The Armenian Genocide is often called the first genocide of the twentieth century. It refers to the systematic annihilation of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 to 1917.
According to estimates, approximately 1.5 million Armenians died during the genocide, either in massacres and in killings, or from ill treatment, abuse and starvation.
The Armenian diaspora marks April 24 as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. This year marks 105 years since the beginning of the genocide, something Turkey has consistently denied.
Why did the Armenian Genocide occur?
- The Armenian Genocide occured during the First World War, and in many ways a direct result of the developments during the war. Although Armenians had always faced harassment and persecution in Asia Minor, this heightened around 1908. During the Ottoman rule, minorities like the Armenians were subjected to discriminatory treatment. For instance, they were forced to pay higher taxes. Despite this, they were an educated and wealthy community, characteristics that drew resentment from others.
- The Armenians in the Ottoman empire were Christians by faith and the Ottoman Caliphate feared that the Armenians would bear allegiance to neighbouring countries, Russia for instance, with similar religious affiliations than the Ottoman empire, especially during a war.
What happened during World War I?
- After the First World War broke out in November 1914, the Ottoman Turks participated in the war, siding with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire.
- The Ottoman Turks believed the Armenians would side with Russia in the war and aggressively engaged in propaganda against them. For many in the Ottoman Turkish army, their fears were confirmed when Armenians in the fringes of the Caucasus began organising volunteer battalions to fight for Russia against the Ottoman Turks.
- This resulted in the Ottoman Turks engaging in a mass-removal campaign of Armenians from the border areas along the Eastern Front.
- On April 24, 1915, Ottoman Turkish government officials arrested and executed thousands of Armenian intellectuals. It was the start of the Armenian Genocide. Armenian families, including small children, were forced to walk for days without food, water and shelter in the deserts of Syria and Arabia.
- The Armenians were subjected to other indignities, having to walk naked under the sun, many dropping dead on the journey. Women and girls were subjected to widespread sexual violence and abuse and were also trafficked into sexual slavery.