What Was the Armenian Genocide?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Some people use the term “Armenian Genocide” to describe the mass murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, along with deportations which forced hundreds of thousands of Turkish Armenians from their homes. Others call this period the “Great Calamity” or the “Armenian Massacre.” The use of the term “Armenian Genocide” is not appreciated by the Turkish government, which refuses to classify the events during this period as a genocide. This has resulted in some controversy, with many nations and the international Armenian community pushing the Turkish government to acknowledge that these events were, in fact, a genocide.

The "Armenian Genocide" might have inspired the Holocaust under Adolph Hitler.
The "Armenian Genocide" might have inspired the Holocaust under Adolph Hitler.

The events of the Armenian Genocide were masterminded by the Young Turks, a group of government leaders in the Ottoman Empire who staged a coup to take over the Turkish government and to involve the Ottoman Empire in the First World War on the side of Germany. Prior to this period, the Armenians lived side by side with Muslim neighbors, and many had strong family and friend networks in Turkey, both with fellow Christian Armenians and others. However, Armenians had a history of second class citizenship which had been a subject of comment by outsiders, and they were sometimes called the “loyal millet” by the Muslim Turks, in a reference to their loyalty and reluctance to struggle for more rights.

The events of the Armenian Genocide are generally agreed to have begun in 1915, when the Young Turks organized a mass arrest and deportation of Armenian intellectuals and prominent citizens, while also enlisting Armenians throughout Turkey in labor battalions, as they were not allowed to serve in the military as combatants. In May 1915, the Young Turks declared that the Armenians were to be “resettled” outside the Ottoman Empire, and the mass deportation of Armenians began.

Rather than just being a simple deportation, however, the Armenian deportation was designed to kill most of the deportees along the war. Armenians were led on forced marches and subjected to looting, rape, and murder along the way. Numerous witnesses ranging from international organizations to traveling foreigners commented on the situation, with several nations attempt to intercede on behalf of the Armenians, sending food, aid money, and other assistance. An estimated 500,000 Armenians died during this period, while those who survived formed communities in a wide variety of places, sometimes as far-flung as the United States.

During the process of the Armenian Genocide, most of the Armenian population of Turkey was expelled or killed. People who support the classification of these events as a genocide point to the fact that the Armenian Genocide was systematically organized, and that it was designed to completely wipe a cultural group from the face of the Earth. Some historians have suggesting that Adolf Hitler may have been inspired by the Armenian Genocide, establishing his own version, which came to be known as the Holocaust, on a much larger scale in the 1940s.

After the First World War, the Turkish government tried and convicted the Young Turks of murder in absentia. The Young Turks were sentenced to death, but because they had already escaped from Turkey, this sentence was not carried out. The international community also condemned the event and held trials of its own in an attempt to bring more people to justice. Today, the Armenian community is pushing for official Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide, along with numerous nations including Greece, Italy, the United States, Sweden, Uruguay, Lebanon, and Argentina, among many others.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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