April 24th 1915: Armenian Genocide begins
On this day in 1915, the mass murder of Armenians by the Turkish government began in the Ottoman Empire with the arrest of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals. The Ottoman leadership, who were Muslim, had long subjected the Armenian Christian minority to discriminatory treatment, including unequal taxation. The Armenian community still thrived economically, to the chagrin of Ottomans, who also feared that they plotted with European Christian governments. Tensions between the communities remained high into the twentieth century, as Armenian campaigns for basic civil rights were met with sporadic massacres. The Armenians found no relief with the reformist ‘Young Turk’ government and the onset of World War One. On April 24th 1915, fearing that Armenians would ally with their wartime enemies, the Turkish government arrested and ultimately executed around two hundred Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople. After this, a campaign was launched against Armenian citizens, who were rounded up and marched into the desert. Hundreds died on the journey, and thousands more were systematically executed by ‘killing squads’ or perished in concentration camps. The violence also extended into efforts at cultural extermination, kidnapping Armenian women and children and enslaving them or sending them to Turkish families. The massacres continued until 1923, at which time there were under 400,000 Armenians remaining in the Ottoman Empire. Numbers of victims are unclear, but it is estimated that over one
million people were massacred between 1915 and 1923. One hundred years on, the event remains immensely controversial. It is widely considered a systematic genocide – and even led to the coinage of the word ‘genocide’ by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 – but the Turkish authorities continue to deny the scale of the violence.
100 years ago