Unit 2: Genocide
Chapter 3: The Armenian Genocide
This page explores the controversy surrounding the historiography and recognition of the Armenian genocide. Use the timeline and the primary and secondary sources below to understand the arguments of genocide “believers” and “deniers,” as well as the importance of genocide recognition for the Armenians, and the reluctance of many countries to call the events of 1915 “a genocide”.
Atom Egoyan – Armenian-Canadian Film and Stage Director
Genocide: The deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group.
Historiography: The writing of historical events that produces a written history.
Ottoman Empire (1453-1922): An Islamic empire that stretched from Eastern Europe to North Africa and became completely dissolved when modern Turkey was formed.
Sublime Porte: The central government in the Ottoman Empire.
Millet System: The Ottoman Empire was organized into millets based on religion. While Muslim millets enjoyed the most freedoms, those in Christian millets, such as Armenians, were seen as secondary citizen Citizens and faced higher taxation.
Hamidiye: A semi-regular regiment of Kurdish and Circassian horsemen organized by Sultan Hamid II to suppress Armenian rebellions in the Ottoman Empire.
The Young Turks: A Turkish reform organization promising to replace the disorder and corruption under the Sultan’s reign with a constitutional government where all Ottoman citizens would be equal.
The Committee of Union and Progress: A branch of the Young Turk organization that assassinated Sultan Hamid II.
The Young Turk Triumvirate: An ultra-nationalist government led by Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal. Together they took control of the original Young Turk government and promoted Pan-Turkism instead of equality.
Pan-Turkism: An ideology seeking the construction of a Turkish empire stretching from Anatolia into Central Asia and whose population would be exclusively Turkic instead of Ottoman.
Turkification: A process attempting to destroy non-Turkic cultures through assimilation or removal.
Shotas: A special organization gang trained and equipped by the Young Turk triumvirate to assist with the round-up of the Armenians and to disrupt the deportation process by looting, ravaging, and killing Armenians en route.
Source: The Genocide Education Project, Human Rights and Genocide, 2005.
Armenian Near East Relief Refugee Camp in Syria – October 25,1916 (Near East Foundation – NEF, formerly the American Committee for Armenian and Assyrian Relief)
Credit: (Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-29847 (digital file from original negative) Rights Information: No known restrictions on publication.) This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.
This really happened
“The aim of war is not to reach definite lines, but to annihilate the enemy physically. After all, who today still speaks of the massacre of the Armenians?”
It was Hitler who told this to his military officers a week before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and brought the world into war for a second time. But what exactly did Hitler mean when stating this? Especially when referring to the massacre of the Armenians?
As historian Peter Balkian explains, Hitler is recalling what many refer to as “the forgotten genocide” or “hidden holocaust” of the Armenians that began in 1915. The genocide resulted in the death of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and has left many of its survivors scattered worldwide. But wait, you might ask, “wasn’t the Jewish Holocaust the first genocide of the 20th century?” This really depends on whom you ask. The Armenian genocide is one of the most contested genocides in history and is still being debated today—almost a century later. However, before we dive deeper into the controversy around the genocide, let’s take a step back and explore the Turkish and Armenian past by examining the timeline on the next page. For a more comprehensive timeline visit the following websites:
So where does the controversy lie? It lies in two divergent and competing interpretations of the events you just read about in the timeline. Even though both accounts agree that the massacres of the Ottoman Armenians did take place, they disagree on the case of whether or not these massacres should be deemed genocide. A summary of the two main interpretations is presented in the table below.
Both views have found a place in separate historical narratives that vow to disprove the other. The former supported by the Armenian population, while the latter, by the Turkish government. Whichever historiography other countries choose to acknowledge greatly depends on how they recognize the genocide. Although international recognition for the Armenian genocide is growing, there are still a large number of countries that do not officially recognize the events of 1915 as genocidal. Before we decide how to personally and individually recognize the genocide, let’s first take the time to give the issue a more thorough examination by consulting primary and secondary sources.
Timeline of the Armenian Genocide
Permission granted – Armenian Genocide Museum
Asking these types of questions can help us understand how decisions about what to include or not include in these histories are made and in turn can help lead us to make our own critical and informed decisions on how we ourselves will choose to remember the Armenian Genocide.
Armenian refugees’ camps Aleppo 1918 at the main Ottoman barracks.
Credit: AGBU archives, Vartan Derunian. This work was created in Syria and is now in the public domain there because its term of copyright has expired pursuant to the provisions of Law No. 12/2001, Syria’s first ever copyright law. In order to be hosted on Commons, all works must be in the public domain in the United States as well as in their source country. Syrian works are currently in the public domain in the United States if their copyright had expired in Syria on the date of restoration (June 11, 2004).
