By Dr. Ohannes Kilicdagi, Kazan Visiting Professor in Armenian Studies
After three decades of Hamidian despotism, the July 1908 revolution that restored the constitution and parliament was greeted with joy and hope as people, especially Armenians, regarded it as the end of oppression and beginning of a new era where different ethno-religious groups would live freely as equal citizens. One of the most essential indicators and necessity of equal citizenship was the conscription of Christians and Jews who had been exempted from military service in exchange for paying a special tax until that date. As a matter of fact, after the revolution conscription of Christians and Jews became one of the hot debates in the newly formed parliament as well as in the press. Eventually, in July 1909 the Ottoman parliament abolished all exemptions and military service became compulsory for all males. This talk focuses on these debates and how different Armenian circles, including Armenian MPs, reacted to this idea, what they said and did before and after the promulgation of the conscription law. Armenian opinion leaders, both civil and clergy, were quite enthusiastic about the conscription of Armenian youth. However, there were also some worries, apprehensions, and reservations among Armenians. The main sources are articles, news pieces in the Armenian press, speeches of Armenian deputies in the parliament, as well as official Ottoman documents.