The Story Of How Armenians Persevered Genocide
The year 1915, 102 years ago this week, marks what most consider as the official start of the Armenian genocide, an event Turkey’s government denies to this day.
Final death toll counts were around 1.5 million Armenians, of around 2 million alive before the genocide. The massacre was so well buried by history that even the U.S, allies of Turkey, didn’t start calling it a genocide until after the new millennium.
To this day, mention of the word genocide with the word Armenia in Turkey can land one in a heap of trouble. The parallels and connections with what would take place in Germany only decades later are uncanny.
Despite the Ottoman Empire’s best efforts to destroy Armenians, they live on to this day, without justice, but without persecution too.
In 2015, a woman by the name of Yevnige Salibian gave an account of the genocide to Public Radio International (PRI). She is one of the last living survivors of what happened under the Ottoman Empire.
“I saw the Turkish people, long whips in their hands … and the children were crying,” Salibian told PRI. “These sounds come into my mind now. … It doesn’t go.”
For the people of Armenian communities, it’s the denial of the genocide that won’t let them rest.
Despite almost all (45) of the U.S. states labeling what happened as genocide, the federal government does not call it that.
The Turkish government admits there were many Armenians killed in the teens, but they insist that it was not systematic.
At one time, before the common era, Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea.
Today, what remains of Armenia is a landlocked remnant, book-ended by Azerbaijan, cut off from the nearest sea by Turkey and Georgia. It was more recently a part of the former Soviet Union but is now an independent nation.
Armenia was the first sovereign nation to adopt Christianity as their national religion, a fact that would later haunt them when occupied by the Ottomans.
Otherwise known as the Turkish Empire, the Ottoman Empire was a Muslim-based empire, ruled by the Caliphate or Muslim leader, who rules with Sharia or Muslim law. The tenants of this law are debated wildly even amongst Muslims.
While the Ottoman Empire controlled the gateway to the east, leveraging trade between Asia and Europe to make money, in time they failed to keep up with the military might of European nations.
They did, however, last long enough to weather the World War I, the time during which the Empire clamped down on the Armenians within their borders.
Fate stacked the deck against the Armenians, much like it was for the Jews in Germany. Armenian families were more educated, more well-off than their Muslim counterparts. This bred a resentment between the two.
Armenian families paid higher taxes for their Christian beliefs, suffered fewer rights than their Muslim counterparts. These tithings didn’t stop their Muslim neighbors from resenting their more successful lives.
The first stab at the genocide took place before the turn of the century, in 1894 and 1896. Responding to Armenian protests over the unfair treatment from the Ottomans, military officials led a siege on Armenian villages.
The Ottomans massacred citizens by the hundreds of thousands, a pittance compared to the onslaught that would follow in 1915.
In 1908, the Young Turks rose to power in the Ottoman Empire. They launched the Turkification of the Empire, starting with the Armenians, one year after Turkey joined the German side in WWI.
Seeing an opportunity, Armenians joined with Russian armies to fight their common enemy, the Young Turks. This only embroiled the situation.
What followed next reads like a recipe written for Hitler.
On April 24, 1915, the Young Turks again rounded up hundreds of thousands of Armenians, this time focusing on the intellectuals. They hit them in the collective brain first, undermining their organization.
Then they went after the masses, marching them through the desert without food or water. The same government organized “killing squads,” who targeted Armenians, killing them any means necessary.
At the same time, they built some 25 concentration camps to capture the survivors. Disease and starvation ran rampant through the camps.
Children whom they didn’t kill went to Turkish families. They were then raised Muslim. Their mothers, if not murdered, the killing squads turned over to human traffickers.
Reports from the field captured mass graves with tens of thousands of bodies piled inside. It’s amazing that anyone escaped alive.
By 1922, fewer than 400,000 remained of the 2 million Armenians who once lived in the Ottoman Empire. They survived like the Jews who survived World War II survived, by hiding, running, and converting wherever they could.
Many fled to the United States or into Russia. Like the Germans would later attempt, the Young Turks tried to cover their tracks, destroying as much evidence of the genocide as they could.
With Turkey’s shared border on the south end of the former Soviet Union, Turkey made a great place to store a few nukes, something we kept covered up for a long time, even when JFK secretly agreed to move them after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
No wonder we’ve not yet called out Turkey on this issue.
When the Ottomans surrendered in 1918, the Young Turks fled to a place where folks would understand them: Germany.
The Germans promised not to extradite them. That didn’t stop Armenian mercenaries from hunting them down and assassinating them James Bond style.
That, as they say, is a story for another blog.