Armenian Genocide

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A Synopsis of Armenian History


          The Armenians are an ancient people, having inhabited the highland region between the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean seas for nearly 3,000 years.  They are noted in Greek and Persian sources as early as the 6th century B.C.  On a strategic crossroads between East and West, Armenia was at various times independent under a national dynasty, autonomous under native princes who paid tribute to foreign powers, or subject to direct foreign rule.  The Armenians were the first people to adopt Christianity as a national religion, developing a distinct Indo-European language, alphabet, and national-religious culture.

          The Turkish invasion of Armenia began in the 11th century A.D., and the last Armenian kingdom fell three centuries later.  Most of the territories that had once formed the ancient and medieval Armenian kingdoms were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.  As a Christian minority, Armenians endured second-class citizenship, including restrictions on many aspects of their participation in society, special taxes, and a prohibition on bearing arms.

          During WWI, The Young Turk political faction made a secret agreement with Berlin.  In return for joining the war against Great Britain, France, and Russia, they sought the creation of a new Turkish state extending into Central Asia.  The ideology called "Pan Turkism" (creating an homogenous Turkish state) now saw Armenians as an obstacle to the realization of that goal.

          On April 24th, 1915, several hundred Armenian community leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople (Istanbul) were arrested, sent east, and put to death.  In May, after mass deportations had already begun, Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha, claiming that Armenians could offer aid and comfort to the enemy and were in a state of imminent rebellion, ordered their deportation (after the fact) to "relocation centers" - actually the barren Syrian desert.

          Armenians in the Ottoman armies, serving separately in unarmed labor battalions, were removed and murdered.  Of the remaining population, the adult and teenage males were separated from the deportation caravans and killed under the direction of Young Turk functionaries.  Women and children were driven for months over mountains and desert, often raped, tortured, and mutilated.  Deprived of food and water, they fell by the hundreds of thousands along the routes to the desert.  Ultimately, more than half the Armenian population, 1,500,000 people were annihilated.  In this manner the Armenian people were eliminated from their homeland of several millennia.  Thousands of refugees scattered throughout the Arab provinces and the Caucasus died of starvation, epidemic, and exposure.  Churches and cultural monuments were destroyed and small surviving children were renamed and raised as non-Armenians.

          "The important point in understanding a tragedy such as this is not the exact and precise count of the number who died, that will never be known, but the fact that more than half the Armenian population perished and the rest were forcibly driven form their ancestral homeland.  Another important point is that what befell the Armenians was by the will of the government." - excerpted from the Model Curriculum for Human Rights and Genocide, published for the California State Board of Education by the California State Department of Education.


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