The Armenians have inhabited the Caucusus, between Russia and eastern Turkey, since time immemorial. They were among the earliest Christian converts and clung zealously to their faith after the rise of Islam in the 7th century.
War between Turkey and Russia resulted in the division of Armenia, with the eastern part under Russian control and the west governed by Turkey. When a surge of Armenian nationalism began to threaten this rather shaky status quo, Russia responded by clamping down on the intelligentsia, and confiscating Armenian Church property. The Turks were more overt in their repression – they carried out several massacres between 1894 and 1896. At the outbreak of World War I, eastern border, Turkey decided it was time to settle the problem of Armenia once and for all, by the simple expedient extermination under the guise of relocating all 1.75 million inhabitants.
The plan was carried out systematically through a series of official emergency measures, under cover of the war. Armenian community leaders and intellectuals were arrested on April 241915, then all males aged 20 to 45 were conscripted to the front line while older men aged up to 60 were put to work on military transport. Finally, the rest of the population were evacuated for ‘security reasons’. In practice, through a system of concentration camps and forced marches, old men, women and children were forcibly driven southwards to the Mesopotamian desert – a journey of one or two months – where, if they had not already died from exhaustion, rape or massacre en route, they were abandoned to die from thirst, starvation and exposure.
In the postwar political repositioning, eastern Armenia was absorbed into the Soviet Union (until the collapse of the USSR in 1990). Turks settled in the western part, and the disappearance of an entire population was simply ignored.
When: April 24 1915-1918
Where: Armenia, Caucasus
Death toll: At least a million.
You should know: The Armenians are one of the world’s most dispersed peoples. Among the Armenian diaspora, the genocide is known as the Great Calamity. More than 20 countries have now formally recognized the mass killings as genocide; the UK and USA are not among them. To this day Turkey denies that a planned ethnic cleansing program ever took place. Instead it continues to claim that around 300 000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were killed in the general turmoil of war, with atrocities and massacres on both sides.