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Why did the Armenian Genocide take place?

Why did the Armenian Genocide take place?

During the First World War, a heinous atrocity was taking place under the watch of Ottoman Empire; however, the event did not attract much world attention because of the prevailing war. Historians have used different terms to refer to this event such as Armenian Massacres, Armenian Holocaust, Great Crime, and Armenian Genocide . The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 to describe an organized and premeditated execution within officially permitted parameters. Historians acknowledge the Armenian genocide as one of the first modern genocide because of its organization and execution. It is also among the most-studied cases of human extermination after that of the Jews holocaust. However, Turkey- the state that replaced Ottoman Empire has denied the Armenian killing deserves to be termed as genocide. It is believed 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives under the supervision of Ottoman Turkish Empire rulers. The Armenian Genocide was a government orchestrated mass-killing, rape, and torture of Armenian people living in Ottoman Empire. The Armenian genocide happened between 1915 and 1923, but persecution of Armenians had been going on since 1894. Starting around April 1915, the Ottoman authorities started rounding up and arresting Armenian community leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople. During and after the World War 1, the Ottoman government implemented the genocide in phases. It started by the indiscriminate killing of productive male residents through mass execution and subjection to forced labor. It was followed by deportation of remaining family members (women and children) and marching the sick and elderly across the Syrian Desert . The military escorted starving deportees and subjected them to periodic rape, robbery, and massacres. The Ottoman authorities destroyed churches and villages and forced many Armenians into exile after their properties were looted. There are many reasons proposed to explain why the Armenian genocide took place.

Among the reasons why the Armenian genocide took place is European meddling in Ottoman internal affairs. The Great Powers-Great Britain, Russia, and France started taking issue with the Ottoman Empire treatment of Christian minorities in the mid-nineteenth century . They pressured the Empire to extend equal privileges to all citizens. The Empire instituted a series of reforms (Tanzimat) aimed at improving the condition of minorities. However, the Muslims who were majority rejected to be put at equal status with Christians. The dogma of Koran put Muslims above non-Muslims although non-Muslims were allowed to live in the Empire but with fewer privileges. The Christian nations got frustrated, and the Greeks and other Balkan Christian nations with the help of European Powers broke away from the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians remained submissive until the early 1870s when Armenian intellectuals with western education started questioning the second-class status accorded Armenians. For instance, peasants in Western Armenia petitioned the Empire to address mistreatment Armenians suffered under Muslims Circassians and Kurds. The Empire government promised to address Armenians’ grievances, but the government did not take any meaningful step. The Christians uprising in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were brutally suppressed by Ottoman forces. The Great Powers invoked the Treaty of Paris that gave them rights to intervene in order to protect the Christian minorities under the Ottoman Empire . The pressure from powers forced Sultan Abdul’s government to change into a constitutional monarchy and started cooperating with Powers. The Armenians complained of injustices such as land seizure, protection extortion, arson, forced conversion into Islam, arson, and rape to the Powers. The Empire planned a systematic way of exterminating the Armenians and other minority groups in order to stop European powers from meddling in its internal affairs.

The Armenians looked to Russian Empire to guarantee them security after defeat of Turkey during the 1877-78 war. Nerses II, the Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, convinced Russia to insert a clause in the eponymous. Article 16 allowed Russian forces not to leave the province populated by Armenians in the eastern Ottoman Empire until the Ottoman implements the reforms fully. The retention of vast Ottoman territory by Russia trouble Great Britain; Russia was forced to renegotiate during the Congress of Berlin. Once again, the Armenians entered into the negotiations where they sought reforms and autonomy from the Ottoman Empire through Article 61 of Berlin Treaty. The article required Ottoman government periodically to update the Great Powers on the progress of reforms. The Armenians quest for autonomy from Ottoman Empire infuriated the Ottoman authorities, and it became apparent that the Empire could use any flimsy ground to crush the Armenians.

The creation of political movements by Armenians to champion their grievances angered the Ottoman government thus setting pace for the genocide to happen. The Ottoman government refused to honor the terms of the Treaty of Berlin on reforms. The Armenian intellectuals in Diaspora especially Russia and Europe became disillusioned by Ottoman refusal to implement reforms. They formed political movement (Armenian, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and Social Democrat Party) to champion Armenians grievances and improvement of their status. The movement searched for European powers that pressured the Ottoman government to implement reforms in favor of Armenian population. The movement also sought to create a self-defense that would improve the Armenian plight.

The Great Power interfered with Ottoman Empire affairs when Abdul Hamid refused to implement reforms stipulated in Treaty of Berlin. He claimed that the Armenian population did not constitute a majority in the province. He created a paramilitary regiment that harassed, provoked Armenians into rebellions and massacred Armenians. The Armenians sometimes managed to prevail upon the regiments and fight them off; however, the Armenians were able to present these excesses to the Great Powers’ attention. The Great Powers formulated new reform limiting the powers of the Hamidiye (the paramilitary outfit) and asked Abdul Hamid to implement. The Ottoman government never implemented the reforms forcing the Armenians to rally in the streets of Constantinople. The Ottoman police violently broke up the rally and started massacring Armenians in Constantinople and other provinces of Van, Harput, Bitlis, Trabzon, Divarbekir, and Erzurum. When the Armenian revolutionaries seized the Ottoman Bank the Europeans started sympathizing with Armenians; the western press described Hamid as a bloody and tyrannical Sultan. The Great Powers vowed to use power to force Hamid to implement the new reforms, but conflicting interests in politics and economy made them abandon the enforcement drive.

The Young Turk Revolution contributed to Armenian genocide because it brought together all opposing forces together and forced Hamid to step. A countercoup force consisting of Ottoman military elements and students of Islamic theology tried to return the thrown to the Sultan under Islamic law. Fighting and riots broke out between the two opposing forces that resulted in defeat of reactionary forces. However, the reactionary forces started targeting Armenians because they had supported the reinstallation of the constitution. The reactionary Islamists and the Ottoman army turned against the Armenians in Adana and massacred over 20,000 Armenians. The successful massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire set the stage for a major genocide against the Armenians.

The Balkan Wars contributed immensely to the start of Armenian genocide because Muslims were expelled from the Balkans and went to live as refugees in the Empire. The First Balkan War resulted in Ottoman Empire loss of almost the entire European territories. Turkish nationalist movement and the Three Pashas who played the major role in Armenians genocide considered Anatolia a significant area because Armenians were a minority. The expulsion of Muslims from Balkans and Caucasus infuriated Muslims in Ottoman Empire . Muslims scholars and journalists in Constantinople called the Muslims to revenge for the suffering their Muslims refugees expelled from Balkans went through. Hundreds of thousand of Muslims were living as refugees adjacent to well-off Armenians’ residents. These refugees played a significant role of killing Armenians and confiscating their properties.
The Armenians involvement in Russian war made the Ottoman government to devise a way of eliminating them to stop the security threat Armenians created. The Battle of Sarikamis contributed to the Armenians genocide when Enver Pasha blamed his defeat on Armenians’ support of Russians. Enver had devised a plan that he expected would destroy Russian army at Sarikamis and regain the territories lost during the Russo-Turkish War. However, Enver’s army suffered a humiliating defeated at the hand of mighty Russian army. The following year Enver Pasha ordered the mobilization and disarmament of all Armenians soldiers serving in the Ottoman army. The transfer of Armenian soldiers from active combative role to passive one such as logistics was a signal to the subsequent genocide. The Armenian soldiers also suffered executions at the hands of Committee of Union and Progress.

The refusal by the Armenian city of Van to furnish Ottoman forces with soldiers and rebelling against Ottoman rulers intensified the need to crush their towns. The Ottoman authorities had demanded Armenian men to enroll in the army but their plan was to kill all able-bodied men. The Ottoman soldiers besieged the city of Van while armed Armenian civilians and riflemen defended the city until Russia under General Yudenich came to their aid. The Ottoman Empire rulers complained of Armenians complicity with the enemy and justified the deportation and persecution of Armenians .

The fear of Armenians closeness to Great Powers and Russia made Ottoman authorities suspect them of betrayal, and thus, the genocide was a tactic of solving that problem. The fear of Armenians collaboration with Russia and support they got from Great Powers made Ottoman rulers uncomfortable. The Ottoman rulers began a propaganda drive portraying Armenians living in the empire as a serious threat to the security of the empire. The propagandists prepared materials with information accusing Armenians of collaborating with the enemy of the empire to launch an uprising. The statement also showed that Armenians were planning to kill all Ittihadist leaders and open up the straits. On 24 April 1915, the Ottoman authorities rounded up 250 community leaders and intellectuals and were either deported or assassinated. The Ottoman authorities established deportation and extermination centers where ethnic Armenians were concentrated after arrest. The Ottoman government legalized the deportation of Armenians in all places in the empire accusing them of rioting and causing massacres.

The Armenian genocide was accelerated by the passage of Temporary Law of Deportation also referred to as “Tehcir Law” . The law gave the government and military officers the authorities to deport anyone they suspected of threatening national security. Tehcir Law was turned into genocidal orders coordinated by the then Interior Minister Talaat Pasha. The Ottoman authorities confiscated Armenians properties and killed them in masses. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were starved to death, and others murdered in cold blood.

Economic jealousy is another reason the Armenian genocide took place. The Armenian cities were doing well economically, and the residents had better livelihoods than Muslims refugees coming from Balkans. The Armenians had build crucial social and educational institutions such as monasteries, hospitals, schools, churches, and orphanages. The Ottoman authorities overtaxed Armenian businesses and farms in an attempt to provoke them into riots or protests . During the genocide, the Ottoman authorities confiscated Armenians’ wealth and properties and destroyed institutions’ infrastructures. The Ottoman Minister of Commerce ordered all financial institutions operating within the empire to turn over all assets belonging to Armenians to the government. The records indicate that six million Turkish gold pounds were turned to the Ottoman government along with jewelry, bank deposits, cash, and real property . The Ottoman authorities funneled all the seized assets to European banks.
The First World War contributed to Armenian genocide since the Turkish government took advantage of the war to annihilate the Armenians. The Turkish government seized the opportunity presented by the World War I to solve the issue of Armenian question through deportation and mass killing. Turkish authorities massacred Armenians hoping that after war ends Europeans would not intervene anymore. The European powers intervened in order to protect Christians, and if all the Armenians were deported or exterminated there would be no need for European intervention.

The Armenian genocide did not just happen; it was a premeditated, systematic and widespread execution of Armenians and other minority group living in Ottoman Empire through modern means. The causes of Armenian genocide are interrelated. The quest for nationalism, Armenian involvement in Russian war effort, and European interference in Ottoman affair go hand in hand. The need to solve the Armenian question and economic jealousy are also related. These causes are believed to have been the main driving force behind the Armenian genocide. The above causes are solid proof that the Armenian genocide happened as the world watched.

Reference list

Akçam, T., The young Turks’ crime against humanity: the Armenian Genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Ottoman empire, Princeton University Press, 2012.
Bloxham, D., The great game of genocide: Imperialism, nationalism, and the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians, Oxford University Press, 2005.
Dadrian, V. N., The history of the Armenian genocide: ethnic conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus, Berghahn Books, 2003.
Derderian, K., ‘Common fate, different experience: Gender-specific aspects of the Armenian genocide, 1915-1917’, Holocaust and genocide studies, vol.19, no. 1, 2005, pp. 1-25.
Ervin, S., The roots of evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Gaunt, D., and J. Bet̲-Şawoce, Massacres, resistance, protectors: muslim-christian relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I, Gorgias Press LLC, 2006.
Hovannisian, R. G. (ed.), The Armenian genocide in perspective, Transaction Publishers, 2009.
Hovannisian, R., ‘The Allies and Armenia, 1915-18,’ Journal of Contemporary History, vol.3, no. 1, 1968, pp. 145-168.
Melson, R., Revolution and genocide: on the origins of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Miller, D., and L. Miller, Survivors: An oral history of the Armenian Genocide, Univ of California Press, 1993.
Weitz, E. D., ‘From the Vienna to the Paris system: International politics and the entangled histories of human rights, forced deportations, and civilizing missions’, The American Historical Review, vol.113, no. 5, 2008, pp. 1313-1343.

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