The following quotes are translations of segments from an editorial that Raffi published in Mshak in 1880 following the Congress of Berlin on the status of Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds and Yazidis living in the Eastern Ottoman Empire.
The distinction is not significant: Perhaps the Kurd does it knowingly, or perhaps mechanically—the consequences are all the same for the massacred Armenians. There is already proof. Only yesterday we read a telegram, which the English consul to Van sent to Constantinople, saying that the Kurds destroyed 13 Armenian villages.
We are asking, what should the Armenians do in such cases? Until now, whenever the Kurds plundered and murdered Armenians, and burned their villages, the Armenians approached the Turkish government and requested legal action. But now, when the government’s representatives themselves are instigating the Kurds to perform such barbarities, who are the Armenians to approach? Some respond by saying “Europe,” which has taken responsibility to oversee the reform of Armenia. But until Europe gets to examine the issue [of these massacres], the deed will already be done, and until help lends its hand (if it actually does lend its hand), it will be too late…
14 years later, the thirty-year genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Yezidis and Greeks began with the Hamidian Massacres (1894-1896), named after Sultan Abdul-Hamid II (and carried out by his namesake “Hamidiye” cavalry unit). Raffi had passed away by then (may he rest in peace), but he was right. Europe watched the bloody massacres and deportations take place without providing significant help.
They [the Armenians] have understood that a decisive moment has arrived, when it is either necessary to be extinguished as slaves, or if they want to protect their existence, to necessarily oppose the violent attacks of the Kurds with all their powers. There is no other solution. That was why Armenian militias were formed, the objective of which was not to engage in revolts, not to fight the Turkish government, but to punish the Kurds if they dared to disturb the peace and plunder the unarmed Armenian villagers. Those militias, which were few in number, moved about in the Armenian mountains and watched the enemy’s movements, and they sought vengeance in every way, when they witnessed any cruelty by the Kurds.
The Armenian militias even protected the peaceful tribes of Kurds, when they happened to experience the barbarities of other tribes of Kurds. For that reason, many of the Kurds have joined forces with the Armenians and consider it better to fight the enemy than to harm the Armenians, from whom they have always enjoyed assistance and loyalty.
Raffi is referring here primarily, but not only, to the Yazidis (who it turns out aren’t actually Kurds):
The Armenians of Aghbak1, Çatak, Bulanık, Mokk2 and Sasoon3 had their confederate Kurdish tribes, with whom they had allied, and often fought [alongside against] their enemies. The Kurds belonging to the non-Mohammedan Yezidi sect, who have always been persecuted by their Mohammedan compatriots, protected their friendly relations with the Armenians. The Armenians had so much loyalty toward that tribe, that they gave their animals to their shepherds to tend, and the large majority of people the Armenians hired to work in their households and for farming were Yezidi. They performed a few of the Armenians’ religious ceremonies, kept the feasts of the Saints Sargis and George, conducted sacrifices at Armenian sanctuaries, and considered the Saint Gregory the Illuminator and the martyr Davit4 among God’s principal chosen ones. Almost all of the Yezidis knew how to speak the Armenian language…
This partnership also extended to the Assyrians:
The brave Assyrians of the renowned Mar-Shimun have joined forces with the Armenian militias. Mar-Shimun, that mighty ruler and patriarch of the mountains of Hakkari [Mar-Shimun is the Patriarch of the Church of the East], could not forget that terrible strike of the past, which in the previous Mar-Shimun’s5 time, a Kurdish tyrant by the name of Bedr-Khan Bey of Bodhan6 sent the Kurdish marauders to the Patriarch’s home, completely plundered it, and massacred up to 10,000 Assyrians7. From that day, the Kurds and Mar-Shimun’s people have been continuous enemies, which often caused very bloody fights. Just two years ago, when the Kurds raided a few villages in Hakkari and took as spoils from the pastures the Patriarch’s pack of mules, the Assyrians proceeded to violently massacre the Kurds and took back their plunder. Having ceaseless collisions with the Kurds, Mar-Shimun had up to 30,000 – 40,000 armed men ready even in times of peace, and now all of the Armenians and Assyrians of Hakkari are armed.”
Raffi concludes saying that, by backing the Kurds, “Turkey is provoking the justified rage of Armenians even more,” and that one day, when the Kurds are done carrying out Ottoman dirty work, it will be their turn to face the violence of the State because their goal was to Turkify all. Raffi’s prophecy unfortunately came true… Starting toward the end of the genocide, Turkey began suppressing the Kurds (e.g., the Sheikh Said Rebellion, the Dersim rebellion and the Zilan massacre), and tensions still remain high between Kurds and Turks today.j
Update Oct 4, 2020:
One week ago today, the War on Artsakh started with Azerbaijan shelling civilian settlements in Artsakh (with Turkey’s support). By pursuing the same policy of arming and backing Azerbaijan against Armenia and Artsakh today, Turkey is repeating the same policy that it pursued with the Kurds a century ago with impunity. But while Armenia learned from past mistakes that she cannot count on world powers to deliver justice, and that it is better to face her own fate fighting a much larger foe herself than to face the risk of another massacre while waiting for foreign help, Azerbaijan does not seem to be concerned about the possibility of sharing a border with Turkey, should they ultimately succeed in destroying Armenia in service of their Neo-Ottoman dream.
The excerpts in this post are from an article entitled Kurdish Union, published by Raffi in the 1880 issues of Mshak.
- Aghbak refers to the present-day Turkish district of Başkale.
- Mokk refers to the present-day Turkish city of Bahçesaray.
- Sasoon refers to the present-day Turkish city of Sason.
- This refers to St. Davit of Dvin who was martyred in 701 A.D.
- Raffi footnoted this saying that “the Patriarchal chair of the Nestorian Assyrians is inherited. All the Patriarchs are successively elected from the same house and are called Mar-Shimun, meaning Lord Simon.” Nicholas Al-Jeloo informs us that the position was literally inherited by members of the same family until the last Patriarch to be consecrated in this fashion was assassinated in 1975, after which the Patriarchs have been elected by the synod. @Byalda of Twitter informs us that the Patriarch at the time of Raffi’s writing was Mar Shimun XVIII Rouel
- Bodhan refers to present-day Cizre in south-eastern Turkey. Nicholas Al-Jeloo informs us that this was actually a Kurdish emirate and region to the west of Hakkari, between the Tigris and Bodhan rivers, and that although the main administrative town was Cizre, the Kurdish emirs usually lived in Deyr-Gule (present-day Kumcati)
- This refers to the 1840 massacres of the Assyrians of Hakkari.