I saved this post by David Warren, then inconveniently forgot about it until now. Apologies to those concerned, but after a century, a week or two probably don’t make much difference … and perhaps a belated reminder might help keep the event in the minds of a few more readers:
The annihilation of more than a million Armenians (and their descendants) cannot be disputed. The larger estimates seem to be justified. April 24th, 1915, is recalled as a conventional opening event — when leading Armenian figures were arrested in Istanbul, on the pretext that they sympathized with the Russian enemy — but there were events before that. One could mention the Adana massacre of 1909, the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s (hundreds of thousands killed in these), and so forth.
This “Red Sunday” in Istanbul was itself immediately preceded by redder ones in distant Van. The official charge that Armenians were working with the Russians was occasioned by the fact that Russians had come to the aid of the Armenians in Van, threatened with imminent slaughter. In the end, Djevdet Bey, the murderous governor, was anyway able to exterminate more than fifty thousand of the Christians living in that vilayet alone.
Curiously, or not, the events of “Red Sunday,” then many similar as prominent Armenians were rounded up all over the country and sent to holding camps at Ankara from which they would never emerge, is closely connected with the other centenary we are celebrating, today. That is Gallipoli. The Ottoman authorities were acting under the impulse of war, in a moment when they began seriously (and reasonably) to doubt their own survival. But lest this seem an extenuation, it should be remembered that the same authorities had repeatedly turned on the Armenians each time their own global inadequacies had been exposed.
Under the notorious Tehcir Law, a model later for Hitler, all property belonging to Armenians could be seized, and arrangements began for their deportation to — undisclosed locations. These were prison camps which pioneered the methods of Auschwitz and Belsen. Germans and Austrians in the region, as allies of the “Sublime Porte,” were horrified by what they saw, using such descriptors as “bestial cruelty.” There was no possible question that the authorities intended to exterminate, not incarcerate. The Turkish people at large could also see what was happening around them, when not themselves participating in the slaughter. There is no extenuation for them.
The Treaty of Sèvres, after the War, proposed restoration of Armenian native lands within the defunct Sultanate to a new Armenian republic, but in turn triggered another campaign, now by the Turkish nationalists who succeeded the Ottomans. Their law allowed any remaining Armenian property to be seized by the state on the glib ground that it had been “abandoned.” During this later, post-Ottoman phase, perhaps another hundred thousand Armenians were massacred, often in places to which they had fled for safety. Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk,” the great secular Turkish patriot, was direct commander in the later stages of this Turkish-Armenian War, and much progressive effort has been expended washing the blood off his hands.