Religion, conflict, war, genocide and politics were some of the topics discussed by Dr. George A. Bournoutian, senior professor of history at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., on Tuesday.
The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the history club at Ramapo.
The talk explored “how the Armenians, as Christians, living along the border of the two empires, became almost automatically involved in the struggle between Russia and Ottoman Turkey,” Dr. Michael Riff, director of the Holocaust center, explained.
Bournoutian’s talk did not address the issue of the Armenian Genocide, but rather explained the historic events that led to it. Bournoutian said the basic Armenian homeland was an object of many invasions of different tribes since the 11th century.
As a result, Armenians underwent a diaspora as many people migrated to different geographic locations. By the 15th century, they had become a minority in their own homeland.
The Ottoman Empire “gradually institutionalized” communities, led by religious leaders, according to Bournoutian. “The Greeks, Jews and Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were grouped into three separate millets,” he said. As a result the minorities within the Empire flourished.
“Religious heads would love to be in charge of their flock: politically, socially, economically,” said Bournoutian.
The communities became isolated into separate neighborhoods. As a result, the chance of marriage between members of different religious communities was almost impossible.
“Everything changed for the Turks and the Armenians, as Russia became an empire,” explained Bournoutian. Russia’s influence spread to parts of the Ottoman Empire, and nations “began to slowly wake up.”
Armenians who remained in their historic homeland were oppressed and expressed desire to go under Russia’s protection. However, England would not allow Russia to have such influence on the region. Only a small part of the original Armenian land was annexed by Russia.
Since a large Armenian population remained in the Ottoman Empire and outside of Russia, the Turks were afraid this could create a potential problem in case of a conflict. Afraid of having Russian allies in its territory, the Ottomans initiated what is now known as the Armenian Genocide.
Brianna Little, a junior, attended the event because she is “interested in genocide.” She found the lecture helpful, since it allowed her to learn “a lot more information on what happened before the genocide.”
Three Armenian students, Katherine Sabbagh, Liana Seritciyan and Ana Naljian, attended Bournoutian’s speech to “gain more knowledge” and learn more about their history. According to Naljian, the students learned a lot about the “whole Russian aspect.”
They were at the lecture, “supporting an Armenian speaker and receiving vital information,” said Sabbagh.