Artifact One › A cable sent to Washington from the American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, July 1915
Source: Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Perennial, 2003.
Artifact Two › A Passage from Talaat’s Memoir (assembled after his death in 1921)
These preventative measures were taken in every country during the war, but, while the regrettable results were passed over in silence in the other countries, the echo of our acts was heard all over the world.”~Henry Morgenthau
Source: The Armenian Genocide in Perspective. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1986.
Artifact Three › Resistance by Armenians in the Province of Van, April-May, 1915
Russian forces came to support the Armenians in Van in late April and the Turks retreated until 1918, when they eventually gained control of the province.
Source: Miller, D.E., and L.T. Miller’s Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.
Artifact Four › Excerpts from the Sublime Porte’s Public Notice of Deportation, 1915
Source: Facing History And Ourselves.
Artifact Five › Two Eyewitness Accounts of the Deportation of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
“All able-bodied men were sorted out with the excuse that they were going to be given work. The women and children were sent ahead under escort …The men kept behind were taken out of town in batches of 15 and 20, lined up on the edge of ditches (and) shot. After plundering and committing …outrages on the women and children, they (the “shotas”) massacred (many) them. The military escorts had strict orders not to interfere with the “Shotas.”
“They had been on the road for three to five months; they have been plundered several times over, and have marched along naked and starving, the Government gave them on one single occasion a morsel of bread— a few had it twice. It is said that the number of these deported widows will reach 60, 000; they are so exhausted they cannot stand upright; the majority have great sores on their feet, through having to march barefoot”Reverend Essayan of Aleppo
Source: Miller, D.E., and L.T. Miller’s Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide.
Artifact Six › List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
Source: Armenian Genocide.
Artifact Seven › Percent of Countries that Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
Artifact Eight › Responses from the Armenian and Turkish Government concerning the Genocide
“There has not been a genocide and if people for political motivations want to use (recognize) it … they take the risk of influencing their relationships with Turkey”
“History suggests to us that if we are to survive and keep up our national identity, we need strength and a fighting spirit…We need nationwide solidarity and unity to make our Cause (sic) heard in any part of the globe.”
Source: BBC Documentary, “The Betrayed,” (2003) and Armenian Genocide Victims
Artifact Nine › Excerpts from Article 301 of Turkey’s Penal (Criminal) Code, 2008
As Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian explains, the law has been used against numerous intellectuals in Turkey, including himself, who chose to use the term, “genocide” to describe and discuss the events of 1915.
Source: PBS Documentary, “The Armenian Genocide.” 2006.
Moving forward to reconciliation
In December 2008, a number of Turkish intellectuals, politicians, and journalists came together to start the I Apologize campaign in Turkey. The campaign allows Turkish citizens to individually and personally apologize for the atrocities against the Armenians by adding their name to an online form under the following statement:
*The list of names of those who signed the online petition displayed below the statement.
The campaign website can be viewed here: http://www.ozurdiliyoruz.info/index.html.
So far, of Turkey’s population (approximately 76,000,000 in 2012), almost 32,500 have signed the campaign.
My connections to history
Independently identify at least three factors that distinguish between the concept of “the past” and “history.”
A. Compare and contrast your ideas from Task One. Be sure to discuss any similarities or differences of opinion you may have.
B. Discuss the following questions:
Source: This Minds On Activity was adapted from: Denos, Mike and Roland Case, Teaching about Historical Thinking. Ed. Peter Seixas and Penney Clark. Vancouver: The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2006.
After independently observing Artifacts One to Nine, economically, and geographically. E. discuss the following questions with a partner:
B. In Henry Morgenthau’s cable to Washington, he speaks of a “systematic plan to crush the Armenian race”. Does Morgenthau have reason to make this claim? Please explain your answer using the timeline provided and Artifacts One to Seven.
C. Did these artifacts influence your understanding of the Armenian Genocide? Explain how or how not? Are you left with any questions or concerns? If so please write them down for future discussion.
D. Why do you think only ten percent of the world officially recognizes the Armenian genocide? What do you think influences a country’s choice of whether or not to recognize genocide? Think politically, socially, economically, and geographically.
E. Why is gaining genocide recognition so important to Armenians? Please explain your reasoning.
F. On the other hand, why do you think the Turkish government is so reluctant to call the events of 1915 “a genocide”?
Reflect on the following questions and record your answers:
A. To what extent does this campaign make a difference? Do you think it helps reconcile the relationship between Turkish and Armenian peoples? Explain.
B. Would you sign a similar campaign commemorating the genocide against the Armenians? Now that you’re more informed, how has your opinion changed about this horrific genocide?
Read the article “Armenians in Canada.”
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Other chapters on Genocide: