Frequently Asked Questions - Background
This section contains some of the most frequently asked questions about the 1915 genocide. They are divided into different categories, which you can browse through the menu to the right.
2 What was the Armenian question?
3 How long have Armenians lived in the area and how many were there before the genocide?
4 What was the Millet system?
5 What were the reasons for the massacres and the persecutions?
6 Who were responsible and carried out the genocide?
7 Who were the Young Turks?
8 What was the so-called Triumvirate?
9 What was Teshkilati Mahsusa?
10 What happened on April 24 which is the annual commemoration day?
11 How was the genocide implemented?
12 In what other ways than massacres and deportations was the genocide carried out?
13 Did the assault and the abuse cease with the end of the World War?
14 What was the outcome of the genocide and how many died?
15 Were there any eyewitnesses to the genocide?
16 Were there any reactions from the contemporary world?
17 What happened at the end of the war when Turkey surrendered?
18 What was the Sevres Treaty?
19 What was the Lausanne Treaty?
20 What role did religion play in the genocide?
21 What was Operation Nemesis?
22 What happened to the individuals primarily responsible for the genocide?
23 Who were ASALA and JCAG?
24 Where all the Turks and Kurds guilty of the assaults and the abuse?
25 What role did the Kurds have in the genocide?
26 Was it a single genocide or talk we talk about three different genocides?
27 Which present-day consequences has the genocide resulted in?
28 How is the Karabakh conflict related to the Armenian genocide?
29 Are Seyfo the same thing as the 1915 genocide?
The events of World War I in the Ottoman Empire, where approximately two million Christian inhabitants were killed or disappeared traceless, are usually described as the 1915 genocide or the Armenian genocide since the Armenians constituted up to 1.5 million of these victims. The genocide practically emptied the Ottoman Empire and current Turkey from its Christian population, leaving an almost entirely Muslim/Turkish Turkey. Genocide is considered to have been intended as a solution to the Armenian Question (see question 2), but also other minorities in the Ottoman Turkey, mainly Christian Assyrians/Syrians/Chaldeans and Greeks suffered as well (compare with the Holocaust that primarily affected Jews, but also Roma)
With the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire from early 1800s, when the Christian nations in the Balkans began to free themselves from Turkish rule (Greece, 1829; Montenegro, 1851; Romania, 1856; Serbia, 1878; Bulgaria, 1878), the so-called Orient Question was born. It was referring to the Turkish Empire's disintegration and the rivalry in which the Great Powers struggled for the control of the important Bosporus and Dardanelles, the strait that controls the fairway to and from the entire Black Sea region. The Armenian Question was part of the Orient Question since the Armenians demanded fair treatment in face of the corrupt Ottoman misrule that prevailed in the empire. The Armenians demanded, among other things, guarantees for their lives and property from attacks by Kurdish tribes. These tribes supported themselves by forced and illegal taxes they exacted from the Armenian population in the empire.But the Ottoman government refused to accept any kind of reforms in the Armenian provinces (see question 3). It was done out of fear that a loosening of the subjugation of the Christian Armenians in the long term would mean the loss of Armenia, as had already happened with the other Christian nations in the Balkans.
Armenian presence in the region dates back to the Indo-European peoples' migration, between 2000 and 3000 B.C. The first known mention of Armenia is dated to the year 521 B.C., namely in the Persian king Darius I's clay tablet in Persepolis. The designation of Armenia and the Armenian Highlands has since then been used for the area which today consists of the eastern and southeastern Turkey. Armenia has thus, as a country or nation, been around for over 2,500 years. However, some also include the kingdom of Urartu, as the forerunner of today's Armenians, i.e., the people who were assimilated by the Indo-European Armenians who came to the area. Armenia has been independent state to and from since around 10th century B.C. and one could mention four royal dynasties, five including Urartu (see map 1 and 2 below):
- Kingdom Urartu, about 900 to 500 BC
- Dynasty Artashisian, Armenia's first royal dynasty, 190 B.C. - 12 B.C.
- Dynasty Arshakounian, Armenia's second royal dynasty, 53 A.D. to 423.
