The Armenian Genocide also known as the Armenian Massacres and by Armenians as the Great Crime was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic homeland in the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. It took place during and after World War I and was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and forced labor, and the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches to the Syrian Desert. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians, the Greeks and other minority groups were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy.
It is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides, as scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out to eliminate the Armenians, and it is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust. The word genocide was coined in order to describe these events.
The starting date of the genocide is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day when Ottoman authorities arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. Thereafter, the Ottoman military uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, depriving them of food and water, to the desert of what is now Syria. Massacres were indiscriminate of age or gender, with rape and other sexual abuse commonplace. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities were founded as a result of the Armenian genocide.
Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide is an accurate description of the events. In recent years, it has faced repeated calls to accept the events as genocide. To date, twenty countries have officially recognized the events of the period as genocide, and most genocide scholars and historians accept this view
Winston Churchill described the massacres as an “administrative holocaust” and noted: “This crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race.”
Chillingly, Adolf Hitler used the episode to justify the Nazi murder of six million Jews, saying in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Yet, carried out under the cover of war, the Armenian genocide remains shrouded in mystery – not least because modern-day Turkey refuses to acknowledge the existence of its killing fields.
Now, new photographs of the horror have come to light. They come from the archives of the German Deutsche Bank, which was working in the region financing a railway network when the killing began.