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The Armenian Genocide, 1915
Eight days before he invaded Poland in 1939, Hitler told his high
command to “send to death mercilessly and without compassion,
men, women and children” who stood in the way of German
expansion; he was referring to the Poles. When his high
command became concerned about the reaction of the rest of the
world Hitler responded “Who today remembers the
extermination of the Armenians?”
Between April and October 1915, some 1.2 million Armenians
were deported from their homes by the Turkish Government and
sent on a death march into the Syrian Desert with no food or
World History Honors
Where did the Armenians come from?
o Lived in S. Caucuses for 3000 yrs
o Became Christians earlier than most in that region.
Armenia and the Ottoman Empire
o 19th c. Biggest non-Muslim group.
o Lived in peace. Called “loyal millet”
19th century Nationalism
o Ottoman empire became “The Sick Man of Europe” as nations declared independence.
o Christians in Europe called for the protection of the Armenians – Soviet Union took
control of this territory.
o 1896: Sultan saw calls for sovereignty as a threat.
 Planned a massive campaign of killing.
 200,000 Armenians died.
This was just the beginning.
The Genocide Begins
In 1908 – The Young Turks
came to power
o Nationalistic
o planned the
extermination of
the Christian
Armenians whom they saw as traitors.
They used WWI as a cover and planned to wipe the Armenians out of history.
April 25, 1915 (today, the official day to remember the Armenian genocide) they began the
slaughter with “Elitocide”
o 600 notable Armenian men were rounded up in Istanbul and murdered.
Also began with the slaughter of the “battle age” men in the Turkish army (in order to weaken
the rest of the population)
o Armenian soldiers were stripped of their weapons and made into a work force. They
constructed roads and acted as pack animals.
o They had to carry enormously heavy loads through mountains and waist deep snow
driven by whips and bayonets
o They were only fed scraps
o They were not allowed to sleep in tents, or have sleeping bags – exposed to the
o If they felt sick they were simply left behind (although usually robbed first)
o If they made it to their destination they were killed there.
o Eventually they were just shot to death after being robbed of their clothing and being
forced to dig their own graves.
Armenian towns were emptied of the men.
o Officials claimed they were going to battle to help with WWI
o In reality the men were shot.
Primary Source Account of the Genocide
The Murder of a Nation written by U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau
Originally a report to his superiors/US was neutral in 1915
“At Angora all Armenian men from 15-70 were arrested, bound together in groups of
four, and sent on the road in the direction of Caesarea. When they had traveled 5 or 6
hours and had reached a secluded valley, a mob of Turkish peasants fell upon them with
clubs, hammers, axes, scythes, spades, and saws. Such instruments not only caused
more agonizing deaths than guns and pistols, but, as the Turks themselves boasted,
they were more economical, since they did not involve the waste of powder and shell.
In this way they exterminated the whole male population of Angora, including all its men
of wealth and breeding, and their bodies, horribly mutilated, were left in the valley,
where they were devoured by wild beasts.”
Deportation & Concentration
• After the military aged men were killed the rest of the Armenian
population was deported to “safe havens.”
a way to concentrate the population for easier killing.
Three Turkish soldiers pose with the
• Young men left were separated from their families, tied together, lead
heads of two Armenian victims.
to the outskirts of town and shot.
• Caravans of Armenians were almost all women, children, and old men
– people who could not protect themselves from the fate that awaited them.
Above is a map of the centers of Massacre and Deportation throughout Turkey.
The Armenian Death Marches
• Some Armenian women and children were given the option to convert to Islam, and slavery in
Turkish homes – only 1000 or so accepted
• The rest were forced to march to concentration centers and refugee camps
• Women who lagged behind were bayoneted on the road or pushed over cliffs of bridges
• They brigades of women were attacked by Kurdish tribes and Turkish peasants.
• They had a constant battle for their lives
• deprived of food
As the march went on the soldiers became more brutal
Armenians died by the hundreds from hunger and thirst
• Soldiers wouldn’t let them drink at rivers – they marched through the desert.
More from U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau:
“Thus, in a few days, what had been a procession of normal human beings became a stumbling horde of dust-covered
skeletons, ravenously looking for scraps of food, eating any offal that came their way, crazed by the hideous sights that
filled every hour of their existence, sick with diseases that accompany such hardships and privations, but still prodded on
and on by the whips and clubs and bayonets of their executioners. The passage of rivers, and especially of the Euphrates,
was always an occasion for wholesale murder. In a loop of the river near Erzinghan… thousands of dead bodies created
such a barrage that the Euphrates changed its course for about a hundred yards.”
