First Armenian Massacres

On August 26, 1896, a group of Armenian revolutionaries raided the headquarters of the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul after having shot the guards and seized more than 140 staff members, in an attempt to gain international attention to the plight of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Mobs of Muslim Turks then massacred tens or hundreds of thousands of Armenians. It is alleged by some that 50,000 Armenians were killed, and that there was a level of Ottoman government involvement with the mobs.

Armenian-sympathizing estimates of the total killed run from 100,000 to 300,000; one of the greatest pro-Armenians, Johannes Lepsius, estimated less than 89,000. Turkish estimates run from 20,000 to 30,000. These events are recalled by the Armenians as the "Great Massacres" and believe the Hamidian measures verified the capacity of the Turkish state to carry out a systematic policy of murder and plunder against a minority population. The formation of Armenian revolutionary groups began roughly around the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1878. As some diplomats observed, the aim of these groups were to commit massacres so as to incite counter-measures, and to invite "foreign powers to intervene," as Istanbul's British Ambassador Sir Philip Currie observed in March 1894.

The Armenian Genocide

Before World War I the Ottoman Empire came under the Young Turks government. At first some Armenian political organizations supported the Young Turks in hopes that there would be a real change from Abdul Hamid's policies towards the Armenian population. There were Armenians elected to the Ottoman Parliament, where some remained throughout the ensuing world war. However they were later to be disappointed. The Young Turks feared the Armenian community, which they had believed was more sympathetic to allied powers (specifically Russia) than to the Ottoman Empire.

In 1914 Ottomans passed a new law that required all adult males up to age 45, to either be recruited in the Ottoman army or pay special fees in order to be excluded from service. Most of the Armenian recruits were later turned into road laborers and some were executed.

On April 24, 1915, the Young Turk government executed 300 Armenian intellectuals, although a partisan source as Peter Balakian's "The Burning Tigris" tells us most were imprisoned and there were even survivors. The fact that most Armenian men were also butchered in the army and many influential figures arrested and killed, places a question mark over certain arguments that Armenians organized revolts and that there was a civil war, given that Armenians were outnumbered, outmanned and outgunned. On the other hand, there were articles in the New York Times as early as November 7, 1914, days after Russia had declared war, attesting to Armenian uprisings ("ARMENIANS FIGHTING TURKS -- Besieging Van—Others operating in Turkish Army's Rear"), and accounts from Armenians themselves, such as Boghos Nubar's 1919 letter in the Times of London stressing Armenian belligerence. In addition, there is evidence of Russian financial support (242,900 rubles, according to the Dashnak Party Military Minister, Armenian National Congress meeting in Tbilisi, Feb. 1915), testimony from even those such as Ambassador Henry Morgenthau to the effect of "...In the early part of 1915... every Turkish city contained thousands of Armenians who had been trained as soldiers and who were supplied with rifles, pistols, and other weapons of defense," and even accounts from Armenian newspapers hailing the rebellion. Chronology here is important and not incontestably established. Regardless of the chronology above, when the deportation orders were issued to Armenian villagers across Anatolia, the vast majority obediently followed orders, even when near certain death was obvious.

After the recruitment of most men and the arrests of certain intellectuals, widespread massacres were taking place throughout Ottoman Empire. In desperate attempts at survival, upon hearing of massacres of nearby villages, Armenians in Musa Dagh and Van organized their self defense. In Van, they handed over control of the city to advancing Russians. The Ottoman government ordered the deportation of over 1 million Armenians living in Anatolia to Syria and Mesopotamia though this figure has not been conclusively established. Indeed, there is another consensus this number did not exceed 700,000, and Arnold Toynbee reported in his Wellington House (British propaganda division) report of "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire" that 500,000 were alive in 1916. Although the word deportation seems pretty innocent (some would prefer the word "relocation," as the former means banishment outside a country's borders; Japanese-Americans, for example, were not "deported" during WWII), things were not, because the deportations themselves were a silent method of mass execution that led to the death of many of the Armenian population, by forcing them to march endlessly through desert, without food or water or enough protection from local Kurdish or Turkish bandits.

In the process several hundred thousand died in the resulting death marches from starvation, dehydration, disease or exhaustion. Several hundred thousands more were massacred by Kurdish militia and Ottoman gendarmes, giving an estimated total under certain counts of 1,500,000 Armenians dead. Then again, the Armenians contend one million survived, and even the Patriarch Ormanian provided a pre-war population figure of 1,579,000.

Mr. Hovhannes Katchaznouni, first Prime Minister of the Independent Armenian Republic, describes this part of history as follows in his 1923 Manifesto: "At the beginning of the Fall of 1914 when Turkey had not yet entered the war but already been making preparations, Armenian revolutionary bands began to be formed in Transcaucasia with great enthusiasm and especially with much uproar... The Armenian Revolutionary Federation had active participation in the formation of the bands and their future military action against Turkey... In the Fall of 1914 Armenian volunteer band organized themselves and fought against the Turks because they could not refrain themselves from fighting. This was an inevitable result of psychology on which the Armenian people had nourished itself during an entire generation; that mentality should have found its expression and did so....The Winter of 1914 and Spring of 1915 were the periods of greatest enthusiasm and hope for all Armenians in the Caucasus including of course the Dashnaktsutiun. We had no doubt the war would end with the complete victory of the Allies; Turkey would be defeated and dismembered and its Armenian population would be liberated. We had embraced Russia wholeheartedly without any compunction. Without any positive basis of fact we believed that the Tzarist government would grant us a more-or-less broad self-government in the Caucasus and in the Armenian vilayets liberated from Turkey as a reward for our loyalty, our efforts and assistance. "

Statistics of the Second Massacre

Statistics regarding the number of Armenians living in Ottoman Anatolia and the number killed are disputed. The lowest numbers are given by Turkish sources and the highest by Armenian sources.

In 1896 the Ottoman government recorded 1,144,000 Armenians living in Anatolia. Professor Justin McCarthy, U.S. historian and expert in Ottoman history, whose books are published by a Turkish organization as well as prestigious university presses such as the Oxford University Press, estimated that there were 1,500,000 Armenians in Anatolia in 1912. According to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, there were between 1,845,000 and 2,100,000 Armenians in Anatolia in 1914. Estimates range from 1,000,000 given by some Turkish sources to more than 3,500,000 given by some Armenian sources. Arnold J. Toynbee, who served as an intelligence officer during World War I, estimates there were 1,800,000 Armenians living in Anatolia in 1914. Encyclopaedia Britannica took 1,750,000 Armenians living in Anatolia as their estimate, in certain later editions. In 1911, the encyclopedia had figured 1.1 million, and Toynbee estimated less than one million in his 1915 book, "Nationalism and the War," before his services were enlisted in Wellington House.

Estimates for the numbers of Armenians who died during the Second Massacre vary even more. Some Turkish sources claim that 200,000 Armenians died, whereas some Armenian sources number the dead at well over 2,000,000. Talat Pasha, a prominent Young Turk and Grand Vizier from 1917-1918, claimed that the total was 300,000. Toynbee put the number at 600,000 in his 1916 "Treatment" propaganda report. McCarthy independently arrived at the same figure.

Later assessments

Armenians and others around the world recognize April 24 as marking the start of genocide at the hands of the Young Turks.

Some Turkish historians and foreign Ottoman history scholars deny that an event classifiable as state-organised genocide occurred, claiming a lack of evidence pointing Ottoman state involvement. Their claim is that the Armenian deaths resulted from armed conflict, civil war, disease and famine during the turmoil of World War I, when Armenian citizens of Ottoman Empire joined Russian armies to invade eastern provinces of Ottoman Empire. In the same period, 2.5 million other Ottoman citizens have perished as a result of civil-war and disease.

Some supporters of the Turkish version of event have been threatened by Armenian groups, with a wave of assassinations 1970s and 1980s by ASALA and Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide terrorist organizations.

The Armenian Genocide is the subject of a 2002 film, Ararat, by Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan.

The American rock band System of a Down, whose members are Armenian in ancestry, wrote the song P.L.U.C.K. (Political Lying Unholy Cowardly Killers), about the Armenian Genocide and its denial as genocide.

On April 21, 2004, the Canadian House of Commons voted to officially recognize and condemn the Armenian Genocide. The motion passed easily by 153 to 68, however, the Liberal-controlled Cabinet was instructed to vote against it. The federal government, in opposing the motion, did not express a position on whether the genocide took place, but rather cited a desire to avoid reopening old wounds and to maintain good relations with Turkey.

In the past, many prominent American politicians have made statements in support of formal recognition of the Armenian genocide. While president Ronald Reagan publicly referred to the events of 1915 as a 'genocide', a major feat in and of itself, nonetheless to this day no formal resolution recognizing the genocide has been passed by the US government. The Armenian side speculates that fear of retribution from Turkey, a US ally and NATO partner, is behind the lack of formal recognition, whereas the Turkish side speculates that the only reason for the possibility of such a recognition would be the strength of Armenian lobby efforts within US rather than the genuineness of the claims.

On April 24, 2004, in marking the 89th Anniversary of the genocide, John Kerry issued a statement calling for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

President Bill Clinton issued a news release on April 24, 1994, to commemorate the "tragedy" that befell the Armenians in 1915, yet he bowed to political pressure and refused to refer to it as "genocide," despite referring to the massacre as such before being elected president.

Also breaking a campaign promise, the subsequent President George W. Bush refused to use the word "genocide" to describe the killings, though promising Armenian-Americans during his election campaign to recognize the "genocidal campaign" to which Armenians were subjected.

Several countries officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, including Canada, France, Italy, Argentina, Greece, Russia, Slovakia [1] (,Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vatican City. Many US states and cities also recognize the Armenian Genocide. Recently Sweden has changed its official position quoting the historical accuracy, and currently does not recognize Armenian genocide.

Certain countries, notable for their involvement in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire at this time and with substantial archival evidence of first rate importance, refuse to legislate recognitions of any deliberate, state-planned genocide. A major example is that of the UK, whose lawyers were eager to try alleged Ottoman War Criminals on the charge of crimes against humanity after the war (a policy announced during the war), but who released the accused on discovering that there was no conclusively safe evidence in British, Ottoman or American archives that could establish a sound verdict of guilt.

The Turkish government, in their new 2004 Penal Code, added a penalty of ten years in prison for any person that confirms that the Armenian Genocide took place. [2] ( The U.K. Parliament suggests, however, that "There is no mention ( of ... the Armenian genocide" in this penal code.

A recent report on "The Applicability (\%20Memorandum\%20Feb.\%2003.pdf) of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to Events which Occurred During the Early Twentieth Century" by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ ( states that " least some of the perpetrators of the Events knew that the consequence of their action would be the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia, as such, or acted purposively towards this goal, and, therefore, possessed the requisite genocidal intent." The report concludes that "...the Events, viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the [UN] Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them" (p. 17). On the other hand, Prof. Justin McCarthy points out ( the ICTJ lawyers (not historians) who arrived at these conclusions relied almost wholly on pro-Armenian sources, and that their definition of "genocide" requires that only one person need be killed, which can describe any conflict.


Armenian Genocide memorial

Genocide memorial at the Tsitsernakaberd hill, Yerevan

The idea of the memorial arose in 1965, at the commemorating of the 50th anniversary of the genocide. Two years later the memorial (by architects Kalashian and Mkrtchyan) was completed at the Tsitsernakaberd hill above the Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan. The 44 metre stele symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. 12 slabs postioned into a circle, represent 12 lost provinces in present day Turkey. In the centre of the circle, in depth of 1.5 metres, there is an eternal flame. Along the park at the memorial there is a 100 metre wall with names of towns and villages where masacres are known to have taken place. In 1995 a small circular museum was opened at the other end of the park where one learn about basic information about the events in 1915. Some photos taken by German photographers (Turkish allies during World War I) and some publications about the genocide are also displayed. Near the museum is a spot where foreign statesmen plant trees in memory of the genocide.

Each April 24th (Armenian Genocide Commemoration Holiday) hundreds of thousands of people walk to the genocide monument and lay flowers (usually red carnations or tulips) around the eternal flame. Armenians around the world mark the genocide in different ways, and many memorials have been built in Armenian Diaspora communities.

Historical Literature