The Armenian Genocide

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There is a saying amongst survivors of the Armenian Genocide that ‘when the Genocide is denied it is like dying twice.’ – Fergal Keane in Armenia: The Betrayed. 

There had been widespread Armenian massacres in the Asiatic provinces of the Ottoman Empire during the 1890s by mobs of Kurdish irregulars and Muslim refugees from the Balkans and the Caucasus. However, the World War I massacres of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire were operated by the regular armed forces and the Special Organisation, which was under the Young Turk central committee, and not just mobs. “Nearly all Armenians without regard to age, sex, economic status, or religious denomination were targeted for elimination while they were also dispossessed of everything they owned personally and communally. The result was genocide.” (Richard Hovannisian, The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies, 5.)

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Many scholars agree that the massacres of the 1890s escalated into the genocide of 1915. Although, there is disagreement of interpretations on whether the the genocide was premeditated before World War I started or did measures of repression eventually lead to the genocide. Whereas, the Republic of Turkey denies that there was ever a genocide but says there was a migration, and many countries in the West do not officially recognise that there was a genocide of the Armenian people in 1915.

Anti-Armenian Genocide Image

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Some scholars, such as Norman Naimark, Ronald Suny and Donald Bloxham, argue that the genocide came about through a mixture of measures and the conditions of war. The idea that the the Armenian Genocide would not have happened if World War I had not started.  Conversely, other scholars like Tessa Hoffman and Vahakn Dadrian, put forward the argument that the fate of the Armenian population was decided by the Young Turk dictators before the Ottoman Empire joined the Germany as part of the Central Powers. They used war as a veil to cover up the Armenian Genocide.

Map of the Armenian Genocide

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The forced evacuation of the Armenians from eastern and southern Anatolia started due to the accusation that Armenians were collaborating with the Russians, in spring and early summer of 1915. Yusuf Halaçoğlu argues that the command to relocate Armenians was directed to war zones areas at first because it was in these regions that cooperation with Russian was occurring. However, as the relocation spread to other regions and to both Protestant and Catholic Armenians as they were helping the enemy with landing operations, supporting Armenian rebels and attacking the Ottoman state. Furthermore,  the relocation was to end the agreement with Russia over six provinces that were offered independence. Halaçoğlu strongly argues that the Russians were causing problems within the Ottoman Empire by using the Armenians to suit Russian interests. (Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Facts on the Relocation of Armenians (1914-1918), 75-76.)

Peter Balakian argues that the ‘government-planned genocide’ rounded up the Armenians across the Ottoman Empire. Many were arrested and shot or deported. The Ottoman officials arrested men in groups and shot them, so to make the Armenian community across the empire more vulnerable without men to resist. Women, children and the elderly were given a short notice and told to pack belongings to be relocated; keeping with the story that they would be able to return after the war was over. In the winter of 1915, there was a massacre of Armenian men in the labour battalions within the Ottoman army.  However, according to Peter Balakian the “epicentre of death” was in the region of Deir-el-Zor, in the Syrian desert because the most deaths occurred there. The Armenians died there by massacre, starvation, disease and they were compacted into caves and choked to death by brush fires. Journalist Robert Fisk referred to this as “primitive gas chambers” (Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, 175-176).

Ottoman Official Census of 1914 - Showing Muslims, Greeks, Armenians and Jews.

(Image Credit: Stanford Jay Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, The History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol 2, Cambridge University, 1977, 239-241.)

Allies ended the war with the Ottoman Empire on 30th October 1918 with the signing of the Mudros Armistice. It was the end of the Young Turk regime along with the Pan-Turkish aspirations (Simon Payaslian, The History of Armenia, 142).


The impacts of the Armenian massacres were great, one of the most significant impacts was that an estimated 1-1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915-1923. Likewise, the genocide resembled the end of the Armenians 3000 years’ heritage in the area (Stephan Astourian, “The Armenian Genocide: An Interpretation,” The History Teacher 23 (February 1990), 145). Halaçoğlu argued that if the Ottomans had killed 1.5 million Armenians the mass graves would have been found, like the mass graves of Turks massacred by the Armenians (Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Fact on the Relocation of Armenians (1914-1918), 122). However, family lives were destroyed along with homes and many children were orphaned by the deportations and massacres. Moreover, Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller found that when interviewing survivors of the genocide, the genocide haunted many of the survivors. For example, survivor Vahram (father of Lorna Touryan Miller) was unable to adjust to losing his mother, father and siblings. Also, Vahram was one of the many survivors who were displaced by the genocide as they were unable or could not bear to go home therefore, Vahram lived in six different countries as he struggled to settle (Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide , 16-17). Due to the different countries and the horrors of the genocide, many survivors temporarily lost their Armenian cultural heritage as they often forgot their native language and changed religion. Consequently, the Armenian genocide did not only kill 1 – 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire but displaced survivors, scarring them and many lost their heritage because of the events.

(Image Credit: Poster calling for Turkey to recognize theArmenian Genocide of 1915 by

Another impact of the Armenian massacres was the persecution of war crimes in the 1919-1920 Turkish Courts Martial. The trials found that the “destruction of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire was neither an accident nor an aberration” (Vahakn N. Dadrian, Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict, 1). However, Vahakn N. Dadrian argued that while the trials were “successful in documenting the crimes” against the Armenians, “they failed dismally” in punishing those involved in the crimes. The Turkish trials were not helped in trying to find justice for the Armenian people as the French and Italians undermined the efforts of the British and Americans attempts to bring justice. The trials were ineffective at bringing justice as the many members of the CUP fled the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I but the trials made an impact that has been “unrecognised.” The impact of the genocide was the Turkish trials which were supposed to punish those involved in the criminal massacres but trials had an impact that was “significant” (Vahakn N. Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anotolia to the Caucasus, 317-318). For the trials substituted national laws for international laws and helped efforts to criminalise genocide under domestic laws. Furthermore, it was the first time in which premeditated mass murder was made a “crime under international law (Vahakn Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide, 318).

An additional impact of the Armenian Genocide was that neither the Republic of Turkey nor many countries in the West officially recognised the genocide. The government of Turkey argued that the ‘Events of 1915,’ as the Turkish Prime Minister in 2007 declared the genocide to be called, was not genocide. Instead, the Turkish government will not “accept responsibility as the perpetrator of the Genocide” as they deem the events of 1915 to be deportations that were necessary during World War I (Richard Hovannisian, The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies, 424). Part of the Turkish Republic’s mythology was that the Armenian Genocide never happened. There has been more interest in the Armenian Genocide over the years and Balakian argued that as a result the “Turkish government’s response has been increasingly hostile” (Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, 379).

(Image Credit: Armenian Genocide – Syrian desert – by

Taner Akçam strongly argued that the reason Turkey still does not recognise the genocide is because it would taint the ‘saviours’ who created the Republic of Turkey. The Armenian Genocide questions and dirties the Turkish national identity (Taner Akçam, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, 240-241). Whereas, countries in the West did not acknowledge the genocide officially due to the pressures from Turkey, the Middle East and oil did have impact in the decision too. It was the 50th Anniversary of the genocide in 1965 that caused many countries, including the USA to gradually look towards acknowledging the genocide. This was because the survivors and the Armenian communities across the world gained publicity for the event. From the publicity came scholarly research on the subject by academics from across the West. The Turkish government pressured the USA not to acknowledge the genocide with their contracts with major US corporations and as they were a NATO ally. However, by the end of the 20th and beginning of the early 21st century European Parliaments started to recognise the genocide and refused Turkey’s admission into the European Union partly because Turkey refused to acknowledge the genocide (Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, 373-390).

(Image Credit: The Armenian Genocide by

However, Balakian argued that it was “sad” that the most powerful country in the world has not been able to “muster the courage” to acknowledge the genocide when the country has taken in many immigrants and survivors of the Armenian Genocide (Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, 390-391).

(Image Credit: Tensions Between Turkey And France Rise Over Armenian Genocide Bill by





(Video Credit: The Armenian Genocide – Turkey’s Shame by 100Werk. Last Viewed April 14, 2011)

Video uploaded by Logan Martinez.