Armenian Massacres (1894–1897)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Ottoman government vs.
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Armenia
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Attempt to crush an
Armenian nationalist movement.
OUTCOME: Tens of thousands were killed, and the
nationalist movement was temporarily suppressed.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
CASUALTIES: 50,000–100,000 Armenians
Toward the end of the 19th century, the Armenians lived as
subjects of the Ottoman Empire. As a Christian minority of
some 2.5 million in the midst of an Islamic state, they were
routinely persecuted by their Ottoman overlords. In the
1880s a revolutionary socialist party, the Hunchak (“The
Bell”), rose up among the Armenians, followed by an even
more radical nationalist faction, the Dashnaktsutium
(“Armenian Revolutionary Federation”). Fearing that he
was losing his grip on the Armenians, Ottoman sultan
Abdul Hamid II (1842–1918) launched a series of pogroms
against the Armenians of the empire beginning in 1894.
The first action took place in Sasun, where Armenian
protesters had assembled to demonstrate against oppressive
taxation. Acting in concert with Kurdish tribesmen,
Turkish police waded into the protestors and commenced
a slaughter. This triggered a protest in the Ottoman capital
of Istanbul, which resulted in a 10-day siege of terror
against the Armenian quarter of the city. Hundreds were
clubbed to death, and the violence soon spread throughout
eastern Turkey. Trebizond and 13 other cities were
swept with a wave of unprecedented violence in which
more than 14,000 Armenians perished at the hands of the
Turkish army acting with Islamic extremists.
In December 1895 at Urfa, the Turkish army held the
Armenian quarter under siege for two months. When
Armenians sought succor in a cathedral, the army stormed
the sanctuary and killed 3,000. A total of 8,000 Armenians
were killed in the siege of Urfa and its aftermath. Shortly
after this in Zeitun (province of Cilicia), Armenian residents
rose up against the Turks, taking some 400 prisoners.
It was, however, the only significant resistance to the
reign of terror.
The culmination of this first period of slaughter came
in August 1896 in Istanbul. During two days an Islamic
mob swept through the Armenian quarter, killing 6,000.
At last, the Western European powers were sufficiently
horrified to threaten intervention. This brought a halt to
the rampage, although anti-Armenian violence continued
sporadically through 1897. Estimates of the totals killed
during the 1894–97 period vary from 50,000 to twice that
See also ARMENIAN MASSACRES (1909); ARMENIAN
Further reading: Vahakn N. Dadrian, The History of
the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to
Anatolia to the Caucasus (New York: Berghahn Books,