Armenian Genocide

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The Armenian Genocide refers to the deaths of 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, especially in Anatolia Turkey (which in 1923 became the successor state to the Ottoman Empire) has said it was not responsible for the actions of the Empire, and considers the deaths part of the wide range of postwar political unrest. In other words, it is not universally agreed that a genocide occurred.

Declarations whether it was, or was not, genocide are emotional issues in many countries. In the United States, a Congressional resolution declaring it such is introduced every year, but rarely gets out of committee. It is a crime in Turkey to call it a genocide. The issue remains a problem in normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia.[1]

International impacts

Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the Caucasus became a new field for Turkish foreign policy, and in this region relations with Armenia became the most critical and sensitive challenge. Despite the extreme negative historical legacy of the genocide, Turkey tried to establish a new basis for relations with Armenia, and there were some positive steps taken in this direction under the presidency of Levon Ter-Petrosian in Armenia. Disputes over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh became the decisive factor in bilateral relations, as predominantly Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh protested control by the Muslim Republic of Azerbaijan, which had Turkey's support. During the presidency of Ter-Petrosian's successor, Robert Kocharian, aside from the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, diaspora communities gained influence, which led to the genocide issue again becoming an important element in bilateral relations. Despite Kocharian's early hawkish rhetoric, during the second term of his presidency a détente arose in relations between the two countries, and the Turkish-Armenian Peace Commission founded in 2001 was a significant step in the direction of better relations.

Internationally, twenty-one countries have recognized the tragedy as genocide, as have 32 U.S. states.[2]. This has been a problem in the Armenian relationship with Israel, which is a close ally of Turkey, and the United States, which has a very large and active population of Armenian descent and tries to keep friendly relationships with both Turkey (a NATO ally) and Armenia.

U.S. genocide resolution

The matter is often considered an example of identity politics in the United States, where Congressmen with large Armenian constituencies continue to raise the issue.

Turkey recalled its Ambassador to the U.S. after the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in March 2010, passed a resolution (23-22) labeling the deaths as genocide. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) told CNN that Congress should not do anything to undermine the Turkish government, which is a "secular alternative model for the Muslim world. I hate this vote. The United States has a great deal at stake in the Turkish relationship." Congress shouldn't "pontificate on this issue" and then pretend "there will be no consequences." The one-vote win for the symbolic resolution, according to Congressional leaders, will not come to a full vote. [3]

The Obama Administration opposes passage of the resolution. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while traveling in Latin America, said "The Obama administration strongly opposes the resolution that was passed by only one vote in the House committee and will work very hard to make sure it does not go to the House floor." During the 2008 election, however, then-Senator Obama issued three statements saying he supported the resolution.[4]

In 2007, the George W. Bush Administration also opposed the annual resolution, citing the delicate state of U.S.-Turkish relations and the sensitivity of the issue.[5]


Following victory over Persia at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, the Ottoman Empire extended its rule over western Armenia. In 1555 Armenia was divided between the Shahs of Persia and the Sultans of Turkey.

In traditional Ottoman society the Armenians were defined, as were other Christians and the Jews, as a dhimmi millet, a non-Muslim religious community of the empire. Their actual treatment by the state varied to some extent with the military fortunes of the empire, the religious passions of its elites, and the encroachment upon their land by Muslim refugees from the Balkans and the Caucasus as well as by Kurdish pastoralists. Normally dhimmis were free to practice their religion, but they were distinctively inferior to Muslims in status. In the nineteenth century the Armenians challenged the traditional hierarchy of Ottoman society as they became better educated, wealthier, and more urban. In response—despite attempts at reforms—the empire became more repressive toward Armenians, who more than any other Christian minority bore the brunt of persecution.

In the 19th century, Russia, after victories over Persia in 1828 and over Turkey in 1829, acquired the right to organize the immigration of Armenians into the Caucasus with the aim of developing the territories. Under Russia, the number of Armenians in the area now represented by present-day Republic of Armenia increased from 46,000 in 1827 to 511,000 in 1897. Thus by joining Russia, Eastern Armenia became the home of the national survival of the Armenian people. The fate of Western Armenia was different. The organized massacres of 1894-96 and 1909 and the genocide of 1915 completely depopulated Western Armenia.

The conflict between Turks and Armenians resulted from dissimilar cultural elements and social organization. By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman authorities justified their attacks on Armenians by accusing them of being "revolutionaries, terrorists, and troublemakers acting on behalf of Russia or other foreign powers." Even with the demise of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the conflict between Turks and Armenians remained unresolved, resulting in contemporary Armenian terrorist attacks on Turkish targets.


The Turks often used Muslim Kurds as intermediary oppressors between themselves and the Christian Armenians. Less firmly Islamic Kurds, however, often aided persecuted Armenians, and at times when the Kurds themselves were oppressed, Kurdish-Armenian solidarity emerged. The complex history of Turkish-Kurdish-Armenian relations culminated in Kurdish complicity in the genocide committed against the Armenians during World War I. Thereafter, Kurds and Kurdish independence movements became the chief targets of Turkish policies attempting to Turkify all Anatolia.[6]

Armenian nationalists

Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Russians occupied the six Armenian vilayets, and Armenian nationalism was stimulated. In 1880, a revolutionary organization known as the Defenders of the Fatherland was organized in Erzurum. A few years later, in 1885, the Armenakan society was organized, and in 1887 the Hunchagian Party appeared. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktzutun) was formed in 1890.

