The Armenian Genocide

Ever since Armenia, long ruled by the Arabs, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 1500s, there have been tensions between the Armenian Christians and the Muslim Turks. (10) Although this was the fundamental cause for future conflicts, it was the Christian religion that acted as a bonding force between the Armenians and separated them from the Turks. (12)

For almost four hundred years, the Ottomans and the Armenians were able to live relatively peacefully, side by side, and any discrimination or small conflict within that time is inconsequential considering the context of history and religion. In 1876, after two quick depositions of forerunners Abdülazis and Murad V, Emperor Abdül Hamid II came into power. He accepted a constitution based on European models that was drafted by Midhat Pasha. The constitution embodied the Young Ottoman program, a group of nationalists pushing for several freedoms including religious liberty. However, it was all a façade; Hamid dissolved the parliament two years later, in 1878. (12)

By the late 1800s, Armenia lived under fear of constant raids of their villages by Turks and Kurds. (10) It started to push for territorial autonomy—two specific groups, Hënchak and Dashnaktzutim, were great advocates of this. (1) As a result, all Armenian revolutionaries were crushed in the preliminary massacres of 1894-1896. It is unknown exactly how many Armenians were killed during this massacres; however, it is estimated to be anywhere between two hundred and three hundred thousand, and the vast majority of them were innocent. (2, 6)

Apparently, Hamid II was an extremely repressive emperor; since the Empire was already failing and crumbling as the "sick man of Europe", it had most likely produced a very reactionary leader. This was also the chief cause of the formation of the "Young Turks" or the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress), another lesser cause being nationalism.

The Young Turks, led by Mustafa Kemal – or Atatürk – wanted to restore the constitution of 1876. In 1908, backed up by part of army, the CUP forced Abdül Hamid to abdicate and become a constitutional monarch. After a brief struggle with traditionalists in 1909, the CUP emerged as the dominant government; because of the brief traditionalist coup, Hamid II was deposed of and they installed his brother Mehmed as a figurehead. (12)

The original, parliamentary CUP ruled for a grand total of four years; in 1913, there was another coup by Enver Pasha and he turned the CUP into a military dictatorship alongside Jemal and Talat Pasha. They ruled as a triumvirate, with Enver as leader. (12)

After a series of military failures during World War I on the side of the Germans, the Armenians began to see the Russians as liberators and started to assist them. Enver, convinced that this was a massive Armenian conspiracy, told himself that no doubt the Christian Armenians would ally with the Christian Russians. (10, 12) This can be traced back to the centuries-old tensions between the Muslim Ottomans and the Armenians, aforementioned.

He responded by ordering mass deportations of the women, the children, and the elderly to the barren and hopeless deserts or the cruel and disease-ridden marshes of Syria and Mesopotamia – with no food, water, or rest. (10) Many died alone from starvation, dehydration, and exhaustion. Others were beaten or mercilessly executed. (11) On the way, women were forced to leave their children behind (4) or to convert to Islam. (2) The long marches were attacked by marauders, the police, and ordinary people—there was rampant rape, murder, slavery, and robbery. (6) The men were forced into labor camps; if they had been in the army, their arms were taken away and they were either executed or enslaved. They were also denied any sort of food, water, or shelter; if they slowed down, they were shot or bayoneted. (13)

The population before the genocide had been anywhere between 1.8 million and 2.5 million. (13, 14) It is estimated that at many as 1.5 million were killed; the others either escaped or somehow managed to survive. (13)

During all of this, the government did its best to cover it up. At first they tried to hide it; however, with skeletal humans being forced to march through towns and territories, they instead justified it: the Armenians brought it upon themselves; they had been allying themselves the Russians, it was a shifting of the internal enemy. Later, they even said that no plan for extermination even existed—according to them, an abuse of authority led to the death of one and a half million people. It was not the Turks' fault. (6)

To this day, the Turkish government denies that any sort of genocide had happened; this could be accounted for by their rise in status. For a long time the "evil Turk", they most likely do not want to go back to that image. However, denying the attempted extermination of a people does not help their bettered image.

The Armenian Genocide triggered many effects, the most prominent being the formation of Armenian terrorists groups but also high nationalism and anger against the United States. (In 1980, a bill in Congress was defeated. It proposed April 24th—the beginning of the 1915 deportations—to be a day for remembrance of the Armenians. The Armenians attributed this defeat to the United States not wanting to anger a rising economic power. (6))

The most well-known terrorist group is the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia. A Communist group, its main goals are the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and an independent Armenia. Formed in 1975, it has killed numerous Turkish diplomats and has bombed two airports. Another, the Justice Commandos Against the Armenian Genocide, was formed around the same time with the same goals – however, instead of being Marxist-Leninist like ASALA, it is nationalistic and has Western values and values Western opinion. It has also claimed responsibility for the deaths of Turkish diplomats.

Therefore, the Armenian Genocide was a bloody and almost forgotten conflict of oppression and discrimination. With political violence both the cause and the effect, this controversial era of history was just one failed trial of humanity and tolerance.

Works Cited

(1) "Armenian Massacres." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1992.

(2) Aspaturian, Vernon V. "Armenia." Encyclopedia Americana. 1999.

(3) Balakian, Peter. The Burning Tigris. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

(4) Hintz, Martin. Armenia: Enchantment of the World. Canada: Scholastic Library Publishing, 2004.

(5) Lubin, Nancy. "Armenia." World Book Encyclopedia. 2003.

(6) Spangenburg, Ray. The Crime of Genocide. Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 2000.

(7) "Armenian Genocide." Armeniapedia (Wikipedia). 20 Feb. 2006. 14 May 2006 ?titleArmenianGenocide .

(8) "Frequently Asked Questions About the Armenian Genocide." . 2006. Armenian National Institute. 14 May 2006 .

(9) "Armenian Genocide, Armenian Massacres, Ottoman Empire, Government of Turkey." United Human Rights. United Human Rights Council. 14 May 2006 .

(10) Armenia: Then and Now. Lerners Company, 1993. 32-36.

(11) "Armenian Massacres of 1915-1923." The Facts on File: Encyclopedia of the 20th Century. New York, New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1991.

(12) Turkey: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1988.

(13) "Turks Slaughter Armenians." Our Times: the Illustrated History of the 20th Century. Turner Publishing , Inc., 1995.

(14) Winter, J. M. The Experience of World War I. New York, New York: Oxford UP, 1988. 215.