|Part of World War I|
|Genocide, ethnic cleansing, expulsion, death march|
|Deaths||Estimated around 1 million|
|Perpetrators||Committee of Union and Progress|
|Trials||Ottoman Special Military Tribunal|
Part of a series on the
|History of Armenia|
The Armenian Genocide (other names) was the systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of around 1 million ethnic Armenians from Anatolia and adjoining regions by the Ottoman government during World War I.
During its invasion of Russian and Persian territory, Ottoman paramilitaries massacred local Armenians; massacres turned into genocide following the catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Sarikamish (January 1915), which was blamed on Armenian treachery. In the minds of the Ottoman leaders, isolated indications of Armenian resistance were taken as evidence of a general insurrection. Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army were disarmed pursuant to a February order and later killed. On 24 April 1915, the Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople (now Istanbul).
The May 1915 Deportation Law formalized the process that saw the wholesale uprooting of an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million women, children, elderly, and infirm Armenians and their being sent on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert in 1915 and 1916. Driven forward by paramilitary escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Only around 200,000 deportees were still alive by the end of 1916; another 100,000 to 200,000 Armenian women and children were forcibly integrated into Muslim households. According to some definitions the genocide includes the Republic of Turkey's massacres of tens of thousands of Armenian civilians during the 1920 Turkish–Armenian War.
The Armenian Genocide and the simultaneous destruction and expulsion of Syriac and Greek Orthodox Christians enabled the creation of a Turkish ethnonational state. In contrast to the vast majority of historians, Turkey denies that any crime was committed against the Armenian people. As of 2019[update], 32 countries, including the United States, Russia, and Germany, have recognized the events as a genocide.
Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
The presence of Armenians in Anatolia is documented since the sixth century BCE, almost a millennium prior to the Turkic migrations to the area. The Kingdom of Armenia adopted Christianity as its national religion in the fourth century CE, establishing the Armenian Apostolic Church. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1543, Western Armenia was contested between the Ottoman Empire and the Iranian Safavid Empire, both Islamic; it was permanently divided from Eastern Armenia by the 1639 Treaty of Zuhab. In accordance with sharia law, non-Muslims (dhimmis) rights to property and freedom of worship were legally protected in exchange for payment of jizya tax, but they were also referred to in Turkish as gavurs, a pejorative word connoting that they were "disloyal, avaricious, and not to be trusted". Most Armenians were grouped together into a semi-autonomous community (millet), led by the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. The millet system institutionalized the inferiority of non-Muslims, but it also enabled the Armenian community to rule itself under its own system of governance with minimal interference. Until 1908, non-Muslims in the empire were forbidden to carry arms.
According to the estimates of the Armenian Patriarchate from 1913–1914, there were 2,925 Armenian towns and villages in the Ottoman Empire, of which 2,084 were located in the Armenian Highlands in the vilayets of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzerum, Harput, and Van. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians lived scattered in various places in central and western Anatolia. The Armenian population was mostly rural, especially in the Armenian Highlands where 90 percent of Armenians were peasant farmers. In most parts of the empire where they lived, Armenians were a minority and lived alongside Turkish, Kurdish, and Greek Orthodox neighbors. According to the Patriarchate's figure 215,131 Armenians lived in urban areas especially Constantinople, Smyrna, and Eastern Thrace. In the nineteenth century, a few urban Armenians became extremely wealthy through their connections to Europe as the loyalty of Greek Orthodox became suspect due to the Greek War of Independence.
Land conflict and reforms
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottoman government instituted the Tanzimat, a series of reforms intended to equalize the status of Ottoman subjects regardless of confession, a goal that was strongly opposed by Islamic clergy and Muslims in general. In reality, the Tanzimat failed to improve the condition of the Armenian peasantry in the eastern provinces, which regressed from 1860 onwards. What became known as in international diplomacy as the "Armenian Question" emerged from land disputes between Armenian peasants and Muslims in the eastern provinces as well as the inaccessibility of security and justice for non-Muslims. The Ottoman Land Code of 1858 enabled those already wealthy and powerful to register land and disputes were adjudicated in Islamic courts, which favored Muslims; in addition, many Armenian peasants now had to pay double taxation to both Kurdish landlords and the Ottoman government.
