Armenian Genocide

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The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide (also known as the Armenian Holocaust or the Armenian Massacre) is a term which refer to the forced mass evacuation and related deaths of hundreds of thousands or over a million Armenians, during the government of Young Turks from 1915 to 1917. Several facts in connection with what is called the Genocide, is a matter of ongoing dispute between parts of the international community and Turkey. Although it is generally agreed that the events said to comprise the Armenian Genocide did occur, the Turkish government reject that it was genocide, on the alleged basis that the deaths among the Armenians, was not a result of a state-sponsored plan of mass extermination.

Despite this theses, most Armenian, Western, and some Turkish scholars believe that the Amernian Genocide was in fact a case of what is termed genocide. For example, most Western sources point to the sheer scale of the death toll, maintaining that there were probably a million or more deaths. What is referred to as the Armenian Genocide is the second-most studied case of genocide, and often draws comparison with the Holocaust. A growing list of countries, as discussed below, have officially recognized and accepted the authenticy of the Armenian Genocide.


Armenians in Anatolia

Main article: Ottoman Armenian Population

In 1914, before World War I, there were an estimated two million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the vast majority of whom were of the Armenian Apostolic, with a small number of the Armenian Catholic and Protestant faiths. Until the late 19th century, the Armenians were referred to as millet-i sadika (loyal nation) by the Ottomans, as it is said they were living in harmony with other ethnic groups across the Empire without any major conflict with the central authority — this despite religious and ethnic differences and the Christian Armenians being subject to Islamic dhimmi laws, which gave them fewer legal rights than Muslims. While the Armenian population in Eastern Anatolia was large and clustered, there was also a considerable community of Armenians in the West, most of whom lived in the capital city of Istanbul, where a substantial community remains to this day. The communities in Eastern Anatolia suffered the heaviest human losses. As a result of the massacres, thousands of Armenians fled to independent and semi-independent muslim countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Iran in what is known as the "Armenian Exodus". There are still large Armenian communities/minorities in these countries today.

Before the genocide

During the second half of the 19th century, along with the other minority groups of Anatolia such as Greeks and Bulgarians, Armenians started embracing nationalism. Despite pressure on the sultan Abdul Hamid by Western European countries about the Armenian Question, massacres only increased: according to Western accounts, 100,000 to 300,000 Armenians were killed within the Empire between 1894 and 1897.

Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire came under the government of the Young Turks. At first some Armenian political organizations supported the Young Turks, in hopes that there would be a significant change due to a variety of Abdul Hamid's policies towards the general and the Armenian population. In this respect, many Armenians were elected to the Ottoman Parliament, where some remained throughout World War I.

In 1914, the Ottoman government passed a new law to support the war effort that required all enabled adult males up to the age of forty-five to either be recruited in the Ottoman army or to pay special fees in order to be excluded from service which would still be used in the war effort. By this law, most able-bodied men were removed from their homes, leaving only the women, children, and elderly by themselves. Most of the Armenian recruits were later turned into road laborers, and many were executed.

Following the Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I, Imperial Russia invaded Eastern Anatolia, where the Armenian and Muslim communities were interleaved. Taking advantage of common religion and the recent discomfort of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire, Russia promoted Armenian nationalism, and there were many Russian-Armenians in the Russian army. At the same time, some Armenians had begun advocating an independent state.

The Armenian Genocide

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Armenian mass graves
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Starved Armenian children

On April 24 1915, the Young Turk government arrested several hundred - or, according to Turkish records, over two thousand - Armenian intellectuals. It is believed that most of these were soon executed. This was quickly followed by orders for the forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands - possibly over a million - Armenians from across all of Anatolia (except parts of the western coast) to Mesopotamia and what is today Syria. Many went to the Der El Zor Desert. Most historians believe that the government did not provide any facilities to care for the Armenians during their evacuation, nor when they arrived. Rather, records suggest that the Ottoman troops escorting the Armenians as a matter of course not only allowed others to rob, kill, and rape the Armenians, but often participated in this activity themselves. The forseeable consequence was a significant number of human losses. Most Western sources maintain that a million or over Armenians lost their lives as a result.

