During the long reign of Sultan Hamid, unrest and rebellion occurred in many areas of the Ottoman Empire. One of the most serious of these incidents occurred in some Armenian populated parts of Anatolia. Although the Ottomans had crushed other revolts in the past, the harshest measures were directed against the Armenian community. They observed no distinction between the nationalist dissidents and the Armenian population at large, and massacred them with brutal force. However, this occurred in the 1890s, at a time when the telegraph could spread news around the world and when the Christian European powers were vastly more powerful than the weakening Ottoman state.
Events leading to the massacres
The origin of Armenian unrest can be traced, in large part, to the success of Imperial Russia in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78. At the end of the war, based on the Treaty of San Stefano the Ottoman government had to give away a large part of territory (including the cities of Kars and Batumi) to the Russians. The Russian government claimed they were the supporters of the beleaguered Christian communities within the Ottoman Empire and clearly, the Russians could now beat the Ottomans. The Treaty of Berlin - which reduced the magnitude of Russia's gains on the other side of the Black Sea - stated that the Ottoman government had to give legal protection to the Christian Armenians, but in the real world, the treaty's protections were not implemented. Template:Sidebar with collapsible lists Template:Armenian Genocide The combination of Russian military success, clear weakening of Ottoman power, and hope that one day all of the Armenian territory might be ruled by Russia led to a new restiveness on the part of the Armenians still living inside the Ottoman Empire. Added to this was the fact that the Ottomans never applied justice evenly in disputes between Christians and Muslims (see Dhimmi).
Starting around 1890 the Armenians began clamoring to obtain the protections promised them at Berlin. Unrest occurred in 1892 at Marsovan and in 1893 at Tokat. Armenians wanted reforms in the Ottoman Empire and an end to the discrimination imposed upon them, with demands for the right to vote and the establishment of a constitutional government.A near revolt occurred in the Sassoun Mountains of Bitlis Province. Armenian peasants refused to pay the Kurdish incremental taxes, a double taxation system imposed on the Armenians by Kurdish chieftains. In 1892, the governor of the Mus district in Bitlis Province encouraged Armenian resistance claiming that the Armenians: 'Couldn't serve two masters at the same time.'
In response to the resistance in Sassoun, the Turkish governor of Muş responded by inciting the local Muslims against the Armenians. The historian Lord Kinross claims that this was often achieved by gathering Muslims in a local mosque and claiming that the Armenians had the aim of "striking at Islam." The Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, sent the Ottoman army into the area and also armed groups of Kurdish insurrectionists. The violence spread and affected most of the Armenian towns in the Ottoman empire. The worst atrocity occurred when the cathedral of Urfa, in which three thousand Armenians had taken refuge, was burned. The historian Osman Nuri, in the second volume of his three-volume biography of Abdul Hamid, accused Sultans military contingent of 'torching and killing many people.'
1896 Bank Takeover
On August 26 1896, a group of Armenian revolutionaries raided the headquarters of the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul. Guards were shot and more than 140 staff members were taken hostage - all in an attempt to gain international attention for the plight of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
In response, tens of thousands of Armenians were massacred, both in Istanbul and elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire. Abdul Hamid's Private First Secretary wrote in his memoirs about Abdul Hamid that he 'decided to pursue a policy of severity and terror against the Armenians, and in order to succeed in this respect he elected the method of dealing them an economic blow ... he ordered they absolutely avoid negotiating or discussing anything with the Armenians and to inflict upon them a decisive strike to settle scores.'
The killings occurred from 1895 until 1897. In that last year, Sultan Hamid declared that the Armenian question was closed. All the Armenian revolutionaries had either been killed, or had escaped to Russia. The Ottoman government closed Armenian societies and restricted Armenian political movements.
Most estimates of number of victims run from 80,000 to 300,000.
- The British ethnographer William Ramsay, who visited the Ottoman empire for his own studies, estimated that from 1894 to 1897, 200,000 Armenians were killed.
- Armenophile Johannes Lepsius estimated more than 89,000 dead. 
- The German government estimated that up to December 20, 1895, 80,000 Armenians were killed. 
- The British Ambassador White, based on the data submitted to him by British consuls, estimated that up to early December 1895, 100,000 Armenians were killed. 
- The German author, E. Jackh (a German Foreign ministry operative and Turkophile estimated that 200,000 Armenians were killed, 50,000 expelled and one million pillaged. 
- R. J. Rummel, a professor who coined the term democide, estimated that 15,000 Armenians were killed by Sultan Hamid.
- The most complete figures covering the entire era from 1894 to 1897 were probably provided by the French historian, Pierre Renouvin, the President of the Commission in charge of assembling and classifying French diplomatic documents. In a volume based on authenticated documents, he stated that 250,000 Armenians were killed. 
- Armenian and other estimates run from 250,000 dead to as high as 350,000 dead. 
- Turkish estimates run from 20,000 to 30,000 killed.
These events are recalled by the Armenians as the "Great Massacres". The Armenians believed the Hamidian measures proved the capacity of the Turkish state to carry out a systematic policy of murder and plunder against a minority population. The formation of Armenian revolutionary groups began roughly around the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 and intensified with the first introduction of Article 166 of the Ottoman Penal code 166, and the raid of Erzerum Cathedral. Article 166 was meant to control the possession of arms, but it was used to target Armenians by restricting them to possess arms. Local Kurdish tribes were armed to attack the defenseless Armenian population. Some diplomats believed that the aim of these groups was to commit massacres so as to incite counter-measures, and to invite "foreign powers to intervene," as Istanbul's British Ambassador Sir Philip Currie observed in March 1894. Even some Turkish authors admit the existence of those revolutionaries was just a pretext for the massacres.
These mass killings clearly were a first step towards the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917.
- Cleveland, William L. (2000). A History of the Modern Middle East. Westview Press. pp. p. 119. ISBN 0813334896.
- United Human Rights Council
- Constitutional Rights Foundation
- Armeniangenocide.org: Hamidian Massacres
- R. J. Rummel: Democide Q and A
- Teaching About Genocide: Issues, Approaches, and Resources - Page 28 by Samuel Totten
- Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities by Edwin Munsell Bliss (originally published in 1896). Until now this book is considered to be the most accurate and full description of the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896 by a Western traveler.
- Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia by J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris. The book was published in 1897 and contained eyewitness accounts by British missionaries about the Hamidian massacres of 1896.