F.A.Q. about the Armenian Genocide
- What is the Armenian Genocide?
- Who was responsible for the Armenian Genocide?
- How many people died in the Armenian Genocide?
- Were there witnesses to the Armenian Genocide?
- What was the response of the international community to the Armenian Genocide?
- Why is the Armenian Genocide commemorated on April 24?
- Are the Armenian massacres acknowledged today as a Genocide according to the United Nations Genocide Convention?
What is the Armenian Genocide?
The atrocities committed against the Armenian people of the Ottoman
Empire during W.W.I are called the Armenian Genocide. Genocide is the
organized killing of a people for the express purpose of putting an end
to their collective existence. Because of its scope, genocide requires
central planning and a machinery to implement it. This makes genocide
the quintessential state crime as only a government has the resources to
carry out such a scheme of destruction. The Armenian Genocide was
centrally planned and administered by the Turkish government against the
entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. It was carried out
during W.W.I between the years 1915 and 1918. The Armenian people were
subjected to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre,
and starvation. The great bulk of the Armenian population was forcibly
removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where the vast majority was
sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. Large numbers of
Armenians were methodically massacred throughout the Ottoman Empire.
Women and children were abducted and horribly abused. The entire wealth
of the Armenian people was expropriated. After only a little more than a
year of calm at the end of W.W.I, the atrocities were renewed between
1920 and 1923, and the remaining Armenians were subjected to further
massacres and expulsions. In 1915, thirty-three years before UN Genocide
Convention was adopted, the Armenian Genocide was condemned by the
international community as a crime against humanity.
Who was responsible for the Armenian Genocide?
The decision to carry out a genocide against the Armenian people was
made by the political party in power in the Ottoman Empire. This was the
Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) (or Ittihad ve Terakki Jemiyeti),
popularly known as the Young Turks. Three figures from the CUP
controlled the government; Mehmet Talaat, Minister of the Interior in
1915 and Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) in 1917; Ismail Enver, Minister
of War; Ahmed Jemal, Minister of the Marine and Military Governor of
Syria. This Young Turk triumvirate relied on other members of the CUP
appointed to high government posts and assigned to military commands to
carry out the Armenian Genocide. In addition to the Ministry of War and
the Ministry of the Interior, the Young Turks also relied on a
newly-created secret outfit which they manned with convicts and
irregular troops, called the Special Organization (Teshkilati Mahsusa).
Its primary function was the carrying out of the mass slaughter of the
deported Armenians. In charge of the Special Organization was Behaeddin
Shakir, a medical doctor. Moreover, ideologists such as Zia Gokalp
propagandized through the media on behalf of the CUP by promoting
Pan-Turanism, the creation of a new empire stretching from Anatolia into
Central Asia whose population would be exclusively Turkic. These
concepts justified and popularized the secret CUP plans to liquidate the
Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turk conspirators, other
leading figures of the wartime Ottoman government, members of the CUP
Central Committee, and many provincial administrators responsible for
atrocities against the Armenians were indicted for their crimes at the
end of the war. The main culprits evaded justice by fleeing the country.
Even so, they were tried in absentia and found guilty of capital
crimes. The massacres, expulsions, and further mistreatment of the
Armenians between 1920 and 1923 were carried by the Turkish
Nationalists, who represented a new political movement opposed to the
Young Turks, but who shared a common ideology of ethnic exclusivity.
How many people died in the Armenian Genocide?
It is estimated that one and a half million Armenians perished between
1915 and 1923. There were an estimated two million Armenians living in
the Ottoman Empire on the eve of W.W.I. Well over a million were
deported in 1915. Hundreds of thousands were butchered outright. Many
others died of starvation, exhaustion, and epidemics which ravaged the
concentration camps. Among the Armenians living along the periphery of
the Ottoman Empire many at first escaped the fate of their countrymen in
the central provinces of Turkey. Tens of thousands in the east fled to
the Russian border to lead a precarious existence as refugees. The
majority of the Armenians in Constantinople, the capital city, were
spared deportation. In 1918, however, the Young Turk regime took the war
into the Caucasus, where approximately 1,800,000 Armenians lived under
Russian dominion. Ottoman forces advancing through East Armenia and
Azerbaijan here too engaged in systematic massacres. The expulsions and
massacres carried by the Nationalist Turks between 1920 and 1922 added
tens of thousands of more victims. By 1923 the entire landmass of Asia
Minor and historic West Armenia had been expunged of its Armenian
population. The destruction of the Armenian communities in this part of
the world was total.
