The Armenian genocide was the systematic mass murder of around one million ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Spearheaded by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), it was accomplished primarily through mass executions, death marches leading to the Syrian Desert, and the forced Islamization of Armenian women and children.
|Part of World War I|
|Genocide, expulsion, death march, forced Islamization|
|Perpetrators||Committee of Union and Progress|
|Trials||Ottoman Special Military Tribunal|
Prior to World War I, Armenians were concentrated in eastern Anatolia and occupied a protected, but subordinate, place in Ottoman society. Large-scale massacres of Armenians occurred in the 1890s and 1909. The Ottoman Empire suffered a series of military defeats and territorial losses—especially the 1912–1913 Balkan Wars—leading to fear among CUP leaders that the Armenians, whose homeland in eastern Anatolia was viewed as the heartland of the Turkish nation, would also attempt to break free of the empire. During their invasion of Russian and Persian territory, Ottoman paramilitaries massacred local Armenians. Ottoman leaders took isolated indications of Armenian resistance as evidence of a widespread rebellion, even though no such rebellion existed. Mass deportation was intended as the "definitive solution to the Armenian Question" and to permanently forestall the possibility of Armenian autonomy or independence. Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army were disarmed pursuant to a February order, and were later killed.
On 24 April 1915, the Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople (now Istanbul). At the orders of Talaat Pasha, an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenian women, children, and elderly or infirm people were sent on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert in 1915 and 1916. Driven forward by paramilitary escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to robbery, rape, and massacre. In the Syrian Desert, the survivors were dispersed into concentration camps. In 1916 another wave of massacres was ordered, leaving about 200,000 deportees alive by the end of 1916. Around 100,000 to 200,000 Armenian women and children were forcibly converted to Islam and integrated into Muslim households. Massacres and ethnic cleansing of Armenian survivors were carried out by the Turkish nationalist movement during the Turkish War of Independence after World War I.
The Armenian genocide resulted in the destruction of more than two millennia of Armenian civilization in eastern Anatolia. With the destruction and expulsion of Syriac and Greek Orthodox Christians, it enabled the creation of an ethnonational Turkish state. As of 2021, 31 countries have recognized the events as genocide. Against the academic consensus, Turkey denies that the deportation of Armenians was genocide or a wrongful act.
Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
The presence of Armenians in Anatolia has been documented since the sixth century BCE, more than a millennium before Turkish incursion and presence. The Kingdom of Armenia adopted Christianity as its national religion in the fourth century CE, establishing the Armenian Apostolic Church. Following the Byzantine Empire's fall in 1453, two Islamic empires—the Ottoman Empire and the Iranian Safavid Empire—contested Western Armenia, which was permanently separated from Eastern Armenia (held by the Safavid Empire) by the 1639 Treaty of Zuhab. The Ottoman millet system offered non-Muslims a subordinate but protected place in society. Sharia law encoded Islamic superiority but guaranteed property rights and freedom of worship to non-Muslims (dhimmis) in exchange for a special tax.
Around two million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire on the eve of World War I. According to the Armenian Patriarchate's 1913–1914 estimates, there were 2,925 Armenian towns and villages in the empire, of which 2,084 were in the Armenian Highlands in the vilayets of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzerum, Harput, and Van. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians lived elsewhere, scattered throughout central and western Anatolia. The Armenian population was mostly rural, especially in the Armenian Highlands, where 90 percent were peasant farmers. Armenians were a minority in most parts of the empire, living alongside their Turkish, Kurdish, and Greek Orthodox neighbors. According to the Patriarchate's figure, 215,131 Armenians lived in urban areas, especially Constantinople, Smyrna, and Eastern Thrace. Although most Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were peasant farmers, they were overrepresented in commerce. As middleman minorities, there was a great disparity between the wealth of some Armenians and the overall political power of the group, making them especially vulnerable.
Land conflict and reforms
Armenians in the eastern provinces lived in semi-feudal conditions and commonly encountered forced labor, illegal taxation, and unpunished crimes against them including robberies, murders, and sexual assaults. The nineteenth-century Tanzimat reforms abolished the protections that members of the Armenian millet had previously enjoyed, but did not change the popular perception that they were different and inferior. The Tanzimat failed to improve the condition of Armenian peasantry in the eastern provinces, which regressed from 1860 onwards. The Ottoman Land Code of 1858 disadvantaged Armenians and many now had to pay double taxation both to Kurdish landlords and the Ottoman government.
