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Metz Yeghern The Murder of a Nation
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Armenia is one of the world's oldest civilizations. Inhabiting the mountainous Caucasus region at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the people of Armenia have shared a unique language and culture for over 3,000 years.
Background:
Fortress of Kale
PART I
Armenian Civilization
Background:
Saints Peter and
Paul cathedral
in Tomarza, Turkey
At one time, the Kingdom of Armenia stretched from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. Since then, large parts of Armenia have been divided among foreign empires, including the Romans, Arabs, Persians, Ottomans, and Russians.
Armenia's mountainous terrain and deeply-rooted Christian heritage helped preserve its cultural identity. According to biblical accounts, the country's most famous landmark, Mount Ararat, was the landing place of Noah's Ark. Early in the 4th century A.D., Armenia became the first Christian nation. Apostles Thadeus and Bartholomew (Saint Jude) traveled to Armenia in the first century.
The Armenian Kingdoms
From the 10th century BC through the 14th century AD, Armenians established a series of kingdoms in their highland country ruled by native dynasties.
Christianity spurred the development of a rich tradition of distinctly Armenian architecture, art, music, and literature that continues to the present day.
Armenian
Folk Music
Music is a deeply engrained part of Armenian culture. Often played on traditional instruments like the duduk, Armenian folk music has a rich heritage.
Craftsmanship
Armenian carpet weavers, stone carvers, and jewelry makers have been acclaimed for thousands of years, their handiwork traded across the globe. Armenians today celebrate an artistic heritage that reflects thirty centuries of exquisite craftsmanship.
Influence on religious architecture
By the 7th century A.D., hundreds of churches dotted Armenia's mountainous landscape. Armenian builders developed the use of arches and niches to construct larger stone domes, techniques that stood for centuries and had a profound influence on religious architecture throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Manuscripts
Scholars first began writing in Armenian, using the unique Armenian alphabet, in the 5th century. Elaborately illustrated religious manuscripts, lavishly decorated with fantastical creatures and birds, are a treasured part of Armenia's literary heritage. Recent scientific findings trace the Armenian language back over thousands of years.
Background:
Noravank
Monastery
in Armenia
Armenia's unique and distinctive culture has survived for thousands of years. It is the legacy of a creative society sustained by centuries of tradition and provides a remarkable testimony to the enduring faith, intellectual tradition, and determination of the Armenian people.
By the early 20th century, the once-powerful Ottoman-Turkish Empire had begun to decline.
Amidst this decline, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II is forced to give up absolute power.
In 1908, a new group of leaders known as the Young Turks pushed for modern reforms, including a pledge to create equality for minority Christians.
However, following political struggles within the Young Turk party, the radical Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) led by a dictatorial triumvirate seized power in 1913. Ismail Enver, Mehmet Talaat, and Ahmed Jemal began creating a modern state that reflected Turkish nationalist ambitions and saw little place for the empire's Christian minorities, including Armenians. By calling for 'Turkey for the Turks' they sought to generate public support for their racist and eliminationist program.
Mehmet Talaat
Ahmed Jemel
Ismail Enver
PART II
Armenian Genocide
When the Ottoman Empire allied itself with Germany in World War I, the Young Turks saw an opportunity to rid the empire of its Armenian population. Their first target was the historic Armenian town of Zeytun in southern Anatolia.
Nestled in the Taurus Mountains and surrounded by Turkish villages, Zeytun had a long history of self-rule within the Ottoman regime. Turkish authorities welcomed the chance to strike at this symbol of Armenian resistance to assimilation.
In late 1914 and early 1915, Turkish officials began escalating tensions in the region. They ransacked houses, arrested community leaders, and accused the locals of planning to revolt. They deflected blame for their own problems by blaming the non-Muslim infidels.
When Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army were disarmed and confined to labor battalions in February 1915, some deserted to escape the harsh treatment. Recruits from Zeytun took refuge in the surrounding mountains.
Talaat Pasha
(center) with
German diplomats
Disarmed Armenian
Conscripts
from Zeytun
Turkish forces began by deporting
the families of leading notables
and suspected deserters. They then ordered all Armenians to leave. Within weeks, the historic Armenian community in Zeytun had been eradicated.
The terrible events at Zeytun would soon be repeated at Armenian communities across the empire. On April 24, 1915, Turkish officials arrested 250 Armenian leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople. More arrests followed as thousands of Armenian notables were imprisoned, executed or deported. First, the able bodied men were disarmed, then moved out of their homes and massacred. After that, the women and children were marched to death, sold into slavery, forcibly converted to Islam, or raped and killed at will.
Sam Kadorian | Survivor
In May, Turkish military forces began the widespread removal of Armenian communities all across the empire. Tens of thousands of Armenian families were forced from their homes and marched to concentration camps in the bleak Syrian desert.
Elise Hagopian-Taft | Survivor
Turkish officials enforced the deportations ruthlessly. Entire Armenian villages were slaughtered and burnt to the ground. In the city of Trebizond, hundreds of women and children were drowned in the Black Sea.
Turkish officials made little effort to supply the deportees with food, water, or shelter. Troops guarding the marching columns robbed, raped, and killed freely. The roads leading to the Syrian desert became littered with corpses.
The Armenians that survived the marches found little relief when they arrived in the desert. Herded into concentration camps, they were left to die in the blazing sun.
Without food, water, or shelter, countless Armenians died of exposure and starvation within weeks. Children, women, the elderly, and the sick fell first. Their bodies were disposed in mass graves or left to rot.
Armin Wegner
The Turkish attack on Armenian communities was the world's first modern genocide. Turkish forces massacred hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands more were deliberately starved to death in the Syrian desert.
Nium Sukkar | Survivor
Turkish forces did not stop at eradicating the Armenian people. Churches, schools, villages, and towns were systematically destroyed. All across the empire, once thriving Armenian communities were left empty and desolate. Centuries old churches and cultural monuments were destroyed as the Turkish government tried to erase all traces of Armenian civilization.
Background:
Kaposivank
Armenian Monastery
near Erzinjan, Turkey
Few Armenians survived the deportations. Some that lived near the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire escaped across the border. Others hid in the cities. Without families and communities to care for them, thousands of Armenian children became homeless orphans.
Hagop Asadurian | Survivor
Many young women were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. To prevent their escape and impede their identification many of the captive women were tattooed.
Turkish attacks on Armenians continued after the horrific events of 1915. The few remaining Armenian communities were subjected to further massacres and deportations. After the end of World War I, the new Turkish nationalist regime renewed its efforts to eradicate all Armenians living in Turkey.
Background:
Armenian
Refugee camp
in Aintab, Turkey
March–April 1915
Turks Begin Systematic Plan
Armenians in the Turkish Army are disarmed in Marash and Erzerum. Turkish authorities begin deportations with 25,000 Armenians from Zeytun and make large scale arrests in Diyarbekir and Constantinople. By late April, Armenians are slain in Chankiri, Ayash, and Van Province where 32,000 Armenians are massacred.
May–December 1915
Deportations & Massacres Unfold
The deportation of Armenians is widespread across all regions. Deportees are marched from their homes in Erzerum, Trebizond, Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Sivas and Van Provinces, most toward Der Zor in the Syrian Desert. Massacres occur throughout, adding to the death toll  of deportees succumbing to starvation and disease.
1915–1918, 1920–1923
Anatomy of the Atrocities
The systematic extermination of the Armenian population unfolded in force across Anatolia toward Syria between 1915–1918 and resumed again after WWI between 1920–1923. Tracing the tracks of these events reveals the widespread anatomy of the atrocities.
1.5 million Armenians were victims during the systematic genocide carried out by Turkish forces between 1915 and 1923. The Ottoman Empire's Armenian community was gone, its people decimated and a 3,000 year old civilization was destroyed.
PART III
Legacy
Background:
Orphanage
in Yerevan, Armenia
The Armenian Genocide casts a long shadow that extends to the present day. The survivors struggled to rebuild their lives, but many would never fully recover. And the destroyed Armenian communities would never be rebuilt.
Armenians that survived the genocide gathered in refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East. More than a half million victims desperately clung to life, denied any chance of returning to their homes and relying on foreign aid. Many were orphaned children. Some of the refugee camps turned into permanent settlements, marking the beginning of the Armenian diaspora. Other survivors eventually joined Armenian communities outside the region or emigrated to other parts of the world.
Philanthropic organizations in the U.S., Great Britain and elsewhere raised money to help the surviviors with food and shelter. Foreign aid provided a vital lifeline to Armenian victims, but for many the help came too late.
Relief efforts often focused first on helping orphaned children. One of the largest efforts was organized by Near East Relief, an American charity. For many Armenians, America became a beacon of hope, and thousands emigrated in search of safety.
Despite promises, the world community did little to punish those responsible for the genocide. Some Turkish leaders were convicted in absentia by a Turkish military tribunal in 1919, but little effort was made to punish the many perpetrators who helped organize the deportations or carry out the massacres.
The world soon forgot about the Armenian atrocities. The Turkish Republic denied they ever occurred. But as new genocides have occurred, the memorials created by the Armenian community provide a stark warning to the dangers of ignoring these crimes against humanity and the dangers of whitewashing this historical record. The warning signs that came before the Armenian Genocide have repeated themselves in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Sudan, and many other places since 1915. We can ask “Why?” each time a new genocide occurs, but we should not have to. We need to remember the past for a better future. And we need to help those who inherited this past to come to terms.