Armenian Question

The term "Armenian Question", as used in European history, became commonplace among diplomatic circles and in the popular press after the Congress of Berlin. As with the Eastern Question, it refers to the powers of Europe's involvement with the Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire, beginning with the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. In specific terms, the Armenian question refers to the protection and the freedoms of Armenians from their neighboring communities.[1] The "Armenian Question" explains the 40 years of Armenian-Ottoman history in the context of English, German, and Russian politics between 1877–1914. The term "Armenian Question" is also often used by Armenians to refer to the question of Turkey's lack of acknowledgement of the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide.


Beginning in the mid-19th century, the Great Powers took issue with the Ottoman Empire's treatment of its Christian minorities and increasingly pressured it to extend equal rights to all its citizens. Following the violent suppression of Christians in the uprisings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Serbia in 1875, the Great Powers invoked the 1856 Treaty of Paris, claiming it provided the authority for their intervention to protect the Ottoman Empire's Christian minorities. By the late 1870s, the Greeks, along with several other Christian nations in the Balkans, frustrated with their conditions, had, often with the help of the Powers, broken free of Ottoman rule. The Armenians remained, by and large, passive during these years, earning them the title of 'millet-i sadika' or the "loyal millet".[2]

In 1827-28, Tsar Nicholas I sought help from Persian Armenians in the Russo-Persian War, 1826-1828, promising that after the war, their lives would improve. In 1828, the Russians declared the Russo-Turkish War, 1828-1829. In 1828, Russia annexed Erivan khanate, Nakhchivan khanate, and the surrounding countryside with the Treaty of Turkmenchay. After the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Armenians still living under Persian rule were encouraged to emigrate to Russian Armenia and 30,000 followed the call. Russia annexed significant portions of territory occupied by the Armenians.[3] By the 1897 Russian Census, 1,127,212 Armenians were counted in the Russian Lands (Erivan Governorate, 439,926; Elisabethpol Governorate, 298,790; Kars Oblast, 72,967, Tiflis Governorate, 230,379, Baku Governorate, 52,770; Black Sea Governorate, 6,223 Dagestan Oblast, 1,652, Kutaisi Governorate, 24,505). At the same period (1896 Vital Cuinet) Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were 1,095,889 (Adana Vilayet, 97,450 Aleppo Vilayet, 37,999; Ankara Vilayet, 94,298; Bitlis Vilayet, 131,300; Bursa Vilayet, 88,991; Diyarbekir Vilayet 67,718; Erzurum Vilayet, 134,967; İzmir Vilayet, 15,105; İzmit, 48,655; Kastamonu Vilayet, 2,647; Mamure-ul-Azil Vilayet, 79,128; Sivas Vilayet, 170,433; Trebizond Vilayet, 47,20; Van Vilayet, 79,998) [4]

As Russia advanced its southern border, it became increasingly involved with Ottoman affairs. Russia was instrumental in obtaining the independence of Romania and Serbia. Russia, and Russian life, attracted Armenians. Many Armenians became educated and adopted Russian ways.[5] Russia was also a path to Europe for Armenians.[6] Russia gained control over a large part of Armenia, and became the champion of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.


Negotiations for San Stefano Agreement included "Article 16"
Congress of Berlin led to Treaty of Berlin (1878) which included "Article 61"

Most Armenians lived in provinces bordering Russia and not any other European states. By the Treaty of Adrianople, Akhalkalak and Akhaltsikhe were ceded to Russia. This resulted in a wave of emigration, with 25,000 Ottoman Armenians moving to Russian Armenia.[7] The Armenians began to look more toward the Russian Empire as the ultimate guarantors of their security.

Many Armenians in the Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, living under the threat of unchecked violence and depredation on the part of aggressive neighboring peoples, greeted the advancing Russian army as liberators. In January 1878, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Nerses II Varzhapetian approached the Russian leadership to receive assurances that Russia would introduce provisions for Armenian self-administration in the new peace treaty.