From the mid-nineteenth century, Armenians faced large-scale land usurpation as a consequence of the sedentarization of Kurdish tribes and the arrival of Muslim refugees and immigrants (mainly Circassians) following the Caucasus War. In 1876, when Sultan Abdul Hamid II came to power, the state began to confiscate Armenian-owned land in the eastern provinces and give it to Muslim immigrants, as part of a systematic policy to reduce the Armenian population of these areas. These conditions led to a substantial decline in the Armenian Highlands' population; 300,000 Armenians emigrated in the decades leading up to World War I, while others moved to towns. To achieve improved conditions, a few Armenians joined revolutionary political parties, of which the most influential was the Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation), founded in 1890. While the Dashnaks sought improved conditions within the empire, the rival and less influential Hntchaks proposed an independent state in eastern Anatolia.
Russia's decisive victory in the 1877–1878 war forced the Ottoman Empire to cede parts of eastern Anatolia, the Balkans, and Cyprus. At the 1878 Congress of Berlin, the Ottoman government agreed to carry out reforms and guarantee the physical safety of its Armenian subjects, but there was no enforcement mechanism; conditions continued to worsen. This marked the emergence of the Armenian question in international diplomacy as Armenians were for the first time used to interfere in Ottoman politics. Although Armenians had been called the "loyal millet" in contrast to Greeks and others who had previously challenged Ottoman rule, Armenians became perceived as subversive and ungrateful after 1878. In 1891, Abdul Hamid created the Hamidiye regiments from Kurdish tribes, allowing them to act with impunity against Armenians. From 1895 to 1896 the empire saw widespread massacres; at least 100,000 Armenians were killed by Ottoman soldiers, Kurdish tribes, and mobs incited to violence. Many Armenian villages were forcibly converted to Islam. The Ottoman state bore ultimate responsibility for the killings, whose purpose was violently restoring the previous social order in which Christians would unquestioningly accept Muslim supremacy, and forcing Armenians to emigrate, thereby decreasing their numbers.
Young Turk Revolution
Abdul Hamid's despotism prompted the formation of an opposition movement, the Young Turks, who sought to overthrow him and restore the 1876 Constitution of the Ottoman Empire, which Abdul Hamid had suspended in 1877. One faction of the Young Turks was the secret and revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), based in Salonica, from which the charismatic conspirator Mehmed Talaat (later Talaat Pasha) emerged as a leading member. Although skeptical of a growing, exclusionary Turkish nationalism in the Young Turk movement, the Dashnaktsutyun decided to ally with the CUP in December 1907. In 1908, the CUP came to power in the Young Turk Revolution, which began with a string of CUP assassinations of leading Hamidian officials in Macedonia. Abdul Hamid was forced to reinstate the 1876 constitution and restore parliament, which was celebrated by Ottomans of all ethnicities and religions. Although security improved in the eastern provinces after 1908, the CUP did not reverse the land usurpation of the previous decades.
Abdul Hamid attempted an unsuccessful countercoup in early 1909, supported by conservatives and some liberals who opposed the CUP's increasingly repressive governance. When news of the countercoup reached Adana, armed Muslims attacked the Armenian quarter and Armenians returned fire. Ottoman soldiers did not protect Armenians and instead armed the rioters. Between 20,000 and 25,000 people, mostly Armenians, were killed in Adana and nearby towns. Unlike the Hamidian massacres, the events were not organized by the central government but instigated by local officials, intellectuals, and Islamic clerics, including CUP supporters in Adana. Although the massacres went unpunished, the Dashnaktsutyun continued to hope that reforms to improve security and restore lands were forthcoming, until late 1912, when they broke with the CUP and appealed to the European powers. On 8 February 1914, the CUP reluctantly agreed to the 1914 Armenian reforms brokered by Germany. The reforms, never implemented due to World War I, stipulated the appointment of two European inspectors for the entire Ottoman east and putting the Hamidiye in reserve. CUP leaders feared these reforms would lead to partition and cited them as a reason for the elimination of the Armenian population in 1915.
The 1912 First Balkan War resulted in the loss of almost all of the empire's European territory and the mass expulsion of Muslims from the Balkans. Ottoman Muslim society was incensed by the atrocities committed against Balkan Muslims, intensifying anti-Christian sentiment and leading to a desire for revenge. It is widely accepted that the Balkan Wars put an end to Ottomanism, the movement for pluralism and coexistence within the empire. Instead, the CUP turned to an increasingly radical ideology of Turkish nationalism to preserve the empire. CUP leaders such as Talaat and Enver Pasha came to blame non-Muslim population concentrations in strategic areas for many of the empire's problems, concluding by mid-1914 that they were "internal tumors" to be excised. Armenians were considered most dangerous, because CUP leaders feared that their homeland in Anatolia—claimed as the last refuge of the Turkish nation—would turn into another Balkans.