- Dynasty Bagratounian, Armenia's third royal dynasty, 862-1045.
- Dynasty Roubinian, Armenia's fourth royal dynasty, Cilicia, 1187-1375
For periods when the country lost its independence, it was most often under Persian, Roman, Byzantian or Arab rule, or as vassal state to one of these empires. This pattern was repeated until the arrival of the Turkish tribes to the Armenian Highlands (11th century) and Ottoman Turkish conquest of Armenia (16th century).
The Turks themselves (until the First World War and in Turkish maps until 1920s) referred to the area as Armenia (Turkish Ermenistan) and later Armenian County (Turkish Ermeni elayeten) or the Armenian provinces (Turkish vilayets). This part is usually also referred to as Western Armenia or Turkish Armenia, while Eastern Armenia (basically the Republic of Armenia today) was the part in the Russian Empire. The reforms, as called for in the agreements of San Stefano and Berlin (1878), following the Turkish defeat in the wars against Russia, were for the six Armenian provinces in eastern part of the empire, namely, Van, Bitlis, Diyarbakir, Kharpout, Sivas and Erzurum. Here Armenians constituted an absolute majority (more than Turks and Kurds together), namely in Van and Bitlis, while they were in relative majority (less than Turks and Kurds together, but larger when compared to each group separately) in the remaining provinces. These six provinces, and the province of Cilicia (Adana) on the Mediterranean coast, were thereby the homeland on which they had established four kingdoms (see Map 2) and periodically been independent, until the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Asia Minor during the 1500s. Statistics relating to the population in the Ottoman Empire is inexact because it was based on religious communities rather than ethnicity. However, various studies from contemporary foreign scholars, travelers, Armenian Church reports and custom Ottoman figures witness about a total population of about two million.
The Ottoman Empire was not divided into different ethnic groups based on the people who had been conquered and integrated into the Empire, but according to their creed. Although "millet" was Turkish for "people" or "nation", the population of the empire was divided in accordance with peoples' religious beliefs. This division was associated also with the administrative rule of the empire, among others in the judiciary and tax collection. Every millet had a leader responsible for the administration of their members, such as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch who was responsible for all Greeks but also Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbs, Albanians, Romanians and others while the Armenian Patriarch was responsible for Armenians but also for the Copts in Egypt etc.
The massacres were an attempt to create a new homogenous Turkish state. The former ethnic and religious diversity that characterized the Ottoman Empire, had in the accelerating decomposition of the empire from early 1800s, disappeared, namely when the Christian nations in the Balkans began to free themselves and proclaim independence. This made the Ottoman Empire, from being multi-religious, now converted to a virtually Muslim empire (except for the Armenian, Assyrian/Syrian/Caldeans and Greeks). It did not take long until the Arabs of North Africa and the Middle East rebelled and freed themselves. The Ottoman Empire was now almost entirely Muslim, and more importantly, overwhelmingly a Turkish state, i.e. the Turkey today. An attempt to restore the empire's greatness by creating an Islamic empire at the end of the 1800s had failed. Turkish leaders realized that the only way to compensate for the lost territories was to expand eastward and establish a pure Turkish state.But there was an obvious obstacle on the road, namely the Christian non-Turkish Armenia. The desired homogenization was initially attempted to realize by Turkification (or as it is also called Ottomanization) all inhabitants. This was achieved through forced assimilation and forced conversion of minorities in the country and when that did not yield results quickly enough - massacres and persecutions.
The genocide of the Armenians began long before 1915. During the years 1894-1896 massacres approximately 150,000 Armenians were murdered and a further 100,000 Armenians were forced to leave their homes. More than 2,500 communities were emptied completely on their Armenian inhabitants and about 500,000 Armenians were impoverished totally when the Turks and Kurds confiscated their property. The massacres ended only when the pressure from the European powers increased and they threatened to military intervene in the same way they had done in the Christian Balkan countries.
However, the main massacres would wait until 1915, when the new Young Turk government (see question 7) had come to power after a coup in 1908. The cover of the ongoing world war in Europe was the perfect opportunity to solve the Armenian issue for good. The then Swedish Ambassador in Constantinople, Cosswa Anckarsvärd, made the following report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "everything indicates that the Young Turks would like to take this opportunity, since due to different reasons no effective pressure is to be feared, to once and for all put an end to the Armenian question. The means for this are quite simple and consist of the annihilation of the Armenian nation." The state-organized genocide was carried out also through the mobilization of Kurdish armed forces and by arousing Kurdish nomadic tribes to massacre and plunder Armenians on their property.
The Young Turks is really the Western denomination for the Turkish party "Committee of Union and Progress" (Ittihad ve terakki). This committee consisted mainly of officers, military doctors and nationalist politicians and administrators who were opposed to the contemporary autocrat, Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The party eventually came to be led by an extremely small circle consisting mainly of Talaat Pasha (Minister of Interior and Grand Vizier), Enver Pasha (Minister of War), Djemal Pasha (Marine Minister and Governor of Syria), Dr. Nazim and Dr. Shakir (two of the party's main ideologues). This closed group saw to it that they removed all opposition, both within and outside the party, something that could almost be compared to how the Nazis came to power in Germany. By brutally eliminating all liberal parties the Ottoman Parliament came to simply consist only of their own party members. Meanwhile disobedient elements were purged. The rulers handpicked key personnel in the police and army corps and made sure to build a network of people who were extremely loyal to the leadership and always obeyed orders. This is demonstrated in one of the reports that the Swedish Ambassador, Anckarsvärd, sent home to Sweden, in which he extensively reported on the Committee's program and the various key individuals.From 1908 this committee was in full control of everything that happened in Turkey and was thus able to implement a large-scale genocide when the opportunity arose, just as the Nazis were going to do 25 years later.
The so-called triumvirate consisted of Ottoman Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, Minister of War Enver Pasha and Minister for the Marine and also the Governor of Syria and Palestine, Djemal Pasha. These three, together with some few other Turkish leaders formed the inner circle of the Young Turk regime and were ultimately responsible for the planning and the execution of the genocide in the Ottoman Empire. These were members of the Committee of Union and Progress (Turkish Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti) who in the 1908 revolution and later in a coup in 1913 took power in Turkey and ruled the empire with a rod of iron. They purged the military and police forces from all disloyal individuals and manned these positions with their own loyal people, while eliminating all the liberal opposition parties and rivals within the Committee of Union and Progress. Thus, in 1914 they had full control over the events within the empire and could orchestrate a genocide.
Teshkilati Mahsusa (Turkish "special organization") was an organization in the Ottoman War Department, made up of special forces and head of counterintelligence and the predecessor of modern Turkey's security forces. Teshkilati Mahsusa was also in charge of the execution of the massacre of the Armenian population. In addition to trained agents and soldiers, the organization consisted of pardoned murderers, rapists and other criminals who were released from prison, received a short weapon training and put in special units, which participated in the massacres of the Armenians. Teshkilati Mahsusa is most closely compared with the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, a kind of death squads, which during World War II were primarily responsible for the killing of the Jews.
The night towards April 24, 1915 marked the first phase of the genocide, which is in present-day research usually described as eliticide (compare with genocide) and refers to the annihilation of the elite of the targeted group. Up to 250 doctors, lawyers, politicians, government officials, teachers, writers, poets and other intellectuals who could become the core of a future resistance, were arrested overnight and executed within 72 hours. Only in Constantinople (modern Istanbul and then the capital of the empire) 2,345 Armenian intellectuals were arrested and executed in the following weeks. This was the start of the genocide. Therefore April 24 is the annual commemoration day of the Armenian genocide.
