Western Armenia is the term you will always hear Armenians say when talking about historical Armenian lands. Armenian people were evicted from Western Armenia during the genocide in 1915 by the Ottomans.
While in this case they are applied to the two branches of the Armenian language, the difference between those stems from the parallel concepts of Western Armenia and Eastern Armenia.
But what does Western Armenia mean? Where is it exactly? Let’s discover together.
Where is Western Armenia?
Historically the homeland of Armenians has been often invaded and its different parts conquered by the enemies and even torn between them. But it was in the 4th century that the map of Armenia has been divided into two distinct Western and Eastern parts for the first time.
In 387 AD, the west of Greater Armenia became part of Byzantine Empire, while the east became part of Sassanid Persia. Nowadays Western Armenia coincides with Еastern Turkey.
Although modern-day Armenia is a fragment of former eastern Armenia, one cannot simply disregard old Western Armenia where this ancient nation lived for over 4000 years.
The History of Western Armenia
Historically the ethnicities that participated in the ethnogenesis of Armenian people have inhabited the area of Armenian Highlands and around. From the dawn of the history, Armenian Highlands were home to the sovereign Armenian states.
Throughout centuries different Armenian empires and kingdoms replaced each other on the map of the region, but the independence of old Armenia was not enjoyed continuously.
Being located between two continents, old Armenia was very often a subject to invasions of many different countries. Since the first division of Armenian Highlands in the 4th century, Armenia has undergone very different stages. It had gone through the reunion of western and eastern parts to independence, then to being conquered by enemies and incessant invasions of different tribes.
In the 16th century, old Armenia was again divided into two parts between Ottoman Empire and Iranian Safavid Empire.
From the first half of the 17th century, the Ottoman rule over Western Armenia became decisive. Ottoman Empire emerged at the beginning of 14th century, on the basis of Turkish states in Anatolia that was neighbor to Armenian Highlands.
Ottoman Empire quickly started to expand and by the second half of 16th century extended over three continents and was inhabited by 15 million people.
The nations of conquered territories contributed to this enormous number. Armenians, for instance, were granted considerable autonomy and coexisted in a relative peace with other ethnic groups in the region (including the Turks).
The map of Western Armenia in Ottoman Empire was divided into six vilayets:
Oppressions Christians Faced in the Ottoman Empire
In the Ottoman Empire under the millet system, Christians were considered subjects of the Empire but were not subject to the Muslim faith or Muslim law.
Although Christians had some freedoms, they had to pay additional taxes and under the Muslim social system, they were treated as second-class citizens.
Armenians, along with other non-Muslim nations of the empire, suffered from pervasive discrimination. In addition to various legal limitations, they were not allowed to bear arms, ride a horse, or live in houses that were better than those of Muslims.
In the end of 19th century, when Western Armenians tried to gain more rights in the Ottoman Empire, the response of the Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid II, was a state-sponsored massacre against the Armenians.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire weakened. During World War I, Russia and its allies France and Britain declared war against Ottoman Empire.
Alongside with Arab revolt and wars in Europe, resulting in loss of conquered territories, this contributed to a devastating concatenation of circumstances for Ottoman Empire which ended in 1922.
Armenian Genocide in Western Armenia
While World War I coupled with the advancement of Russians to the Armenian Highlands, confronted Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire in the Caucasus and Persian Campaigns, the Imperial Russian Army contained a contingent of Armenian volunteers.
This factor doubled the suspicion that Christian Armenians would be more loyal to Christian governments (such as Russian Empire) than a Muslim government.
On the other hand, despite having few political and legal rights, Armenians in Ottoman Empire were often more educated and wealthier than Turks. The success of Armenians created resentment among them, which was compounded by the tradition of discrimination.
The advent of new government established by Young Turks in 1908 gave the Ottoman Empire, as well as its ethnic minorities a hope for better times.
Alas, these hopes were not destined to come true, as the new government in his nationalistic vision, aimed to completely “Turkify” the empire. This implied ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman territory and Armenians being both non-Turk and non-Muslim were an obvious target for this plan.
On 24 April 1915 several hundred Armenian intellectuals were arrested and executed by Ottoman authorities. This was the first phase of the Armenian Genocide.
The second phase comprised of the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labor, in order to deprive the nation of its protecting force.
The last step was the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert. Pushed forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food, water and sometimes even stripped naked, forced to walk under the blazing sun and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and systematic massacre.
