Today marks the 100th anniversary of one of the modern world’s first genocides, in which 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children were systematically slaughtered by the Ottoman government. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested, subsequently executing, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.
Though once overshadowed by the better known and more well documented Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide has in recent years been one of the most studied and publicized organized mass killing in the 20th century. Much of that can be attributed, ironically, to successive Turkish governments refusing to recognize the event as a genocide, instead downplaying the death toll and ascribing it to wartime conditions and concerns:
The Republic of Turkey‘s formal stance is that the deaths of Armenians during the “relocation” or “deportation” cannot aptly be deemed “genocide”, a position that has been supported with a plethora of diverging justifications: that the killings were not deliberate or systematically orchestrated; that the killings were justified because Armenians posed a Russian-sympathizing threat as a cultural group; that the Armenians merely starved to death, or any of various characterizations referring to marauding “Armenian gangs”. Some suggestions seek to invalidate the genocide on semantic or anachronistic grounds (the word genocide was not coined until 1943). Turkish World War I casualty figures are often cited to mitigate the effect of the number of Armenian dead.
Nevertheless, twenty-three countries have thus far officially recognized the mass killings as genocide, which is the consensus among most genocide scholars and historians (including many in Turkey).
As evidenced by my reliance on Wikipedia, I lack the time to devote myself to this issue as it deserves. Instead, I will link you to some great sources beyond the well-written Wiki article.
The Guardian offers a quick rundown of how the genocide transpired and the current controversy regarding Turkey’s official denial. Vox goes a bit more in-depth with both the genocide and the subsequent campaign of denialism. NPR has an interesting story about one of the last Armenian-majority villages in Turkey and how it is faring, while the New York Times similarly explores the complex identity issues facing descendents of the genocide who still live in Turkey; the Times also has a collection of accounts from survivors or their descendents, including a couple by Turkish civilians who tried to help Armenians (as many certainly did).
I encourage everyone to do their part to learn about this human catastrophe, and for that matter to be aware of the many other genocides, before and since, that continue to blight our species to this day.