Once the core and the leadership of a possible resistance was gone, it was time to remove the working Armenian male population, the one who could rise up in resistance during a future phase. All Armenian men aged 20-45 years (August 1914) and later men between 18-20 and 45-60 had been drafted to serve in the Ottoman Army. Only females and males under 18 and over 60 were left.In early 1915, the Armenian soldiers were disarmed and placed in labor battalions where they were severely abused. In February 1915, the Turkish Government ordered these labor battalions to be liquidated, and by July 1915 approximately 200,000 Armenian soldiers had been murdered.It was only after the Armenian community had been paralyzed by removing the leaders and the men that the main phase of the extermination project by mass deportations and massacres of the helpless civilian population commenced. The Armenian population now consisted mainly of women, children and men over the age of 60.Women were raped or abducted or sold in slave markets to Turkish and Kurdish harems. Many women and girls committed suicide by jumping off cliffs and into rivers to escape this fate. Women, children and old people were gathered in the town churches which then were set on fire. As soon as the caravans of the deportees arrived outside the city and out of sight, they were attacked the Kurdish bands. With the support of Turkish soldiers they massacred the Armenians and looted them on both property and even clothing. Those who survived the massacre died of starvation and diseases during the long marches towards the Syrian and the Mesopotamian deserts. Assyrians/Syrians met the same fate, while the massacres of Pontic Greeks were mainly carried out during the years 1921-1923, i.e. during the period when Mustafa Kemal took power in the country and finished what the Turkish rulers had started during World War I.
Genocide, besides the actual physical destruction of the members of the target group, aims also to erase all traces of the target group's identity, through forced assimilation. In the Armenian case, it was mainly women and children who were forced to convert to Islam, adopting Turkish or Kurdish names and thus lost their Armenian identity over time. Another measure of the genocidal process is deleting all traces of the population who have been massacred or driven away by such deportations. This includes destruction of all buildings and monuments while renaming all the names of villages, towns, rivers, and other things that can attest to the presence of Armenians in the area. In 1914, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople presented a list of Armenian sacred places that were under his supervision. The list contained 2,549 religious sites of which 200 were monasteries while 1,600 were churches. A survey in 1974 showed that only 916 Armenian churches could be identified within Turkey's borders, half of which were almost completely destroyed and among the rest only ruins of 252 items remained. The authorities have also renamed almost all villages, towns, mountains, and rivers in Armenia and changed their historical Armenian name to Turkish ones. This policy continues even in our days when, for example, the Turkish Interior Ministry announced in 2005 that it would rename certain animal Latin names since they had "separatist tendencies". Armeniana Ovis (sheep) would be renamed Ovis orientalis Anatolicus, while Capreolus Capreolus Armenus (deer) would be called Capreolus Capreolus capreolus. Even Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica (red fox) was to be renamed Vulpes Vulpes. The proposal was rejected by UNDP, the UN agency in charge of these data, referring to the unfounded the Turkish reasons for the changes.
No, the massacres, the deportations and the confiscation of the victims' property continued long into the 1930s, when the new Kemalist leadership in Turkey completed the Young Turk policy of cleansing Turkey from its Christian indigenous population, with the slogan "Turkey for Turks". In addition to continuing massacres, which now also expanded beyond Turkey's borders (between 200,000 to 300,000 were killed in Caucasus Armenia as well as thousands of Assyrians/Syrians in the Persian province of Urmia). Another more sophisticated measure was to provide the surviving Ottoman Armenians with passports allowing them to traveled out of Turkey without the possibility of re-entry. So when they left the country, mainly crossing the border with Lebanon and Syria, in the belief that they were allowed to return when the situation inside Turkey had stabilized, they were refused entry upon return and their property was seized by the newly introduced laws that gave the state the right to confiscate "abandoned property".
The genocide continued throughout the period 1915-1923, but the main part was implemented between 1915 and 1916. All in all, it was about 1.5 million Armenians, out of a population of approximately 2 million in the then Ottoman Empire deported, massacred or completely disappeared from the areas they had inhabited for more than two millennia. In 1923, for the first time in over 2,800 years, the Armenians no longer lived on 85% of their native land (see Map 2). The victims usually include the women and girls who were sold to Muslim harems. Another group consist of women and children forcibly converted to Islam, who adopted Turkish and Kurdish names to escape death. After the Armenian Army re-occupied the region after the war, only in Bitlis and Mush, the Armenian government in Yerevan, through the fund "A Gold Piece for an Armenian" could recover between 5,000 and 6,000 Armenian women and children, who had forcibly converted to Islam and lived among Turkish and Kurdish families.This action was however suspended soon after the Kemalist army's offensive against Armenia. It is estimated that about 250,000 Assyrians/Syrians/Chaldeans and equal number of Greeks fell victim for the genocide. This allows the 1915 genocide to actually be termed as a "successful genocide" because in 1923 it left a virtually pure Turkish Turkey.
There were plenty of eyewitnesses who later told of the terrible massacres and the deportation of the Armenians and had even taken pictures of what had happened. Among these were Christian missionaries, doctors, nurses, school and university teachers from Turkey's allied countries such as Germany and Austria-Hungary, but also people from neutral countries like USA, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, who happened to be in the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, there were several German and Austro-Hungarian officers and soldiers in the Ottoman Army, not to mention all the foreign ambassadors and diplomats present in the contemporary capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul). Others were stationed in various consulates around the country. Many of these reported incessantly about the ongoing violence and massacres. Several published reports and memoirs, books, and photographs of the events.
Yes, there was. When news of the terrible massacres reached the outside world via foreign missionaries and diplomats in Turkey, Britain, France and Russia, issued a joint warning about the ongoing massacres and its consequences. The ultimatum was of May 24, 1915 read: "Such massacres have taken place from mid-April at Erzurum, Terdjan, Eghine, Bitlis, Moush, Sasoun, Zeytoun, and in all of Cilicia. The inhabitants of approximately a hundred villages in the vicinity of Van all have been killed and the Armenian quarter of Van besieged by Kurds. At the same time, the Ottoman government has acted ruthlessly against the defenceless Armenian population of Constantinople. In view of this new crime of Turkey against humanity and civilisation, the Allied Governments make known publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold all the members of the Turkish government as well as those officials who have participated in these massacres, personally responsible."This is actually the first time that the concept of "crimes against humanity" was used officially in an international context. It would become the starting point for history's first tribunals for not only war criminals but also "crimes against humanity", thus predating the Nuremberg trials after World War II. For information see question 18.
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With the signing of the ceasefire agreement in Mudros on October 30, 1918, Turkey surrendered. At this stage Turkey was in the situation similar to that of Germany after World War II. The general public learned about the extent of the persecutions and the country was in deep anguish and regret about what that had happened and also began to demand the punishment of the guilty parties. Hundreds of political and military leaders were arrested and accused of war crimes. Several of the leading Young Turks, however, had already managed to flee the country, knowing what was to come. The ultimatum at the beginning of the war (see question 16) was realized in the Sevres Treaty (see question 18), which was signed on August 10, 1920. Article 228 stated the Allied right to punish the guilty Turks, while Article 230 stated Turkey's obligation to hand over suspects to the Allies. Trials were held and several leaders were sentenced to death while others received lengthy sentences for their crimes. Enver, Talaat and Djemal and a range of other leading figures within the Young Turk Party who have already fled the country were sentenced to death in absentia. But as soon as the new Nationalist movement, led by Mustafa Kemal, seized the power in Turkey, they halted the trials. All suspects were acquitted, including those already found guilty. The persecutions against the Christians resumed with the result that Turkey in 1923 (Republic's proclamation) was almost completely cleansed from non-Turkish population, with the exception of the Kurds.
The Sevres Treaty was the peace agreement signed on August 10, 1920, between Turkey and the victorious powers, including Armenia. Section six, with six articles, pertained to Armenia and its relations with Turkey, while Article 228 stated the Allied right to punish the guilty Turks. Article 230 stated Turkey's obligation to surrender suspects to the Allies.The mandate to determine the border between Armenia and Turkey was given to US President Woodrow Wilson who announced his arbitrary rule on November 22, 1920 (see Map 1). But all this changed when the Kemalist movement seized power and denounced the already signed treaty and in violation of the existing ceasefire agreement in Mudros attacked the Republic of Armenia. The nationalist Kemalists, who had overthrown the government in Constantinople and proclaimed their own government in Ankara, forced a revision of the Sevres Treaty articles. This conference, held in Lausanne, resulted in a new treaty (July 23, 1923) where everything that had to do with Armenia was deleted. As Winston Churchill puts it "In the Lausanne Treaty, which established a new peace between the allies and Turkey, history will search in vain for the name Armenia."
