THE ARMENIAN QUESTION
Written by Diana Abgar and originally published in 1910
In the closing pages of “Twenty Years of the Armenian Question” published in 1896, its distinguished author1, one of the greatest authorities on the subject, makes the following notable comment on the character and fate of the Armenian race.
“They had maintained their nationality from immemorial times, before history began to be written. They had clung to their Christian faith, under incessant persecution for fifteen centuries. They were an intelligent, laborious race, full of energy, and increasing in numbers wherever oppression and murder did not check their increase, because they were more apt to learn, more thrifty in their habits, and far less infected by Eastern vices than their Mahommedan neighbours. They were the one indigenous population in Western Asia which, much as adversity had injured them, showed a capacity for moral as well as intellectual progress, and for assimilating the civilization of the West. In their hands the industrial future of Western Asia lay, whatever government might be established there; and those who had marked the tenacity and robust qualities of the race looked to them to restore prosperity to these once populous and flourishing countries when the blighting shadow of Turkish rule had passed away. But now, after eighteen years of constantly increasing misery, a large part, and, in many districts, the best part, of this race has been destroyed, and the remnant is threatened with extinction.”
These remarks made in 1896 by a great and disinterested authority with a profound knowledge of the subject he was writing about, stand as true to-day as when they were written. From 1896 onwards, events following in succession one upon another have proved the truth and soundness of his opinions.
Can the Armenians hope now for any change in their condition under Turkish rule? To this question, we must answer an emphatic No!
The causes that must operate against any change are many and deep-seated. In the first place it cannot be expected that a few Turks of liberal ideas (or it may be French polished) at Constantinople, are going to change the thought and character of the nation. The characteristics of a people change very slowly, if they ever change at all, and the predominant national traits of the many-blooded modern Turk have been shown to the world to be, cruelty and fanaticism, combined with a fierce sensuality; and what is more than all, and which has to be remembered most, is, that they are a people accustomed to the unbridled gratification of their worst passions.
The ethnographic traits of the Turkman which history bears out, are wildness and fierceness, and it would not be incorrect to argue that with the instincts of his primitive ancestors have been assimilated the many cross currents that run in his veins, into all of which has been infused the doctrines of the religion of the sword, a religion which does not make for the peace or well being of mankind; a religion, also, which assigning one of the two sexes to the degraded position of being created solely for the gross pleasure of the other, does not make for the exaltation of mankind.
To quote again the eminent authority previously referred to: “No Mahommedan race or dynasty has ever shown itself able to govern well even subjects of its own religion, while to extend equal rights to subjects of a different creed is forbidden by the very law of its being.”
Not the Jewish conceit proclaiming itself God’s elect and chosen, and originating the name “heathen” which it scorned. Not the Christian conceit emanating from the Jewish source, and laying the flattering unction to its soul of superiority over the “heathen” of its own time. Not the unbending caste exclusiveness of the Brahman across whose path even the shadow of the despised Sudra falling would be deemed defilement. Not any of these, can equal the intolerant religious pride of the Mahommedan, or reach the pinnacle of religious self-sufficiency on which he has seated himself. To be a Mahommedan, is enough—Cela suffit.
To any one who has familiar acquaintance with Mahommedans, and intimate with Mahommedan thought, one fact must strike itself most forcibly, and that is, the Mahommedan is above all things a Mahommedan. His religion is the paramount question in his life, and remains its predominating feature above everything else. This should not be surprising, since to the “faithful” Paradise is secured, and all crimes and transgressions against “unbelievers” absolved.
Added to these important factors of racial characteristics, influences of religion, and long grown habits of the Turk, we have also in Turkish Armenia another evil, from which the other provinces of the Turkish Empire fortunately for themselves have been exempt; this super-added evil, is, the large neighbouring bodies of Kurds and Circassians, greater marauders and depredators than the Turks, the regular occupation of whose lives comprises murder and robbery, and who have through weary centuries unremittingly quartered themselves upon the industrious christian peasants, and lived on the fruits of their labour and toil. Indeed as the Hamidieh cavalry which was established expressly for the Hamidian massacres was composed of these Kurds, it ought to be matter of speculation what outlet these warriors, trained and practised in organized murder, can now find for those habits in which they were encouraged and trained to indulge by the Hamidian régime.
Under all such conditions no hope of better days can be forthcoming, no prospect of better times seems possible, for that unhappy portion of the Armenian race whom force of circumstances keeps on the soil of the fatherland.
The appointment of Christian governors over the provinces inhabited by them might ameliorate some of the evils, or the other alternative, of allowing the use of arms to all alike, irrespective of creed or nationality, would furnish some means of self-defence against the raids and barbarities of the oppressors; but even if such concessions were granted, life for the christian peasant subject to Turkish rule, and living in the midst of his enemies, must remain one long struggle and battle against pillage, murder, depredation, and offences of the worst nature. Not the most fertile soil, not the most favourable climatic conditions, not the most assiduous industry, not the most peace loving, law abiding instincts, can bring to the Armenian peasant under Turkish rule even a modicum of that comfort, happiness, and security of life and property, which the law of all civilized countries guarantees to the industrious labourer and tiller of the soil.