"A 15-year-old child who died of starvation,"
1915-1916. Two boys with bare and bandaged feet starved to death
in open desert.
Location: Ottoman empire, region Syria.
Armenian Orphans
1915, Armenian deportees in a camp of makeshift
tents inhabited mostly by women and children in
barren desert. Location: Ottoman Empire, region
After the March
• The end result was near-total extermination.
• Typically: convoy of 18,000 – only 150 survived
(The rest had been killed or kidnapped along the way)
• Survivors stumbled into Syria naked, their clothing had been torn from them on the way
One witness “There was not one young or pretty face to be seen among them, and there was
assuredly none surviving that was truly old.”
Of those who survived, many starved to death or died of disease in the squalid camps in
Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq).
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WWI,
• The killing of Armenians by Turks continued as
they invaded the independent republic of
• American Ambassador Morgenthau, working
with limited info claimed that at least 600,000
people killed maybe as many as 1 million.
Modern estimates range from 1.1 to
1.8 million killed out of the 2.5 million
that lived in Ottoman lands in 1915.
• ½ to ¾ of the population was killed in the
genocide. Comparable to the Jewish holocaust
(2/3 of European Jews were killed).
Who is responsible?
• The leaders of the Young Turks: Enver Pasha, Cemal Pasha, and Talat Pasha planned the
systematic extermination and expulsion of the Armenians population.
• many thousands of Turkish officers and soldiers, along with ordinary citizens who saw the
persecution of the Armenians as an ideal opportunity for plunder, rape, and kidnapping.
Why did it happen?
• Armenians status as a religious minority
• Reputation for higher levels of education and wealth than other groups in the Ottoman Empire –
made them targets of popular hatred and envy.
• Similar to Jews in Germany and Nazi occupied territories.
The Aftermath
• Collapse of Ottoman Empire = chance for surviving Armenians to form their own nation.
• 1918 Independent Republic of Armenia formed
• With the help of the Soviet Union, the Turks invaded Armenia and re-conquered 6
former western Ottoman provinces given to Armenia, and the Armenian provinces of
Kars and Ardahan
• The rest of Armenia was swallowed up by the invading Soviet armies
• Soviets took complete control in 1921 and Armenia was incorporated into the USSR
• The communist party was the only political party allowed – remained until 1991
• 1991 – Armenians voted for secession from the collapsing USSR
1980s-1994 wars fought over border between Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan. Even after the
ceasefire, it’s a hot spot in the volatile Caucasus region.
Why is so little known about the Armenian Genocide by average Americans?
• Israel: At first, Israel was afraid that education about the Armenian Genocide would detract
from education about the Holocaust, and would not allow the Armenian Genocide to be taught.
Today, they have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide as legitimate.
• Turkey: 1918-1920 (after the fall of the Ottoman, and before the attacks on the Independent
republic of Armenia), the Turkish gov’t held trials for dozens of accused war criminals – only 15
sentenced to death , and only 3 insignificant actors actually killed.
• The three main organizers were killed in other ways: Enver Pasha leading an antiBolshevik revolt in Turkestan in 1922. Cemal Pasha and Talat Pasha by Armenian
assassination squads who tracked them down to deliver justice.
• Since the 1920s Turkish governments have maintained silence on the subject –
breaking it only to deny that the Genocide ever happened.
• In 1990 – Turkish ambassador to the US dismissed the genocide as resulting from “a
tragic civil war initiated by Armenian nationalists”
• The Turkish gov’t has devoted millions of dollars to propaganda campaign aimed at
western universities and a handful of compliant scholars.
• They were supported by NATO and other western countries who saw Turkey as a
linchpin of stability in the Middle East.
• Even the in the US, through the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations – all congressional
resolutions to recognize the Armenian genocide were put down to comply with Turkey’s wishes.
• At the recent remembrance of the Armenian Genocide in 2010, President Obama did
not call it a genocide, even though as a senator he claimed he would officially recognize
• 80 years of denial by the Turkish gov’t with the help of the rest of the world.
• 2005 – Armenian genocide added to school curricula, 95 years after the events took place.
Why were the Armenians targeted by the Ottoman Turks, and slaughtered?
Why is it important for students of history to learn about the Armenian Genocide?
Why is it taking so long for the United States to recognize what happened 95 years
ago in Armenia as a genocide?