The Armenian Genocide: The Armenian massacres

The protest of the almost 4,000 Armenians which took place in July, 1890 in the capital of the Ottoman Empire was something that never had happened before. It was the first time that a non – Muslim minority group challenged the Ottoman Empire inside the capital. The reaction of the Empire was so instant that lead to the massacre of the protesters. The intention was absolutely clear: not to prevent but to kill the protesters. The killings which happened under no distinction of age or gender took place in front of the eyes of diplomats and foreign observers who were at the capital. One of them, the German Ambassador stated later that “these authorities deliberately allowed it to take place (the killings) while the police equipped the mob with secret weapons…

As a response to the political fights of the Armenians who were desperately seeking their independence, nothing more than what was historical evident, the Ottoman authorities proceeded in their mass murders across the Empire. The Sassoun massacre took place from August 18 to September 10, 1894, and it is considered as the “first organized mass murder of Armenians in Ottoman history. The massacre which was realized under the authority of Abdul Hamit, came after the uprising of the Armenians because of the heavy and double taxes they were forced to pay, both in government officials and to local Kurdish chieftains Their refusals to no longer pay these taxes lead to a large scale killing by the Sultan of the Sassoun Armenians, without any distinction or limitations to women, children or elderly.

The armed forces of the Sultan along with Kurdish irregulars and Muslim refugees spread the terror in the Asiatic provinces of the Empire where Armenian villages were located. The physical and material destruction of the Armenian communities during the 1890s are considered for some scholars that offered the pattern for the realization of the genocides that followed in World War I.

From 1914 something bad and horrible was hovering in the air and it was already discussed in various circles inside the Turkish society. From March of the next year the local newspapers referred to the upcoming deportations of the Armenians and described an atmosphere where the Armenians were targeted as the reason for that the Empire lost the war against Russia. Various journalists were writing in their articles about how the Armenians were “living with a dread of general massacre” and that “a general massacre hovers That period is also being considered as the time where the decisions about the genocide were by the CUP.

The mass murders that took place after 1914 targeted all Armenians regardless age or gender and they were planned by a mechanism with a fully organized structured based on the Young Turk special committee along with the Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Interior. The realization of the Armenian genocide was based on the plans of an organized network of various departments of the Turkish authority, such as the Department of Defense and Interior and the Central Committee of the CUP.  The central coordination of these departments was under the authority of the Special Organization, a department which was given great authority and was responsible for the organization of the units which they were about to execute, with the collaboration of the army, the task of ethnic cleansing of Anatolia.

These units were gangs, mostly Kurds, or prisoners who had been released and immigrants from the Balkans and Caucasia. Their task was the destruction of the Armenian villages. If not evident, there are some strong indications after public statements which underline that the decision for the genocide of the Armenians was taken by the Central Committee of the CUP. Based on the indictment of the Main Trial of the events, “the massacre and liquidation of Armenians were made as a result of decisions by the Central Committee of the CUP”.The involvement of the CUP and the Special Organization for the organization of the genocide was underlined also by officials of the Turkish army and Muslim civilians during the trials that took place on the aftermath of World War I.When the Bayburt trial was held in January, 1921 it was stated repeatedly that the decision for the genocide of the Armenians came from this Committee.

Because of limited number of documents it is difficult to describe with details how the deportations and the genocide took place. This is why scholars prefer just to outline the most possible frame in which the events took place. It is considered that the deportations and the mass annihilation of the Armenians were decided at the same time. The decisions were transferred to the Turkish regions through channels, in order to be executed by the gangs and the gendarmes. The Department of Interior was responsible for the realization of the deportations and from what it seems –   based on testimonies after some investigations –   the Central Committee of the CUP was responsible for the physical annihilation of the Armenians. Even though it is thought that the army had orders to not be involved in the liquidation of the Armenians, some kind of engagement in this process is being known. The decisions some times were transferred by couriers and other times by telegram which after it was read it was destroyed. There were cases that the couriers for the decisions of the annihilation of the Armenians were party secretaries who traveled to the regions in order to transfer the guidelines of the Central Committee to the governors and officials.

As it seems from documents that were available during the trials after the war, the genocide was realized in two stages. In the first stage, the Armenian population was deported from their areas of settlement under the leadership of the gendarmerie who lead them to the provincial borders.Some they didn’t even manage to reach there; they died from starvation since they were forbidden to take anything with them when they left their homes. There the executions and the elimination of the Armenians was taking place by the Special Organization guidelines and the cooperation of gangs and gendarmerie. The killings were made with no exception regarding age or gender. Children, elderly, men and women, they were all targets of the genocidal acts. In some rare cases those who were willing to espouse by force Islam had some changes to save their lives. The tactic of the Turkish authorities to arm the hand of other people, such as prisoners for example, for the killings of the Armenians, makes more legitimate the term “culture of massacre” to describe the Turkish policy towards the Armenian population.

To be continued…

About the Author
Ariel Lekaditis was born in Athens. He has graduated from University of Haifa on Holocaust Studies and he is volunteer on Yad Vashem. He focuses on antisemitism topics particularly in Greece.He is online activist against antisemitism and antizionism.