In January 1913, the CUP launched another coup, installed a one-party state, and strictly repressed all real or perceived internal enemies. After the coup, the CUP shifted the demography of border areas by resettling Muslim immigrants while coercing Christians to leave; immigrants were promised property that had belonged to Christians. When parts of Eastern Thrace were reoccupied by the Ottoman Empire during the Second Balkan War in mid-1913, there was a campaign of looting and intimidation against Greeks and Armenians, forcing many to emigrate. Around 150,000 Greek Orthodox from the Aegean littoral were forcibly deported in May and June 1914 by Muslim bandits secretly backed by the CUP and sometimes joined by the regular army. Historian Matthias Bjørnlund states that the perceived success of the Greek deportations allowed CUP leaders to envision even more radical policies "as yet another extension of a policy of social engineering through Turkification".
Ottoman entry into World War I
A few days after the outbreak of World War I, the CUP concluded an alliance with Germany on 2 August 1914. The same month, CUP representatives went to a Dashnak conference demanding that, in the event of war with Russia, the Dashnaktsutyun incite Russian Armenians to intervene on the Ottoman side. Instead, the delegates resolved that Armenians should fight for the countries of their citizenships. During its war preparations, the Ottoman government recruited thousands of prisoners to join the paramilitary Special Organization, which initially focused on stirring up revolts among Muslims behind Russian lines beginning before the Ottoman Empire officially entered the war. On 29 October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers by launching a surprise attack on Russian ports in the Black Sea.
Wartime requisitions were often corrupt and arbitrary, and frequently targeted Greeks and Armenians. Armenian leaders urged young men to accept conscription into the army, but many soldiers of all ethnicities and religions deserted due to difficult conditions and concern for their families. During the Ottoman invasion of Russian and Persian territory, the Special Organization massacred local Armenians and Syriac Christians. Beginning in November 1914, provincial governors of Van, Bitlis, and Erzerum sent many telegrams to the central government pressing for more severe measures against the Armenians, both regionally and throughout the empire. These pressures played a key role in the intensification of anti-Armenian persecution and met a favorable response already before 1915. Armenian civil servants were dismissed from their posts in late 1914 and early 1915. In February 1915, the CUP leaders decided to disarm Armenians serving in the army and transfer them to labor battalions. The Armenian soldiers in labor battalions were systematically executed, although many skilled workers were spared until 1916.
Onset of genocide
Minister of War Enver Pasha took over command of the Ottoman armies for the invasion of Russian territory, and tried to encircle the Russian Caucasus Army at the Battle of Sarikamish, fought from December 1914 to January 1915. Unprepared for the harsh winter conditions, his forces were routed, losing more than 60,000 men. The retreating Ottoman army indiscriminately destroyed dozens of Ottoman Armenian villages in Bitlis Vilayet, massacring their inhabitants. Enver publicly blamed his defeat on Armenians who he claimed had actively sided with the Russians, a theory that became a consensus among CUP leaders. Any local incident or discovery of arms in the possession of Armenians was cited as evidence for a coordinated conspiracy against the empire. Historian Taner Akçam concludes that "the allegations of an Armenian revolt in the documents ... have no basis in reality but were deliberately fabricated".
Massacres of Armenian men were occurring in the vicinity of Başkale in Van vilayet from December. Dashnak leaders attempted to keep the situation calm, warning that even justifiable self-defense could lead to escalation of killing. The governor, Djevdet Bey, ordered the Armenians of Van to hand over their arms on 18 April, creating a dilemma: If they obeyed, the Armenians expected to be killed, but if they refused, it would provide a pretext for massacres. Armenians fortified themselves in Van and repelled the Ottoman attack that began on 20 April. During the siege, Armenians in surrounding villages were massacred at Djevdet's orders. Russian forces captured Van on 18 May, finding 55,000 corpses in the province—about half its prewar Armenian population. Djevdet's forces proceeded to Bitlis and attacked Armenian and Syriac villages; men were killed immediately, women and children kidnapped by local Kurds, and others marched away to be killed later. By the end of June, there were only a dozen Armenians in the vilayet.
The first deportations of Armenians were proposed by Djemal Pasha in February 1915 and targeted Armenians in Cilicia (specifically Alexandretta, Dörtyol, Adana, Hadjin, Zeytun, and Sis) who were relocated to the area around Konya in central Anatolia. In late March or early April, the CUP central committee decided on the large-scale removal of Armenians from areas near the front lines. During the night of 23–24 April 1915 hundreds of Armenian political activists, intellectuals, and community leaders were rounded up in Constantinople and across the empire. This order from Talaat, intended to eliminate the Armenian leadership and anyone capable of organizing resistance, eventually resulted in the murder of most of those arrested. The same day, Talaat ordered the shuttering of all Armenian political organizations and diverted the Armenians who had previously been removed from Cilicia from central Anatolia, where they would likely have survived, to the Syrian Desert.
On 23 May, Talaat ordered the deportation of the entire Armenian millet to Deir ez-Zor, beginning with the northeastern provinces. On 29 May, the CUP Central Committee passed the Temporary Law of Deportation ("Tehcir Law"), authorizing the Ottoman government and military to deport anyone deemed to be a threat to national security. Deportation amounted to a death sentence; the authorities planned for and intended the death of the deportees. Deportation was only carried out behind the front lines, where no active rebellion existed, and was only possible in the absence of widespread resistance. Armenians who lived in the war zone were instead killed in massacres.
Ottoman records show the government aimed to reduce the population of Armenians to no more than 5 percent in the sources of deportation and 10 percent in the destination areas. This goal could not be accomplished without mass murder. The CUP hoped to permanently eliminate any possibility that Armenians could achieve autonomy or independence in the empire's eastern provinces by annihilating the concentrated Armenian population of these areas. In Talaat's words, the purpose of the deportations was the "definitive solution to the Armenian Question". However, it is disputed whether the genocide was committed to preserve the empire or to pave the way for a Turkish nation-state.
Although ostensibly undertaken for military reasons, the deportation and murder of Armenians did not grant the empire any military advantage and actually undermined the Ottoman war effort. The empire faced a dilemma between its goal of eliminating Armenians and its practical need for their labor; those Armenians retained for their skills, in particular for manufacturing in war industries, were indispensable to the logistics of the Ottoman Army. By late 1915, the CUP had extinguished Armenian existence from eastern Anatolia. In August 1915, deportation was extended to western Anatolia and European Turkey. Some areas with a very low Armenian population and some cities were partially spared from deportation.
Overall, national, regional, and local levels of governance cooperated with the CUP and the army in the perpetration of genocide. The Directorate for the Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants (IAMM) coordinated the deportation and the immediate resettlement of Muslim immigrants in the vacant houses and lands. Deportation convoys were mostly escorted by gendarmes or local militia. The killings near the front lines were carried out by the Special Organization, and those farther away also involved local militias, bandits, gendarmes, or Kurdish tribes depending on the area. Within the area controlled by the Third Army, which held eastern Anatolia, the army was only involved in genocidal atrocities in the vilayets of Van, Erzerum, and Bitlis. Many perpetrators came from the Caucasus (Chechens and Circassians), who identified the Armenians with their Russian oppressors. Nomadic Kurds committed many atrocities during the genocide, but settled Kurds only rarely did so. Perpetrators had a variety of motives, including ideology, revenge, desire for Armenian property, and careerism. Some Ottoman politicians opposed the genocide, but they faced dismissal or assassination. The government decreed that any Muslim who harbored an Armenian against the will of the authorities would be executed.
Although the majority of able-bodied Armenian men had been conscripted into the army, others deserted, paid the exemption task, or fell outside the age range of conscription. Unlike in the Hamidian massacres or Adana events, massacres were usually not committed in the Armenian villages, to avoid destruction of property or unauthorized looting. Instead, the men were usually separated from the rest of the deportees during the first few days and executed. Few resisted, believing it would put their families in greater danger. Boys above the age of twelve (sometimes fifteen) were treated as adult men. Execution sites were chosen for proximity to major roads and for rugged terrain, lakes, wells, or cisterns to facilitate the concealment or disposal of corpses. The convoys would stop at a nearby transit camp, where the escorts would demand a ransom from the Armenians. Those unable to pay were murdered. Units of the Special Organization, often wearing gendarme uniforms, were stationed at the killing sites, while escorting gendarmes often did not participate in killing.
