"Who, after all, speaks today of the
annihilation of the Armenians?"
Adolph Histler, August 22, 1939
Armenian Genocide 1915
The massacre of the Armenians was one of the greatest crimes in modern history. The Armenians were an old and highly civilised Christian nation. The Armenian nation is one of the oldest in the world; the Armenian church is the oldest state Christian church in the world. There were about 2,000,000 Armenians in these provinces - a little island of Christians. They were a peaceful people engaged in agriculture and especially in commerce and industry. The business of Turkey was chiefly carried on by the industrious Armenians. Six Turkish vilayets in the northeastern part of Asia Minor constituted Armenia.
US President Joe Biden on 24 April 2021 said the killings of Armenians constituted genocide, a historic declaration that is set to strain frayed ties between the two NATO allies. Successive US presidents had refrained from calling the deaths of Armenians “genocide,” but former President Barack Obama adopted the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” or “Great Crime” to describe the tragedy, a practice repeated by Trump.
Turkey "entirely rejects" Biden's recognition of the 1915 Armenian events as "genocide", Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, minutes after Biden's declaration. "We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice," Cavusoglu said. "We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism." Turkey’s position on the events of 1915 is that the deaths of Armenians in eastern Anatolia took place when some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties. Turkey objects to the presentation of these incidents as “genocide,” describing them as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.
The bloodless Turkish revolution of 1908, followed by the assembling of a representative Parliament, opened a period in which, for a time, racial animosities seemed to have disappeared from the greater part of the Ottoman Empire. Armenians hailed the change as the end of their troubles, and massacre and oppression became dim memories. They appeared content henceforward to be citizens of a reformed Turkey and anxious to bear their part in all the duties of citizenship. Some, indeed, went so far in their new-formed patriotism as to call themselves Osmanlis, seeking to make a national name of the term hitherto used only by Turkish Moslems - a term embodying in the past the very spirit of Turkish conquest and oppression. Nor was it merely the rank ahd file of the Armenian people who so readily accepted the prospect of a new Turkey. Leaders of Armenian revolutionary societies-organizations whose purpose was to achieve Armenian independence, the Hunchakists by constitutional means, the Dashnakists by violence - themselves believed that the Young Turk movement deserved well of the Armenian people, and that the revolution should receive Armenian support.
At the Young-Turkish Congress held in Salonica in October 1911 the Committee of Union and Progress had formulated a Pan-Islamic program according to which the Mohammedans were to secure for themselves the paramountcy in Turkey by extirpating those non-Turkish and non-Islamic nationalities dwelling in Turkey which were not willing to amalgamate voluntarily with the Turks. But the murder of the Armenians sprang not merely from political motives but also from sordid greed of gain. The Armenians were a wealthy community, including numerous millionaires. The lands and houses of the Armenians could be seized and their movable property appropriated by their murderers.
The murder of the Armenians was due not to Moslem fanaticism but to cold calculation on the part of the governing Turks. In their policy of extermination the Committee of Union and Progress followed in the footsteps of Sultan Abdul Hamid, Gladstone's 'great assassin,' whom they had deposed. Armenia continued to suffer the slow agony of pitiless persecution. Up to the outbreak of the Great War not a day had passed in the Armenian vilayets without its outrages and its murders. these events when they reached especially monstrous proportion in 1895-96, when nearly 200,000 Armenians were most atrociously done to death.
Attempts by the Powers to ameliorate the political situation of the Armenian people were continued after the close of the Balkan War. Agreement with the Turkish Government seemed promising at the beginning of 1914, on the basis of an increased number of Armenian deputies for the Ottoman Parliament, and for the supervision of Ottoman officials in the " Six Vilayets " of Eastern Turkey-in-Asia by two European inspectors general to be selected by the Powers. There was also to be equal representation of Moslems and Christians on the councils of the vilayets of Van and Bitlis, in which districts the Armenian population was presumed to equal the Moslem. But the proposed reforms came to nothing. The Young Turk Government already had prevision of great events to come, and were temporizing in anticipation of developments.
