Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, religious, political or ethnic group. The word is from the Greek genos meaning "race" or "nation" and the latin cide meaning "killing". Genocide is a crime under an international law established in 1946 in light of the events of Nuremberg. Unfortunately, many historical incidents of Genocide occurred prior to the formation of this law. One event particularly devastating was the case of the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks at the outbreak of World War One.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the Armenian people suffered a tragedy of titanic proportions. The Armenians living in the western part of their country became the victims of a genocide which claimed the lives of one and a half million of them, while the survivors were driven out of regions that Armenian people had inhabited for more than three millenniums. Taking place in 1915, this heinous massacre and deportation of Armenians from their ancestral homeland was a pre-meditated crime which began to be concocted in the earlier part of the decade.
In 1908, a revolution occurred in Turkey headed by the so-called `Committee of Union and Progress' or `Young Turks'. This revolutionary party wanted to see an end to Abdul-Hamid's abuses. They also stood for a new deal for racial minorities in Armenia. The Armenians loyally supported the Young Turk movement and participated in the formation of the new government.
After coming to power in 1908, the young Turks established a ruling junta (council). These individuals became increasingly submissive to German influence and also supportive to the new racialist doctrine of Pan-Turkism. They had an objective; the annexation of the ancient Turkic lands of Central Asia, and the formation of a vast Turanian empire ranging from Istanbul to Samarkard and beyond. One thing stood in their way of this goal; the Armenian race.
The answer to their problem and the fate of the Armenians was to be decided in several secret conferences held in Slavonic. It was at these meetings that the elimination of all Armenians was adapted as the central objective of young Turk policy.
In 1914 Turkey entered World War One on the German side. Turkey, almost instantaneously found itself bombarded by a massive Russian invasion from Tbilisi, Kars and Aradahan and the British landings at Gallipoli. It was these very events that sealed the doom of Turkey's Armenian population. With the permission of the German General of the Ottoman Army and the German Ambassador in Istanbul, the master plan for destroying the Armenians was put into effect.
"The sick men of Europe dealt with the Armenians in an increasingly brutal manner, through military attacks, massacres, and finally through a policy of genocide" (Suny, pp. 16). In April 1915, the Ottoman government set into action its design for genocide. An understatement of these events would describe them as pure horror. The Armenian intellectual and community leaders in Istanbul were taken from their homeland and transported via ships to their dooms. Able bodied Armenian men were rounded up and shot down or bludgeoned to death, almost to the last man. The civil population was ravaged. Infants were forcibly removed from their families to `orphanages' which turned out to be pits dug into the ground, into which the children were bestowed upon an appalling fate. They were buried alive. Women and old people were forced to walk hundreds of miles to concentration camps only to be murdered by ruffians along the way. Officials indulged themselves in sexual perversions with any good looking girls who took their fancy. Usually these episodes ended in murder and mutilation. Few women and children were spared death and sold into slavery or taken into Turkish families and hidden. In spite of these travesties many thousands of Armenians managed to flee into Russian territory, though a large number of these spared were to perish in the famines which followed the Revolution of 1917.
Following the collapse of Tsarist Russia in 1917, the Armenians that survived were able to set up an independent republic in Erevan. Considering the disrepair of their economy, a close association with the Soviet Union presented the only feasible way out of the economic and political problems facing the country. The Red Army moved into Armenia in 1920 and set up a Soviet regime there. Armenia was to become a constituent republic of the Soviet Union.
In cannot be denied that the extermination of nearly three million Turkish Armenians was deliberately planned and ordered by the young Turk junta. The secret directives were found after World War One. They gave detailed orders for the physical extermination of all Armenians. One thing is certain, the recognition of these crimes does not make them justifiable. Especially not to the victims and ancestors of the victims of the Armenian genocide.
This purposed massacre of the Armenian people was a crime of unparalleled revolution. April 24th, 1915 will remain an important day in Armenian history. It is the day when the Armenians mourn the death of the victims of the first genocide of the twentieth century.
THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE 1915
The Armenian genocide was the first genocide of the twentieth century. The aim of this paper is to summarize the reasons behind the genocide, and the damage that it caused. Finally, it will be seen how this catastrophe helped to shape and strengthen the national identity of the Armenian people.
