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Understanding The Armenian Genocide (1915-1923)

The Armenian Genocide remains a dark and tragic chapter in history, causing immense suffering and loss of life for over 1 million Armenians. Delving into this harrowing event provides insight into the complexities of ethnic tensions, the devastating impact of nationalism, and the importance of recognition and remembrance in healing the wounds of the past. In this blog post, we will explore the historical context, unfolding, international response, denial, recognition, and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, as well as its connections to World War I.

Short Summary

  • The Armenian Genocide was a systematic campaign of mass killing and deportation by the Ottoman government in 1915-1923, resulting in an estimated 800,000-1 million deaths.
  • International condemnation was largely inadequate and justice not served. Relief efforts provided essential assistance to survivors.
  • Its recognition is countered by denial from Turkey & Azerbaijan, impacting memory & commemoration as well as exacerbating tensions between Armenians & Kurds.

The Historical Context of the Armenian Genocide

Armenia Landscape

The Armenian Genocide took place in the backdrop of the multiethnic Ottoman Empire, which was in a state of serious decline by the nineteenth century, having lost virtually all its land in Europe and Africa. The empire’s decline resulted in intense internal political and economic pressures, exacerbating ethnic tensions and leading to increased vulnerability and persecution of the Armenian population.

The rise of the reactionary Young Turk movement and Turkish nationalism, supported by the Turkish government, further compounded the challenges faced by the empire’s remaining Christian minorities, particularly the Armenian community.

Understanding this historical context is essential to grasp the magnitude of the events that unfolded during the Armenian Genocide.

Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

Armenians, a Christian minority, lived as second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire, subject to legal restrictions that denied them normal safeguards and security for their lives and properties, including those of women and children. As non-Muslims, Christian Armenians faced disparities in status compared to the Muslim Turks, being required to pay discriminatory taxes and denied participation in government.

In Eastern Anatolia, Armenians lived intermixed with dominant Kurdish nomads, often experiencing difficult circumstances and challenges in their interactions. The rise of Turkish nationalism and the Young Turk movement further endangered the Armenian community, making them more susceptible to political abuse and collective violence.

The Rise of Turkish Nationalism and the Young Turks

The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) played a significant role in the emergence of Turkish nationalism and the Young Turks, placing emphasis on the ethnic and religious identity of the majority element of the empire, to the detriment of religious and ethno-religious minorities. This reactionary nationalism further marginalized the Armenian community, culminating in the Armenian Genocide.

The Ottoman Empire’s military defeats and territorial losses, particularly in the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars, contributed to the apprehension of CUP leaders regarding the potential for Armenian independence. The Young Turk government exploited these fears to justify the arrest of Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915, marking the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. The role of the Ottoman Army in these events cannot be understated, and the actions of the Turkish authorities during this time were crucial in shaping the outcome.

The Unfolding of the Armenian Genocide

The extermination of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and surrounding regions during 1915-1923, known as the Armenian Genocide, was a systematic campaign of deportation and mass killing conducted by the Young Turk government during World War I. The genocide began with the targeting of Armenian soldiers and intellectuals and progressed to deportations, massacres, and the establishment of concentration camps and forced marches.

It is estimated that between 800,000 to one million Armenians perished during the genocide, either through massacres, individual killings, or systematic ill-treatment, exposure, and starvation.

Targeting Armenian Soldiers and Intellectuals

Armenian soldiers and intellectuals were specifically targeted by the Ottoman government during the Armenian Genocide. On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities arrested and removed hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and their leaders from Constantinople. This was an act of genocide against the Armenian people. This marked the beginning of the genocide and sent a chilling message to the Armenian population, signaling that the government would not hesitate to persecute and eliminate prominent members of their community.

The Armenian Genocide was a systematic campaign of extermination that resulted in the death of over one million Armenians.

