The Armenian Genocide: 103 years later. The Holocaust against Christians.

Before the Holocaust was perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich when Nazi bureaucrats met at the Wannsee Conference on January 20,1942 to decide the fate of Europe’s Jews. Almost 3 decades earlier, there was another Holocaust known as The Armenian Genocide which was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire (known today as Turkey). It is also known as the Armenian Holocaust. Before Armenia became a nation state in 1918, the Western section of Armenia was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire since 1555 and was permanently divided from Eastern Armenia by the Treaty of Zuhab in 1639. The region occupied by the Ottoman Empire was referred to as “Turkish” or “Ottoman” Armenia. The Armenian community was made up of three Christian faiths: the Armenian Catholic Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church and the larger communities of Armenians were in the western region, including the capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic monarchy and empire. Because of the millet system, Armenian Christians in the Western section of Armenia was allowed to rule itself under its own system of governance with fairly little interference from the Ottoman government. However, approximately 70% of Armenians lived in poor and dangerous conditions in the countryside. Wealthy Armenians were known as the Amira class which was based in Constantinople. In the eastern section of the area, it was not so pleasant. Armenians were subjected to the whims of theirs Turkish and Kurdish neighbors. The Armenians were overly taxed and were subjected brigandage and kidnapping, force conversion to
Islam, and otherwise exploit them without interference from central or local authorities. Despite the fact, that the dhimmi system in many Muslim countries guaranteed Christians and Jews certain freedoms such as property rights, livelihood, and freedom to worship, in the Ottoman Empire they were guaranteed those rights, but were treated like second-class citizens and were treated like infidels. Christians were not considered equals to Muslims, several prohibitions were placed on them, and testimony from them and Jews against Muslims in a court of law was regarded as inadmissible where a Muslim could be punished. The only testimony allowed was in the cases of commercial cases. Christians were forbidden to carry weapons, to ride atop horses and camels, and were not allowed to practice religious customs such as the ringing of church bells. However, in the middle of the 19th Century, the powers of the United Kingdom, France, and Russia, began to question the treatment of Christians in the Ottoman Empire and pressured the Empire to give them equal rights. In 1839, under pressure for being hostile towards Christians, the Ottoman Empire instituted the Tanzimat, a series of reforms designed to improve the status of minorities who were non-Muslim. The Muslim majority rejected giving Christians any rights and many reforms were never implemented. By the late 1870s, the Greeks, along with many Christian nations in the Balkans, broke free from Ottoman rule with the help of the Entente Powers after frustration of not being treated equal. Armenians remained in the Ottoman Empire and were basically treated as loyal with term of millet-i sadika. However, Armenians began to reject of being considered second-class citizens and pressed for better treatment by the Empire. Armenians in the western section collected signatures in a petition to the government to make notice of repression such as “the looting and murder in Armenian towns by [Muslim] Kurds and Circassians, improprieties during tax collection, criminal behavior by government officials and the refusal to accept Christians as witnesses in trial”. Despite the promise from the government for change, it never happened. From 1875 to 1878 during the Great Eastern Crisis in which Christians were heavily persecuted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Serbia, Great Britain and France invoked the 1856 Treaty of Paris claiming they had the right to intervene and protect the Christian minority that the Ottomans were persecuting. The Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, Nerses II forwarded complaints of what was happening to Armenians to the Powers about “forced land seizure … forced conversion of women and children, arson, protection extortion, rape, and murder”. Under pressure, Sultan Abdul Hamid II declared his government a constitutional monarchy with a parliament and entered into negotiation with the powers. The Russian defeated the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878. The Armenians and their leader Patriarch Nerses II asked the Russians to urge the inclusion of a clause granting local self-government to the Armenians in the forthcoming Treaty of San Stefano, which was signed on 3 March 1878. The Russians were sympathetic and they drew up a clause, but the Ottomans rejected it during negotiations. Britain objected the copy of the treaty and its clause Article 16. This led to the Congress of Berlin June to July 1878. The British drew up an emasculated version of Article 16 which included everything except the part of Russian occupation if Armenians were not granted rights. The Treaty of Berlin was signed on July 13,1878 and the Armenian delegations was extremely disappointed of how Article 16 was washed down. Despite the Treaty being signed, Sultan Abdul Hamid II basically stonewalled reforms for Armenians by claiming they did not make up a majority in the Ottoman Empire and that the reports of abuses were exaggerated or false. In 1890, the Sultan created the Hamidiye, a Muslim paramilitary which basically harassed and persecuted Armenians living in Turkish Armenia. From 1894 to 1896, the Hamidiye massacred about 300,000 Armenian Christians which resulted in 50,000 orphaned children. In 1895, 25,000 Assyrian Christians were murdered in Diyarbakir as well. These massacres