On this date in 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals – Christians, for the most part – were forcibly deported from the Turkish capital of Constantinople. The number soon escalated into the thousands, and most were eventually murdered.
So kicked off the Armenian Genocide, the persecution of Christian Armenians by the Muslim Young Turks, who wanted to cleanse the country of the troublesome non-coreligionists in preparation for the new Turkey in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman regime, and supposedly in order to ensure against the possibility of the Armenians siding against the Central Powers in World War I. By the time the genocide was over – and it lasted from 1915 to 1923 – hundreds of thousands of Armenians had been killed, with top-range estimates putting the total number at 1.5 million. Massive atrocities, from forced death marches to placing women and children aboard ships and then deliberately sinking them, were carried out by Turkish government-backed forces. As CNN reports:
While the death toll is in dispute, photographs from the era document some mass killings. Some show Ottoman soldiers posing with severed heads, others with them standing amid skulls in the dirt. The victims are reported to have died in mass burnings and by drowning, torture, gas, poison, disease and starvation. Children were reported to have been loaded into boats, taken out to sea and thrown overboard. Rape, too, was frequently reported.
The current Islamist dictator of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened multiple foreign countries for daring to consider the use of the term “Armenian Genocide.” In 2010, Erdogan openly warned that he could throw 100,000 Armenian immigrants out of Turkey. He stated, “There are currently 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000. If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.”
While the Armenian Genocide was occurring, the world turned a blind eye. A young German corporal, however, did not. In 1939, he was dictator of Germany, and he told Nazi officers in August 1939 to “kill without mercy” in Poland, adding, “who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach points out:
Hitler’s confidants learned from Turkey’s genocidal playbook. As Hitler strategized his rise to power in the early 1920s, his lead political advisor was Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, a young German Consular office in Erzurum during WWI, a region of Ottoman Turkey densely populated with Armenians… Turkey’s ethnic cleansing in WWI was well known and admired by Nazi ideologues. In 1923, journalist Hans Trobst wrote in the Nazi newspaper Heimatland, “these bloodsuckers and parasites, Greeks and Armenians, had been eradicated by the Turks.” This chilling praise of genocide foretold atrocities to come.
Whether it is ISIS targeting for destruction Christians all over the Middle East, the Iranian terror regime threatening the Jews with annihilation, or Bashar Assad threatening all those who oppose him with brutal murder, the legacy of the Armenian genocide is alive and well. If the world never had the courage to face that legacy, it’s no wonder the world seems doomed to repeat its indifference in the face of mass murder generation after generation.