The 1915 in the history of the Armenian people is marked by blood. That year marked the beginning of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire, which killed about 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. Historians now recognize the Armenian Genocide as one of the first genocides in the modern sense of the word in the history of the modern world.
However, as every major event in history, the Armenian Genocide has its causes and circumstances. We invite you to get acquainted with the events and processes that eventually led to the dreadful massacres that began in 1915.
The situation of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 2.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, mostly in six provinces of Eastern Anatolia. Armenians did not form a majority in any of the regions, and the position of the diaspora in the Empire in the late 19th century and at the end of the 20th century was very similar to that of the Jews in Europe.
Despite the fact that the present-day territory of Eastern Turkey was shared by Armenian Christians and Kurds for many centuries, the life of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire was difficult and, in some cases, unbearable.
This diaspora was rarely treated fairly, as in many cases local courts tended to favor Muslims. The crimes of the nomadic Kurds against the Armenians, such as the expropriation of land or other property, the imposition of much higher taxes, violence, kidnappings, forced “convertion” to Islam, etc., did not receive any attention of the authorities.
Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were constantly oppressed, despite their dhimmi status, which had to guarantee certain freedoms to Christians, however, it was practically worthless.
The Turks considered Armenians to be second-class citizens, unequal to Muslims, so their testimonies against Muslims were not accepted in court, they were forbidden to carry weapons, to ride horses, camels, even their religious practices were restricted - church bells were strictly forbidden.
The vast majority of Armenians were poor peasants, but few succeeded as merchants and artisans. The involvement of Armenians in the international trade in the 17th - 18th centuries led to the establishment of settlements of the Armenian community in Istanbul and other Ottoman port cities.
Few Armenian families in the 18th-19th centuries managed to take important positions in banking and trade, or even in authorities. This nation paid special attention to the importance of science, so the Armenian elite became the object of Muslim dissatisfaction that eventually led to mistrust.
Ottoman authorities' steps towards the Genocide
Young Armenian activists, many of them from the Caucasus part of Russia, sought to protect their compatriots suffering in the Ottoman Empire by campaigning for an independent state.
In 1887 and 1890, they formed two revolutionary parties (the Bell and the Federation). Indeed, none of them received widespread support among the Armenians of present-day eastern Turkey, but such revolutionary activities caused fear and anxiety among Muslims.
The first large-scale attack on Armenians was in 1894, when they refused to pay the taxes that oppressed them.
Back then, the government used the armed forces of the Empire and Kurdish tribes to kill thousands of Armenians. In the following year, the Armenian demonstration in Istanbul was stopped at gunpoint, and the culmination of the terrible attacks, known as the Hamidian massacre, was the burning of 3,000 Armenians hiding in Urfa Cathedral.
In 1894-1896, the massacres took up to 200 thousand Armenian lives, but this was far from the end, rather the end of the beginning.
Incomprehensible crimes against humanity, mainly, the Genocide of a particular nation, were the efforts of the ruling elite to maintain political and economic control in the country.
The Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turks is completely unjustifiable, but totally explicable.
The turmoil inside the Empire and the shattering hopes of the Armenians
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire experienced difficult times, more precisely, the beginning of the collapse of the empire.
The country was losing its territories, the threats of Austria and Russia and their desire to expand their influence in the region had grown, and the number of refugees from lost territories had grown at an enormous rate, in short, the situation had become virtually unmanageable.
In such cases, the "faltering government" needs a scapegoat, which in the case of the Ottoman Empire was the Armenian community.
There was also a turmoil in the political life of the Empire. In 1908, the Sultan was overthrown by the Ottoman Revolutionary Group, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which was welcomed by Armenians for its tolerance of non-Muslims, the restoration of the constitutional monarchy, and its ambitions to modernize the country by European standards.
However, the influence of CUP nationalist extremists increased over time and liberal-minded Turks were expelled from the Committee.
After the defeat in the First Balkan War (1912-1913), the most radical members emerged - Cemal Paşa, Enver Paşa and Talat Paşa - who were far from considering Armenians and other minorities in the country as equals to the Turks. The Armenians were even considered as a potential fifth column - they were blamed for the defeat in the war.
Red Sunday or the Armenian Genocide
With the outbreak of World War I, the situation began to worsen. The anti-Armenian ideology spread by the authorities and, in general, the anti-Christian propaganda were the first steps towards the Armenian Genocide. Armenians were portrayed as the greatest threat to the security of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1915, on the night of April 23-24, known as Red Sunday, the Ottoman government imprisoned about 250 Armenian intellectuals and then gradually killed all of them. This was the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, which claimed more than 1.5 million lives.
The Armenian people had to endure the mass deportations from the East to the Syrian desert, deaths from hunger, systemic massacres, sexual abuse, trafficking in women and young girls, and even more heinous crimes during the First World War in the Ottoman Empire.
At the end of the war, more than 90% of the Armenian population of the country disappeared- most of them were killed, and the "lucky ones" managed to escape and settle abroad.
The property and homes of the missing Armenians were taken over by Muslim refugees, the women that survived were forced to "convert" to Islam and thousands of orphans found refuge abroad.
Today, various Armenian communities continue to seek global recognition for the Genocide, as so far only 29 countries and 49 U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide.
Unfortunately, Turkey does not have any intentions to recognise it. At least for now.