It is necessary to distinguish between the question of the Armenians of Western Armenia and the struggle of the Armenian people for liberation from the yoke of the Ottoman dictatorship.  If the former emerged as a result of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 as a topic of discussion in international diplomacy, the latter existed long before that as a question of social and national liberation of the Armenian people. On February 14, 1878, N. Ignatov and Nelidov from San Stefano, where the warring parties were negotiating, reported to A. M. Gorchakov about the position of Safvet Pasha, that the Turks were particularly opposed to the recognition of Bulgaria as an independent state. The presence of a Slavic state at the gates of Constantinople frightened them.

The Russians, however, fervently defended the Bulgarian issue. The Ottoman Empire hoped that Britain would help block this proposal.

On April 12, 1877, Emperor Alexander II signed the manifesto in Chisinau and the Russo-Turkish war began. The war was developing on the Balkan and Caucasian fronts. All of Western Armenia was liberated from the Sultanate dictatorship. In May 1877, Russian troops conquered Ardahan in an offensive. In October, the Russians dealt a crushing blow to the Turkish troops led by Mukhtar Pasha on the Alaca hills.  After this victory, the Russian army surrounded Kars with the participation of Armenian volunteers and General Hovhannes Lazarev was ordered to capture it. On November 6, the Turks surrendered. The capture of Kars became the greatest victory of the Caucasian Corps. In February 1878, Russian troops entered Karin.

The result of the brilliant victory of the Russian army was the Treaty of Ayastefanos of February 19 (March 3) 1878, in which Article 16 referred to the implementation of reforms in Western Armenia. Ignatev saw the inclusion of Article 16 in the treaty as a victory for Russian diplomacy and was very pleased, because it gave the tsarist government a legal basis for its constant interference in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire, strengthened the influence of the Russian ambassador in Constantinople and increased Russian authority in Armenia.

Ignatev did not fully justify the hopes of the Armenian people, but the 16. 

The article was an absolute guarantee for the implementation of reforms that protected Armenians from the persecution and revenge of Muslim fanatics, especially since the Sultan’s policy, knowing well the policy of promising and quickly “forgetting”, was to “immediately implement” the reforms and to keep Russian troops in the Armenian provinces until the reforms were implemented. Article 16 of the Treaty of Ayastefanos was far from expressing the wishes and desires of the Armenians. However, it was a favorable article for them in those historical circumstances.  Even the fact that the Turkish government was obliged by this agreement to carry out reforms in Armenia arising from local demands and to protect the security of Armenians before the departure of Russian troops would undoubtedly have had a positive meaning and would have alleviated the plight of Armenians to some extent.  However, Article 16 remained on paper and was not implemented because the Berlin Congress convened early and the Treaty of Ayastefanos was transformed.

Thus, according to the Treaty of Ayastefanos, the Armenians of Kars, Ardahan, Batumi, Bayazet and Soghanlian were to be united into the Armenians of Eastern Armenia, and the Armenians remaining in Turkey were promised security of life, inviolability of property and implementation of reforms arising from local demands.

In addition, for the first time, the Armenian issue entered the international diplomatic arena and the sultanate government officially recognized its existence.

To be continued

Ashkhen Virabyan