The Armenian people have made their home in the Caucasus region of Eurasia for some 3,000 years. For some of that time, the Kingdom of Armenia was an independent entity—at the beginning of the 4th century ad, Armenia became the first nation in the world to make Christianity its official Religion. During the 15th century, Armenia was absorbed into the mighty Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman rulers, like most of their subjects, were Muslim. They permitted religious minorities like the Armenians to maintain some autonomy, but they also subjected Armenians, who they viewed as “infidels,” to unequal and unjust treatment. Christians had to pay higher taxes than Muslims, for example, and they had very few political and legal rights.
In spite of these obstacles, the Armenian community thrived under Ottoman rule. They tended to be better educated and wealthier than their Turkish neighbors, who in turn tended to resent their success. This resentment was compounded by suspicions that the Christian Armenians would be more loyal to Christian governments (that of the Russians, for example, who shared an unstable border with Turkey) than they were to the Ottoman Caliphate.
These suspicions grew more acute as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. At the end of the 19th Century, the despotic Turkish 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. I will give them a box on the ear which will make them…Relinquish their revolutionary ambitions.”
Between 1894 and 1896, this “box on the ear” took the form of a state-sanctioned program. In response to large scale protests by Armenians, Turkish military officials, Soldiers and ordinary men sacked Armenian villages and cities and massacred their citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered.
In 1908, a new government came to power in Turkey. A group of reformers who called themselves the “Young Turks” overthrew Sultan Abdul Hamid and established a more modern constitutional government. According to them, non-Turks—and especially Christian non-Turks—were a grave threat to the new State.
In 1914, the Turks entered World War I on the side of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (at the same time, Ottoman religious authorities declared Jihad, or Holy War, against all Christians except their allies). Military leaders began to argue that the Armenians were traitors: If they thought they could win independence if the Allies were victorious, this argument went, the Armenians would be eager to fight for the enemy.
On April 24, 1915, the Armenian Genocide began. That day, the Turkish government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals. After that, ordinary Armenians were turned out of their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water. Frequently, the marchers were stripped naked and forced to walk under the scorching sun until they dropped dead. People who stopped to rest were shot.
At the same time, the young Turks created a “special organization,” which in turn organized “killing squads” or “butcher battalions” to carry out “the liquidation of the Christian elements.”
Records show that during this, “Turkification” campaign government squads also kidnapped children, converted them to Islam and gave them to Turkish families. In some places, they raped women and forced them to join Turkish “harems” or serve as slaves. Muslim families moved into the homes of deported Armenians and seized their property.
In 1922, when the genocide was over, there were just 388,000 Armenians remaining in the Ottoman Empire.
After the Ottomans surrendered in 1918, the leaders of the young Turks fled to Germany, which promised not to prosecute them for the genocide. The Turkish government has denied that Genocide took place. Today, Turkey is an important ally of the US and other western nations, and so their governments have likewise been reluctant to condemn the long-ago killings. In March 2010, a US Congressional Panel at last voted to recognize the Genocide.
The American Ambassador, Henry Morganthau, Sr, was outspoken about what was happening during the genocide. In his memoirs, the Ambassador would write: “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.” A telegram sent by Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr., to the State Department on 16 July 1915 describes the Massacres as a “Campaign of Race Extermination.”
We will remember the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide during the “Joys and Concerns” on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
The New York Times “Armenian Genocide of 1915: An overview” by John Kifner
Armenian Genocide – Facts & Summary – History.com
Armenian Genocide – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia