In the waning years of the 13th century, Osman Gazi led a relentless conflict against the Byzantine empire centered in Constantinople, for control of western Anatolia in modern day Turkey.
In 1453 the empire founded by Osman I captured Constantinople itself, seat of the Byzantine Empire and now known as Istanbul.
At the height of its power in 1683, the Ottoman Empire under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent ruled over an area spanning three continents. From the shores of north Africa to the gates of Vienna, east to the modern Russian Federation state, of Georgia. Nearly 4% the landmass of the entire planet, was under Ottoman rule.
In the early 19th century, the Ottoman empire entered a period of decline. Serbia went to war for independence from the Sultan in 1804, followed closely by Greece, Crete, Bulgaria and others.
As yet one of the Great Powers of the Eurasian landmass, the Ottoman Empire was now “the Sick Man of Europe”. By mid-century, many minority populations were pushing for independence.
One such were the Armenians, an ancient people living in the region for some 2,000 years. Mostly Christian, Armenians were among the earliest to adopt the new faith as their own having done so, even before Rome itself.
Mid-19th century reforms such the repeal of the “Jizya”, the tax on “unbelievers,” brought about a measure of equality. Even so, non-Muslims remained second-class citizens. Without the right to testify at trial, for all intents and purposes it was open season on Armenian Christians and other religious minorities. In some locales, such treatment rose to the level of officially sanctioned public policy. By 1860, Armenians began to push for greater rights.
Where his subjects saw the righteous quest for equal rights the Sultan saw, insurrection.
Obsessed with personal loyalty to the point of paranoia, Sultan Abdul Hamid II once told a reporter that he would give his Armenian Christian minority a “box on the ear” for their impudence. The Hamidian massacres begun in 1894 and lasting until 1897 killed between 80,000 and 300,000 Armenians, leaving in their wake, 50,000 orphaned children.
It was but a prelude of what was to come.
In military planning, a “decapitation strike” is an action, designed to remove the leadership of an opposing government or group. The Ottoman pogrom began with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, a decapitation strike intended to deprive Armenians of the Empire, of leadership.
The order came down from Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha on April 24, 1915. “Red Sunday”. By the end of the day an estimated 235 to 270 Armenian intellectuals were arrested, in Istanbul. By the end of May, their number reached 2,345. Most, were eventually murdered.
The “Tehcir” Law of May 29, a term derived from an Ottoman Turkish word signifying “deportation” or “forced displacement”, authorized the forced removal within the empire, of such detainees.
“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact. . . . 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 to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.“US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr.
Able bodied males were exterminated outright, or worked to death as conscripted labor. Women, children, the elderly and infirm were driven on death marches to the farthest reaches of the Syrian desert. Goaded like livestock by military “escorts”, they were deprived of food and water, subjected at all times to robbery, rape, and summary execution. By the early 1920s, as many as 1.5 million of the Ottoman Empire’s 2 million Armenian Christians, were dead.
The Turkish historian Taner Akçam has examined military and court records, parliamentary minutes, letters, and eyewitness reports to write what may be The definitive history of the whole episode entitled, A Shameful Act, The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. In it, Akçam writes of:
“…the looting and murder in Armenian towns by Kurds and Circassians, improprieties during tax collection, criminal behavior by government officials and the refusal to accept Christians as witnesses in trial.”Taner Akçam
The Armenian spyurk, an Aramaic cognate deriving from the Hebrew Galut, or “Diaspora”, goes back some 1,700 years. Today, the number of ethnic Armenians around the world tracing lineage back to this modern-day diaspora, numbers in the several millions.
Since 1919, Armenians around the world have marked April 24 as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?“Adolf Hitler
To this day it remains illegal in Turkey, to speak of the Armenian genocide. The New York Times declined to use the term, until 2004.
In April 2019, President Donald Trump received a furious response from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for this seemingly-benign statement: “Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many”.