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The anti-Armenian riots of 1895–1897: The "climate of violence" and intercommunal conflict in Istanbul and the eastern Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
In the autumn of 1895, the Ottoman Empire's capital and eastern Anatolian provinces witnessed major outbreaks of anti-Armenian violence, which continued sporadically until early 1897. These extensive events resulted in the death of thousands of Ottoman Armenians, while a large number of Armenians had to convert to Islam in order to escape certain death. This dissertation is the first comprehensive investigation of the origins, dynamics, scope, and nature of the massive anti-Armenian riots that spanned a broad imperial geography stretching all the way from the imperial capital to the empire's eastern borders between September 1895 and March 1897. This study does not only present original and extensive research drawing on a wealth of previously unused archival materials, but it also challenges the ways in which these events are currently imagined, understood, and conceptualized. First of all, by refraining from teleological narratives that find in the events of the 1890s a precursor of the Armenian genocide, it addresses the peculiar dynamics and sociopolitical factors that created a "climate of violence" in the eastern provinces. Instead of oversimplifying the complex causes and dynamics of violence, it highlights the underlying causal factors that generated intercommunal conflict and lays out the conditions, circumstances, and mechanisms that motivated and enabled popular violence. Second, aiming to dispel myths and misconceptions about these events, it addresses the fundamental problems in conceiving of the anti-Armenian riots of 1895-97 as a premeditated government policy engineered by state actors. A central finding of this dissertation is that, contrary to widely held beliefs, the anti-Armenian riots of 1895-97 were not organized, sanctioned, or even welcomed by the Sultan or his government. Nor did the central and local officials simply sit in their chairs and let the massacres unfold. At the same time, however, it also demonstrates that the policy makers in Istanbul and imperial administrators at all levels played a significant role in creating the immediate conditions and mechanisms that enabled, facilitated, and sustained collective acts of mass violence. This study argues that the government's anti-Armenian policies prepared the necessary foundations of the violent conflict by contributing to the creation of a climate of violence in the Armenian-populated provinces and a culture of impunity towards Armenians in general. And third, without underestimating the major role that government policies and agents played in the making of violence, this study underlines the importance of the popular and collective nature of anti-Armenian violence. By refraining from the idea that the perpetrators were simply criminal figures manipulated by external agents such as the central and provincial governments, as well as the assumption that their act of mass killing was entirely predetermined, the dissertation also explores the identity, agency, and background motivations of those involved in the violence.
357 pages.
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Thesis advisor: Kuehn, Thomas
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