2015 marks the 100th year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1915, the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) carried out a series of vicious extermination programs against the Armenian people. The results were staggering, with an estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million deaths and countless displaced from their homes. Today, Armenians live all over the world, as well as in their own nation, Armenia. However, the Turkish government fails to recognize the Armenian genocide, instead opting for language that obscures the true horror of the crime. In order to maintain good relations with Turkey, many other countries, including the United States, choose to not use the term 'genocide' as well. However, nearly every major historical analysis concludes that the systematic murders count as genocide.
Armenians have lived in the historic region of Armenia for thousands of years. Armenia is the first nation in the world to make Christianity the official religion at the beginning of the fourth century A.D. However, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Armenia fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire were Muslim whereas the Armenians were Christian. During the 19th century, Turks carried out a number of massacres on the Armenians. In addition, there were many complaints about Turkish power abuse. However, it is during the early 20th century that a genocide occurred.
The Armenian Genocide began on April 24, 1915, when 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders were arrested and executed in Istanbul. Shortly afterwards, the Ottoman government began deporting Armenians from their cities, saying that they might riot and harm the war effort. The Ottoman Empire fought alongside Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy in World War I. Turks killed hundreds of thousands of Armenian men, women, and children. Hundreds of thousands of Armenian women and children were forced to walk into the desert in Syria. There, they died of heat, thirst, starvation, sickness, and violence. Turkish soldiers often attacked the women and children, committing atrocities. The New York Times reported during this time, "The roads and the Euphrates [River] are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people."
The Ottoman Empire also set up 25 concentration camps to make sure that the Armenians who survived deportation reached a swift end. The Turks refused to give people food and water, and sold off women as slaves while the husbands died. Edicts were passed that allowed the government to seize land formerly owned by Armenians.
None of these actions were a secret. International witnesses reported daily to newspapers within the United States and other countries. While charitable organizations raised millions of dollars to help the Armenians, no government stopped the massacres. President Theodore Roosevelt called the killings "the greatest crime of the war." Some historians think the fact that the Ottoman Empire was able to carry out the murder of 1.5 million Armenians later emboldened Hitler in his program to wipe out the Jews.
It is worth noting that a small group of historians thinks that these killings, while horrible, do not count as a genocide, because of a lack of centralized control and the existence of Armenian communities that were left in peace. We have no records of the Ottoman government ordering the annihilation of the Armenians, as we do the German government ordering the extermination of all Jews in Europe. However, while there are no existing official records of a systematic order to conduct a genocide, it was certainly a genocide in effect.
Today, the victims are remembered in ceremony and ritual. The Armenian Apostolic Church recently canonized all of the victims of the massacres. This stands as a direct challenge to those nations who side with Turkey in ignoring the genocide. Although a U.S. Congressional panel in 2010 voted to label this a genocide, the Obama Administration won't use that word when referring to the "mass killings." Many think this is because Turkey is an important ally to the U.S. This year, many international leaders, including the Pope, have denounced Turkey for its stance. In the meantime, Armenians all over the world wait for their voices to be heard.
1. What happened in the Ottoman Empire in 1915?
2. What is at least one way the Turks of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians differed?
3. What did President Roosevelt say of the Armenian genocide?
4. What is one reason some believe the Obama Administration will not call this a genocide?
5. Is there anywhere else in the world where people are being killed because they are different, or because of their religion? Is what happened to the Armenians similar to anything happening today?