The US President Joe Biden termed the events in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century as ‘ Armenian genocide,’ a term the previous administrations avoided.
“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” said Biden in a statement released on 24th April to commemorate the victims.
In 2019, the US Congress passed the first ever resolution designating the 1915 tragedy in the Ottoman Empire as Armenian genocide. However, the former Presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump avoided using the term.
Turkey has strongly objected to the term genocide. In 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was then the Prime Minister expressed condolences, but refused to use the word genocide. As per Turkey’s version, these incidents are a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties. Akif Cagatay Kilic, the Member of Parliament from the Samsun Province in Turkey, said “thousands of Turkish citizens were brutally massacred by Armenian gangs, as proven by documents in the archives of many different states.” He blamed the Armenian lobby with significant electoral power in the US for the controversy.
What is the Armenian Genocide?
An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were massacred in the erstwhile Ottoman Empire during the Great War. However, despite over a century, having passed the Turkish government has never acknowledged the killings as a genocide.
Hundreds and thousands of Armenians were marched into the deserts of Syria by soldiers of the Ottoman empire between 1915 and 1916, only to be executed in a bid to solve the ‘Armenian Problem.’ While the pages of history have labelled it as ‘genocide’ by the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government however has never officially acknowledged the term, going only as far as referring to the massacres as ‘mass expulsions’ and ‘violent conflicts.’
The downfall of an empire
The two million strong Armenian people were the Ottoman Empires most significant minority groups in terms of total strength, seconded only to the Greeks. The end of the 19th century witnessed the split of territory between the Ottoman, Russian and Persian Empires. As the world was heading towards the first world war in 1914, a surge in nationalistic sentiments began to brew amongst the various ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire, this marked the early warning bells of the empire’s eventual downfall.
Ethnic Armenian merchants and farmers had begun to revolt against what could be perceived as unjust and exorbitant taxation amounts to fund the empire’s military activities, this dissent was violently crushed by Ottoman forces. The historical period between the 1890 and the beginning of the First Great War was a tumultuous era for the ethnic Armenians. Ethnic Kurds, Turks had spearheaded several massacres against the Armenians during that quarter century; guerrilla attacks by Armenian’s were also executed against the Ottoman Empire including the Sultan.
The Armenian Genocide
The First Great War saw the Ottoman military pitted against Czarist Russia. The Czarist military operations against the Ottomans saw participation by Armenian rebels. These ethnic Armenians revolutionaries fought alongside the Russians in hopes that the Russian Czar would reciprocate their military commitments and support their secessionist aims. The Ottoman Empire was of the view that the ethnic Armenians were instrumental in the empires defeat at the hands of the Russians. A year into the war Armenians amidst the Ottoman military rank and file were disbanded and redirected to do help build roads and other hard labour following which they were executed.
Exodus & Mass Extermination
The date 24 April 1915 has been cemented in the annals of history as the day Armenian nationalistic sentiments reached its tipping point with the day witnessing extremely violent raids in the now Turkish city of Istanbul. Ottoman officials spearheaded mass arrests and deportations. The brunt of these were experienced by Armenian intellectuals who formed the bulk of the Armenians elite.
The empires interior minister had clearly stated that the purpose of the operation as the eradication of Armenians from the Ottoman capital. The following month, the military expanded the mass deportation of the remaining ethnic Armenians from the empire’s eastern regions. The official rationale behind the military operation was the that given their secessionist beliefs, the Armenians may facilitate a Russian invasion.
A historic shame
Following the end of the four year long Great War, the once powerful Ottoman Empire had crumbled. In the aftermath of world war one, Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha had officially made a declaration in 1919 that a crime had been committed against the former empires second largest minority group. The empires foreign minister further accepted that around 800,000 ethnic Armenians were mass deported. On April 24, 1920, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, known as the father of modern Turkey, opened the nation’s new parliament in the country’s capital of Ankara stating that the genocide of Armenians a “shameful act of the past.” However, that was the last time any official declaration was made by Turkish officials accepting the blame for the ethnic cleansing.
A globally acknowledged genocide
On 12 January 1951, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defined genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” It has been near unanimously acknowledged by the global historical community and even global powers as a textbook definition of genocide, barring the Turkish government.
Ankara says that it has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia as well as international experts to tackle the issue.
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