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Main » 2010 » February » 5 » Tragedy that lasts ten centuries
Tragedy that lasts ten centuries
In light of the political consultations on the issue of normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, editors consider necessary to re-publish this article, first printed in April this year. The article gives ten centuries brief history of relations between Armenian people and Turkish nomadic tribes. It is published with minor amendments.

History of Armenian people for thousand years evolved according to natural laws of human existence. The nation created, fought (successfully, or not), tilled the land, etc.. In short, like "all others”. The state territory in different periods of history was expanding, and then narrowing, changing external state and internal "administrative” boundaries. Only the residence area of the Armenian people never changed: Armenian plateau – is a place, where at the dawn of history Armenian spirit and Armenian soil fertilized each other.

The concept of "ethnic cleansing” albeit in different "form”, to Armenian people was alien and incomprehensible. Neither Armenians used such methods of racial, ethic and religious rejections nor the neighbors with respect to Armenians and each other. Unavoidable in the history wars bore economic and territorial nature. Population did not suffer, directly from wars. State’s military successes or failures were not reflected on the peasants and artisans life, they merely "changed owner” and paid tribute to another. They continued to live their familiar rut.

Noble and respectful attitude toward the enemy naturally led to the fact that in Armenia and adjacent countries, peasants and artisans were exempted from conscription. Today it’s hard to say, at what stage of history it happened but from immemorial time among Armenians, Persians, Assyrians, also among some Greeks and Georgians only younger sons served in the army. In Armenia they were called Sepuh. Word Sepuh might have Indo-European roots (cf. the Persian سپاه - sepâh, army; ind. sipaj - soldiers). It was a wise decision allowing for the possibility to safe large naharar (princely) clans from the undesirable fragmentation. Furthermore, since childhood Sepuh was prepared for the military service: they’d been raised with the spirit of warrior-patriot. At the same time peasants and artisans lot was cultivating land and producing of necessary goods for the country.

From time to time, by virtue of circumstances, the ranks of nobility were enriched by individual representatives of "nonmilitary people”. In this case they also obtained possibility to send their sons to the military service. Army service was truly an honorable occupation: suffice it to say that the right to serve itself indicated the noble origin. Many peasants and artisans burdened by hard labor with understandable envy gazed at Hackney riders on hot horses, or covered with the shining infantry armor. The army service for the vast majority of the Armenian population seemed unrealizable hope.

Sympathetic, that in the region there were a lot of fortresses; and wars, almost without exceptions, were around them and for their possession. The one who owned the fortress also was an owner of the surrounding villages and lands. Fields, vineyards same as cultivated lands were taboo for the warfare. In short, these were "noble” wars that didn’t affect population’s life a lot.

This situation continued until the hordes of nomads from distant Baikal steppes invaded this region. Armenians and people neighbored us knew about nomads customs and manners. They were perceived as common enemy, who time to time raids villages of settled people. Today it could seem incredible, but even during the years of Armenian-Persian wars united Persian and Armenian troops defended borders of Iranian and Armenian highlands from the main enemy (we can learn from ancestors). These forces didn’t care about "internal” wars; their purpose was the defense of region. It means wars between regions’ indigenous inhabitants were internal disorders; Turan nomadic tribes (that moved after that from Turan to lands next to the Volga River and the Black Sea) were considered as real enemies.

Well, they were enemies. Ruthless and compassionate, they plundered and destroyed defenseless villagers. They were representatives of another civilization, with different values, and different outlook. In economic terms nomads raids brought to the sedentary people misfortunes comparable only to natural disasters. Numerous human victims turned each raid in a real tragedy. Fortresses, even most inaccessible didn’t mean anything for nomads, they just avoided them. Nomads came to rob and kill, but not to fight. Chinese understood it long ago they constructed defensive wall around the entire perimeter from "neighboring” nomad Turkish tribes.

Especially hard situation was after move of different Turkish tribes to the region. No, they weren’t first nomads penetrated on the Armenian highland territory. There were Massagets, and Cimmerians, and Sakas, and Scythians… Armenia by that time managed to survive the reign of nomadic Arabs… However, between them and Turks was a big difference: Armenia interested Scythians and others as an object for the robbery. In fact, these were the usual raids, extended in the time. Losses - human and economic - from these raids were heavy, but they were fixable. However, as for the centuries-old Arabs presence in Armenia these were mostly armed forces that managed to seize the country. Yes, Arabs robbed the people of Armenia, country was under a lot of taxes, mass executions were carried out (Armenian naharars burnings together with their families in Nakhchivan and in the Temple at the very beginning of VIIIth century?!), but practically didn’t touch innocent civilians. Inhabitants of Armenia were used to Arab governors as the producers of tribute.

