On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported between 235 and 270 Armenian community leader and scholars from Constantinople, the majority of whom were eventually killed. The genocide was carried out throughout World War I in two phases the killing of the able-bodied men through massacre and forced labor, and then the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the ill, on death marches to the Syrian Desert. Driven forward by military ?escorts’, the ?deportees’ were deprived of food and water, and victim to robbery, rape, and massacre. In 1943, Raphael Lemkin was moved specifically by the annihilation of Armenians to define the organized manner in which the killings were carried out, coining the word genocide as systematic and premeditated exterminations within legal parameters. Thus, the Armenian Genocide is widely acknowledged to have been the first modern genocide; while Turkey denies that genocide is an accurate term, as of 2018, 29 countries have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide, as have most genocide scholars and historians. The deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians was a reaction to the toals of World War I and not of a long-held plan to eliminate Armenians as an ethnic cleansing. The roots of this genocide, however, are grounded in Turkish Muslims’ resentment of Armenian Christians’ political and economic success, going against traditional Ottoman social hierarchies that held Muslims superior to non-Muslims”and a growing sense by young Turk leaders and Muslims that Armenians were ?others’ and a dangerous element to society.
On July 24, 1908, Armenians’ movement for equality in the Ottoman Empire strengthened when a coup d’etat staged by officers of the Ottoman Third Army removed Abdul Hamid II from power, and restored the country to a constitutional monarchy. The officers were part of the Young Turk movement, who wanted to reform the administration of the Ottoman Empire to meet European standards. The movement was an anti-Hamidian coalition made up of two distinct groups, the liberal constitutionalists and the nationalists, the former more democratic and accepting of Armenians, the latter mostly intolerant of Armenians and their frequent requests for European assistance. In 1902 however, during a congress of the Young Turks held in Paris, the heads of the liberal wing, Sabahaddin and Ahmed Riza Bey, somewhat convinced the nationalists to include ensuring some rights for all the minorities of the empire, including Armenians, as part of their new agenda.
One factions within the Young Turk movement was a secret revolutionary organization, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). It drew its membership from disaffected army officers based in Salonika, and was behind a wave of mutinies against the central government. In 1908, elements of the Third Army and the Second Army Corps declared their opposition to the Sultan and threatened to march on the capital to depose him. Threatened by the wave of resentment, he stepped down from power. The ultimate goal of the CUP was to restore the Ottoman Empire to its former glory, reclaiming its title as one of the world’s great powers. Once the party gained control and consolidated its power in the 1912 Election of Clubs and the 1913 Raid on the Sublime Porte, the party grew increasingly more splintered and volatile. Following attacks on the empire’s Turkish citizens during the Balkan Wars of 1912“1913, the three leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha and Jemal Pasha, fortified their position as the new leadership, together recognized as the Three Pashas and took over rule of the Ottoman Empire and the CUP party, known as The Young Turks.
In 1912, the First Balkan War broke out, ending in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the loss the majority of its European territory. Many in the empire saw their defeat as “Allah’s divine punishment for a society that did not know how to pull itself together. Soon, the Turkish nationalist movement viewed Anatolia as their last refuge, where the Armenian population were a minority. A subsequent repercussion was the mass expulsion of Muslims from the Balkans, and the following large scale immigration, where more than half a million refugees settled in areas where Armenians resided. They soon resented the status of their relatively well-off neighbors, a disdain that would influence the murder and expulsion of Armenians, and the confiscation of their properties, during the genocide.
As a preface, Turkey has steadily refused to recognize that the events of 1915“16 constitute a genocide. The Turkish government has admitted that deportations took place, but they maintain that the Armenians were a rebellious faction that had to be pacified during a national security crisis; while they acknowledge that some killing took place, they contend that it was not initiated or directed by the government, and there were ?deaths on both sides’. Major countries”including the United States, Israel, and Great Britain”have also declined to acknowledge the events as a genocide, in order to avoid damaging their relations with Turkey. In 2014, government officials in Turkey offered condolences to the Armenian victims, but Armenians remain committed to having the mass killings of their ancestors during World War I recognized as a genocide.
The Ottoman Empire opened the Middle Eastern theater of World War I on the side of the Central Powers on November 2, 1914, and the following battles of the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign and the Gallipoli Campaign directly affected populated Armenian communities. Before entering the war, the Ottoman government had sent representatives to the Armenian congress at Erzurum to convince Ottoman Armenians to facilitate the conquest of Transcaucasia by inciting an insurrection of Russian Armenians against the Russian army if a Caucasus theater is opened. On December 24, 1914, this is put into action when the Minister of War Enver Pasha implemented a plan to surround and overpower the Russian Caucasus Army to repossess territory lost to Russia in the Russo-Turkish War. But when Pasha’s forces were routed in the battle, and almost completely annihilated, Pasha publicly blamed the defeat on Armenians in the region having actively sided with the Russians. As a result, on November 14, 1914, in Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, the religious leader Sheikh-ul-Islam declared an Islamic holy war on behalf of the Ottoman government, urging his Muslim followers to take up arms against Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro in World War I; this was later used as a factor to provoke radical masses in the implementation of the Armenian Genocide.
