Feb 22, 2021

History of the Armenian Genocide

Throughout the early twentieth century, Christian Armenians were severely oppressed by the Turkish government leaders of the Ottoman Empire. However, the genocide and mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians was a shock to people all across Europe, as a genocide of such a  terrible scale seemed unbelievable. 

In the early fifteenth century, The mighty Ottoman Empire, controlled by Turkish Muslims, seized Armenia. Armenia and the majority of the Arab countries remained under the control of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, and Armenian Christians, in particular, were viewed as inferior and the less worthy race. They had been openly persecuted with severely limited rights compared to Muslims in the region. When World War One began, many Armenian Christians sided with the Soviet Union. Because of the Christians’ open opposition to the Ottoman Empire’s role in the war, the Turkish Muslims saw Armenians as a threat. They began to organize plans to exterminate the Christians and clear them out of the region completely. At this time, around 2 million Armenians had been living in the Empire. However, at the end of the genocide in 1922, only about 300,000-400,000 remained in the area. 

On April 24th, 1915, the plan took place and finally began. Government officials of the Empire started to kidnap and eventually kill some of the most respectable Armenian leaders. They took it a step further by forcing the majority of Armenian soldiers into labor camps, similar to the concentration camps used by Nazi Germany in the 1940s. In these harsh camps, most of the soldiers perished in terrible conditions. After the extermination of the Armenian leaders and military members, Ottoman Empire leaders now had a task on their hands-the task of how to quickly execute the hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children left living in Armenia. The officials came up with the plans to raid and rob ordinary Armenian houses and then force inhabitants out. Families were forced to leave their houses and communities and left to starve in the Mesopotamian desert (near what is now Syria). These death marches began with the Armenians being expelled out of their homes and often stripped down. They would be forced to walk through the heat for days on, without any water or food supplies. Those who tried to take a rest were shot on the spot, and those who made it deeper into the desert would eventually perish due to dehydration or starvation. While most of the children, the weak, and the elderly would die early on in the marches, a small number of adults made it through and were sent immediately to concentration camps and murdered there. 

As the months carried on, the government utilized members of the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress), a Turkish nationalist group in which members strongly opposed Armenian Christians and their ideologies. The members joined the government to create the  “Special Organization”, a group of criminals and convicts that helped organize killing squads to efficiently wipe out the Christian population. The Special Organization attacked and burned down villages, raided homes, kidnapped women and children, and drowned people in rivers if they tried to escape. Government squads banded together in their unitary goal of “Turkification”, in which they would forcibly take children from their families, and then convert the young girls and boys to Islam and leave them with unknown Turkish families. Many Turkish families would then take control of the raided Armenian houses, with some even forcing Armenian women and young girls into slaves. The Special Organization’s violent rampages and Turkification efforts led thousands of families to be split up and innocent children to be murdered. 

The Ottoman Empire finally crumbled and surrendered in 1918, but the mass murders of the Armenians did not end until 1922 when there were only 300,000-400,000 of them remaining. Unlike with the Holocaust, allied troops never actually came to intervene and liberate the Armenians and they were left to fend for themselves. The government of Turkey continues to deny that mass extermination can be labeled as genocide, despite criticisms from top researchers around the world who have concluded that it was truly a genocide. However, the United States, an ally of Turkey, formally passed an act in which the extermination was recognized as an official genocide. Even now, 100 years later, genocide is still terrible yet prominent in our world, as seen with the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China. While now people are more aware and informed of such horrific injustices, the response with China only proves that 100 years later, there still needs to be changed to eliminate genocide to the best of our capability.

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