Turkish Genocides: Genocides in the Osmannic Empire 1908-1918
Sultan Abdullah Hamid was ousted in 1908 after 32 years of rule by a military group in Istanbul who called themselves the ‘Young Turks’. The proclaimed a liberal program of reforms, which earned them sympathy and help from Europe, but over time it became clear that the reforms were not to be applied to the Christians. Their slogan was: ‘Osmannize!’ Christians had no room in the new Turkey. That meant a complete annihilation of all Christian elements. The Young Turks invented a new systematic plan for deportations and murder, intended to remove all Christian Armenians from the country
In order that Europe should not wake up over this final genocide, it was decided to deport them to areas where they could be eliminated without any risk. This plan was initiated through decrees and a command from the ministry for internal affairs on May 26th 1915. That the killings could take place in the shadow of the first world war was convenient, as neither England, Russia or France were able to effectively criticise them. Now systematic and well prepared deportations started, and no Christian was to be spared. Thereby the Armenian lands occupied by Islam finally could be assimilated by the occupying power. Armenian land and property could be distributed.
Serphuhi Tavoukdjian relates of his own destiny as Armenian (p. 19): “I shall ask my readers to keep the three following things in mind. Firstly: The Armenians were driven from their homes and murdered, not for inciting a revolt against the government or any crime, but simply because they were Christian.” This was the common practice towards Armenians and other subjected people in the Turkish caliphate: In the conquered territories the choice was given to either become Muslim or remain Christian. The latter was possible by paying the special tax (djizja) for Jews and Christians. But the hard tax caused increasing numbers to convert to Islam. Infidels and adherents of other religions were eliminated without mercy if they did not adopt Islam. In this way, Islam turned into the religion of the majority. This system is called ‘Millet’ after the name it had in the Osmannic Empire. Non-Muslims living under Muslim rule are called ‘dhimmis’. In the Osmannic Empire these were to wear a special clothing according to them being Jewish or Christian.
In the early years of Islam, the entire North Africa – then a Christian area – was conquered, then Spain, and the Muslim armies penetrated deep into France. Later the Byzantine Empire (present-day Turkey) fell bit by bit, until the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453. The Turks had already made significant inroads in the Balkans. After the fall of Constantinople Hungary fell, and in 1529 the Turks laid siege to Vienna. The Islamic jihad was largely financed by the heavy ‘djizkya’-tax put on non-Muslims. But when the tax was increased to levels where many felt forced to convert to Islam to avoid the tax, bans were issued against Christians and Jews converting.
In a Muslim society like the caliphate, dhimmis have fewer rights than the Muslims. For instance, a dhimmi cannot inherit a Muslim, his testimony in court has no value against a Muslim, killing non-Muslims was rarely taken to court if the killer was Muslim or claimed that the killed had insulted Muhammad. In general, the legal status of a non-Muslim dhimmi is really low. But the “People of the Book” or “People of the Scripture” are, in spite of these Quranic verses, privileged compared to other non-Islamic groups. The People of the Scripture are, after all, a part of the system of Allah, though of lower rank and class. Those outside the system of Allah have no right to exist. Other religions (idolaters, atheists, communists etc.) have not even the right to life. They have no place in an Islamic society.
When references are made to Islam as a “Religion of tolerance”, it is always to the ‘rights’ that these three groups had in the Islamic society. They had the right to live and to work, as long as they submitted themselves to the Islamic authority. Due to the mandatory ‘war tax’ paid by the ‘protected’ to the Islamic wars, the sultans were not always interested in converting the Jews and Christians. Some were needed to pay the taxes. One can say that the dhimmis were living at the mercy of Islam and subject to changing contracts, which from the first caliphs had a typical form:
“We promise not to build churches or cloisters any longer, not to rebuild churches in decay or repair them that exist in areas where Muslims live. We oblige ourselves to admit Muslim travellers to our houses and provide free boarding for three days. We oblige ourselves to not have spies or foreign visitors in churches or cloisters… We promise not to tell our children anything negative about the Quran. We promise not to hold sermons openly or to recommend our preachings. We understand that any Christian freely can become Muslim. It is our duty to treat Muslims friendly, to always stand up when they are sitting down… We understand that our hair must be cut short in front as a sign, and to own neither books (Bibles) or crucifixes in Islamic areas.” (al-Turtushi, Siradj al-Muluk, Cairo 1972 p. 135 ff.). This treaty is modelled after the treaty between the Christians in Syria and caliph Umar in 635, three years after the death of Muhammad. Similar rules existed for Christians and Jews under all sultans also in the Osmannic Empire. Dhimmis were often required to wear a distinctive mark, just like the Jews were to wear a yellow star under the Islamistic Taliban rule in Afghanistan and in the Third Reich.
The war tax, which was to be paid in accordance with the laws of the Quran, could also be paid in the form of children. This duty to deliver your children was inspired by the example of Muhammad towards the tribes he subdued. For instance, the prophet took over most of the children from the subdued tribes in Medina; but he sold the children as slaves to gain money for weapons. In the Osmannic Empire this tradition became an institution.
In Serbia, Bosnia, Armenia, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia Christian fathers were to bring their small boys to the marketplace. Here a Muslim judge would select the prettiest, healthiest and most robust children as a tax to the Muslims. This ‘boy harvest’, as it was called, had several purposes:
1. To increase the Muslim population and decrease the Christian.
2. To strengthen the Islamic army, as the boys were to be brainwashed to be fanatic Muslims with an intense hatred towards all Christians. These boys later formed the foundation of the Janissary regiments, Muslim elite soldiers, whose units were always first in line during attacks.
3. This lead to another gain: In case of a rebellion or opposition from the subdued Christians, the Janissary units would be used, thus causing the parents to fight against their own children.
The Devshirme institution, the idea of ‘harvesting’ the Christian boys by a number of 8000-12,000 a year, was developed further by corrupt civil servants ‘harvesting’ many more boys than demanded by the sultan. These became an extra income to the servants, who would either sell them into slavery or back to their parents.
Abolishing the Devshirme institution did not mean the end of children being taken from their Christian parents. In connection with the massacres against the Armenians we saw how many, mostly young girls, were taken from their parents to be sold as slaves in Syria and Arabia. Others came as co-wives bought by traders from the Middle East. After the great Armenian massacres in 1915-1918 the allied troops, British and French, just in the area of Aleppo found 20,000 Armenian girls and women, whose parents or husbands had been killed, had been given as slaves or concubines to Muslim men in order to give birth to Muslim children.