After the recruitment of most men and the arrests of certain intellectuals, widespread massacres have been reported taking place throughout the Ottoman Empire. In Van, it is said that the governor Djevdet ordered irregulars to commit crimes and force the Armenians to rebel to justify the encircling of the town by the Ottoman army. The Ottoman government ordered the evacuation or deportation of many Armenians living in Anatolia to Syria and Mesopotamia. It is believed that over a million were deported, though this figure has not been conclusively established. The word "deportation" could be considered as misleading (and some would prefer the word "relocation", as the former means banishment outside a country's borders; it is said that Japanese-Americans, for example, were not "deported" during World War II). Some historians believe that the deportations were, in practice, a method of mass execution which led to the deaths of many of the Armenian population by forcing them to march endlessly through desert, without food or water or enough protection from local Kurdish or Turkish bandits, and members of the special organization were charged to escort the convoys (which meant their destruction).

The camps

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Armenians hanged in Aleppo, 1915

The Ottoman Empire set up a recorded twenty-five to twenty-six of what are often called major "concentration camps" (Deir-Zor, Ras Ul-Ain, Bonzanti, Mamoura, Intili, Islahiye, Radjo, Katma, Karlik, Azaz, Akhterim, Mounboudji, Bab, Tefridje, Lale, Meskene, Sebil, Dipsi, Abouharar, Hamam, Sebka, Marat, Souvar, Hama, Homs and Kahdem), under the command of Şkr Kaya, one of the right hands of Talat Pasha. The majority of the camps were situated near the Iraqi and Syrian frontiers, and some were only temporary transit camps. Other camps were only used as temporary mass burial zones—such as Radjo, Katma, and Azaz—that were closed in Fall 1915. After reports of deaths, the camps Lale, Tefridje, Dipsi, Del-El, and Ras Ul-Ain were built specifically for those who had a life expectancy of a few days. The majority of the guards inside the camps were Armenians.

Even though nearly all the camps, including all the major ones, were open air, according to records, some were not. Other camps existed, according to the military court, that were irregular Red Crescent camps used to kill by morphine injection (two Saib (health inspector) colleagues, Dr. Ragib and Dr. Vehib, testified during the court) and from which bodies were thrown into the Black Sea. In other instances, according to records, there were some small-scale killing and burning camps where the Armenian population was told to present itself in a given area, and was subsequently burned en masse. Other records from the military tribunal suggest that gassing installations existed as well. Other tribunal testimonies put forth that Dr. Saib and Nail, an Ittihadist deputy, were heading two school buildings used as extermination camps for children. Both Saib and Nail were allegedly in charge of providing the list of children who were to be distributed among the Muslim populace; the rest of the children were to be sent to the mezzanine floor to be killed by a mass gassing installation. The children were sent there under the pretext of taking baths but were poisoned instead.

While the total number of victims that perished in all such camps is hard to establish, it is estimated by some sources at close to a million. This excludes Armenians who may have died in other ways, but may include the special organizations' participation in the events; the majority of the excluded losses are recorded in Bitlis and Sivas.

The special organization (Teshkilati Mahsusa)

While there was an official special organization founded in December 1911 by the Ottoman government, the second organization that participated in what led to the destruction of the Ottoman Armenian community was founded by the lttihad ve Terraki. It technically appeared in July 1914 and was supposed to differ from the existing organization in one important point; according to the military court and other records, it was meant to be a "government in a government" (without needing any orders to act). Later in 1914, the Ottoman government decided to influence 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 Ottoman commissions attached to the tribunal (for example the Mzhar commision in Sivas) as soon as November 1914, 124 criminals were released from Pimian prison. Many other releases followed; in Ankara a few months later, 49 criminals were released from its central 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, commander of the Ottoman third army, called those members of the special organization, the “butchers of the human specy.” This organization was led by the Central Committee Members Doctor Nazim, Behaeddin Sakir, Atif Riza, and former Director of Public Security Aziz Bey. The headquarters of Behaeddin Sakir were in Erzurum, from where he directed the forces of the Eastern vilayets. Aziz, Atif and Nazim Beys operated in Istanbul, and their decisions were approved and implemented by Cevat Bey, the Military Governor of Istanbul.

Armenians killed during the Armenian genocide
Armenians killed during the Armenian genocide

According to the same commissions and other records, the criminals were chosen by a process of selection. They had to be ruthless butchers to be selected as a member of the special organization. The Mazhar commission, during the military court, has provided some lists of those criminals. In one instance, of 65 criminals released, 50 were in prison for murder. The lists all gave a disproportionate ratio of those condemned for murder; others imprisoned for minor crimes constituted a clear minority. This selection process of criminals was, according to most Western researchers, clearly indicative of the government's intention to commit mass murder of its Armenian population. It must also be noted that, according to records, physicians participated in the process of selection; health professionals were appointed by the war ministry to determine whether the selected convicts would be fit to apply the degree of savagery of killing that was required.

