Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Beginning of the Adana Massacre (April 14, 1909)

The massacres of 1894-1896 organized by Abdul Hamid II had spared the Armenians of the region of Cilicia. The revolution of July 1908, headed by the Young Turks with the support of non-Turkish minorities of the Ottoman Empire (including Armenians), forced the Sultan to restore the Constitution of 1876. The principles of equality and freedom proclaimed by the Ottoman Revolution created hope for the Armenians that their political and social situation would improve. The Adana massacre in April 1909 crushed those hopes.

A military revolt by supporters of the Sultan staged a counterrevolution on April 13, 1909 and Constantinople was briefly seized. The leaders of the Young Turks were initially forced to find refuge elsewhere, some of them among Armenians. The next day, the massacre started in Adana. False rumors of an Armenian insurrection, fueled by the instigation of Muslim clergy and the publications of the newspaper Ittidal (organ of the Young Turks), and the organization by notables, the gendarmerie, and highly-placed officials, including the vali of Adana, Jevat Bey, drove the development of the events. The plundering of Armenian shops in the first day was followed by the attack on the Armenian quarter of Shabanieh in the second day, led by the Turkish gendarmerie and mob, which had been armed with weapons from the official deposit, with the Armenians trying a desperate defense. The attack and the massacre came to a stop on April 16, while the surrounding Armenian villages and farms had been practically wiped out.

Armenian quarter of Adana before the massacre and looting.
Armenian quarter of Adana after  the massacre and looting.
Ittidal and Jevat Bey (who was dismissed on April 18, but continued in his position for two weeks) spread false news of Armenian provocations that had created the Turkish attack. Meanwhile, the “liberation army” from the European section of the empire had marched onto Constantinople and put an end to the counterrevolution. A battalion was dispatched to Cilicia, which arrived on April 25. Turkish provocations created a new repression, this time by the “liberation army,” and further Armenian massacres were enacted from April 25-27 in Adana, which was half-razed, and the surrounding area. The Armenians of two cities, Hajen and Dort-Yol, were able to fend off the Turkish attacks from April 14-28.

While reactionary elements were suspected of instigating the massacres to discredit the Young Turks, the latter were also implicated in both waves of killings. The number of casualties was variously counted. An official committee established in July 1909 gave a number of 4,196 Christians and 1,487 Muslims, with a total estimate of 15,000, including unregistered people. The government reevaluated the numbers in August, which became 5,243 Christians and 1,186 Muslims. The new vali made another investigation and came to a more accurate number of 19,400 Christians (including 655 Evangelical Armenians, 210 Catholic Armenians, 418 Jacobite Syrians, 163 Chaldeans, and 99 Greeks) and 620 Muslims for the vilayet of Adana. According to the British journalist Ferriman, an investigative committee sent by the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople came to a figure of 21,361 Christians killed (18,839 Armenians, 1,250 Greeks, 850 Syrians, and 422 Chaldeans) only for the vilayet of Adana. There were several thousands of dead in the following months, due to wounds, epidemics, and other reasons.

The material losses were considerable. Only in the vilayet of Adana, according to the government committee, 4,823 houses, farms, schools, churches, factories, agricultural enterprises, inns, mills, and shops were entirely destroyed, of which just 386 belonged to Muslims. The value of the losses was estimated to be 5.6 million Ottoman liras.

The investigation opened by the government failed to prosecute and to indict, and dashed Armenian expectations of liberal reforms. As Armenian novelist and commentator Yervant Sermakeshkhanlian (Yerukhan, 1871-1915) wrote in November 1909, “The last crimes that have filled with blood the soil of Armenia, alas, are called not to be the last ones, as long as a superior example does not terrorize the implacable and indefatigable criminals, who are still roaming unpunished.”  The Adana massacre became a rehearsal for the Young Turks to measure the depth of Turkish animosity in the Ottoman Empire toward Christian minorities. Yerukhan’s words were prophetic. He would be among the first victims of the next crime: the Medz Yeghern of 1915-1916.