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Communal Violence: The Armenians and the Copts as Case Studies

  • Margaret J. Wyszomirski (a1)

Historically, communal conflict seems to have occurred in four environments—during the evolution of the major European states, in post-independence colonies, during the disintegration of polyglot empires, and in post-industrialized societies. Within these environments, six conditions serve to heighten the possibility of the use of violence. These conditions include: (i) the presence of communal cleavages based on religion, race, or language, combinations of these cleavages being more volatile than their occurrence singly; (2) the absence of a common value or identity; (3) the concurrent development of antagonistic nationalisms; (4) the possession of an economic or cultural elite status by a subordinate communal group; (5) differential rates of modernization; and (6) the displacement of anticolonial feelings upon a communal group perceived as associated with a colonial power. The examples of the Copts in Egypt and the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire are presented as illustrations of the interaction of these conditions in two different environments and the use or absence of violence in communal conflict.

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1 Esman, Milton J., “The Management of Communal Conflict,” Public Policy, XXI (Winter 1973), 49.

2 Walker Connor, “Nation-Building or Nation-Destroying?” World Politics, XXIV (April 1972), 319–55.

3 Geertz, Clifford, ed., Old Societies and New States (New York: Free Press 1963), 111.

4 Kuper, Leo and Smith, M. G., eds., Pluralism in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press 1971), 7. One method of managing ethnic differences during this period was secession, as in the case of Norway breaking away from Sweden, and Ireland's break with England.

5 It is somewhat difficult to classify Russia. Czarist Russia could probably best be placed as a polyglot empire, while the Soviet Union might seem to resemble the major historical states of this first group. Although the Soviet Union's methods of managing its communal conflicts would not generally be called democratic, they are formal and institutionalized and represent a “balanced adjustment.”

6 For a broad overview of the crises of political development as well as detailed treatments of each, see Binder, Leonard, Coleman, James S., LaPalombara, Joseph, Pye, Lucian W., Verba, Sidney, and Weiner, Myron, Crises and Sequences in Political Development (Princeton University Press (1971).

7 Rabushka, Alvin and Shepsle, Kenneth A., Politics in Plural Societies (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill 1972), 7488.

8 Ibid., 63

9 Melson, Robert and Wolpe, Howard, eds., Nigeria: Modernization and the Politics of Communalism (Ann Arbor: Michigan State University Press 1971).

10 See Kuper's discussion of the conflict model of pluralist societies in Kuper and Smith (fn. 4), 42–45. Schermerhorn, R. A., in Comparative Ethnic Relations: A Framework for Theory and Research (New York: Random House 1970), 15, 189–226, sees ideologies as contextual variables with centripetal or centrifugal tendencies.

11 See Rabushka and Shepsle (fn. 7), 8–10, for a discussion of these factors as the bases of cultural pluralism.

12 In contrast to class division, the greater difficulty of compromising on ethnic, racial, or religious solidarities may be attributable to the deeper emotional attachments inherent in these identities; see Esman (fn. 1), 54.

13 Immutable in the sense that an individual cannot do anything to alter his condition. Whereas an individual can convert to another religion or learn another language, it takes generations to substantially change racial characteristics.

14 One might argue that the exercise of unquestionable coercive power is another means of controlling communal conflict. However, as various political theorists, including Robert A. Dahl, have noted, It Is nearly. Impossible to maintain political authority by pure force alone and in the absence of legitmacy. See Modern Political Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall 1970), 41.

15 There are also smaller groups, mainly of various Protestant denominations.

16 Both the French and German groups have Protestant as well as Catholic components; however, the Catholic Germanophones and the Protestant Francophones are only small parts of the German- and French-speaking communities.