It is estimated that the members of the special organization have killed hundreds of thousands of Armenians.

Military trials, Istanbul, 1919

Many of those responsible for the genocide were sentenced to death in absentia, after having escaped their trials in 1918. The accused succeeded in destroying the majority of the documents, that could be used as evidence against them, before they escaped. The martial court established the will of the Ittheadists to eliminate the Armenians physically, via its special organization. The Court Martial, Istanbul, 1919: "The Court Martial taking into consideration the above-named crimes declares, unanimously, the culpability as principle factors of these crimes the fugitives Talat 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 Talat, Enver, Cemal, and Dr. Nazim."

Turkish government denial

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Starved Armenian mother and child

Though soon after the Armenian massacres, the world was well aware of the "extermination of the Armenians", which was openly discussed by Turkish government officials, and trials of Ottoman officials were held in regard to the events, after a period of quiet, a new policy of silencing and what is called as denial began. Eventually, a policy that is considered by many historians as official state denial emerged. Mention of Armenian Genocide almost anywhere in the world was met with rebukes from Turkish Ambassadors, while mention of it in Turkey itself led to jail terms or worse on many occasions — often prosecuted under a law against inciting ethnic hatred. Turkey began to spend large amounts of money on lobbying firms in Washington D.C. to counter genocide allegations, and improve its image. It also began to spend large amounts of money on endowed chairs of Turkish or Ottoman history in different U.S. universities which had conditions that the professors who were hired must be on "friendly" terms with Turkey. Some of their efforts to establish such chairs were met with student and public resistance and not all were eventually successful in being beforehand armenian counterpart establishments.

The campaign of what is called as denial was met with mixed success. Some governments, notably Turkish allies the U.S. and Israel will not officially use the word genocide to describe these events, though some government officials have used it personally. Many newspapers for a long time would not use the word genocide without disclaimers such as "alleged". A number of those policies have now been reversed so that even casting doubt on the term is against editorial policy, such as the case is with the New York Times. In recent years the number of governments recognizing the event as genocide officially, despite threats of economic retaliation by Turkey has grown. Two recent examples are France and Switzerland. Turkish entry talks with the European Union were met with a number of calls to consider the event as genocide, though it was eventually not a specific stipulation.

The most recent move by the Turkish government in this regard was for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the head of the main opposition party Deniz Baykal to hold a press conference in March 2005 inviting Armenian historians to meet with historians from Turkey to find out what happened, and called on Armenia to open its archives. This was met with a response from the Armenian Foreign minister that the world already knew what happened, and that Armenia's archives were always open.

Turkey has never established diplomatic relations with Armenia and has closed its land borders with Armenia. Armenia has declared repeatedly it is ready for relations and an open border without preconditions but denied to withdraw its own troops from occupied Azerbeidzan. Turkey claims that it would support the occupation of Nagorno-Karabagh by opening his borders.

