Reform and Violence in the Hamidian Era: 1895 Anti-Armenian Riots in Trabzon

By Emre Can Daglioglu
Submitted to Session P4957 (The Great Fear of 1895: Armenian Reform, Rumor and Violence across the Ottoman Empire, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire witnessed a great wave of anti-Armenian riots that took place in the autumn of 1895 and sporadically continued throughout 1896. While several tens of thousands of Armenians were forced to convert to Islam in order to escape certain death, these extensive massacres also took the lives of tens of thousands of Armenians.
The riots took place in the weeks following Sultan Abdulhamid’s decree on October 20th, 1895 promulgating, under the diplomatic pressures of the British, French, and Russian governments, the implementation of internal reforms intended to improve the sociopolitical conditions of the Christian Armenian population inhabiting the empire’s eastern provinces. The virulent mix of an anti-Armenian political atmosphere, the Muslim resentment of reforms in favor of Armenians, and the fear of a general Armenian uprising disseminated through bureaucratic channels plunged the region into a spate of mass murder, pillage, and forced conversion in the autumn of 1895.
Trabzon was, however, chronologically the only exception of this great wave of violence. The chainlike of unfolding cataclysm first appeared evident in this city on the Black Sea coast and crossroad of significant trade routes. The massacre in Trabzon began on October 12th and appeared to be precipitated by two Armenian revolutionary unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Bahri Pasha, the ex-Governor of Van. Yet, although the promulgation of the reform itself was obviously not a prime mover, even the rumor of the reforms poured petrol on the fires of ethnic tension in the city.
This paper mainly investigates how the mechanism of violence against Armenians was engineered under the impact of local, national, imperial, and international factors and how these factors played out in Trabzon. In the paper, the role of reform rumors is examined to shed some light on the extent to which the reform demands of Armenians and reform declaration by the Sultan Abdulhamid played a critical role in the massacre and how the idea of reform resonated among the Muslim population.