April 24, 1915 – Beginning of the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide – the first genocide of the 20th Century, occurred when approximately two million Armenians living in Turkey were eliminated from their historic homeland through forced deportations and massacres between 1915-1918.

As “The New York Times” reports in its overview of the Armenian genocide of 1915:

On the eve of World War I, there were two million Armenians in the declining Ottoman Empire. By 1922, there were fewer than 400,000. The others — some 1.5 million — were killed in what historians consider a genocide.”

The “Young Turk” movement seized power in the Ottoman Empire in 1908. In March of 1914, the Young Turks entered World War I on the side of Germany, and were defeated by Russian forces at the battle of Sarikemish. The Turks blamed the loss on the Armenians, who the Turks claimed sided with the Russians. The Turks were also interested in eastward expansion, and the historical homeland of the Armenian people was in their path. Third, the Young Turk movement was accompanied by a rise in Islamic fundamentalism, and the Christian Armenians were considered infidels. Armenians, like the Jews in Europe, were comparatively better educated and more prosperous than their neighbors, and this fact also created envy, greed, and resentment.

Founders of the Young Turk Movement in 1915

Founders of the Young Turk Movement in 1915

There were precedents for scapegoating the Armenians and staging pogroms against them: massacres took place in 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1909.

After the Sarikemish loss, the Turks began another movement against the Armenians, beginning with what has been described by historians as a “decapitation strike,” intended to weaken the Armenian population by destroying its leadership.

On this day in history, the order was given by the Minister of the Interior to arrest the first wave of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople. Eventually, the total number of arrests and deportations amounted to 2,345. These detainees were later relocated within the Ottoman Empire and most of them were ultimately killed.

The Turks then disarmed the entire Armenian population under the pretext that the people were naturally sympathetic toward Christian Russia. The 40,000-some Armenian men were serving in the Turkish Army were also disarmed and put into slave labor battalions, which had a high death rate.

The decision to annihilate the entire population came directly from the ruling triumvirate of ultra-nationalist Young Turks, who transmitted their orders to all provincial governors via coded telegrams. Mass arrests and killings began with Armenian men, and then continued with the weaker and frightened women, children, and elderly. As with the Nazi practice only two decades later, they were ordered to pack a few belongings and told they were being relocated to a non-military zone for their own safety. They were actually being taken on death marches heading south toward the Syrian Desert.

Armenians who escaped from the Turkish starvation zone approaching the British lines for protection, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Armenians who escaped from the Turkish starvation zone approaching the British lines for protection, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

It is estimated that one and a half million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923.

To commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide, April 24 is observed as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. First observed in 1919 on the four-year anniversary of the events in Constantinople, the date is generally considered the date on which the genocide began. The Armenian Genocide has since been commemorated annually on the same day, which has become a national holiday in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and is observed by the Armenian diaspora around the world.

You can read a more thorough history of the genocide at the website of the United Human Rights Council, here.

On the April 23, 2014, Turkey’s Prime Minister offered his “condolences” to Armenians who had family members that died during what the Prime Minister described as “the events of 1915”.

On the April 23, 2014, Turkey’s Prime Minister offered his “condolences” to Armenians who had family members that died during what the Prime Minister described as “the events of 1915”.

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