The Armenian Genocide was carried out by the "Young Turk" government of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916 (with subsidiaries to 1922-23). One and a half million Armenians were killed, out of a total of two and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Most Armenians in America are children or grandchildren of the survivors, although there are still many survivors amongst us.
Armenians all over the world commemorate this great tragedy on April 24, because it was on that day in 1915 when 300 Armenian leaders, writers, thinkers and professionals in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) were rounded up, deported and killed. Also on that day in Constantinople, 5,000 of the poorest Armenians were butchered in the streets and in their homes.
The Armenian Genocide was masterminded by the Central Committee of the Young Turk Party (Committee for Union and Progress [Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyet, in Turkish]) which was dominated by Mehmed Talât [Pasha], Ismail Enver [Pasha], and Ahmed Djemal [Pasha]. They were a racist group whose ideology was articulated by Zia Gökalp, Dr. Mehmed Nazim, and Dr. Behaeddin Shakir.
The Armenian Genocide was directed by a Special Organization (Teshkilati Mahsusa) set up by the Committee of Union and Progress, which created special "butcher battalions," made up of violent criminals released from prison.
Some righteous Ottoman officials such as Celal, governor of Aleppo; Mazhar, governor of Ankara; and Reshid, governor of Kastamonu, were dismissed for not complying with the extermination campaign. Any common Turks who protected Armenians were killed.
The Armenian Genocide occurred in a systematic fashion, which proves that it was directed by the Young Turk government.
First the Armenians in the army were disarmed, placed into labor battalions, and then killed.
Then the Armenian political and intellectual leaders were rounded up on April 24, 1915, and then killed.
Finally, the remaining Armenians were called from their homes, told they would be relocated, and then marched off to concentration camps in the desert between Jerablus and Deir ez-Zor where they would starve and thirst to death in the burning sun.
On the march, often they would be denied food and water, and many were brutalized and killed by their "guards" or by "marauders." The authorities in Trebizond, on the Black Sea coast, did vary this routine: they loaded Armenians on barges and sank them out at sea.
The Turkish government today denies that there was an Armenian genocide and claims that Armenians were only removed from the eastern "war zone." The Armenian Genocide, however, occurred all over Anatolia [present-day Turkey], and not just in the so-called "war zone." Deportations and killings occurred in the west, in and around Ismid (Izmit) and Broussa (Bursa); in the center, in and around Angora (Ankara); in the south-west, in and around Konia (Konya) and Adana (which is near the Mediterranean Sea); in the central portion of Anatolia, in and around Diyarbekir (Diyarbakir), Harpout (Harput), Marash, Sivas (Sepastia), Shabin Kara-Hissar (þebin Karahisar), and Ourfa (Urfa); and on the Black Sea coast, in and around Trebizond (Trabzon), all of which are not part of a war zone. Only Erzeroum, Bitlis, and Van in the east were in the war zone.
The Armenian Genocide was condemned at the time by representatives of the British, French, Russian, German, and Austrian governments—namely all the major Powers. The first three were foes of the Ottoman Empire, the latter two, allies of the Ottoman Empire. The United States, neutral towards the Ottoman Empire, also condemned the Armenian Genocide and was the chief spokesman in behalf of the Armenians.
The American people, via local Protestant missionaries, did the most to save the wretched remnants of the death marches, the orphaned children.
Despite Turkish denial, there is no doubt about the Armenian Genocide. For example, German ambassador Count von Wolff-Metternich, Turkey's ally in World War I, wrote his government in 1916 saying: "The Committee [of Union and Progress] demands the annihilation of the last remnants of the Armenians and the [Ottoman] government must bow to its demands."
German consuls stationed in Turkey, including Vice Consul Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richner of Erzerum [Erzurum] who was Adolf Hitler's chief political advisor in the 1920s, were eyewitnesses. Hitler said to his generals on the eve of sending his Death's Heads units into Poland, "Go, kill without mercy . . . who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians."
Henry Morgenthau Sr., the neutral American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, sent a cable to the U.S. State Department in 1915:
"Deportation of and excesses against peaceful Armenians is increasing and from harrowing reports of eye witnesses [sic] it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion."
Morgenthau's successor as Ambassador to Turkey, Abram Elkus, cabled the U.S. State Department in 1916 that the Young Turks were continuing an ". . . unchecked policy of extermination through starvation, exhaustion, and brutality of treatment hardly surpassed even in Turkish history."
Only one Turkish government, that of Damad Ferit Pasha, has ever recognized the Armenian genocide. In fact, that Turkish government held war crimes trials and condemned to death the major leaders responsible.
The Turkish court concluded that the leaders of the Young Turk government were guilty of murder. "This fact has been proven and verified." It maintained that the genocidal scheme was carried out with as much secrecy as possible. That a public facade was maintained of "relocating" the Armenians. That they carried out the killing by a secret network. That the decision to eradicate the Armenians was not a hasty decision, but "the result of extensive and profound deliberations."
Ismail Enver Pasha, Ahmed Cemal Pasha, Mehmed Talât Bey, and a host of others were convicted by the Turkish court and condemned to death for "the extermination and destruction of the Armenians."
The Permanent People's Tribunal recognized the Armenian Genocide on April 16, 1984.
The European Parliament voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide on June 18, 1987.
President Bush issued a news release in 1990 calling on all Americans to join with Armenians on April 24 in commemorating "the more than a million Armenian people who were victims."
President Clinton issued a news release on April 24, 1994, to commemorate the "tragedy" that befell the Armenians in 1915.
The Russian Duma (the lower house of the bicameral Russian legislature) voted on April 20, 1994, to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Israel officially condemned the Armenian Genocide as Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin proclaimed on the floor of the Knesset (the Israeli legislature), on April 27, 1994, in answer to the claims of the Turkish Ambassador, that "It was not war. It was most certainly massacre and genocide, something the world must remember."
The Armenian genocide is similar to the Jewish holocaust in many respects. Both people adhere to an ancient religion. Both were religious minorities of their respective states. Both have a history of persecution. Both have new democracies. Both are surrounded by enemies. Both are talented and creative minorities who have been persecuted out of envy and obscurantism.
• The Republic of Turkey must cease to be the only major country in the world to deny the Armenian Genocide.
• The Republic of Turkey must show good will by allowing American aid to present-day Armenia to pass through unhindered.
• The Republic of Turkey must cease to train Azerbaijani soldiers in Turkey for the purpose of attacking Armenia.
April 3, 1996.
Reproduced with permission from the Knights of Vartan Armenian Research Center, The University of Michigan, Dearborn.
P.S. I'll post the story of Arschile Gorky later.