The Armenian Genocide
April 24, 1915 marked the beginning of the massacre and deportation of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. This date is now Armenian Genocide Memorial Day…
Two-thirds of the Armenians who then lived on the current territory of Turkey perished as a result of large-scale deportations, famines and massacres.
The Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks. While Turkey still rejects the term, Armenians estimate that 1.5 million people were systematically killed between 1915 and 1917. A look back at the five major dates of what Armenians have long called “Medz Yeghern” (“great disaster”).
The Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Question
At the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of Armenians lived divided between the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Persia. More than two million Armenians form, with the Greeks and the Assyro-Chaldeans, the Christian population of a predominantly Muslim Ottoman Empire of 20 million inhabitants. Armenians are very present in the eastern provinces of Asia Minor and in Cilicia, but also in all the major cities of the Empire (Constantinople, Trebizond, Smyrna, Aleppo, Damascus, etc.).
They live in relative prosperity, even if the rural and peasant majority was hard hit by the mass violence and chronic depredations of the end of the 19th century. While the national movements that asserted themselves from the Balkans to Anatolia in the second half of the nineteenth century crossed Armenian society, the “Armenian question”, that is to say the fate of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, emerged on the international scene at the end of the 19th century, after the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 and the Congress of Berlin (1878).
The European powers, the United Kingdom and Russia in the lead, demanded reforms in favor of the Ottoman Christians and in particular the Armenians. It is in this context that the first large-scale massacres, the overall toll of which remains very uncertain, took place against the Armenians between 1894 and 1897, under the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909), with, depending on the case, the manifest support or the benevolent passivity of the authorities who find in it a means of repressing Armenian political demands.
The “Young Turk” coup of 1908 then raised a wind of hope because it seemed to want to put an end to the autocratic power of the Sultan and promote the unity of all the national components of the Empire on an equal footing, regardless of religious affiliation. But, between new massacres perpetrated against the Armenians in Adana (1909) and the Balkan wars (1912-1913) lost by the Ottoman Empire, power was gradually monopolized by the most nationalist fringe of the Young Turks, that of the Union Committee and Progress (İttihat ve Terakkî Cemiyeti, or CUP).
After the January 1913 coup, power was exercised above all within the party’s central committee. In October 1914, the entry into the war alongside the Central Powers appeared to be the ideal moment to settle the Armenian question and accelerate the ethnic and religious homogenization of an Empire regenerated and refocused on Anatolia, destined to become a new sanctuary. national.
Armenian Genocide Female Orphans. Photo credit: Author: K. Polis : Published by M. Hovakimean, 1920., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Sumber: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015041478192
Armenian Genocide: Five dates to understand what happened
1894-1896: The first massacres
The massacres of Armenians did not begin with the Young Turk government, which came to power after the 1908 revolution. Sultan Abdülhamid II focuses on the Armenian population, suspected of lacking loyalty and of nurturing autonomy projects. Between 1894 and 1896, approximately 200,000 Armenians were massacred in central and eastern Anatolia.
April 24, 1915: The arrest of the elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul)
The discrimination that Armenians suffer is exacerbated after the seizure of power by the Young Turks, who cultivate a radical Turkish-Muslim nationalism. The military defeats of the Empire – during the Balkan wars of 1912, but also after its entry into the First World War in October 1914 (against the Russians at Sarikamish in January 1915, at Suez against the British in February 1915…) – also play a role in triggering the genocidal process.
The usual thesis to explain the arrests of April 24 is the desire to decapitate the Armenian community to deprive it of means of action. But, contrary to what the government claimed, there was no “Armenian revolt”. But these arrests supported the suspicion of an Armenian conspiracy.
May–September 1915: Massacres and deportations
After these arrests, a special law on May 26 authorizes the deportation of Armenians “for reasons of internal security”. The men are massacred and the women and children are deported from Anatolia and Cilicia to the deserts of Mesopotamia”, in present-day Syria.
Along the way, some of the deportees were massacred, while others tried to survive in extreme conditions. In the summer of 1915, the European and American ambassadors in Istanbul (who had already issued a warning in May against “Turkey’s crimes against humanity and civilization”, threatening the Turkish authorities with post-war legal action) “understand that the deportation is in fact the mask of a process of extermination”.
Summer 1916: The elimination of the survivors
In early 1916, a second genocidal phase was decided by the Turkish authorities. “Between July and September, 200,000 survivors of deportations will be murdered by Chechen militias in the Syrian desert, on “slaughterhouse sites”, northeast of Deir Ez-Zor”.
May-September 1918: The Third Phase of the Genocide
“From May 1918, the Ottoman authorities, who are trying to conquer the Russian Caucasus, will engage in massacres of Armenians and Assyro-Chaldeans. Massacres will also take place in northern Iran.” This program of extermination will be stopped by the surrender of the Ottoman Empire to the forces of the Triple Entente (Great Britain, Russia and France), on October 30, 1918, during the armistice of Moudros. In 1919, a military tribunal in Constantinople found several senior Ottoman officials – absent – guilty of war crimes, including against the Armenians, and sentenced them to death in absentia.
Main photo description: Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by Ottoman soldiers. Harput (Kharpert), Elazığ Province, Ottoman Empire, April, 1915.