In 2015 Armenia commemorated the 100th anniversary of the genocide of 1915. The number of victims is incomprehensible – 1,5 million Armenians lost their lives. They were executed or marched across the Syrian desert. Many died along the way of exhaustion, exposure and starvation. In Yerevan the Genocide Museum is a stark reminder of this very dark part of Armenian history.
The roots of the genocide lay in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
In the Islamic caliphate the Christian Armenians were allowed to uphold their religious social and legal structures, but often had to pay extra taxes. Most of them lived in eastern Anatolia, many of them were merchants and industrialists. They seemed better off than their Turkish neighbors, largely small peasants or badly-paid government employees and soldiers.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the once powerful Ottoman Empire was crumbling. In 1908, The Young Turks, ambitious, young army officers seized power. Their goal was to modernize, strengthen and “Turkify” the empire. In March of 1914, they entered World War I on the side of Germany. At that time, two million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire. By 1922, about 400.000 were left.
Armenians targeted by Young Turks
Armenians were blamed for siding with the Russians and the Young Turks portrayed them as a threat to the state.
The Young Turks started to take measures against the Armenians. One was a law that authorized the government to deport anyone they considered a security threat. Armenians were ordered to turn in any weapons that they owned to the authorities. Those in the army were disarmed and transferred into labor battalions where they were either killed or worked to death.
Documentation of Genocide
Much of the atrocities were well documented by Western diplomats, missionaries and others. It created widespread outrage against the Turks in the West. Germany, the ally of the Ottoman Empire was silent at the time. In later years documents surfaced from German diplomats and military officers that expressed horror at what was going on.
Till today the Turkish government refuses to call the killing of 1,5 million people a genocide, the systematic attempt to destroy a people.