It’s not the same with Turks. Turkish tribes moved to Armenia in search of new territories for habiting. Scientists, historians, ethnographers, political scientists, still argue about the reasons for Turks to migrate to Asia Minor and Armenian highland. Versions are different: the pressure of changing climatic conditions (desert encroachment on the permanent migrations or, conversely, the steep’s water logging), and even steep’s overpopulation. However we are not interested in reasons of migration, but in the fact why Turks migrated to our region. We are also interested in the phenomenon of relatively quick conquest of large populated areas.

It would be naive to believe that Armenians or Persians were bad warriors. At least, in courage and ability to handle firearms they were not inferior to any other people known to them. Problem, on my point of view, on something else: in different method (and understanding) of warfare. As already mentioned, in the Armenian army, same as in the armies of neighbors served descendants of noble families while in nomad troops everyone was included: men, women and even children. Armenians perceived as enemy only newcomer armed men, Turks instead considered all Armenia inhabitants as enemies. They dealt with everyone according to their understanding of military valor, according to it any murder, regardless of sex and age of victim, is the feat.

Today it’s not quite discussed and even less written about the fact that during initial stage of resettlement Turkish tribes in every possible way avoided military battles. Turks preferred raids and complete destruction of peaceful villages, it brought terror to the defenseless population. Expression "defenseless” in this case is not an allegory, since by centuries peasants lived in security and they weren’t trained to fight. Destruction of villages affected supply of the army and moral spirit of entire population. Continuing to avoid open collisions with Armenian armed forces, and moving around protected fortresses, Turks continued to systematically destroy the Armenia’s population. Country was demoralized and lost practically without customary battles.

Further, however, started something incomprehensible for the Armenians. Turks arrived from unknown distances and started methodically destroy developed Armenia’s irrigational system. They continued to destroy population physically. Thinking "the old-way” Armenians were in the absolute bewilderment: why would anyone kill people and destroy irrigation? How aggressors intended to collect tribute if they would kill people?

First time Turks didn’t require any tribute. They didn’t need bread; it was unknown for them same as other benefits of agricultural civilization. They adapted Armenia to their way of life, turned it into huge endless pasture that was the only true wealth in nomads understanding. The cultivated land is unsuitable for grazing, that is why Turks believed that land cultivation damages their life. Sheep provide all everyday Turks needs: from food - milk, cheese, oil, meat - to clothing. They weren’t used to have more because it wasn’t necessary. Hence the unprecedented cruelty of killing, destroying, burning and looting villages.

It was civilization’s collision. Collision, when Armenians and all indigenous people of this region suffered cruel defeat. Note, defeat without a war. Defeat caused by inability (or unwillingness) to adapt new confrontation form. Misfortunately or fortunately, Armenians were never able to learn enemy methods of war waging. They didn’t learn how to cut children, kill helpless men or weak women. The only recognized defense method was withdrawal to almost inaccessible parts of the country. Note that not only Armenians used method of rescuing: in Caucasian Albania (left-bank territory from the Kura River of Azerbaijan Republic) local Albanian tribes also sought salvation in mountains or swamps unsuitable for nomads. Thus, ethic Albanian villages full of human relics such as Kryz, Buduh, Hinalug are the highest mountains of Caucasus, or Talishi only in Soviet years began to drain swamps, where they found deliverance from Turks.

This article doesn’t intend to show difference between civilizational views of settled and nomadic population in the dichotomy of good-bad. Note that the "chosen” lifestyle predominantly is a requirement of the natural local climatic conditions for people, not a whim. Another thing, belonging to one of the civilizations practically dooms the confrontation with the followers of another, alternative civilization. Marked dualism is as natural, as cruel and uncompromising. Return, however, to the Armenian highland at the times of Turkish nomad invasion.

Having seized power in Armenia, Turks started to systematically destroy country’s population and its cultural achievements. It was a beginning of Armenian Genocide the apogee of it fell on 1894-1923. Final destruction threatened to Armenians on Armenian highland, and Turks wouldn’t slow down to use this possibility, if not one circumstance. Turks in Armenia… settled down, they went to a settled- agricultural way of life. This process wasn’t simultaneous; moreover, even today it’s not completed. Nonetheless. Natural climatic conditions of Armenian highland were such that the Turks first began to go on a seasonal encampment, and only then completely settled. Process of Turk settling contributed several components:

a) "ethnic tolerance”, when relation to people, including the number of taxes and duties, wasn’t specified due to the nationality, but it was due to the religion, which often led to the change of religion by the indigenous people;

b) due to the girls abduction and tax on boys (janissary) the significant blood flow of local people. Gradually changed lifestyle and everyday life needs;

c) the natural climatic conditions of the Armenian highland.

Turks settled in Armenia (or in Turkey?) had needs in peasants, artisans and all people producing goods. Armenians were in demand. Not as state full-citizens, of course, and, nevertheless, it became disadvantageously to kill them. Sedentary life requires more efforts concentration than a nomad life, ability to adequately respond to the natural, climatic, and other external challenges. And if earlier, during the "pre-settled” life, Turk simply avoided all challenges, settled life didn’t provide this chance. It was necessary to learn how to cultivate land, to store some food for winter for him and for his family, to intensify efforts in rainy years; in short, to protect and to develop the abutments of settled life. Turks didn’t know how to do that all: due to the centuries of nomadic lifestyles they had special developed feature - syncretism – contemplation and symbolism of thinking.