In March 1878, after the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Nerses II Varzhaptian (1874–1884), forwarded Armenian complaints of widespread "forced land seizure ... forced conversion of women and children, arson, protection racket, rape, and murder" to the Powers. Patriarch Nerses Varjabedyan convinced Russians to insert Article 16 to Treaty of San Stefano, stipulating that the Russian forces occupying the Armenian-populated provinces in the eastern Ottoman Empire would withdraw only with the full implementation of reforms. Though not as explicit, Article 16 of the Treaty of San Stefano read:

As the evacuation of the Russian troops of the territory they occupy in Armenia, and which is to be restored to Turkey, might give rise to conflicts and complications detrimental to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, the Sublime Porte engaged to carry into effect, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians and to guarantee their security from Kurds and Circassians.[8]

In June 1878, Great Britain, however, took objection to Russia holding on to so much Ottoman territory and forced it to enter into new negotiations with the convening of the Congress of Berlin. Article 16 was modified and watered down, and all mention of the Russian forces remaining in the provinces was removed. Instead, the Ottoman government was periodically to inform the Great Powers of the progress of the reforms. In the final text of the Treaty of Berlin, it was transformed into Article 61, which read:

The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the powers, who will superintend their application.[9]

The Armenian National Assembly and Patriarch Nerses Varjabedyan asked his predecessor on Patriarchal See and future Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian to present the case for the Armenians at Berlin. An Armenian delegation led by Mkrtich Khrimian traveled to Berlin to present the case of the Armenians but, much to its dismay, was left out of the negotiations. Following the Berlin negotiations, in his famous patriotic speech “The Paper Ladle,” Mkrtich Khrimian advised Armenians to take the national awakening of Bulgaria (Liberation of Bulgaria) as a model for the hopes for self-determination.[10] In Bulgarian historiography, Liberation of Bulgaria means the events of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 that led to the re-establishment of the Bulgarian sovereign state with the Treaty of San Stefano.

Six Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire

In 1880, the Armenians, especially encouraged by the prime minister Gladstone, broached the Armenian issue with the words, "To serve Armenia is to serve the Civilization". On 11 June 1880, the great powers sent to porte an “Identic Note” which asked for the enforcement of Article 61.[11] This was followed on 2 January 1881 with a "British Circular on Armenia" sent to the other Powers. [12]

Armenian reform program

Armenian reform program of 11 May 1895 was a set of reforms proposed by European Powers.[13]

French diplomat Victor Bérard wrote:

After six months of constant massacres, while Europe pretended that the Armenian Question was already solved, the Armenians decided to show Europe that the Armenian Question still existed but that there was no Ottoman government any more.[14]

Armenian reform package

The Armenian reform package was a reform plan devised by the European powers in 1912-1914 that envisaged the creation of two provinces placed under the supervision of two European inspectors general. As it turned out, the reforms were not forthcoming. With the lack of visible progress in the improvement of the plight of the Armenian community, a number of disillusioned Armenian intellectuals living in Europe and Russia in the 1880s and 1890s decided to form political parties and revolutionary societies which would struggle to attain better conditions for their compatriots.[15]

Images of massacred Armenians


  1. Armenian Studies: Études Arméniennes by Lebanese Association of Armenian University Graduates, pp. 4-6
  2. Dadrian, Vahakn N (1995). The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus. Oxford: Berghahn Books. p. 192. ISBN 1-57181-666-6.
  3. (Peimani 2009, pp. 236)
  4. Vital Cuinet, La Turquie d'Asie : géographie administrative, statistique, descriptive et raisonée de chaque province de l'Asie-Mineure, 4 vols., Paris, 1890-95.
  5. (Peimani 2009, pp. 236)
  6. (Peimani 2009, pp. 236)
  7. Bournoutian. Armenian People, p. 105
  8. Hertslet, Edward (1891), The Map of Europe by Treaty, 4, London: Butterworths, p. 2686.
  9. Hurewitz, Jacob C (1956), Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East: A Documentary Record 1535–1956, I, Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, p. 190.
  10. Haig Ajemian, Hayotz Hayrig, page 511-3; translated by Fr. Vazken Movsesian.
  11. (Nalbandian 1963, pp. 84)
  12. (Nalbandian 1963, pp. 84)
  13. (Nalbandian 1963, pp. 128)
  14. V. Bérard, La Politique du Sultan, Revue de Paris, January 15, 1897, p. 457
  15. Hovannisian, Richard G, "The Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1914", in Hovannisian, Richard G, The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times, II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century, New York: St Martin's, pp. 206–12, ISBN 0-312-10168-6.


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