known as Urartu (Ararat).
Sociocultural Evolution of the Armenian People: Historical Background
Hence, the region in eastern Turkey encompassing Mount Ararat and Lake Van does constitute the geographical matrix marking the birth and formation of the Armenian nation. During the successive centuries of this pre-Christian era, Armenia attained sufficient consolidation and strength to emerge as an imposing royal power. During the reign of King Artashes (190 bce), for example, the kingdom extended from the Euphrates on the west, almost to the Caspian Sea, from the Caucasus in the north to the Taurus Mountains. The apogee of such power coincides with the reign of Tigran the Great (95–56 bce) who through a series of victorious military campaigns, created a vast Armenian empire. By 70 bce it extended from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Caucasus to Palestine, with him receiving as a result the title of King of Kings.
The subsequent decline of the Armenian Empire, power, and statehood coincides with the advent of Christianity. Its establishment during the first two decades of the fourth century in Armenia, as the first Christian state in history, was a defining moment for the formation of the Armenian nation in the centuries to follow. The Armenian Church consequently evolved as the single most important institution for Armenian national life. Its founders and leaders left their indelible imprint on Armenian religious literature, Armenian historiography, and linguistics, and provided the impetus for the cultivation of a distinct ethos relative to education and learning in general. The pillars of this initiative were Saint Sahag, the Catholicos, that is, the Supreme Patriarch of the Church, and Saint Mesrop, a polyglot and erudite monk, who, with the encouragement of the former and the help of others, set out to invent the Armenian alphabet. This effort yielded the intended result. In 414 a cultural milestone was achieved: The Bible was translated into Armenian, and thereby the fusion of religion and language in Armenian civilization became enshrined.
This religious immersion in Christianity was perilously tested some four decades later. In the epoch-making Battle of Avarair in 451, Armenians fought and died to protect and preserve their Christian faith while successfully resisting the pagan demands of the Persian King Yazdgard III. They resolutely refused to substitute the worship of sun and fire for their Christian faith.
Due to successive Muslim incursions from near and far, the Christian identity of the Armenians and their stubborn clinging to it resulted in an unending chain of national calamities. The historical unfolding of the fate of the Armenians is accordingly punctuated by constant tragedy, sorrow, and attrition in numbers. The incursions included that of the Arab rulers of the Ab-basid Caliphate in the seventh century; that of the Sel-chuks, nomadic Turkic tribes from Central Asia, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; Genghis Khan's Mongols in the thirteenth century, who, at the end of that century, converted to Islam; and finally the Turkish clans who under Osman, the son and successor of the original clan leader, established the Ottoman realm that was to grow and endure for some five centuries.
Ottoman Theocracy and Its Unsettling Impact on Armenians
The steady expansion of this incipient Ottoman realm and its eventual transformation over time into the Ottoman Empire had fateful consequences for the Armenian people, whose ancestral territories and major population centers had thus become incorporated into the territories of that empire. The overarching factor sealing the fate of Ottoman Armenians in this respect was the pervasive theocratic structure of that empire. The latter's multiethnic and multireligious character was a factor that drove the dominant Ottoman-Turkish element to rely heavily on the tenets and dogmas of the Islamic sacred law to govern the empire. The Ottoman sociopolitical system was dichotomized in terms of these antithetical entities: the ruling nation (milleti hakime) and the subject nation (milleti mahkume). The underlying principle of this dichotomy was a religion that proclaimed the superordination of the faithful, that is, the Muslims, and accordingly assigned a subordinate status to the "infidel" and, therefore, "inferior" non-Muslims. The institutionalization of this Islamic dogma as a doctrine found expression in the practice of prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion directed against non-Muslims.
Nevertheless, the most debilitating liability structurally imposed on the Armenians, the preponderant non-Muslim minority in Asia Minor, was the categorical denial of their right to bear arms. This canonical prohibition was especially reconfirmed and reinforced in connection with the 1876 Constantinople Conference. The representatives of the six Great Powers of Europe, among other demands, urged the sultan to grant the Christian subjects of the empire the right to bear arms. But, after summoning and consulting the Ulema, the Islamic doctors of law, the Seyhulislam, their head, issued a fetva, a preemptory final opinion, declaring such a right to be a violation of Islamic sacred law. In an environment teeming with Turkish, Kurdish, and other Muslim overlords armed to their teeth, especially in the remote provinces of the interior of the empire, the defenseless Armenians were, by virtue of this theocratic fiat, consigned to a level of status involving ultimate vulnerability; they were, in fact, reduced to fair game, which served to invite all sorts of depredations, including murder, rape, exorbitant taxations, plunder, confiscations, and abductions. These conditions, endemic in the Ottoman imperial system of provincial administration not only persisted, but also during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamit evolved into a portentous Turkish-Armenian political conflict.
Encyclopedia of genocide and crimes against humanity, volume 1,2005
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