17 Although Turkish nationalism developed later than Armenian nationalism (or many of the other minority nationalisms of the Ottoman Empire), there existed a continuum between it and the earlier Pan-Islam and Pan-Turkist ideologies, particularly in their anti-Christian elements. For a discussion of the development and interrelation of various ideologies in the Middle East, see Dekmejian, Richard H., “Political Thought: Quest for an Ideology,” in al-Marayati, Abid, ed., The Middle East: Its Governments and Politics (Belmont: Duxbury Press 1972), 101–23. Even though the Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turks) worked with Armenian and other revolutionary groups in exile in Paris, the CUP had “little or no sympathy for the aspirations of any of the minority groups of the Ottoman Empire.” Ramsaur, Ernest Edmondson Jr., The Young Turks (Beirut: Khayats 1965), 129.

18 The liquidaiton and/or expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor came in 1920–23, after the Greek defeat by Ataturk. This left only the Kurds as a non-Turkic, though Muslim, minority. After the suppression of the Kurdish insurrection (Dersim) in 1924–25, the government's policy of Turkification was only partially successful and the Kurdish problem remains an internally explosive issue.

19 It is interesting that in her discussion of ideology and ethnic identity, Cynthia Enloe pays little attention to the power of nationalism per se. Rather her emphasis seems to be on somewhat more formal and more inclusive ideologies such as Marxism, Fascism, Democratic Liberalism, and African Socialism. See Enloe, Cynthia, Ethnic Conflict and Political Development (Boston: Little, Brown 1973), 3583.

20 Rosecrance, Richard, International Relations: War or Peace? (New York: McGraw-Hill 1973), 242–47.

21 Contributory to the perceptions of the values of peace, conflict, and first strike are conflict-regulating motives. The desire to ward off external pressure is often cited as such a motive. However, that would not be the case if one of the communal groups could be seen as an irredentist group, or if one of the subordinate groups felt that it would be better off within the external power's system. Nordlinger advances three other motives: ( i ) to increase or maintain economic well-being; (2) to acquire or retain government office or power; and (3) to avoid bloodshed among one's own group. The first of these has already been dealt with in references to Lebanon and Switzerland and falls into the more general category of a common value. The remaining two motives could both become subject to nationalist ideologies. That is, if the nationalist sentiments of one communal group are intense enough, the political system under which it functions may lose legitimacy to the point where acquiring or retaining government office loses its conflict-regulating value. Likewise, nationalist movements can, and frequently do, reach a stage where liberty or self-determination is more important than life. Hence the avoidance of bloodshed among one's own communal group would cease to be a conflict-regulating motive. See Nordlinger, Eric A., Conflict Regulation in Divided Societies (Cambridge: Harvard Center for International Affairs 1972), 4253.

22 For a discussion of class and ethnicity, see Enloe (fn. 19), 27–34.

23 For a treatment of the idea that innovative behavior by an alien minority group is apt to promote expulsion or suppression rather than imitation, see Hagen, Everett E., On the Theory of Social Change (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press 1962), 248–50.

24 Connor, Walker, “The Politics of Ethnonationalism,” Journal of International Affairs, XXVII, No. 1 (1973), 211.

25 With the decline of the Ottoman Empire in die 19th century, the great European powers began to intervene directly in its internal affairs, with the intention of preventing or hastening the empire's collapse. A major pretext for their intervention was the relation between the Sublime Porte and its Christian subjects, based not only on formal Sultanic edicts guaranteeing the status of the various Christian millets, but also on the fact that many individual Christians and Jews had secured European nationality or protected status and thus fell under the jurisdiction of the capitulations. See Hourani, A. H., Minorities in the Arab World (London: Oxford University Press 1947), 2324, and “Political and Social Background in the 18th Century,” in Issawi, Charles, ed., The Economic History of the Middle East, 1800–1914 (University of Chicago Press (1966), 29.

26 Hourani, Minorities in the Arab World (fn. 25), 24.

27 Ibid., 42; Dekmejian (fn. 17), no.

28 Lutfi al-Sayyid was the chief ideologue of such an Egyptian nationalism which “sought its cultural personality in a revival of the pharaonic past and the Greco-Roman and Coptic-Christian heritage …,” ibid.

29 For a detailed analysis of Egyptian ideological development during the Nasirite period see, Dekmejian, R. Hrair, Egypt Under Nasir (Albany: SUNY Press 1971), 82143; specifically 114–18.

30 Walz, Jay, The Middle East (Mew York: Atheneum 1965).

31 New York Times, July 25, 1968.

32 Hourani (fn. 25), 21, 45.

33 Ibid., 45.

34 Ibid., 26.

35 Issawi, Charles, Egypt: An Economic and Social Analysis (London: Oxford University Press 1947), 161.

36 Mikhail, Kyriakos, Copts and Moslems Under British Control (London: Smith, Elder 1911), 11.

37 Hourani (fn. 25),29.

38 Indeed, the perceived grievances of the Coptic community against British authorities played an important part in rekindling communal cooperation and consciousness among the Copts, but prompted, in turn, a Muslim reaction unfavorable to them. For an account of the Coptic Congress and its aftermath in 1910–11, see Mikhail (fn. 36).

39 Hourani (fn. 25), 47.

40 As a part of its strategy to maximize support on the home front after the defeat of 1967, the government attempted to strengthen the Copts' identification with the regime. This amicable policy may have also been prompted by Nasir's desire to gain world Christian support against the Israeli presence in Jerusalem; in this campaign, the Coptic Church hierarchy served as propagandizers of the Egyptian-Arab cause in various transnational Christian bodies. Indications of the government's policy were Nasir's prominent role at the consecration of St. Mark's Cathedral in mid-1968 and the favorable media coverage of the apparition of the Virgin Mary (1968). Also Dr. Ramzi Stinu, a Coptic Minister, became one of the eight members of the ASU Supreme Executive. After Nasir's death in 1970, the frustrations arising from Sadat's inability to force an Israeli withdrawal led to outbreaks of Islamic fanaticism and Muslim-Coptic clashes and church burnings. Lacking Nasir's prestige, Sadat had to compromise; not until 1973 was he decisive in checking the Muslims' pressures against the Copts.

41 Hourani (fn. 25), 20.

42 Ibid.; Karpat, Kemal, An Inquiry into the Social Foundations of Nationalism in the Ottoman State: From Social Estates to Classes, From Millets to Nations (Princeton: Center of International Studies Research Monograph No. 39, 1973), 1023; Sanjian, Avedis K., The Armenian Communities in Syria Under Ottoman Dominion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1965), 3135.

43 Some scholars advance the argument that although Christians seeking governmental jobs were required to convert to Islam, the change of religion was “only skin deep,” and that the convert did not necessarily have to possess a deep, inner attachment to his newly embraced religion. For example, see Karpat (fn. 42), 23. This argument, however, seems to miss the point that a Christian, while a professed Christian, was not eligible for government office; only the change of his minority identity made him acceptable.

44 However, in both communities language and religion are perhaps more emotionally intertwined than is often the case. For Muslims, Arabic is the sacred and revealed language of the Koran. Indeed, for most Muslims die only instruction they receive in both language and religion is acquired from the Koran. In the same way, Armenian is the language of their religion for the Armenians; their faith is professed and manifested through that language alone.

45 Pan-Turkism was strongly influenced by German nationalism and in a sense foreshadowed the racial overtones of Aryanism. For a discussion of die evolution of Pan-Turkism, see Dekmejian (fn. 17), 102–5. The rise of Pan-Turkism antagonized not only the Armenians but also the Muslim Arabs, since Turkification meant to replace Arabic with Turkish.

46 Hourani (fn. 25), 119–20.

47 Atamian, Sarkis, The Armenian Community (New York: Philosophical Library 1955), 7072. It should be noted, however, that the situation in Russia was sometimes little better than that in Turkey. In 1903, the Russian Government confiscated most of the landed property of the Armenian national church and closed down church schools and libraries. During the Russian revolution of 1905, there were a number of massacres of Armenians by Tatars who were often aided and abetted by the local Russian governors. In 1912, a mass trial of Armenian nationalist leaders was held in St. Petersburg; fifty-two individuals were given sentences of imprisonment or exile. See Lang, David Marshall, Armenia: Cradle of Civilization (London: Unwin and Allen 1970), 287.

