The Armenian Genocide (Armenian: Հայոց ցեղասպանություն Hayots tseghaspanutyun), also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, traditionally by Armenians, as Medz Yeghern (Armenian: Մեծ Եղեռն, “Great Crime”), was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland, which lies within the present-day Republic of Turkey. The number of victims is estimated at between 800,000 and 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople to Ankara, the majority of whom were eventually murdered. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by some historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. Most Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.
Raphael Lemkin was explicitly moved by the Armenian annihilation to define systematic and premeditated exterminations within legal parameters and to coin the word genocide in 1943. The Armenian Genocide is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides, because scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out in order to eliminate the Armenians, and it is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust.
Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide as an accurate term for the mass killings of Armenians that began under Ottoman rule in 1915. It has in recent years been faced with repeated calls to recognize them as genocide. To date, 29 countries have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide, a view which is shared by most genocide scholars and historians.
– Armenians under Ottoman rule
Armenia had come largely under Ottoman rule during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The vast majority of Armenians, grouped together under the name Armenian millet (community) and led by their spiritual head, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, were concentrated in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire (commonly referred to as Turkish Armenia or Western Armenia), although large communities were also found in the western provinces, as well as in the capital Constantinople. The Armenian community was made up of three religious denominations: the Armenian Apostolic to which the overwhelming majority of Armenians belonged, and the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Protestant communities. Through the millet system, the Armenian community were allowed to rule themselves under their own system of governance with fairly little interference from the Ottoman government. With the exception of the empire’s urban centers and the extremely wealthy, Constantinople-based Amira class, a social elite whose members included the Duzians (Directors of the Imperial Mint), the Balyans (Chief Imperial Architects) and the Dadians (Superintendent of the Gunpowder Mills and manager of industrial factories), most Armenians – approximately 70% of their population – lived in poor and dangerous conditions in the rural countryside. Ottoman census figures clash with the statistics collected by the Armenian Patriarchate. According to the latter, there were almost three million Armenians living in the empire in 1878 (400,000 in Constantinople and the Balkans, 600,000 in Asia Minor and Cilicia, 670,000 in Lesser Armenia and the area near Kayseri, and 1,300,000 in Western Armenia itself). In the eastern provinces, the Armenians were subject to the whims of their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors, who would regularly overtax them, subject them to brigandage and kidnapping, force them to convert to Islam, and otherwise exploit them without interference from central or local authorities. In the Ottoman Empire, in accordance with the dhimmi system implemented in Muslim countries, they, like all other Christians and also Jews, were accorded certain freedoms. The dhimmi system in the Ottoman Empire was largely based upon the Pact of Umar. The client status established the rights of the non-Muslims to property, livelihood and freedom of worship but they were in essence treated as second-class citizens in the empire and referred to in Turkish as gavours, a pejorative word meaning “infidel” or “unbeliever”. While building new places of worship by non-Muslims was forbidden under the Pact of Umar, this prohibition was not followed in all regions of the Ottoman Empire. Although there were no law on religious ghettos, the prohibition of building new places of worship by non-Muslims led to them clustering near existing ones. Writing in the late 1890s after a visit to the Ottoman Empire, the British ethnographer William Ramsay described the conditions of Armenian life as follows:
We must, however, go back to an older time, if we want to appreciate what uncontrolled Turkish rule meant, alike to Armenians and to Greeks. It did not mean religious persecution; it meant unutterable contempt … They were dogs and pigs; and their nature was to be Christians, to be spat upon, if their shadow darkened a Turk, to be outraged, to be the mats on which he wiped the mud from his feet. Conceive the inevitable result of centuries of slavery, of subjection to insult and scorn, centuries in which nothing that belonged to the Armenian, neither his property, his house, his life, his person, nor his family, was sacred or safe from violence – capricious, unprovoked violence – to resist which by violence meant death!
In addition to other legal limitations, Christians were not considered equals to Muslims and several prohibitions were placed on them. Their testimony against Muslims by Christians and Jews was inadmissible in courts of law wherein a Muslim could be punished; this meant that their testimony could only be considered in commercial cases. They were forbidden to carry weapons or ride atop horses and camels. Their houses could not overlook those of Muslims; and their religious practices were severely circumscribed (e.g., the ringing of church bells was strictly forbidden).
– Reform implementation, 1840s–80s
In the mid-19th century, the three major European powers, Great Britain, France and Russia, began to question the Empire’s treatment of its Christian minorities and pressure it to grant equal rights to all its subjects. From 1839 to the declaration of a constitution in 1876, the Ottoman government instituted the Tanzimat, a series of reforms designed to improve the status of minorities. Nevertheless, most of the reforms were never implemented because the empire’s Muslim population rejected the principle of equality for Christians. By the late 1870s, the Greeks, along with several other Christian nations in the Balkans, frustrated with their conditions, had, often with the help of the great powers, broken free of Ottoman rule. The Armenians remained, by and large, passive during these years, earning them the title of millet-i sadika or the “loyal millet”.
In the mid-1860s and early 1870s this passivity gave way to new currents of thinking in Armenian society. Led by intellectuals educated at European universities or American missionary schools in Turkey, Armenians began to question their second-class status and press for better treatment from their government. In one such instance, after amassing the signatures of peasants from Western Armenia, the Armenian Communal Council petitioned the Ottoman government to redress their principal grievances: “the looting and murder in Armenian towns by muslim Kurds and Circassians, improprieties during tax collection, criminal behavior by government officials and the refusal to accept Christians as witnesses in trial”. The Ottoman government considered these grievances and promised to punish those responsible, though no meaningful steps were ever taken.
Following the violent suppression of Christians in the uprisings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Serbia in 1875, the Great Powers invoked the 1856 Treaty of Paris by claiming that it gave them the right to intervene and protect the Ottoman Empire’s Christian minorities. Under growing pressure, the government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II declared itself a constitutional monarchy with a parliament (which was almost immediately prorogued) and entered into negotiations with the powers. At the same time, the Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, Nerses II, forwarded Armenian complaints of widespread “forced land seizure … forced conversion of women and children, arson, protection extortion, rape, and murder” to the Powers.
The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 ended with Russia’s decisive victory and its army in occupation of large parts of eastern Turkey, but not before entire Armenian districts had been devastated by massacres carried out with the connivance of Ottoman authorities. In the wake of these events, Patriarch Nerses and his emissaries made repeated approaches to Russian leaders to urge the inclusion of a clause granting local self-government to the Armenians in the forthcoming Treaty of San Stefano. The Russians were receptive and drew up the clause, but the Ottomans flatly rejected it during negotiations. In its place, the two sides agreed on a clause making the Sublime Porte’s implementation of reforms in the Armenian provinces a condition of Russia’s withdrawal, thus designating Russia the guarantor of the reforms. The clause entered the treaty as Article 16 and marked the first appearance of what came to be known in European diplomacy as the Armenian question.
On receiving a copy of the treaty, Britain promptly objected to it and particularly Article 16, which it saw as ceding too much influence to Russia. It immediately pushed for a congress of the great powers to be convened to discuss and revise the treaty, leading to the Congress of Berlin in June–July 1878. Patriarch Nerses sent a delegation led by his distinguished predecessor, Archbishop Khrimian Hayrik, to speak for the Armenians, but it was not admitted into the sessions on the grounds that it did not represent a country. Confined to the periphery, the delegation did its best to contact the representatives of the powers and argue the case for Armenian administrative autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, but to little effect.
Following an understanding reached with Ottoman representatives, Britain drew up an emasculated version of Article 16 to replace the original, a clause that retained the call for reforms but omitted any reference to the Russian occupation, thereby dispensing with the principal guarantee of their implementation. Despite an ambiguous reference to great power supervision, the clause failed to offset the removal of the Russian guarantee with any tangible equivalent, thus leaving the timing and fate of the reforms to the discretion of the Sublime Porte. The clause was readily adopted as Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin on the last day of the Congress, to the deep disappointment of the Armenian delegation.
– Armenian national liberation movement
Prospects for reforms faded rapidly following the signing of the Berlin treaty, as security conditions in the Armenian provinces went from bad to worse and abuses proliferated. Upset with this turn of events, a number of disillusioned Armenian intellectuals living in Europe and Russia decided to form political parties and societies dedicated to the betterment of their compatriots living inside the Ottoman Empire. In the last quarter of the 19th century, this movement came to be dominated by three parties: the Armenakan, whose influence was limited to Van, the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun). Ideological differences aside, all the parties had the common goal of achieving better social conditions for the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire through self-defense and advocating increased European pressure on the Ottoman government to implement the promised reforms.
– Hamidian massacres, 1894–96
Since 1876, the Ottoman state had been led by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Immediately after the Treaty of Berlin was signed, Abdul Hamid attempted to forestall implementation of its reform provisions by asserting that Armenians did not make up a majority in the provinces and that their reports of abuses were largely exaggerated or false. In 1890, Abdul Hamid created a paramilitary outfit known as the Hamidiye which was mostly made up of Kurdish irregulars who were tasked to “deal with the Armenians as they wished”. As Ottoman officials intentionally provoked rebellions (often as a result of over-taxation) in Armenian populated towns, such as in Sasun in 1894 and Zeitun in 1895–96, these regiments were increasingly used to deal with the Armenians by way of oppression and massacre. In some instances Armenians successfully fought off the regiments and in 1895 brought the excesses to the attention of the Great Powers, who subsequently condemned the Porte.
In October 1895, the Powers forced Abdul Hamid to sign a new reform package designed to curtail the powers of the Hamidiye but, like the Berlin Treaty, it was never implemented. On 1 October 1895, 2,000 Armenians assembled in Constantinople to petition for the implementation of the reforms, but Ottoman police units converged on the rally and violently broke it up. Soon, massacres of Armenians broke out in Constantinople and then engulfed the rest of the Armenian-populated provinces of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, Harput, Sivas, Trabzon, and Van. Estimates differ on how many Armenians were killed but European documentation of the pogroms, which became known as the Hamidian massacres, placed the figures at between 100,000 and 300,000.
Although Hamid was never directly implicated in ordering the massacres, it is believed that they had his tacit approval. Frustrated with European indifference to the massacres, a group of members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation seized the European-managed Ottoman Bank on 26 August 1896. This incident brought further sympathy for Armenians in Europe and was lauded by the European and American press, which vilified Hamid and painted him as the “great assassin”, “bloody Sultan”, and “Abdul the Damned”. While the Great Powers vowed to take action and enforce new reforms, these never came to fruition due to conflicting political and economic interests.
Prelude to the Genocide
– The Young Turk Revolution of 1908
On 24 July 1908, Armenians’ hopes for equality in the empire brightened once more when a coup d’état staged by officers in the Ottoman Third Army based in Salonika removed Abdul Hamid II from power and restored the country to a constitutional monarchy. The officers were part of the Young Turk movement that wanted to reform administration of the perceived decadent state of the Ottoman Empire and modernize it to European standards. The movement was an anti-Hamidian coalition made up of two distinct groups: the liberal constitutionalists and the nationalists; the former were more democratic and accepted Armenians into their wing whereas the latter group was more intolerant in regard to Armenian-related issues and their frequent requests for European assistance. In 1902, during a congress of the Young Turks held in Paris, the heads of the liberal wing, Sabahaddin and Ahmed Riza Bey, partially persuaded the nationalists to include in their objectives ensuring some rights for all the minorities of the empire.
One of the numerous factions within the Young Turk movement was a secret revolutionary organization called 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. Hamid, shaken by the wave of resentment, stepped down from power as Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Arabs, Bulgarians and Turks alike rejoiced in his dethronement.
– The Adana massacre of 1909
A countercoup took place in early 1909, ultimately resulting in the 31 March Incident on 13 April 1909. Some reactionary Ottoman military elements, joined by Islamic theological students, aimed to return control of the country to the Sultan and the rule of Islamic law. Riots and fighting broke out between the reactionary forces and CUP forces, until the CUP was able to put down the uprising and court-martial the opposition leaders.
While the movement initially targeted the Young Turk government, it spilled over into pogroms against Armenians who were perceived as having supported the restoration of the constitution. When Ottoman Army troops were called in, many accounts record that instead of trying to quell the violence they actually took part in pillaging Armenian enclaves in Adana province. The number of Armenians killed in the course of the Adana massacre ranged between 15,000 and 30,000 people.
– The Balkan Wars
In 1912, the First Balkan War broke out and ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire as well as the loss of 85% 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”. The Turkish nationalist movement in the country gradually came to view Anatolia as their last refuge. That the Armenian population formed a significant minority in this region later figured prominently in the calculations of the Three Pashas, who carried out the Armenian Genocide.
An important consequence of the Balkan Wars was also the mass expulsion of Muslims (known as muhacirs) from the Balkans. Beginning in the mid-19th century, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, including Turks, Circassians, and Chechens, were expelled or forced to flee from the Caucasus and the Balkans (Rumelia) as a result of the Russo-Turkish wars and the conflicts in the Balkans. Muslim society in the empire was incensed by this flood of refugees. A journal published in Constantinople expressed the mood of the times: “Let this be a warning … O Muslims, don’t get comfortable! Do not let your blood cool before taking revenge”. As many as 850,000 of these refugees were settled in areas where the Armenians were resident from the period of 1878–1904. The muhacirs resented the status of their relatively well-off neighbors and, as historian Taner Akçam and others have noted, the refugees came to play a pivotal role in the killings of the Armenians and the confiscation of their properties during the genocide.
World War I
On 2 November 1914, the Ottoman Empire opened the Middle Eastern theater of World War I by entering hostilities on the side of the Central Powers and against the Allies. The battles of the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign and the Gallipoli Campaign affected several populous Armenian centers. Before entering the war, the Ottoman government had sent representatives to the Armenian congress at Erzurum to persuade Ottoman Armenians to facilitate its conquest of Transcaucasia by inciting an insurrection of Russian Armenians against the Russian army in the event a Caucasus front was opened.
– Battle of Sarikamish
On 24 December 1914, Minister of War Enver Pasha implemented a plan to encircle and destroy the Russian Caucasus Army at Sarikamish in order to regain territories lost to Russia after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Enver Pasha’s forces were routed in the battle, and almost completely destroyed. Returning to Constantinople, Enver Pasha publicly blamed his defeat on Armenians in the region having actively sided with the Russians.
– Directive 8682, 25 February
On 25 February 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. They were assigned to the unarmed Labour battalions (Turkish: amele taburlari). 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”. Traditionally, the Ottoman Army only drafted non-Muslim males between the ages of 20 and 45 into the regular army. The younger (15–20) and older (45–60) non-Muslim soldiers had always been used as logistical support through the labour battalions. Before February, some of the Armenian recruits were utilized as labourers (hamals), though they would ultimately be executed.
Transferring Armenian conscripts from active combat to passive, unarmed logistic sections was an important precursor to the subsequent genocide. As reported in The Memoirs of Naim Bey, the execution of the Armenians in these battalions was part of a premeditated strategy of the CUP. Many of these Armenian recruits were executed by local Turkish gangs.
– Van, April 1915
On 19 April 1915, Jevdet Bey demanded that the city of Van immediately furnish him 4,000 soldiers under the pretext of conscription. However, it was clear to the Armenian population that his goal was to massacre the able-bodied men of Van so that there would be no defenders. Jevdet Bey had already used his official writ in nearby villages, ostensibly to search for arms, but in fact to initiate wholesale massacres. The Armenians offered five hundred soldiers and exemption money for the rest in order to buy time, but Jevdet Bey accused the Armenians of “rebellion” and asserted his determination to “crush” it at any cost. “If the rebels fire a single shot”, he declared, “I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and” (pointing to his knee) “every child, up to here”.
The next day, 20 April 1915, the siege of Van began when an Armenian woman was harassed, and the two Armenian men who came to her aid were killed by Ottoman soldiers. The Armenian defenders protected the 30,000 residents and 15,000 refugees living in an area of roughly one square kilometer of the Armenian Quarter and suburb of Aigestan with 1,500 ablebodied riflemen who were supplied with 300 rifles and 1,000 pistols and antique weapons. The conflict lasted until General Yudenich of Russia came to their rescue.
Reports of the conflict reached then United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau, Sr. from Aleppo and Van, prompting him to raise the issue in person with Talaat and Enver. As he quoted to them the testimonies of his consulate officials, they justified the deportations as necessary to the conduct of the war, suggesting that complicity of the Armenians of Van with the Russian forces that had taken the city justified the persecution of all ethnic Armenians.
– Arrest and deportation of Armenian notables, April 1915
By 1914, Ottoman authorities had already begun a propaganda drive to present Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire as a threat to the empire’s security. An Ottoman naval officer in the War Office described the planning:
In order to justify this enormous crime the requisite propaganda material was thoroughly prepared in Istanbul. It included such statements as ‘the Armenians are in league with the enemy. They will launch an uprising in Istanbul, kill off the Ittihadist leaders and will succeed in opening up the straits of the Dardanelles’.
On the night of 23–24 April 1915, known as Red Sunday (Armenian: Կարմիր Կիրակի Garmir Giragi), the Ottoman government rounded up and imprisoned an estimated 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders of the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, and later those in other centers, who were moved to two holding centers near Ankara. This date coincided with Allied troop landings at Gallipoli after unsuccessful Allied naval attempts to break through the Dardanelles to Constantinople in February and March 1915.
Following the passage of Tehcir Law on 29 May 1915, the Armenian leaders, except for the few who were able to return to Constantinople, were gradually deported and assassinated. The date 24 April is commemorated as Genocide Remembrance Day by Armenians around the world.
In May 1915, Mehmet Talaat Pasha requested that the cabinet and Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha legalize a measure for the deportation of Armenians to other places due to what Talaat Pasha called “the Armenian riots and massacres, which had arisen in a number of places in the country”. However, Talaat Pasha was referring specifically to events in Van and extending the implementation to the regions in which alleged “riots and massacres” would affect the security of the war zone of the Caucasus Campaign. Later, the scope of the deportation was widened in order to include the Armenians in the other provinces.
On 29 May 1915, the CUP Central Committee passed the Temporary Law of Deportation (“Tehcir Law”), giving the Ottoman government and military authorization to deport anyone it “sensed” as a threat to national security.
With the implementation of Tehcir Law, the confiscation of Armenian property and the slaughter of Armenians that ensued upon its enactment outraged much of the western world. While the Ottoman Empire’s wartime allies offered little protest, a wealth of German and Austrian historical documents has since come to attest to the witnesses’ horror at the killings and mass starvation of Armenians. In the United States, The New York Times reported almost daily on the mass murder of the Armenian people, describing the process as “systematic”, “authorized” and “organized by the government”. Theodore Roosevelt would later characterize this as “the greatest crime of the war”.
Historian Hans-Lukas Kieser states that, from the statements of Talaat Pasha it is clear that the officials were aware that the deportation order was genocidal. Another historian Taner Akçam states that the telegrams show that the overall coordination of the genocide was taken over by Talaat Pasha.
– – Death Marches
The Armenians were marched out to the Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor and the surrounding desert. There is no evidence that the Ottoman government provided the extensive facilities and supplies that would have been necessary to sustain the life of hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees during their forced march to the Syrian desert or after. By August 1915, The New York Times repeated an unattributed report that “the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people”. Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha were completely aware that by abandoning the Armenian deportees in the desert they were condemning them to certain death. A dispatch from a “high diplomatic source in Turkey, not American, reporting the testimony of trustworthy witnesses” about the plight of Armenian deportees in northern Arabia and the Lower Euphrates valley was extensively quoted by The New York Times in August 1916:
The witnesses have seen thousands of deported Armenians under tents in the open, in caravans on the march, descending the river in boats and in all phases of their miserable life. Only in a few places does the Government issue any rations, and those are quite insufficient. The people, therefore, themselves are forced to satisfy their hunger with food begged in that scanty land or found in the parched fields.
Naturally, the death rate from starvation and sickness is very high and is increased by the brutal treatment of the authorities, whose bearing toward the exiles as they are being driven back and forth over the desert is not unlike that of slave drivers. With few exceptions no shelter of any kind is provided and the people coming from a cold climate are left under the scorching desert sun without food and water. Temporary relief can only be obtained by the few able to pay officials.
Similarly, Major General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein noted that “The Turkish policy of causing starvation is an all too obvious proof, if proof was still needed as to who is responsible for the massacre, for the Turkish resolve to destroy the Armenians”.
German engineers and labourers involved in building the railway also witnessed Armenians being crammed into cattle cars and shipped along the railroad line. Franz Gunther, a representative for Deutsche Bank which was funding the construction of the Baghdad Railway, forwarded photographs to his directors and expressed his frustration at having to remain silent amid such “bestial cruelty”. Major General Otto von Lossow, acting military attaché and head of the German Military Plenipotentiary in the Ottoman Empire, spoke to Ottoman intentions in a conference held in Batum in 1918:
The Turks have embarked upon the “total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia … The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. Talaat’s government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey but also outside Turkey. On the basis of all the reports and news coming to me here in Tiflis there hardly can be any doubt that the Turks systematically are aiming at the extermination of the few hundred thousand Armenians whom they left alive until now.
Rape was an integral part of the genocide; military commanders told their men to “do to the women whatever you wish”, resulting in widespread sexual abuse. Deportees were displayed naked in Damascus and sold as sex slaves in some areas, including Mosul according to the report of the German consul there, constituting an important source of income for accompanying soldiers. Rössler, the German consul in Aleppo during the genocide, heard from an “objective” Armenian that around a quarter of young women, whose appearance was “more or less pleasing”, were regularly raped by the gendarmes, and that “even more beautiful ones” were violated by 10–15 men. This resulted in girls and women being left behind dying.
– – Concentration camps
A network of 25 concentration camps was set up by the Ottoman government to dispose of the Armenians who had survived the deportations to their ultimate point. This network, situated in the region of Turkey’s present-day borders with Iraq and Syria, was directed by Şükrü Kaya, one of Talaat Pasha’s right-hand men. Some of the camps were only temporary transit points. Others, such as Radjo, Katma, and Azaz, were briefly used for mass graves and then vacated by autumn 1915. Camps such as Lale, Tefridje, Dipsi, Del-El, and Ra’s al-‘Ayn were built specifically for those whose life expectancy was just a few days. According to Hilmar Kaiser, the Ottoman authorities refused to provide food and water to the victims, increasing the mortality rate, and Muslim men obtained Armenian women through recorded marriages, while the deaths of their husbands were not recorded.
Bernau, an American citizen of German descent, traveled to the areas where Armenians were incarcerated and wrote a report that was deemed factual by Rössler, the German Consul at Aleppo. He reports mass graves containing over 60,000 people in Meskene and large numbers of mounds of corpses, as the Armenians died due to hunger and disease. He reported seeing 450 orphans, who received at most 150 grams of bread per day, in a tent of 5–6 square meters. Dysentery swept through the camp and days passed between the instances of distribution of bread to some. In “Abu Herrera”, near Meskene, he described how the guards let 240 Armenians starve, and wrote that they searched “horse droppings” for grains.
– Confiscation of property
The Tehcir Law brought some measures regarding the property of the deportees, but in September a new law was proposed. By means of the “Abandoned Properties” Law (Law Concerning Property, Dept’s and Assets Left Behind Deported Persons, also referred as the “Temporary Law on Expropriation and Confiscation”), the Ottoman government took possession of all “abandoned” Armenian goods and properties. Ottoman parliamentary representative Ahmed Riza protested this legislation:
It is unlawful to designate the Armenian assets as “abandoned goods” for the Armenians, the proprietors, did not abandon their properties voluntarily; they were forcibly, compulsorily removed from their domiciles and exiled. Now the government through its efforts is selling their goods … If we are a constitutional regime functioning in accordance with constitutional law we can’t do this. This is atrocious. Grab my arm, eject me from my village, then sell my goods and properties, such a thing can never be permissible. Neither the conscience of the Ottomans nor the law can allow it.
On 13 September 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the “Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation”, stating that all property, including land, livestock, and homes belonging to Armenians, was to be confiscated by the authorities.
– – International aid to victims
The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR, also known as “Near East Relief”), established in 1915 just after the deportations began, was a charitable organization established to relieve the suffering of the peoples of the Near East. The organization was championed by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Morgenthau’s dispatches on the mass slaughter of Armenians galvanized much support for the organization. In its first year, the ACRNE cared for 132,000 Armenian orphans from Tiflis, Yerevan, Constantinople, Sivas, Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem. A relief organization for refugees in the Middle East helped donate over $102 million (budget $117,000,000) [1930 value of dollar] to Armenians both during and after the war. Between 1915 and 1930, ACRNE distributed humanitarian relief to locations across a wide geographical range, eventually spending over ten times its original estimate and helping around 2,000,000 refugees.
– The “Special Organization”
The Committee of Union and Progress founded the “Special Organization” (Turkish: Teşkilat-i Mahsusa) that participated in the destruction of the Ottoman Armenian community. This organization adopted its name in 1913 and functioned like a special forces outfit, and it has been compared by some scholars to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. Later in 1914, the Ottoman government influenced the direction the Special Organization was to take by releasing criminals from central prisons to be the central elements of this newly formed Special Organization. According to the Mazhar commissions attached to the tribunal as soon as November 1914, 124 criminals were released from Pimian prison. Little by little from the end of 1914 to the beginning of 1915, hundreds, then thousands of prisoners were freed to form the members of this organization. Later, they were charged to escort the convoys of Armenian deportees. Vehib Pasha, commander of the Ottoman Third Army, called those members of the Special Organization, the “butchers of the human species”.
– – Mass burnings
Eitan Belkind was a Nili member who infiltrated the Ottoman army as an official. He was assigned to the headquarters of Kamal Pasha. He claims to have witnessed the burning of 5,000 Armenians.
Lt. Hasan Maruf of the Ottoman army describes how a population of a village were taken all together and then burned. The Commander of the Third Army Vehib’s 12-page affidavit, which was dated 5 December 1918, was presented in the Trabzon trial series (29 March 1919) included in the Key Indictment, reporting such a mass burning of the population of an entire village near Muş: “The shortest method for disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them”. Further, it was reported that “Turkish prisoners who had apparently witnessed some of these scenes were horrified and maddened at remembering the sight. They told the Russians that the stench of the burning human flesh permeated the air for many days after”. Vahakn Dadrian wrote that 80,000 Armenians in 90 villages across the Muş plain were burned in “stables and haylofts”.
– – Drowning
Trabzon was the main city in Trabzon province; Oscar S. Heizer, the American consul at Trabzon, reported: “This plan did not suit Nail Bey … Many of the children were loaded into boats and taken out to sea and thrown overboard”. Hafiz Mehmet, a Turkish deputy serving Trabzon, testified during a 21 December 1918 parliamentary session of the Chamber of Deputies that “the district’s governor loaded the Armenians into barges and had them thrown overboard.” The Italian consul of Trabzon in 1915, Giacomo Gorrini, writes: “I saw thousands of innocent women and children placed on boats which were capsized in the Black Sea”. Vahakn Dadrian places the number of Armenians killed in the Trabzon province by drowning at 50,000. The Trabzon trials reported Armenians having been drowned in the Black Sea; according to a testimony, women and children were loaded on boats in “Değirmendere” to be drowned in the sea.
Hoffman Philip, the American chargé d’affaires at Constantinople, wrote: “Boat loads sent from Zor down the river arrived at Ana, one thirty miles away, with three fifths of passengers missing”. According to Robert Fisk, 900 Armenian women were drowned in Bitlis, while in Erzincan, the corpses in the Euphrates resulted in a change of course of the river for a few hundred meters. Dadrian also wrote that “countless” Armenians were drowned in the Euphrates and its tributaries.
– – Use of poison and drug overdoses
The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton writes in a parenthesis when introducing the medical experiments during the Holocaust, “Perhaps Turkish doctors, in their participation in the genocide against the Armenians, come closest, as I shall later suggest”.
Morphine overdose: During the Trabzon trial series of the Martial court, from the sittings between 26 March and 17 May 1919, the Trabzons Health Services Inspector Dr. Ziya Fuad wrote in a report that Dr. Saib caused the death of children with the injection of morphine. The information was allegedly provided by two physicians (Drs. Ragib and Vehib), both Dr. Saib’s colleagues at Trabzons Red Crescent hospital, where those atrocities were said to have been committed.
Toxic gas: Dr. Ziya Fuad and Dr. Adnan, public health services director of Trabzon, submitted affidavits reporting cases in which two school buildings were used to organize children and send them to the mezzanine to kill them with toxic gas equipment.
Typhoid inoculation: The Ottoman surgeon, Dr. Haydar Cemal wrote “on the order of the Chief Sanitation Office of the Third Army in January 1916, when the spread of typhus was an acute problem, innocent Armenians slated for deportation at Erzincan were inoculated with the blood of typhoid fever patients without rendering that blood ‘inactive'”. Jeremy Hugh Baron writes: “Individual doctors were directly involved in the massacres, having poisoned infants, killed children and issued false certificates of death from natural causes. Nazim’s brother-in-law Dr. Tevfik Rushdu, Inspector-General of Health Services, organized the disposal of Armenian corpses with thousands of kilos of lime over six months; he became foreign secretary from 1925 to 1938”.
– – Turkish courts-martial
On the night of 2–3 November 1918 and with the aid of Ahmed Izzet Pasha, the Three Pashas (which include Mehmed Talaat Pasha and Ismail Enver, the main perpetrators of the Genocide) fled the Ottoman Empire.
In 1919, after the Mudros Armistice, Sultan Mehmed VI was ordered to organise courts-martial by the Allied administration in charge of Constantinople to try members of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) (Turkish: “Ittihat Terakki”) for taking the Ottoman Empire into World War I. By January 1919, a report to Sultan Mehmed VI accused over 130 suspects, most of whom were high officials.
Sultan Mehmet VI and Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha, as representatives of government of the Ottoman Empire during the Second Constitutional Era, were summoned to the Paris Peace Conference by US Secretary of State Robert Lansing. On 11 July 1919, Damat Ferid Pasha officially confessed to massacres against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and was a key figure and initiator of the war crime trials held directly after World War I to condemn to death the chief perpetrators of the Genocide. The military court found that it was the will of the CUP to eliminate the Armenians physically, via its Special Organization. The 1919 pronouncement reads as follows:
The Court Martial taking into consideration the above-named crimes declares, unanimously, the culpability as principal factors of these crimes the fugitives Talaat Pasha, former Grand Vizir, Enver Efendi, former War Minister, struck off the register of the Imperial Army, Cemal Efendi, former Navy Minister, struck off too from the Imperial Army, and Dr. Nazim Efendi, former Minister of Education, members of the General Council of the Union & Progress, representing the moral person of that party; … the Court Martial pronounces, in accordance with said stipulations of the Law the death penalty against Talaat, Enver, Cemal, and Dr. Nazim.
