Turkish Genocides: The Sultan Abdul Mejid promise
In the 19th century the Islamic empires and the caliphate were increasingly weakened, as they stiffened in poverty and corrupt suppression, all while Europe advanced economically, scientifically and eventually also religiously through a major Christian awakening towards the end of the century. Factories and churches were built everywhere. And people were hearing accounts of the horrible suppression suffered by the Christians in the countries under Islamic occupation.
Strong pressure from the Christian public caused the sultan, in order to win sympathy and support from the European governments, to in 1839 issue the Hatt-i-Sjerif declaration (“The Noble Parchment”), where the sultan promised all subjects in all his conquered territories, indiscriminately of race and religion, protection of life, honour and property. Thus the sultan initiated a string of promises of improving the situation for Christians and Jews. But for the Christians, these promises were worse than nothing.
The governments of Europe now leaned back and pointed out the extensive tolerance found in Islam. Only in the major cities, where European diplomats lived, there was a short ease of conditions for the Christians. In all other places, the conditions worsened. As written by Aage Meyer Benedictsen, the people of supremacy would never subject themselves to demands from those openly called “Infidel Christian dogs” (p. 158).
After the Crimean war, where the western powers protected Turkey and guaranteed its borders, meaning its conquests and submission of dozens of Christian people, the sultan further granted a promise to the western power in 1856: “Hatt i Humajun” (the Imperial Parchment), where he promised all his subjects civil rights. “As all religious confessions enjoy and also in the future shall enjoy freedom in all my countries, not a single of my subjects shall encounter hindrances to exercise the belief, he confesses in, and must not suffer the slightest pressure in this respect.” (Aage Meyer Benedictsen p. 159)
In order to not open up inwardly, they let their population know what the treaty signified internally by a public hanging of the Armenian Hovakoim, because he out of confidence in the promises from the treaty had reverted to Christianity after he and his family had been forced with violence to convert to Islam. As a further humiliation during the hanging a hat, symbolizing Europe, was attached to his dead body, implicitly signifying a hanging of infidel Europe. The new promise was not tested further by any other of the forced converts to Islam. But one could say that the sultan merely acted as a good Muslim by following the law of the Quran of capital punishment to those who leave Islam.
Now it was important to show the subdued Christian peoples who was the lord and who was the slave. The Greek war of liberation had shown, that the Christians were now prepared to fight for their freedom. They needed urgently to prevent this. Every time European governments inquired about the state of things, they were met from the Islamic side with understanding, friendliness and a proud reporting of the great freedom and tolerance which had always reigned in Islam. Most let themselves be appeased.
Thus sultan after sultan had the freedom to commit one genocide after another against the Serbs, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Greeks and the Armenians. In the following we will in particular look at the genocides against the Macedonians and the Bulgarians. The so-called Macedonian speech by Danish author Georg Brandes (1902), here quoted from “Collected works of Georg Brandes”, is an important document in this context.