The Ottoman Armenians: The Fate of Christians in a Muslim Land

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the start of the genocide against the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. The essay below by Jen L. Jones was originally published in a slightly different form at a website that has since closed down. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

The Ottoman Armenians: The Fate of Christians in a Muslim Land

Against the combined forces of Turkish nationalism and Islam, the Christian Armenian minority’s struggle for equal rights and reform met with disaster on a massive scale. We now identify that time of their persecution and suffering as the Armenian Genocide

by Jen L. Jones

Genocides in human history are thankfully rare — modern genocides even more so, since we now have the will and the means to end them. Or so we think.

No doubt in our distant past, before recorded history, genocides occurred but left little trace. In more recent times, say 1915, for example, news of genocide in the Ottoman Empire could be and was telegraphed around the world and its harrowing images published in such newspapers as The New York Times. One might think that knowing about atrocities would spur action — that the world would care. But for the most part the world just sighed and looked away. That particular genocide, brought to the front pages of the Western press, then proceeded apace.

April 24, 2018 is the 103rd commemoration of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, carried out mostly in the lands now known as Turkey. Millions of words will be written about this event; tears will be shed; denials will rage.

Yet, despite the worldwide ceremonies and events marking this, how many of us really understand the nature of this massive atrocity?

For most of us, placing these Armenians in space and time is a fog-shrouded exercise which reveals the weakness of our educations. Yes, most of us have heard about this, but how many of our university youth could quickly point out on a globe where these events happened? How many could name the powers that orchestrated this? How many would know of the historical precedents in the 19th century that foreshadowed the genocide of 1915?

And if this weren’t the 103rd anniversary, how many would know how long ago this happened?

(Click to enlarge)

Imperatives to Understanding

Placing the land known as Armenia, both then and now, within its geographical context is crucial to understanding this genocide. Knowing the religion of the Armenians, their long history of Christianity, the deep nature of their faith — all are vital to comprehension.

Knowing the extent of the Ottoman Empire, its history, and the primacy it placed on Islam are all further crucial steps to full understanding — as is knowing how and why the revolutionary Young Turks had seized power from Sultan Hamid in 1908.

Also, placing the Armenian Genocide within its temporal and historical context of surging Turkish nationalism — melded to Islam — in the turbulent years prior to World War I, is imperative. The rising expectations of individual freedoms and equality that swirled in a milieu of crumbling imperial powers are also key. The Christian Armenians, long second-class subjects, longed for that equality.

Learning more about all these aspects isn’t difficult. Print sources and the Internet abound with information, but be prepared to be shocked and saddened. The suffering of the Armenians was profound; the atrocities beyond belief.

All this background information is essential to understanding, but it still isn’t sufficient to explain why the ruling Young Turks made their fateful choice to commit genocide.

Why did the Young Turks Order Genocide?

Most of today’s articles appearing on the Genocide will focus on the numbers and the nature of the atrocities. These are chilling: around 1.5 million people slaughtered or hounded to their deaths; cruelties of unimaginable horror seared the land. We must never forget.

But in digging for reasons, trying to comprehend the thinking of the masterminds — that is where the lessons for humanity will truly be found.

Purported reasons abound, but what really was the crux, the pivotal factor which led the Young Turks to their fateful and awful decision?

Beneath the often-used excuses of military excesses, the need for national security, and war-time chaos, lies another reason why the Armenians were the target of such ferocity. That reason is religion, in particular Islam, and even more particularly, Islamic Jihad — aimed full force at the Armenians, followers of Christ in a land where Islam then reigned supreme, although the land we now know as Turkey had previously been Christian.

This is not just speculation — the facts are easily found. Many respected scholars have written about this. Among them are Taner Akçam, a Turkish historian and professor, who has been targeted by the Erdogan regime in Turkey for his support of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist murdered in 2007; Andrew Bostom who has meticulously detailed Islamic Jihad in his writings; and, Bat Ye’or, who has written extensively on the plight of minorities under Islamic rule.

This perfect storm bore down on the hapless Armenians in 1915, but was genocide its inevitable outcome? Taner Akçam doesn’t believe so:

“Even immediately prior to the genocide decision, there were always other options available to the Ottoman leadership. It is easy to fall into the trap of inevitability when describing historical events. The context and circumstances need not have necessarily resulted in genocide.”

We need to understand that context and those circumstances to know that when the Young Turks chose genocide, it was a deliberate decision — one that was inspired by, and called for, Islamic Jihad.


Akçam, Taner, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006

The photo at the top of this post shows the Armenian Church of Surb Grigor Lusavorich (Saint Gregory the Illuminator, 13th Century) of Tigran Honents, in the ancient city of Ani, looking towards the church’s west facade and entrance.

