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This text is a foreword to the theme issue of Études arméniennes contemporaines, “The Massacres of the Hamidian Period (II): Perceptions and Perspectives”.

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1In line with the preceding published issue, the theme of the current issue of Études arméniennes contemporaines is once again devoted to the study of the massacres committed against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II in the years 1894-1897. In the former issue we favored local or regional studies, based on the crossing of official Ottoman, European and Armenian or Syriac sources. The aim was to move beyond the classical analysis of the “Armenian Question” that relied on the correspondences of the Foreign Ministers of the Great Powers and focused on the history of their diplomatic relations. The persistence of this approach partly explains the relative lack of substantive work on the massacres of the Hamidian period and on local violence perpetration, as compared to studies on genocide, which have expanded in the past three decades. The monographs published in the previous issue, however, demonstrate that the field is undergoing a turn towards studying massacres in their local context.

2The purpose of this second volume is to put the issue of the 1894-1897 massacres in a wider perspective. To this end, it refers partly to an international approach, though not restricted to diplomatic history. Oded Steinberg traces the political path of James Bryce, an emblematic activist of the Armenian cause in the United Kingdom between the years 1870 and 1894-1896. He shows the importance of the connection between the British politician and historian and the United States, where the question of massacres and help to Christians of the Ottoman Empire was going to find an even stronger echo than in the UK or Europe until the First World War. Steinberg explores the impact of Bryce’s long-term struggle – from the Hamidian era massacres to the Armenian genocide – to shape the collective perceptions of these events. Seen from another Europe, that of the tsars, Vazken Davidian highlights the little-studied philanthropic mobilizations in Russia in favor of the Armenians. Through the study of several works and the personal commitment of the famous Armenian-Russian painter Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky, Davidian shows how the artist’s paintings and drawings became agents of these mobilizations, helping to forge the representations and the collective memory of the events – in particular of the 1895 massacre of Trebizond Armenians – among the Russian and Armenian socio-cultural elites of Russia. Finally, Stefan Ihrig returns to the genesis of the perceptions and the policy carried out, in Wilhelmian Germany, facing the massacres of Armenians since the time of the reign of Abdülhamid II. By focusing more specifically on the writings of one of the fathers of German political liberalism, Friedrich Naumann, and the influence they may have had in their time, he considers that the laissez-faire attitude that characterized Germany’s official response to this violence marks a turning point towards a foreign policy devoid of humanitarian considerations.

  • 1 Boris Adjemian and Mikaël Nichanian, Rethinking the ‘Hamidian massacres’: the issue of the precede (...)
  • 2 The Sassoun Massacres, special theme issue of Armenian Review, vol. 47, no. 1-2, spring-summer 2001
  • 3 Ronald Grigor Suny, “Empire and Nation: Armenians, Turks, and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, Armen (...)

3The thread of these various contributions is the matter of precedent, already raised in the first issue devoted to the Hamidian era massacres.1 The question is not new. In 2001, it had run through a special issue of the Armenian Review devoted to the Sassoun massacre of 1894.2 More specifically, in one of the first issues of the Armenian Forum in 1998, a number of specialists engaged in an explicit and well-argued debate that was in conversation with an article written by Ronald Suny.3 The latter had already underlined the methodological problems of the continuity thesis that assumes similarities between the violence of the Hamidian era massacres and the genocide. Two of the participants in this debate give us the honor of contributing to Études arméniennes contemporaines: Ronald Suny, in the postface, which he kindly wrote to the ensemble constituted by this double publication on the massacres of 1894-1897, and Selim Deringil, in an interview where he returns to the historiography of the Hamidian period, its particular context and the Ottoman imperial ideology of the time. Deringil highlights the differences between the ideologies of the Hamidian era and that of the Committee Union and Progress during the genocide, to better highlight the problematics, or even the risks of comparing the two events.

4Finally, still in the aim to put the massacres of the Hamidian era “in perspective”, it seemed suitable not only to place them in a broader international context, but also raise the issue of the precedent in other historical and historiographical contexts. In a long interview, Florent Piton explains the heuristic interest of raising the assumption of the precedent in the study of this type of mass crimes, beyond the indispensable methodological prudence. As a practitioner of a history of mass violence in the longue durée, he pleads not to neglect, and on the contrary to fully invest in the share of antecedents in the genesis of such crimes: as the case of Rwanda for the 1994 Tutsi genocide, which was preceded by several episodes of significant collective violence such as the massacres of 1962-1963 or 1959. He poses a stimulating point of view for the historians of the Armenian genocide and the massacres of the late Ottoman Empire, but also, and without limit of time or geographical areas, for specialists in the study of mass violence.


5Historical research on the Hamidian era massacres is taking a new start thanks to the emergence of a new generation of researchers who diversify the genres of their sources and raise new questions. In order to extricate this history from its classical historiography, it is crucial to think and write in a global perspective, as is the case for the study of the Armenian genocide. However, there is still a lot to do. The publication of these two collections of articles has certainly not embraced all facets of a history that remains understudied. The migrations engendered by the massacres, which contributed significantly to the formation of the contemporary Armenian diaspora, offer a wide field for further research. The human and socio-economic consequences, as well as the cultural impact of the Hamidian era massacres, remain to be studied in depth, not only regarding the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, but also concerning representations of the homeland (the yergir), among the Armenians of Constantinople and other major cultural and intellectual centers of the time. Finally, the construction of memories – and oblivion – of these massacres, in the shadow of those of 1915, has only been touched upon here. We can only hope that the milestones set out in these pages will be an incentive for future research.

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1 Boris Adjemian and Mikaël Nichanian, Rethinking the ‘Hamidian massacres’: the issue of the precedent”, Études arméniennes contemporaines, no. 10, 2017, p. 19-29.

2 The Sassoun Massacres, special theme issue of Armenian Review, vol. 47, no. 1-2, spring-summer 2001.

3 Ronald Grigor Suny, “Empire and Nation: Armenians, Turks, and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, Armenian Forum. A Journal of Contemporary Affairs, no. 2, summer 1998, p. 17-51.

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Boris Adjemian, « Foreword », Études arméniennes contemporaines, 11 | 2018, 9-12.

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Boris Adjemian, « Foreword », Études arméniennes contemporaines [En ligne], 11 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2018, consulté le 15 novembre 2018. URL :

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Boris Adjemian

Bibliothèque Nubar de l’UGAB, IMAf

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