After the pronouncement, the Three Pashas were sentenced to death in absentia at the trials in Constantinople. The courts-martial officially disbanded the CUP and confiscated its assets and the assets of those found guilty. The courts-martial were dismissed in August 1920 for their lack of transparency, according to then High Commissioner and Admiral Sir John de Robeck, and some of the accused were transported to Malta for further interrogation, only to be released afterwards in an exchange of POWs. Two of the three Pashas were later assassinated by Armenian vigilantes during Operation Nemesis.
– – Prosecution in Malta
Ottoman military members and high-ranking politicians convicted by the Turkish courts-martial were transferred from Constantinople prisons to the Crown Colony of Malta on board of the SS Princess Ena and the SS HMS Benbow by the British forces, starting in 1919. Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe was in charge of the operation, together with Lord Curzon; they did so owing to the lack of transparency of the Turkish courts-martial. They were held there for three years, while searches were made of archives in Constantinople, London, Paris and Washington to find a way to put them in trial. However, the war criminals were eventually released without trial and returned to Constantinople in 1921, in exchange for twenty-two British prisoners of war held by the government in Ankara, including a relative of Lord Curzon. The government in Ankara was opposed to political power of the government in Constantinople. They are often mentioned as the Malta exiles in some sources.
Meanwhile, the Peace Conference in Paris established the “Commission on Responsibilities and Sanctions” in January 1919, which was commissioned by United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing. Based on the commission’s work, several articles were added to the Treaty of Sèvres. The Treaty of Sèvres had planned a trial in August 1920 to determine those responsible for the “barbarous and illegitimate methods of warfare … including offenses against the laws and customs of war and the principles of humanity”. Article 230 of the Treaty of Sèvres required the Ottoman Empire “hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1914”.
According to European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello the suspension of prosecutions, the repatriation and release of Turkish detainees was amongst others a result of the lack of an appropriate legal framework with supranational jurisdiction, because following World War I no international norms for regulating war crimes existed, due to a legal vacuum in international law; therefore contrary to Turkish sources, no trials were ever held in Malta. He mentions that the release of the Turkish detainees was accomplished in exchange for twenty-two British prisoners held by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
– – Trial of Soghomon Tehlirian
On 15 March 1921, former Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha was assassinated in the Charlottenburg District of Berlin, Germany, in broad daylight and in the presence of many witnesses. Talaat’s death was part of “Operation Nemesis”, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s codename for their covert operation in the 1920s to kill the planners of the Armenian Genocide.
The subsequent trial and acquitment of the assassin, Soghomon Tehlirian, had an important influence on Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish–Jewish descent who campaigned in the League of Nations to ban what he called “barbarity” and “vandalism”. The term “genocide”, created in 1943, was coined by Lemkin who was directly influenced by the massacres of Armenians during World War I.
Armenian population, deaths, survivors, 1914 to 1918
While there is no consensus as to how many Armenians lost their lives during the Armenian Genocide, there is general agreement among western historians that over 500,000 Armenians died between 1914 and 1918. Estimates vary between 800,000 and 1,500,000 (per the governments of France, Canada, and other states). Encyclopædia Britannica references the research of Arnold J. Toynbee, an intelligence officer of the British Foreign Office, who estimated that 600,000 Armenians “died or were massacred during deportation” in a report compiled on 24 May 1916. This figure, however, accounts for solely the first year of the Genocide and does not take into account those who died or were killed after May 1916.
According to documents that once belonged to Talaat Pasha, more than 970,000 Ottoman Armenians disappeared from official population records from 1915 through 1916. In 1983, Talaat’s widow, Hayriye Talaat Bafralı, gave the documents and records to Turkish journalist Murat Bardakçı, who published them in a book titled The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha (also known as “Talat Pasha’s Black Book”). According to the documents, the number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire before 1915 stood at 1,256,000. It was presumed, however, in a footnote by Talaat Pasha himself, that the Armenian population was undercounted by thirty percent. Furthermore, the population of Protestant Armenians was not taken into account. Therefore, according to the historian Ara Sarafian, the population of Armenians should have been approximately 1,700,000 prior to the start of the war. However, that number had plunged to 284,157 two years later in 1917.
Justin McCarthy calculated an estimate of the pre-war Armenian population, then subtracted his estimate of survivors, arriving at a figure of a little less than 600,000 for Armenian casualties for the period 1914 to 1922. In a more recent essay, he projected that if the Armenian records of 1913 were accurate, 250,000 more deaths should be added, for a total of 850,000.
However, McCarthy’s numbers have been highly contested by many specialists. Some of them, like Frédéric Paulin, have severely criticized McCarthy’s methodology and suggest that it is flawed. Hilmar Kaiser another specialist has made similar claims, as have professor Vahakn Dadrian and professor Levon Marashlian. These critics not only question McCarthy’s methodology and resulting calculations, but also his primary sources, the Ottoman censuses. They point out that there was no official census undertaken in 1912; rather the numbers quoted were based on the records of 1905 which were conducted during the reign of Sultan Hamid. While Ottoman censuses claimed an Armenian population of 1.2 million, Fa’iz El-Ghusein (the Kaimakam of Kharpout) wrote that there were about 1.9 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and some modern scholars estimate over 2 million. German official Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter wrote that fewer than 100,000 Armenians survived the genocide, the rest having been exterminated (German: ausgerottet).
Mass killings continued under the Republic of Turkey during the Turkish–Armenian War phase of Turkish War of Independence. 60,000 to 98,000 Armenian civilians were estimated to have been killed by the Turkish army. Some estimates put the total number of Armenians massacred in the hundreds of thousands. Dadrian characterized the massacres in the Caucasus as a “miniature genocide”.
Reports and reactions
Hundreds of eyewitnesses, including the neutral United States and the Ottoman Empire’s own allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, recorded and documented numerous acts of state-sponsored massacres. Many foreign officials offered to intervene on behalf of the Armenians, including Pope Benedict XV, only to be turned away by Ottoman government officials who claimed they were retaliating against a pro-Russian insurrection.:177 On 24 May 1915, the Triple Entente warned the Ottoman Empire that “In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres”.
– The U.S. Mission in the Ottoman Empire
The United States had consulates throughout the Ottoman Empire, including locations in Edirne, Elâzığ, Samsun, İzmir, Trebizond, Van, Constantinople, and Aleppo. It was officially a neutral party until it joined the Allies in April 1917. In addition to the consulates, there were numerous American Protestant missionary compounds established in Armenian-populated regions, including Van and Kharput. The atrocities were reported regularly in newspapers and literary journals around the world.
On his return home in 1924 after thirty years as a U.S. Consul in the Near East, and most of the preceding decade as Consul General at Smyrna, George Horton wrote his own “account of the Systematic Extermination of Christian Populations by Mohammedans and of the Culpability of Certain Great Powers; with a True Story of the Burning of Smyrna” (1926 subtitle, The Blight of Asia). Horton’s account quoted numerous contemporary communications and eyewitness reports including one of the massacre of Phocea in 1914, by a Frenchman, and two of the Armenian massacres of 1914/15, by an American citizen and a German missionary. It also quoted U.S. businessman Walter M. Geddes regarding his time in Damascus: “several Turks, whom I interviewed, told me that the motive of this exile was to exterminate the race.”
Many Americans spoke out against the genocide, including former president Theodore Roosevelt, rabbi Stephen Wise, Alice Stone Blackwell, and William Jennings Bryan, the U.S. Secretary of State to June 1915. In the U.S. and the United Kingdom, children were regularly reminded to clean their plates while eating and to “remember the starving Armenians”.
– – Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story
As the orders for deportations and massacres were enacted, many consular officials reported what they were witnessing to Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr., who described the massacres as a “campaign of race extermination” in a telegram sent to the State Department on July 16, 1915. In memoirs that he completed during 1918, Morgenthau wrote, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact …” The memoirs and reports vividly described the methods used by Ottoman forces and documented numerous instances of atrocities committed against the Christian minority.
– Allied forces in the Middle East
On the Middle Eastern front, the British military was engaged fighting the Ottoman forces in southern Syria and Mesopotamia. British diplomat Gertrude Bell filed the following report after hearing the account from a captured Ottoman soldier:
The battalion left Aleppo on 3 February and reached Ras al-Ain in twelve hours … some 12,000 Armenians were concentrated under the guardianship of some hundred Kurds … These Kurds were called gendarmes, but in reality mere butchers; bands of them were publicly ordered to take parties of Armenians, of both sexes, to various destinations, but had secret instructions to destroy the males, children and old women … One of these gendarmes confessed to killing 100 Armenian men himself … the empty desert cisterns and caves were also filled with corpses …
Winston Churchill described the massacres as an “administrative holocaust” and noted that “the clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be. … There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions, cherishing national ambitions that could only be satisfied at the expense of Turkey, and planted geographically between Turkish and Caucasian Moslems”.
– – Arnold Toynbee: The Treatment of Armenians
Historian Arnold J. Toynbee published the collection of documents The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1916. Together with British politician and historian Viscount James Bryce, he compiled statements from survivors and eyewitnesses from other countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, who similarly attested to the systematic massacre of innocent Armenians by Ottoman government forces.
The book has since been criticized as British wartime propaganda to build up sentiment against the Central Powers, but Bryce had submitted the work to scholars for verification before its publication. University of Oxford Regius Professor Gilbert Murray stated, “… the evidence of these letters and reports will bear any scrutiny and overpower any skepticism. Their genuineness is established beyond question”. Other professors, including Herbert Fisher of Sheffield University and former American Bar Association president Moorfield Storey, came to the same conclusion.
– Austrian and German joint mission
As allies during the war, the Imperial German mission in the Ottoman Empire included both military and civilian components. Germany had brokered a deal with the Sublime Porte to commission the building of a railroad called the Baghdad Railway that would stretch from Berlin to the Middle East. At the beginning of 1915, Germany’s diplomatic mission was led by Ambassador Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim who, upon his death in 1915, was succeeded by Count Paul Wolff Metternich. Like Morgenthau, von Wangenheim began receiving many disturbing messages from consular officials around the Ottoman Empire that detailed the massacres of Armenians. From the province of Adana, Consul Eugene Buge reported that the CUP chief had sworn to massacre any Armenians who had survived the deportation marches. In June 1915, von Wangenheim sent a cable to Berlin reporting that Talaat had admitted that the deportations were not “being carried out because of ‘military considerations alone'”. One month later, he came to the conclusion that there “no longer was doubt that the Porte was trying to exterminate the Armenian race in the Turkish Empire”.
When Wolff-Metternich succeeded von Wangenheim, he continued to dispatch similar cables: “The Committee [CUP] demands the extirpation of the last remnants of the Armenians and the government must yield … A Committee representative is assigned to each of the provincial administrations … Turkification means license to expel, to kill or destroy everything that is not Turkish”.
Another notable figure in the German military camp was Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, who documented various massacres of Armenians. He sent fifteen reports regarding “deportations and mass killings” to the German chancellery. His final report noted that fewer than 100,000 Armenians were left alive in the Ottoman Empire: the rest having been exterminated (German: ausgerottet). Scheubner-Richter also detailed the methods of the Ottoman government, noting its use of the Special Organization and other bureaucratized instruments of genocide.
According to Bat Ye’or, an Israeli historian, the Germans also witnessed Armenians being burned to death. She writes: “The Germans, allies of the Turks in the First World War … saw how civil populations were shut up in churches and burned, or gathered en masse in camps, tortured to death, and reduced to ashes”. German officers stationed in eastern Turkey disputed the government’s assertion that Armenian revolts had broken out, suggesting that the areas were “quiet until the deportations began”. Other Germans openly supported the Ottoman policy against the Armenians. As Hans Humann, the German naval attaché in Constantinople said to US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau:
I have lived in Turkey the larger part of my life … and I know the Armenians. I also know that both Armenians and Turks cannot live together in this country. One of these races has got to go. And I don’t blame the Turks for what they are doing to the Armenians. I think that they are entirely justified. The weaker nation must succumb. The Armenians desire to dismember Turkey; they are against the Turks and the Germans in this war, and they therefore have no right to exist here.
In a genocide conference held in 2001, professor Wolfgang Wipperman of the Free University of Berlin introduced documents evidencing that the German High Command was aware of the mass killings at the time but chose not to interfere or speak out. In his reports to Berlin in 1917, General Hans von Seeckt supported the reforming efforts of the Young Turks, writing that “the inner weakness of Turkey in their entirety, call for the history and custom of the new Turkish empire to be written”. Seeckt added that “Only a few moments of the destruction are still mentioned. The upper levels of society had become unwarlike, the main reason being the increasing mixing with foreign elements of a long standing unculture”. Seeckt blamed all of the problems of the Ottoman Empire on the Jews and the Armenians, whom he portrayed as a fifth column working for the Allies. In July 1918, Seeckt sent a message to Berlin stating that “It is an impossible state of affairs to be allied with the Turks and to stand up for the Armenians. In my view any consideration, Christian, sentimental, and political should be eclipsed by a hard, but clear necessity for war”.
One photograph shows two unidentified German army officers, in company of three Turkish soldiers and a Kurdish man, standing amidst human remains. The discovery of this photograph prompted English journalist Robert Fisk to draw a direct line from the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust. Fisk, while acknowledging the role playing by most German diplomats and parliamentaries in the condemnation of the Ottoman Turks, noted that some of the German witnesses to the Armenian holocaust would later go on to play a role in the Nazi regime. For example, Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath, who was attached to the Turkish 4th Army in 1915 with instructions to monitor “operations” against the Armenians, later became Hitler’s foreign minister and “Protector of Bohemia and Moravia” during Reinhard Heydrich’s terror in Czechoslovakia.
– – Armin T. Wegner
German aspiring writer Armin T. Wegner enrolled as a medic during the winter of 1914–15. He defied censorship by taking hundreds of photographs of Armenians being deported and subsequently starving in northern Syrian camps and in the deserts of Deir-er-Zor. Wegner was part of a German detachment under field marshal von der Goltz stationed near the Baghdad Railway in Mesopotamia. He later stated: “I venture to claim the right of setting before you these pictures of misery and terror which passed before my eyes during nearly two years, and which will never be obliterated from my mind.”. He was eventually arrested by the Germans and recalled to Germany.
Wegner protested against the atrocities in an open letter submitted to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the peace conference of 1919. The letter made a case for the creation of an independent Armenian state. Also in 1919, he published The Road of No Return (“Der Weg ohne Heimkehr”), a collection of letters he had written during what he deemed the “martyrdom” (German: “Martyrium”) of the Armenians. A documentary film depicting Wegner’s personal account of the Armenian Genocide through his own photographs, called “Destination Nowhere: The Witness” and produced by Dr J. Michael Hagopian, premiered in Fresno on 25 April 2000. Prior to the release of the documentary, he was honored at the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan for championing the plight of Armenians throughout his life.
– Ottoman Empire and Turkey
Although many documents related to systematic massacres were destroyed during and after the genocide, contemporary Turkish historian Taner Akçam states that the “Turkish sources we already possess provide sufficient information to prove that what befell the Armenians in 1915 was a Genocide.” Historian Ara Sarafian similarly notes that “the available Ottoman materials, especially when used alongside alternative sources (such as United States records or Armenian survivor accounts), support the Armenian Genocide thesis.”
Alongside official documentation, many Turkish public figures during the time have acknowledged the systematic nature of the massacres. Historian Ahmet Refik (Altınay) wrote in 1919: “The Unionists (Committee of Union and Progress) wanted to remove the problem of Vilâyât-ı Sitte by annihilating Armenians.” Turkish novelist Halide Edip, who was openly critical of the decisions made by the Ottoman government towards the Armenians, wrote in Vakit on October 21, 1918: “We slaughtered the innocent Armenian population…We tried to extinguish the Armenians through methods that belong to the medieval times”. Abdülmecid II, the last Caliph of Islam of the Ottoman Dynasty, said of the policy: “I refer to those awful massacres. They are the greatest stain that has ever disgraced our nation and race. They were entirely the work of Talat and Enver.”. Senator Ahmet Riza stated: “Let’s face it, we Turks savagely killed off the Armenians.” Grand Vizier Damad Ferid Pasha, speaking about the Armenians in the New York Times (June 26, 1919), said: “The whole civilised world was shocked by the recital of the crimes alleged to have been committed by the Turks. It is far from my thought to cast a veil over these misdeeds, which are such as to make the conscience of mankind shudder with horror for ever; still less will I endeavour to minimise the degree of guilt of the actors in the great drama. The aim which I have set myself is that of showing to the world with proofs in my hand, who are the truly responsible authors of these terrible crimes.” Interior Minister Ali Kemal Bey wrote in Alemdar on July 18, 1919: “Don’t let us try to throw the blame on the Armenians; we must not flatter ourselves that the world is filled with idiots. We have plundered the possessions of the men whom we deported and massacred; we have sanctioned theft in our Chamber and our Senate.” Reşid Akif Paşa, Vali of Sivas and head of the Council of State, is especially known for providing important testimony during the Ottoman Parliament session of 21 November 1918. His speech outlined the process of how the official order of deportation contained vague terminology only to be clarified by special orders of “massacres” sent directly from the Committee of Union and Progress headquarters and oftentimes the residence of Talat Pasha himself:
During my few days of service in this government I’ve learned of a few secrets and have come across something interesting. The deportation order was issued through official channels by the minister of the interior and sent to the provinces. Following this order the [CUP] Central Committee circulated its own ominous order to all parties to allow the gangs to carry out their wretched task. Thus the gangs were in the field, ready for their atrocious slaughter.
Some politicians tried to prevent the deportations and subsequent massacres. One such politician, Mehmet Celal Bey, was known for saving thousands of lives and often called the Turkish Oscar Schindler. During his time as governor of Aleppo, Celal Bey did not believe that the deportations were meant to “annihilate” the Armenians: “I admit, I did not believe that these orders, these actions revolved around the annihilation of the Armenians. I never imagined that any government could take upon itself to annihilate its own citizens in this manner, in effect destroying its human capital, which must be seen as the country’s greatest treasure. I presumed that the actions being carried out were measures deriving from a desire to temporarily remove the Armenians from the theater of war and taken as the result of wartime exigencies.” However, he later admitted that he was mistaken and that the goal was “to attempt to annihilate” the Armenians. When defying the orders of deportation, Celal Bey was removed from his post as governor of Aleppo and transferred to Konya. However, as the deportations continued, he repeatedly demanded that the central authorities provide shelter for the deportees. In addition to these demands, he sent the Sublime Porte many telegrams and letters of protest stating that the “measures taken against the Armenians were, from every point of view, contrary to the higher interests of the fatherland.” His demands, however, were ignored. Celal Bey said: “Blood flowed instead of water in the river, and thousands of innocent children, blameless elderly, helpless women and strong youths were flowing towards death in this blood flow.” Hasan Mazhar Bey, who was appointed Vali of Ankara on 18 June 1914, is also known for having refused to proceed with the order of deportations. Due to his refusal to deport the Armenians, Mazhar Bey was removed from his post as governor in August 1915 and replaced with Atif Bey, a prominent member of the Special Organization. He recalled: “Then one day Atif Bey came to me and orally conveyed the interior minister’s orders that the Armenians were to be murdered during the deportation. ‘No, Atif Bey,’ I said, ‘I am a governor, not a bandit, I cannot do this, I will leave this post and you can come and do it.'” After leaving his post, Mazhar went on to report that “in the kaza district, the plunder of Armenian property, by both officials and the population, assumed incredible proportions.” He also became the key figure in the establishment of the Mazhar Commission, an investigative committee which immediately took up the task of gathering evidence and testimonies, with a special effort to obtain inquiries on civil servants implicated in massacres committed against Armenians. Süleyman Nazif, the Vali of Baghdad, who but later resigned in protest of the Ottoman government’s policy towards the Armenians, wrote in a 28 November 1918 issue of the Hadisat newspaper: “Under the guise of deportations, mass murder was perpetrated. Given the fact that the crime is all too evident, the perpetrators should have been hanged already.”
During the Republican period, several Turkish politicians expressed their discontent with the deportations and subsequent massacres. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, consistently used the term “shameful act” (Turkish: fazahat) when referring to the massacres. In the 1 August 1926 issue of the Los Angeles Examiner, Ataturk also said that the Young Turk Party was responsible for “… millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred”. At a secret session of the National Assembly, held on 17 October 1920, Hasan Fehmi (Ataç), deputy of Gümüşhane, said: “As you know, the issue of relocation was an event that made the world to yell blue and made all of us to be considered murderers. We knew, before we did it, that the Christian world would not tolerate it and they would direct their anger and hatred toward us. Why did we impute the title of murderer to our race? Why did we enter into such decisive and difficult struggle? That was done just to secure the future of our country, which we know to be more precious and sacred than our lives.”
– Russian military
The Russian Empire’s response to the bombardment of its Black Sea naval ports was primarily a land campaign through the Caucasus. Early victories against the Ottoman Empire from the winter of 1914 to the spring 1915 saw significant gains of territory, including relieving the Armenian bastion resisting in the city of Van in May 1915. The Russians also reported encountering the bodies of unarmed civilian Armenians as they advanced. In March 1916, the scenes they saw in the city of Erzurum led the Russians to retaliate against the Ottoman III Army whom they held responsible for the massacres, destroying it in its entirety.
– Scandinavian missionaries and diplomats
Although a neutral state throughout the war, Sweden had permanent representatives in the Ottoman Empire who closely followed and continuously reported on major developments there. Its embassy in Constantinople was led by Ambassador Cossva Anckarsvärd, with M. Ahlgren as envoy and Captain Einar af Wirsen as military attaché. On 7 July 1915, Ambassador Anckarsvärd dispatched a two-page report concerning the Armenian massacres to Stockholm. The report began as follows:
The persecutions of the Armenians have reached hair-raising proportions and all points to the fact that the Young Turks want to seize the opportunity, since due to different reasons there are no effective external pressure to be feared, to once and for all put an end to the Armenian question. The means for this are quite simple and consist of the extermination (utrotandet) of the Armenian nation.
On 9 August 1915, Anckarsvärd dispatched yet another report, confirming his suspicions regarding the plans of the Turkish government, “It is obvious that the Turks are taking the opportunity to, now during the war, annihilate the Armenian nation so that when the peace comes no Armenian question longer exists”.
Reflecting upon the situation in Turkey during the final stages of the war, Envoy Alhgren presented an analysis of the prevailing situation in Turkey and the hard times which had befallen the population. In explaining the increased living costs he identified a number of reasons: “obstacles for domestic trade, the almost total paralysing of the foreign trade and finally the strong decreasing of labour power, caused partly by the mobilisation but partly also by the extermination of the Armenian race [utrotandet af den armeniska rasen]”.
Wirsén, when writing his memoirs from his mission to the Balkans and Turkey, Minnen från fred och krig (“Memories from Peace and War”), dedicated an entire chapter to the Armenian genocide, entitled Mordet på en nation (“The Murder of a Nation”). Commenting on the interpretation that the deportations resulted from the purported collaboration of the Armenians with the Russians, Wirsen states that the deportations were nothing but a cover for their extermination: “Officially, these had the goal to move the entire Armenian population to the steppe regions of Northern Mesopotamia and Syria, but in reality they aimed to exterminate [utrota] the Armenians, whereby the pure Turkish element in Asia Minor would achieve a dominating position”. He concluded: “The annihilation of the Armenian nation in Asia Minor must revolt all human feelings … The way the Armenian problem was solved was hair-raising. I can still see in front of me Talaat’s cynical expression, when he emphasized that the Armenian question was solved”.
Norwegian missionary nurse Bodil Biørn was based in the town of Mezereh (now Elazig) and later in Mush, where she worked for widows and orphaned children in cooperation with other missionaries. She witnessed the massacres in Mush and saw most of the children in her care murdered along with Armenian priests, teachers, and assistants. She escaped after nine days on horseback but stayed on in the region for another two years under increasingly difficult working conditions. After a period at home she again went to Armenia and, until she retired in 1935, worked for Armenian refugees in Syria and Lebanon. Bodil Biørn was also an able photographer. Many of her photos are now in the National Archives of Norway. In combination with her comments, written in her photo albums or on the back of the prints themselves, these photos bear strong witness of the atrocities that she saw.
Danish missionary Maria Jacobsen wrote her experiences in a diary entitled Diaries of a Danish Missionary: Harpoot, 1907–1919, which according to genocide scholar Ara Sarafian, is a “documentation of the utmost significance” for research of the Armenian Genocide. Jacobsen will later be known for having saved thousands of Armenians during the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide through various relief efforts. She wrote: “It is quite obvious that the purpose of their departure is the extermination of the Armenian people.” Another Danish missionary, Aage Meyer Benedictsen, wrote in regards to the massacres that it was a “shattering crime, probably the largest in the history of the world: The attempt, planned and executed in cold blood, to murder a whole people, the Armenian, during the World War.” Johannes Østrup, a Danish philologist and professor at the University of Copenhagen, met with several Young Turk politicians and leaders prior to the start of World War I. In his memoirs, Østrup recounts his meeting with Talat Pasha in the autumn of 1910 in which he writes that Talat talked openly about his plans to “exterminate” the Armenians.
Due to the period of weak central government and Tehran’s inability to protect its territorial integrity, no resistance was offered by the mostly Islamic Persian troops when, after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the extreme northwest of Persia, Islamic Turks invaded the town of Salmas in northwestern Persia and tortured and massacred the Christian Armenian inhabitants.
Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh, a prominent Persian writer in the 20th century, studied in Europe where he joined a group of Iranian nationalists in Berlin who were to eventually start a newspaper (Rastakhiz) in Baghdad in 1915. After remaining in Baghdad, Jamalzadeh went to Constantinople where he witnessed the deportations of Armenians and encountered many corpses during his journey. He wrote of his experiences and eyewitness accounts decades later in two books entitled “Qatl-e Amm-e Armanian” (Armenian massacres) and “Qatl o ḡārat-e Arāmaneh dar Torkiya” (On the massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey) which were published in 1972 and 1963 respectively.
Studies on the Genocide
The Armenian Genocide is widely corroborated by international genocide scholars. The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), consisting of the world’s foremost experts on genocide, unanimously passed a formal resolution affirming the fact of the Armenian Genocide. According to IAGS, “Every book on comparative genocide studies in the English language contains a segment on the Armenian Genocide. Leading texts in the international law of genocide such as William Schabas’s Genocide in International Law cite the Armenian Genocide as precursor to the Holocaust and as a precedent for the law on crimes against humanity. Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, when he coined the term genocide in 1943, cited the Turkish extermination of the Armenians and the Nazi extermination of the Jews as defining examples of what he meant by genocide. The killings of Armenians is genocide as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 126 leading scholars of the holocaust including Elie Wiesel, and Yehuda Bauer placed a statement in the New York Times in June 2000 declaring the “inconstestable fact of the Armenian genocide” and urging western democracies to acknowledge it. “The Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide (Jerusalem), and the Institute for the Study of Genocide (NYC), have affirmed the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide”.
It is widely agreed among World War II historians that the Armenian genocide influenced the “final solution” of the Third Reich. A segment of speech given by Adolf Hitler to Wehrmacht commanders at his Obersalzberg records him asking rhetorically “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Historian Margaret L. Anderson surmises, “we have no reason to doubt the remark is genuine, both attack and defense obscure an obvious reality” that the Armenian Genocide has achieved “iconic status… as the apex of horrors imaginable in 1939,” and that Hitler used it to persuade the German military that committing genocide excited a great deal of “talk” but no serious consequences for a nation that perpetrates genocide.
– Origins of the word genocide
Law professor Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” in 1943, has stated that he did so with the fate of the Armenians in mind, explaining that:
…it happened so many times … It happened to the Armenians, then after the Armenians Hitler took action.
Hebrew University scholar Yehuda Bauer suggests of the Armenian Genocide, “This is the closest parallel to the Holocaust”. He nonetheless distinguishes several key differences between the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, particularly in regard to motivation:
The Nazis saw the Jews as the central problem of world history. Upon its solution depended the future of mankind. Unless International Jewry was defeated, human civilization would not survive. The attitude towards the Jews had in it important elements of pseudo-religion. There was no such motivation present in the Armenian case; Armenians were to be annihilated for power-political reasons, and in Turkey only … The differences between the holocaust and the Armenian massacres are less important than the similarities—and even if the Armenian case is not seen as a holocaust in the extreme form which it took towards Jews, it is certainly the nearest thing to it.
Bauer has also suggested that the Armenian Genocide is best understood, not as having begun in 1915, but rather as “an ongoing genocide, from 1896, through 1908/9, through World War I and right up to 1923”.
Several international organizations have conducted studies of the atrocities, each in turn determining that the term “genocide” aptly describes “the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915–16”. Among the organizations affirming this conclusion are the International Center for Transitional Justice, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and the United Nations’ Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
In 2005, the International Association of Genocide Scholars affirmed that scholarly evidence revealed the “Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens – an unarmed Christian minority population. More than a million Armenians were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches”. The IAGS also condemned Turkish attempts to deny the factual and moral reality of the Armenian Genocide. In 2007, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity produced a letter signed by 53 Nobel Laureates re-affirming the Genocide Scholars’ conclusion that the 1915 killings of Armenians constituted genocide.
Bat Ye’or has suggested that “the genocide of the Armenians was a jihad”. Ye’or holds jihad and what she calls “dhimmitude” to be among the “principles and values” that led to the Armenian Genocide. This perspective is challenged by Fà’iz el-Ghusein, a Bedouin Arab witness of the Armenian persecution, whose 1918 treatise aimed “to refute beforehand inventions and slanders against the Faith of Islam and against Moslems generally … What the Armenians have suffered is to be attributed to the Committee of Union and Progress … It has been due to their nationalist fanaticism and their jealousy of the Armenians, and to these alone; the Faith of Islam is guiltless of their deeds”. Arnold Toynbee writes that “the Young Turks made Pan-Islamism and Turkish Nationalism work together for their ends, but the development of their policy shows the Islamic element receding and the Nationalist gaining ground”. Toynbee and various other sources report that many Armenians were spared death by marrying into Turkish families or converting to Islam. El-Ghusein points out that many converts were put to death, concerned that Westerners would come to regard the “extermination of the Armenians” as “a black stain on the history of Islam, which ages will not efface”. In one instance, when an Islamic leader appealed to spare Armenian converts to Islam, El-Ghusein quotes a government functionary as responding that “politics have no religion”, before sending the converts to their deaths.
