Turkish Genocides: The Sultan Abd-Ul-Hamid massacre 1895-96
The genocides of sultan Abd-Ul-Hamid were ordered from the highest place, the sultan himself, with active participation from the entire Islamic clergy and thousands of imams. Most of the large massacres had so far taken place in the outskirts of Persia and Mesopotamia, but the new sultan decided that the battle against the Christians should take place at the heart of the empire. The original population should be eliminated for good, and Turkey, originally a Christian country, should now become purely Islamic.
Islamic law commands that people and religions conquered by Muslims must be exterminated if they do not belong to the three protected groups: Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. Therefore Buddhists and Hindus were killed without mercy wherever Islamic armies conquered new territories. A Buddhist and a Hindu had the choice of converting to Islam or be killed. Now sultan Abd-Ul-Hamid applied the same rule to Christians inside the empire: Either become Muslims or die.
The killings were initiated in the summer of 1894 in the city of Sussan, where 1200 Christians were killed, men, women and children. They were, however, not given the opportunity to become Muslims. Furthermore some Christian women were taken as plunder, that is, slaves for the sexual use of Muslim men.
Initially the sultan disguised the killings by increasing the tax on infidelity to prohibitively high levels. When the citizens were unable to pay, the sultan as punishment gave the Muslim Kurdish neighbours freedom to kill Christians in the area, and as a reward take over the houses and lands of the infidels, in accordance with the promises of the Quran that the faithful may take over the lands of the infidels. This order was subsequently extended to one village after another. If any village chose to defend itself, the Turkish army would attack them with cannons. The first order from the sultan to the Kurdish Muslims went as follows: “Take from the Christian dogs what you desire.”
When the killings became known, England demanded to know what was going on, and demanded inspectors placed in Constantinople. But the sultan denied all demands and used his right to ‘taqiyia’, that is lying towards infidels for the good of Islam: He denied all guilt and told that all the stories were only due to rumours and slander initiated by the Armenians against Islam.
Using his best acting skills, the sultan pretended to be deeply insulted by the English accusations and demands, and took contact to the pope in Rome requesting protection of the innocent (himself!). (Aage Meyer Benedictsen p. 2) While the west was conducting polite diplomacy and the sultan calmed the European worries, he simultaneously prepared for the final showdown with the “Armenian slanderers and hate preachers”. The first demand was for all Christians to hand over their weapons. Which were subsequently distributed to their Muslim neighbours! “
All was now prepared, and the time came around. It is clear that the killings were perceived by the general public as the will of the sultan. It was also obvious that they were executed according to minutely executed and guided plans, that they started and stopped on cue. And it is clear that not a single of the murderers or rapists ever were punished, and that leading civil servants were rewarded and promoted for their participation, while the reluctant were removed or punished. This was no spontaneous outbreak of fanaticism or public rage.” (Aage Meyer Benedictsen p. 193)
Trumpets blowing or the muezzin calling to prayer from the minarets initiated the genocide in each location, and trumpets sounding from the mosques ended each round of killings. Care was taken not to kill Europeans, as that would cause problems. The population was killed and their The Armenian Katholichos Mekrtitj Crimean “Hajrik” property divided; this was used as a lure to intensify the killings. The killings were undertaken with such discipline that a single gesture from an unarmed gendarme could keep the murderous mob away from American property.
The overture to the killings took place in Constantinople on September 30th 1895 and continued in Trapezunt, where the Armenians were driven out to be thrown in the sea and drowned. This procedure continued in the cities Erzingian, Baibuart, Bitlis, Erzerum, Arabkir, Diabekir, Malatia, Kharput and Sivar, and culminated in the terrible Christmas killings in Urfa 1895.
At Christmas the entire Armenian population of Urfa was rounded up and locked into the Christian cathedral, which was then set on fire. 1200 burned to death. Later killings took place in Constantinople and in Van in 1896. The written orders in the city of Arabkir is typical for the orders preceding the killings:
“All who are children of Muhammad, must now perform their duty and kill all Armenians, plunder their houses and burn them. Not a single Armenian must be spared!” Thus was the order of the sultan. “Those who do not obey this are to be considered Armenians themselves, and killed. Therefore every Muslim must show his obedience to the government and Islam by first killing the Christians, who lived in friendship with him!” (Meyer Benedictsen p. 195-196)
The supreme military leader of Anatolia in Erzingian distributed this command with an additional remark: “Kill the pigs.” The mob, who were incited to the killings and confiscating their property was protected by regular units of the Turkish army, who immediately opened fire if the Christians sought to defend themselves. They would either use cannons against the housing areas or merely watch passively.
“Left behind in the disgraced, destroyed homes sat the women and children among the bleeding bodies of their kin, themselves stiff from horror. In some places also the women were killed, but in most places the victors merely subjected them to abuse, rape and looting, and numerous flocks of orphans would wander about. The Armenian killings were initiated by the Turkish administration in order to gain the understanding and support of the Muslim population! (Meyer Benedictsen p. 195-196)
The intention was to use terror to drive as many as possible to Islam. That was the essence of the Abd-ul-Hamid plan. Therefore all men had to be murdered. Women could pass as slaves in Muslim homes, and children raised to be Muslims by killing their parents. This brought the caliph closer to his goal, the complete elimination of the original Christian population, whose country the Turks had occupied. The Turkish authorities in several instances gave the Christian population hits that by circumcision and conversion to Islam they would avoid death, “for this is the will of Allah and the prophet!”, it was said.
With high-strung forced ceremonies and circumcision of hundreds of Christians it was confirmed that they wanted to avoid death. At the same time it was made clear that those who did not follow suit could expect a terrible death. In particular in the provinces of Sivas, Bitlis, Van and Diabekir villages of forced conversions could be counted by the hundreds.
In 60 villages in the province of Karput not a single priest was left alive, not a single church remained. 568 churches in this area were levelled, while another 282 were converted to mosques. In a total of 559 villages those Armenians who survived the massacres were forced to convert to Islam. After the massacres all crucifixes were broken in public, the holy Bible spatted upon, its papers torn out and used for toilet paper.
An example shows what would take place if one would not forsake ones faith. In Biredjik, where 240 families who refused to become Muslims were destroyed, one old man was made an example of what would happen to the Christians who refused to become Muslims. When he refused to swear off Christ, he had his clothes torn off and was placed on burning charcoal. While he was writhing in agony, the Bible was held before his eyes and he was told to find some prophecies in the Bible worth trusting. Then he was nailed to planks. It happened several times that the instructions in the Quran to crucify the infidels was carried out. Then they shouted at him: “Call upon England! Call upon your Christ! Let him take you down!”
The worst fate awaited the leading Christian Armenians: teachers, doctors and priests. First they were arrested, then subjected to terrifying torture. Their hair was scorched with fire, the remaining hair and nails pulled out with tongs. They were then hanged for hours head down, while the executioners burned holes in their bodies with glowing rods. Often their wives and children were forced to watch the gruesome torture.
As the atrocities continued, more and more Armenians sought to defend themselves. As they had no weapons it was difficult, but in Zeitun in Kilikia seven Armenian villages defended themselves along with four Turkmenian. These villages were like birds nests on the sides of mountains. 10,000 inhabitants here resisted the attacks of 60,000 Turkish soldiers from November 1895 through February 1896. The population of Zeitun was spared after interference from the English Consul.
But what else did Europe do during this?
Nothing. They preferred to maintain friendly relations with Turkey and the sultan. The words of the sultan that it was just a set of unfriendly rumours against Islam were believed! “Islam is a religion of peace!” It was repeated over and over. This soon caused trouble for the sultan, for how to exterminate the Armenians in Constantinople, where the European diplomats were located?
The opportunity came in 1896. In order to attract European attention and help, 20 young Armenians occupied a bank and threatened to blow up the building, unless the Europeans helped them avoid total annihilation. They miscalculated. The sultan issued a statement declaring that Armenians were now attacking Turks everywhere, and that strict punishment was due.
Next day the systematic cleansing of the Armenians commenced. Quarter for quarter they were taken away and murdered. Thousands were beaten to death with clubs and iron rods. Long rows of horse charts were lined up to drive the heaps of bodies away from the streets. The killings lasted two days and stopped as suddenly as they had started. In these two days 6000-7000 Armenians were killed in the city, while the European press declared their understanding for the need of the Turks to defend themselves! In Germany, though, Dr. Johannes Lepsius in his book “Eine Anklage” (An Accusation) systematically documented the genocide through eyewitness accounts. But nothing happened.
France, who praises the French revolution and detested the “outdated Christian faith”, went to the extreme of printing cartoons depicting Armenians storming Muslim mosques, killing their brave defenders, and praised the sultan for his courageous defence of Turkey against the Armenians! Only in England the public opinion after the massacres were so upset that they were able to force the government into action, but too late.
In connection with these killings German and American Christian organisations started an aid campaign, in particular for the orphans whose mothers and fathers had been murdered for refusing to become Muslims. One of those who ventured out to help was Karen Jeppe, who due to her efforts later earned the name “Mother of the Armenians”.