At least 150,000 Armenians—the majority of those deported from Erzerum and Trebizond, as well as many from Sivas—passed through Erzindjan from June 1915, where a series of transit camps were set up to control the flow of victims to the killing site at the nearby Kemah gorge. Thousands of Armenians were killed near Lake Hazar, pushed by paramilitaries off the cliffs. More than 500,000 Armenians passed through the Firincilar plain south of Malatya, one of the deadliest areas during the genocide. Arriving convoys, having passed through the plain to approach the Kahta highlands, would have found gorges already filled with corpses from previous convoys. Many others were trapped in valleys of tributaries of the Tigris, Euphrates, or Murat River and systematically executed by the Special Organization. Armenian men were often drowned by being tied together back-to-back before being thrown in the water, a method that was not used on women.
Authorities viewed disposal of bodies through rivers as a cheap and efficient method, but it caused widespread pollution downstream. So many bodies floated down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that they sometimes blocked the rivers and needed to be cleared with explosives. Other rotting corpses became stuck to the riverbanks, while some traveled as far as the Persian Gulf. The rivers remained polluted long after the massacres, causing epidemics downstream. Tens of thousands of Armenians died along the roads and their bodies were buried hastily or, more often, simply left beside the roads. Key roads threatened to become impassible due to the contamination of corpses, and typhus epidemics spread in nearby villages; the Ottoman government also wanted the corpses cleared to prevent photographic documentation. The Ottoman government ordered the corpses to be cleared as soon as possible, which was not uniformly followed.
Women and children, who made up the great majority of deportees, were usually not executed immediately, but subjected to hard marches through mountainous terrain without food and water. Those who could not keep up were left to die or shot. During 1915, some were forced to walk as far as 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) in the summer heat. In order to preserve families, older women would give away their food to younger family members. Mothers would surrender their daughters before their sons and give their lives to protect at least one male descendant. Some deportees from western Anatolia were allowed to travel by rail. There was a distinction between the convoys from eastern Anatolia, which were eliminated almost in their entirety, and those from farther west, who made up most of those surviving to reach Syria.
Islamization of Armenians was carried out as a systematic state policy involving the bureaucracy, police, judiciary, and clergy and was a major structural component of the genocide. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Armenians were Islamized. Some Armenians were allowed to convert to Islam and evade deportation, but where their numbers exceeded the 5 to 10 percent threshold, or where there was a risk of their being able to preserve their nationality and culture, the regime insisted on their physical destruction. Talaat Pasha personally authorized conversion of Armenians and carefully tracked the loyalty of converted Armenians until the end of the war. Although the first and most important step was conversion to Islam, the process also required the eradication of Armenian names, language, and culture, and for women, immediate marriage to a Muslim man. Although Islamization was the most feasible opportunity for survival, it also transgressed Armenian moral and social norms.
The CUP allowed Armenian women to marry into Muslim households, as these women had to convert to Islam and would lose their Armenian identity. Young women and girls were often appropriated as house servants or sex slaves. Some boys were abducted to work as unfree laborers for individual Muslims. Some children were forcibly seized, but others were sold or given up by their parents to save their lives. Special state-run orphanages were also set up with strict procedures intending to deprive their charges of an Armenian identity. Most Armenian children who survived the genocide endured exploitation, hard labor without pay, forced conversion to Islam, and physical and sexual abuse.
Women and children who fell into Muslim hands during the journey typically ended up in Turkish or Kurdish hands, in contrast with those captured in Syria by Arabs and Bedouins. Military commanders told their men to "do to [the women] whatever you wish", resulting in widespread rapes. Although Armenian women tried to avoid sexual violence, suicide was often the only alternative. Deportees were displayed naked in Damascus and sold as sex slaves in some areas, constituting an important source of income for accompanying gendarmes. Some were sold in Arabian slave markets to Muslim Hajj pilgrims and ended up as far away as Tunisia or Algeria.
The first arrivals in mid-1915 were accommodated in Aleppo. From mid-November, the convoys were denied access to the city and redirected along the Baghdad Railway or the Euphrates towards Mosul. The first transit camp was established at Sibil, east of Aleppo; one convoy would arrive each day while another would depart for Meskene or Deir ez-Zor. Dozens of concentration camps were set up in Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. By October 1915, some 870,000 deportees had reached Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. Most were repeatedly transferred between camps, being held in each camp for a few weeks, until there were very few survivors. This strategy physically weakened the Armenians and spread disease, so much that some camps were shut down in late 1915 due to the threat of disease spreading to the Ottoman military. In late 1915, the camps around Aleppo were liquidated and the survivors were forced to march to Ras al-Ayn; the camps around Ras al-Ayn were closed in early 1916 and the survivors sent to Deir ez-Zor.
