Headline Islamic Civilisation — 16 November 2013
Ottoman Brutality (The Ottoman Caliphate (3/4))

Click here to read Part 1 – Part 2

One of the continuous acts of propaganda against the Ottoman Caliphate is the allegation of brutality. Several examples are given such as the practice of the killing of all brothers of the newly selected Caliph, the put down of rebellions and the alleged Armenian genocide.

The first two points can be dealt with later. With regards to the Armenian uprising, this is one of the worst cases of black propaganda, pre World War I. I have gone into detail on this point to demonstrate the level of misinformation regarding the Ottoman Caliphate.

The allegation is that between the periods of 1894-1896, Sultan Abdul Hamid II enacted acts of genocide against entire Armenian populations; indiscriminately killing men, women and children while the Christian Armenians were defenseless (this is not to be confused with the events of 1915 by the Young Turk movement). The truth is very different:

1)     The Armenian Christian, with the backing of Russia and Europe were trying to separate from the Ottoman state. The position of Abdul Hamid II was consistent with Islamic unity and he wasn’t in a position to allow this to happen under his watch, since this was haram. This is the root cause of European derision. There were inflammatory nationalistic speeches made by prominent Christian Armenians openly calling for violent separation from the Caliphate.

2)     Britain and Russia claim that Ottoman soldiers committed the massacres, but this has never been proven. In fact, after the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Western powers forcibly removed Bulgaria from the Caliphate. Crucially, the borders surrounding the Armenian enclaves were no longer under Ottoman authority due to losses against Russia and Western Powers, and the subsequent Treaty of Berlin.  Hence it is unlikely the Ottoman soldiers would have been present in the first instance. In reality Russian and Hungarian militia, assisted by Kurdish separatists undertook genocide activity against the Armenians, in order to incite ethnic tensions and this caused reprisals against the Ottoman State, creating circular behavior. [1]

3)     The only reporting to come out is politically motivated, and not unbiased. This episode occurred during a period of time when mass communications were not available. The sources that state the genocide and the actions that emanated are from various European embassies and the Russian diplomacies. The reality is that these sources are not credible.

In fact, every original document of the Ottoman Archives was taken over by the Governmental Archives Directorate of the Prime Ministry. According to Turkish authorities many historians have researched the Ottoman Archives. Besides the research made by thousands of historians, these documents were translated into English and published in order to enlighten the public.[2]

Turkish authorities point out that even if the facts were reported correctly, the conclusions are unclear. Therefore, it is also crucial to look at secondary sources in the Ottoman Archives of the period such as budget, allocations, decisions/reasons of requests. This is important since Kurds, Turks and Hungarians suffered much of the starvation suffered by Armenians – i.e. there was widespread famine in the region. There are also personal records such as Mehmed Talat Pasha’s personal notes. – Which were disregarded. They also point out the general attitude (“Sick man of Europe”) of the time and how it deforms perceptions. They state that the conclusions reached toward genocide are highly biased.

Some very “central” and the most cited sources are actively questioned on the basis that they do not include a single reference from the Ottoman Archives mainly occupying forces’ sources of the period (British, French) on the basis of their Intelligence (information gathering) issues. There are major concerns that these sources promote propaganda.

4)     Far from being unanimously accepted as the Truth, prominent experts have openly questioned the events of the Armenian Genocide. For example On May 19, 1985, The New York Times and The Washington Post ran an advertisement in which a group of 69 American historians called on Congress not to adopt the resolution on the Armenian Genocide. Bernard Lewis, a prominent historian of Islam at Princeton, was among them and so the case was named after him[3]

Muslims will point to the numerous examples of Ottoman integration of its disparate populations – from Serb, Croat, Hungarian, Arab, Jew and others. For the majority of the 600 years of the Ottoman Caliphate, unity reigned in the state and the state’s integration policies were marked by kindness rather than brutality.

In fact, the State’s leniency led to the effective balkanization of the Ottoman Caliphate, since it allows whole communities to function independent of the State system. These communities were later used against the State and led to various atrocities in the former Ottoman regions, such as the Bosnian War on the mid 1990s.

[Read part 4 on the Political Impact of the Ottoman Caliphate]



[1] Klein, Janet (2011). The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 21-34.

[2] “Regulations for the use of Ottoman Archives”. Ottoman Archives. 2006-10-12.

[3] Yves Ternon. The «Lewis Affair» // Richard G. Hovannisian. Remembrance and denial: the case of the Armenian genocide. Wayne State University Press, 1998.  P.237-348.

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