Recognition of the Genocide
As a response to continuing denial by the Turkish state, many activists from Armenian Diaspora communities have pushed for formal recognition of the Armenian genocide from various governments around the world. Twenty-nine countries and forty-three U.S. states have adopted resolutions acknowledging the Armenian Genocide as a bona fide historical event. On 4 March 2010, a US congressional panel narrowly voted that the incident was indeed genocide; within minutes the Turkish government issued a statement critical of “this resolution which accuses the Turkish nation of a crime it has not committed”. The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) have as their main lobbying agenda to press Congress and the President for an increase of economic aid for Armenia and the reduction of economic and military assistance for Turkey. The efforts also include reaffirmation of a genocide by Ottoman Turkey in 1915.
As of 2015, Israel, the United Kingdom and United States do not recognize what happened a century ago as a “genocide”. Despite his previous public recognition and support of genocide bills, as well as election campaign promises to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, U.S. President Barack Obama, although repeating that his views on the issue have not changed, has abstained so far from using the term “genocide”. In his 24 April commemoration statements Obama has referred to the Armenian Genocide by its Armenian synonym, Medz Yeghern (spelled “Meds Yeghern” in the statements). Despite a large number of direct descendants of the Armenian genocide living in Jerusalem, specifically in the Armenian Quarter, Israel still refuses to recognize the genocide.
Pope Francis described it as the “First genocide of the XX century”, causing a diplomatic row with Turkey. The bishop of Rome defended his pronouncement by saying it was his duty to honour the memory of the innocent men, women and children who were “senselessly” murdered by Ottoman Turks 100 years before he became Pontiff. He also called on all heads of state and international organizations to recognize “the truth of what transpired and oppose such crimes without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.” In a resolution, the European Parliament commended the statement pronounced by the Pope and encouraged Turkey to recognise the genocide and so pave the way for a “genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples”.
On 24 April 2015, the German parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution recognising the Genocide. Leading the debate, the Bundestag president Norbert Lammert declared, “What happened in the middle of the First World War in the Ottoman Empire under the eyes of the world was a genocide.”
A bill penalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide has been introduced in the Russian State Duma in November 2015.
– Republic of Turkey and the Genocide
According to Kemal Çiçek, the head of the Armenian Research Group at the Turkish Historical Society, in Turkey there is no official thesis on the Armenian issue. The Republic of Turkey’s formal stance is that the deaths of Armenians during the “relocation” or “deportation” cannot aptly be deemed “genocide”, a position that has been supported with a plethora of diverging justifications: that the killings were not deliberate or systematically orchestrated; that the killings were justified because Armenians posed a Russian-sympathizing threat as a cultural group; that the Armenians merely starved to death, or any of various characterizations referring to marauding “Armenian gangs”. Some suggestions seek to invalidate the genocide on semantic or anachronistic grounds (the word genocide was not coined until 1943). Turkish World War I casualty figures are often cited to mitigate the effect of the number of Armenian dead.
Volkan Vural, retired ambassador of Turkey to Germany and Spain, says that the Turkish state should apologize for what happened to the Armenians during the deportations of 1915 and what happened to the Greeks during the Istanbul Pogrom. He also states, “I think that, the Armenian issue can be solved by politicians and not by historians. I don’t believe that historical facts about this issue is not revealed. The historical facts are already known. The most important point here is that how these facts will be interpreted and will affect the future”.
Turkish governmental sources have asserted that the historically demonstrated “tolerance of the Turkish people” itself renders the Armenian Genocide an impossibility. One military document leverages 11th century history to cast doubt on the Armenian Genocide: “It was the Seljuq Turks who saved the Armenians that came under the Turkish domination in 1071 from the Byzantine persecution and granted them the right to live as a man should”. A Der Spiegel article addressed this modern Turkish conception of history thus:
“Would you admit to the crimes of your grandfathers, if these crimes didn’t really happen?” asked ambassador Öymen. But the problem lies precisely in this question, says Hrant Dink, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Istanbul-based Armenian weekly Agos. Turkey’s bureaucratic elite have never really shed themselves of the Ottoman tradition—in the perpetrators, they see their fathers, whose honor they seek to defend. This tradition instills a sense of identity in Turkish nationalists—both from the left and the right, and it is passed on from generation to generation through the school system. This tradition also requires an antipole against which it could define itself. Since the times of the Ottoman Empire, religious minorities have been pushed into this role.
In 2007, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a circular that calls the government institutions to use the phrase “Events of 1915” (in Turkish, 1915 Olayları) instead of the phrase “so-called Armenian genocide” (in Turkish, sözde Ermeni soykırımı).
Turkey has started an “Initiative to Resolve Armenian Allegations Regarding 1915” by using archives in Turkey, Armenia and other countries. Armenian president Robert Kocharian rejected this offer by saying, “It is the responsibility of governments to develop bilateral relations and we do not have the right to delegate that responsibility to historians. That is why we have proposed and propose again that, without pre-conditions, we establish normal relations between our two countries”. Additionally, Turkish foreign minister of the time, Abdullah Gül, invited the United States and other countries to contribute to such a commission by appointing scholars to “investigate this tragedy and open ways for Turks and Armenians to come together”.
– – Controversies
Efforts by the Turkish government and its agents to quash mention of the genocide have resulted in numerous scholarly, diplomatic, political and legal controversies.
In 1973, Turkey recalled its ambassador to France to protest the Genocide monument erected in Marseilles “to the memory of the 1.5 million Armenian victims of the genocide ordered by the Turkish rulers in 1915”.
In 1973, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, a former UN body, mandated special rapporteur Nicodème Ruhashyankiko to produce a report on the issue of genocide. Early drafts of Ruhashyankiko’s report referred to the World War I era Ottoman massacre of Armenians as genocide, but that reference disappeared from his final report (1978) under pressure from Turkey.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry attempted to prevent any mention of the Armenian Genocide at an international conference on genocide held in Tel Aviv in 1982. Several reports suggested that Turkey had warned that Turkish Jews might face “reprisals” if the conference permitted Armenian participation. This charge was “categorically denied” by Turkey; the Israeli Foreign Ministry supported Turkey’s protestation that there had been no threats against Jews, suggesting that its intervention in the genocide conference was based on considerations “vital to the Jewish nation”.
In the same year, the Institute of Turkish Studies in Washington, D.C. (ITS) was established by a $3 million grant from the Turkish Government. Israel Charny identifies the ITS and some of its foremost deniers of the Armenian genocide, such as Stanford Shaw, Heath W. Lowry, and Justin McCarthy, as the Turkish government’s principal agency in the USA for promoting research on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, but also denial of the Armenian Genocide.
A 1989 U.S. Senate proposal to recognize the Armenian Genocide stoked the ire of Turkey. The proposal occurred in the context of the publication of “The Slaughterhouse Province,” the eyewitness report by Leslie Davis, American diplomat and consul in Kharpert from 1914-1917, who reported that “thousands and thousands of Armenians, mostly innocent and helpless women and children, were butchered” in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey responded by blocking United States Navy visits to Turkey and suspending some US military training facilities on Turkish territory. The American scholar who assembled the US archive documents for publication, Susan K. Blair, went into hiding after a series of anonymous threats.
In 1990, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton received a letter from the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, Nuzhet Kandemir, questioning his inclusion of references to the Armenian Genocide in one of his books. The ambassador inadvertently included a draft of the letter, written by scholar Heath W. Lowry, advising the ambassador on how to prevent mention of the Armenian Genocide in scholarly works. In 1996, Lowry was named to a chair at Princeton University that had been financed by the Turkish government, sparking a debate on ethics in scholarship.
In 1993, Ragıp Zarakolu, a Turkish human rights activist, published the Turkish translation of the book called History of the Genocide written by Yves Ternon. The book was the first to be published in Turkey that openly acknowledged the events of 1915 as genocide. Soon after its publication, he received threats and in 1994, the publishing firm of Ragıp Zorakolu was the target of a bomb attack.
Prosecutors acting on their own initiative have used Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code prohibiting “insulting Turkishness” to silence a number of prominent Turkish intellectuals who spoke of atrocities suffered by Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire (most of these cases have been dismissed). During a February 2005 interview with Das Magazin, novelist Orhan Pamuk made statements implicating Turkey in massacres against Armenians and persecution of the Kurds, declaring: “Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it”. Subjected to a hate campaign, he left Turkey, before returning in 2005 to defend his right to freedom of speech: “What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo. But we have to be able to talk about the past”. Lawyers of two Turkish ultranationalist professional associations led by Kemal Kerinçsiz then brought criminal charges against Pamuk. However, on 23 January 2006 the charges of “insulting Turkishness” were dropped (for reasons not necessarily tied to the case), a move welcomed by the EU. However, the fact that the charges had been brought at all was still a matter of contention for European politicians.
These prosecutions have often been accompanied by hate campaigns and threats, as was the case for Hrant Dink, who was prosecuted three times for “insulting Turkishness”, and murdered in 2007. Later, photographs of the assassin being honored as a hero while in police custody, posing in front of the Turkish flag with grinning policemen, gave the academic community still more cause for pause with regard to engaging the Armenian issue. Kerinçsiz, the leading lawyer behind the prosecutions, has been accused of plotting to overthrow the government as a member of the alleged Ergenekon network.
After a meeting with then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2010, Turkey’s prime minister announced that the Turkish government might order the expulsion of all illegal Armenian immigrants from Turkey. The statement came after recent US House Committee and Swedish Parliament resolutions over the Armenian Genocide affirmation. He repeated the statement in a BBC interview immediately afterwards, declaring that there were 100,000 illegal Armenian citizens living in Turkey and that:
If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.
Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan responded to Erdoğan’s statement by saying that this kind of threat reminded Armenians of the Armenian Genocide and that it does not improve relations between the two countries. The exact number of illegal Armenians in Turkey is estimated to be only 12,000–13,000, contrary to the figure used by Erdoğan.
– The Republic of Armenia and the Genocide
Armenia has been involved in a protracted ethnic-territorial conflict with Azerbaijan, a Turkic state, since Azerbaijan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The conflict has featured several pogroms, massacres, and waves of ethnic cleansing, by both sides. Some foreign policy observers and historians have suggested that Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have sought to portray the modern conflict as a continuation of the Armenian Genocide, in order to influence modern policy-making in the region. According to Thomas Ambrosio, the Armenian Genocide furnishes “a reserve of public sympathy and moral legitimacy that translates into significant political influence … to elicit congressional support for anti-Azerbaijan policies”.
The rhetoric leading up to the onset of the conflict, which unfolded in the context of several pogroms of Armenians, was dominated by references to the Armenian Genocide, including fears that it would be, or was in the course of being, repeated. During the conflict, the Azeri and Armenian governments regularly accused each other of genocidal intent, although these claims have been treated skeptically by outside observers.
The worldwide recognition of the Genocide is a core aspect of Armenia’s foreign policy and overarching grand strategy.
The premeditated destruction of objects of Armenian cultural, religious, historical and communal heritage was yet another key purpose of both the genocide itself and the post-genocidal campaign of denial. Armenian churches and monasteries were destroyed or changed into mosques, Armenian cemeteries flattened, and, in several cities (e.g., Van), Armenian quarters were demolished.
Aside from the deaths, Armenians lost their wealth and property without compensation. Businesses and farms were lost, and all schools, churches, hospitals, orphanages, monasteries, and graveyards became Turkish state property. In January 1916, the Ottoman Minister of Commerce and Agriculture issued a decree ordering all financial institutions operating within the empire’s borders to turn over Armenian assets to the government. It is recorded that as much as six million Turkish gold pounds were seized along with real property, cash, bank deposits, and jewelry. The assets were then funneled to European banks, including Deutsche and Dresdner banks.
After the end of World War I, Genocide survivors tried to return and reclaim their former homes and assets, but were driven out by the Ankara Government.
In 1914, the Armenian Patriarch in Constantinople presented a list of the Armenian holy sites under his supervision. The list contained 2,549 religious places of which 200 were monasteries while 1,600 were churches. In 1974 UNESCO stated that after 1923, out of 913 Armenian historical monuments left in Eastern Turkey, 464 have vanished completely, 252 are in ruins, and 197 are in need of repair (in stable conditions).
Reparations to the victims
– The grounds of the international law
The United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law provide in part, that reparation may be claimed individually and where appropriate collectively, by the direct victims of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, the immediate family, dependants or other persons or groups of persons closely connected with the direct victims. According to Henry Theriault, while current members of Turkish society cannot be blamed morally for the destruction of Armenians, present-day Republic of Turkey, as successor state to the Ottoman Empire and as beneficiary of the wealth and land expropriations brought forth through the genocide, is responsible for reparations.
Particularly important are Principles 9 and 12 that state, that civil claims relating to reparations for gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law shall not be subject to statutes of limitations (article 9), and that restitution shall be provided to re-establish the situation that existed prior to the violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. The restitution requires, inter alia – return to one’s place of residence and restoration of property.
Professor of International Law of Geneva School of Diplomacy (J.D. – Harvard, Dr.phil. – Göttingen), former Secretary of the UN Human Rights Committee and former Chief of Petitions at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Alfred de Zayas stated that, because of the continuing character of the crime of genocide in factual and legal terms, the remedy of restitution has not been foreclosed. Thus the survivors of the genocide against the Armenians, both individually and collectively, have standing to advance a claim for restitution. Whenever possible complete restitution or restoration to the previous condition should be granted. But where it is not possible, relevant compensation may be substituted as a remedy.
In an article published in the European Journal of International Law, Vahagn Avedian, leaving aside the limitations of the UN Genocide Convention, emphasizes the applicability of international laws that prevailed at the time and remain in force up to the present, e.g. the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, more specifically the Martens Clause, pertaining to the protection of civilian population, but also existing international laws on unlawful confiscation, etc. Thus, the actions of the Turkish governments (the Ottoman, the insurgent nationalist movement as well as the succeeding republic), should be viewed from the perspective of Internationally Wrongful Acts. Avedian argues that:
the Republic not only failed to stop doing the wrongful acts of its predecessor, but it also continued the very internationally wrongful acts committed by the Young Turk government. Thus, the insurgent National Movement, which later became the Republic, made itself responsible for not only its own wrongful acts but also those of its predecessor, including the act of genocide committed in 1915–1916.
– Sèvres Treaty
Although there are different opinions on the legitimacy of the Treaty of Sèvres and its relativity to reparation claims, there are specialists who claim that some of its elements retain the force of law. In particular, the fixing of the proper borders of an Armenian state was undertaken pursuant to the treaty and determined by a binding arbitral award, regardless of whether the treaty was ultimately ratified. The committee process determining the arbitral award was agreed to by the parties and, according to international law, the resulting determination has legal force regardless of the ultimate fate of the treaty.
In July 2004, after the California State Legislature passed the Armenian Genocide Insurance Act, descendants of Armenian Genocide victims settled a case for about 2,400 life insurance policies from New York Life written on Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Around 1918, the Turkish government attempted to recover payments for the people it had killed, with the argument that there were no identifiable heirs to the policy holders. The settlement provided $20 million, of which $11 million was for heirs of the Genocide victims.
Over 135 memorials, spread across 25 countries, commemorate the Armenian Genocide.
In 1965, the 50th anniversary of the genocide, a 24-hour mass protest was initiated in Yerevan demanding recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Soviet authorities. The memorial was completed two years later, at Tsitsernakaberd above the Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan. The 44 metres (144 ft) stele symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Twelve slabs are positioned in a circle, representing 12 lost provinces in present-day Turkey. At the center of the circle there is an eternal flame. Each 24 April, hundreds of thousands of people walk to the monument, which is the official memorial of the genocide, and lay flowers around the eternal flame.
Another memorial, in Alfortville, France, near Paris, was bombed on 3 May 1984, by a hit-team headed by Grey Wolves member Abdullah Çatlı and paid by the Turkish intelligence agency (MİT).
– Portrayal in the media
The first artwork known to have been influenced by the Armenian Genocide was a medal struck in St. Petersburg while the massacres and deportations of 1915 were at their height. It was issued as a token of Russian sympathy for Armenian suffering. Since then, dozens of similar medals have been commissioned in various countries.
Numerous eyewitness accounts of the atrocities were published, notably those of Swedish missionary Alma Johansson and U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. German medic Armin Wegner wrote several books about the atrocities he witnessed while stationed in the Ottoman Empire. Years later, having returned to Germany, Wegner was imprisoned for opposing Nazism, and his books were burnt by the Nazis. Probably the best known literary work on the Armenian Genocide is Franz Werfel’s 1933 The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It was a bestseller that became particularly popular among the youth of the Jewish ghettos during the Nazi era.
Kurt Vonnegut’s 1988 novel Bluebeard features the Armenian Genocide as an underlying theme. Other novels incorporating the Armenian Genocide include Louis de Berniéres’ Birds without Wings, Edgar Hilsenrath’s German-language The Story of the Last Thought, and Polish Stefan Żeromski’s 1925 The Spring to Come. A story in Edward Saint-Ivan’s 2006 anthology “The Black Knight’s God” includes a fictional survivor of the Armenian Genocide.
The first film about the Armenian Genocide appeared in 1919, a Hollywood production titled Ravished Armenia. It was produced by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief and was based on the narrative account of survivor Aurora Mardiganian, who played herself. It resonated with acclaimed director Atom Egoyan, influencing his 2002 Ararat. There are also references in Elia Kazan’s America, America and Henri Verneuil’s Mayrig. At the Berlin International Film Festival of 2007 Italian directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani presented another film about the atrocities, based on Antonia Arslan’s book, La Masseria Delle Allodole (The Farm of the Larks). Richard Kalinoski’s play, Beast on the Moon, is about two Armenian Genocide survivors.
The paintings of Armenian-American Arshile Gorky, a seminal figure of Abstract Expressionism, are considered to have been influenced by the suffering and loss of the period. In 1915, at age 10, Gorky fled his native Van and escaped to Russian-Armenia with his mother and three sisters, only to have his mother die of starvation in Yerevan in 1919. His two The Artist and His Mother paintings are based on a photograph with his mother taken in Van.
In 1975, famous French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour recorded the song “Ils sont tombés” (“They Fell”), dedicated to the memory of Armenian Genocide victims.
The American band System of a Down, composed of four descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors, has promoted awareness of the Armenian Genocide through its lyrics, including P.L.U.C.K. and in concerts.
In late 2003, Diamanda Galás released the album Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders from the Dead, an 80-minute memorial tribute to the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek victims of the genocide in Turkey. “The performance is an angry meditation on genocide and the politically cooperative denial of it, in particular the Turkish and American denial of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian Greek genocides from 1914 to 1923”.
In 2008, Armenian-American composer Andrey Kasparov premiered Tsitsernakabert, an original work for modern dance and six musicians: alto flute, bass/ contrabass flute, violin, two percussionists, and mezzo-soprano. The work opens with eight dancers posed in a circle – inclined toward the circle’s centre – in a tableau reminiscent of the eponymous memorial to victims of the Armenian Genocide, situated in Yerevan, capital of Armenia.
Julian Cope’s 2013 album Revolutionary Suicide includes a song over 15 minutes long, “The Armenian Genocide”, memorializing the event.
The 2014 drama film The Cut is based on the Armenian Genocide.
Argentine composer Juan María Solare wrote a lyrical monodrama titled Verchin Oror (Last Lullaby), with text by Ruben Sevak (1885-1915), one of the poets arrested on 24 April 1915. This work (symbolically finished on 24 April 2015) was a commission of the Foundation Encuentros Internacionales de Música Contemporánea (Argentina). The piece is scored for mezzosoprano and instrumental quintet (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano).
On 13 April 2015, 1915 The Movie held its Hollywood premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles. The film was screened across the world, including Canada, Russia, and Armenia. Directed by Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian, the film tells the story of a mysterious director (played by Simon Abkarian), who stages a play and intends to bring the ghosts of the Armenian Genocide back.