Deportations and Massacres

The Armenian Genocide saw whole populations forcibly displaced and tragically lost their lives. In spring 1915, the Ottoman government started to deport the Armenian population from its northeastern border regions. It was due to their fear that enemies would persuade Armenians to ally with them. Between 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenians were subjected to death marches to the Syrian Desert, where they were denied sustenance and hydration and experienced robbery, rape, and massacres.

The mass deportation was intended to prevent any possibility of Armenian autonomy or independence, and the ensuing atrocities served as a brutal means to achieve this end.

Concentration Camps and Forced Marches

The Ottoman government employed concentration camps and forced marches during the Armenian Genocide, with the Deir ez-Zor Camps being one of the most notorious examples. These camps were situated in the heart of the Syrian desert, and thousands of Armenian refugees were subjected to death marches, where they were dispersed into concentration camps upon arrival.

The concentration camps, located near modern Turkey’s southern border in the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor, became sites of immense suffering and death, as Armenians succumbed to starvation, disease, and exhaustion.

International Response and Humanitarian Efforts

The international response to the Armenian Genocide varied considerably, with some countries voicing their condemnation while others maintained their silence or denied its occurrence. Western witnesses published accounts of the genocide, raising awareness among the international community.

However, as the genocide unfolded, the international community’s response was largely inadequate. Relief efforts were organized to aid the surviving Armenians, and the Three Pashas were convicted of war crimes in 1919, but the conviction was subsequently overturned, leaving the Armenian people without justice.

Awareness and Publications

During the Armenian Genocide, Western witnesses published accounts of the atrocities, raising awareness among the international community. In May 1915, France, Russia, and Great Britain issued a joint statement declaring the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians as crime against humanity and civilization.

These publications, often released by the university press, played a crucial role in informing the world about the genocide and contributed to the growing international pressure on the Ottoman Empire to cease its campaign of violence against the Armenian population.

Relief Efforts

Aid groups raised millions of dollars to provide assistance to the surviving Armenians. Organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Near East Relief, and the Armenian Relief Fund provided significant relief efforts, offering essential assistance to the survivors of the genocide and aiding them in reconstructing their lives.

The relief efforts encountered challenges including scarcity of resources, political resistance, and logistical complexities, but they played a vital role in alleviating the immense suffering experienced by the Armenian people during this dark period.

Conviction of the Three Pashas

The Three Pashas Ismail Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, and Ahmed Djemal Pasha were high-ranking officials in the Ottoman Empire responsible for orchestrating the Armenian Genocide. They were found guilty in Turkish court cases for their involvement in the genocide, but were not penalized. The absence of justice spurred Polish law student Raphael Lemkin to commence his work defining the term genocide, with the massacres against Armenians having a significant impact on Lemkin’s formulation of a law to punish and prevent genocide.

Lemkin’s work was instrumental in the adoption of the 1948 United Nations Convention.

Denial, Recognition, and Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide

The cross on top of Mt Davidson, San Francisco, California

Denial, recognition, and remembrance of the Armenian Genocide vary among countries, with some officially recognizing it as genocide and others denying it. The ongoing debates and controversies surrounding the genocide have a significant impact on memory and commemoration, as denial presents a hindrance to the remembrance of the event and understanding its historical context.

The Armenian Genocide has had a profound effect on memory and commemoration, with numerous nations and organizations acknowledging it as genocide and honoring it each year.

Official Recognition and Denial

Over 20 countries, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Uruguay, have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. However, the United States has been judicious in its approach to officially recognizing the genocide due to its strategic alliance with Turkey.

Azerbaijan and Turkey have officially denied the Ottoman governments role in the Armenian Genocide. This denial has not only hindered the remembrance of the event, but also continues to impact the lives of those affected by the genocide and their descendants.

Impact on Memory and Commemoration

The denial of the Armenian Genocide has posed a substantial obstacle to its remembrance, being used to counteract the recognition of the genocide and impede the acknowledgement of the suffering of the Armenian people. The Armenian Genocide has had a significant influence on the Armenian imagination, stimulating Armenian literature, art, and music, and cultivating a sense of national identity and solidarity.

The massacres were intended to impede the development of Armenian nationalism, and the remembrance of the genocide has been utilized to intensify tensions between Armenians and Kurds.

The Armenian Genocide in the Context of World War I

The Armenian Genocide occurred within the context of World War I, with the Great War, Russian involvement, and the Ottoman governments response playing crucial roles. The war provided the Ottoman government with an opportunity to target the Armenian population, using the war as a pretext for their actions.

The Russian Empire and its forces were involved in the genocide both as allies and adversaries, with some Armenians seeking protection from Russia during the genocide.

The Great War and the Armenian Question

The Great War, also known as World War I, was a global conflict that lasted from 1914 to 1918 and involved most of the nations of Europe and the Middle East. The war presented a diversion from the Ottoman Empire’s activities, as the global attention was concentrated on the struggle. This enabled the Ottoman Empire to implement the Armenian Genocide without much international oversight.

The Russian Empire was involved in the Great War, and its forces were active in the Caucasus region, which was home to many Armenians, resulting in increased tensions between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire. The Ottoman government responded to the involvement of the Russian Empire by targeting Armenians, initiating the Armenian Genocide.

Involvement of the Russian Empire and Forces

The Russian Empire responded to the Ottoman Empire’s military operations against Russia in late October 1914 by seeking out assistance from the Armenian people. The extent of the Russian Empire’s involvement in the Armenian Genocide remains uncertain.

The Russian forces played a role in the Armenian Genocide both as allies and adversaries, with some Russian Armenians seeking protection from Russia during the genocide, while others were targeted by the Russian forces.

Ottoman Government’s Response

The Ottoman government refuted their involvement in the Armenian Genocide and maintained that the Armenians were relocated for their own safety. Reports of large-scale massacres, deliberate starvation, beatings, rape, torture, and abduction of children and young women were documented during the genocide, but the Ottoman government continued to deny any involvement.

Instead, they blamed the Armenians for the atrocities and sought to conceal evidence of the genocide, impeding any international intervention.

Recommended Resources and Further Reading

For those interested in learning more about the Armenian Genocide, its denial, and its memory, a comprehensive list of books, articles, and websites is available. Some of the most recommended resources include A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility by Taner Akcam and The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian.

These resources provide invaluable insights into the historical context, unfolding, and aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the ongoing debates and controversies surrounding its recognition and remembrance.


The Armenian Genocide stands as a haunting reminder of the atrocities that can arise from unchecked nationalism and ethnic tensions. By exploring the historical context, unfolding, international response, denial, recognition, and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, we gain a deeper understanding of the tragedy that befell the Armenian people and the importance of remembering and acknowledging the suffering they endured. As we continue to confront the challenges of modern genocides, the lessons learned from the Armenian Genocide can serve as a vital guide for preventing such atrocities in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the Armenian Genocide?

The Armenian Genocide was an act of systematic ethnic cleansing and mass extermination of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. The appalling loss of life left a deep scar on Armenian society that continues to this day.

How many Armenians were killed during the genocide?

The Armenian Genocide left a tragic legacy, with an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Armenians killed.

The death toll of this genocide is staggering, and its effects are still felt today. The Armenian people have suffered greatly, and the world must never forget the atrocities that occurred.

What countries officially recognize the Armenian Genocide?

The horrific reality is recognized by an ever-growing number of countries, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, United States and Uruguay.

All these nations stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of this tragedy.

How has the Armenian Genocide impacted memory and commemoration?

The Armenian Genocide has cast a long shadow on memory and commemoration, with many countries, organizations and individuals recognizing it as an atrocity and seeking to preserve the memory of its victims.

Remembrance ceremonies and days of remembrance are held each year to keep the memory of those lost alive.