By the late 1880’s there
approximately 2.500.000 Armenian people living in the Ottoman Empire.
Since World War I, the number of Armenians in Turkey has barely
reached more than 120.000. The difference can be accounted for in the
large number of Armenians who were slaughtered or forced to flee to
other countries in the period from 1894 to 1921.
The tension began when Armenians in the eastern
provinces of the Ottoman Empire started to impress upon the people the
idea of Armenian self-government, under the encouragement of Russia.
As the number of revolutionaries grew, they formed into various
political groups, ad finally into two revolutionary parties. The first
party, developed in 1887, was called Henchak, meaning “The Bell.” The
second, called Dashnaktzutiun, meaning “Union,” was established in
1890. During this time, Sultan Abdulhamid II, the leader of the
Ottoman Empire, was promoting nationalistic feelings and animosity
towards the Armenians among neighboring Kurdish tribe men, in hopes of
suppressing the revolutionaries. The persection that resulted, along
with an escalation in taxes, gave the Armenians two solid reasons for
a revolt. In 1894, Armenians in Sasun fought back by refusing to pay
the required taxes. Their revolt was not successful-Armenian villages
were burned and thousands of people were killed by Kurdish tribesmen
and Turkish troops.
Two years later, the Armenians again attempted
to rise against the Turkish autocracy. Hoping to make European powers
aware of their motives, they took over the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul.
Groups of Muslim Turks organized by government troops halted their
effort by killing more than 50,000 of the Armenian dissenters.
The persecution of the Armenians continued
during World War I. Armenians who volunteered to help the Russian
army fight the Turks were forced to leave when the Turkish government
ordered all Armenians to deport to Syria and Palestine. Even those
fighiting with the Ottoman army were removed. They were taken to labor
battalions where they were subjected to the same horrors as all other
Armenians-premature death. Sometimes the method of execution was slow
and painful, such as starvation or physical abuse. Other times the
method was quick and brutal, such as machine-gunning. The Turks left
no one alone. On April 24, 1915, two hundred fifty-four Armenian
intellectuals were arrested in Istanbul and then taken to the
provinces of Ayash and Chankiri, where most of them were later killed.
The Armenians were now left almost without
leadership. The Ottomans destroyed both their military and social
defenders. Taking advantage of the Armenians’ vulnerable situation,
the Turks ordered all Armenians out of every village in Turkish
Armenia and Asia Minor. As the villages were evacuated, men were often
shot immediately, and women and children were forced to walk limitless
distances to the south, where if they survived the trip, they were put
into concentration camps. In these camps, such as the most horrid one
called Deir ez-Zor, located in Syria, Armenians suffered agony and
torment similar to what the Jews would experience in the Holocaust in
future years. Armenian prisoners were starved, beaten, and murdered by
unmerciful guards. Sometimes, however, the Armenians were not sent to
concentration camps. In Trebizond, for example, they were put on ships
and then thrown overboard, into the Black Sea. The Armenian genocide
was still being executed in 1921, when Kemalists were found abusing
and starving Armenian prisoners to death.
In spite of heroic resistance, approximately
1,500,000 Armenians were killed in a twenty-eight year period. This
does not include the half million or more who were forced to leave
their homes and flee to foreign countries.
The Armenian genocide is not as well known an
occurrence in history today as it deserves to be. The Ottomans
succeeded in murdering a million and a half Armenians. Little
attention was paid to this tragic episode in history by both the
victorious allied powers at the end of World War I, and by noted
historians. Thus, ignored by many, the valuable lesson which might
have been learned from this Armenian genocide went largely unnoticed.
If more attention had been centered on the slaughter of these innocent
men, women, and children, perhaps the events of the Holocaust might
never have taken place. This is the valuable lesson each of us must