After the nationalist Kemalists came to power in Turkey in 1920, one of their top priorities was to stop the creation of a united Armenia in accordance with the provisions of the Sevres Treaty (see question 18). The new leaders in Turkey, with various promises to the great powers, managed successfully to convene a new meeting to revise the Sevres Treaty. But when the negotiations started in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Turks pushed for the annulling of the Sevres Treaty and replacing it with a completely new treaty. The Turkish delegation achieved great success during those negotiations. One of these was to exclude the Armenians completely from the negotiations and even threaten to leave the negotiations if the Allies insisted even to raise Armenia-related issues. The Lausanne Treaty did not even mention the Turkish minority groups by name, but referred only to "non-Muslim minorities".
Although the genocide victims were mainly from the Christian minorities, it would be wrong to suggest that religion was the basic reason for it. Like so many other cases, religion was used to justify the actions and mobilize public opinion against the target group. The real reason behind the genocide was ultra-nationalist currents that strove for the creation of a "Turkey for Turks" in which the non-Turkish and non-Muslim minorities, especially those with strong cultural and ethnic identities, mostly Armenians but also Assyrians/Syrians/Chaldeans and the Greeks who had thousands of years of history and background in the region could not be assimilated and therefore must be eliminated physically. Although the Ottoman leaders declared holy war, jihad, against the Christian allies, one should not see this as a real reason, but as a propaganda measure to mobilize the empire's Muslim majority, especially since Turkey's allies were Christian states of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The religion was used as a pretext and a kind of lubricant in order to get support from the Muslim majority and means for easier singling out the target group (see also4).
For a short period just after the war ended in 1918, it seemed that the international community would keep its promise from 1915 and prosecute those responsible for the massacres and deportations. But, when the Turkish nationalists took power, they managed to convince the Great Powers to ignore the Armenian issues and instead secure their own political and economic interests related to the new Turkish Republic. At the same time, most of the key people behind the genocide fled Turkey and went into hiding abroad. It was then that the Armenians formed a secret society consisting of genocide survivors who planned and executed the hunt for those guilty persons and assassinating them. This operation came to be named after the Greek goddess of vengeance, Nemesis.
By the end of October 1918 the Turkish leaders realized that defeat was inevitable. Aware of the fact that they would be brought to justice for the committed war crimes, Talaat, Enver, Behaeddin Shakir along with thirty other Young Turks, they chose to flee to Germany where they could avoid extradition to the victorious powers. Some of them traveled to other countries. During the court proceedings after the war had ended in 1918 nearly all of them were found guilty of treason, massacres, war crimes, etc. and the majority of them were sentenced in absentia to death. However, the members of the Operation Nemesis (see question 21) were able to trace several of those in their hidings. Talaat was killed in Berlin in 1921 while Djemal Nezmi (Governor of Trabizon) and Behaeddin Shakir were shot to death in Berlin in 1922. Djemal Pasha (Governor of Syria) was killed in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 1922. Enver is said to have been killed in fighting with the Red Army in Tajikistan while pursuing his dream of creating a Greater Turan (see Map 2). However, with the nationalist movement's seizure of power in Turkey, all trials and convictions were annulled. The remains of Talaat, Djemal and the others who had fallen victim to the Armenian revenge actions were gradually transferred to Turkey where they were given state funerals and proclaimed as national heroes and got several parks, schools and other institutions named to their memories.
ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and JCAG (Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide) were both terror stamped Armenian militant organizations which were active between 1975 and the late 1980s. Together they performed hundreds of armed actions aimed against Turkish diplomats and government officials around the world and were responsible for the killing of forty diplomats and dozens of civilians. Both groups were formed shortly after the 78 year old Armenian and genocide survivor Gurgen Yanikian had killed two Turkish consuls in California (USA) in 1973. After shooting the two consuls, Yanikian called the local police and surrendered voluntarily. Later in the trial Yanikian claimed that the deed was for drawing international attention to the forgotten Armenian genocide, arguing that "other people had their Nuremberg while we never got one of our own" with reference to the Holocaust and the subsequent trials of Nazi leaders who were responsible for the Jewish genocide. Even ASALA and JCAG justified their actions with similar arguments. These organizations' formation and actions can be seen as a result of the disregard of the victim group's needs for an appropriate recognition for the experienced trauma and how it may culminate in frustration and desperate measures such as bombings and political assassinations. It should be emphasized that both group's very last armed actions coincided with European Parliament's official recognition in 1987, the so-far highest international official recognition of the genocide.