First, Turks found way to use indigenous agricultural population. Exploitation had economical and military purposes. Military form of exploitation resulted in one of the most difficult duties for the indigenous non-Muslims in Turkey – janissary system. Christian boys (Armenians, Greeks, Georgians, Serbs, Russians, and Bulgarians) at the age of 10-14 were recruited by force to the janissary (Turkish- new army), they were forced to become Turks and they were raised in the spirit of all-consuming hatred for their Christian fellows. All, without exception, Christian settlements on the conquered territories were covered by this "tax”. It wasn’t enough, Turks actively practiced boys kidnapping during their raids on territories and countries that they could not conquer. Thus, Armenians, same as all indigenous people of this region, appeared to become "providers of alive goods”.

Along with janissary Turkey actively practiced tax on children (nüfus), on lands (araz) didn’t matter was it cultivated or not. Noteworthy that if the villager didn’t pay within the period of loan, then the land would belong to the treasury. Even then the landless villager had to pay land tax (farakenda). Besides those, Armenians were obligated to pay garden tax (tashir), hay tax (tashir), sedge tax (tashir), dung tax (amlyak), barn tax (amlyak), shelter tax (amlyak), sheepfold tax (amlyak), stable tax (amlyak), tax on storage area for fodder (amlyak), tax for marriage (tamado), tax on sheep (khamchur), tax on the roads device (amyaliya), inheritance tax (intifal). All these taxes were only for Christians and had "state” nature. In fact each Kajmak (local ruler appointed by Sultan) considered as "duty” to add more new taxes on Christian population of his region. Note also that Christians paid all other taxes that were created for the entire population of Turkey, regardless religion.

It was impossible to pay all of these taxes. For example, "intifal”. When father died his children had to come to Kajmak who "installed” the price on the inherited house. After that heirs had to pay 10% of house "price”. In case if heirs couldn’t pay it; house had to be sold in favor of treasury. Then homeless people were forced to become slaves. But even after that they had to pay all different "nüfus” and "amlyaks”.

This "simple” predatory use of indigenous agriculture population’s labor of the conquered countries allowed Turks to compensate lack of their agricultural habits. Take into account that the janissary structure and tax on Christian boys (nüfus) objectively contributed to the physical reduction of not-Turkish population. There were a lot of people who decided to change religion and passed to Islam to get rid of excessive taxes and protect families from starving death. That’s the way how appeared big new layer of "Turkish- farmers”. They provided state with enough of agricultural products.

The critical mass of "Turk- farmers” apparently formed at the end of XVIIIth and beginning of XIXth centuries. Turkey had no "need” anymore in indigenous Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. State became "more civilized”, at this period of time all citizens regardless their nationality or religious affiliation had to serve in the army. After that it was decided that Turkey should get rid of janissary, which was uncontrollable force.

We should say that by that time in Turkey acted regular bandit detachments (sounds strange) - Akinci, one of the main state troops component. Akinci were used in peacetime for specific raids and robberies in fixed settlements of neighboring countries. The word "Akinci” - means "raider, robber, and clearly reflects to the goals of "troops”. However, Akinci regularly carried their "service”, and need for Janissary gradually disappeared. In 1826 Janissaries were destroyed by Sultan Mahmud II with the aid of akinci.

There are no doubts, that it was a time when the "need” to destruct and deport the indigenous Christian population appeared in Turkey. Actually: Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians did their work: they learned Turks to cultivate land, and partially became Turks. They appeared to be unnecessary elements on their historic homeland. Precisely in the first half of XIX century the repression against indigenous population of Turkey took the unprecedented cruelty.

European countries including Russia undoubtedly were aware of cruelest repressions; however, their thoughts were directed, mainly, toward the rescuing the population from the European part of the Turkish Empire. Hence the numerous sufficiently successful uprisings of Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Croats… Furthermore, Constantinople together with Bosporus and Dardanelles had strategic importance, against it the tragedy of Armenian people seemed only as an annoying humanitarian obstacle. At this time on the "Asian” part of Turkey set up death squads "Hamidi”, that blindly followed Sultan’s will.

Modern Turkey attempts to present Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey as an emergency… to deport unreliable in military and political terms Christian population during the First World War years. Meanwhile, Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey didn’t begin during war years, it started earlier in 1894, during the reign of Abdul Hamid II. The events of 1894-1923 became logical continuation of a thousand year Turks policy on conquered land.

The tragedy of Armenian Genocide lasts already ten centuries. National and civic duty of our historians is a reasoned presentation of it to the world community.

Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan
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