The Armenian Genocide & Why You Didn’t Learn About It in School

This fall, ICT is producing Beast On The Moon by Richard Kalinoski; a beautiful play about two survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their journey to make a new life in America. This play has brought a tragic historic issue to light, and was even awarded the Khorenatsi Medal (the highest Armenian Cultural Award) in 2005. This play is not only a touching story, but it is based on true events that many Americans have never even heard of.

In 1915 during World War I, the Turkish government had implemented a plan to expel and exterminate millions of Armenians. By the time the deportations ended, 600,000-1.5 million Armenians had been massacred, while many more were forcibly removed from Turkey. Most historians look back on this tragedy as a Genocide; a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people. But even today, the Turkish government still does not acknowledge the scope of these events and the damage they did to the Armenian community.

We must first go back to the Ottoman Empire to begin to understand the conflict between the Turks and the Armenians. The Armenian people established a home in Eurasia approximately 3,000 years ago, and in the 4th century A.D., it became the first nation in the world to make Christianity its official religion. By 15th century A.D., the Armenian Empire was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire; a primarily Muslim society. While the Ottoman’s allowed the Armenians to keep some autonomy, they were viewed as infidels and subject to unequal treatment, such as higher taxes for Christians. In spite of these obstacles however, the Armenians thrived under Ottoman rule and often became wealthier and better educated than their Ottoman counterparts.


The Ottoman rulers grew resentful towards the Armenians, compounded by a growing suspicion that Christian Armenians would be more loyal to neighboring Christian governments (such as Russia). Suspicions grew stronger as the Ottoman Empire began its demise in the 19th century, and the despotic Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II declared “I will soon settle those Armenians,” he told a reporter in 1890. In response to large scale protests by Armenians, Turkish military officials, soldiers and ordinary men sacked Armenian villages and cities and massacred their citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered.

In 1908, the “Young Turks” overthrew the Sultan to establish a more modern, constitutional government. Armenians were hopeful that they would have more equality under the new state, until later finding out the nationalistic intentions to “Turkify” the state and eliminate non-Turk threats (i.e. Christians). After WWI began, Armenians organized volunteer battalions to aid the Russians against the Turks in the Caucasus region. These events, and general Turkish suspicion of the Armenian people, led the Turkish government to push for the “removal” of the Armenians from the war zones along the Eastern Front.


On April 24, 1915, the Armenian genocide began. That day, the Turkish government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals. After that, Armenians were forced out of their homes and sent on “death marches” to the Mesopotamian desert. Many were stripped naked, forced to walk for miles in the scorching sun with no food or water, and if they tried to rest, they were shot. At the same time, the Young Turks established a “Special Organization” of various murderers and ex-convicts, to carry out “butcher battalions” that included throwing Armenians off cliffs, drowning them, crucifying them, and burning them alive. The Turkish countryside became littered with Armenian corpses. Government squads also captured Armenian children, converted them to Islam and gave them to Turkish families, while forcing the older women to join harems and serve as slaves. At the time of the first massacre, there were approximately 2 million Armenians in turkey, compared to 388,000 by 1922.

After the Ottomans surrendered in 1918, the leaders of the Young Turks fled to Germany, which promised not to prosecute them for the genocide. Ever since then, the Turkish government denies that a genocide ever happened. Today, Turkey is an important ally of the United States and other Western nations, and so their governments have  been reluctant to condemn the killings. In March 2010, a U.S. Congressional panel at last voted to recognize the genocide. However, little has changed in Turkey. Despite pressure from Armenians and social justice advocates throughout the world, it’s still illegal in Turkey to talk about what happened to Armenians during that era.


Source Material: