Decades before the Jewish Holocaust there was another slaughter of an innocent minority group, this one lesser known to history. It was the Armenian Genocide of World War One.
Historians estimate anywhere from 600,000 to 1.3 million Armenians were killed during the genocide.
Several other mass murders of Armenians occurred on a smaller scale beginning in the 1890s.
In 1914, the Ottoman government attempted to get the Armenians to agree to rebel against the Russians in the Caucasus region. The Armenians, promised autonomy by Russia, refused.
When war began, the Caucasus became an active front. Despite the fact Armenians served in both armies, many Armenians had crossed the border to serve with Russia, hopeful they would liberate their people from Ottoman rule. Some of them committed atrocities against Muslim villages conquered by the Russians.
In the winter of 1914-1915, the Ottomans suffered a humiliating defeat. The war minister blamed the defeat on the Armenians.
In another region of the Ottoman Empire, Anatolia, Muslims living there had been expelled from Russia in the 19th century. They believed the Armenians were supporting Russia. The Kurds, also living in the area, despised the Armenians.
Ottoman solders began looting homes and murdering Armenians.
In April 1915, Armenians rose up in the city of Van and held the city for the Russian army. The Ottoman government viewed this act as treason.
That month, members of the Armenian elite as well as intellectuals living in Constantinople were arrested. More arrests followed.
In May, the government ordered the deportation of anyone considered a threat to national security. Many leaders were happy to have an excuse to cleanse Anatolia.
The Armenians were ordered to be deported to what is now Iraq and Syria. Ottoman soldiers were ordered to show no mercy.
Because men were considered the core of the resistance, they were usually murdered in their villages instead of deported.
The deported were given little warning and were ill prepared for the journey and suffered from thirst, hunger and disease. Often they were forced to march naked, and those who stopped to rest were executed. Women were raped, and children were kidnapped. In addition, they were often attacked by Kurds.
The United States, still a neutral nation, was able to report on the genocide. The Allies sent protests, but did not provide troops to assist. A few Armenians were saved by Allied ships.
Some of the refugees did flee to Russia where half of them died of typhus and cholera.
Four years after the war ended, there were only 387,800 Armenians alive in the Ottoman Empire. At the start of the war, there had been 2.1 million.
In modern day Turkey it is illegal to speak about the events surrounding the Armenian deportation, and the government claims the events were not a genocide because the high number of deaths were not intentional.
Were you aware of the Armenian Genocide? Leave a comment below.
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