British Diplomacy and the Armenian Question: From the 1830s to 1914

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9781884630071: British Diplomacy and the Armenian Question: From the 1830s to 1914

This volume traces the development of British foreign policy regarding the Ottoman Empire, its Armenian population, and other ethnic elements.

It explores British diplomatic activities and the British government’s role at various stages of the Armenian Question. British foreign policy is analyzed in the context of international and regional dynamics, against the backdrop of Britain’s political system and public opinion, the internal and foreign policy of the Ottoman government, the state of affairs in Western Armenia, and the Armenian national movement.

This book complements and serves as a prequel to Akaby Nassibian’s classic, Britain and the Armenian Question: 1915–1923, in documenting the domestic and international policies of the British government related to the Armenian Question in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The author makes extensive use of British Foreign Office archival and published materials, and other relevant literature and documents.

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About the Author:

Arman J. Kirakossian received his Ph.D. in history from the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters on the history of the Armenian Question. He currently serves as the ambassador of the Republic of Armenia in Washington.

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Preface

The fate of Western Armenia—commonly referred to as "The Armenian ­Question"—is a key issue in the modern history of the Armenian people. It emerged as a factor in international politics in the wake of the Russo-­Turkish War of 1877–78. As an integral part of the Eastern Question, the Armenian Question became a subject of bilateral and multilateral discussions between the Great European Powers—Great Britain, Russia, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. For the European countries, especially Britain, the issue was viewed through the prism of their interests in the Near East and as a tool to assert influence over the decaying Ottoman Empire, as well as to stake a claim over its dominions. In the years that followed, the term "Armenian Question" would signify the historical challenges to Armenia and as such, come to have a broader ideological meaning and scope. Political Armenology uses the term "Armenian Question" to signify the implementation of reforms in Western Armenia, the establishment of autonomy, liberation of Armenia from foreign domination, unification of two parts of Armenia, re­establishment of an independent Armenian state on the Armenian Plateau, as well as the Armenian national liberation movement, and international efforts to achieve recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire—at the time the largest sovereign state in the Near East—became an object of competition between the major European powers. Guided by their national interests, each of the powers strove for political and economic domination of the empire while defending the principle of its territorial integrity. The preservation of the status quo in Turkey eventually metamorphosed into a senseless, irrelevant principle obscuring the long-term processes of ethnic and religious divisions and administrative decay in the Ottoman Empire.

Britain, as the major power of the nineteenth century, assumed a major role in the international politics of the Near East. From the 1830s until the years before the First World War, the British priorities were consistent and predictable: asserting Britain’s economic and political influence over Turkey while protecting its territorial integrity from encroachment by other powers, most notably Russia. While Russia asserted, with equal consistency, its right to protect the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire, British policy was to press for internal reforms in Turkey that could strengthen it economically and militarily, achieve equality between, and prosperity for, the Christian and Muslim communities, and suppress the national yearnings of non-Turkish peoples.

The British policy of pressing for reforms from above did not improve the lot of the non-Turkish groups, including the Armenian people, and in fact, the situation in Ottoman provinces populated by the Armenians deteriorated steadily. To remove the threat of potential European intervention that the Armenian Question posed, Abdulhamid II’s government in 1894–96 took the radical step of carrying out persecution and large-scale massacres of the Armenian population. Twenty years later, the successors to Abdulhamid, the Young Turks, organized and implemented a policy of genocide that in the process of expelling the native people from its ancestral land exterminated one and a half million Armenians.

The author will attempt to present the development and evolution of British foreign policy making as it impacted on the Ottoman Empire and its Armenian population and other ethnic elements, and he will delineate British diplomatic activities and the British government’s role at various stages of the Armenian Question from the 1830s to 1914. British foreign policy is analyzed in the context of international and regional dynamics, against the backdrop of Britain’s political system and public opinion, the internal and foreign policy of the Ottoman Government, the state of affairs in Western Armenia, and the Armenian national movement.

This book complements and serves as a prequel to prominent Armenian-Cypriot historian Akaby Nassibian’s Britain and the Armenian Question: 1915–1923 (London, 1984) in documenting the domestic and international policies of the British government related to the Armenian Question in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and makes extensive use of British Foreign Office archival and published materials, and other relevant literature and documents.

The author began his research on the subject in the late 1970s, publishing a monograph in Russian, Great Britain and the Armenian Question: 1890s (Yerevan, 1990), and has used the research materials for articles he has contributed to Encyclopedia of the Armenian Question (Yerevan, 1992, 1996) and other monographs and academic publications. The first edition of this book was published in Armenian by the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia in 1999.

The author has made extensive use of national libraries and archives in Yerevan, Moscow, London, Athens, and Washington, D.C., and has collected, researched, and analyzed nearly all British diplomatic correspondence from the period covered in the book. The breadth, scope, and straightforward prose of the British Foreign Office documents, telegrams, and dispatches make them an extremely valuable resource for gaining insight into the making of foreign policy in Britain, the rest of Europe, and the Ottoman Empire, and into the process of reforms in the Armenian-populated provinces, the conditions of Western Armenia’s population, and the Armenian national movement. Most of these documents appear here as source material for the first time. The author also draws upon memoirs, academic papers, British Foreign Office Blue Books, and contemporary media publications in Britain and the United States.

The book consists of five chapters, a conclusion, notes, a bibliography, and an index. The endnotes refer to archival or other material to allow the reader to ascertain the origin of the information, and include brief biographic data on the most prominent public figures featured in the book.

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