World War I was one of the worst tragedies the world has ever faced. Not only the participant states but the entire world was affected and suffered because of this epochal war. The Ottoman Empire, which was once the most powerful state in the world, was in a stage of regression at that time. It had been badly defeated in the Balkan War in 1912; this defeat was unexpected and a turning point for this great empire.
The effects of World War I are still felt throughout the world. This year marks the 100th year of the painful incident the Ottomans and Armenians went through. The Turks and the Armenians, two beautiful people who had lived in harmony for more than 850 years, suffered through a series of tragic incidents and this long-lasting relationship ground to a halt. The Armenians first came to Anatolia after the victory of Malazgirt in 1071, fleeing Byzantine oppression. The Ottomans welcomed them and allowed them to live as Ottoman citizens and treated them as equals. It was a significant indication of Ottoman tolerance to embrace another people of a different faith since in Europe, religious tolerance was unknown.
Armenians and Turks both have a very similar culture; some Armenians speak Turkish better than they speak Armenian. This strong bond between them first cracked in the Ottoman-Russian War in 1878. Up until then, Armenians were recruited to very high official positions in the State. This does not indicate a special privilege because Armenians were one of the communities that formed the Ottomans, not a minority. The Armenians were considered as honest and trustworthy people who were loyal to the empire and thus given the name 'Loyal Nation'.
Everyone must be wondering why this long-standing relationship came to such turbulence after living in harmony like a family for all those years. As a matter of fact, the main Armenian question started in 1914. Following the French Revolution, various nationalistic movements became evident within the Ottoman Empire. Serbians, Bulgarians, Greeks all officially split off from the Ottomans during the Balkan Wars; only the Armenians were left within the Ottoman due to the location they were settled. They established national organizations such as Hunchakian and Tashnaksutyun in 1881 and 1889 respectively. The main aim of these and similar organizations was to gain independence through revolution. The Armenians, who were affected by these nationalistic movements, started to cooperate with Russia, England and France while the Ottomans were battling on the side of Germans as the World War I had begun in 1914. They carried out mutinies in 23 different districts, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Turks and caused a great deal of turmoil within the empire. The Ottomans were confronting serious traumas at that time, especially after the evacuation of the Balkans in 1912: There had been major massacres and deportations in Bulgaria and the Caucuses. In 1914, over one million Turks were forced into exile from Yerevan and Tiflis and only 702,000 managed to reach the homeland. There were simultaneous Armenian uprisings - these are documented in the French archives. On April 24, 1915, the Ottomans issued arrest warrants for the 235 leaders of these Armenian organizations; that is the date Armenians consider as the start of the so-called genocide. 180 of them were arrested and sent to various prisons. Then the Ottomans made the decision to deport the Armenian population to the lands where Turks had been forced to leave.
We can discuss at length if this was the proper decision to deport the entire Armenian population for reasons of national security, but it was a time of war and all sides did things out of panic - and as retaliation. It was, as is always the case, the civilian population who suffered the most. Many women, elderly and children had to go long ways without proper food, clean water and medication. Many died because of epidemic illnesses, hunger, and some were killed in gang attacks. The Ottoman Empire was protective to the Armenian civilians against attacks that might have occurred during the exile: 1,673 people who attacked the Armenian convoys during deportation were court martialled by the Ottomans. 67 of the convicts were hanged and the rest were sentenced to assorted punishments.
World War I was the ugly side of global history, like all the other wars that have taken place which resulted in the death and suffering of millions of people. In the psychology of war, one party does everything it can to protect its people and considers every means to this end justified; such thinking is, of course, completely wrong. War makes rational people make unwise and they undertake, cruel policies out of panic either in the name of victory or to save their people from danger. The Armenians and the Turks fell into this same error and killed each other.
100 years have passed and this incident is still on the global agenda. Yet, now some are using this painful event as a political tool; many states recognized that a so-called Armenian Genocide, again for political reasons. It is historians who should deal with this issue, not politicians. There have been many massacres in the world history, which could be considered genocide but those massacres have not been taken into consideration as genocide. This once again shows this is a political game rather than a sincere quest for historic knowledge.
Nobody can understand the pain better than the Armenians and the Turks who experienced this heartbreaking history. Both suffered great losses; the bones are still there in the war zones in mass graves. These two close people should not fall out because of hatred and political agendas.
If Armenians would ask for the Turks to recognize this as genocide, then Turks would do the same for themselves and this will not bring happiness but only pain. This issue cannot be solved by third parties who have not suffered the pain of World War I. Only Turkey and Armenia can do this together. We are all cognizant that this tragic event happened and affected both sides. The best course is to put behind us the pains of that war and heal the wounds together with friendship and brotherhood. The two countries can unite as a great example to the world and open their borders and lift visa and passport restrictions. Then this issue will be resolved.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Tehran Times: