The Armenian Genocide and Turkish denial of it.
Updated: Apr 24
The annual commemoration day for the genocide is April 24th, 1915, the date held by many scholars to mark the start Armenian Genocide which began with the arrests of Armenian political and communal leaders in Istanbul and throughout the Ottoman Empire. Between 1- 1.5 million Armenian Christians died in 1915-16 under the auspices of the Ottoman state, directed by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). To this day, the Turkish state and government has denied that any genocide ever took place, and instead claim that the Armenian deaths were caused as a result of a war between them and the Ottoman armies during WW1.
The Armenian Genocide that took place during WW1 was not the first time where Armenians were mass murdered by the Ottoman empire. At the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II – obsessed with loyalty above all, and infuriated by the nascent Armenian campaign to win basic civil rights – declared that he would solve the “Armenian question” once and for all. “I will soon settle those Armenians,” he told a reporter in 1890. “I will give them a box on the ear which will make them…relinquish their revolutionary ambitions.” This “box on the ear” took the form of a state-sanctioned pogroms and widespread massacres that took place between the years 1894 and 1896. Estimates differ on how many Armenians were killed, but documentation of the pogroms, which became known as the "Hamidian massacres", placed the figures at between 100,000 and 300,000.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
During WW1, Armenian volunteer units served in the Russian army which was at war with the Ottoman empire, and Armenian nationalists attacked Turkish towns and villages and caused much destruction and deaths. Despite that, most Armenians in Turkey remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman authorities at that time were headed by the "Young Turk" triumvirate composed of Enver Pasha, Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, and Navy Minister Djemal Pasha. They decided, on the grounds that some Armenians were collaborating with the Russians, that the entire Armenian population constituted a behind-the-lines threat to the Ottoman forces in the field and ordered collective reprisals against the entire Armenian population.
The "Young Turk" triumvirate, the "Three Pashas": Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha.
Beginning in early 1915, the Ottoman regime instituted a systematic policy of forced evacuation of Armenians from eastern and southern Anatolia. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were uprooted from their villages and ethnically cleansed from Turkey and sent south toward the Syrian desert, in what amounted to a death march. Countless numbers perished of starvation and illness along the deportation routes. The ensuing weeks and months saw an ever-widening circle of deportations of Armenian communities from Ottoman territories. The ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population was followed by widespread massacres which helped terrorize the Armenians and make them flee their towns and villages fearing for their lives
Armenians being deported from their homes.
Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacres. Barely twenty percent of the Armenian deportees reached their stipulated desert destinations in Syria and Mesopotamia, the rest died along the way. Those who did manage to survive were subjected to another decimation of their numbers in concentration centres located in a barren desert, where most of them perished from diseases, thirst, starvation, and in a further round of massacres during 1916. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, between 1 - 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country.
Newspaper headlines from those times.
To this day the Turkish government refuses to take any responsibility for the ethnic cleansing and the subsequent genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians. In 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said "Our attitude on the Armenian issue has been clear from the beginning. We will never accept the accusations of genocide". The Turkish government does not deny that many Armenians were killed by the Ottoman military, but disputes the death toll, and emphasizes that there were deaths on both sides during World War I. Turkey claims that the Armenian deaths were the result of the turmoil of World War I and the result of the fighting between Ottoman armies against Russia, Armenian volunteer units, and the Armenian nationalist militia.
The irony here that non other than the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who personally had no part or role in the Armenian genocide, has admitted to deportations and massacres the Young Turks have unleashed on the Armenians. In an LA Times Interview (via written correspondence) on August 1st, 1926 he stated that “These leftovers from the former Young Turk Party who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred.” What's more, On Nov. 4, 1918, the newly constituted Ottoman-Turkish Parliament discussed at length the crimes committed by the Young Turk government, after a motion was presented stating: “A population of 1 million people guilty of nothing except belonging to the Armenian nation were massacred and exterminated, including even women and children.” In response, Interior Minister Ali Fethi Okyar declared: “It is the intention of the government to cure every single injustice done up until now, as far as the means allow, to make possible the return to their homes of those sent into exile, and to compensate for their material loss as far as possible.” The Armenian Genocide is almost unanimously acknowledged as a historical fact by historians and genocide scholars alike, and the only countries in the world who deny it are Turkey and its close friend and ally Azerbaijan. Bibliography- William L. Cleveland , "A History of the Modern Middle East." Eugene Rogan, "The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East ." Ayhan Aktar, "Debating the Armenian Massacres in the Last Ottoman Parliament, November – December 1918"
Patrick Balfour Kinross, "Ataturk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal, Father of Modern Turkey." The International Association of Genocide Scholars.