Genocide is a word that was coined to describe the event that caused the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. April 24, 1915 marked the first day of the Armenian Genocide. The event is considered to be the first modern genocide due to its “scale and the centralized government planning” (Frey, 2009, p. 73). The Armenian Genocide took place during and immediately after the Great War. More than one million Armenian inhabitants were exterminated through mass murder or marched to their death through the desert. Less than fifteen percent of the population was able to escape (Berberoglu, 1999, p. 32).
In the events leading up to the genocide, young Turks had come into power. “The Ottoman Empire was in rapid decline in the latter half of the nineteenth century. European powers[…]gradually severed various parts of the once-great empire” (Gorman, 2007, p. 1195). Under Ottoman rule, Armenians were not considered full citizens. “They were allowed freedom of worship provided they accepted subservience to Muslims (such as being required to wear special garb and to step aside for Muslims on the street) and the supremacy of Islamic law to their own legal codes” (Frey, 2009, p. 75). There had been ongoing tension between the Muslims and Armenian Christians. During the early 1900s, small riots broke out amongst the cities. Muslims would kill thousands of Armenians during these massacres. Armenians armed themselves in response, which the Ottoman authorities used as grounds for torture during the Armenian Genocide (Frey, 2009, p. 75-75).
Under Ottoman rule, the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) was given the power to plan and carry out the genocide. The empire decided that an all Muslim army would have more power during the war. As an attempt to pull the Ottoman Empire together, they formed a plan to rid the land of any threats. They saw the growing Armenian nation as a threat and used “security” as an excuse to deport them. The Ottomans became paranoid that the Armenian population would join Near Eastern forces and overpower them (Bloxham, 2005, p. 94). A few thousand Armenian troops fought alongside Russia, hoping that they would support an independent Armenia after the war. The first city hit with the genocide was Van when the Ottoman authorities responded to the mutiny by demobilizing and killing the soldiers. Armenian troops attempted to defend themselves and the Ottoman officials used this as grounds to deport them. Authorities started deporting and slaughtering Armenians from all over the empire when only a small part of the population had been enemies (Howard, 2001, p. 82-83).
The Ottoman Empire was waiting for an excuse to exterminate the Armenian population. The war gave them an opportunity to deport a massive amount of Armenians. One official claimed that the massacre would cause objections, but would be completed before anyone could react (Gorman, 2007, p. 1126). One tactic they proposed using was sending Armenian troops to the front lines of the war, where they would undergo direct fire from the Russians. Authorities also executed Armenian leaders. Mass arrests began April 24th in order to take away Armenian power. “The pattern of deportation and massacre was evidence of centralized planning, as it was consistent throughout the empire” (Frey, 2009, p. 80). Military powers were disarmed and the population was starved or shot. Ottoman officials would take groups of Armenians into the wilderness and slaughter them. Others were deported into the desert and starved to preserve ammunition. “Kurds were employed by Turkish officials to murder Armenians. The Ottoman government recruited Kurds and ordered them to kill Armenians, especially males, children, and old women; young women were often spared (Gorman, 2007, p. 1126).
Since the Armenian genocide took place amongst the bloodbath of the Great War, it was quickly forgotten. The Holocaust that followed soon after took most of the attention away from the event. The number of deaths caused by the Turks created uproar, but nothing was significant enough to have an impact on the event. “’Deciding’ upon genocide is not like one man resolving to kill another, packing a gun, and then locating and shooting his victim, where intent is clearly illustrated by the prior wielding of the firearm[…]but genocide involves mass, sustained, and indiscriminate killing, and often a period of the expansion of murder from individuals, even in large numbers, to whole groups” (Bloxham, 2005, p. 95-96). The Turks refuse to take responsibility for the “genocide” because the extermination of the Armenian nation was not inscribed. “One of the most depressing legacies of the Armenian genocide, in addition to the lives lost and the suffering caused by family separations, cultural dislocation, and emigration, is its heritage of denial” (Frey, 2009, p. 82).
Some believe that the Armenian genocide was the result of an external and internal collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks still refuse to take responsibility for killing so many Armenians. They claim that “the murder[…]when it unfolded was not a genocide, simply because there might not be unequivocal evidence of genocidal intent prior to May 1915” (Bloxham, 2005, p. 95). The order to exterminate the Armenian nation was never found and there was no record kept of the number of Armenians killed. “Not counting the Armenian soldiers who died in combat in Ottoman ranks, the Armenian people lost between eight hundred thousand[…]and one and a half million of their numbers” (Bloxham, 2005, p. 10). The planned genocide almost achieved its goal, by killing most of the Armenian population.
Berberoglu, B. (1999). Turmoil in the Middle East: Imperialism, war, and political instability. Albany NY: State University of New York Press. http:// netlibrary.com
Bloxham, D. (2005) The great game of genocide: Imperialism, nationalism, and the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://netlibrary.com
Frey, R. J. (2009). Genocide and international justice. New York: Facts on File. http://go.galegroup.com. Feb 8 2011. P. 66-114
Gorman, R. F. (2007) Great events from history. The 20th century, 1901-1940. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press. http://netlibrary.com
Howard, D. A. (2001). The history of Turkey: Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations, 1096-2905. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. http://netlibrary.com