The first thing associated with the Armenian Genocide is the mass killings of innocent people. Add to that the deportations and death marches, and you get a story of national loss that has been forever imprinted in the collective memory of Armenians.
However, there is another side of this story that has been increasingly mentioned over the last years. What happened to the property Armenians left behind, their homes and villages, fields and gardens?
The confiscation of Armenian property began along with the mass killings of the 1890s and reached its peak during the Armenian Genocide between 1915 and 1923, and even carried on in the years of the Republic of Turkey.
The confiscated property has served as the base of the modern Turkish economy. Not a lot of Turkish people have been among craftsmen and traders, high and low social classes in 1915. A number of rich families in modern Turkey possess industrial empires, the roots of which are the Armenian enterprises of the early 20th century.
The deported Armenians have been asked to make a list of their property, which should have guaranteed its preservation in the years of WWI. Instead, approximately 20,000 buildings and more than 1 million acres of agricultural land have been passed to either the local population or those who arrived in historical Armenia from Asia Minor, the Balkans, and the Caucasus.
The implementation of the Kemalist plan of the creation of a unified Turkish government through the assimilation of the state’s Muslim population (Kurds, Bosnians, Circassians, Lazi) was somewhat possible thanks to the property left behind by Armenians.
The discriminatory policy and adverse legal system ensured a legal cover for the seizure, elimination, and distribution of Armenian property in Turkey during and after the Genocide.
Measures have been taken to restore or compensate for what has been lost only in the recent years. The Istanbul Foundation of Hrant Dink is the most active in this regard. The foundation has prepared an in-depth review of Armenian property claims, which have been made since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
Another element of the economic consequences of the Genocide is the claims for life insurance policies brought forward by lawyers and the descendants of the survivors of the Genocide in the early 20th century. This question still is under debate from both political and legal standpoints.
The memoirs of Henry Morgenthau Sr., the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during WWI, include a requirement put forward by Talaat Pasha, the leader of the Young Turks as well as one of the organizers of the Genocide, stating that the life insurance policies should be adopted by the government because Ottoman Armenians had been “almost all dead and hadn’t had any descendants to receive compensation.”
References and other sources:
1. Uğur Ümit Üngör, Mehmet Polatel. Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property. Bloomsbury Academic, 2011
2. Hrant Dink Foundation. 2012 Declaration: The Seized Properties of Armenian Foundations In Istanbul
Hrant Dink Vakfı. 2012 Beyannamesi. İstanbul Ermeni Vakiflarinin El Konan Mülkleri
3. Hrant Dink Foundation. “Forced to Pay Rents in Its Own Property: The Bomonti Mıhitaryan Primary School”, 9 min.
4. The Genocide Education Project. “Prof. Ugur Ungor Discusses Property Confiscation During the Armenian Genocide (April 30, 2012)”, 37 min.
5. Varak Ketsemanian. “The Confiscation of Armenian Properties: An Interview with Ümit Kurt”, The Armenian Weekly, September 23, 2013
6. “Confiscation, Expropriation and Liquidation of Armenian Properties”, Civilnet, May 28, 2014
7. Michael Bobelian. Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice. Simon & Schuster, 2012, pp. 207-224, 232-234
8. Gavin Broady. “Supreme Court Won’t Review Calif. Genocide Insurance Law”, Law360, June 10, 2013
9. Wikipedia: “Confiscated Armenian properties in Turkey”