A close examination of the British policy of the East in the second half of the 19th century will reveal the close links Britain built with indigenous people. Needless to say, these ties were not built to help these people, but rather to make sure that they could be manipulated to serve the British policies in the most ‘efficient’ ways. Hundreds of Britons were sent to the region for this purpose, and carried out activities disguised as ‘archeologists, religious scholars, historians, or teachers’. Some planted and nourished divisive thoughts in the society, while others provoked the leading figures of communities against the central administration. Armenians, which are one of the ancient communities of Anatolia, became a primary target of the numerous spies dispatched to the region by Britain at the time.
The Treaty of Berlin, signed on July 13, 1878 under pressure from the British, forced the Ottomans to introduce reforms in Rumelia (Ottoman lands in Europe) and regions where Armenians lived. These reforms, which on the surface were bringing additional rights and liberties to the regional people, in truth marked the beginning of the control of the British deep state over the Armenians, an Orthodox Christian community. However, it wasn’t an easy task to convince Orthodox Armenians to ally with the Protestant British. Indeed, the conversion in question took many years, took many British spies, sectarian missionaries and intense propaganda through the Western media.
Emilius Clayton, who was at the time British Vice-Consul at Van, sent a report to London on November 29, 1879 that argued the Armenian state should either not be founded at all, or if it was going to be established, Russian control over it should not be allowed. The Vice-Consul believed that the Ottoman Empire would collapse and so reforms should be guided to allow the establishment of a British-controlled Armenian state. He wrote, ‘Armenians would first prosper and get strong as a British or European protectorate, and get ready politically. Then, Armenians in other regions would be transferred to Eastern Anatolia to increase the total Armenian population. However, no matter the size of migration they would always remain a minority. So, as a secondary step, the Turkish population would gradually be driven out of Eastern Anatolia. Only Kurds and Assyrians should be left. Assyrians would set aside their sectarian differences with the Armenians and mingle with them. Kurds, on the other hand ‘would be forced to behave at gunpoint’, and compelled to live together with the Armenians. All of this would be undertaken under Ottoman rule, as a part of the enforcement of reforms. And when the time comes and Ottoman Empire collapses, an independent state would be founded for Armenians. But since this makeshift state could not survive on its own, it would have to live under ‘strong British hegemony‘.(Süleyman Kocabaş, Osmanlı İsyanlarında Yabancı Parmağı, pp. 85-86)
The plan seemed to work. With the pretense of overseeing the Ottoman efforts to improve the rights of Christian constituents, Britain sent consuls to various Ottoman provinces. Usually selected from high-ranking soldiers, these consuls stepped outside the boundaries of their duties and carried out intelligence work in the region. Even worse, upon false information, they provoked, organized and armed some of our Armenian citizens, before blatantly inciting them to rebel.
In the beginning there were serious trust and communication issues between the British consuls and the Armenian community due to sectarian differences. In order for the said consuls/spies to win over the Armenians, the Armenians first had to be made Protestants. To this end, certain American missionaries were sent to the region, mostly to Mardin. These efforts angered the local people and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. British consuls, on the other hand, offered protection to both these missionaries and the new Protestant converts. Needless to say, this protection wasn’t offered out of respect for their faith, but rather due to strategic concerns regarding the region.
This certainly wasn’t the first time that this strategy was applied on Ottoman lands. Ahmed Hamdi, the then Tekirdağ district officer, made the following warning about the imminent danger:
The Protestant community in Tekirdağ stated that they were British protégés. British Consul, in the meantime, continues to meddle in everything, claims that Protestants are under his country’s protection and wishes to have them under his control. Since his attitude is causing problems and confusion in the city, it can be said that unless a precaution is taken, the Armenian community will come under the British rule after being converted to Protestantism. Since the desire of the Consul is to make the Armenian community loyal to himself and since such a development will be harmful to our country in every way, we are strongly in need of the Prime Ministry’s urgent instructions as to how we should proceed about the issue. Please kindly advise us how to proceed with regards to the Protestant community. (T.C. Başbakanlık Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü, Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeni İngiliz İlişkileri (1845-1890), [Turkish Republic Prime Minister’s Office, State Archives General Directorate, Armenia-English Relations in the Ottoman Documents] Ankara: State Archives General Directorate Publishing, 2004, p. 10 )