48 Atamian (fn. 47), 70–72.

49 Another avenue of European intellectual influence was the large Armenian community in Constantinople which had ties with Europe.

50 While Ottoman-Armenian sympathies were with the Russians, there is little evidence that they gave them anything other than moral support. See Atamian (fn. 47), 64–65.

51 For a discussion of the rise and role of die Hunchaks and the Dashnaks see ibid., 94–114.

52 Houtani (in. 25), 27.

53 Issavn (in. 25), 10.

54 Houtani (in. 25), 121.

55 Atamian (fn. 47), 59.

56 Ibid., 60.

57 Issawi (fn. 25), 124.

58 A German scholar has stated chat in the years preceding World War I, a number of large landowners who were Armenian, Greek, or Syrian Christians were employing more modern methods in agricultural production aimed at increasing their output. See W. F. Bruck as quoted in Issawi (fn. 25), 68.

59 Sarkissian, A. O., “Genocide in Turkey,” History of the First World War, No. 48 (1970), 1.

60 Hourani (fn. 25), 24–25.

61 Turks, including the Young Turks, professed to be of the opinion that the antagonism started at this time and at the instigation of the Russians. Whether this is what they really believed is doubtful; however, it is the rationalization that many Turkish leaders used. See, for example, Pasha, Djemal, Memories of a Turkish Statesman (New York: George H. Doran 1922), 241–49.

62 That the Ottomans perceived the need to resolve the Armenian question is clear from the following views of Kamil Pasha who served as grand vizier to Abdul Hamid in the 1870's:

… the sensible thing to do is to destroy and eliminate any and all elements which may some day give rise to the same danger, afford the opportunity for foreign intervention and serve as its tool.

… therefore, for the sake of that sacred cause—and our right as a sovereign state demands it too—it is imperative that we exterminate any and all suspicious elements in order to insure our future security. Thus, we must eliminate, leave behind no traces of that Armenian nation. …And if that Armenian “nation” is destroyed and if Christian Europe should look for a co-religionist and does not find it in Asiatic Turkey, it will leave us alone. …

Quoted in Sarkissian, E. K. and Sahakian, R. G., Vital Issues in Modern Armenian History (Watertown, Mass.: Library of Armenian Studies 1965), 17.

63 Atamian (fn. 47), 64–65.

64 Miller, William, The Ottoman Empire and its Successors, 1801–1927 (London: Cambridge University Press 1936), 428.

65 The Armenians were generally an unwarlike people, who were further handicapped by legal strictures against Christians bearing arms in the Ottoman Empire. It is also interesting to note that the Ottoman Turks were setting minority against minority by using the Kurds, who were a Muslim minority, against the Armenians.

66 Lang (fn. 47), 287.

67 See descriptions in Miller (£n. 64), 427–30.

68 Lang (fn. 47), 289. For detailed studies of Pan-Turkism, see Hostler, C. W., Turkjsm and the Soviets (New York: Frederick A. Praeger 1957); and Lewis, Bernard, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press 1961), 3452.

69 For accounts of Enver Pasha's and Talaat Pasha's hostility toward the Armenians, see U.S. Ambassador Morgenthau, as quoted in Boyajian, Dickran H., Armenia: The Case for a Forgotten Genocide (Westwood, N.J.: Educational Book Crafters 1972), 810.

70 For a fictionalized account of the 1915 massacres, see Werfel, Franz, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (New York: Viking Press 1934).

71 Toynbee, Arnold J., Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (London: Causton & Sons 1916), 651.

72 Lang (fn. 47), 289; also see Trumpener, Ulrich, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, 1914–1918 (Princeton University Press (1968), 200270, esp. 268–70; Lewis (fn. 68), 212–350.

73 Concerning the massacres of Armenians in Cilicia in the early 1920's, see an eyewitness account by Kerr, Stanley E., The Lions of Marash (Albany: SUNY Press 1973).

* I would like to thank Professors Milton Esman of Cornell University and Richard H. Dekmejian of SUNY-Binghamton for their comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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