In an address to a group of Nazi leaders and Wehrmacht Generals in 1939, the German Führer, Adolf Hitler was reported to have said:
“Who, after all, speaks today about the annihilation of the Armenians…….?”
The Armenian question was one of the infamous civilian butcher hallmarks of the First World War. Ever since that inglorious incident, an adequate description begs the question for that incident, as the Turkish government insists it was never genocide; whilst the Armenian government thinks otherwise. In any case, grammatical historical credence might be lent to the Turkish government claims, as the word ‘genocide’ never existed in grammatical parlance during the First World War.
The word ‘Genocide’ was coined by Raphael Lemkin (a Polish-Jew criminal and international law specialist), in 1944. He being a survivor of the Nazi instigated Jewish Holocaust, Lemkin coined the word to describe the Nazi policy of systematic murder and targeted annihilation committed by the German government during the Second World War.
The word ‘Genocide’ is a conglomeration of the Greek word ‘geno,’ meaning race or tribe and the Latin word ‘cide,’ meaning killing.
On December 9, 1948 the United Nations adopted the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, thus defining Genocide as an international crime. Signatory states were obliged to prevent and punish the perpetrators.
According to the Convention, genocide is can be insinuated when
- There are mass murders of a target group(s) of people
- There is serious bodily or mental harm to the members of a group
- There is deliberate creation of such living conditions for a group that brings about its complete or partial physical extermination
- There are implementation of measures aimed at preventing birth rates within the group
- There are forcible transfers of children from one group to another
Though long subjugated under Ottoman rule since the Middle Ages, Armenians made up the chunk of the Christian population of Ottoman administered Anatolia and the Caucasus alongside the Greeks. Ever since the Ottoman conquest of Anatolia from the Byzantines and consequent fall of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) to the Ottomans in 1453, the Ottomans who then assumed the torch bearers of the Islamic Caliphate or Sultanate sought a mutual cohesive governance of its subjugated populations who where majorly distinctively Christian and Muslim by religion. This nevertheless came with some restrictions to the once dominant Christian population as some Churches (e.g Hagia Sophia) were converted to Mosques and the dhimmi contract (taxable restrictive protection) was imposed on non-Muslim subjects (Jews and Christians) living within the Ottoman domain.
Following the Crimean war (1853-1856) in which Western European powers (Great Britain and France) sought to contain Russian expansionist aims in the Danube, Caucasus and around the Black Sea, the European powers advocated for the abolition of the dhimmi contract on Christians and called for equality of all religious groups in the Ottoman empire in return for their support for the Ottomans against the Russians. The Russian war effort in itself had a religious clout under the auspices of its expansionist aims. Seen as the protector and custodian of the Christian Orthodox religion (a successor and relic of the Byzantine Empire), the Russians had intent to liberate Christian minorities (most of whom were of the Orthodox faith) from Ottoman rule. This intent seen as fiat compli by the Ottomans and Russians fuelled mutual mistrust and ultimately war between both sides during the Russo-Turkish war (1877-1878) and World War One (1914-1918). Following initial gains by the Russians against the Ottomans in the Caucasus from Russo-Turkish War and Ottoman loss of territory in the Balkans which forced series of population exchanges of Muslims and Greeks (most of the Muslim population Thrace and the Balkans were forced to migrate into Anatolia whilst Greeks and other Christian minorities in Anatolia moved in the opposite direction); there was a growing simmering mistrust of the Christian population of Anatolia (who at this time were majorly Armenians). It was alluded by the Ottomans that though the Armenians (who lacked a homeland) but granted equality status (though being Christians) under the ‘Tanzimat’ programme will still be sympathetic to the cause of the Russian enemy who where their religious brethren.
The Armenian question within the Ottoman empire was first lime lighted in a speech by Ottoman Sultan, Abul Hamid II in 1890 where he was referred to have talked about resolving the ‘Armenian question’ once and for all:
“I will soon settle those Armenians…..”
“I will give them a box on the ear which will make them…relinquish their revolutionary ambitions.”
Upon the freedom of the Slavs and Greeks from Ottoman rule in the late 19th century, the Armenians agitated for greater freedom (or possible independence) from Ottoman rule. This resulted in killings targeting the Armenians within the Ottoman Empire during that period. Following the start of the First World War, the Ottomans who allied with the Central powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary) sought to reclaim lost territory especially in the Caucasus from the Russians who were fighting on the side of the Allies (Great Britain, France and later the United States). Clicking on the hint of the failure of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign of the allies and heavy Russian loses and subsequent capitulation in the hand of the Germans, the Ottomans moved in a sweep to settle old scores with the Russians and other dissident groups within their already crumbling empire in a bid to bring about a volte face to the dwindling fortunes of the waning empire.
On April 24, 1915 several hundred Armenian intellectuals and representatives of national elite (mainly in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople) were arrested and later killed. As such, Armenians regard this act as the beginning of the ‘Armenian Genocide’; hereinafter, Armenians worldwide commemorate the ‘Armenian Genocide’ on April 24 of every year. In a military onslaught against Russian territory in Caucasus (which also is the Armenian homeland), hundreds of thousands of Armenians and other non-Turkish minorities in East Anatolia (the Caucasus) where deported to ‘safe zones’ in the Syrian desert and Mesopotamia in series of forced marches. As a result of this several deaths occurred in wilful murders by the Ottoman army, heat stroke, disease and other resultant deaths. It is estimated that about 1.5million people were deported in this exercise; a chunk of them being Armenian. As such, this form the basis of the ‘Armenian Genocide’ question claims by both parties alongside tagetted killings of Armenian Soldiers serving with the Ottoman army at that period (60000 were reported killed). The Turkish government (successor of the Ottoman Empire) claim that not only Armenians were deported in this military exercise though it took place in the Armenian heartland which substantiates the Armenian claims of genocide.
After the First World War in 1918, new national borders were drawn by the Allies, and the Ottoman Empire (which was now powered by a group of army officers by the mantra of the ‘Young Turks’) scavenged for territory to salvage the glories of the Ottoman Empire. Midwifed by Ataturk Kemal, a new nation known as Turkey was born in 1922 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. With borders redrawn, Anatolia (modern day Turkey) was emptied of its Christian population (Greeks had already moved out in population exchanges in the late 19th century and now Armenians most of whom were deported to their deaths had its survival residue racing across the borders to Russia and other Countries). Not until 1991 after the collapse of the USSR did Armenia attain sovereignty once again after millennia of subjugation.
A hundred years on from that incident we can still ask:
was the Ottoman-Armenian question genocide?
Every man with knowledge can be a judge in this matter.