History Content for the Future

Genocides: Armenia

HISTORIC GENOCIDES #6: The Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1922

During the First World War, the largely Christian Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire was publicly accused of acting as spies and saboteurs for the enemy.

Laws were authorized that allowed the Ottoman military and government to deport any Armenians they saw as a threat. Another law was also signed, which stated that all property including businesses, livestock, and homes owned by Armenians was to be confiscated by Ottoman authorities, removing them from their homes and expropriating their wealth.

Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were rounded up and marched to concentration camps. Many died during the march from exhaustion, starvation, and exposure to extreme weather conditions, traversing through the mountains and deserts. Beatings, rapes, and outright massacres by Ottoman authorities en route were not uncommon. Those who made it to the camps found that conditions were not much better there, with food and water being withheld, and regular outbreaks of disease.

Anywhere from 600,000 to 1.8 million Armenians (out of an initial population of approximately 2.1 million living in the Ottoman Empire) died during the death marches, in concentration camps, or were massacred by Ottoman forces from 1915 to 1922.

Newspapers, like the New York Times, explicitly referred to Ottoman actions at the time as a “policy of extermination”. Raphael Lemkin, the lawyer who created the term ‘genocide’ and its legal definition was in part influenced to do so by the attempted extermination of the Armenians. He eventually coined the term in 1943.

Image: Armenian refugees in Syria in 1915. An Armenian child lies dead in the fields within sight of help and safety at Aleppo. (Library of Congress, American Committee for Relief in the Near East).

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