Under the Cover of The First World War: The Genocide begins
By the time Turkey entered the First World War on the side of Germany and Austria, a faction of the Young Turks called the Committee of Union and Progress or CUP were firmly in control of the government. A succession of early defeats in the war, such as the Battle of Sarikamish in December 1914 was laid at the door of Armenian conscripts. They were accused of sabotage and treachery, seeking Turkish defeat so they could join the eastern Armenians on the Russian side.
In February 1915, “Directive 8682” called for the transferral of all Armenian military conscripts from active combat to passive unarmed roles in labor battalions. Mass executions of Armenian soldiers began to take place in public to terrorize the Armenian community.
Meanwhile, in the provinces, a campaign of agitation and provocation began. As early as September 1914, Muslim citizens of small towns in the provinces began to be armed by the government, on the pretext of protection against any Armenian insurrection.
Government partisans began to attempt to provoke these insurrections amongst the Armenian population. Armenian leaders were arrested and Armenian businesses singled out for ‘war Contributions’. False stories of Armenian attacks were spread throughout the Turkish population to garner support amongst Muslim citizens in the rural provinces.
On April 17, 1915, the government demanded that the Armenian city of Van hand over 4000 soldiers as part of the war effort. For days, refugees had been arriving at the city from 80 outlying villages, the result of government massacres in the area around Van that had wiped out 24,000 Armenians. The city attempted to buy time rather than hand the men over to certain death. In the meantime, government troops attempted to incite the Armenians. They succeeded: killing two men who attempted to come to the aid of a woman harassed by government soldiers.
Van remained under siege until the Russian’s rescued the city in May. But the incident was the perfect propaganda piece, used as evidence of Armenian complicity with the Russians.