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Showing posts with label genocide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genocide. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Armenian Genocide

What came to be called the Armenian Genocide was the product of rising Turkic Nationalism, the gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the outbreak of WWI. In the eight years between 1915 and 1923 the Ottoman Empire wiped out 1.5 million Armenians, completely annihilating the Armenian population in Anatolia. The Ottomans seized traditional Armenian homelands, and pressed tens of thousands of women and children into slavery, forcibly converting them to Islam and making them assimilate. To this day the Armenian population in Anatolia, and Armenia itself, is woefully small, and there are more Armenians in diaspora than there are in their traditional homelands. These horrors remain completely unrecognized by the Turkish government.

Related image
The Armenian populace in the Ottoman Empire. This is where
the Armenians were centralized at the time. Historic Armenia
Extend further into the neareast. Armenians at the time were
spread across the eastern part of the Empire, as well as the border
with Russia
We've talked about the Ottoman empire a few times before in the context of its remarkable Sultanas. However, life had gone significantly downhill after the Sultanate of Women, and around the turn of the century the Ottoman Empire was facing a significant financial crisis, as well as political disputes with Russia. The Sultan at the time, Sultan Abdul Hamid, was a despotic autocrat who had ill-fatedly aligned himself with Imperial Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

In 1908 the Ottoman Empire was changed forever when a group called 'The Young Turks' forcibly took power from Sultan Abdul Hamid and placing him under arrest. From this group sprang the 'Committee for Union and Progress' (CUP). Almost immediately, CUP instituted a constitution, taking away the Sultan's absolute power.

At the beginning, the Armenian population had high hopes for the CUP administration. Under previous administrations Armenians had been second class citizens, due to the fact that they were Christian. They were not allowed to participate in government, and had to pay additional taxes. Additionally, the law did not provide them with protection or civil rights. In the late 1890s Armenians had begun agitating for basic civil rights, and Abdul had had a massive Pogrom carried out. The Armenians hoped for more rights under the CUP regime.

Unfortunately, CUP wasn't interested in asserting universal rights to all people groups, they were only interested in giving rights to the Turkic peoples of the Empire. They wanted to ethnically cleanse the nation to make a wholly Turkic state. When WWI erupted, they were given the perfect excuse. Not only did the Ottomans gleefully follow their allies, Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into battle, they also declared holy war on all Christians (excepting their allies of course.).

One of the biggest problems for Armenians, as mentioned above, was that they were Christian, and did not subscribe to the state cult. This made the CUP suspicious, and they feared that the Armenians would side with Christian Russia, and take up arms against the Empire from within the Empire.

Given that the Armenian homeland straddled the border between the Ottoman and Russian Empires, the idea that the Armenians would side with their enemies wasn't completely crazy. Russian Armenians had significantly more rights than Ottoman Armenians, and should the Russians devour the Ottoman Empire, Armenians would be granted more civil rights and protections under the law. Though the Armenians in Russia had experienced oppression under Czar Alexander II and Czar Nicholas II, things were looking up for them. In 1905 a minor revolution among the Armenians and Azeri spurred the Russian government to make serious change. Life as a Russian Armenian was significantly better than life as an Ottoman Armenian. The CUP's fears were additionally fanned by the fact that Russian Armenians had been smuggling arms into the Ottoman Empire since the 1880s, and Russian Armenian nationalists encouraged their Ottoman brothers to rise up against the Ottoman Empire in favor of an Armenian state.

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Turkish soldiers standing over the skulls of a massacred
village of Armenians
Despite their initial suspicion of the Armenians, the Ottomans were worried about their prospects in the upcoming war. They attempted to recruit the Dashnaktsutyun--the Russian Armenian nationalist group--to fight against the Russian Empire, but the Dashnaktsutyun rebuffed him, saying that Armenians would fight for the country in which they resided. Despite this, after a major loss at the Battle of Sarikamis, the CUP decided that the Armenians on the eastern border were colluding against them. They quietly had all Armenian soldiers executed, and began performing killing raids on villages.

Shortly after, Ottoman forces began deporting Armenians from border villages. They forced Armenians to march thousands of miles into the Syrian desert, depriving them of food or water. People who stopped to rest were killed, and any Armenian who exhibited any sign of fighting back was immediately slaughtered. Between the blistering heat, lack of rest, and deprivation of food and water, hundreds of thousands of Armenians died along the way. Furthermore, many Armenians were killed by members of the 'Special Organization', gangs of freed convicts tasked with killing Armenians en route to Syria. They were also at risk of murder from Circassians as well as the Turkish soldiers escorting them.

By the time they arrived in Syria there was nothing waiting for them. The remaining Armenians were left to die of exposure and starvation. By the end of WWI the Armenian population, previously more than 2 million, had been reduced to 388,000.

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Armenian woman bent over her dead child near the Syrian border
The Armenian Genocide still haunts Armenians and Turks today. All Armenian cultural structures and artifacts on the Ottoman side of the Armenian homeland were destroyed. Libraries were sacked, depriving Armenians of precious knowledge about their history and culture. The Armenians remaining in Turkey were forced to assimilate, stripped of their religion, culture, and identity. Armenians were scattered around the globe. Today, out of the 11,000,000 Armenians living, only 3,000,000 of them live in Armenia itself.

It is important to note that Armenians weren't the only minority group targeted by the Ottomans at this time period. Assyrians and Greeks were also massacred. The genocide of these people, along with the genocide of the Armenians is still vigorously denied by Turkish authorities today. The Turkish government maintains that the killings of Armenians was unfortunate product of war, and not a systematized effort to wipe out an entire people group. Furthermore, may of Turkey's allies, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel, do not recognized the genocide either.

Sources
Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide (1915-16) Overview
The Armenian Genocide
Armenian Genocide