In general, Armenians were denied food and water during and after their forced march to the Syrian desert; many died of starvation, exhaustion, or disease, especially dysentery, typhus, and pneumonia. Some local officials gave Armenians food, while others took bribes to provide food and water. Aid organizations were officially barred from providing food to the deportees, although some circumvented these prohibitions. Survivors testified that some Armenians refused aid as they believed it would only prolong their suffering. The guards raped female prisoners and also allowed Bedouins to raid the camps at night for looting and rape; some women were forced into marriage. Thousands of Armenian children were sold to childless Turks, Arabs, and Jews, who would come to the camps to buy them from their parents. In the territory of the Ottoman Fourth Army, commanded by Djemal Pasha, there were no concentration camps or large-scale massacres, rather Armenians were resettled and recruited to work for the war effort. They had to convert to Islam or face deportation to another area.
Armenian ability to adapt and survive was greater than the perpetrators expected. A loosely organized, Armenian-led resistance network based in Aleppo succeeded in helping many deportees, saving Armenian lives. At the beginning of 1916 some 500,000 deportees were alive in Syria and Mesopotamia. Afraid that surviving Armenians might return home after the war, Talaat Pasha ordered a second wave of massacres in February 1916. An additional wave of deportations targeted Armenians remaining in Anatolia. More than 200,000 Armenians were killed between March and October 1916, often in remote areas near Deir ez-Zor and on parts of the Khabur valley, where their bodies would not create a public health hazard. The massacres killed most of the Armenians who had survived the camp system. Intentional, state-sponsored killing of Armenians mostly ceased by the end of January 1917, although sporadic massacres and starvation continued.
Confiscation of property
A secondary motivation for genocide was the destruction of the Armenian bourgeoisie to make room for a Turkish and Muslim middle class and build a statist "national economy" controlled by Muslim Turks. The campaign to Turkify the economy began in June 1914 with a law that obliged many ethnic minority merchants to hire Muslims. Following the deportations, the businesses of the victims were taken over by Muslims who were often incompetent, leading to economic difficulties. The genocide had catastrophic effects on the Ottoman economy; Muslims were disadvantaged by the deportation of skilled professionals and entire districts fell into famine following their farmers' deportation. The Ottoman and Turkish governments passed a series of Abandoned Properties Laws to manage and redistribute property confiscated from Armenians. Although the laws maintained that the state was simply administering the properties on behalf of the absent Armenians, there was no provision to return them to the owners—presuming that they had ceased to exist.
Akçam and Ümit Kurt argue that "The Republic of Turkey and its legal system were built, in a sense, on the seizure of Armenian cultural, social, and economic wealth, and on the removal of the Armenian presence." Confiscated property was often used to fund the deportation of Armenians and resettlement of Muslims, as well as for army, militia, and other government spending. Ultimately it formed much of the basis of the economy of the post-1923 republic, endowing it with capital. The dispossession and exile of Armenian competitors enabled many lower-class Turks (i.e. peasantry, soldiers, and laborers) to rise to the middle class. Confiscation of Armenian assets continued into the second half of the twentieth century, and in 2006 the National Security Council ruled that property records from 1915 must be kept closed to protect national security. All traces of Armenian existence, including churches and monasteries, libraries, archaeological sites, khachkars, and animal and place names, were systematically erased.
The genocide reduced the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire by 90 percent. The exact number of Armenians who died is not known and is impossible to determine. Both contemporaries and later historians have estimated that around 1 million Armenians perished in the genocidal campaign during World War I, with figures ranging from 600,000 to 1.5 million deaths. Between 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenians were deported. Talaat Pasha's estimates, published in 2007, gave an incomplete total of 924,158 Armenians deported; officials' notes suggest increasing this number by 30 percent. The resulting estimate of 1.2 million deported is in line with estimates by Johannes Lepsius and Arnold J. Toynbee. Based on contemporary estimates, Akçam figured that by late 1916, only 200,000 deported Armenians were still alive.
The Ottoman Empire tried to prevent journalists and photographers from documenting the atrocities, threatening them with arrest. Nevertheless, substantiated reports of mass killings were widely covered in Western newspapers. On 24 May 1915, the Triple Entente (Russia, Britain, and France) formally condemned the Ottoman Empire for "crimes against humanity and civilization", and threatened to hold the perpetrators accountable. Crimes against humanity later became a category of international criminal law after World War II. Witness testimony was published in books such as The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (1916) and Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (1918), which raised public awareness about the genocide.
