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Abstract

This dissertation investigates two interrelated processes. The first is the development of official anti-Armenian policy and practice during the last quarter of the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire. Anti-Armenianism during this period has been studies mostly through the lens of the massacres of 1895-6, which are treated as a combination of spontaneous reactions of Ottoman Muslims to “restore” their superior position in the imperial ethno-confessional hierarchy. The dissertation focuses on the decade before the massacres, when the Palace sought to undo the reforms of the Tanzimat, which were designed to promote equality between non-Muslim and Muslim subjects of the Empire, while slowly integrating the notability of the former into government. It argues that the Palace reversed the Tanzimat through blatantly discriminatory punitive practices (withholding punishment from Muslim notables, while promoting the mass detention of Armenians), the incorporation of pastoralist Kurdish tribes into official and unofficial militias, and finally the officially sanctioned massacre of over a thousand Armenian peasants in a region where the revolutionaries had sought to establish themselves. Thus, the regime did not only seek to subordinate Armenians to Muslims in the imperial ethno-confessional hierarchy, but diminish their basic rights to the preservation of honor, life, and property (which had been guaranteed by the founding decree of Ottoman modernization) The second is the formation and spread of the Armenian revolutionary movement in the Ottoman Empire. Most studies of the Armenian revolutionary parties focus on their ideological programs. The dissertation investigates the revolutionaries’ local methods of recruitment, propaganda, and adjudication. It argues that the revolutionaries sought to cast the grievances of provincial Armenians as a national issue, while seeking to draw local support to their general struggle against the Ottoman government. The revolutionaries’ secret committees functioned as sites of ideological conversion, paramilitary organization, and strategic deliberation. Local notables, revolutionary leaders, and local recruits attempted to influence and utilize each other in order to further their agendas, which converged in some cases and diverged in others. Moreover, the dissertation explores the revolutionaries’ efforts to redefine the “essence” of the Armenian nation through extensive organization, violence, and propaganda. It argues that the revolutionaries sought to redraw the boundaries of Armenianness through the exclusion and/or assassination of community leaders, who preserved their affiliations with the Ottoman state, refused to make financial contributions to the revolutionary movement, or both. Therefore, the parameters of opposition were determined through processes of confrontation and negotiation between several circles of political engagement from revolutionary leaders and local recruits to Armenian community leaders. The introduction of the dissertation summarizes its main arguments and lays out the historical background of reform in the Ottoman state and the Armenian community. Chapter 1 foregrounds the violent reign of a Kurdish notable over his Armenian clients and the subsequent arrival of a young Armenian revolutionary to the province of Bitlis. It analyzes the dispossession of Armenian peasantry, Hamidian practices of inclusion, exclusion, and criminalization as well as Armenian peasants’ and revolutionaries’ acts and patterns of resistance and defiance in the Ottoman East. Chapter 2 traces the placarding campaign of Armenian revolutionaries in Central Anatolia and their subsequent trial to investigate revolutionary practices and Hamidian suppression under a different arrangement of social and political forces. Chapter 3 focuses on a mass demonstration organized by the Armenians of Yozgat and their revolutionary allies to protest the brutal conduct of Ottoman gendarmes and the subsequent anti-Armenian pogrom in that town. Chapter 4 focuses on the making and aftermath of the massacre of over a thousand Armenian peasants by a coalition of imperial troops and Kurdish pastoralists, and its local, imperial, and international ramifications.

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