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How Russia Betrayed the Armenians in 1915: Lessons from the Armenian Genocide

Prominent Armenian historian Leo (Arakel Babakhanian) in his book From the Past examines the Armenian Genocide from various perspectives, speaking about not only Turkey's guilt and the political weaknesses and gaps of Armenian political parties, but also the role of European countries and the Russian Empire. The documents and assessments Leo cites reveal the heinous role that Tsarist Russia played in the Armenian Genocide. 

The book From the Past was published in 2009 by philology candidate, docent, and Conservative Party of Armenia leader Mikael Hayrapetyan, who dedicated the book to the memory of the victims of March 1, 2008 (when the dispersal of a post-election protest by supporters of the opposition candidate resulted in the death of 10 people in Yerevan). 

The following is an excerpt from the book — originally written in Armenian but translated into English by Epress.am today, on the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

"My task here is not even briefly to present the Armenian massacres and deportations of 1915 at the hands of Turks, the number of victims of which, according to European sources, reaches on average one million. This type of crime has not yet been committed at the hands of this animal called man. All at once, over a period of few months, disappeared was an entire people who for tens of centuries lives on its land.

"The outcome of this crime can be summed up in the volumes written in blood. Many volumes were written by European 'Armenophiles,' and many more will be written…

"… and they perished. Because they believed. They believed wholeheartedly, like a child, just as always for decades. The [Triple] Entente, since it still could and should deceive Armenians, considered them its allies. This is how their English, French, and Russian newspapers called them. Armenians, unfortunately, believed this. But what a shameless betrayal… During the war, they one after the other, in turn, sold their 'ally.' The first was Nicholas' Russia." Leo's book presents the history of the Armenian issue beginning from the 1870s. The historian presents a completely different picture than the official version taught in Armenia. 

"Gradually it became clear what a victim of horrible deception Armenians had become, believing the tsarist government and entrusting themselves to it. From early spring of 1915, the Allies in Western Armenia began to exercise the most hellish part of the [General Governor of the Caucasus] Vorontsov-Dashkov plan — the uprisings. 

"The foundation was laid in Van. On April 14, Catholicos Gevorg sent a telegram to Vorontsov-Dashkov that he received information from the leader of Tabriz that there was going to be a widespread massacre of Armenians in Turkey beginning on April 10. Ten thousand Armenians took up arms and with zeal fought against the Kurds and Turks. He asked the Governor General to expedite the incursion of the Russian army to Van. This telegram clearly shows that there was an arrangement beforehand — a revolt and an incursion on Van. 
"The Armenians of Van waged insurrectional battles for nearly a month against the Turkish troops, and in that time the Russian incursion reached Van. At the forefront of the [Russian] troops was the Ararat volunteer corps, which was sent on the road with great military honors under the command of Commander Vartan. That was already a huge military organization, comprised of 2,000 people, if I'm not mistaken. 

"The brigade with its composition and gear left quite an impression on the Armenian population from Yerevan to the border, spreading enthusiasm even among ordinary peasants. The enthusiasm became pan-Armenian especially when on May 6 the Russian army accompanied by the Ararat brigade entered Van. The exultation from this incident was expressed in Tbilisi by a demonstration that took place in the church of Vank. 

"At the hands of the Russians, appointed governor of Van was Dashnak Commander Aram, who long acted there and was awarded a hero's fame and was called Aram Pasha. This fact became even more enthusiastic encouragement for Armenians, as a first example since the 5th–6th centuries and a model for what future organization Western Armenia will receive from the liberator czar. 

"But while these jubilees — bloodless victory campaigns, inspiration, and merriment — were taking place, among the high command of the Caucasus a remarkable historical document was being edited and legalized, which exposed the true intention of the tsarist government playing with the Armenian issue. Here it is:

Written on the original: I agree
Count Vorontsov-Dashkov
Commander of the Caucasus Army
5 April 1915
No. 1482
Acting army.