The German Empire was a military ally of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. German diplomats approved limited removals of Armenians in early 1915, and took no action against the genocide, which has been a source of controversy.
Relief efforts were organized in dozens of countries to raise money for Armenian survivors. By 1925, people in 49 countries were organizing "Golden Rule Sundays" during which they consumed the diet of Armenian refugees, to raise money for humanitarian efforts. Between 1915 and 1930, Near East Relief raised $110 million ($1.7 billion adjusted for inflation) for refugees from the Ottoman Empire.
As the British Army advanced in 1917 and 1918 northwards through the Levant, they liberated around 100,000 to 150,000 Armenians working for the Ottoman military under abysmal conditions, not including those held by Arab tribes. Armenians organized a coordinated effort known as vorpahavak (lit. 'the gathering of orphans') to reclaim kidnapped Armenian women and children. Armenian leaders abandoned traditional patrilineality to classify children born to Armenian women and their Muslim captors as Armenian.
An orphanage in Alexandropol held 25,000 orphans, the largest number in the world. In 1920, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople reported it was caring for 100,000 orphans, estimating that another 100,000 remained captive. Although the postwar Ottoman government passed laws mandating the return of stolen Armenian property, in practice, 90 percent of Armenians were barred from returning to their homes, especially in eastern Anatolia.
The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres awarded Armenia a large area in eastern Anatolia, but was not ratified.
Following the armistice, Allied governments championed the prosecution of war criminals. Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha publicly recognized that 800,000 Ottoman citizens of Armenian origin had died as a result of state policy and helped initiate the Ottoman Special Military Tribunal. The courts-martial relied almost entirely on documentary evidence and sworn testimony from Muslims. Indictments focused on the crimes of "deportation and murder", which implicated all cabinet ministers, the army, and the CUP. The court ruled that "the crime of mass murder" of Armenians was "organized and carried out by the top leaders of CUP". Eighteen perpetrators were sentenced to death, of whom only three were ultimately executed as the remainder had fled and were tried in absentia. Prosecution was hampered by a widespread belief among Turkish Muslims that the actions against the Armenians were not punishable crimes. Increasingly, the crimes were considered necessary and justified to establish a Turkish nation-state.
On 31 March 1923, the nationalist movement passed a law granting immunity to CUP war criminals. The treaty of Sèvres was annulled by the Treaty of Lausanne later that year, which established Turkey's current borders and provided for the Greek population's expulsion. Its minority protection provisions had no enforcement mechanism and were disregarded in practice. Historian Hans-Lukas Kieser concludes that by agreeing to the treaty, the international community implicitly sanctioned the Armenian genocide. On 15 March 1921, Talaat Pasha was assassinated in Berlin as part of Operation Nemesis, the 1920s covert operation of the Dashnaktsutyun to kill the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide. The trial of his admitted killer, Soghomon Tehlirian, focused on Talaat's responsibility for genocide. Tehlirian was acquitted.
Turkish War of Independence
In September 1918, Talaat emphasized his completion of the most important war aim: "transforming Turkey to a nation-state in Anatolia". Remaining CUP cadres organized the Turkish nationalist movement to fight the Turkish War of Independence. Historian Raymond Kévorkian states that the war was "intended to complete the genocide by finally eradicating Armenian, Greek, and Syriac survivors". The nationalist movement depended on the support of perpetrators of the genocide and those who had profited from it. In February 1920, after capturing Marash, Turkish insurgents massacred thousands of Armenian civilians. Between 1922 and 1929, the Turkish authorities eliminated surviving Armenians from southern Turkey, expelling thousands to French-mandate Syria.
In 1918, at least 200,000 people, mostly refugees from the genocide, died from starvation or disease in the newly independent First Republic of Armenia, in part due to a Turkish blockade of food supplies. Food shortages were exacerbated by the deliberate destruction of crops in Eastern Armenia by Turkish troops, both before and after the armistice. From 1918 to 1920, Armenian militants committed revenge killings of at most 40,000 to 60,000 Muslims, providing a retroactive excuse for genocide. In 1920, Turkish general Kâzım Karabekir invaded Armenia with orders "to eliminate Armenia physically and politically". According to Kévorkian, only the Soviet occupation of Armenia prevented another genocide.