Far from it. Research shows that, like the Holocaust where many Germans risked their own lives by helping Jews escape death, there were many examples of Turkish, Kurdish and Arab families who adopted children or protected persecuted people, thus saving them from certain death. There are documented cases where governors who refused to follow government orders on the massacres were replaced and even cases were officials who refused to obey the directives were murdered. However, as in the case of the Holocaust, these are in a clear minority.
Kurdish tribes had since the late 1800s exploited by the Turkish government in the subjugation of the Armenians. This began in the 1890s when armed Kurds, demanding illegal taxes from Armenian peasants, went on to attack when the Armenians refused to pay and made armed resistance (see question 6). During the 1915 genocide, the Kurdish tribes, the majority of them being nomadic pastoralists, were encouraged to attack the Armenians deportation caravans and in return they could keep the victims' clothing and belongings. Even the houses and estates that remained abandoned after the massacres and deportations could be taken over by both Turks and Kurds. With that said, it should be noted that not all Kurds (or Turks) participated in the genocide, but there were also many cases where they helped Armenians by hiding or adopting their children and thus at least rescued children from certain death (see question 24).
Although the collective term used is the 1915 genocide, some researchers prefer to talk about three different genocides that affected the respective community: Armenians, which were the Turkish government's explicit target and a mean to get rid of the "Armenian Question" which arose already in 1876 at the San Stefano Conference and later in the Berlin Treaty; Assyrians/Syrians/Chaldeans, who after the Armenians and the Greeks constituted the remaining part of the Christian minority in the Ottoman Empire; Greeks in Anatolia and Pontic Greeks on the Black Sea coast, who were subjected to similar massacres and deportations during the period 1923-1925. Thus, it was the new republic and not the old Ottoman government who was in charge of this part of the events. This is a clear link between the offenses conducted by the two different Turkish governments.
Genocide meant first and foremost that several ethnic groups (Armenians, Assyrians/Syrians and Greeks) disappeared from areas they had called their homeland for thousands of years. While a large part of the Greeks moved to Greece and some of the Armenians were given shelter in the Republic of Armenia (later Soviet republic), the majority of Armenians and Assyrians/Syriacs were dispersed worldwide, creating the Diaspora we see today. Of today's estimated nine million Armenians in the world, only about three million live in Armenia. In addition to the loss of 85% of Armenia's historical territory, the subsequent agreements between the Soviet Union and Turkey regarding the borderlines of the Caucasus and Armenia, created the hotbed of conflict, among others, in the existing controversy over present-day border between Armenia and Turkey (see question 92) but also the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.Genocide virtually exterminated the Armenian intellectual layer when politicians, poets, writers, teachers, doctors and others were killed during the genocide (see question 10). This created a vacuum among the Armenian elite which needed decades to repair. Deletion of the Western Armenian institutions meant that the Western Armenian language (official language of present-day Armenia is Eastern Armenian) and its literature is among the enlisted endangered languages.Similar factors may be attributed for the other affected communities, such as the Pontian Greek which is also considered as an endangered language.
The roots of the Karabakh conflict go back to the days of the genocide and its immediate aftermath. Shortly after the First World War was the Bolshevik leadership in Moscow was hoping that Turkey would be their next big expansion. To appease Turkey, Russians chose to annex Karabakh, as well as Nakhchivan, both recognized integral parts of the then Republic of Armenia in 1919-1920, to Azerbaijan, Turk's closest cousins in the Transcaucasus (Kars treaty between Russia and Turkey, October 23, 1921). Until then, Nakhichivan actually had no common border with Turkey, but Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's negotiator could persuade Moscow to annex a narrow strip of land to Nakhichevan so that the area could get a limited strip of 15 km with Turkey. In addition, Nakhichevan's status would not be able to change without Turkey's direct consent.That the decision was made primarily by Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Commissar for Nationalities, is clearly documented in the decision making process. Svante Cornell believes that this was a concession by Stalin against the newly formed state of Turkey due to the fact that "Atatürk was hostile to any territorial arrangements favoring Soviet Armenia, since a strong Armenia could have potential territorial claims on Turkey."
