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Armenian Genocide 106 years later- The horrors revisited

Armenian Genocide saw the deaths of over 1 million Armenians. 24th April 2021 marks 106 years since the events that occurred which later came to be known as the Armenian Genocide. This article explores the reasons, the events, and the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide.

Thinking of the word “genocide”, the image that comes to mind of most people is that of Nazi concentration camps and the annihilation of the Jewish people, and while it was the biggest planned genocide perpetrated willingly by the government,however,  it was not the only one.

There have been instances in history when humanity lost all empathy and fuelled by hatred people committed horrendous crimes against humanity. One such situation was the “Armenian Genocide” which is often called the first genocide of the 20th century.

It is estimated that 800 thousand to 1 million Armenians died during the genocide, most died from outright massacres and killings while others died due to intentional ill-treatment, rape, abuse, and starvation.

April 24th marks the Armenian Diaspora as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. This year marks 106 years since the beginning of the events of the Armenian Genocide.

What caused the Armenian Genocide?

Armenians were an ethnic group prevalent in the region of Asia Minor, Armenians were Christians under the Muslim caliphate, thus, were subjected to discriminatory treatment. Armenians were required by law to pay higher tax rates, one among many other discriminatory laws against the minorities, despite this the Armenians were well educated and financially well off which drew resentment from the Turkish majority.

The development of the First World War can be directly attributed to the eventual genocide of the Armenian minority which occurred during the war. The caliphate feared that the Christian Armenians would bear allegiance to the neighboring Russians over the Ottoman overlords due to similar religious affiliations in case of a war.

This suspicion kept growing and the distrust leads to the Hamidian massacres between 1894-1896, these were state-sanctioned massacres to quell uprisings and protests against discrimination that was being perpetrated against the minorities in the empire.

The Hamidian Massacre resulted in thousands of deaths and is considered to be the prelude to the much more brutal Armenian genocide.

Events leading to the Armenian Genocide

In 1908, a political reform movement by the name of The Young Turks revolted against the monarchy of Abdul Hamid II, the aim of this group was to overthrow the monarchy in favor of a Constitutional Government. The group succeeded and the monarchy was overthrown. This was welcomed by the Armenian minority which hoped to secure rights under the new system.

The plight of the Armenian people fell on deaf ears as the political ideology of The Young Turks radicalized and began to increasingly become hostile towards the Armenian minority.

In November 1914, the First World War broke out and Ottomans participated in siding with central powers which included Germany and Austria-Hungary against the allied powers.

The Ottomans, already suspicious that the Armenians would side with the Christian Russians over the Ottomans, began to engage in propaganda against the Armenian people.

These suspicions were confirmed when reports of Armenian volunteers joining the invading Russians reached the high command.

The Battle of Sarikamish was the most humiliating Ottoman defeat of the First World War and Pasha Enver blamed the defeat on the betrayal of the Armenian soldiers when in reality it was his mistakes and miscalculations that resulted in defeat.

The events following the battle saw Armenian soldiers being disarmed on the orders of the state and were eventually massacred.

The events of the Genocide

Most historians date the final decision to exterminate the Armenian population to the end of March or early April 1915. On April 23rd, 1915, Ottoman Turkish government officials arrested thousands of Armenian intellectuals most of whom were later tortured and executed.

The State-sponsored deportation gave the radicalized soldiers an opportunity to rid the Anatolia peninsula of the Armenian minority which had existed there for over 3 millennia. 

The events that followed next are what we know as the “Armenian Genocide”.

Armenian families, including children, were forced to walk for days deprived of food, water, or shelter in the deserts of Syria and Arabia. During these marches, men were killed, women suffered mass rapes and sexual violence at the hand of the Ottoman military, one survivor told that girls as young as 12 were defiled most of whom unable to walk afterwards were shot and killed.

Those who did survive faced violence and brutality in concentration camps across Syria and Iraq. Armenian women and children were forcefully converted to Islam and integrated into a Muslim family.

Soldiers sold Armenian women in sex slavery and trafficking became a major source of income for these soldiers.

Armenian villages were burned and large swaths of the population were slaughtered. In one case Russian army liberated a large area only to find 55thousand corpses of deceased Armenians.

Aftermath and current situation

There is no official number as to how many people were killed in the Armenian Genocide as most of the documents and evidence pertaining to the genocide was destroyed a few years before the World War ended but estimates by the researchers put the number close to 1 million people who died as a result of the Armenian genocide.

Following the war, the displaced Armenians were not allowed to reacquire the property and belongings that they had been forced to leave behind during the death march.

Though there is a plethora of evidence and accounts of diplomats from different countries present in the region during the events, the Turkish government denies the term “genocide” and has continuously denied that the Armenians were systematically massacred. On the other hand, 46th US President Joe Biden is expected to use the term “genocide” commemorating the 106th years since the day the genocide started.

The move would be largely symbolic but would mean breaking away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House and come at a time when Ankara and Washington are already at loggerheads over a string of issues.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday told reporters the White House would probably have “more to say” about the issue on Saturday but declined to elaborate.

US President Joe Biden has formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide as US government. officials told The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. According to an Associated Press report, lawmakers and Armenian-American activists have been lobbying Biden to make the announcement on or before Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which will be marked on April 24.

The Turkish government continues to deny that the “Armenian Genocide” ever occurred and went out of their way to punish anyone who mentions the events.

As of 2021, 32 countries formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, Turkey in its quest of silencing those governments who mention or acknowledge the events of genocide has threatened countries with diplomatic and economic consequences. India does not officially recognize the Armenian genocide as of 2021.

However, Hollywood celebrity Kim Kardashian who is of part Armenian ancestry through her father, the late Robert Kardashian, has spoken on the issue numerous times and has shown her support for the Armenian people.

Kardashian’s commitment to commemorating the genocide is long-standing. She pushed unsuccessfully for former President Barack Obama to use the term “genocide” to describe the killings in a 2015 op-ed for Time magazine for the 100th anniversary of the event.

“It’s time for Turkey to recognize it. It’s not the fault of the people who live there now,” she added. The Turkish government has denied that the killings were systematic and disputes the figure of 1 million. However, the Turkish government acknowledges that the killings did occur at the hands of Ottoman forces but denies that it was a systematic genocide.

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