were the Sultan’s efforts to maintain power and propagate a pan-Islamist state ideology. When news of the massacres were found out by the Entente Powers, they forced the Sultan to sign a new reform package to curtail the Hamidiye, but the Sultan basically did nothing. On October 1,1895, 2,000 Armenians assembled in Constantinople to petition the implementations of the reforms put upon by the Powers. However, the Ottoman police units violently broke up the rally and the persecutions continued. They occurred in Constantinople and the provinces of Bitlis, Diyarbakir, Erzurum, Harput, Sivas, Trabzon, and Van. By 1896, about 300,000 Armenian Christians were murdered by the Hamidiye and it is believed that Sultan Abdul Hamid II ordered the massacres. On August 26,1896, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation seized the European-managed Ottoman Bank in frustration to lack of help from the Europeans Powers. The incidents was lauded by the European and American press who sympathized with the Armenians and condemned the Sultan and portrayed him as the “great assassin”, “bloody Sultan”, and “Abdul the Damned”. Because of political and economic interests, the Great Powers did nothing to help the situation despite promising. On July 24,1908, a group of officers known as the Young Turks staged a coup d’état against Sultan Abdul Hamid II by removing him from power and restore the country to a constitutional monarchy. Hamid II was basically forced to step down as Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Arabs, Bulgarians, and Turks rejoiced. On April 13,1909, Sultan Abdul Hamid II attempted a countercoup to bring about power for himself when he promised to restore the caliphate, eliminate secular policies, and restore the sharia-based legal system. Some reactionary Ottoman military elements, joined by Islamic theological students, aimed to return control of the country to the Sultan and the rule of Islamic law and it resulted in the Adana Massacre, an anti-Christian pogrom that resulted in the deaths of about 30,000 Armenian Christians and it is believed that 1,300 Assyrians were killed as well. About 4,000 Turkish civilians and soldiers participated in the massacre. On April 24,1909, General Mahmud Shevket Pasha of 11th Salonika Reserve Infantry Division of the Third Army stationed in the Balkans crushed the rebellion. Abdul Hamid II was exiled to Salonika and was succeeded by his younger brother, Mehmed V. The massacre also claimed the lives of two American Protestant missionaries, Reverend D. M. Rogers and Reverend Henry Maurer. Ottoman authorities denied killing the two American missionaries and claimed they were killed by Armenians. An American Protestant priest, Stephen Trowbridge indicated that the men were killed by Muslims when the two missionaries attempted to save a Turkish widow during the chaos. In the wake of the the massacre, 124 Muslims and 7 Armenians were executed for their involvement. After Salonika became part of Greece and was renamed Thessaloniki, the former Sultan was returned to captivity in Constantinople. It seemed afterwards, the Armenians had peace. Then on June 28,1914, six Serbian assassins of the Serbian Black Hand assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina which at the time was part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were assassinated when they were in the province for Franz Ferdinand to attend a three day event on troop maneuvers. The murderer was 19-year-old, Gavrilo Princip, one of the six assassins. In the wake of the assassinations of the Archduke and his wife tensions rose between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. On July 28,1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Germany joined Austria-Hungary in the fight against Serbia and Russia and France backed Serbia. England later joined the war on August 4,1914, when Germany invaded Belgium in violation of the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed Belgian neutrality. On October 28,1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Allies of Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War I. In November 1914, Shaykh ul-Islam proclaimed Jihad – Holy War against the Christians: this was later used as a factor to provoke radical masses in the implementation of the Armenian Genocide. On April 19,1915, Jedvet Bey demanded that the city of Van furnish 4,000 under him for the pretext of conscription. However, the Armenian population knew that Bey’s goal was to massacre the able-bodied men of Van so that there would be no defenders. Bey had already used his official writ in nearby villages to search for arms, but really to perpetrate massacres. The Armenians tried to negotiate with an offer of 500 soldiers and exemption money for the rest in order to buy time. Jedvet Bey accused the Armenians of “rebellion” and asserted to crush the rebellion. “If the rebels fire a single shot”, Bey declared,  “I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and” (pointing to his knee) “every child, up to here”. The next day, April 20,1915, the Siege of Van began when an Armenian woman was harassed and when two Armenian men came to help her they were killed by Ottoman soldiers. From April 19,1915 to May 17,1915, the Ottoman Army was responsible for the deaths of 55,000 Armenians, 6,000 in the area of Van. Thankfully with the help of Russian general Nikolai Yudenich who came to the rescue, the Armenian defenders were able to protect the 30,000 residents and 15,000 refugees living in an area of roughly one square kilometer of the Armenian Quarter and suburb of Aigestan with 1,500 ablebodied riflemen who were supplied with 300 rifles and 1,000 pistols and antique weapons. Reports of the conflict reached Henry Morgenthau, Sr., U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, of what was going on in Aleppo and Van, prompting him to raise the issue with Talaat Pasha and Enver Pasha, both perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. He was told by Talaat and Enver, that the