The Armenian Genocide — Part I
“I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no horrible episode such as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”
——- Henry Morgenthau, American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1913-16)
On April 24, 1915, 250 intellectual groups of Armenians were rounded up and arrested by Ottoman government (modern-day Turkey). They were later executed. The killings marked the start of a systematic slaughter, which reduced the Armenian population of 2 million (in 1914) to about 385,000 (by 1922). The genocide said to have extended up to 1918 (after the defeat of Ottoman Empire), but the Armenians, were later brutally invaded by the Red Army and became part of a Soviet state in 1920. After the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia gained its independence and, today remains as an independent republic nation.
Unlike, the holocaust, the Armenian genocide remains enshrouded in mystery, mainly because of the Turkish government’s refusal to acknowledge the killing fields. They still believe that it is a messy war and often reiterate that there was no premeditation or systematic attempts in the killings. However, the eyewitnesses and archive photographs unearthed the terror and unspeakable savagery. So, what’s the cause for this bloodbath? And who are the Armenians?
The earliest attestations of the ethnic tribe ‘Armenia’ dates back to 6th century BC. Hayk was known as the legendary founder of the Armenian nation. The word ‘Armenian’ originated from the word ‘Aram’ — means descendant of Hayk. After Jesus’ death, Christianity spread throughout Armenia. Kingdom of Armenia was one of the first nations to adopt Christianity as state religion (4th century AD). The majority of Armenians belong to Armenian Apostolic church (World’s oldest national church) – an orthodox form of Christianity. Throughout, Armenia’s turbulent history, we can find many gruesome battles, which resulted in a loss of tremendous amount of territory.
In 1453, Constantinople (now Istanbul) was captured by Ottoman Turks. The established Ottoman Empire had many ethnic groups. The Armenians were considered as second-class citizens; however, they are given some freedoms (like the freedom to practice Christianity). Towards the mid-1800’s Armenians demanded more rights, such as the eradication of biased taxation. Armenians saw themselves as part of Ottoman Empire and what they asked was laws of reform, not a sovereign state. The ethnic divide deepened between Armenians and Muslim Turks in the 1890’s.
At this period, many of European-educated Armenians remained resolute in their demand for equal status. Peaceful tax protests were responded by violent riots. More than 100,000 Armenians were massacred during 1894-96. Many fled to American nations and Europe, and few of them converted to Islam. The bloodbath perpetrated by Turks gave the sign for the more gruesome genocide. Things turned better for Armenians and other minor communities in 1908, as Armenians, Arabs, Greeks and Jews worked with Turks in a participatory government. The group adopted the name “Young Turks.” In 1908, they marched to Constantinople and overthrew the Sultan (Abdul Hamid).
In the Next year, the Empire developed a constitutional government and provided equal rights for all of its citizens. However, as time passed, seeds of authoritarian rule awakened against the liberalistic beliefs. The “Young Turks” glorified Turk peasantry and the Armenians were made scapegoat for the Empire’s problems (the way, Hitler blamed Jews, two decades later). Ottoman Empire declined rapidly, when they lost lands in South-eastern Europe during Balkan wars of 1912-13.
Russia was Ottoman’s foremost enemy. The eastern edge of Ottoman Empire was threatened by Russia, which has a high population of Armenians. Since, Russia advocated for Armenian reforms, the Ottoman’s thought that they might commit traitorous acts. This situation fueled the already burning resentment in the hearts of Turks. When World War I started, hellfire rained down upon the Armenians.