Were there witnesses to the Armenian Genocide?
There were many witnesses to the Armenian Genocide. Although the Young
Turk government took precautions and imposed restrictions on reporting
and photographing, there were lots of foreigners in the Ottoman Empire
who witnessed the deportations. Foremost among them were U.S. diplomatic
representatives and American missionaries. They were first to send news
to the outside world about the unfolding genocide. Some of their
reports made headline news in the American and Western media. Also
reporting on the atrocities committed against the Armenians were many
German eyewitnesses. The Germans were allies of the Turks in W.W.I.
Numerous German officers held important military assignments in the
Ottoman Empire. Some among them condoned the Young Turk policy. Others
confidentially reported to their superiors in Germany about the
slaughter of the Armenian civilian population. Many Russians saw for
themselves the devastation wreaked upon the Armenian communities when
the Russian Army occupied parts of Anatolia. Many Arabs in Syria where
most of the deportees were sent saw for themselves the appalling
condition to which the Armenian survivors had been reduced. Lastly, many
Turkish officials were witnesses as participants in the Armenian
Genocide. A number of them gave testimony under oath during the post-war
tribunals convened to try the Young Turk conspirators who organized the
What was the response of the international community to the Armenian Genocide?
The international community condemned the Armenian Genocide. In May
1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia advised the Young Turk leaders
that they would be held personally responsible for this crime against
humanity. There was a strong public outcry in the United States against
the mistreatment of the Armenians. At the end of the war, the Allied
victors demanded that the Ottoman government prosecute the Young Turks
accused of wartime crimes. Relief efforts were also mounted to save "the
starving Armenians." The American, British, and German governments
sponsored the preparation of reports on the atrocities and numerous
accounts were published. On the other hand, despite the moral outrage of
the international community, no strong actions were taken against the
Ottoman Empire either to sanction its brutal policies or to salvage the
Armenian people from the grip of extermination. Moreover, no steps were
taken to require the postwar Turkish governments to make restitution to
the Armenian people for their immense material and human losses.
Why is the Armenian Genocide commemorated on April 24?
On the night of April 24, 1915, the Turkish government placed under
arrest over 200 Armenian community leaders in Constantinople. Hundreds
more were apprehended soon after. They were all sent to prison in the
interior of Anatolia, where most were summarily executed. The Young Turk
regime had long been planning the Armenian Genocide and reports of
atrocities being committed against the Armenians in the eastern war
zones had been filtering in during the first months of 1915. The
Ministry of War had already acted on the government's plan by disarming
the Armenian recruits in the Ottoman Army, reducing them to labor
battalions and working them under conditions equaling slavery. The
incapacitation and methodic reduction of the Armenian male population,
as well as the summary arrest and execution of the Armenian leadership
marked the earliest stages of the Armenian Genocide. These acts were
committed under the cover of a news blackout on account of the war and
the government proceeded to implement its plans to liquidate the
Armenian population with secrecy. Therefore, the Young Turks regime's
true intentions went undetected until the arrests of April 24. As the
persons seized that night included the most prominent public figures of
the Armenian community in the capital city of the Ottoman Empire,
everyone was alerted about the dimensions of the policies being
entertained and implemented by the Turkish government. Their death
presaged the murder of an ancient civilization. April 24 is, therefore,
commemorated as the date of the unfolding of the Armenian Genocide.
Are the Armenian massacres acknowledged today as a Genocide according to the United Nations Genocide Convention?
The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide describes genocide as "acts committed with intent to
destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
group." Clearly this definition applies in the case of the atrocities
committed against the Armenians. Because the U.N. Convention was adopted
in 1948, thirty years after the Armenian Genocide, Armenians worldwide
have sought from their respective governments formal acknowledgment of
the crimes committed during W.W.I. Countries like France, Argentina,
Greece, and Russia, where the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and
their descendants live, have officially recognized the Armenian
Genocide. However, as a matter of policy, the present-day Republic of
Turkey adamantly denies that a genocide was committed against the
Armenians during W.W.I. Moreover, Turkey dismisses the evidence about
the atrocities as mere allegations and regularly obstructs efforts for
acknowledgment. Affirming the truth about the Armenian Genocide,
therefore, has become an issue of international significance. The
recurrence of genocide in the twentieth century has made the
reaffirmation of the historic acknowledgment of the criminal
mistreatment of the Armenians by Turkey all the more a compelling
obligation for the international community.