Ani is a ruined medieval Christian city in what is now eastern Turkey. This “city of one thousand and one churches” was once home to 100,000. The city suffered repeated attacks over the centuries from many forces, including Byzantines, Mongols, and Selçuk and Ottoman Turks. It has seen many massacres. Since it was already a ruin, the Armenian Genocide of 1915 had little effect on it, but the new Republic of Turkey in 1921 issued an order for the monuments of Ani to “be wiped off the face of the earth.” This was only partially carried out, and the site today is a symbol of Armenian cultural and religious heritage.

21 thoughts on “The Ottoman Armenians: The Fate of Christians in a Muslim Land

  1. Could the Young Turks have bought into the Wahhabi ethos involving purity before Allah? We know Wahhabism got its start after the defeat of the Turkish hordes at the Siege of Vienna. Could it be that the sorry conditions in the Ottoman Empire were blamed upon the impurities that were the result of impure infidel Christians who were ‘polluting’ the land and rendering Turkey unfit for Allah’s assistance when confronted by their enemies, in this case England and France, but mostly England.
    How about a summary of Taner Ackam’s book where it delves into the motivations of the Young Turks.

    • acuara, Your understanding of history, sociology and human nature is amazing. Lacking of these things in our infant despotic rulers are leading us to perdition. Or they know but deliberately choose an easy way out of denial since they have fell under the magic spell of islam. The “big powers” gave tacit approval to Ottomans of their genocides of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks as long as the ottomans allowed the “big powers” at the time, to reach East India via Turkey, Iraq and the Gulf to East India.

      Money first.

      • and faith second. The ‘allies’ got their retribution in World War II that saw the loss of their sons, their properties, and their colonies. The Armenians were known as the Church of Philadelphia, which can no longer be found on the map. May I suggest that we have paid dearly for having allowed our brethren to be food for the wolves. and turks.

  2. Taner Akçam’s book takes 483 pages to describe the circumstances in the crumbling Ottoman Empire both before and after the Armenian Genocide but he never mentions Wahhabism. However, there was a desire on the part of the Ottoman Turks to take revenge for their loss of territory in the Balkan War of 1912. They saw the outbreak of World War I as their chance to take “revenge on unjust and oppressive Europe.” That proved too difficult but the Young Turks planned expansion to the east into the Crimea and Turkistan—but Armenia stood in the way. Revenge could be directed that way instead.

    Also, the two to three million Armenians who lived within what is now Turkey protested their Dhimmi status, a dangerous undertaking in an Islamic land. There had been previous massacres against Armenians, so persecuting them was a pattern. When Armenia stood with Russia in the war, the fate of Armenians in Turkey was sealed.

    In Taner Akçam’s book, the American Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, is quoted as saying:

    “The conditions of the war gave the Turkish government its longed for opportunity to lay hold of the Armenians . . . . They criticized their ancestors for neglecting to destroy or convert the Christian races to Mohammedanism at the time when they first subjugated them. . . . They thought the time opportune to make good the oversight of their ancestors in the 15th century.”

    One chapter is called “What Led to the Decision for Genocide?”—it’s 36 pages long. It would be difficult to summarize it, since all the details are salient.

    • What I had though of proposing after I wrote my first comment was that the subject of the genocide should be changed from that of a national or racial identity to that of a religious identity. Russia was still ostensibly Christian, of the Eastern Orthodox flavor, but Christian nonetheless and therefore to be trusted much more than the Muslims who had oppressed them for the past 1300 years. Though we may not know for certain, history does suggest that the Young Turks may have carried their jihad further east into southern and central Russia and even reaching China. We know about the hole that Tajikistan is and the problems that China is having on its western border. It could be supposed that Turkey simply took advantage of the events of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution that left a vacuum of authority in the area to begin the scouring of the infidel that Mahomet had commanded. One can only wonder what the outcome would have been had we intervened on behalf of the Armenians against the Turks who were part of the German Axis.

      • The Islamisation of Turkic people is a whole chapter in itself. The Turks are a central/east central asian people, not very closely related to Arabs, Indo european, native European people, though I imagine there is a fair amount of admix now from those groups… basically an often nomadic tribes people who made good warriors under the original Islamic expansion of the first milenium. The small Oghuz state in what is present day Turkey eventually expanded to become the Ottoman empire. Even now as I write I am in a town in Iberia named after the pre-Ottoman Oghuz mercenaries, probably awarded them as recompense and to ensure loyalty. They “left” eventually, but the name stayed.

        Religion and politics are so often found mixed that it is hard to just say religious, political or race war. People who would take power use any theme that serves their cause.

        • History is like a puzzle, all of the pieces are there scattered around, they do add up if you accept their geometry first, not just try to make a nice picture that suits you.

          Some mention the lack of action by western powers to the atrocity, Ill throw down a piece for you all:

          As you (should) know, America is ” a little bit French ” in its direction since independence.

          We are at the start of WW1 here, where the UK has just signed a mutual defence pact with France and has closed out the commonwealth to turn itself towards Europe, with Russia on board also.

          Start thinking of the Austro Hungarian empire, the Balkans… and in fact I remember reading an official letter, French I think, that to me pointed to WW1 being pre-organised… bother I didn’t bookmark it all 🙁 … but the point being that there is a much wider context, beyond money – regional power and influence, deep seated dynastic arguments, ideological dispute.

          Money is just the giveaway trace of rewards that highlight the existence of the stronger underlying themes, a point of communion that give those themes validity in practical terms.

        • In reply to acuara and Anon, it’s worth noting that in Turkey nationalism and Islamic motivation are often used interchangeably. The Malatya murders of Christian publishers, the assassination of Hrant Dink, and the murders of Christian priests were all ascribed to “nationalists.”

  3. My family came to America because of the Genocide. My father is a survivor, my grandfather a victim, and mother’s side of the family dispersed as well. Every Armenian family has stories of those who perished and those who survived–amazing stories. It is well understood by Armenians that their Christian faith made them a target, as well as their wealth that the Turks wanted and skills and industriousness that brought jealousy with the Turks. The incredible cruelty of this extermination, abduction of women and children, forced conversion, and more, is beyond imagination, and it was done to an innocent, disarmed, Christian, population.

  4. Massacres of Christians i.e. Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks occurred earlier namely in the 1890’s the so called Hamidian Massacres. The Ottomans had form!

    • Yes.

      This gives lie to the claim that because the sultan had already been removed from power in 1909, the massacres were carried out by a secular, rather than Islamic, government.

  5. Are modern genocides so rare? Right now Islamic radicals are conducting a genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other ‘infidels’ in Syria and Iraq under the indifferent gaze of the Western world. It is every bit as horrible as the Ottoman genocide of Armenians (and other Christians).

    • It’s a good question, Anton. Perhaps it’s all in how we define “rare.” I’d say that modern genocides (of which there are perhaps five actively underway at present) are not common, but they do occur, and as you say, the world still remains indifferent. The Armenian Genocide was a major and decisive attempt by the Ottoman Turks to annihilate the Armenians. It was centrally planned, systematic, directed by a state entity, and had a political goal. Remember that for the Turks, religion and politics were (and generally still are) inseparable. The current attempts at genocide carried out by ISIS are similar in intent but don’t have the power of a state behind them. Other currently attempted genocides (as by Iran against its Christians) are more covert and are marked by stealthy duplicity. So, the world has handy excuses not to notice.

      The sheer scale of the Armenian Genocide, as illustrated in the map above, distinguishes it from the scattered efforts of ISIS.

      • This is how Islam has operated for the past some 1,400 years. They conquer a land, flood the area with Muslims. Kill the native peoples over time and like North Africa, Egypt they are known as Islamic lands. So while the genocide of the Armenians went fairly quickly in Turkey, it takes a little bit longer to kill off peoples like the Copts in Egypt. Also, the genocide in India is taking quite some time to accomplish. Islam has sliced off the west and east of India (Pakistan and Bangladesh and continues the work of making India a completely Muslim land.

  6. Eerdogan is attempting along with Iran to re-establish the Ottoman Empire! He’s slowly winning and Merkel covertly assists him.

  7. This reminds me of the muslim-like Armenian who just went all “non-muslim” truck-jihadi in Toronto! How many Armenian families “reverted” to islam, yet kept their Armenian (aka non-Arabic) surnames, I wonder? Something to think about!


  8. When I was in Turkey in 2012 I asked about this dark episode in their history. I was told repeatedly that the whole thing was misunderstood and that the Armenians left Turkey voluntarily, there was some isolated attacks but no genocide.
    It was sad to think either this is what they are legitimately being taught or they were all so willingly to tell bold faced lies.

  9. While they were an empire (even a crumbling one), the Turks could view other ethnic and religious groups as subjects. As they transitioned to a nation-state, that tolerance seems to have evaporated. Somehow that transition affected their mindset.

  10. The driver of the van charged with mowing down innocents in Toronto was identified as Alek Minassian. Goggling the surname identifies as Armenian in origin.Most Armenians are Christian.Interestingly,most Canadians would have thought the attack was by a Muslim.

  11. Replying to HDCandela above (can’t seem to leave reply after comment) – Not sure exactly what you mean when you say that I’m wrong. Perhaps you think that my comment about nationalism in Turkey means that the motivation for the murders of Christians there is nationalism and not Islamic jihad. That’s exactly what I didn’t mean: “nationalism” there can be used as a euphemism to avoid having to specify Islamic motivation.

Comments are closed.