By: Rachel Lyle, June 2nd, 2017
Between the years of 1914 and 1916 between 1 million and 1.5 million people were killed in what is now known as the Armenian Genocide. As given in the title those that were killed were Armenian citizens who lived, at the time, in the Ottoman empire. This mass killing was government organized for reasons of racism as well as to prevent the disintegration and division of the Ottoman empire and supposedly to prevent all out and total war in the empire.
Turks and Muslims were the dominant culture and race in the Ottoman empire with it having many minority groups including the Armenians (Pg. 42). Due to this the Armenians were considered inferior and the turks and the Muslims treated as superior in many ways. They were allowed to practice their religions and cultures but since they were considered inferior to the Muslims they had many civic rights denied to them and religious restrictions placed on them as well as having many taxes placed on them that were not placed on the Muslims (Pgs. 42-43).
In the words of John Cox, “The Ottoman Empire was labeled ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the 1850s by the Russian tsar, a fierce rival of the Ottomans whose empire was hardly an exemplar of good health.” (Pg. 43). The empire at this point was crumbling and disintegrating, and they were not able to keep up with the modernization that was taking place throughout the rest of Europe at this time. They were not capable of the same political, industrial, and social advancements that the rest of Europe could make (Pg. 44). A few years later, “The hopes of Turkish reformers, which had been raised by the limited progress of the Tanzimat, were dashed when Abdul Hamid II proclaimed himself sultan in 1878 and abrogated the 1876 constitution. As sultan, or head of state, Hamid would preside over an oppressive, autocratic regime until 1908. Hamid was deeply paranoid, moreover.” (Pg. 44). In other words, for all intents and purposes he created a dictatorship of which he was the head.
This was the point at which the hatred for the Armenians truly started, “Hamid harbored a pathological hatred of the Armenians and instituted policies that set precedents for the events that would unfold during World War I…..In a characteristic episode, customs officials, following the sultan’s dictates, seized a Bible from a visiting American missionary in 1899 and ‘cut the maps out of his Bible because the name “Armenia” appeared in them.’” (Pg. 44).
Even before what is considered the Armenian Genocide there were many mass killings of Armenians, “Hamid earned the sobriquet “the Red Sultan” for presiding over a series of massacres between 1894 and 1896 that claimed more than 200,000 Armenian victims and helped paved the way, organizationally and psychologically, for the genocide to come…..By the end of 1896, some 2,500 villages and towns lay in ruins, and more than 600 churches and monasteries had been destroyed.” (Pg. 46). Many Armenians attempts uprisings and revolutions against the government but they were all put down by the government and resulted in more and more mass killings. This mass killing later became known as “The Adana Massacre.”
Shortly after this the Ottoman empire fought a series of wars which caused the empire to crumble and dissolve even further. They kept getting increasingly deeper and deeper into debt and disintegrating further and further. This continued until 1909 when a group who called themselves “The Young Turks” led a revolution and took over control of the government. The three brothers, Talat, Jemal, and Enver Pasha, who were the heads of the “Young Turks” organization were then instituted and named as the three heads of state, the minister of the interior, the minister of the navy, and the war minister, in an attempt to build a modernized and westernized republic. This group was very racism against those not Turkish especially the Armenians. It was under the rule of the “Young Turks” that the Armenian Genocide took place, “In late September 1914, roughly seven weeks after the outbreak of the European war, the Ottoman government conscripted battle-age Armenian men into the army, with a view toward quickly forcing them into labor units.” (Pg. 53).
From these labor units it quickly escalated to genocide, “In late February 1915, Armenian troops who had been serving in the Ottoman army were disarmed and assigned to labor battalions.” (Pg. 54). The Armenians were treated more like animals and objects than human beings during this time, By the First of March 1915, large scale massacres of Armenians, accompanied by widespread rape and looting, had taken place in numerous provinces.” (Pg. 55). The government then decided to deport all the Armenian in the empire and in the process committed more mass killings, “As the attacks on the Armenians gained intensified, they were institutionalized through such laws as the May 27, 1915 Temporary Law of Deportation, which empowered Enver’s war ministry to implement the ethnic cleansing of historically Armenian lands, a key component of the genocide.” (Pg. 55).
In the words of one soldier, “The government officials at Trebizond picked up some of the prettiest Armenian women of the best families. After committing the worst outrages them they had them killed. Cases of rape of women and girls even publicly are numerous. They are systematically murdered after the outrage.” (Pg. 68). Soghomon Tehlirian, who assassinated Talat Pasha, had another eyewitness account, “While we were being plundered, they started firing on us from the front of the caravan. At that time, one of the gendarmes puled my sister out and took her with him. My mother cried out, ‘May I go blind.’ I cannot remember that day any longer. I do not want to be reminded of that day….They took everyone away…and they struck me. Then I saw how they struck and cracked my brother’s skull with an axe………..Yes, they took my sister and raped her.” (Pg. 71).
This genocide did not go without resistance from the Armenian but nonetheless the genocide still kept going no matter how much resistance there was against it. The genocide ended around 1916, “Unlike the other cases in this book, the Armenian genocide did not have a definitive end point. Most of the killing was over by late 1916, but warfare and instability in the area reigned for several more years, prolonging the Armenians ordeal.” In this time of two years between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians were killed in this government sanctioned genocide.
For many years afterward the Turkish government still denied that a genocide even ever happened in the Ottoman empire in one form or another. This denial continued until recently when the Turkish government started “Admitting” to it being a “religious conflict” when religion never had anything to do with the reasons for the original genocide in the first place. It was all caused by prejudice against the Armenians and racism against those that members of the Turkish government saw as inferior to their own race. They also claim that it was a supposed side effect of the war or a relocation to get the Armenians out of the wars zone when in reality it was a deportation and a genocide.
I believe that the denial of the genocide was trying to cover up the wrong doings of the government because they didn’t want to look bad compared to other countries. In many ways Turkey wanted to look better than those other countries that have also committed genocide in the past and they wanted to make it look like they were superior to those countries. I believe the reasoning behind the genocide was that they didn’t want to be associated with what they thought were inferior races and that the Turks should be the only race in existence. I believe they are labeling it as a religious conflict because they don’t want to admit to the moral implications of what they did entails and they don’t want to have to face the consequences of what they did. This genocide was detestable and deplorable and a disgrace to the Turkish empire. I see the Armenian Genocide as wrong and a disgrace to the human race and I believe that the turkish Government should some how be force to admit what they did, own up to their mistakes, and deal with the consequences of their actions.