In the 21st century, the Holocaust is considered to be one of the most brutal genocides in history, robbing the world of six million Jews and other European minorities during the course of World War II. While we learn about this terrifying event in school and throughout our lives, we are rarely educated about the many frightening slaughters that preceded the definition of the word “genocide”. Amongst these is the Armenian genocide, during which Armenian people were murdered by the Turks ruling over the Ottoman Empire. During this period, millions of Armenians, who were simply exercising religious freedom, were murdered and pushed to the brink of extinction by the Turks. The history of this tragic event isn’t discussed nearly as much as the Holocaust, yet the Young Turks’ brutal murders left a mark on history that cannot soon be forgotten.

Absorbing Armenia: Capturing the Armenian people

The Ottoman Empire is arguably one of the most powerful domains in history. Claiming land in places such as Europe, Africa, and Asia, the Turkish leaders of the empire stole property, murdered innocent people, and overthrew empires without blinking an eye. They were commanded by an all-powerful sultan who spearheaded the pillaging of new land, empires, and peoples with an iron fist. Eventually, Armenia met a similar fate as other West Asian countries, yet their situation was unique compared to other locations that the Ottoman Empire had eaten up. Throughout history, Armenia had a tumultuous relationship with other governments, frequently being tossed between feuding empires time and time again. However, Armenia did manage to maintain some autonomy during their early years, especially when they were able to establish Christianity as their official religion. This freedom of religion all changed when the Ottoman Empire got ahold of Armenia.

When Armenia was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, approximately 2 million Armenian people were forced to transition into the lifestyle of the Ottoman Empire. From the day that Armenia became a part of the Ottoman Empire, they had targets glued to their backs. Strict policies were formulated and presented to the Armenians regarding their religious beliefs. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire practiced Islam, and those who weren’t Muslims were considered to be less godly than the ruling Turks. Armenians who clung to their Christianity were treated as second-class citizens. They were forced to pay a religious tax to the government for practicing Christianity rather than Islam, and they were barred from any participation in the government. They also faced the possibility of violent assaults due to their religious affiliation without any government protection being promised to them under Turkish law. As the dawn of World War I appeared, tensions between the Armenians and the Turks only grew worse.

Tension with the Turks

Besides the religious tension between the Armenians and the Turks, the Ottoman Empire dreaded the successes of the Armenian people. Reporting high levels of income and a massive amount of well-educated citizens, the Armenians were experiencing numerous personal victories above their Turkish counterparts. Still, a bit of jealousy wasn’t enough to spur the genocide of the Armenian people. Another factor contributing to the violent widespread outbursts of the Turks was the fact that they were experiencing frequent tension with Russia. Since Russia was a Christian country, the Turks believed that they could sway the Christian Armenians to side with them in the event of a conflict. Near the end of the 19th century, as the authority of the Ottoman Empire crumbled, the cruel and unforgiving Sultan Abdul Hamid II grew weary of the Armenians efforts to gain their rights despite their Christian religious affiliation. Publicly condemning the Armenians and presenting them as a problem to be “solved,” the sultan spurred what would become the first attacks of the genocide.

Beginning in 1894, the Turkish government spent two years raiding Armenian villages in the Ottoman Empire. Every Turkish citizen from hardcore military personnel to grocery store owners turned up to assault and murder Armenians. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished during these terrifying slaughters, and unfortunately, the Ottoman Empire was just getting started. Despite the overthrow of the sultan and the introduction of a new group of leaders, the Young Turks, the Armenian citizens wouldn’t experience a brighter future under a new leader. The Young Turks didn’t want to provide the Armenians with rights and respect; they wanted to ensure that the empire became fully Turkish. What did this mean for the Armenians who had survived the first bloodbaths? Disaster.

A genocide of terrifying proportions

The Young Turks, eager to exterminate the Armenians, began to stir up even more disaster at the beginning of World War I. Not only did the Young Turks side with Germany and the Axis powers (who would eventually go on to commit the largest genocide in history), but they also began to weaponize their religious, political, and wartime beliefs against the Armenians. The Turks believed that the Armenians would eagerly cheer on the Allied powers if it meant that they may be able to win their rights and freedom from them. As a result, Armenians were labeled a threat by the Young Turks. As predicted, Armenians were hopeful that an Allied win would secure them their rights, and those in the Caucasus region paired up with the Russians to attempt to fight Turks in the area. Unfortunately, this didn’t sit well with the Young Turks, and the aftermath of the Armenians’ decision to fight was catastrophic.

During April 24, 1915, the Turkish government began the widespread murder, extermination, and displacement of Armenians. Within hours, the Young Turks had successfully captured hundreds of notable Armenians, slaughtering them to showcase the lack of power that the Armenians had in comparison to them. What happened to those who weren’t directly executed by the government? Massacres. The Young Turks sent out a massive amount of killing squads to murder Armenians, filling highly-populated Aremanin areas with brutally slaughtered bodies. Armenian children were kidnapped, converted to Islam, and raised beneath Muslim law in the Ottoman Empire. Their parents were often raped, murdered, and left for dead. Those who evaded attacks from the killing squad were forced out of their homes and tossed into the scorching Mesopotamian desert, where they often became dehydrated, emaciated, and ill past the point of survival. This terrifying genocide of the Armenian people resulted in near-complete destruction of the Armenian people, lowering their population from two million to one million by 1918, and, by the conclusion of the genocide in 1922, only 388,000 had survived. While the Armenian genocide isn’t as frequently discussed as the Holocaust, the impact that such violent extermination had on the Armenian people has left a permanent stain of utter horror on history.