Armenian genocide. Centennial. 1915-2015

The forget-me-not flower is the symbol of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, in which it is estimated that 1,500,000 people died, to be commemorated this year on April 24. It is considered to be the first systematic genocide of the Modern Era and is the second most studied, after the Jewish Holocaust. With the slogan “I remember and demand”, the symbol represents the past, present and future of a people, the Armenian people, who demand recognition of the genocide. Even today several “denialist” countries continue to exist. The Turkish Republic denies the Armenian genocide, and countries like Israel and Spain have not officially recognised it. Some countries, such as France and Switzerland have taken measures against those who deny its existence. Nevertheless, these laws and condemnations have had absolutely no effect due to either having been declared unconstitutional (in the case of France) or thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights for being considered “contrary to freedom of expression”.

Going back to the history of the genocide, between 1915 and 1918, the Ottoman Empire, governed by the Young Turks, carried out a systematic policy to eliminate its Christian Armenian minority. But the massacres began much earlier, in the late 19th century, and continued for years after the atrocious genocide. Thus, in 1923 the Armenian community almost disappeared from what is known as “Turkish Armenia”. Fleeing the horror and the cruelty, those who succeeded in surviving had to go into exile and head for places in all five continents. They form the Armenian diaspora.

In the late 19th century, Armenia was divided between the Russian (Eastern Armenia) and Ottoman (Western Armenia) Empires. In the Ottoman Empire the Christian and Jewish communities were considered to be “second-class citizens”. To curb the rise in Armenian nationalism, from 1894 to 1896 Sultan Abdul-Hamid II implemented a series of massacres among the Christian Armenian population – the most drastic in 1895 – when thousands of civilians were killed.

In the early 20th century, the idea of “Turkifying” the diversity of ethnic groups existing in the empire gained even more strength among the Young Turks, a government pro-reform group. Thus, with their sights set on building a new Turkish state and making the most of the fact that the eyes of the international community were occupied with the First World War, the Government set about intensifying its offensive.

The key date in the genocide is set at 24 April 2015, when violence broke out in the region towered over by the impressive volcanic cones of Mount Ararat. From that day on the Government arrested and deported Armenian religious and political leaders and intellectuals, later murdering them. The measures they took had consequences on all of the Armenian population. The men were obliged to fight with the Ottoman army or work in forced labour battalions. They were the first to be eliminated. The remainder, women, boys, girls, the young and the elderly from Anatolia and historical Armenia were obliged to leave their homes and condemned to the “death marches” through the desert. Most died of thirst, hunger, fatigue, disease and from the physical abuse they suffered in these caravans and/or concentration camps in the Syrian Desert.

On 24 October 1918 the Government, having lost several battles in the context of the Great War and forced by the pressure of the allied countries, was obliged to authorise the return of the Armenian people. In the following years trials were held and sentences handed out to the participants in the massacres, although persecution against the Armenians continued to rage. Social and political ups and downs meant that all measures taken were futile, given that in 1923, the same year the Turkish Republic was proclaimed, a law declared the innocence of all Turks sentenced as war criminals and the return of the Armenian people to Turkish territories was forbidden.

The community lost much of its 3,000 years of inheritance and heritage due to the burning of libraries, desecration of churches, places razed to the ground and left in ruins...

With no resources for survival and with no national state, the men and women of Armenia headed for any country that would take them. And although they went to places all over the world, their numbers were highest in the United States.

Today Armenia is located in the part formerly ruled by the Russian Empire. It has been an independent republic since 1991. Three and a half million inhabitants live there, while the diaspora constitutes some 7 million people spread over the five continents, represented in the five petals of the forget-me-not.

A century after the genocide, the Armenian people demand remembrance for the sufferings of their forebears; they want justice to be done and recognition of the damage caused.

More information: Armenian National Council

Urartu Study and Research Centre

Film: The Cut

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