British Consul to Erzurum, R.W. Graves, talks about the three separate Armenian parties in his letter to Sir P. Currie, dated 28 January 1895. This letter reflects the beginnings of the activities of the Armenian revolutionary parties in Eastern Anatolia.
Consul Graves to Sir P. Currie
ERZEROUM, January 28, 1895
(Received at the Foreign Office, February 22)
No. 20. Confidential
Sir, I HAVE the honour to inclose copies of a Memorandum which I have prepared on the subject of the effect produced upon Armenian opinion in these provinces by the recent occurrences in Sasun.
I have, &c.
(Signed) R. W. GRAVES
F.O. 424/181, p. 123, No. 180.
Inclosure in No. 381
AS far as any public opinion can be said to exist among the Armenians of Eastern Turkey in Asia, it must be sought for among the more or less educated inhabitants of the towns. The vast majority of the agricultural population are in a very backward condition, educationally speaking, and seem only conscious of a lively sense of the insecurity and oppression under which they suffer, and of a readiness to accept in relief in whatever form, and from whatever quarter, it may be offered. But the townspeople, hampered though they are by the want of freedom of discussion, and of a local press, cannot be entirely debated from forming and exchanging opinions upon current events and their possible influence upon the future of their nationality. Very strongly marked lines of cleavage have for years past been noted among them on those subjects, and party spirit ran higher between the holders of conflicting views than could augur well for future harmony, if ever the political destinies of the Armenians were to be intrustedto themselves for management.
Broadly speaking, their parties, as they existed previous to the Sasun disturbances, might be classifies as follows: —
1-A Conservative or Turchophile party, composed of officials in Ottoman employ, and their families; of the hangers on, “Kehayas,” stewardsand unofficial agents of various degrees of the leading Mussulmans, who owed their immunity from oppression to the protection of their patrons, at whose expense they frequently enriched themselves; and of a certain number of higher ecclesiastics and wealthy laymen of the old school, whose large material interests depended upon the favour of the Turks. On the latter they were ready to lavish as much lipservice as was required of them, and they looked with disfavour upon anything calculated to alter the old order of things, under which they had individually prospered. To these may be added the Armenian Catholics, who, from their geographical distribution, had little to suffer from Kurdish exactions, while they enjoyed almost entire freedom from Government interference on political and educational grounds. They, too, had every reason to fear any change; a Russian annexation meant the loss of their present religious immunities, and an Armenian autonomy would leave them at the mercy of the Gregorian majority.
2-A Moderate Liberal party, comprising a majority of the business, professional and scholastic, classes, together with the best of the higher clergy, whose views, although too liberal to allow them to be really contented with the present position of Christians under Turkish rule, could not be called actively disloyal. They were generally quite alive to the material impossibility of constituting an independent Armenia, as well as to the danger of ultimate denationalization that perhaps awaited them in case of annexation by Russia; it was therefore their aim to avoid precipitating any violent solution of the Armenian question, and to maintain the Armenian element as such, by strengthening and developing the national Church and schools, which enjoyed greater freedom under Ottoman than under Russian dominion; at the same time, they placed their hopes for the future in the ultimate introduction of those administrative reforms which have been so often promised by the Porte.
3-A small but active revolutionary party, but scantily represented within the Turkish Empire, as it is largely composed of young Armenians who have studied abroad, and have fallen under the influence of Socialist or Nihilist propaganda, to whom may be added a certain sprinkling of political exiles and refugees, but still comprising some of the more restless spirits among the Armenians of Turkey, who are ready to assist their comrades abroad in endeavouring to realize their projects. The most prominent organ of this party for some time past has been the journal “Hindchak,” published first at Geneva and subsequently at Athens by a group of agitators, to whom almost all the Armenian disorders of the past few years can be traced, and it may be more convenient to refer to this party in general as the “Hindchak” group.
Their object has plainly been, by creating an appearance of widespread disaffection, quite out of proportion to their numbers and influence to provoke reprisals on the part of the Turkish Government and people, of a nature to draw the attention of the Powers to the manifest grievances of the Armenian nation, and the necessity for their redressal. In this, it must be admitted that they have been ably seconded by the action of the Turkish authorities themselves in the provinces chiefly concerned. Their policy appears to be merely destructive, and so long as they can upset the present regime, they seem indifferent as to what shall replace it; at least I am not aware of their having formulated any alternative scheme of government.
Careful inquiry and observation have driven me to the conclusion that the events of the last six months, coming at the end of a period of ever-increasing misgovernment and persecution, have created a complete revolution in Armenian opinion.
The “Hindchak” group may be first disposed of. It may be taken for granted that they are satisfied with the results of the agitation; its great object, namely, to arrest the attention of Europe, has been attained, whether through their own machinations or by the fault of Turkish officials, and it will be well for all concerned if they cease from further agitation, which has become purposeless, and would only serve to justifies the severities of the Government.
The Turchophile party, or at least all that part of it which is not entirely dead to national sentiment of any kind, has been deeply stirred; many of its members are already in secret sympathy and agreement with their former opponents, and many more will join them if they see that the changes which they formerly combated are inevitable and imminent, being of the class which is always disposed to come over to the winning side.
As for the Moderate Liberals, their views appear to be undergoing a complete change. They declare that it is useless any longer to pin their faith upon the development of the national Church and schools, or to wait for the voluntary introduction of reforms, not only in view of the vexatious manner in which ecclesiastical and educational questions are dealt with, but of what they believe to be the deliberate policy of the Government for the weakening and ultimate extinction of the Armenian element in these provinces. What use, they ask, will there be church or schools, if there is no Armenian population left to fill them? And whereas, not long ago, they were strongly opposed to the idea of Russian annexation, and would have viewed the prospect, even of a temporary occupation, with apprehension, I am inclined to think that their general feeling now on the appearance of the Russian troops would be one of genuin relief, and the security thus afforded for their lives, their property, and the honour of their women would be considered an ample compensation for having certain spiritual and scholastic restrictions imposed upon them.
However, though they might at this moment accept Russian rule with resignation and even joy, there can be little doubt that the solution to which they look forward as most satisfactory is the establishment of some autonomous form of Local Government, resembling that of the Lebanon, under which they could enjoy security of lofe and property, and immunity from oppression, together with equal rights of citizenship with their Mussulman neighbours, and a proportionate share in the management of local affairs.
Turkey, No. 6, pp. 222-4, Nos. 282, 282/1