• 1880 - 1914

    The Armenian Question

    Most Ottoman Armenians lived in Central and Eastern Anatolia. The Armenian population was largest in the Vilayet closest to the Russian and Persian borders, including Van, Erzurum, and Bitlis.

    The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire went to war repeatedly in the 1800s. As a Christian Empire, Russia felt a kinship with the Christians living under Ottoman Rule. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 was a mission to liberate Russia’s Christian counterparts from Ottoman rule while expanding Russian territories.

    Scholars estimate that 2 million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire when World War I began in 1914. The war brought the Armenian Question, as it was known, to the international stage.

  • 1800 - 1909

    A Crumbling Empire

    In the 1300s, the Ottomans conquered the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek regions of the Anatolian Peninsula. The Ottoman Empire’s reach only grew over the centuries. At its peak, it controlled much of the Middle East and parts of North Africa. However, cracks appeared by the dawn of the 19th Century: Greece claimed independence in 1821; Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia gained independence in the late 1800s.

  • 1890s

    By the end of the 1890s between 100,000 and 300,000 people had been killed in the Hamidian Massacres.

  • Oppression and Violence

    The Ottoman Empire was ruled by the sultan from the capital city of Constantinople. The sultan’s power was absolute. Sunni Islam was the official religion of the Empire, and minority groups – including Christian Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and Ottoman Jews – were dhimmi: non-Muslim subjects living under Ottoman Turkish protection at the will of the Sultan.

    Religious minorities were permitted to worship but were denied the rights of full citizenship. Non-Muslims were subject to additional taxes and were barred from the Islamic court system. They were not allowed to own weapons, making them vulnerable to attacks from Turks and Kurds.

  • 1876 - 1909

    The Sultan

    Sultan Abdul Hamid II enjoyed absolute power over the territories of the Ottoman Empire from 1876 until 1909. The Sultan had a special hatred for the Ottoman Armenians. The missionary school system had produced an educated class of Armenians that began to advocate for civil and political rights. But political activism could lead to kidnapping, torture, or execution.

  • I will soon settle these Armenians. I will give them a box on the ear which will make them smart and relinquish their revolutionary ambitions.

    Sultan Abdul Hamid II, 1890, to German traveler and writer Arminius Vambery

    The Sultan was true to his word.

  • Who Were the Ottoman Armenians?

    The Armenian literary tradition began in the early 400s with the recording of traditional folk stories in the Armenian alphabet. Ottoman Armenians had a rich and ancient visual culture consisting of mosaics, frescoes, textiles, and carved stone sculptures. Most artwork was religious in nature and included Christian iconography. Women produced elaborate woven carpets and lace that were both decorative and functional. Ottoman Armenian folk musicians used woodwind and string instruments to produce a distinctive sound to accompany traditional Armenian dances. The Ottoman Armenians valued education. Many young Ottoman Armenians were educated in missionary schools.

    Most Ottoman Armenians followed the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia adopted Christianity as its official religion in the 4th century; it was the first country to do so. The Armenian Apostolic Church traces its lineage to the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. It is governed by the Catholicos in Etchmiadzin. The Armenian Apostolic Church is distinct from other branches of Christianity. Some Ottoman Armenians were Protestant or Roman Catholic.


  • Minorities in the Ottoman Empire

    The Ottoman Empire had a significant non-Muslim population apart from the Armenians. Ethnic Greeks had been living in Constantinople and western Turkey for centuries. There was also a thriving community of Pontian Greeks living in the Pontus region on the coast of the Black Sea. These communities practiced Greek Orthodox Christianity. Between half a million and one million Assyrian Christians lived in southeastern Ottoman Turkey, particularly in the Vilayet of Diarbekir, Bitlis, and Van. Assyrian Christianity follows a unique liturgical tradition.

  • 1906

    The Young Turks

    This highly charged political atmosphere gave rise to an opposition group called the Young Turks, which opposed the sultan and sought a constitutional government. The Young Turks joined forces with the revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in 1906. Minority populations supported the CUP because it promised additional rights to non-Muslims. Armenians saw the CUP as a welcome change from the brutal Hamidian regime.

  • July 1908

    The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) stripped Sultan Abdul Hamid of his power in a bloodless coup in July 1908.

  • 1909

    The Adana Massacre

    For a few brief months it seemed as if peace was possible. But in April 1909, counterrevolutionaries in Constantinople sought to restore Sultan Abdul Hamid. As news of the counterrevolution spread, an enraged mob besieged the prosperous Armenian community in the far-off city of Adana. The countercoup was quickly suppressed, and the CUP emerged an efficient and brutal governing body. Young Turk soldiers were ordered to Adana under the pretense of restoring order. Instead, they further brutalized the city, claiming that the Armenians provoked them.

    By the end of April 1909, thousands of Armenians had been massacred at Adana. The city was almost completely destroyed.

  • 1909 - 1913


    The government adopted a policy of Turkification – the forced transition from the multicultural Ottoman Empire to a homogenous Turkish state. Turkification was an extreme form of nationalism. The government implemented a paramilitary training program for young men. Launched in 1913, the Association for the Promotion of Turkish Strength trained young warriors for the fight for Turkish identity. Enver Pasha’s War Ministry provided free rifles to youth groups. Government propagandists argued that a strong society must have only one culture, one religion, and one level of education. CUP leaders portrayed non-Muslims as an invasive virus within the Turkish nation.

  • You asked me how, being a doctor, I could have taken a life. Well, here is my answer: Those Armenian bandits were a bunch of harmful microbes pestering the body of this nation. A doctor’s duty is to kill microbes, isn’t it?

    Dr. Mehmet Reshid, governor of Diarbekir Vilayet. Dr. Reshid’s special strike force, known as the Butcher’s Battalion, was responsible for the death and deportation of hundreds of thousands of people.
  • The Young Turks fixed upon an answer to the longstanding Armenian Question: non-Muslim Ottoman subjects must be eliminated through deportation, imprisonment, and mass murder. Hundreds of years of persecution culminated in genocide.

    continue with The Genocide