Recent history — timeline

  • 1975: ASALA, a terrorist group that demanded recognition of genocide by the Turkish government, was founded. Backed by some western countries, the group killed 4 civilians and 42 Turkish diplomats in various bombings and assasinations until the early 1980s.
  • April 24, 1994: President Bill Clinton issued a news release to commemorate the "tragedy" that befell the Armenians in 1915, yet he bowed to political pressure and refused to refer to it as "genocide," despite referring to the massacre as such before being elected president.
  • June 30, 1998: The American rock band System of a Down, whose members are Armenian in ancestry, wrote the song "P.L.U.C.K." ("Political Lying Unholy Cowardly Killers"), about the Armenian Genocide and the denial of it as genocide. "P.L.U.C.K." can be found as Track 13 on the self-titled album, "System of a Down".
  • January 18, 2001: Turkey recalled its ambassador from Paris in protest to a parliamentary bill that was unanimously passed formally recognizing the Armenian Holocaust as genocide and placing blame on the Turks. Relations between Turkey and France consequently suffered.
  • 2002: The Armenian Genocide was the subject of the film Ararat, by Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan.
  • February 20, 2003: A report on "The Applicability ( of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to Events which Occurred During the Early Twentieth Century" by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ ( stated that " least some of the perpetrators of the Events knew that the consequence of their action would be the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia, as such, or acted purposefully towards this goal, and, therefore, possessed the requisite genocidal intent." The report concluded that "...the Events, viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the [UN] Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them" (p. 17).
  • April 14, 2003: According to the League for Human Rights [1] (, the Turkish Ministry of Education issued a document instructing heads of schools to organize conferences stating that Turkey never exterminated its minorities. It also recommended that the students should write dissertations on "fighting allegations of genocide", in which phrases such as "Turks may have killed Armenians" are banned in favour of presenting these events as a necessity in the face of the "massacres perpetrated by Armenians". A first report detailing the application of these recommendations was to be sent by each school to the local Ministry directorates on May 13, 2003.
  • April 2004: The Turkish government, in their new Penal Code, added a penalty of ten years in prison for any person who confirms that the Armenian Genocide took place. [2] ( The U.K. Parliament suggested, however, that "There is no mention ( of ... the Armenian genocide" in this penal code.
  • April 21, 2004: the Canadian House of Commons voted to officially recognize and condemn the Armenian Genocide. The motion passed easily by 153 to 68, however, the Liberal-controlled Cabinet was instructed to vote against it. The federal government, in opposing the motion, did not express a position on whether the genocide took place, but rather cited a desire to avoid reopening old wounds and to maintain good relations with Turkey.
  • April 24, 2004: In marking the 89th Anniversary of the genocide, John Kerry issued a statement calling for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
  • March, 2005: The Turkish Prime Minister and the head of the opposition held a press conference proposing the meeting of Armenian and Turkish historians to find out what really happened. The Prime Minister also called on Armenia to open its archives. The Armenian Foreign Minister rejected the invitation, stating that the world already knew what happened, and that its archives have always been open.
  • 2001-2004: Also breaking a campaign promise, the subsequent President George W. Bush, in each year of his first term, refused to use the word "genocide" to describe the killings, though promising Armenian-Americans during his election campaign to recognize the "genocidal campaign" to which Armenians were subjected.

In the past, many prominent American politicians have made statements in support of formal recognition of the Armenian genocide. While president Ronald Reagan publicly referred to the events of 1915 as a 'genocide', a major feat in and of itself, nonetheless to this day no formal resolution recognizing the genocide has been passed by the US government. The Armenian side speculates that fear of retribution from Turkey, a US ally and NATO partner, is behind the lack of formal recognition, whereas the Turkish side speculates that the only reason for the possibility of such a recognition would be the strength of Armenian lobby efforts within the US rather than the genuineness of the claims.

  • April, 2005: The Turkish State Archive issued a list of more than 523,000 Turks whom it said were killed by Armenians in Turkey between 1910 and 1922 as Armenians allegedly tried to establish themselves as the majority population in Eastern Anatolia.
  • April, 2005: The Turkish historian Murat Bardakı opened the notes of Talat Pasha dating back to 1914 about the population of Armenians under Ottoman rule. The following is a script from Talat Pasha's notebook "The number of Gregorian and Catholic Armenians that lived under the Ottoman Empire was 1,256,403. By considering the fact that there might be some unaccounted people, we can increase this number to 1,500,000. The cities where the relocation is applied there are 284,157 Armenians but if we increase this number by 30% just to be sure, there are between 250,000 and 400,000 in the cities where the relocation was applied." He says that "The total Armenian population was a maximum of 1,500,000. Out of these many people, 924,158 were relocated and there are still around 400,000 people in cities where relocation was applied" He also says that there were 68,422 Armenians in Istanbul in 1914 and this number went up to 80,000 in the next year. None of these people were subject to relocation.
  • May 25, 2005: A conference about "Ottoman Armenians during the Decline of the Empire" focusing on the "Armenian Genocide" to be held in Bosphorus (Boğazii) University of Istanbul, Turkey is postponed by the administration of the Bosphorus University (one of the three organizers) due to the remarks in the speech of Justice Minister Cemil Cicek in parliament.
"This is a stab in the back to the Turkish nation. This is irresponsibility," the Anatolian News Agency quoted Cicek as saying at a parliamentary debate. "We must put an end to this cycle of treason and insult, of spreading propaganda against the nation by people who belong to it," he added.
  • May 26, 2005: The Organizing Committee of the "Ottoman Armenians during the Decline of the Empire" publicly declared that the conference is going to be held in the near future.
  • 1923 - Current: To this day, Turkey admits there were large scale massacres of Armenians but disputes the extent, premeditation and cause of many of the deaths and denies their qualification as genocide based on these objections.

