At the onset of World War I, two million Armenians were living in the collapsing Ottoman Empire. By 1922, there were less than 400,000 of them. The others, about 1.5 million, were killed, massacred, and deported from their place, and that is what historians deem genocide.
As David Fromkin put it in his widely praised history of World War I and its aftermath, “A Peace to End All Peace”: “Rape and beating were commonplace. Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink, or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians eventually succumbed or were killed.” The genocide was the premeditated and systematic killing of millions of Armenians from April 1915 to 1917.
The Armenian Chronicles
The Armenian people have been living in the Caucasus region of Eurasia for some 3,000 years. For some time, the Kingdom of Armenia was an independent entity: at the beginning of the 4th century A.D., for instance, it became the first country in the world to make Christianity its official state religion.
But for the most part, the influence of the region has moved from one power to another. Armenia was incorporated into the mighty Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. The Ottoman rulers, like most of their subjects, were Muslims. They allowed religious minorities, such as the Armenians, to preserve some autonomy, but they also subjected the Armenians, whom they considered “infidels,” to unjust and unfair treatment. Christians had to pay higher taxes than Muslims, for example, and had minimal political and legal privileges. Despite these challenges, the Armenian culture thrived under the Ottoman rule. They appeared to be better educated and more affluent than their Turkish neighbors, who began to resent their success. This frustration was exacerbated by the presumption that Christian Armenians would be more loyal to Christian governments than the Ottoman government.
First Armenian Massacre
Between 1894 and 1896, Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II flushed the Armenians with a considerable thump of massacre and had sanctioned the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire who were the threat ever since the empire imposed Muslim law in the Ottoman empire’s area
In response to large-scale protests by Armenians, Turkish military officials, soldiers, and ordinary men sacked Armenian villages and cities and massacred their citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered.
Young Turks and their Policy Towards Armenians
In 1908, a new government came to power in Turkey. A group of reformers who called themselves the “Young Turks” overthrew Sultan Abdul Hamid and established a more modern constitutional government with several reforms in the prior constitution.
At first, the Armenians were hopeful that they would have an equal place in this new state, but they soon learned that what the nationalistic Young Turks wanted most of all was to “Turkify” the empire. According to this way of thinking, non-Turks – and predominantly Christian non-Turks – were a grave threat to the new state.
The Inception of World War I
In 1914, on the side of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turks entered World War I. (At the same time, the Ottoman religious authorities proclaimed holy war on all Christians except their allies.)
Military leaders started to argue that the Armenians were turncoats: if they felt they could gain freedom if the Allies were victorious, the argument went, the Armenians would be willing to fight for the enemy. As the war escalated, Armenians formed volunteer battalions to support the Russian army battle the Turks in the Caucasus region. These incidents, along with general Turkish mistrust of the Armenian people, led the Turkish government to call for the “removal” of the Armenians from war zones along the Eastern Front.
Armenian Genocide’s Onset
The Armenian genocide began on April 24, 1915. That day, the Turkish government detained and executed a few hundred Armenian scholars. After that, ordinary Armenians turned out of their homes and sent to death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.
Frequently, the activists were stripped naked and forced to walk under the scorching sun until they fell dead. People who had stopped to rest were fired. At the same time, the Young Turks set up a “Special Organization” which, in turn, formed “killing squads” or “butcher battalions” to carry out, as one officer put it, “the liquidation of Christian elements.” These organizations were thumping the Armenians extremely and exacerbated the genocide to the furthest.
Records show that during this “Turkification” drive, government squads also abducted children, converted them to Islam, and handed them over to Turkish families. In some areas, women were raped and forced to enter Turkish “harems” or work as slaves. Muslim families moved to the homes of deported Armenians and confiscated their lands. While accounts differ, most sources believe that there were around two million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the time of the massacre. When the genocide ended in 1922, only 388,000 Armenians remained in the Ottoman Empire.
After the Ottomans surrendered in 1918, the leaders of the Young Turks fled to Germany, which promised not to prosecute them for the genocide. (However, a group of Armenian nationalists devised a plan, known as Operation Nemesis, to track down and assassinate the leaders of the genocide.)
Ever since then, the Turkish government has denied that a genocide took place. The Armenians were an enemy force, they argue, and their slaughter was a necessary war measure. In March 2010, a U.S. Congressional panel voted to recognize the genocide. And on October 29, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that recognized the Armenian genocide.