Armenian survivors were left mainly in three locations. In the Republic of Turkey, about 100,000 Armenians lived in Constantinople and another 200,000 lived in the provinces, largely women who had been forcibly converted or married and adopted children. While Armenians in the capital faced discrimination, they maintained their cultural identity, unlike those elsewhere in Turkey; those living outside of Istanbul continued to face forced Islamization and kidnapping of girls after 1923. In early republican Turkey, courts did not enforce the property rights that non-Muslims were granted on paper. It is estimated that as many as 2 million Turkish citizens may have at least one Armenian grandparent. About 295,000 Armenians had fled to Russian-controlled territory during the genocide and ended up mostly in Soviet Armenia. An estimated 200,000 Armenian refugees lived in the Middle East.
According to historian Margaret Lavinia Anderson, the Armenian genocide reached an "iconic status" as "the apex of horrors conceivable" prior to World War II. It was described by contemporaries as "the greatest crime of the ages" and "the blackest page in modern history". Postwar Ottoman grand vizier Ferid said that "humanity, civilizations are shuddering, and forever will shudder, in face of this tragedy". In Germany, the Nazis viewed post-1923 Turkey as a post-genocidal paradise and, according to Ihrig, "incorporated the Armenian genocide, its 'lessons', tactics, and 'benefits', into their own worldview".
Based on the CUP's justification of its actions, the Turkish government maintains that the mass deportation of Armenians was a legitimate action to combat an existential threat to the empire, but that there was no intention to exterminate the Armenian people. All major political parties in Turkey except the Peoples' Democratic Party promote Armenian genocide denial, a view that is also supported by the majority of Turkish citizens. Many Kurds, however, who themselves have suffered political repression in Turkey, have recognized and condemned the genocide. In 2007, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who had worked to promote reconciliation and acknowledgment of the genocide, was assassinated.
The Turkish state perceives discussion of the genocide to threaten national security because of its connection with the foundation of the republic. Acknowledgment of the genocide is punishable under Article 301 of the Penal Code, which prohibits insulting the Turkish nation and state institutions. Turkey's century-long effort to prevent any recognition or mention of the genocide in foreign countries has included millions of dollars in lobbying, as well as intimidation and threats. Historian Donald Bloxham recognizes that since denial is accompanied by "rhetoric of Armenian treachery, aggression, criminality, and territorial ambition, it actually enunciates an ongoing if latent threat of Turkish 'revenge'" against Armenia.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is commemorated on 24 April each year in Armenia and abroad, the anniversary of the deportation of Armenian intellectuals. On 24 April 1965, a hundred thousand Armenians protested in Yerevan, and diaspora Armenians demonstrated across the world in favor of recognition of the genocide and annexing land from Turkey. A memorial was completed two years later, at Tsitsernakaberd above Yerevan.
Since 1988, Armenians and Turkic Azeris have been involved in a protracted ethnic-territorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Initially involving peaceful demonstrations by Armenians, the conflict turned violent and has featured massacres by both sides, resulting in the displacement of more than half a million people. During the conflict, the Azerbaijani and Armenian governments regularly accused each other of plotting genocide. Azerbaijan also joined the Turkish effort to deny the Armenian genocide.
In response to continuing denial by the Turkish state, many Armenian diaspora activists have lobbied for formal recognition of the Armenian genocide, an effort that has become a central concern of the Armenian diaspora. From the 1970s onwards, many countries avoided recognition to preserve good relations with Turkey. As of 2021, 31 countries have recognized the genocide, along with Pope Francis and the European Parliament.
After meeting Armenian survivors in the Middle East, Austrian–Jewish writer Franz Werfel wrote The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933), a fictionalized retelling of the successful Armenian uprising in Musa Dagh, as a warning of the dangers of Nazism. According to Ihrig, the book is among the most important works of twentieth-century literature to address genocide and "is still considered essential reading for Armenians worldwide". The genocide became a central theme in English-language Armenian-American literature. The first feature film about the Armenian genocide, Ravished Armenia, was released in 1919 as a fundraiser for Near East Relief, based on the account of survivor Aurora Mardiganian, who played herself. The paintings of Armenian-American Arshile Gorky, a seminal figure of Abstract Expressionism, were influenced by his experience of the genocide. More than 200 memorials have been erected in 32 countries to commemorate the event.
Archives and historiography
The genocide is extensively documented in the archives of Germany, Austria, the United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as the Ottoman archives, despite systematic efforts to purge incriminating material. There are also thousands of eyewitness accounts from Western missionaries and Armenian survivors. Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide in 1944, became interested in war crimes after reading about the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian for the assassination of Talaat Pasha. Lemkin recognized the fate of the Armenians as one of the most significant genocides in the twentieth century. Almost all historians and scholars outside of Turkey, and an increasing number of Turkish scholars, recognize the destruction of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
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