The Armenians expected outside assistance in their efforts to break away from Ottoman rule and were led to carry out a number of rash terror actions, including bombing and assassinations. The Russians therefore discouraged the Armenian liberation movement from establishing an independent Armenia on the southern borders of Russia. But the Russian government also took active steps to prevent the massacres of Armenians by Sultan Abdul Hamid.

When Sultan Abdul Hamid II came to power in 1876, he steered a course of political and social repression and technological modernization. But the Empire was the "sick man of Europe" and nationalist revolts among Christian minorities led to the loss of Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Romania and large parts of Bulgaria, which comprised 40% of the territory. Some 400,000 Muslim refugees were expelled; the Empire became more Muslim and hatred of Christians intensified. The old program of using Christian minorities to speed the modernization process had failed. The Empire was bankrupt and the Christians wanted autonomy, not participation.

In August and September 1894, a series of massacres occurred in the vicinity of Sassun as a result of an uprising that was put down with ferocity by Kurdish irregular cavalry (Hamidieh regiments). The massacres soon spread, and in October and November 1895 there were pogroms at Trabzon, Erzurum, Bitlis, Kurun, Maras, and elsewhere. The essential cause of the massacres lay in the failure of the European powers to secure the reforms envisaged by the Treaty of Berlin for the Asian provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In August 1896 after an attack on the Ottoman Bank in Constantinople a massacre of Armenians occurred in the Ottoman capital; 4,000 to 6,000 Armenians were killed. By the end of 1896 over 80,000 Armenians had died in the eastern provinces.

It is still not clear what role the sultan and his regime played in the massacres of 1894-1896, but the massacres set off large-scale protests, especially in the United States and Britain. The protests forced Sultan Abdul-Hamid II to appoint an investigating commission, joined by British, French, and Russian delegates, which produced a minor reform program. Despite his policy of ruthless repression, the sultan could not halt the military and political disintegration of his regime, and he was replaced in 1908 by the political revolution of the Young Turks, who sought to address the Ottoman crisis with new and radical ideas.

Young Turks

The Young Turks had an entirely new approach. They did not want modernity, they wanted a Pan-Islamic empire based on Turks and other Muslim ethnic groups. Christians, especially Greeks and Armenians, were distrusted; large numbers emigrated. By April 1909, there were massacres at Adana and other places of Lesser Armenia, sparked by peaceful demonstrations that inflamed nationalist Turks. Intermittent attacks took place in the following years, against the background of the disintegration of the empire. When the Armenians threatened to add to the losses the Young Turks drew the line, began advocating a xenophobic and chauvinistic brand of nationalism that sought to create a new empire based on Islam and Turkish ethnicity. This new empire, stretching from Anatolia to western China, would exclude minorities unless they became Turks by nationality and Muslims by religion. The Armenians would rather die than give up their Christian religion; the Young Turks found willing allies in Kurdish elements in Anatolia who had long been hostile to the Armenians. Armenians grew closer to Russia, the Orthodox Christian nation that seemed best poised to protect them. The people in eastern Armenia were protected by the Russians and by 1919 had their own nation. The 3 million people in western Armenia were under Turkish control and they were the victims.

World War I

The Young Turk "Ittihad ve Terrake Djemieti" [Committee of Union and Progress, or CUP] took the opportunity afforded by the war with Russia to solve its "Armenian question." The Empire was at war with Russia, with military action in and near Armenia. The Armenians were seen as allies of the Russians, and could not be trusted with weapons. At end of 1914, Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman forces were disarmed; many were killed. In April 1915 hundreds of writers, journalists, and artists were arrested, exiled, and murdered. In June, 1915, as western powers threatened to punish those who committed atrocities against the Armenians, the government escalated its attacks and decided to forcibly remove all the Armenians living in eastern Armenia, near the Russian border, the Armenian homeland for many centuries. The deportation from western Armenia, Cilicia, and surrounding regions followed. In certain areas, notably Van, Shabin Karahisar, Sasun, Urfa, and Antioch, some Armenians were able to organize armed resistance.

The long lines of Armenian deportees were set upon again and again by Turkish and Kurdish villagers who in many cases had been incited and were led by specially designated killing squads that Armenians believe were organized at the highest levels of the government. Those Armenians who escaped massacre and reached the camps in Syria were very likely to perish of hunger, dehydration, or exposure on the way. Between 1915 and the armistice in 1918, some one million Armenians, out of a population of two million, were killed; others were killed in organized fighting after 1918. The numbers vary, with Armenian spokesmen setting the total at 1.5 million deaths and most historians at about 600,000[7] to 1 million.[8] The Turkish mindset looked at adult men as the carriers of Armenian identity; they were killed. Women and children were considered to have malleable ethnic identity according to which men controlled them. Children especially were taken and raised as Turks or Kurds; women were made permanent servants or kept in harems.[9]

Many Armenians who survived the ordeal settled in Lebanon, with an Armenian population of 200,000 in the 1970s; large numbers dispersed worldwide, especially to California.

Diplomatic response

The Allied Powers, at war with the Ottoman Empire, expressed outrage at the mass murder of the Armenians. They pledged retribution against the perpetrators and support for an independent Armenian republic. On May 24, 1915,

In view of these new crimes of Ottoman Empire against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres.[10]

In May 1918, a small and vulnerable Armenian Republic was founded in the Caucasus and expanded into parts of Ottoman Armenia as the Turkish army withdrew from the region; it was taken over by the Soviet Union in 1920.


The Treaty of Sèvres, August 10, 1920, provided for an independent Armenia. However, the situation was drastically changed by Turkish military assaults and the establishment of a Soviet republic in Yerevan, Armenia, in late 1920. A treaty imposed on Armenia by Turkey on December 3 reduced Soviet Armenia to the province of Yerevan. It finally became independent in 1991.

In postwar Turkey, international pressure forced war crime trials in 1919-20 against the Young Turk faction. The triumvirs who ruled Turkey in 1915 and had ordered the genovide—War Minister Enver Pasha, Interior minister Talat Pasha, and defense minister Ahmed Djemal Pasha—were condemned to death. They had fled Turkey but were tracked down and assassinated by Armenians as part of "Operation Nemesis," designed to kill the 200 Turks most involved in the genocide. It is unclear whether Russians or Armenians killed Enver Pasha.[11] The new leader of Turkey after the war, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had broken with the Young Turk group in 1914, was never involved in the genocide, and ended the privileged position given to Islam. Some 150,000 Armenians lived in Istanbul throughout the period; in the Armenian homeland areas of eastern Turkey, almost all the Armenians were gone.


Historical work on the genocide has been almost entirely pro-Armenian or pro-Turkish and therefore implicated in a political conflict still unresolved today. Armenian historians seek to exorcise the trauma experienced by earlier generations, to pass on the memory of this trauma, and to present the genocide of the Armenians as the founding element of contemporary Armenian identity.

British historian Arnold Toynbee, whose 1917 report remains a critical primary source, changed his evaluation later in life, concluding, "These…Armenian political aspirations had not been legitimate... Their aspirations did not merely threaten to break up the Turkish Empire; they could not be fulfilled without doing grave injustice to the Turkish people itself."[12]

For Turkish historians, supporting the national republican myth is essential to preserving Turkish national unity. The usual Turkish argument is that the deportations were necessary because the Armenians had allied themselves with Russian invaders in wartime, and "some 100,000 Armenians... may have died between 1915 and 1918, but this was no greater a percentage than that of the Turks and other Muslims who died as a result of the same conditions in the same places at the same time." The Assembly of Turkish American Associations stated in 1982, "[t]here was no genocide committed against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire before or during World War I." [13] Dissident historians in Turkey are trying to reclaim the Armenians as part of Ottoman and Turkish history and acknowledge the wrongs done to the Armenians as a condition for reconciliation with them on the basis of confidence in Turkish national unity.[14][15]

Six decades after the event, a revival of Armenian nationalism led to an organized Armenian terrorist campaign that began in 1975, targeting Turkish diplomats. For example, Kemal Arikan, the new Turkish consul general in Los Angeles, was assassinated on January 28, 1982.[16]


  1. Henri J. Barkey (2 March 2010), "The Armenian genocide resolution is a farce all around", Washington Post
  2. Montana Governor commemorates the Armenian Genocide
  3. "Official: Armenian genocide resolution unlikely to get full House vote", CNN, 6 March 2010
  4. Senator Obama Reaffirms Commitment to Recognize Armenian Genocide as President, Armenians for Obama, 31 October 2008
  5. Susan Cornwell and Arshad Mohammed Susan Cornwell And Arshad Mohammed (5 March 2006), Reuters
  6. Tessa Hofmann, Gerayer Koutcharian, and Dorothea Lam, "The History of Armenian-Kurdish Relations in the Ottoman Empire." Armenian Review 1986 39(4): 1-45. ISSN: 0004-2366
  7. Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (2nd ed. 2005) p. 187
  8. Gunter, Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People: A Study of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism (1986) p. 19
  9. Adalian, "The Armenian Genocide," (2004) p 64
  10. 1915 declaration Original source of the telegram sent by the Department of State, Washington containing the French, British and Russian joint declaration
  11. Gunter, (1986) p 29.
  12. Gunter (1986) p. 16
  13. Gunter (1986) p. 18
  14. Lucette Valensi, "Notes on Two Discordant Histories: Armenia During World War I." Mediterranean Historical Review 2001 16(1): 49-60. ISSN: 0951-8967
  15. James Reid, "The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman and Turkish Historiography." Armenian Review 1984 37(1): 22-40. ISSN: 0004-2366
  16. Gunter (1986) p. 33