WATCH: What is the Armenian Genocide?

What is the Armenian Genocide?

The atrocities committed against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish state during the course of the First World War and years before and after, are collectively called the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide was centrally planned and administered by the State of Turkey against the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. It was carried out during the First World War between 1915 and 1918. 

The Armenian people were subjected to deportation, expropriation, kidnapping, torture, massacre and starvation. The vast majority of the Armenian population was forcibly removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where a large part was sent to the desert to die of hunger and thirst. Large numbers of Armenians were methodically massacred throughout the Ottoman Empire. Women and children were abducted and brutally abused. All the wealth of the Armenian people was expropriated.

After less than a year of calm at the end of the First World War, the atrocities against the Armenian people were resumed between 1920 and 1923, when the remaining Armenians were victims of more massacres and expulsions. 

Who is responsible for the Armenian Genocide?

The decision to carry out the genocide against the Armenian population was made by the political party that held power in the Ottoman Empire and that is the Committee of Union and Progress, popularly known as the “Young Turks”.  Three Young Turks figures controlled the government: Mehmet Talaat, Minister of the Interior in 1915 and Grand Prime Minister in 1917; Ismael Enver, Minister of War;  and Ahmed Jemal, Minister of the Navy and Military Governor of Syria.

The Young Turks under assembly determined the high positions of the government and assigned to the military commanders the effective execution of the Genocide.

In addition to the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of War, the Young Turks had a newly created organization made up of convicts and irregular troops called the Special Organization (Teshkilati Mahsusa).  Their main objective was to carry out the mass slaughter of the deported Armenians. 
In charge of the Special Organization was Behaeddin Shakir.

On the other hand, ideological extremists such as Zia Gokalp promoted through the media the Young Turks propaganda for Panturkism: the creation of a new empire that would extend from Anatolia to Central Asia and whose population would be exclusively Turkish. 
These concepts justified and disclosed the Young Turks’ secret plans to exterminate all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The accomplices of the Young Turks, other leading figures in the Ottoman government, members of the Central Committee, and many provincial administrators responsible for atrocities against the Armenian population were indicted for their crimes at the end of World War I. 
Major criminals evaded justice by fleeing Turkey.  However, they were tried in absentia and have been found guilty of capital crimes.

The massacres, expulsions and mistreatment of the Armenians between 1920 and 1923 were carried out by the Turkish Nationalists, who represented a new political movement opposed to the Young Turks, but with whom they shared the ideology of the ethnic exclusivity of the Turkish state.

How Many People Died?

It is estimated that 1,500,000 Armenians were exterminated between 1915 and 1923. The Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in World War I was approximately 2 million. 

More than a million were deported in 1915. Hundreds of thousands were massacred on the spot. 
Many others died from starvation and epidemics that swept through the concentration camps. 
Among the Armenians living on the periphery of the Ottoman Empire, many fled to the central provinces of Turkey, where the Armenian population was larger.  More than ten thousand Armenians in eastern Turkey fled to the Russian border leading a precarious life as refugees.  Most of the Armenians residing in Constantinople (now Istanbul, the capital of Turkey) were deported.  The expulsions and massacres carried out by the Nationalist Turks between 1920 and 1923 added hundreds of thousands of new victims. 

By 1923 the lands of Asia Minor and historical western Armenia were deprived of their entire Armenian population. The destruction of the Armenian communities in this part of the world was total.

Were there witnesses of the Armenian Genocide?

Although the Young Turk government took precautions and placed severe restrictions on reporting and taking pictures of the event, there were many foreigners in the Ottoman Empire who witnessed the deportations.  Most of these were diplomats and missionaries from the United States of America, who
 were the first to bring the news to the world about the development of the Armenian Genocide. 

Some of these reports made headlines in the Western world and in the United States.  There were also many Germans.  The Germans were allies of the Turks during World War I.  Some German officers condemned the actions of the Young Turks and others informed their superiors in Germany about the massacres carried out on the Armenian civilian population. 

Many Russians were able to see for themselves the atrocities committed against Armenian communities when the Russian army occupied part of Anatolia. 

Many Arabs in Syria, where most of the deportees were sent, could see the appalling condition of the few survivors of such a cruel procedure. 

Lastly, Many Turkish officers witnessed the massacre while taking part in it. Many of them gave their testimonies under oath in the postwar courts where the Young Turks, organizers of the Armenian Genocide, were put on trial.

What was the response of the international community before this fact?

The international community condemned the Armenian Genocide.  In May 1915, the United Kingdom, France and Russia warned the leaders of the Young Turks that they would be responsible for a crime against humanity.  At the end of World War I, the victorious Allies demanded that the Ottoman government bring the Young Turks accused of war crimes to justice. 

However, no action was taken against the Turkish state, either to sanction it or to rescue the Armenian people from extermination.  Furthermore, no action was taken against the Turkish government for the restitution of the immense material and human loss suffered by the Armenian people.

Why is it commemorated on April 24th?

The date symbolizes the structural decapitation of the Armenian people, since, on the night of April 23 and throughout the early hours of the 24th, hundreds of intellectuals, religious, professionals and prominent citizens of Armenian origin were stripped of their homes under arrest and immediately deported to the interior of the Ottoman Empire to be later assassinated. 

This date in the calendar concentrates on two very important events.  On the one hand, the beginning of the extermination plan of the entire Armenian people that would be launched by the Young Turks from 1915 until the first years of the Republic of Turkey founded by Mustafa Kemal Attatürk (1923).  On the other hand, April 24 symbolically summarizes all those crimes against humanity that the Turkish Ottomans committed against the Armenian people, that is, the massacres prior to April 24, 1915.

The Turkish position

Despite the fact that several countries have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, the Republic of Turkey systematically denies it as a state policy. Furthermore, Turkey minimizes the evidence of the atrocities carried out as mere allegations and regularly obstructs the efforts applied to the recognition of such an episode. Therefore, affirming the truth about the Armenian Genocide has become an issue of international importance. The recurrence of genocides in the 20th and early 21st centuries makes recognition of the crimes and atrocities committed against the Armenians by the Turkish state a pressing obligation of the international community.

Script and information by Urartu Armenian Genocide Study and Research Center:

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