From the mid-nineteenth century, Armenians faced large-scale land usurpation as a consequence of the sedentarization of Kurdish tribes and arrival of Muslim refugees and immigrants (mainly Circassians), who were promised land. In 1876, when Abdul Hamid II came to power, the state began to confiscate Armenian-owned land in the eastern provinces and give it to Muslim immigrants, as part of a systematic policy to reduce the Armenian population of these areas. Armenians in the eastern provinces lived in semi-feudal conditions and commonly encountered forced labor, illegal taxation, and unpunished crimes including robberies, murders, and sexual assaults. The Armenian National Assembly documented the confiscation of 741,000 hectares (1,830,000 acres) of land in the decades prior to 1910. These conditions led to a substantial decline in the Armenian population of the Armenian Highlands; 300,000 Armenians emigrated abroad in the decades leading up to World War I while others moved to towns. A few Armenians joined revolutionary political parties in order to obtain improved conditions, of which the most influential was the Dashnaktsutyun, founded in 1890.
The Constitution of the Ottoman Empire, promulgated in 1876, was suspended the next year by Abdul Hamid after parliamentarians criticized his handling of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. During the war, Kurds massacred thousands of Armenians and destroyed dozens of their villages. Russia's decisive victory forced the Ottoman Empire to cede parts of eastern Anatolia, the Balkans, and Cyprus. At the 1878 Congress of Berlin, the Sublime Porte agreed to carry out reforms and guarantee the physical safety of its Armenian subjects, but there was no mechanism for enforcement; on the ground, conditions continued to worsen. As an object of international diplomacy, Armenians were used by the great powers for the first time to interfere in Ottoman politics. Although Armenians had long been considered the "loyal millet" in contrast to Greeks and other nationalities who had earlier challenged Ottoman rule, after 1878 Armenians ceased to be regarded as loyal and were instead constructed as subversive and ungrateful in the minds of Ottoman leaders.
In 1891, Abdul Hamid created the Hamidiye regiments from Kurdish tribes, allowing them to act with impunity against Armenians. From 1895 to 1896 there were widespread massacres in the Ottoman Empire; at least 100,000 Armenians were killed, as a result of attacks by Ottoman soldiers, crowds incited to violence, and Kurdish tribes. In addition, many Armenian villages were forcibly converted to Islam. The Ottoman state bore ultimate responsibility for the killings but, unlike the genocide of 1915–1916, the purpose of the massacres was not to eliminate the Armenian people but to violently restore the previous social order in which Christians would unquestionably accept Muslim supremacy and force Armenians to emigrate, therefore decreasing their numbers.
Young Turk Revolution
The despotic nature of Hamidian rule led to the formation of an opposition movement, the Young Turks, who sought to overthrow Abdul Hamid and restore the constitution. In Salonica, one faction of the Young Turks was the secret revolutionary organization Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) of which the charismatic conspirator Mehmed Talat (later Talat Pasha) emerged as a leading member. Although skeptical of a growing, exclusionary Turkish nationalism in the Young Turk movement, the Dashnaks decided to ally with the CUP in December 1907. In 1908, the Young Turk Revolution began with a string of assassinations by the CUP of leading Hamidian officials in Macedonia. Abdul Hamid's attempts to quell the rebellion were unsuccessful, and the capitol was threatened by invasion by military units controlled by CUP-supporting officers in Macedonia. Thus he was forced to reinstate the 1876 constitution and restore parliament, which was celebrated by Ottomans of all ethnicities and religions. Contrary to Armenian hopes, the Young Turks did not reverse the land usurpation of the previous decades.
Abdul Hamid attempted an unsuccessful countercoup in early 1909, supported by conservatives as well as some liberals who opposed the CUP's increasingly repressive governance. When news of the countercoup reached Adana, armed Muslims attacked the Armenian quarter and Armenians returned fire. Ottoman soldiers did not protect Armenians and instead armed the rioters. Between 20,000 and 25,000 people were killed in Adana and nearby towns, mostly Armenians. Unlike the Hamidian massacres, the events were not organized by the central government but instead instigated by local officials, intellectuals, and Islamic clerics, including CUP supporters in Adana. Although the massacres went unpunished, the Dashnaks kept faith that reforms were forthcoming until late 1912, when they appealed to the European powers. On 8 February 1914, under heavy international pressure, the CUP agreed to the 1914 Armenian reforms, never implemented due to World War I. CUP leaders feared that these reforms would lead to partition and cited them as a reason for the elimination of the Armenian population the following year.
The 1912 First Balkan War resulted in the loss of almost all of the empire's European territory and the mass expulsion of Muslims from the Balkans. Ottoman Muslim society was incensed by the atrocities committed against Balkan Muslims, intensifying anti-Christian sentiment and leading to a desire for revenge. In January 1913, the CUP launched another coup, installed a one-party state, and strictly repressed all real or perceived internal enemies. Although the Young Turk movement included a number of factions, by 1914 its most influential ideologues had rejected Ottoman multiculturalism in favor of pan-Turanism or pan-Islam, aiming to consolidate the empire by reducing the number of Christians and increasing the Muslim population. The Greek Orthodox, who heavily settled the Aegean coast, were considered a threat and 150,000 were forcibly deported in May and June 1914 through violence by Muslim militias secretly backed by the government. Muslim migrants were resettled in the depopulated villages, Talat explained, because they would have died if sent to the deserts of Syria and Iraq. The ethnic cleansing campaign was brought to an end in exchange for Greece's promise to remain neutral in the upcoming war. However, for Young Turks, it was not Greeks but Armenians who were considered the most "dangerous" non-Turkish community in the empire because their homeland in Anatolia was claimed as the last refuge of the Turkish nation.
Decision and early actions
Entry into World War I
In August 1914, CUP representatives appeared at an Dashnak conference demanding that in the event of war with Russia, the Dashnaks incite Russian Armenians to intervene on the Ottoman side. Instead, the delegates resolved that Armenians should fight for the countries in which they were citizens. During its preparations for war, the Ottoman government released thousands of criminals from prison, recruiting them to join the paramilitary Special Organization, which initially focused on stirring up revolts among Muslims behind Russian lines beginning in mid-1914. On 29 October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers by launching a surprise attack on Russian ports in the Black Sea.
Wartime requisitions, often corrupt and arbitrary, were used to target Greeks and Armenians in particular. Armenian leaders urged young men to accept conscription into the army, but difficult conditions and concern for their families prompted many soldiers to desert regardless of their ethnicity or religion. During the Ottoman invasion of Russian and Persian territory, the Special Organization massacred local Armenians and Syriac Christians. Beginning in November 1914, provincial governors of Van, Bitlis, and Erzurum sent many telegrams to the central government pressing for more severe measures against the Armenians, both regionally and throughout the empire. These pressures played a key role in the intensification of anti-Armenian persecution and met a favorable response already before 1915.
Minister of War Enver Pasha took over personal command of the Ottoman armies invading Russian territory and tried to encircle and destroy the Russian Caucasus Army at the Battle of Sarikamish, fought from December 1914 to January 1915. Unprepared for the harsh winter conditions, his forces were almost completely destroyed, with a loss of more than 60,000 men. The retreating Ottoman army indiscriminately destroyed dozens of Ottoman Armenian villages in Bitlis Vilayet, massacring their inhabitants. Returning to Constantinople, Enver Pasha publicly blamed his defeat on Armenians in the region having actively sided with the Russians, which became a consensus among CUP leaders. Claims of Armenian revolts were used to deflect blame for the Ottoman military's failures, especially Sarikamish. Historian Taner Akçam concluded that "the allegations of an Armenian revolt in the documents... have no basis in reality but were deliberately fabricated".
Armenian civil servants were dismissed from their posts in late 1914 and early 1915. On 25 February 1915, Enver Pasha ordered the removal of all non-Muslims serving in the Ottoman forces from their posts; they were to be disarmed and transferred to labor battalions. Beginning in early 1915 these men were systematically executed, although many skilled workers were spared until 1916. Any local incident or discovery of arms in the possession of Armenians was cited as evidence for a coordinated conspiracy against the empire. By mid-April, the Ottoman government had decided to remove Armenians from militarily sensitive areas. Historian Ronald Grigor Suny states, "Deportations ostensibly taken for military reasons rapidly radicalized monstrously into an opportunity to rid Anatolia once and for all of those peoples perceived to be an imminent existential threat to the future of the empire."
The province of Van descended into lawlessness by the end of 1914, and massacres of Armenian men were occurring in the Başkale area from December. Dashnak leaders attempted to keep the situation calm, urging Armenians to tolerate localized massacres because even justifiable self-defense could lead to a generalized massacre. The governor, Cevdet Bey, ordered the Armenians of Van to hand over their arms on 18 April, creating a dilemma for the Armenians: if they obeyed, they expected to be killed, but if they refused, it would provide a pretext for massacres elsewhere. Other Dashnak leaders having been killed, Aram Manukian organized the fortification of the Armenian quarter of Van and defended it from the Ottoman attack that began on 20 April. While the siege went on, Armenians in surrounding villages were massacred at Cevdet's orders. Russian forces liberated Van on 18 May, finding 55,000 corpses in the province, about half its prewar Armenian population.
Most historians date the final decision to exterminate the Armenian population to the end of March or early April 1915. During the night of 23–24 April 1915, hundreds of Armenian political activists, intellectuals, and community leaders were rounded up in Constantinople and across the empire, at the orders of Talat Pasha, including many of his former political allies. This order, intended to eliminate the Armenian leadership and anyone capable of organizing resistance, resulted in the torture and eventually murder of most of those arrested, who were forced to confess to a nonexistent Armenian conspiracy against the empire. The same day, Talat also ordered the shuttering of all Armenian political organizations and diverted the Armenians who had previously been removed from Alexandretta, Dörtyol, Adana, Hadjin, Zeytun, and Sis to the Syrian Desert as opposed to the previously planned destination of central Anatolia, where they would likely have survived.
In the last week of April and early May, Armenians were systematically deported from Erzurum, an eastern province under attack by the Russian army; since the men had already been drafted and those who wished had already fled across the Russian border, almost all the remaining population consisted of women and children. The deportees offered no significant resistance even as their caravans were looted, individuals murdered, young women raped and children forcibly abducted, mostly by local Kurds. Of 40,000 Armenians deported from Erzurum, it is estimated that fewer than 200 reached Deir ez-Zor.
On 23 May, Talaat Pasha ordered the deportation of the entire Armenian millet to Deir ez-Zor, beginning with the northeastern provinces. The Allies issued a condemnation of Ottoman crimes against Armenians on 24 May, leading the CUP to hastily attempt to disguise the nature of their actions. On 29 May, the CUP Central Committee passed the Temporary Law of Deportation ("Tehcir Law"), authorizing the Ottoman government and military to deport anyone deemed to be threat to national security. Deportation amounted to a death sentence; the authorities planned for and intended the death of the deportees. The United States ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, stated: "When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact."
Ottoman records show that the government's goal was to reduce the population of Armenians to no more than 5 to 10 percent in any part of the empire, both in the places from which Armenians were deported and the destination areas. This goal could not be accomplished without mass murder. Deportation was only carried out behind the front lines, where no active rebellion existed. Armenians who lived in the war zone were instead killed in massacres.
In August 1915, deportation was extended to western Anatolia and European Turkey; these deportees were often allowed to travel by rail. Areas with a very low Armenian population and some cities were partially spared from deportation.
Overall, national, regional, and local levels of governance cooperated willingly in the perpetration of genocide. Some Ottoman politicians opposed the genocide; they faced dismissal or assassination. The government decreed that any Muslim who harbored an Armenian against the will of the authorities would be executed immediately.
Although the majority of able-bodied men had been drafted into the army, others remained if they were too old or young to serve, had deserted, or had paid the exemption tax. Unlike in the Hamidian massacres or Adana events, massacres were not usually committed in the Armenian villages to avoid destruction of property or unauthorized looting. Instead, the men were usually separated from the rest of the deportees during the first few days, and executed. Few resisted as they believed it would put their families in greater danger. Boys above the age of twelve (sometimes fifteen) were treated as adult men. Execution sites were chosen due to proximity to major roads but with rugged terrain, lakes, wells, or cisterns to facilitate the concealment or disposal of the corpses.
More than 500,000 Armenians passed through the Firincilar plain south of Malatya. Arriving convoys, having passed through the plain and approaching the Kahta highlands, would find gorges already filled with corpses from previous convoys—one of the deadliest areas during the genocide. The Kurdish Reşvan tribe participated in these killings. Thousands of Armenians were killed near Lake Hazar, pushed by paramilitary units off the cliffs into valleys from which the only escape was into the lake. Many others were trapped in valleys of tributaries of the Tigris, Euphrates, or Murat River by members of the Special Organization; their bodies were thrown into the river. These corpses arrived in Upper Mesopotamia before the first of the living deportees. Armenian men could be reliably drowned by being tied together back-to-back before being thrown in the water, a method that was not used on women.
Disposal of Armenian bodies on rivers was viewed by the authorities as a cheap and efficient method, but it gave rise to widespread pollution downstream. So many bodies floated down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that they sometimes blocked the rivers and needed to be cleared with explosives. Other rotting corpses became stuck to the banks of the rivers while some traveled as far as the Persian Gulf. Long after the massacres, the rivers remained polluted and Arab populations downstream were affected by epidemics.
Women and children, who made up the great majority of deportees, were not usually executed immediately but instead subjected to hard marches through mountainous terrain without food and water. Those who could not keep up were left to die or killed with a gunshot. Some were forced to walk as far as 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) in the summer heat during 1915. In order to preserve families, older women would give away their food to younger family members and mothers would give away their daughters before their sons. When there were no girls left, mothers would give their lives to protect at least one male descendant.
Tens of thousands of Armenians died along the roads and their bodies were buried hastily or, more often, left unburied beside the roads. Key roads threatened to become impassible due to the contamination of corpses and typhus epidemics spread in nearby villages; the Ottoman government also wanted the corpses cleared to prevent photographs of its atrocities. The Ottoman government ordered that the corpses be cleared as soon as possible, but its instructions were not always followed.
Young women and girls were often appropriated as house servants or sex slaves. Some boys were abducted to work as unfree laborers for Muslims. Marriage of Armenian females into Muslim households was not opposed by the CUP as the women were forced to convert to Islam and lost their Armenian identity. However, some Muslims opposed the genocidal policy and viewed this as a way to save someone from death.
Military commanders told their men to "do to [the women] whatever you wish", resulting in widespread rapes. Deportees were displayed naked in Damascus and sold as sex slaves in some areas, including Mosul according to the report of the German consul there, constituting an important source of income for accompanying soldiers. Historian Hilmar Kaiser states that for Armenians, "Rape meant an irreparable transgenerational loss of self-esteem, or 'honor'". Although Armenian women tried various means of avoiding sexual violence, often suicide was the only form of escape available to them.
The first arrivals in mid-1915 were accommodated in Aleppo, but from mid-November the convoys were denied access to the city and redirected along the Baghdad Railway or the Euphrates towards Mosul. The first transit camp was established at Sibil, east of Aleppo; one convoy would arrive each day while another would depart for Meskene or Deir ez-Zor. There were 25 concentration camps in Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. Some were only temporary transit points. Others, such as Radjo, Katma, and Azaz, were briefly used as mass graves and then vacated by autumn 1915. Camps such as Lale, Tefridje, Dipsi, Del-El, and Ra's al-'Ayn were built specifically for those whose life expectancy was just a few days. The concentration camps were directed by Şükrü Kaya, who was close to Talat Pasha.
In general, Armenians were denied food and water during and after their forced march to the Syrian desert; as a result, many died of starvation, exhaustion, or disease, especially dysentery, typhus, and pneumonia. In some cases local officials gave Armenians some food, and in others they were able to obtain food and water in exchange for bribes. Aid organizations were oficially barred from providing food to the deportees, although some circumvented these prohibitions. Survivors testified that some Armenians refused aid as they believed it would only prolong their suffering. By October 1915, some 870,000 deportees had reached Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. Most were held in one camp for a few weeks, then transferred to another one, and so forth until there were very few survivors left. This strategy physically weakened the Armenians spread disease, so much that some camps were shut down in late 1915 due to the threat of disease spreading to the Ottoman military.
Some Armenian women were married to Muslims; such marriages were registered without regard for the previous husband. Childless Turks, Arabs, and Jews would come to the camp to buy Armenian children from their parents; thousands of children were sold in this manner.
Armenian ability to adapt to their circumstances and survive was greater than expected. Due to adaptation and clandestine Western aid, at the beginning of 1916 some 500,000 deportees were alive. The Ottoman government considered that too many Armenians had survived the death marches and therefore organized a second wave of massacres in mid-1916. Around 200,000 Armenians were killed, many on remote areas near Deir ez-Zor and on parts of the Khabur valley where their bodies would not create a public health hazard. Intentional, state-sponsored killing of Armenians mostly ceased by the end of January 1917, although sporadic massacres and starvation continued to claim Armenian lives.
Confiscation of property
The campaign to Turkify the economy began in June 1914 with a law that obliged many ethnic minority merchants to hire Muslims. Businesses that belonged to deported Armenians were taken over by Muslims who were often ignorant of how to run them, leading to economic difficulties. On 13 September 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the "Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation," formalizing commissions to redistribute property confiscated from Armenians. Confiscated property was often used to fund the expense of deporting the Armenian population and resettling Muslim immigration, as well as for army, militia, and other government spending. The genocide had catastrophic effects on the Ottoman economy; Muslims were disadvantaged by the removal of skilled professionals and entire districts fell into famine due to the deportation of their farmers.
The mass confiscation of Armenian properties was an important factor in forming the economic basis of the Turkish Republic while endowing Turkey's economy with capital. The mass confiscation of properties provided the opportunity for ordinary lower class Turks (i.e. peasantry, soldiers, and laborers) to rise to the ranks of the middle class. Contemporary Turkish historian Uğur Ümit Üngör asserts that "the elimination of the Armenian population left the state an infrastructure of Armenian property, which was used for the progress of Turkish (settler) communities. In other words: the construction of an étatist Turkish "national economy" was unthinkable without the destruction and expropriation of Armenians."
The premeditated destruction of objects of Armenian cultural, religious, historical and communal heritage was yet another key purpose of both the genocide itself and the post-genocidal campaign of denial. Armenian churches and monasteries were destroyed or changed into mosques, Armenian cemeteries flattened, and, in several cities (e.g., Van), Armenian quarters were demolished. In 1914, the Armenian Patriarch in Constantinople presented a list of the Armenian holy sites under his supervision. The list contained 2,549 religious places of which 200 were monasteries while 1,600 were churches. In 1974 UNESCO stated that after 1923, out of 913 Armenian historical monuments left in Eastern Turkey, 464 have vanished completely, 252 are in ruins, and 197 are in need of repair (in stable conditions).
The genocide reduced the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire by 90 percent. The exact number of Armenians who died is not known and impossible to determine, but most estimates are between 800,000 and over 1 million for the entire period 1915 to 1923. Historians estimate that 1.5 to 2 million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, of which 800,000 to 1.2 million were deported during the genocide. Talat Pasha's estimates, published in 2007, gave an incomplete total of 924,158, which officials' notes suggested to increase by 30 percent. The following estimate of 1.2 million deported is in line with estimates by Johannes Lepsius and Arnold J. Toynbee. Based on contemporary estimates, Akçam estimated that by late 1916, only 200,000 deported Armenians were still alive. Death rates varied widely by province. While in Bitlis and Trabizond 99% of the Armenian population vanished from the statistical record between 1915 and 1917, in Adana 38% were missing and the others survived in another province or were not deported at all. Suny states that "The twentieth century had not yet witnessed such a colossal loss of life directed at a particular people by a government."
On 24 May 1915, the Triple Entente (Russia, Britain, and France) sent a diplomatic communiqué to the Sublime Porte condemning the Ottoman "crimes against humanity" and threatening to "hold personally responsible for those crimes all members of the Ottoman government, as well as those of its agents who will be found implicated in similar massacres".
Imperial Germany was a military ally of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Germany was well aware of the genocide while it was ongoing, and its failure to intervene has been a source of controversy. Suny states, "The best word to describe the German role is complicity, rather than initiation, participation, or responsibility."
American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief
The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR, later called American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACRNE) and also known as "Near East Relief"), established in September 1915, was a charitable organization established to relieve the suffering of the peoples of the Near East. The organization was championed by American ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. Morgenthau's dispatches on the mass slaughter of Armenians galvanized much support for the organization.
In its first year, the ACRNE cared for 132,000 Armenian orphans from Tiflis, Yerevan, Constantinople, Sivas, Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem. A relief organization for refugees in the Middle East helped donate over $102 million (budget $117,000,000) [1930 value of dollar] to Armenians both during and after the war.:336 Between 1915 and 1930, ACRNE distributed humanitarian relief to locations across a wide geographical range, eventually spending over ten times its original estimate and helping around 2,000,000 refugees.
Following the genocide, remaining Armenians organized a coordinated effort known as vorpahavak (lit. 'the gathering of orphans') to reclaim kidnapped Armenian women and children, sometimes by force. These efforts began in late 1917 following the British capture of Arab areas and in Constantinople after the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918. Traditional patrilineality was abandoned so that these children could be classified as Armenian. Although the postwar Ottoman government passed laws mandating the return of stolen Armenian property, in practice, 90 percent of Armenians were barred from returning to their homes, especially in Eastern Anatolia.
At least 200,000 people, mostly refugees from the genocide, died from starvation or disease in the newly independent First Republic of Armenia, in 1918, in part due to a Turkish blockade of food supplies. Food shortages were exacerbated by deliberate destruction of crops in Eastern Armenia by Turkish troops both before and after the armistice. An estimated 200,000 Armenians were killed during the Turkish occupation of the Caucasus.
Kieser states that in early 1919, "Kemal Pasha resumed, with ex-CUP forces, domestic war against Greek and Armenian rivals".
Armenian survivors were left mainly in three locations. In the Republic of Turkey, about 100,000 Armenians lived in Constantinople and another 200,000, largely women and children who had been subject to forced conversion and marriage or adoption, lived in the provinces. While Armenians in the capital faced discrimination, they were able to maintain their cultural identity, unlike those elsewhere in Turkey; girls outside of Istanbul continued to face kidnapping after 1923. About 295,000 Armenians had fled to Russian-controlled territory during the genocide and ended up mostly in Soviet Armenia. An estimated 200,000 Armenian refugees lived in the Middle East, primarily orphans who had been forced to convert to Islam and later returned to the Armenian community.
Following the armistice, Allied governments championed the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes. Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha publicly recognized that 800,000 Ottoman citizens of Armenian origin had died as a result of state policy and was a key figure and initiator of the Ottoman Special Military Tribunal. The court-martials relied almost entirely on sworn testimony from Muslims and documentary evidence. Indictments focused on the crimes of "deportation and murder", which implicated all cabinet ministers, the army, and the CUP. The court ruled that "the crime of mass murder" of Armenians was "organized and carried out by the top leaders of CUP". Eighteen perpetrators were sentenced to death, of whom only three were ultimately executed as the remainder had fled and were tried in absentia.
Prosecution was hampered by a widespread belief among Turkish Muslims that the actions against the Armenians were not punishable crimes. The Turkish nationalist movement opposed prosecution and included many prominent Unionists in its ranks. Increasingly, the crimes were considered necessary and justified to establish a Turkish nation-state. On 31 March 1923, the nationalist movement passed a law granting immunity to CUP war criminals. Sèvres was annulled by the Treaty of Lausanne later that year, which established Turkey's current borders and provided for the expulsion of the Greek population. Its minority protection provisions had no enforcement mechanism and were disregarded in practice. Therefore, Kieser concludes that by agreeing to the treaty, the international community implicitly sanctioned the Armenian Genocide.
On 15 March 1921, Talat Pasha was assassinated in Berlin as part of Operation Nemesis, the 1920s covert operation of the Dashnaks to kill the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. His assassin, Soghomon Tehlirian, admitted to the killing and was tried in a sensational media event which focused on Talat's responsibility for genocide. The defense argued that Tehlirian was "the avenger of his people"; the jury acquitted him and the facts of the genocide were recognized across Europe.
According to historian Margaret Lavinia Anderson, the Armenian Genocide had reached an "iconic status" as "the apex of horrors conceivable" prior to World War II. The genocide was described by contemporaries as "the greatest crime of the ages" and "the blackest page in modern history". In Germany, the Nazis viewed Kemalist Turkey as a post-genocidal paradise and, according to historian Stefan Ihrig, "incorporated the Armenian Genocide, its 'lessons', tactics, and 'benefits', into their own worldview".
No Turkish government has acknowledged that a crime was committed against the Armenian people and all major political parties in Turkey except the Peoples' Democratic Party support Armenian Genocide denial. From the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the genocide has been viewed as a necessity and raison d'état. Hans-Lukas Kieser and other historians argue that "the single most important reason for this inability to accept culpability is the centrality of the Armenian massacres for the formation of the Turkish nation-state". Historian Erik-Jan Zürcher argues that "a serious attempt to distance the republic from the genocide could have destabilized the ruling coalition on which the state depended for its stability". The word "Armenian" became one of the worst insults in the Turkish language.
Most Turkish citizens support the state's policies of denial. According to Halil Karaveli, "the word [genocide] incites strong, emotional reactions among Turks from all walks of society and of every ideological inclination". However, many Kurds, who themselves have suffered political repression in Turkey, have recognized and condemned the genocide. For decades, Turkish school textbooks omitted any mention of Armenians as part of Ottoman history. More recently Armenians have been presented as enemies who committed genocide against Turks.
