In this exercise, you are going to look at the Armenian genocide, which resulted in the murder of approximately 1.5 million Armenian Christians living in the area of eastern Turkey that today is independent Armenia. In 1915, Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire, which was in rapid decline and would eventually become Turkey. The Young Turks, who came to power in 1908, dreamed of a pan-Turkish empire that was Muslim in religious orientation. The Armenians were the largest remaining group of Christians left in this territory (other groups of Christians in parts of the Ottoman Empire had broken away or gained independence).
Beginning with the execution of Armenian political leaders in Istanbul in 1915, the systematic elimination of Armenians, either through exile overland to Syria or execution, took place. It is believed that mass deportations, torture, and executions took place between 1915 and 1923, with the goal of eradicating the Armenian population from Turkey soil.
- To be sure that you understand the magnitude and the scale of the Armenian genocide, I’d like you to look at some photographic material about the Armenian genocide. Choose two of these sites (you may go to all three, if you wish). Warning: some of the material on these sites is extremely graphic.
Photographs of the Armenian genocide taken by John Elder between 1917-19
Images and a variety of sources documenting the Armenian genocide.
- Then I’d like you to look at two maps on this site http://www.genocide1915.org/kartor.html
∙the first shows the vision of Pan-Turkish land
∙the second map indicates the extent of the deportations and massacres
- Then, read some eyewitness reports about the genocide.
Feel free to look at any of these but be sure to scroll down and take a look at Noyemzar Alexanian’s story. (2nd from the bottom of the list) After you’ve done this, take a look at some of the other survivor testimony on this site, if you have a few minutes. These are incredibly moving.
- Then take a look at some of the wartime testimony in archival documents in the U.S. and British archives. Go to:
Poke around this part of the site, featuring US and British documents, and see what you find. Select at least 3 documents to read.
5. Please take a look at the letter sent by the Turkish embassy as a reply to one of my former students, St John Barned-Smith, in 2004 when he asked how the Turkish government could explain the fate of the Armenians. (St John is now a very successful reporter for the Houston Chronicle.)
In the link that follows, the letter from the Embassy appears first; if you scroll down after the Embassy’s letter, you will find the student’s letter to the Embassy at the bottom of this link AND you should read that first before reading the Embassy’ response!
Here’s what Obama did/didn’t do: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/19/armenian-genocide-ben-rhodes-samantha-power-obama-349973
Here’s where Biden seems to be: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/31/what-the-biden-presidency-means-for-turkey-and-erdogan-post-trump.html
- After looking at all this, what sense can you make of the Armenian genocide?
- What’s true about these events? Is there anything that appears to be untrue?
- What is “real history” and what isn’t?
- How can you tell?
- And how would you respond to the Turkish government’s position on these events? Do you think the U.S. government and/or world governments should in some way respond as well?