deportations of the Armenians were justified as being necessary to the conduct of the war, suggesting that complicity of the Armenians of Van with the Russian forces that had just taken the city justified the persecution of all ethnic Armenians. On April 24,1915, the Ottoman government initiated the beginning of the Armenian Genocide with the arrest of 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in the capital of Constantinople and other centers, were taken to two holding centers near Ankara. On May 27,1915, the Ottomans basically did their own “Final Solution” when they passed a law known as the Tehcir Law which authorized the deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Two days later on May 29, many of the Armenian leaders were gradually deported and assassinated. Some were able to return to Constantinople. The Tehcir Law was also known as the Temporary Law of Deportation. The law basically allowed the confiscation of Armenian property and the wholesale murder of Armenians. The slaughters outraged much of the Western world. In the United States, The New York Times reported almost daily on the mass murders and calling the process as “systematic”, “authorized”, and “organized by the government”. Former President Theodore Roosevelt later characterized it as “the greatest crime of the war”. Like the Jews of Europe during World War II and the Holocaust, Armenians were put through death marches. Armenians were marched out to the Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor and the surrounding desert. Ottoman officials deliberately withheld the facilities and supplies that would have been lifesaving to the hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees during and after their march into the Syrian desert. The New York Times reported an unattributed report in August 1915 that “the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people”. Talaat Pasha along with Djemal Pasha knew that by abandoning the Armenian deportees in the desert they were condemning them to death. Also during this period, a network of 25 concentration camps were set up by the Ottoman government to dispose of the Armenians who had survived the deportations up to their ultimate point. The camps were situated in the region where it is now bordered by present day Iraq and Syria. Şükrü Kaya, the right-hand man of Talaat Pasha was responsible for the creation of these camps. Some of the camps were only temporary transit points. Camps such as Radjo, Katma, and Azaz, were used briefly as mass graves and by autumn 1915, they were vacated. Camps such as Lale, Tefridje, Dipsi, Del-El, and Ras al-Ayn were basically extermination camps just like those of Auschwitz, Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór, and Treblinka during World War II which were used by the Nazis to liquidate Europe’s Jewish population. Like the Nazis during World War II, the Ottomans murdered the Armenians through extreme measures: mass burnings, drowning, and use of poison and drug overdoses. The Ottomans also confiscated property as well. Before World War I ended, on November 3,1918, the Three Pasha who were responsible for perpetrating the genocide against the Armenians fled with the help of Ahmed Izzet Pasha. The three pashas were tried in absentia for the crimes and were sentenced to death. However, Justice would be served against the perpetrators of the genocide. On March 15,1921, Talaat Pasha was assassinated by Soghomon Tehlirian in Berlin, Germany. Tehlirian lost 85 family members in the Armenian Genocide and was part of Operation Nemesis, a covert operation by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation who acting on revenge and vigilante justice for the Ottoman Empire’s complicity in the Armenian Genocide. Tehlirian was arrested by German police. Tehlirian was put on trial on June 2,1921 and at his trial, his lawyers showed evidence of how the victim was responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians and that Tehlirian was basically justified in his actions. On June 3,1921, Tehlirian was found “not guilty”. He later died in San Francisco, California on May 23,1960. On July 21,1922, Djemal Pasha was assassinated by Stepan Dzaghigian, Artashes Gevorgyan, and Petros Ter Poghosyan for his role in the Armenian Genocide and two weeks later on August 4, Enver Pasha was killed in a surprise attack by Red Army General Yakov Melkumov. Each three of the perpetrators met a justified end. The Ottoman Empire also met its end on November 1,1922, when the Sultanate was abolished and became the Republic of Turkey on October 29,1923. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the 1st President of Turkey from 1923 until his death in 1938. There is still ongoing debate as to whether he acknowledged the massacre of the Armenians. Basically every successive government of Turkey from 1923 to now, refuses to accept the knowledge of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Genocide has been recognized by respectable international organizations such as The Catholic Church and its leader, Pope Francis said that the Armenian Genocide was “considered the first genocide of the 20th century” in 2015, on eve of the 100th anniversary which angered Turkey. Pope Francis stood by his remarks and in 2016, continued to affirm his position and strongly condemned the enduring denial of it. 29 countries recognize the Armenian Genocide: Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Lebanon, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Uruguay, Vatican City, and Venezuela. Even 48 out of 50 U.S. States in the United States recognize the Armenian Genocide. President Ronald Reagan acknowledged the Genocide in a speech on April 22,1981. Their have been attempts for the U.S. Congress and the President to recognize the 1915 event, however, because of concerns of alienating Turkey. Sooner or later, Turkey needs to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Germany acknowledged the Holocaust.

 

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