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The Armenian Massacre



The first genocide of the 20th century is one that has gone by largely unnoticed. Still denied by many Turks, the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916 accounts for the death of one and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The first step in this annihilation was to disarm the Armenians in the army, place them into labor battalions and then kill them. Then, on April 24, 1915, the Armenian political and intellectual leaders were gathered and killed. Finally, the remaining Armenians were called from their homes, often in a house by house search. Many men were shot immediately or thrown into prison, only to be tortured to death later. The rest of the men, and the women and children were told they would be relocated, and then marched off to concentration camps in the desert between Jerablus and Deir ez-Zor. Here, they would starve and thirst to death in the burning sun. Prisoners were starved, beaten, raped and murdered by unmerciful guards.

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During the march, Armenians were denied food and water. They were driven along by the soldiers day after day, all on foot. They were beaten or left to die if they could not keep up with the caravan. The authorities in Trebizond, on the Black Sea Coast, sometimes loaded Armenians on barges and threw them overboard. Some of the women on the march were forced to strip naked and walk in this condition under the burning sun.

Many other women were seized by Turkish officers or civilian officials and made a part of their harems. Others were sold in the market as were many children, but only to a Moslem purchaser.

The Ottoman Government has tried to justify this crime against an entire race by making three main contentions; the first one being that the Armenians took up arms and joined the Russians as soon as the latter crossed the Ottoman frontier. The battle usually cited is the "Revolt of Van." The deportations were ordered only after this outbreak, according to the Ottoman Government. There was no Armenian revolt at Van, however. The Armenians merely defended the quarter of the city in which they lived, after it had been attacked by Turkish troops. The Turks even fired the first shot at Van on April 20, 1915. More importantly, deportations started happening on April 8, before any alleged revolts.

The second contention was that there was a group of revolutionary Armenians who wanted to overthrow the Ottoman Government and deliver them into the hands of the Allies. Disarming, imprisoning, executing and deporting a whole people helped to squelch this movement before it had fully started, according to the Ottomans.

The third contention is based on revenge. The Armenian civil population in the Ottoman Empire suffered because of the Armenians volunteering with the Russian Army. These volunteers, however, owed no allegiance to the Turks at all. Through territorial acquisitions and free immigration, Russia had acquired sovereignty over less than half of the Armenian race by 1914.

The Turkish government today denies that there was an Armenian genocide and claims that Armenians were only removed from the eastern "war zone." The genocide, however, occurred all over Anatolia (present-day Turkey), and not just in the so-called "war zone." At the time, the genocide was condemned by representatives of the United States, British, French, Russian, German, and Austrian governments.



Bryce, James Viscount, Arnold J. Toynbee, Herbert Adams Gibbons, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Fridjhof Nansen, Eds. An Anthology of Historical Writings on the Armenian Massacres of 1915. (Lebanon: HAMASKAËNE Press).

"The Armenian Genocide: Its Most Valuable Lesson." Holocaust Studies Center.

"Fact Sheet: Armenian Genocide." (April 3, 1996). Knights of Vartan Armenian Research Center. The University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Edited by: Marta E Johnson
Researched by: Peri H Stone
Written by: Suzanne Katz

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