The following reconstruction of the reasons behind the genocide are taken from Miller and Miller, (chapter two). From the sixteenth century, Armenians were ruled by the Ottoman Empire. However, they had always been regarded by the Turks as second-class citizens. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Turks were tired of the autocratic rule of their sultan, Abdul-Hamid, and overthrew him in 1908 in what was known as the Young Turk revolution. Unfortunately, the idea of a homogeneous Ottoman Empire developed as one of the main ideas behind Turkish reform, as a direct consequence of a newfound and incredibly strong nationalism. In addition, the fact that the Armenians were more modernized, more educated, and in short, more developed than the Turks, created an atmosphere of jealousy and hostility of the Turks towards Armenians.
Then came the outbreak of the First World War. Russia and Turkey were on opposing sides, and there were approximately 1.7 million Armenians on the Russian side of the border, and some 2.1 million on the Turkish side. Thus, the loyalty of Turkish Armenians was quickly brought into question. The decisive turning point came when Russian Armenians persuaded Russian officials to defend the Armenian population of Van, which the Turks were preparing to ravage. The Russians accepted, and this single act of defiance in the eyes of the Turks is what moved the leadership in Constantinople to engage in the extermination of the Armenians residing in Turkey. According to the article from the Web, What is the Armenian Genocide?, "The war provided a context which enabled a policy which it would have been difficult to pursue to its limits in peacetime to be followed through."
The official date of the beginning of the genocide (although the genocide had begun before this date), is April 24, 1915, when several hundred Armenian intellectuals and religious and political leaders were arrested, and later executed. Most of the 300 000 Armenians serving in the Turkish army were disarmed, and practically enslaved, after which, if they were not rounded up and shot, would die of hunger and fatigue. Massive deportations were organized with the pretext of removing Armenians from the war zone and adjacent areas. Suffice is to say that most of them never made it to their new destinations. The article What is the Armenian Genocide? states, "In many villages the inhabitants were simply massacred, without the formalities of the lengthy deportation marches." Most of those who were not killed by gunfire, rape, torture, or mutilation wound up in work camps, where they would die of famine and exhaustion. And even in these camps, there were mass executions taking place on a regular basis.
By the end of the First World War, approximately 1.5 million Armenians had lost their lives, more than two thirds of the original number of Armenians living in Turkey at the turn of the century. Of those who were lucky enough to survive the atrocities, many were exiled, and many fled the country. On the 28th of May, 1918, a group of Armenians declared an independent state, but the economy was shattered, and there were thousands of homeless refugees. By 1920, the Turks had recovered remarkably well from the war and were once again threatening the Armenians. In late 1920, Armenia was once again invaded by Turkey and forced to give up a good proportion of its historic territories. With nowhere else to turn (since the Allied powers were doing nothing to protect them), the Armenians turned to the Bolsheviks for protection. And, on the 30th November 1920, Armenia accepted the status of a Soviet Socialist Republic.
Although nothing positive could have possibly come from the Armenian genocide, it certainly shaped and fueled Armenian national identity. As the death of a family member brings the family closer together, so did the genocide bring Armenians closer together. Ever since the genocide, Armenians were all the more determined to achieve their independence, as a sign that Armenians will not be broken, that they will stay standing.
Driven by this desire, the Armenians started piecing their lives and country back together: " the Armenians increased their number, improved their economy and within less than half a century reached a lofty standard in scientific, educational, cultural, and industrial achievements " (Boyajian, 305). While they toiled to rebuild themselves, the memory of the massacres was always in their minds. And it was precisely fifty years after the beginning of the genocide that this became apparent: "Although prevented earlier from engaging in any public demonstrations commemorating the events of 1915, in Soviet Armenia citizens assembled on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacres in 1965 for a modest parade and speeches in the capital city of Yerevan. For the first time since becoming a Soviet republic, Armenia was making a political statement that was not in accord with the policy of the central government in Moscow But there was yet another aspect to this demonstration namely, the emergence of a nationalistic spirit born of the craving for freedom. This, after all, had been the ultimate aim of Armenians " (Alexander, 5). While remembering the genocide, the Armenians also had to struggle to maintain their culture and identity independent from that of the Russians: "For more than seventy years, Armenians struggled to preserve their culture and institutions against the corrupting influence of communist ideology and economic structures." (Miller and Miller, 189). And finally, on September 23rd, 1991, the Armenians finally won their struggle and avenged their lost comrades when the Republic of Armenia was established, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a moment they had been waiting for for almost 80 years.
Therefore, it can be seen that the Armenian genocide of 1915 fueled Armenians to maintain and struggle for their national identity under Soviet rule. Although they had turned to the Soviet Union for protection, having been devastated by the massacres which took place, their ultimate goal was freedom and independence. And it was through their sheer determination, inner strength, and pride, that their goal was achieved.
A tragedy for a nation is a tragedy for the whole civilization." -Hrant Sarkisov (http://www.armenia...rar/eng/archives/2000_april_1/gratit1.html)
The Armenian Genocide was the most devastating occurrence in this small country's history. "In April 1915 the Ottoman government embarked upon a systematic decimation of its civilian Armenian population. The persecutions continued with varying intensity until 1923 when the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. The Armenian poulation of the Ottoman state was reported at about 2 million in 1915. An estimated 1 million had perished by 1918, while hundreds of thousands had become homeless and stateless refugees. By 1923 virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had disappeared" (http://www.armenian-genocide.org/encyclopedia/genocide.html). Obviously, this horrific event had devestating effects on the survivors, especially the ones who were young children at the time.
An account of one survivor reads: "They asked all the men and boys to separate from the women. There were some teen boys who were dressed like girls and disguised. They remained behind. But my father had to go. He was a grown man with a moustache. As soon as they separated the men, a group of armed men came from the other side of a hill and killed all the men right in front of our eyes. They killed them with bayonets at the end of their rifles, sticking them in their stomachs. Many of the women could not take it, and they drew themselves in the River Euphrates, and they, too, died. They did this killing right in front of us. I saw my father being killed" (Miller 80). Another survivor tells a similar story: "I said to my mother, 'Please leave me here and go on.' She said, 'How can I do that?' 'I can't [go farther],' I said. 'My legs don't move anymore.' So with tears, crying, they left. I cried and they cried. It was dark...In the morning I woke up, and in the midst of all the water, the sun came up-a sweet sun came out and I stood up and now I am crying, saying, 'Mommy, Mommy,' and eating whatever grass I can. All alone, with no one around in the desert, I am walking, calling for mother. Crying and eating grass" (Miller 98). The anger and sorrow is still apparent in many of the survivors' hearts and souls. "This theme was repeated in many forms, but the following statement is representative: 'I think God will avenge, and avenge really well. I am sure that even if I don't see it, God will punish them'" (Miller 168). Unfortunately, of the survivors, only a few are still alive today. They realize that their voices cannot be heard forever.
"A number of survivors said that they had actually become more, rather than less, preoccupied with the genocide as they became older. They told us that as children and young adults they were so focused on survival that they did not have the time or energy to think about their losses; only in their later adult years did they begin to relive and work through the pain of their childhood. This is not to say that survivors did not feel lonely and isolated as orphans-many did-but it is equally true that many survivors felt their losses more profoundly later, when they had their own children and realized what it meant not to have a father or mother" (Miller 155). After many years of looking back on one's childhood, it seems rather obvious that anger seems to be the most apparent emotion felt universally. "Can one forget such a thing? Look at me. All alone. What business do I have to come to the United States? No father or mother. A family of fifteen or twenty all wiped out...Can you possibly forget that? And why should you forget? For the Turks' sake" (Miller 157)?
However, later Armenian generations heard these cries for help and promise that despite some political issues, the future years for this nation will be better than the past. "This year marks the 85th anniversary of a national catastrophe, the genocide of the Armenian people, which was carried out by the Turkish state and its European patrons...Passing to the present stage of history, I must admit with bitterness, that the same [past] negative qualities do not let us construct an effective and fair state, which is the unique quarantor of existence and prosperity of the Armenian nation. On the threshold of the 21st century we are not yet capable to choose the real leader of the nation. All our officials are corrupt, all national institutes (from the Church up tp national academy) are ficticious and do not reflect national interests. We still have time and means of abundance, sirs governors of the nation, to avoid new national catastrophe-Armenia without the Armenians-after which the recognition of the fact of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, even all over the world, is not worth brass farthing. Now we have approximately 50 thousand square kilometers of historical native land, which we must and can quickly ennoble and populate. This is our main and strategic task on today and firm guarantee of solving all historical problems, even most fantastic" (http://www.armenia...rar/eng/archives/2000_april_1/lessons.html).
It is this drive that must be apparent in each and every Armenian in order for the nation to finally move into the future.