In 1922, when the genocide was over, the total number of Armenians killed has been estimated to amount to 1.5 million. And although Turkey continues to deny these events and their qualification as genocide, increasing number of countries recognize the Armenian genocide and even prohibit its refusal on their territories.
Massacres in Western Armenia Turned into a Cultural Genocide
Alongside with the massacres of Armenians, so-called cultural genocide was initiated and continues until today. Swiped off Western Armenia, Armenian nation left a rich cultural heritage which became a target for destruction by the Turkish government.
Nowadays Western Armenia is still partly inhabited by those ethnic Armenians that have been Islamized, assimilated and/or hide their origins.
Interestingly, according to last estimations in 2013, the number of so-called “crypto Armenians” or individuals of full or partial Armenian descent living in Turkey, is about 4 to 5 million!
Although today the Republic of Armenia does not have any territorial claims against the Republic of Turkey, the fate of Western Armenia, referred to as “The Armenian Question”, is considered a key issue in the modern history of the Armenians, who always look at the map of Western Armenia with yearning.
A Letter to an Armenian Businessman by a Turkish Businessman
One of the recent years, a Turkish businessman sent a letter to his Armenian colleague, offering to meet in Yerevan and discuss a possible cooperation.
In a conclusion of this article, we will leave you with the response of the Armenian businessman to the letter of his Turkish counterpart, as we believe it does not need any comment.
Thank you for writing me about your products and services. In principle, I am interested in your products and in fact, in the coming months, I will be needing them on one of my construction projects.
While we would have most probably cooperated as businesspeople of neighboring countries, I cannot, with a clear conscious, do business with a Turkish company or a company operating in or out of Turkey. In the following lines, I will attempt to explain the reasons behind my position.
I am a 3rd generation survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Except for my grandfather and his little brothers, who were just boys in 1915, their entire family including 6 siblings, mother and father, along with our entire village of 350 people, were massacred by regular Turkish army infantrymen, in June of 1915.
What happened in my ancestral village in Mush in June of 1915, was very much representative of what was carefully organized and perpetrated by the government of Ottoman Turkey in the entire territory of my 4000-year-old homeland.
I have recently visited Western Armenia, called ‘’ Eastern Turkey’’ today, and was appalled to see that in the past 90 years, the successive governments of Turkey, including the current government, have gone through great lengths, to systematically destroy, erase and wipe out, thousands of years of Armenian history and culture from western Armenia.
Hundreds of churches have been blown up, destroyed, neglected, many more have been carefully and cleverly converted to mosques and are being presented to foreign tourists as historic mosques, built by Turks 1000-1500 years ago.
Ironically the invading Turks or their predecessors, the Seljuks, didn’t actually arrive in Armenian until the 13th century. In the historic Armenian capital of Ani only 6 Armenian churches out of more than 40, were left half standing, and are presented as Georgian or Greek churches by the Turkish tourist guides.
In the Armenian town of Garin (Erzurum), the 2 historic Armenian churches located on the city’s main square, where both converted to Mosques presented by tourists as built by Turkish mid-century rulers, as the official Turkish Tourism Ministry plaques state.
In recent years, the Turkish government organized renovation of Armenian St. Khach of Akhtamar in Van. Considering the Turkish government ’s hostile policy towards the independent Eastern part of Armenia and towards the precious Armenian cultural history, considering the continued forceful denial of the Turkish government of the first Genocide of the 20th century, the renovation of the Akhtamar church was merely and clearly a political act.
The same Turkish government has been, for years and is continuing today, destroy and misrepresent thousands of Armenian churches and historical monuments in and around Van and the other Western Armenian provinces. The Akhtamar church was basically a publicity stunt, one that clearly served the Turkish government’s interests.
To me, as a human being who belongs to one of the oldest and richest civilizations on earth is not just about the brutal genocide perpetrated against my family, my country, my whole nation. It is not just about the loss of the homes and lands my family has owned and flourished on for thousands of years. It is not just about the loss of my 4000 years old homeland and with it, the opportunity I was denied to live, create and prosper peacefully in it.
It is about all of that and much more. It is a matter of human dignity and justice. It is a matter of conscious one that prevents us, businessmen of neighboring countries, from working for each other.
Dear XXX, I don’t know you personally and you might not care or might not associate with the words I have written to you. Whatever the case I thank you for taking the time to read these lines, and feel free to forward them on to anyone you think would perhaps understand them and maybe even appreciate them, for I have not a single drop of animosity or vengeance in me towards the Turkish people.
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