The Armenian Genocide was the mass murder of at least 664,000 and up to 1.2 million Armenians by the nationalist ruling party of the Ottoman Empire , the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP, also known as the Young Turks), between 1915 and 1916.
The Armenians were a primarily Christian ethnic group who had lived in Eastern Anatolia (modern day Eastern Turkey) for centuries. At the turn of the twentieth century, approximately two million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, primarily in rural areas although there were also small communities in large urban areas such as Constantinople. While life was often unpredictable and unjust, under the empire’s millet system in the nineteenth century, the group did enjoy significant administrative and social autonomy, and had their own language and church.
As the First World War loomed, the Ottoman Empire was in a state of decline and as a result had become increasingly polarised . Between 1912 and 1913, the Empire lost 83% of its European territories during the largely unsuccessful Balkan Wars. This led to increase in anti-Christian sentiment and amplified the nationalist desire of the Ottoman leaders to create an ethnically homogenous community.
It was hoped that this community would then strengthen the empire through shared beliefs and, as a result, ensure its survival. As the majority of the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire were Muslim, the Christian Armenians were increasingly seen as outsiders and a threat to the harmony of the empire.
During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire joined forces with Germany and Austria-Hungary but suffered several significant defeats and quickly retreated.
To conceal their failure from the public, the Ottoman leaders openly blamed their defeat on Armenians in the region and stated that they had betrayed their empire by fighting for and helping the enemy forces.
This deliberate falsehood acted as a catalyst and justification for the genocide of the Armenian people, whereby the CUP government used the emergency wartime conditions to create a more ethnically homogenous community.
Persecution and genocide
As a result of this, Armenian soldiers were catagorised as a direct threat to the Ottoman war effort, removed from the Ottoman army, and massacred. The intellectual elite of Armenian society concentrated in areas such as Constantinople were also rounded up, imprisoned and later murdered.
The remaining Armenians, primarily women, the elderly and children, were relocated from strategically important areas and forcibly marched to the Deir ez-Zor by Ottoman forces and local collaborators. Little to no food and water was provided on these ‘death marches’ – despite the length of the journey – and those who could not keep up or continue were executed. As a result of these conditions, thousands died.
Some Armenians in low-density areas were able to escape execution by converting to Islam (as long as the number of Armenians in the area remained under 5-10% of the total population). Young girls and women were also occasionally spared for forced labour as domestic servants, to become wives in Muslim households or to be used as sex slaves.
Those who survived the death marches were imprisoned in camps, such as at Deir ez-Zor or Ras al-Ayn, where conditions were extremely poor and many thousands died of disease and malnutrition. Between March and October 1916, there was another wave of executions, and as many as 200,000 more people were murdered.
In total, by 1917, at least 664,000 and up to 1.2 million Armenians been massacred.
Turkey and the Armenian Genocide
Although officially catagorised as a genocide by many scholars, countries, and institutions across the world and according to the creator of the term ‘genocide’, Raphael Lemkin, the current Turkish state reject the use of the term genocide to describe the event.
While recognising that mass deportations of Armenians took place during the First World War, Turkey continues to insist that these were necessary security measures as a result of Armenian treachery and violence and do not amount to state-sponsored genocide or mass extermination.
Source: The Holocaust Explained