The Karabakh issue resurfaced again in the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev launched his policy of perestroika (reconstruction and economic reform) and glasnost (openness and freedom of expression). This relaxation of the strong authoritarian Soviet regime was the catalyst which the different repressed conflicts and issues in the Soviet Union needed to be triggered again. On February 13, 1988, Karabakh Armenians began demonstrating in their capital, Stepanakert, and demanded re-unification with the Armenian Soviet Republic. Six days later, they received the support of mass demonstrations in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. On February 20, 1988 the Karabakh Soviet of People's Representatives (the equivalent of Parliament), with the numbers 110 to 17, voted for the transfer of the region to Armenia. The answer to these demands in Azerbaijan was brutal deeds on February 26, 1988, by Azeri nationalists in Sumgait, the third largest city in Azerbaijan and its second largest industrial city on the Caspian Sea. Armenian individuals were attacked in their homes, on their jobs and on the streets. The vicious persecution of Armenians went on for two days without the Azerbaijani authorities making the slightest intervention. According to official figures at least 32 people (26 Armenians and Azeris 6) were killed before Soviet troops put an end to the bloodshed. Soon other assaults and similar acts followed in the cities of Kirovabad and Baku. The majority of Armenians compared the massacres in Sumgait, Kirovabad and Baku with the prelude to the genocide in Turkey during the First World War. What had started as a democratic movement during the glasnost did now culminate in an armed conflict that claimed over 30,000 lives and made nearly a million people refugees.
Seyfo is the Assyrian/Syrian name for the events of the First World War and means "Year of the Sword". The Armenians call the genocide yeghern which is Armenian for "disaster" or "calamity" while the Greeks call it genoktonia. The evidence suggests that Armenians began to use the term tseghaspanutyun (genocide) after the UN Convention came into power in 1948.
1) Gerner, Kristian och Karlsson, Klas-Göran, Folkmordens historia, Perspektiv på det moderna samhällets skuggsida, Stockholm, 2005, p. 118-119; Taylor, Alan John Percivale, The struggle for mastery in Europe 1848-1918, Oxford, 1971, p. 302.
2) Pasdermadjian, Hrant, Histoire de l'Arménie depuis les origines jusqu'au traité de Lausanne, Paris, 1949, p. 468
3) Avedian, Vahagn, The Armenian Genocide 1915: From a Neutral Small State s Perspective: Sweden, Uppsala, 2008, p. 51
4) Dadrian, Vahakn N., The Key Elements in the Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide: A Case Study of Distortion and Falsification, Toronto, 1999, p. 6; Shaw, Martin, War and genocide: organized killing in modern society, Cambridge, 2003, p. 32.
5) Akcam, Taner, A Shameful Act, The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, New York, 2006, p. 141-145; Jones, Adam, Genocide, A Comprehensive Introduction, New York, 2006.
6) Adalian, Rouben Paul, Remembering and Understanding the Armenian Genocide, Yerevan, 1995, p. 18-21.
7) Hovannisian, Richard G., Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918, Los Angeles, 1967, p. 85.
8) Hovannisian, Richard G., Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918, Los Angeles, 1967, p. 52.
9) World War I Document Archive, Sèvres Treaty, 2007.
10) Churchill, Winston, The World Crisis: The Aftermath, vol. V, London, 1929, p. 408.
11) For more information about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict visit
12)UNESCO Culture Sector, UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World Languages in Danger, 2014;
13) Mutafian, Claude, Karabagh in the Twentieth Century, in Levon Chorbajian, Patrick Donabedian and Claude Mutafian, The Caucasian Knot - the History and Geo-Politics of Nagorno-Karabagh(London: Zed,1994), p. 112-113.
14) Cornell, Svante E., The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict(Uppsala: Inst. för Östeuropastudier, 1999), p. 8.
15) For more information about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict visit