For three thousand years, Armenians had existed inside the vast region of the Middle East bordering the Black, Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. The area, known today as Anatolia, stands at the crossroads of three continents; Europe, Asia and Africa. Throughout the centuries, the Armenian homeland saw great powers rise and fall and at various times has been ruled by Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Byzantines and Romans.
Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. A golden era of peace and prosperity followed and hence saw the invention of a unique Armenian alphabet, and with it came great literature, architecture and commerce.
In the eleventh century, the first invasion of the Armenian homeland occurred and thus began several hundred years of rule by Muslim Turks. By the 15th Century, the Ottoman Empire had taken over Armenia and advanced its territorial occupation and at its peak, included much of Southeast Europe, North Africa, and almost all of the Middle East. By the 1800’s the once powerful Ottoman Empire was in serious decline – when it had always been the powerhouse in technological and economical progress – the modern nations of Europe had advanced and taken on the Turkish Armies – where once they were undefeated, they were now losing battle after battle.
As the empire gradually fell apart, many minorities, including the Serbs, Greeks and Romanians got their independence. Only the Armenians and the Arabs of the Middle East remained under the backward and nearly bankrupt empire, now under the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid. By the 1890’s, young educated Armenians began to press for political reforms in the Ottoman Empire, calling for a constitutional government, the right to vote and an end to special taxes the Armenians were paying because they were Christians. The Sultan responded to their pleas with brutal persecution and massacres. Between 1894 and 1896, under the Sultan’s special regiments, over 100 000 inhabitants of Armenian villages were slaughtered.
The Sultan’s days came to an end in July of 1908, as junior officers in the Turkish army emerged with the aim of unseating and overthrowing the “bloodthirsty” Sultan. Gradually uniting, the groupings turned into a movement known as the “Young Turks.” They came into power forcing the Sultan to allow constitutional government and guarantee basic rights. On July 23, 1908, the Committee of Union and Progress “The Young Turks” organized a coup and by 1909, they dethroned Sultan Abdul Hamid II. All the nations under the Empire were jubilant and welcomed the overthrow of the “Red Sultan.”
Armenians in Turkey were also excited about the new and sudden changes. Both Turks and Armenians held jubilant public rallies, calling for freedom, equality and justice. Armenians, Turks and Greeks rejoiced, embracing each other in the streets. The Armenians believed they had entered a new era full of great changes. But this jubilation did not last too long as it turned out the “Young Turks” were well “disguised ardent nationalists” who carried on the work of oppressing and slaughtering work left behind by the Sultan. “They were advocates of the idea of assimilation of all the nations of the Empire to create a “pure” Turkish nation, never even stopping at mass slaughters in order to achieve that goal.”
April 1909 The mass slaughters that began in April 1909 were carried out in many Armenian settlements from Adana to Marash and Kessab. In some regions, the villagers were able to defend themselves, while other villages they were not so fortunate. Their assumptions of the new regime was going to change their living standards but they only faced serious doubts and fear of this new “proto Fascist Regime” which killed over 30,000 Armenians at this time.
1910 In 1910, Germany strived to assume control over the Ottoman Empire, which was at the time undertaking the construction and use of the railway that “traversed the Ottoman Empire in the end of the XIX and in the beginning of the XX century.” They wanted to weaken Russia’s position in the Caucasus and contain the position of England in India and Egypt. Within the German political plan was the establishment of Turkish homogeneity in North Eastern Anatolia by resettling Armenians in the area of the Baghdad Railway construction. The Germans had two main important reasons for this; the construction of the railway would provide skillful and qualified manpower and the “attenuation of Russian influence in Western Armenia.” This viewpoint from the Germans became the basis for the Young Turkish policy of annihilation of Armenians in their homeland. German political scientist Paul Raurbach thought that “Native Armenians should be moved from Western Armenia, and be replaced by Muslims brought from Trachea and Russia.” This way, the Armenians would be separated from Russia and relocate the Western Armenians to Mesopotamia and this would help with the “economic development of the railroad.”
1911 The Young Turkish decision to solve the “Armenian Question” through “genocide” was finalized and achieved in a number of secret meetings and conferences held by the Union and Progress Party’s Central Committees in the beginning of 1910. In the 1911 “Salonika Conference,” the Young Turks explicitly came to the decision that all non-Turks should be “Turkified” in the Empire. The decisions of the conference became the official strategy and policy adopted by the Young Turks had the most impact on the Armenians throughout the Empire’s territories. Secret orders were then signed by Talaat and sent to the Empire’s local authorities to take all measures necessary to exterminate the Armenians from the Empire.
1912-1913 The Balkan Wars – (October 1912 through May 1913, and the second one from June 1913 through August 1913) was waged between the Balkan Alliance and Turkey resulting in turmoil of international relations in the Balkans and in the whole of Europe. This war brought on by the acceleration of World War I. Turkey’s defeat during the first Balkan wars “prepared the grounds” for the revisiting of the “Armenians Question” and as a result, the Reforms Question of Western Armenia was once again on the forefront.
July 1914 The congress of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation was held in Erzerum. The federation had convened to decide on its position in case war broke out. The Young Turks sent two authorities Nji Bey and Shakir Behaeddin, who held important positions in their party. At the congress they laid the following demands to the Armenians on behalf of their party. First, Armenians both in Turkey and in Russia should stay loyal to Turkey in case of war. Secondly, they were to form Armenian detachments to fight against Russia, and thirdly they should “foment a revolt in the Caucasus and behind the lines of the Russian army.” The Young Turks went on to declare that if the Armenians were to hold true to the demands that they would be given the right to establish an independent state on certain territories of “Turkey” and “Russia.”
In response to the Young Turks demands, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire stated that the Armenians in Russia had to stay loyal to their state and that they could not speak on behalf of the Armenians in Russia as they are subjects of another state. The congress did come to the decision that Armenians in Turkey would stand by Turkey in case war did break out and would carry on their responsibilities put on them by the Turkish subjects – to serve the country in the army. It was not easy to make such a decision as they would be fighting against Armenians if Russia. The Young Turks were unsatisfied with the decisions of the congress and believed Armenians in Russia would revolt against them.
August-October 1914 On August 1, 1914, World War I broke out. The key alliances were the Triple Entente (England, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, which Turkey joined later). The Young Turks joined the war on October 29, 1914 headed by the “three Pashas” of the Ottoman Empire, the Minister of Interior, Mehmed Talaat Pasha, The Minister of War, Ismail Enver Pasha and the Minister of the Navy, Ahmed Djemal Pasha.
November 1914 As Turkey joined the war, Armenians from Western Armenia were called to serve in the army, as were the other people of the Empire.
1915 On April 24, 1915, the first phase of the Armenian massacres began with the arrest and murder of hundreds of intellectuals, mainly from Constantinople (Istanbul in modern day Turkey). The second phase of the massacre was with conscription of some 60,000 Armenian men into the general Turkish army, who were later disarmed and killed by their Turkish fellowmen. The third phase of the genocide was through massacres, deportations and death marches made up of women, children and the elderly into the Syrian deserts. During those marches hundreds and thousands were raped and killed by Turkish soldiers, gendarmes and Kurdish mobs. Others died of starvation, epidemic disease and exposure to the elements. Tens of thousands were also forcibly converted to Islam.
About 2 million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire at the time when the genocide began. By the end, only 388,000 Armenians remained in the Ottoman Empire.
Finally, the fourth phase of the Armenian genocide appeared with the total denial of the Turkish government of the mass killings and elimination of the Armenian nation on its homelands. Despite the ongoing international recognition of the Armenian genocide – Turkey continues to fight for and fund the denial of the genocide by any means.