Term Paper: Armenian Genocide

Pages: 30 (8945 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 25  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

Armenian Genocide, Turkish Excuses

Children dead or dying in the street. Trenches filled with corpses. Thousands of villages destroyed. The countryside cleared of its inhabitants. A people herded into concentration camps. Organized terror. Foreign diplomats look on and do nothing. A government at war is protecting itself from the ravages of the enemy within... Or so it claims. These are not scenes from Iraq, or Darfur, nor are they images of the horror of the Jewish Holocaust carried out by the Nazis in conjunction with the Second World War.

Man's inhumanity to man has a long history. This nightmare dates to an earlier "war to end all wars," - the first war to be so called. In 1914, an Austrian archduke was assassinated at Sarajevo, and Austria, Germany, and their ally, the Ottoman Empire, went to war against Britain, France, and Russia. The Ottoman Empire also quickly began its own war - against the Armenian people. At the start of the First World War, the Ottoman state remained an empire in name only; a backward, multi-ethnic shell that straddled two continents. Founded and controlled by the Turks, the Ottoman realm was mostly Muslim, but contained substantial Christian and Jewish minorities. With a population of somewhere between 1.5 million and three million, the Armenians were one of the most significant of these minority groups.

But in a country desperately trying to modernize by becoming a nation-state of Turks only, just being a minority would be a deadly liability - the Armenian people were marked for annihilation.

The holocaust that began in 1915 was seen by contemporaries as an event without precedent. In the words of the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau,

I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915."

Beginning on April 24th of that year, the leaders of the Armenian community - doctors, lawyers, businessmen, intellectuals, etc. - were rounded up and killed. The leaders of the Empire's ruling party, the CPU, made use of modern technology, telegraphs and railroads, to order the collecting up of Armenian men, women, and children, and their transportation to the desolate reaches of the Syrian desert.

Like the later slaughter of the Jews, this would be an industrial operation. Though made to appear as if in reaction to the exigencies of war, the destruction of the Armenia people - again like that of the Jews and Gypsies during the Second World War - was carefully arranged, and had been long planned. In 1915, it was a rebellion that was cited as the rational for deporting, and then killing, the Armenian population. In the period 1894 to 1897, it was the activities of Armenian political parties that caused Sultan Abdul Hamid to give the orders for murder. And even before that, Armenians had been subject to the occasional massacre, attacks that went hand-in-had with discriminatory laws and a status as second-class citizens.

The history of the Armenian People, and in particular, the history of the Armenian People in the Ottoman Empire, was often filled with dark episodes. But until 1915, the fate of Armenia had never been so bleak. What had happened during the First World War and the years preceding it, to turn traditional enmities into a bloodthirstiness so terrible that, as of yet, the world had no name for it? What was the origin of this "genocide"?


The Armenian People and the Coming of the Ottomans people with a long and proud history, "perhaps the last surviving relic of the ancient Anatolian civilizations," the Armenians had lived in eastern Asia Minor for millennia. They had an independent kingdom that was contemporary with the Greeks, Persians, and other civilizations of Antiquity.

Armenian tradition expresses identity mainly in terms of conflict, enshrining at its core a struggle, ostensibly extending over millennia, to maintain and protect the nation's distinct character. The struggle is expressed in mythical, religious, and historical terms - very different sets of metaphors and events, through all of which, however, a continuity is perceived." core feature of that identity is the Armenians' Christian faith. In the Third Century, Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. After Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople, and made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Armenian Church remained close to the tenets of Greek orthodoxy. By the Sixth Century, however, the Armenians had chosen not to adhere to the Council of Chalcedon, and their church moved off in its own direction, another aspect of Armenian uniqueness and ingenuity.

For 1700 years the Armenian church has remained a central institution in the life of the Armenian nation. The determining role of the church in the cultural, social, national and political domains clearly indicates its full engagement, as a major institutional power, in the nation-building process. The centrality of the church's role in the life of the nation has made it an important point of reference in crucial moments and critical situations."

In later, more troubled years, the Church would still provide a focus for the hopes and aspirations of the Armenian people. Along with their language - a unique branch of the Indo-European family - and their unique alphabet, religion would set the Armenians off from their neighbors.

During the more than one thousand years that the Eastern Roman Empire existed, Armenia was frequently under the rule of the Byzantine emperors. It was in this period, that Armenians first settled in other parts of Asia Minor, and also in Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire, though Roman in origin, became increasingly Greek in culture, language, and outlook, until Byzantium became synonymous with Medieval Christian Greek civilization. Armenians who settled in Byzantium's cosmopolitan capital had little to fear from discrimination or persecution. "In a generation or two, the Armenians... And others who migrated to Greek-speaking areas forgot their own languages, intermarried with Greeks, and became indistinguishable from them."

Yet Byzantine power would not remain unchallenged. With the rise of Islam in the Seventh Century, Arab conquerors swept across Byzantium's eastern provinces. Syria and lands beyond were lost, and for the first time, the Armenians in their homeland found themselves with Muslim neighbors. The eruption of the Islamized Seljuk Turks into Asia minor in the Eleventh Century meant not only the loss of further territory for the Eastern Roman Empire, but also new pressures and challenges for the Armenian people. The Seljuks pushed great numbers of beleaguered Armenians out of their ancient lands in the Caucasus, on the northeastern edge of Asia Minor, south into Cilicia. There, in the Taurus Mountains, they founded a new Armenian kingdom, and established an additional center of Armenian population and civilization.

A new group of Muslim Turks, the Ottomans, overran the territories of their brethren, the Seljuks. By the Fifteenth Century these Ottomans had subjugated almost all of Asia Minor, both Seljuk and Byzantine, and had made territorial inroads into Europe. The Armenians, too, fell under their sway. The patterns of later centuries were beginning to be established. Armenians quickly became important as a mercantile class in the new and rapidly expanding Ottoman Empire.

The commerce of the Armenian middlemen originated in Persia, found in silk an eminently marketable commodity, and by the early seventeenth century had expanded to the farthest reaches of northern Europe and eastern Asia. In the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians constituted a Christian community to whom the government granted autonomy in religion, economic life, and even internal politics. Their religion also gave them access to the lands of Christian Europe. Thus, they moved easily in both societies."

Thus, Armenians had established themselves in an important position in the Ottoman Empire's economic and social life even before the Turks swept into Constantinople in 1453. The capture of the Byzantine capital spelled the end of the Eastern Roman Empire. The city became the seat of what was now the Western world's most powerful state. For the next four and a half centuries, Ottoman sultans would hold sway over a multi-ethnic empire that spanned Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Muslims, Christians, and Jews would live side-by-side, but not necessarily equally.


Armenian Life and Politics under Ottoman Rule

The Ottoman policy toward other ethnic groups was precisely the opposite of that pursued by the Byzantines. While Muslims were treated as full subjects of the Sultan, and were subject to Muslim religious Sharia law, the Turkish conquerors quickly pursued a regime of "divide-and-conquer" that offered both benefits and challenges to its Christian and Jewish populations. Armenians, like Greeks and others, were organized into millets. Though originally referring to a religious community - in fact, to the Muslim religious community of the Ottoman Empire as opposed to its Christian or Jewish communities; the term "millet" was early extended to foreign Christians (to heads of state and illustrious individuals,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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