Official recognition

Several countries officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, including Argentina, Armenia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vatican City.

  • European Parliament
  • Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly
  • United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
  • The majority of US states also recognize the Armenian Genocide, however there is no federal (Country-wide) recognition.
  • the Canadian House of Commons voted to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. The federal government, in opposing the motion, did not express a position on whether the genocide took place.
  • International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) Report Prepared for TARC
  • The Association of Genocide Scholars
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • World Council of Churches
  • The Turkish Human Right Organization
  • The League for Human Rights (
  • Parliament of Kurdistan in Exile
  • Permanent Peoples' Tribunal

Turkish intellectuals who support the theses of genocide

There are a number of Turkish scholars who support the theses of genocide, including turkish historians Ragip Zarakolu and Ali Ertem, as well as Taner Akam and Halil Berktay. Despite being protested strongly by some Turkish nationalists. Orhan Pamuk, a famous Turkish novelist, has also recently told the swiss press that he believes that a million Armenians and 30,000 kurds were killed in Turkey.

The reason why some Turkish intellectuals accept the theses of genocide, lies behind three important points. First, the fact that this organization members were criminals, and that those criminals were specifically sent to escort the Armenians, for them is enough evidences of a government criminal intention. Second, the fact that not only the Armenians living in the war zone were removed, according to them this plays against the theses of military necessity vehiculed by the Ottoman government. Thirdly, according to them, the theses of simple relocation does not make sense, because there was no dispositions taken suggesting a “resettlement,” which could mean that the government didn't expected Armenians would survive. Dr. Taner Akam, a Turkish specialist, write about this point: “The fact that neither at the start of the deportations, nor en route, and nor at the locations, which were declared to be their initial halting places, were there any single arrangement, required for the organization of a people's migration, is sufficient proof of the existence of this plan of annihilation.”

Those Turkish intellectuals believe that 800,000 or more Armenians lost their lives during the events.

Armenian Genocide memorial

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Genocide memorial at the Tsitsernakaberd hill, Yerevan

The idea of the memorial arose in 1965, at the commemorating of the 50th anniversary of the genocide. Two years later the memorial (by architects Kalashian and Mkrtchyan) was completed at the Tsitsernakaberd hill above the Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan. The 44 metre stele symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. 12 slabs are positioned in a circle, representing 12 lost provinces in present day Turkey. In the centre of the circle, in depth of 1.5 metres, there is an eternal flame. Along the park at the memorial there is a 100 metre wall with names of towns and villages where massacres are known to have taken place. In 1995 a small circular museum was opened at the other end of the park where one learn about basic information about the events in 1915. Some photos taken by German photographers (Turkish allies during World War I) and some publications about the genocide are also displayed. Near the museum is a spot where foreign statesmen plant trees in memory of the genocide. Each April 24th (Armenian Genocide Commemoration Holiday) hundreds of thousands of people walk to the genocide monument and lay flowers (usually red carnations or tulips) around the eternal flame. Armenians around the world mark the genocide in different ways, and many memorials have been built in Armenian Diaspora communities.

See also


External links


Websites supporting the genocide theses


Websites opposing the genocide theses


Independent Studies

Mutual Perceptions Research (Armenia/Turkey) ( (*.doc file) "The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and the Armenian Sociological Association (HASA) have organized a Mutual Perceptions Research Project. Each group is carrying out sociological research to identify key issues of cultural understanding between the neighboring countries, including the perception of Turks by Armenians and of Armenians by Turks. The study focuses on the perceptions of the majority populations in each country. The combined results will constitute study findings. Representatives from each team met in Yerevan and fieldwork was undertaken in both countries. The results of the research were presented at an international seminar jointly organized by TESEV and HASA in Tbilisi, Georgia."
Full report ( (*.pdf file) Armenian and Turkish versions of the report are also available on the above mentioned an den Armeniern

eo:Armena genocido fr:Gnocide armnien id:Genosida Armenia it:Genocidio armeno he:שואת הארמנים nl:Armeense genocide ja:アルメニア人虐殺問題 pl:Rzeź Ormian ru:Армянский геноцид sl:Armenski genocid sv:Armeniska folkmordet


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