The Armenian Genocide
Back on more familiar territory, the Armenian Genocide, also known as the Armenian Holocaust, has long been the subject of furious denial by the Turkish government.
The scope of the Armenian genocide is usually defined as the physical extermination of Armenian Christians living within the geographic boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, between 1915 and 1916. Ethnic Armenian Christians, mainly living in what would today be modern Turkey, became subject to genocide as the old ruling Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire came under the more modernizing influence of the ‘Young Turks’. This movement sought not only to replace the traditional leadership of the empire with the constitutional government but also to expand and solidify Muslim Turkish control of central and eastern Anatolia. This resulted in an attempt to systematically eliminate the large Christian Armenian minority.
The Ottoman Empire allied with the Central Powers during WWI, and, of course, the German defeat in that war brought the Ottoman Empire down with it. The Allies, as a tactic of war, exploited traditional tensions within Ottoman territories to weaken the Empire. An example of this was the Arab Revolt of the same period, which was facilitated and supported by TE Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia.
Fearing similar Allied manipulation of traditional Armenian hostility, the Turkish Armenian population found itself the subject of an extermination policy. The methods employed are by now familiar to students of genocide, and included the staples of forced labor, mass deportations, death marches, direct attack and massacre, concentration and starvation. Other unreliable ethnic groups, such as Greeks and Assyrians, were also sucked into the maelstrom, and are now subject to separate genocide classifications.
At the time, the attention of the world tended to be focused on the events of WWI. With death and destruction occurring on such a vast scale, the relatively minor plight of a fringe minority of Turkish Christians attracted very little attention. However, the US Ambassador to Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau Sr, was able to rouse the attention of the Woodrow Wilson administration, and an enormous amount of money and resource was eventually raised to help Armenian refugees affected by the crisis.
To date, Turkey remains in denial, and the word ‘genocide’ is excluded from the official description of what took place. Numerous individual countries, however, twenty-nine in total, including forty-eight states within the United States, classify what took place as genocide. Recognition is not universal, however, and a number of important countries support Turkey in this issue. It remains a livid international issue, however, and one upon which Turkey’s entry into the European Union has traditionally been hinged.