Friday, February 8, 2013

Signature of the Armenian reform plan - February 8, 1914

The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan war (1912-1913) created favorable conditions for the revival of the stipulations of the Treaty of Berlin of 1878. Its article 61, never put into practice, had established that the European powers would guarantee the implementation of administrative reforms within the provinces of the Empire inhabited by Armenians. 

Guevorg V (1911-1930), Catholicos of All Armenians, was the driving force behind the creation of the Armenian National Delegation, presided by Boghos Nubar Pasha (1852-1930), which lobbied the European powers to facilitate the enactment of reforms in the Ottoman Empire. The failure of the government to fulfill Armenian hopes after the revolution of 1908 and the restoration of the Constitution, coupled with the coup d’état of the Young Turks in early 1913, were enough to look forward to European intervention, as many other times in the past. 

The complicated politics of the period also favored such an intervention. France, Great Britain and Italy were anxiously trying to limit German overgrown influence in the Ottoman Empire, while Russia encouraged the Catholicos to appeal to the imperial government through the viceroy of the Caucasus for intervention. The project of reforms was prepared by André Mandelstam, the dragoman (translator) at the Russian Embassy in Constantinople, and representatives from the Armenian National Assembly, the main legislative body of the Ottoman Empire. The project was introduced and discussed at the meeting of the French, British and Italian ambassadors. It suggested the formation of a single province through the union of the six Armenian vilayets (Bitlis, Diarbekir, Erzerum, Mamuret-el-Aziz, Sivas, and Van) under either an Ottoman Christian or a European governor general. This official would be appointed by the European powers for the next five years to oversee matters related to Armenian issues. German strong opposition succeeded in obtaining several important modifications, such as the division of the region into two provinces headed by inspector-generals. They would be posted in Van and Erzerum.

L.C. Westenenk
Finally, the project was signed into law on February 8, 1914, by the Ottoman Empire (represented by Grand Vizir Said Halim Pasha) and Russia. Two European officials were selected as inspector-generals: Louis Constant Westenenk, an administrator for the Dutch East Indies, and Major Nicolai Hoff, of the Norwegian Army. Hoff was already in Van when World War I started on July 28, 1914, while Westenenk was preparing to depart for his post in Erzerum. The Ottoman Empire took advantage of the situation to expel the inspector-generals and, on December 16, 1914, a month and half after entering the war, abolish it. Anti-Armenian organized violence that would lead to the genocide was already on its way.