History has been treacherous. It certainly has made us learn great things but at the same time, it has made us unlearn events that should have been remembered. One such event that remains shrouded in the annals of history is the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Often termed as ‘The Forgotten Genocide‘, the Armenian pogrom is considered to be the first genocide of the 20th Century. It began the Age of Genocide, which we all must acknowledge that the 20th century indeed was.
The Armenian people have resided in the great mountainous plateaus of Eastern Anatolia since the beginning of the 6th century BCE. In fact, the Kingdom of Armenia became the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion in the 4th century CE. Armenian political independence was largely brought to an end by a wave of invasions and migrations of the Turkish-speaking people in the 11th century and in the 15th-16th century, the region was secured by the Ottoman Turk who absorbed it into the mighty Ottoman Empire.
The Armenians were, however, given autonomy to rule themselves under the millet system which at the same time institutionalized the inferior status accorded to them. They were termed as “Gavurs” or disloyal people who were never to be trusted. Since the Armenians constituted a large christian population, they were looked upon with suspicion by the Ottoman Rulers and were always on the radar. This suspicion culminated in what has been popularly called as the Settling of the Armenian Question by the despot Sultan Abdul Hamid-II at the end of the 19th century. Between 1894-1896, a state sanctioned pogrom was started on Hamid’s orders in which thousands of Armenians were sacked and murdered in cold blood.
The coming of the Young Turks to power in 1908 and restoration of the Constitution was seen as light at the end of the tunnel by the Armenians but in vain. They were no less despotic than their predecessors and continued to regard Armenians as a “threat” to Turkish sovereignty. The nail in the coffin was finally put by the humiliating defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War (1912-1913) which resulted in the loss of nearly all of its territory in Europe.
In the wake of the outbreak of the First World War, on April 24, 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals, politicians , activists and so on, were rounded up and executed for conspiring against the government. Fearing that the Armenians would join the invading enemies, the Ottoman government deported hundreds of thousands of Armenians from its north-eastern border region under the Tehcir Law. The physical annihilation of the Armenian people continued from the spring of 1915 to the autumn of 1916. The deportation routes thronged with the corpses of Armenian people. The men were pushed off the cliffs into the rivers and valleys by paramilitary units. Women and children, who constituted a major chunk of the deportees, were sent on “death marches” across the Syrian desert without food and water. Those who couldn’t keep up were left to die or killed with a gun shot. Women were raped and sold as sex slaves while young boys were trafficked to work as unfree labourers. The genocide reduced the population of the Armenians by 90 percent in Turkey. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million Armenians were killed. Those who survived were sent to concentration camps where their suffering was amplified due to starvation and frequent outbreaks of epidemics.
Genocide is not an aberration. It’s an age-old human habit like love, or agriculture, or art. The tendency of the dominant species to create a “lebensraum” or living space for itself comes at the cost of the weaker species whose annihilation is rationalized by labelling it as something natural or inevitable. The annihilation of the weaker community doesn’t require much of an effort. It’s already standing on the edge of a cliff. All one needs to do is to give a gentle nudge and there it goes falling into an eternity of darkness. The process of ethnic-cleansing is afterall not that troublesome. Historically, the most efficient form of genocide has been to displace people from their homes, herd them together, and block their access to food and water. Under such conditions, they die without obvious violence and often in far great numbers.
The denial of genocide, which has been intrinsic to all regimes that have ever orchestrated one, invites for more such pogroms. Genocide within genocide, denial within denial, on and on, like Matryoskha dolls. The denial of the Armenian pogrom by the Turkish Government only deepens the wounds of the Armenians. It’s constant rejection of the Armenian Pogrom makes “The Genocide that was” to “The Genocide that never was”. Sufferings hurt but what hurts more is their blatant rejection. It’s high time that the political regimes all over the world take responsibility for the crimes they have committed against humanity. The acknowledgement may not help in healing the wounds but the least it can do is to prevent its further deepening, and offer a closure to the victims.
Butool Zehra is a student pursuing History from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Samra Ejaz
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column] [/et_pb_row] [/et_pb_section]