Updated: Jun 5, 2021
The unheeded conflict rages on nearly a century after it started.
By Talar S. | Canada
(TW) Violence, Sexual Assault, Infanticide, Armenian Genocide
Over the past 106 years, the Armenian people have been forced to fight for the recognition of the genocide. The heinous acts of the Ottoman Empire must be recognized for the 1.5 million lives lost. Frankly, the Armenian Genocide was a systematic mass murder of the Armenian people, with the end goal of eradication.
In the 19th and 20th century, there were multiple massacres committed against the Armenian people. From 1884 to 1887, the Hamidian Massacres, also known as the Armenian Massacres, began in the Ottoman Empire. Approximately 100,000 to 200,000 Armenians were killed, while thousands more were expelled and forced into poverty.
This was the first of the three biggest massacres of the Armenian people that the Ottoman Empire committed, the third being the biggest. The second massacre was the Adana massacre spearheaded by Ottoman Muslims in April 1909, where they killed 20,000 to 30,000 Armenians. The third and most gruesome of these massacres was the Armenian Genocide of 1915, where 1.5 million Armenians were killed.
Religion and Politics
Under Sultan Hamid’s government, Christians had to pay higher taxes and had very few political and legal rights. Armenians were part of the Christian minority, and Sultan Hamid hated the Armenian demand for fundamental civil rights. In 1908, the Turkish political party called Young Turks came to power after they overthrew Sultan Abdul Hamid.
The Young Turks promised elections and the constitution’s reinstatement, making the Armenians and other minorities hope that they would be treated better and represented by the new government. Their hope was quickly diminished when it became clear that the Young Turks were very nationalistic and wanted to exterminate any non-Turks, especially Christian non-Turks, which the Armenians were.
The Young Turks’ resentment towards the Armenians was fuelled by religious differences and the fact that the Armenians were hardworking and highly valued education, which lead to more success in many trades. They were suspicious that Armenians would be more loyal to a Christian government, such as the Russian government, with whom the Turks already had issues.
The Armenian Genocide Begins
The Armenian genocide officially began on April 24, 1915. On this day, the Turkish officials broke into Armenian homes, dragged away and executed hundreds of Armenian men and intellectuals, such as businessmen, clergy and community leaders. In the coming months, Armenians were driven out of their homes, executed in their villages, or forced to march in the Deir el-Zor desert. The Armenians were deported and marched to concentration camps, and along the way, hundreds of thousands died due to exhaustion and starvation.
Anyone who stopped to rest during these marches was beaten or shot. Soldiers often stripped the young women of their clothes and forced them to dance cultural dances for their amusement. They often kidnapped and raped young women, and many survivors mention remembering the cries and screams of the young women who were taken. For entertainment, the soldiers took bets on the pregnant mother’s baby’s gender before cutting open the mother’s stomachs and ripping the baby from their wombs. The mother and child would be left to die in the desert.
The government had systematic plans in order to remove the Armenians from their lands. They made killing squads to find and kill those who were not marching or had escaped. Anyone not marching was drowned, thrown off cliffs, crucified, hung or burnt alive. Children were kidnapped and given to Turkish families, and women were kidnapped and sent to Turkish harems as slaves. Churches and cultural buildings used as refuge were burnt down while civilians hid inside. Eventually, the genocide ended in 1917 after 90% of Turkey’s Armenian population had been either killed or deported.
One and a half million Armenians were killed in the genocide.
Every Armenian around the world has a story of what happened to their ancestors during the genocide. When my maternal great-grandmother Sirazart was five, the soldiers came to their village and beheaded her parents while she was playing in the backyard with her siblings. She and her siblings had to join the deportations to Syria.
During the deportation marches, Sirazart and her sister Zarouhi lost their three-year-old brother, Levon, and the baby Megerditch had to be abandoned in front of a store. Zarouhi left the baby, hoping that someone would take care of him as she could not.
Similarly, my paternal great-grandfather Minas was marching in the desert with his siblings when he was 18. He was carrying Rebecca, his youngest sibling, who was around 5 years old. He could not carry her anymore since he had been severely beaten by soldiers, and had to abandon her in the desert.
In the years after the genocide, Turkey has always demanded that the genocide never happened. It is important to note that while Turkey says the genocide did not happen, they have also said in recent months that their ancestors’ attempts to exterminate the Armenians must be continued and finished. In schools, the textbooks teach that Armenians are “people who are incited by foreigners, who aim to break apart the state and the country, and who murdered Turks and Muslims.”
Children are taught that the genocide was a lie to ruin Turkey, and that the Armenians were not the genocide victims. Since journalists and civilians who speak about the genocide or anything the government deems anti-Turkish are jailed, Turkey is ranked 154 on the World Press Freedom Index. In Turkey’s penal code, Article 301 says that admitting that the genocide occurred is an insult against Turkishness, and people often go to jail for speaking out about the genocide.
Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist who lived in Turkey, was accused of insulting Turkishness when a line from his paper was taken out of context and was sentenced to 6 months in jail. Through school teachings and laws, the Turkish government rewrites their history and propagates that the genocide never happened.
Although there is proof of the genocide through photos and many reports from genocide survivors, foreign journalists, missionaries, diplomats, and military officers who witnessed the genocide, only thirty countries in the world have accepted what happened during the genocide. Beyond their borders, Turkey uses geopolitics to ensure other countries do not accept the genocide since they threaten to cut all ties with anyone who sides with the Armenians.
The United States of America and Israel are some of Turkey’s closest allies. The United States of America is one of Turkey’s first trade partners, has given billions in foreign and military aid, and has a military base in Turkey. Turkey is an important market for Israel’s weapons and has strong connections between its security and intelligence establishments. Through these connections, the Turkish government has ensured that other countries will not accept the genocide, as it will weaken their significant allyships.
One hundred and six years later, the genocide has remained unresolved. According to Genocide Watch, denial is the last phase of genocide, and a sure indicator of further genocidal massacres. Leaving the genocide unrecognised and the Turkish government unpunished has created opportunities for continued attacks against the Armenian people.
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