Turkey's century-long effort to deny the Armenian Genocide is an important aspect of its foreign policy. According to Colin Tatz, "No other nation in history has so aggressively sought the suppression of a slice of its history". Its efforts to prevent any recognition or mention of the genocide in foreign countries have included millions of dollars in lobbying, withdrawal of ambassadors, intimidation and threats, and suggesting that Turkish Jews would not be safe if the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum covered the Armenian Genocide. Historian Donald Bloxham recognizes that since "denial has always been accompanied by rhetoric of Armenian treachery, aggression, criminality, and territorial ambition, it actually enunciates an ongoing if latent threat of Turkish 'revenge'". Akçam states: "If a society, if a state, doesn’t acknowledge its wrongdoing in the past, this means there is a potential there, always, that it can do it again."
In 1965, the 50th anniversary of the genocide, a 24-hour mass protest was initiated in Yerevan demanding recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Soviet authorities.:88–108 A memorial was completed two years later, at Tsitsernakaberd above Yerevan. Each 24 April, hundreds of thousands of people walk to the monument, which is the official memorial of the genocide, and lay flowers around the eternal flame.
Armenia has been involved in a protracted ethnic-territorial conflict with Azerbaijan, a Turkic state, since Azerbaijan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The conflict has featured massacres and ethnic cleansing by both sides. Some foreign policy observers and historians have suggested that Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have sought to portray the modern conflict as a continuation of the Armenian Genocide, in order to influence modern policy-making in the region. During the conflict, the Azeri and Armenian governments regularly accused each other of plotting genocide, although these claims have been treated skeptically by outside observers.
As a response to continuing denial by the Turkish state, many activists from Armenian Diaspora communities have pushed for formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide from various governments around the world. From the 1970s onwards, many countries avoided recognition due to concerns that this move would harm their relations with Turkey. In late 2019, in the wake of the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria, both houses of United States Congress voted to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, soon thereafter passing sanctions against Turkey. In 2015, Pope Francis described the Armenian Genocide as the "first genocide of the 20th century", causing a diplomatic row with Turkey. He also called on all heads of state and international organizations to recognize "the truth of what transpired and oppose such crimes without ceding to ambiguity or compromise."
After meeting Armenian survivors in the Middle East, Austrian–Jewish writer Franz Werfel wrote The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933), a fictionalized retelling of the successful Armenian uprising in Musa Dagh, as a warning of the dangers of Nazism. According to Ihrig, the book has become one of the most important works of twentieth century literature to address genocide and "is still considered essential reading for Armenians worldwide". Other novels about the Armenian Genocide include Edgar Hilsenrath's German-language The Story of the Last Thought, and Polish Stefan Żeromski's 1925 The Spring to Come. The genocide became a central theme in English-language Armenian-American literature.
The first feature film about the Armenian Genocide, a Hollywood production titled Ravished Armenia, was released in 1919. It was produced by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief and based on the account of survivor Aurora Mardiganian, who played herself. The paintings of Armenian-American Arshile Gorky, a seminal figure of Abstract Expressionism, are considered to have been influenced by the suffering and loss of the period. In 1915, at age 10, Gorky fled his native Van and escaped to Russian-Armenia with his mother and three sisters, only to have his mother die of starvation in Yerevan in 1919. His two The Artist and His Mother paintings are based on a photograph with his mother taken in Van. More than 200 memorials have been erected in 32 countries to commemorate the genocide.
Archives and historiography
The genocide is extensively documented in the Ottoman archives as well as those of Germany, Austria, the United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. There are also hundreds of eyewitness accounts from Western missionaries and Armenian survivors. Despite systematic efforts to purge incriminating material, the Ottoman archives still contain many documents that contradict denial of the genocide. According to Akçam, there is a misconception that Ottoman archives and those of the Entente powers tell two different, mutually incompatible histories, but in fact give an account of the same events from different perspectives.
Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide in 1944, became interested in war crimes after reading about the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian for the assassination of Talat Pasha. He recognized the fate of the Armenians as one of the main cases of genocide in the twentieth century. Academic study of the genocide began in the 1980s. The Armenian Genocide is the second-most studied genocide in history after the Holocaust. Almost all historians and scholars outside of Turkey recognize the destruction of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, as well as an increasing number of Turkish scholars.
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