Between Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 1914, the action of the Young Turk Government resulted in war being declared on Turkey by Great Britain, Russia, France and Serbia. In committing their country to support of the Germanic Powers the Young Turk leaders saw, as they thought, the great occasion for recovering lost Turkish provinces and reestablishing the Ottoman Empire on the widest foundations, with corresponding advantage to themselves. They believed that with Germanic support they were speculating in certainties. They resolved to use the fortunate opportunity thus presenting itself for making an end of Ottoman internal difficulties as they saw them. Chief among these was the question of the Christian people, of Asia Minor, the Ottoman Greeks and the Armenians, who cherished national aspirations incompatible with Ottoman sovereignty. The "Turkification" of the whole population of Asia Minor- the creation of a single homogeneous race for this great area - was the underlying purpose.
At the outbreak of the Great War, Turkey contained, according to the statistics of the Armenian Patriarchate, 1,845,450 Armenians. Of these about 250,000 succeeded in escaping to Russia across the land-frontier or the sea. Of the remaining 1,600,000, about 1,000,000, or two-thirds of their number, were killed. Half of these were women and children. Of the surviving 600,000 about 200,000 girls, women and children were carried away into slavery and were forcibly converted to Mohammedanism; and about 400,000 were wandering about in the wilderness, starving and in rags, or were kept in the Turkish concentration camps, at the end of the War. In addition to about 1,000,000 Armenians killed in Turkey proper, the Turks massacred from 50,000 to 100,000 Armenians when invading the Russian Caucasus.
The Turkish province of Van lies in the remote northeastern corner of Asia Minor; it touches the frontiers of Persia on the east and its northern boundary looks toward the Caucasus. The location of this vilayet inevitably made it the scene of military operations, and made the activities of its Armenian population a matter of daily suspicion. Should Russia attempt an invasion of Turkey one of the most accessible routes lay through this province.
Turkey entered the War on Nov. 1, 1914. On April 20, 1915, the Turkish Government reported that a grave Armenian rising had occurred in Van. This 'rising,' which furnished a welcome pretext to the Turkish Government, was not an act of aggression on the part of the Armenians but merely an act of self-defence. The Turks asserted that large numbers of Armenian soldiers in Van and other of their Armenian provinces deserted, crossed the border and joined the Russian army, where their knowledge of roads and the terrain was an important factor in the Russian victories. The Turks had arrested and murdered some of the leading Armenians, and had then attacked the Armenian quarter at Van. Not unnaturally the Armenians resisted. In the fighting the Turks lost 18 men killed. This resistance of the inhabitants was henceforward described by the men in power as a treasonable act against Turkey. In its desire to put the Armenians in the wrong, the Turkish Government asserted, through its accredited representatives in Berlin and elsewhere, that the Armenians had killed not 18 Turks but 180,000.
Though British operations in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, and Russian operations against the eastern vilayets, kept the Turks occupied in a military sense, they did not prevent Turkish activity against Armenians. During the spring and summer of 1915, indeed, when the fate of Constantinople and Turkey hung in the balance and inhabitants of the Imperial City daily scanned the Sea of Marmora for signs of an approaching British fleet, the Young Turk Government prosecuted their Armenian policy with the utmost rigour.
But when the Gallipoli operations had plainly failed, and the outcome of the war was thought to be no longer in doubt, a Turkish defeat in Russian Armenia, attributed by Enver Pasha to the Armenians, was revenged by massacres of even greater ferocity. Russian troops had crossed the frontiers on Nov. 4 1914, and the Turks launched a daring counter-offensive against Ardahan and Kars, in Russian Armenia. This reckless movement was ended, however, by the battle of Sarikamish (Dec. 29 1914 to Jan. 1 1915) at which, and at the battle of Kara Urgan in the subsequent retreat, the Turkish army was almost destroyed. In revenge for the disaster, attributed by Enver Pasha and the Young Turks to Armenian elements in the Russian army, and to support and intelligence given by Armenians generally, exterminatory measures against the Armenian population of Asia Minor were redoubled at the beginning of April 1915. It was at 'this stage that the British and French Governments issued (May 24 1915) a declaration that they would hold Ottoman ministers personally responsible for the massacres.
