The Armenian Genocide? “Turks killed the Armenians! They destroyed their villages, they raped the women, they buried all the babies alive, and they took the young boys and made them fight for themselves. It was an obvious genocide! All the countries must agree with that.” Said a friend while I was relaxing in the dayroom. I was shocked; I even could not remember how we ended up talking about my country. For a moment, I couldn’t find any words to say. I tried to explain the Armenian relocation and Turks relationship with Armenians with my limited information but it was not enough. Obviously what she had is “prejudice” and I only knew the story from Turkey’s side. This reaction against my country made me realize that I need to know more about what happened between Armenians and Turks and how it affected the situation of Turkey. So I decided to do some research and write an article for United Words so that all the UWC people can learn what exactly happened between the Armenians and the Turks.
Was the relocation of Armenians during World War One an intentional genocide or a countermeasure against Armenian rebellion? For all those hundreds of years Armenians and Turks lived happily and together. They became relatives, friends, colleagues and everything that two nations living together can be. What was it to create conflict between them? And what is it to make YOU think it was “genocide”?
Initially, according to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the word genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. “ However these complicated terms can be summarized with only 3 words; “intent to destroy”.
Armenian people remained under the Ottoman Empire occupation from the 1300s until the beginning of the First World War. Armenians and Turks were not enemies and did not suffer from ethnic tension for many centuries; Besides, Armenians were called “the loyal nation” (milleti sadika) by Sultan Abdul Hamit. Ottoman Empire had different rules for Muslims than Non-Muslims. For example Non-Muslims were obliged by law to pay additional taxation. Or a Muslim’s and a non-Muslim’s testimony were not equally credible in court. Therefore there were still some big differences and inequalities between the two groups. However these differences have never been an issue before.
As the multinational and cultural empire started to grow as the “world power”, some cracks had started to appear on the surface. On the 19th century, Albanians, Greeks and the Slavic Nations in the Ottoman Empire emancipated themselves from the Ottoman control one by one. This was a disadvantage of being a multinational empire. As they kept emancipating, they started affecting the other nations in the empire. Therefore, all the nations wanted to gain their independence, since the empire was getting weaker and weaker. Also some “strong European countries” were supporting the “freedom warriors”, so it became easier than it has ever been before. According to the pro-Turkish stance, “the provocation of Britain and Russia with the wish to use this community considering their own interests and the violence caused the Armenians and the Turks fall out with each other.”
Armenians tried to assassinate Sultan Abdul Hamid II on July 21, 1905. The Sultan survived, yet twenty-six people died and fifty-eight were wounded. On August 26, 1896 Armenian revolutionaries seized the Imperial Ottoman Bank. In addition to this, a mosque full of Muslims was attacked by Armenian rebels during the Friday prayers.
Many Turkish sources claim that at the edge of World War One, French and Russian authorities manipulated the Armenians by promising them to build “The Great Armenia” since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was to their advantage. With the manipulation Armenians started stocking weapons that were mostly provided by the Russian government. Besides, 150,000 Armenians joined the Russian Army, 50,000 fought for the Entente cause. Fighting along with Russia and seizing the city of Van (Eastern Turkey) in April 14, Armenians established their own republic. 60,000 Turks died during this rebellion.
When the Macedonian crisis and the Balkan Wars came to an end in the Balkans and the first World War started, they decided to carry on with relocating the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia to a state of Syria, which was under Ottoman Empire’s control at that time. The properties owned by the Armenians subjected to immigration were protected under an order dated 10 June 1915. “Commission on Abandoned Properties” comprising of a president and two members, one administrative and one financial, was established. These commissions are to determine Armenian properties in the villages and towns that are evacuated, and to keep detailed record books. One of the books is to be kept in the regional churches, one to be submitted to the regional administration, and one shall be kept by the commission. Non-durable goods and animal stock shall be auctioned and the money shall be kept. In location where a commission is not appointed, the provisions of the communiqué shall be enforced by the officers in the regions. Both the commission and the regional administrators shall be responsible for the protection of these properties until the Armenians return.
The number of Armenians who died during the relocation is controversial. There is no questioning or denial about the immenseness of Armenian suffering. Starvation, diseases, murder and rapes are documented by many sources. Armenian sources claim that more than 1.5 million Armenians died during this relocation.
According to the census in 1893 carried out by the Ottoman Population Statistics Office under the control of a foreign coalition, the Ottoman Empire’s population was 17,388,000 including 1,146,500 Armenians. The 1914 census carried out by the same organization measured the population to be 13,243,000 including 1,226,422 Armenians. According to these censuses, the Armenian population rose between these years, while the Ottoman Empire’s population decreased seriously due to ongoing wars. According to these statistics, it is not possible that more than 1.5 million Armenians died during the Relocation in 1915, since the population of Armenians prior to the Relocation was even less than the number of assumed casualties. However we do not know how trustworthy the Ottoman Population Statistics Office was.
The question mostly comes from whether the killings were premeditated,” since “intent to destroy” is the prerequisite of a genocide label. There are many documents regarding the Armenian atrocities prior to relocation. These documents can be cited in order to prove that the Ottoman Empire made an attempt to protect the health and security of the Armenians during relocation, yet they failed to provide adequate health care and to protect deportees from nomadic tribes.
These are some of the apparent facts about what happened between Armenians and Turks in the 1900s. Regarding this law, as being directed against one particular ethnic group is an indication of a lack of information, or intentional behavior. However, nobody has ever come up with a definite answer, yet. Do you still think that it was an absolute genocide? Are you able to give an answer now? It’s up to you to decide.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-