Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
The fourth and final Russo-Turkish war of the nineteenth century (1877-1878) ended with a humiliating defeat for the Ottoman Empire and the signature of the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, 1878. By this treaty, the Russian Empire tried to settle the Eastern Question and alter the balance of power in the Balkan Peninsula to its own advantage. Article 16 of the treaty established: “As the evacuation by the Russian troops of the territory which they occupy in Armenia, and which is to be restored to Turkey, might give rise to conflicts and complications detrimental to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, the Sublime Porte engages to carry into effect, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security from Kurds and Circassians.” This meant that the Ottoman Empire agreed to carry reforms in Armenia under the immediate supervision of Russian troops before their evacuation.
The terms of the treaty, particularly with reference to the Balkans, alarmed the Great Powers, as well as Serbia and Greece. Russia had to agree to the organization of a congress in Berlin, where the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano would be revised. The Congress of Berlin lasted a month. An Armenian delegation was sent by Patriarch of Constantinople, Nerses Varjabedian, to present their case. Since they did not represent any country, the delegation, led by former Patriarch Meguerdich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrig), was not allowed to participate. On July 13, the Treaty of Berlin was signed to replace the Treaty of San Stefano. Diplomatic maneuvers led by Great Britain succeeded in restoring for Turkey most of what it had lost in the war and San Stefano. Article 61 of the new treaty watered down article 16 in the following way: “The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.” It meant that the Ottoman Empire was supposed to carry reforms with no mention of Russian supervising forces; those reforms would be guaranteed by the European powers. Besides, the term “Armenia” had been replaced by “provinces inhabited by the Armenians.”
The Armenian delegation returned with empty hands to Constantinople. Upon his return, Khrimian Hayrig pronounced his famous homily of the Iron Ladle, in which he stated that each power at Berlin had taken a share of the contents of a great soup bowl with an iron ladle, whereas he had only a “paper ladle” (a petition) and thus could bring nothing back to the Armenian people. His sermon marked a turning point in Armenian political consciousness.
The Russo-Turkish war and the Treaty of Berlin marked the internationalization of the Armenian Question. For the next four decades, until the outbreak of World War I, Armenians would claim from the European powers that they forced Turkey to execute the promised reforms. The Turkish government would carry a policy of violence until the ultimate level: genocide.