From first to last the massacres were organized and carried out systematically. Massacres on the largest scale took place at Bitlis, Mush, Sivas, Kharput, Trebizond-wherever, in fact, a considerable and more or less defenceless Armenian population existed. The people were butchered in masses, butchered in groups, drowned in the Black Sea and in rivers, burnt in buildings - killed by whatever processes were found most ready and convenient. Girls were placed in Turkish harems. It should not be supposed, however, that no resistance was offered, that the Armenian people sold their lives cheaply. Although supposed to have been disarmed, weapons remained, and on numberless occasions, in untold villages and towns, a hopeless resistance inflicted severe losses on the attackers.
The ruling Turks resolved to destroy the Armenians by what they euphemistically called deportation. In the night between April 24 and 25, 1915, the Turkish authorities arrested in Constantinople 600 leading Armenians-politicians, priests, scientists, merchants, doctors, authors, journalists, etc. - and on May 27 the Turkish Government published a Provisional Law for the Deportation of Suspected Persons. Article II of that Law ran as follows :- "The commanders of armies, army corps and divisions may, if military requirements demand it, deport and settle in other localities, either individually or jointly, the inhabitants of the towns and villages whom they suspect of being guilty of treason or espionage." It will be noticed that no proof of guilt was required. Mere suspicion was considered sufficient for deporting the population of entire districts. In fact all Armenians were considered to be suspect.
Down to the end of June 1915 the persecution of the Armenians by means of forcible deportation appeared to be limited to those frontier districts which might seem strategically threatened. However, at the end of June, the Turkish Government began to deport large numbers of Armenians from the central provinces as well, although these were hundreds of miles from the theatre of war. Moreover, the Turks began confiscating all Armenian property throughout the country. As a rule, they killed all the men and carried away all the young women and girls.
For the better part of six months, from April to October, 1915, practically all the highways in Asia Minor were crowded with unearthlv bands of exiles. They could be seen winding in and out of every valley and climbing up the sides of nearly every mountain-moving on and on, they scarcely knew whither, except that even' road led to death. Village after village and town after town was evacuated of its Armenian population, under the distressing circumstances already detailed. In these six months, as far as can be ascertained, about 1,200.000 people started on this journey to the Syrian Desert. Altogether 1,400,000 Armenians were deported, and their possessions were seized. Wealthy and cultured people, invalids and delicate women, were driven like animals into the wilderness. People who had known every comfort and luxury were wandering about in rags and had to beg passers-by for a crust of bread or a drink of water.
In Turkey the governing politicians, the members of the Committee of Union and Progress, not the military, were responsible for the massacres. Many Turkish officers and high officials were disgusted with that policy and refused to carry it out. They were superseded. The Turkish outrages were tolerated and condoned by the German statesmen, who contemplated the murder of a whole nation with callous indifference. On the other hand, many German soldiers viewed Turkey's policy with undisguised disgust and horror. Several of the German generals in Turkey protested with the greatest energy, and even threatened to oppose the continuation of the slaughter by force of arms. But, without the support of their Government they were powerless.
On June 17, 1915, the German Ambassador, Wangenheim, reported to the German Chancellor: "It is obvious that the banishment of the Armenians is due not solely to military considerations. Talaat Bey, the Minister of the Interior, has quite frankly said to Dr Mordtmann, of the Embassy, that the Turkish Government intended to make use of the World-War and deal thoroughly with its internal enemies, the Christians in Turkey, and that it meant not to be disturbed in this by diplomatic intervention from abroad. The Armenian Patriarch told the same gentleman a few days later the Turkish Government did not intend merely to make the Armenians temporarily innocuous but to expel them from Turkey or rather to exterminate them."
US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau later wrote that "... throughout the Turkish Empire a systematic attempt was made to kill all ablebodied men, not only for the purpose of removing all males who might propagate a new generation of Armenians, but for the purpose of rendering the weaker part of the population an easy prey. ... Most of us believe that torture has long ceased to be an administrative and judicial measure, yet I do not believe that the darkest ages ever presented scenes more horrible than those which now took place all over Turkey."
Adolf Hitler stated on August 22, 1939 "I have issued the command - and I'll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad - that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness - for the present only in the East - with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
On 12 December 2019 the US Senate joined the US House of Representatives in passing a resolution to officially recognise the Armenian genocide, which for years has been a divisive issue in the US politics. The lower house voted for the piece of legislation in late October 2019 in response to Turkey’s controversial offensive against Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria. The issue traditionally causes a strong backlash from Turkey, which keeps rejecting the accusations.
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