On February 25, 1915, the Ottoman General Staff released the War Minister Enver Pasha’s Directive 8682 on “Increased security and precautions” to all military units calling for the removal of all ethnic Armenians serving in the Ottoman forces from their posts and for their demobilization; the directive accused the Armenian Patriarchate of releasing State secrets to the Russians. Enver Pasha explained this decision as “out of fear that they would collaborate with the Russians”. Before February, some of the Armenian recruits were utilized as labourers before being executed. Transferring Armenian conscripts from active combat to passive, unarmed logistic sections was an important precursor to the subsequent genocide. The execution of the Armenians in these battalions was part of a premeditated strategy of the CUP. Those who weren’t murdered were deported. But the government called it a “necessary deportation”, claiming that many Armenian radicals were threatening to side with Russia. Turkey says that there was never a deliberate, ethnically-driven effort to exterminate the Armenian population; “it was a wartime precaution, like the U.S. relocated the Japanese population during World War II,” says Dr. Kamer Kasim, Dean of Abant Izzet Baysal University.
Ottoman rulers, like most of their subjects, were Muslim. They permitted Armenians to maintain some autonomy, but they also subjected them to unequal and unjust treatment; under the Ottoman Empire, Christians had minimal political and legal rights. Still, Armenian communities thrived. They tended to be better educated and wealthier than their (Muslim) Turkish neighbors, who in turn grew to resent their success. This resentment was compounded by distrust, as Muslim Turks believed that the Christian Armenians would be loyal to Christian governments, specifically Russia, rather than to the Ottoman caliphate. The success of Armenian Christians over Muslim Turks, the distrust of religious loyalties, and especially the government scapegoating of Armenians when the military failed, are all causes of the Armenian Genocide. Because the Armenian population was oppressed, Turkish military leaders argued that Armenians thought they could win independence if the Allies were victorious, thus they would be eager to fight for the enemy. The military leads were not wrong, and as the war intensified, Armenians organized volunteer battalions to help the Russian army fight against the Turks in the Caucasus region. Whether accusations lead to Armenians taking up arms, or Armenians taking up arms lead to accusations is still unclear. Either way, these events, and the general Turkish distrust of the Armenian people, led the Turkish government to move for the removal of Armenians from war zones along the Eastern Front”thus the deportations began.
As Armenian men were killed and sent to labor and women and children were deported, they left behind their homes, land, and all the wealth they’d acquired. At the same time, the beginning of World War I had begun to take its toll on the Ottoman Empire, and the new Young Turk government was running out of the resources needed to continue waging war. While the government struggled, the Armenian populations in Tiflis and Baku controlled most of the local wealth, therefore it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that part of the reason for the genocide was to take over the wealth left behind by the Armenians who had been deported and murdered. Stealing Armenians’ wealth solved one of the empire’s two problems; with the stolen wealth, the Young Turk government could fund its continuing role in World War I. However, besides the financial struggles in the war, the fighting itself was going poorly.
The Armenian people caught the blame for this too. As the Turkish people were already distrusting of Armenians, the government simply continued to turn its people against the Armenians, portraying the minority as the reason for the military defeats, claiming that they were being undermined from within. To back up this claim, and to prevent any resistance to the forthcoming attacks, the Turkish government disarmed all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. To follow up, the Young Turks then took advantage of the contentious war situation, claiming that all Armenians, beginning with those in the highly populated Anatolia region, and later extending to all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, needed to be relocated due to wartime emergencies. In May, the Ottoman Parliament passed legislation formally authorizing the deportation. The deportation was accompanied by a systematic campaign of mass murder. Survivors who reached the deserts of Syria were left in concentration camps, many starving to death, with mass killings continuing into 1916. Conservative estimates have calculated that from 600,000 to more than 1,000,000 Armenians were slaughtered or died on the marches. The events of 1915“16 were witnessed by a number of foreign journalists, missionaries, diplomats, and military officers who sent reports home about death marches and killing fields.
While the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians was a reaction to the toals of World War I and not of a long-held plan to eliminate Armenians as an ethnic cleansing, its roots are grounded in Turkish Muslims’ resentment of Turkish Armenians’ political and economic success, going against traditional Ottoman social hierarchies that held Muslims superior to non-Muslims”and a growing sense by young Turk leaders and Muslims that Armenians were others and a dangerous element to society. Despite unequal and unjust treatment under the Ottoman Empire where Christians had minimal political and legal rights, Armenian communities thrived, unfairly earning themselves disdain from their Muslim neighbors. While there is not one moment or one notion that set off the Armenian Genocide, this disdain, the success of Armenian Christians over Muslim Turks, the distrust of Armenians’ (religious) loyalties, and the government scapegoating of Armenians when the military failed, are all causes of the Armenian Genocide.
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