Currently, the Caucasus Army, due to difficulties in bringing from it elsewhere and the frightening of local resources, lacks feed for the horses. A separate hardship is on those troops that are in the Alashkert valley. Getting feed to the horses of these troops is extremely expensive and requires having and keeping a large quantity of transport vehicles… It's completely impossible for this purpose to tear troops away from their work; thus, I would consider it necessary to form a separate collective of civilians whose duty would be to exploit the lands abandoned by the Kurds and Turks and give horse feed to the troops for a certain price. 

In order to exploit the lands, the Armenians with their refugees intend to capture the lands relinquished by the Kurds and Turks. I consider this intention unacceptable because after the war it will difficult to take back the lands seized by Armenians or prove that which was seized doesn't belong to them, the evidence of which is Armenians' conquest after the Russo-Turkish war

Considering it extremely desirable to populate the border areas with Russian elements, I believe we can implement another measure that corresponds more with Russian interests. 

Your Excellency was pleased to confirm my report on the need to expel toward the borders occupied by Turks all Kurds of the Alashkert, Diadin, and Bayazet valleys who one way or another resisted us, and in the future, when the aforementioned valleys will be within the borders of the Russian Empire, populate them with migrants from Kuban and Don and thus establish Cossacks on the frontier.

Given the above, it seems necessary now to call collective farm workers from Don and Kuban to reap and gather the grass of the aforementioned valleys. Becoming acquainted with the country before the end of the war, these collectives will assume the role of representatives of migrants and organize migration, and prepare horse feed for our troops. 

If Your Excellency deems my proposed program acceptable, it will be desirable that the collective farm workers come with their cattle and horses, so that feeding them does not fall on the already few transport groups, and weapons be distributed to them for self-defense. 

The original is signed by infantry General Yudenich.

Report by His Excellency, Chief Commander of the Caucasus Army.

"It is clear, of course, what the 'Armenian king' [Vorontsov-Dashkov] was doing. On one hand, he was throwing the Armenian people into the flames of rebellion, promising instead to liberate their homeland; while on the other hand, he was preparing to join that homeland to Russia and populate it with Cossacks. 

"[…] General Yudenich ordered not to give Armenian refugees land in the Alashkert region, [as he] was waiting for a large influx of refugees from Don and Kuban who were going to lay hold of the Eastern Euphrates basin and be called 'Cossacks of the Euphrates'. In order to provide them with large land shares, the number of Armenians in their own homeland had to be reduced. 

"From here, it was only one step till Lobanov-Rostovsky's testament — Armenia without Armenians. And this wasn't difficult for Yudenich, since he, the 'Armenian king,' General Governor [of the Caucasus], Chief Commander Vorontsov-Dashkov wrote on his plans with his own hand, 'I agree.' 

"Undoubtedly, such a plan to deceive and eradicate Armenians was brought to Tbilisi by Nicholas II, a longstanding and sworn enemy of the Armenian people, which only just now had worn sheep's clothing. 

"My remarks are not assumptions. Exactly the same time, when Yudenich's famous plan was recorded on paper, from April 1915, the Russian army's attitude deteriorates so much toward the Armenian people, that leaders of the Armenian volunteer movement — Catholicos Gevorg and the presidium of the National Bureau — consider it unnecessary to be silent and send their complaints in writing to 'Deeply Respected Earl Ilarion Ivanovich,' since that old fox Nicholas, after leaving shut his doors to his favorites [the Armenians], under the pretext of his illness. 

"Thus, in his letter dated June 4, the Catholicos bitterly complained about General Abatsiyev, who was simply persecuting the Armenians of the Manazkert district. I cite the following excerpt from the letter:

According to information I have received from local representatives, in this part of Turkish Armenia, not only are Armenians not provided with assistance or protection from violence, but also every issue on the protection of the Christian population is completely neglected, which provides an opportunity to the leaders of Kurdish tribes and Circassians to continue with impunity to oppress defenseless Christians…

"…The poisonous environment, there is no doubt, was created and finished. For the tsarist troops, the Armenian was an autonomist, and if he was being slaughtered, it could only observe and not only not get indignant, but also make friends with the slaughtering Kurds. This was the reality that had prepared untold horrors for the Armenian people."